The Viceroyalty of New France (Nouvelle-France) was the area colonized by France in North America during a period extending from the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River, by Jacques Cartier in 1534, to the cession of New France to Spain and Britain in 1763. At its peak in 1712 (before the Treaty of Utrecht), the territory of New France extended from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains and from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The territory was then divided in five colonies, each with its own administration: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland and Louisiana.
Around 1522 - 1523, the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano convinced King Francis I of France to commission an expedition to find a western route to Cathay (i.e., Manchuria) in Asia. Late in 1523, Verrazzano set sail in Dieppe, eventually crossing the Atlantic in 1524 on a small caravel with 53 men. After exploring the coast of the present-day Carolinas, he headed north along the coast, eventually anchoring in the Narrows of New York Bay. The first European to discover the site of present-day New York, he named it Nouvelle-Angoulême in honour of the king, the former count of Angoulême. Verrazzano's voyage convinced the king to seek to establish a colony in the newly discovered land.
In 1534, Jacques Cartier planted a cross in the Gaspé Peninsula and claimed the land in the name of King Francis I. It was the first Province of New France. However, initial French attempts at settling the region met with failure. French fishing fleets, however, continued to sail to the Atlantic coast and into the St. Lawrence River, making alliances with First Nations that would become important once France began to occupy the land. French merchants soon realized the St. Lawrence region was full of valuable fur, especially of beaver, which were becoming rare in Europe, as the European beaver had almost been driven to extinction. Eventually, the French crown decided to colonize the territory to secure and expand its influence in America.
Another early French attempt at settlement in North America was Fort Caroline, established in what is now Jacksonville, Florida in 1564. Intended as a haven for Huguenots, Caroline was founded under the leadership of René Goulaine de Laudonnière and Jean Ribault. It was sacked by the Spanish led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés which then established the settlement of St. Augustine on September 20, 1565.
Acadia and Canada were inhabited by indigenous nomadic Algonquin peoples and sedentary Iroquoian peoples. These lands were full of unexploited and valuable natural riches which attracted all of Europe (France, the Netherlands, and England). By the 1580s, French trading companies had been set up, and ships were contracted to bring back furs. Much of what has transpired between the natives and their European visitors around that time is not known for lack of historical records.
Early attempts at establishing permanent settlements were failures. In 1598, a trading post was established on Sable Island, off the coast of Acadia, but was unsuccessful. In 1600, a trading post was established at Tadoussac, but only five settlers survived the winter. In 1604, a settlement was founded at Île-Saint-Croix on Baie François (Bay of Fundy) which was moved to Port-Royal in 1605, only to be abandoned in 1607, reestablished in 1610, and destroyed in 1613, after which settlers moved to other nearby locations.
In 1608, sponsored by Henry IV of France, Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Québec with six families totalling 28 people, the second permanent French settlement in what is now Canada. Colonization was slow and difficult. Many settlers died early, because of harsh weather and diseases. In 1630, there were only 103 colonists living in the settlement, but, by 1640, there were 355.
Champlain quickly allied himself with the Algonquin and Montagnais peoples in the area, who were at war with the Iroquois. He established strong bonds with the Hurons in order to keep the fur trade alive. He also arranged to have young French men live with the natives, to learn their language and customs and help the French adapt to life in North America. These men, known as coureurs de bois (such as Étienne Brûlé), extended French influence south and west to the Great Lakes and among the Huron tribes who lived there.
For the first few decades of Québec's existence, there were only a few dozen settlers there, while the English colonies to the south were much more populous and wealthy. Cardinal Richelieu, adviser to King Louis XIII, wished to make New France as significant as the English colonies. In 1627, Richelieu founded the Company of One Hundred Associates to invest in New France, promising land parcels to hundreds of new settlers and to turn Québec into an important mercantile and farming colony. Champlain was named Governor of New France. Richelieu then forbade non-Roman Catholics from living there. Protestants were required to renounce their faith to establish themselves in New France; many chose instead to move to the English colonies. The Roman Catholic Church, and missionaries such as the Recollets and the Jesuits, became firmly established in the territory. Richelieu also introduced the seigneurial system, a semi-feudal system of farming that remained a characteristic feature of the St. Lawrence valley until the 19th century.
