Map of colonial claims: 

The French in the New World  

I. Overview:

A.  French Indian policy is remarkable for its cultural pluralism and its relative lack of conflict in the area now known as Canada

1. French-Indian relations in the north were generally peaceful from the founding of Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 to the creation of Canada in 1870

2. a lack of serious colonial settlement in the north meant that there was little competition over lands

3. the French needed Indians for the fur trade & intermarriage with American Indian women was an important part of trade

a. these family ties played a large role in the peaceful co-existence

B. In the south, the fur trade was also important and relations were also initially good

1. however, the introduction of tobacco agriculture after 1719 meant increasing competition for land

 2. and the French settlers brought their own wives so there was little need for intermarriage; this meant greater conflict with the Indians of the region

 II. Exploration and Settlement

A.  Before 1600 the French sought to gain a foothold in the New World, but all of their early attempts failed

 1. Spain dominated Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, and the south Atlantic coast

2.  Britain and the Netherlands controlled the northern Atlantic coast

 3. these powers wiped out early French settlements in the 1540s and also Port Royal, Nova Scotia, founded in 1604

B.  Finally, France established its dominance by way of the St. Lawrence river way, eventually claiming the entire Mississippi River Valley

1.  in 1608 Samuel Champlain founded Quebec

 2. in 1673 Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River as far south as the mouth of the Arkansas River

 3. in 1682 Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle followed the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico

 a. la Salle named the territory west of the Miss. Louisiana, after  the French king

 b. and he planned settlements at the mouth of the River as a means of controlling trade

 c. his attempt to establish a settlement, failed, however

 4. in 1699 Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville established Biloxi on the Gulf coast, and the French were now a well-established New World power

 III. the French colonial system

A.  As w/ the other imperial European powers, colonization was based on mercantilism and nation building

1.  the Crown wanted to fill New France with settlers that would recreate that nation's culture and protect its resources from plunder by other colonial powers

 2. In 1627 the Crown created the Company of One Hundred to promote colonization in New France

a. but it failed to attract enough investors or colonists and was disbanded in 1633

b. most French in the New World were far more interested in the lucrative fur trade than in settlement

 3. In 1634 the Crown chartered a second colonizing enterprise, the West Indian Company

a. it also failed to attract people interested in colonizing

 b. it was also disbanded in 1663

 4. thus, in 1674 New France (NF) became a royal colony, its officials appointed by the king

 B. New France was administered by the minister of  the Department of Marine, he was a member of the Royal Council and directly responsible to the King

1.  the provincial governor was appointed by the Crown, and worked within the Dept. of Marine

a. alongside the superintendent, who was in charge of the fur trade and the Indians of the province

 2. New France was governed as two units--one in Canada and one in Louisiana

3. the local government consisted of the military trading-posts, each situated at a strategic portage on the region's rivers

 a. there the commander supervised the fur trade

C. Officially, the French promoted "Francisation" as their Indian policy--this called for converting the Indians to Catholicism and remaking every aspect of their culture in the image of France;  

1. Jesuits missionaries came to help carry out this policy

 a. After 2 abortive attempts to establish missions in New France, two Jesuits managed to found a mission in Quebec in 1632

 b. the French missions were well financed by the Crown and wealthy benefactors in France

 c. but the missions were not backed up by force and the priests had to rely on persuasion for converts

 d. their successes came mostly among those tribes decimated by  diseases and warfare over control of the fur trade

 2. part of the official strategy was to relocate the Indians near French settlements where they could learn about French life

a. missionaries and secular officials tried to lure Indians into their orbit with presents

 b. some tribes settled near the forts for trade but the French soon discovered that their policy of assimilation did not work as planned

 3. beginning in the 1660s, official policy encouraged intermarriage as a means of promoting "civilization" of Indians

 a. the idea was that these intermarriages would mean raising children according to French custom

b.  b/c of matrilineal kinship practices among the Indians of the region, however, the children of these unions were nearly always raised in the mother's culture, not the father's

 and the fur trappers were happy to accommodate their wives for personal as well as economic reasons

 most Frenchmen in the New World were not interested in trying to change the Indians b/c they were too involved in the fur trade

4. in the north, the French needed Indians to bring in and process the furs for shipping and to help provision Frenchmen in the New World

 a. thus, they needed to keep the peace and they relied on diplomacy rather than threats as their first line of interaction at every level of colonial administration

 b. the French officially recognized Native American sovereignty as political entities

c.  they did not try to impose French law on the Indians, but rather modified their own laws when they conflicted w/ Indian interests

 d. they even refused to allow French officials to punish Indians who committed crimes against French settlers

 5. moreover, the French didn't scorn Indian culture; rather, they made an effort to understand it

 a. they were the only European power to recognize officially that there was more than one Indian culture

 b. thus their policy was pluralistic, tailored for individual tribes

 c. and, unlike many European colonial powers, they learned Indian languages

 6. every May, the French governors of Canada and Louisiana held a huge trade fair where they feted the Indians with food and wine

a. at these meetings, they gave lavish gifts to the chiefs and headmen and extracted promises from the Indians that they would trade only with France

