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Colonies and Empires Index

15th Century 'Voyages of Discovery'
In the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries

European Settlement in North America

Introduction
The First Colony : Virginia
The Pilgrim Fathers
The Mayflower and the Mayflower Compact
Plymouth Settlement
The First Thanksgiving

The Origins of Canada

Introduction : New France

The Struggle between France and Britain
for North America

Introduction
The Seven Years' War
The Fall of Quebec
The Treaty of Paris

The American War of Independence

Introduction
Britain Taxes its Colonies
The Boston Massacre
The "Boston Tea Party"
The First Continental Congress
The War for Independence Begins
The Second Continental Congress
American Victories
The Declaration of Independence

History Chapters Main Index

 

A French fur trapper, circa 1700

A French fur trapper, circa 1700

 

Robert Cavelier de la Salle claiming the Mississippi River for France

Robert Cavelier de la Salle claiming the Mississippi River for France

 

 

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Colonies and Empires

The Hudson Bay Company

French Canada was not a land of great settlement, but fur-traders and adventurers did well there. The Coureurs-de-Bois went deep into the forest looking for new fur supplies and founding the trails that would later become North America's great inland highways.

Ironically, it was two of these tough French frontiersmen who brought the English into the far north. Le Sieur de Groseillers and his brother-in-law, Pierre Radisson, spent years exploring around the Hudson Bay. They repeatedly tried to persuade the government of Louis XIV, under Colbert, to take an interest in this far northern region, only to be rejected. When they brought their canoes, crammed with high quality furs, down to Quebec from the Hudson Bay area, they were simply fined for illegal trading.

Rejected by the French authorities, Groseillers and Radisson turned to the English and led an expedition, in the name of Charles II, into the far north. "Mr Gooseberry" and "Mr Radish" were so successful that, in 1670, Charles II gave a charter to the "Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay". The king casually gave the company control of all the area drained by the rivers running into the Hudson Bay. It was 1,5 million square miles (4 million square kilometres), ten times the size of the British Isles. For London businessmen and politicians, including the Duke of York, Prince Rupert and half of the Cabinet, who invested in the Company, the profits were fabulous. Ships loaded with weapons, cheap jewellery and cooking utensils sailed into the Hudson Bay every June, just after the ice had melted. The goods were exchanged for furs, and the ships would leave for England before the Autumn ice re-appeared.

 

France claims the Mississippi River

French Canadians now felt squeezed between the British Atlantic colonies to the south and the British Hudson Bay Company to the north. Worse still, the native Indians began diverting their trade from Quebec and Montreal to the more profitable Hudson Bay Company.

 

Robert Chevalier de la Salle

Robert Chevalier de la Salle

 

To meet the challenge, French explorers, missionaries, soldiers and traders looked westward towards the Great Lakes. On the far side of Lake Superior, where they made new alliances with the native Indians, they turned south. In 1682, Robert Chevalier de la Salle reached the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River.

Forts were built to protect these newly acquired lands. However, by the end of the 17th century, it was becoming clear that New France and the British colonies, as they expanded, would have difficulty living side-by-side.

 

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