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Colonies and Empires Index
European Settlement in North America
The Origins of Canada
The Struggle between France and Britain
The American War of Independence
BRITAIN : ISLAND STATE TO EMPIRE
Colonies and Empires
The Origins of Canada
England was not the only country interested in settling North America. There had been a Swedish settlement on the Delaware which was taken over by the Dutch. Dutch New Amsterdam was taken by the English and renamed New York. After this, the only European country that could rival England in North America was France.
The English had landed on the coast and moved inland, as they needed more farm land. The French, however, sailed up the St. Lawrence river to found a colony called New France, or Canada.
Jacques Cartier encounters the Iroquois
The initial attraction for the mouth of the St. Lawrence had been cod fishing. By the early 16th century both English and French ships were going there to catch cod. In 1535, Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence to a place that the natives called Kebec. He had heard from the natives that there were gold, jewels and fur to be traded.
Cartier found no gold or jewels. He did, however, find an abundant supply of furs. Although no colony was founded, a permanent French trading post was built at Quebec. This was seventy years before the first English settlement in Virginia.
A Map of New France
The interest in furs lay in the fact that Paris fashion demanded that a gentleman should wear a high fur hat made from beaver skin. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain led a company of fur traders, missionaries and craftsmen to Quebec and built a permanent colony. Alliances were made with the natives and New France was established.
New France's development was completely different from that of the English colonies to the south. The small farms along the St. Lawrence had a short growing season compared to Virginia's plantations. The French towns, Quebec and Montreal, were villages compared to the New England towns. New France was governed directly from France. The settlers enjoyed no political or religious freedom, unlike the English colonists. Consequently, there was little motivation in absolutist France to go and live in absolutist New France. By the mid-1600's, there were only 3500 people in New France compared to 50000 in the English colonies. A century later, the figures were 100000 and 1,5 million respectively.
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