D. Not all was sweetness-and-light, however. 

1. French policy makers occasionally relocated Indians,  usually because they wanted them to move to new hunting territories, but occasionally it was to punish uncooperative Indians

a. in the 1720s, the French forcibly relocated the Fox tribe from their home in western Wisconsin and Illinois to the are that later became Detroit

b. these Indians had interfered with the fur trade by raiding both French traders and their Chippewa allies

 c. and by threatening to close the Mississippi River at its source, which was located in Fox territory

2. Slavery was uncommon in the French system, but it did occur on occasion

a. late in the colonial period, the Choctaw and Natchez who resisted the French in south were captured and sold into slavery in the West Indies  

b. in the north, the French fought several wars with the Iroquois in the early seventeenth century to get them to stop trading with their enemies the British

 the prisoners of these campaigns were sent to row in French galley ships for the rest of their lives

but the French finally came to terms with the Iroquois during the 1660s, when the Five Nations signed peace treaties

c. thereafter, relations between the French and Indians in the north was relatively peaceful  

3. Moreover, conflict over control of the fur trade eventually led to inter-tribal warfare between the Algonquin Indians and the powerful Iroquois—the 5 Nations: Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onodaga, & Seneca

 a. Trade wars between these Great Lakes tribes were nearly genocidal in their results:  

b. the  Iroquois drove the Huron out of their lands and killed them--by 1650 most Huron villages were totally destroyed and 

the survivors had to migrate


c. this set off confrontations in the areas they moved into, thus life on the far frontiers of the Great Lakes region and along the St. Lawrence seaway was often marked by intertribal violence

4. Nonetheless, the northern French colonies saw relatively little violence  

IV. Conflict in the South

A.  by 1700, the fur trade had depleted fur-bearing animals in the North, and the fur trade shifted southward

1. New Orleans, which was founded in 1718, soon became the port where furs were shipped

2. the Caddo and the Wichita Indians were the middlemen for the French fur trade in the south  

3.  the Comanche brought buffalo hides from the southern Great Plains and traded through the Caddo and Wichitas  

 B. while the fur trade dominated relations in the south, the pattern of cooperation with native peoples was repeated. After 1719, however, the French in the south began large-scale agricultural operations, growing tobacco in the territory of the Natchez Chiefdom

 1. French traders still operated in the south, but their significance was minimal, and the role of Indians in the economy was therefore lessened

 2. the French colonists brought families to settle, including French women, which reduced intermarriage and Indian influence

a. they demanded land cessions for their crops, brought more people to encroach on Indian lands, and took resources Indians needed

b. the settlers also brought more troops, which meant more military power with which to impose their will on the Indians

3. they trampled Indian sovereignty whenever there was conflict: when the Natchez Indians killed 5 traders in retaliation for poor treatment, the French responded by executing several minor chiefs

4. continued conflict in 1722 resulted in the French burning down 3 Natchez villages and demanding that the Natchez chief, the Great Sun, Tattooed Serpent, (doncha love that name!?) surrender several of his minor chiefs for punishment

a. this ignored the Natchez law exempting chiefs from capital punishment  

b. it also disrespected the Indians' belief that their chief was divine--why do you think they called him the Great Sun?

5. these conflicts eventually led the Natchez to revolt in 1729 ; this uprising was the worst episode of conflict in Frances' North American empire 

a. the Natchez rose up on the tribute day at the great trade fair and began slaughtering people


b. within a few hours, they had killed 145 men, 36 women, and 56 kids; they also  captured nearly 300 Black slaves and 50 white women and their children

c. the French gathered their Choctaw allies and retaliated, going after the Natchez villages and killing them and driving them out


d. by 1730, the uprising was quelled and the Natchez defeated; the French burned a Natchez woman to death in front of the statehouse as an example to "uppity" Indians


but she defied them as she burned, and cried out loudly that her death would be avenged


true to her prediction, Natchez refugees continued resistance in guerilla warfare


e. other Natchez joined the Chickasaws, allies of the English, and formed their own village from which they continued to torment the French  

f. still others established a new settlement near the Cherokee, where they had a distinct town in the Cherokee nation

6. Likewise, the French had conflict with the Chickasaws of northeastern Mississippi after 1700

 a. the Chickasaws traded with the English; the French did not want English traders on their border

 b. they sent their Choctaw allies to raid Chickasaw settlements in 1720, in the First Chickasaw War

 c. and the Chickasaws responded by raiding Choctaw settlements and French shipping on the Mississippi River

 Chickasaw raids closed the river for 4 years, despite the French placing a bounty of one pound of powder and two pounds of bullets for every Chickasaw scalp

 d. eventually, in 1725, the French had to sue for peace  

e. in 1732, the Second Chickasaw War renewed conflicts over English traders and produced the same stalemate 

f. later attempts to conquer the Chickasaw also failed, and when France finally pulled out of the region in 1763, they remained unconquered


Europeans established trade relations with the Indian nations in their colonies as part of their colonial rivalry for control of new world riches. Recognizing this rivalry, Indians continually played English and French against one another to wring concessions from them

When the French were finally evicted from North American in 1763, following the French and Indian War, Native Americans lost their role as middlemen between the struggling empires. This dramatically changed the dynamics of power and thus the political landscape of North America.

Ultimately, the French were ethnocentric and they could be brutal, but their interactions with Indians also proved valuable to native interests