At the same time, however, the English colonies to the south began to raid the St. Lawrence valley, and, in 1629, Québec itself was captured and held by the British until 1632. Champlain returned to Québec that year, and requested that Sieur de Laviolette found another trading post at Trois-Rivières, which he did in 1634. Champlain died in 1635.
The French Catholic Church, which after Champlain’s death was the most dominant force in New France, wanted to establish a utopian Christian community in the colony. In 1642, they sponsored a group of settlers, led by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who founded Ville-Marie, precursor to present-day Montreal, farther up the St. Lawrence. Throughout the 1640s, Jesuit missionaries penetrated the Great Lakes region and converted many of the Huron natives. The missionaries came into conflict with the Iroquois, who frequently attacked Montreal. By 1649, both the Jesuit mission and the Huron society were almost completely destroyed by Iroquois invasions (see Canadian Martyrs).
The transport infrastructure in New France was all but nonexistent, with few roads and canals. Thus people used the waterways, especially the St. Lawrence River, as the main form of transportation, by canoes. In the winter, when the lakes froze, both the poor and the rich travelled by sleds pulled by dogs or horses. A land transportation system was not developed in the region until the 1830's, when stretches of road were built along the river, and the Rideau Canal project was not completed until 1840.
In the 1650s, Montreal still had only a few dozen settlers and a severely underpopulated New France almost fell completely to hostile Iroquois forces. In 1660, settler Adam Dollard des Ormeaux led a Canadian and Huron militia against a much larger Iroquois force; none of the Canadians survived, but they succeeded in turning back the Iroquois invasion. In 1663, New France finally became more secure when Louis XIV made it a royal province. In 1665, he sent a French garrison, the Carignan-Salières Regiment, to Quebec. The government of the colony was reformed along the lines of the government of France, with the Governor General and Intendant subordinate to the Minister of the Marine in France. In 1665, Jean Talon was sent by Minister of the Marine Jean-Baptiste Colbert to New France as the first Intendant. These reforms limited the power of the Bishop of Quebec, who had held the greatest amount of power after the death of Champlain.
The 1666 census of New France was conducted by France's intendant, Jean Talon, in the winter of 1665-1666. It showed a population of 3,215 habitants in New France, many more than there had been only a few decades earlier. But the census showed a great difference in the number of men (2,034) and women (1,181). To strengthen the colony and make it the centre of France's colonial empire, Louis XIV decided to dispatch more than 700 single women, aged between 15 and 30 (known as les filles du roi) to New France. At the same time, marriages with the natives were encouraged and indentured servants, known as engagés, were also sent to New France. One such engagé, Etienne Trudeau, was the ancestor of future Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Talon also tried to reform the seigneurial system, forcing the seigneurs to actually reside on their land, and limiting the size of the seigneuries, in an attempt to make more land available to new settlers. These schemes were ultimately unsuccessful. Very few settlers arrived, and the various industries established by Talon did not surpass the importance of the fur trade.
Since Henry Hudson had claimed Hudson Bay, and the surrounding lands for England, English colonists had begun expanding their boundaries across what is now the Canadian north beyond the French-held territory of New France. In 1670, with the help of French coureurs des bois, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers, the Hudson's Bay Company was established to control the fur trade in all the land that drained into Hudson Bay. This ended the French monopoly on the Canadian fur trade. To compensate, the French extended their territory to the south, and to the west of the American colonies. In 1682, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explored the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, and claimed the entire territory for France as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. He named this territory Louisiana. La Salle attempted to establish the first colony in the new territory in 1685, but inaccurate maps and navigational issues led him to instead establish his colony, Fort Saint Louis, in what is now Texas. The colony was exterminated by disease and Indian attack in 1688.
Although little colonization took place in this part of New France, many strategic forts were built there, under the orders of Governor Louis de Buade de Frontenac. Forts were also built in the older portions of New France that had not yet been settled. Many of these forts were garrisoned by the Troupes de la Marine, the only regular soldiers in New France between 1682 and 1755.
In 1689, the English and Iroquois launched a major assault on New France, after many years of small skirmishes throughout the English and French territories. This war, known as King William's War, ended in 1697, but a second war (Queen Anne's War) broke out in 1702. Québec survived the English invasions of both these wars, but Port Royal and Acadia fell in 1690. In 1713, peace came to New France with the Treaty of Utrecht. Although the treaty turned Newfoundland and part of Acadia (peninsular Nova Scotia) over to Great Britain, France remained in control of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Fortress Louisbourg, as well as Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) and part of what is today New Brunswick.
