Chapter Six: The Duel for North America
(1608 - 1763)
France Finds a Foothold in Canada
France was a newcomer for New World real estate.
St. Bartholomew's Day, 1572, over 10,000 Huguenots were butchered.
A new era dawned in 1598 when the
Edict of Nantes
tolerance to French Protestants.
Religious wars ceased and France blossomed under brilliant ministers and
King Louis XIV
, who reigned no less than 72 years.
The permanent beginnings of a vast empire were established at Quebec in
1608, commanding the St. Lawrence River. The leader was Samuel de
Champlain, "Father of New France."
He entered into friendly relations with the nearby Huron Indians. At
their request, he joined them in battle against the Iroquois – obviously
the French won. The Iroquois bore a lasting grudge against them…
They thereafter aided the British against the French, hampered French
penetration of the Ohio Valley, and ravaged French settlements.
The government of New France (Canada) fell under the direct control of
the king after several companies failed. The royal regime was almost
completely autocratic. Population in Catholic New France grew slowly –
really slowly. As late as 1750, only 60,000 or so French inhabited New
France. Landowning French peasants had little economic motive to move.
Huguenots were denied a refuge in this colony. The French government
favored its Caribbean island colonies over the snowy wilderness of
New France Fans Out
New France contained one valuable resource – beaver pelts.
French fur-trappers, coureurs de bois (runners of the woods), ranged over
the woods and waterways of North America in search of beaver, leaving
behind place names (Baton Rouge – red stick, Grand Teton – big breast,
Des Moines – some monks, Terra Haute – high land).
The French also recruited Indians into the fur business. The Indians were
not decimated by the French, but by their diseases and alcohol. Sadly,
slaughtering beaver by the boatload violated many Indians' religious
beliefs and shattered many traditional ways of life.
In the process they wiped out the irreplaceable beaver population in many
areas, inflicting unfixable ecological damage.
French Catholic missionaries, notably Jesuits, labored zealously to save
the Indians for Christ. But though they made few converts, the Jesuits
played a vital role as explorers and geographers.
To thwart English settlers pushing into the Ohio Valley, Antoine Cadillac
founded Detroit in 1701.
To stop the Spanish from going into the Gulf of Mexico region, Robert de
la Salle rafted down the Mississippi in 1682 to found Louisiana (for King
Louis XIV). He returned three years later with a colonizing expedition of
four ships, but failed to find the Mississippi Delta and was murdered by
his mutinous crew in Spanish Texas.
French officials planted several forts in Mississippi/Louisiana, most