After the treaty, New France began to prosper. Industries, such as fishing and farming, that had failed under Talon began to flourish. A "King’s Highway" (French:Chemin du Roi) was built between Montreal and Québec to encourage faster trade. The shipping industry also flourished as new ports were built and old ones were upgraded. The number of colonists greatly increased, and, by 1720, Canada had become a self-sufficient colony with a population of 24,594 people. The Church, although now less powerful than it had originally been, controlled education and social welfare. These years of peace are often referred to by French Canadians as New France's "Golden Age".
Peace lasted until 1744, when William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, led an attack on Louisbourg. Both France and New France were unable to relieve the siege, and Louisbourg fell. France attempted to retake the fortress in 1746 but failed. It was returned to France under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, but this did not stop the warfare between the British and French in North America.
Fort Duquesne, located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers at the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, guarded the most important strategic location in the west at the time of the seven years' war. It was built to insure that the Ohio River valley remained under French control. A small colonial force from Virginia began a fort here but a French force under Sieur de Contrecoeur drove them off in April 1754. New France claimed this as part of their colony and the French were anxious to keep the English from encroaching on it. The French built Fort Duquesne here to serve as a military stronghold and as a base for developing trade and strengthening military alliances with the Aboriginal peoples of the area.
The fight for the Ohio control, led to the French and Indian War begun as the North American phase of the Seven Years' War (which did not technically begin in Europe until 1756), with the defeat of a Virginia militia contingent led by Colonel George Washington by the French troupes de la marine in the Ohio valley. As a result of that defeat, the British decided to prepare the conquest of Quebec City, the capital of new France.
In the meantime the French continued to explore westwards and expand their trade alliances with indigenous peoples. Fort de la Corne was built in 1753 by Louis de la Corne, Chevalier de la Corne just east of the Saskatchewan River Forks in what is today the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. This was the furthest westward outpost of the French Empire in North America to be established before its fall.
New France now had over 70,000 inhabitants, a massive increase from earlier in the century, but the British American colonies greatly outnumbered them, with over one million people (including a substantial number of French Huguenots). It was much easier for the British colonists to organize attacks on New France than it was for the French to attack the British. In 1755, General Edward Braddock led an expedition against the French Fort Duquesne, and although they were numerically superior to the French militia and their Indian allies, Braddock's army was routed and Braddock was killed.
In 1758, British forces again captured Louisbourg, allowing them to blockade the entrance to the St. Lawrence River. This proved decisive in the war. In 1759, the British besieged Québec by sea, and an army under General James Wolfe defeated the French under General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in September. The garrison in Québec surrendered on September 18, and by the next year New France had been completely conquered by the British when they attacked Montreal which refused to acknowledge the fall of Canada to the British. The last French governor-general of New France, Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, surrendered to British Major General Jeffrey Amherst on September 8 1760. France formally ceded Canada to the British in the Treaty of Paris, signed on February 10, 1763.
French culture and religion remained dominant in most of the former territory of New France, until the arrival of British settlers led to the later creation of Upper Canada (today Ontario) and New Brunswick. The Louisiana Territory, under Spanish control since the end of the Seven Year's War, remained off-limits to settlement from the thirteen American colonies.
Twelve years after the British defeated the French, the American Revolution broke out in Britain's lower thirteen colonies. Many Quebeckers would take part in the war, including Major Clément Gosselin and Admiral Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil. After the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the Treaty of Versailles in 1784 gave all former British claims in New France below the Great Lakes into the possession of the nascent United States. A Franco-Spanish alliance treaty returned Louisiana to France in 1801, allowing Napoleon Bonaparte to sell it to the United States in 1803. This sale represented the end of the French colonial empire in North America, except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which are still controlled by France today.
The portions of the former New France that remained under British rule were administered as Upper Canada and Lower Canada, from 1791-1841, and then as the Province of Canada from 1841-1867, when the passage of the British North America Act of 1867 instituted home rule for most of British North America and established French-speaking Quebec (the former Lower Canada) as one of the original provinces of the Confederation of Canada.
The only remnant of the former colonial territory of New France that remains under French control to this day is the Territorial Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon (French: Collectivité territoriale de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon), consisting of a group of small islands 25 kilometres (13 nmi) off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.