The French Settlement Of New France

Less well known than the British colonies of North America, the French Settlement of New France covered a large area although with much fewer people.

In 1608, the first successful French venture aimed at settlement in North America resulted in the founding of Quebec. Migration into Quebec in the 17th century increased its population and resulted in the founding of new French settlements. The fur trade, which began as an extension of the fishing enterprise, encouraged the French to settle and to seek trading partnerships with native groups.

By the end of the seventeenth, French territory covered three-fourths of North America. Yet when English and French forces came to face each other in 1754 in the War for Empire as each nation sought control of Amerindians and of trade and territory in the Northwest, France had only one-fifteenth as many settlers in North America as England had.

The largest element in the French-Canadian population were rural residents. The farm dwellers had the room they needed, with a loft above, and cellars below to keep meat frozen through the winter. They also had ready access to fish and game in the open countryside. Consequently, the inhabitants faced winter shortages less, and generally lived better than did their counterparts in northwestern France (from where they had largely come).

This rural community was built and based along the central reaches of the broad St. Lawrence River, that provided it with vital transportation and valuable fishing at the same time. Hence river-frontage was all-important; and farm-lots extended back in long narrow strips from the great waterway. In time, another range of farm allotments rose behind the original waterfront properties. But the pattern of ribbon-farms, within long, narrow seigneuries oriented to the St. Lawrence, would last long after New France.

New France also had an active, influential urban life. Around one-fifth of its population resided in towns, the centers of commerce and crafts, and of political, religious or military life. Quebec, Montreal and Trois-Rivières also had local governmental districts.

The structure of royal government in New France continued under the governor general and bishop. The power of the Catholic Church was widespread within a tightly orthodox society, where Roman Catholicism was well maintained by law and supported by tithes.

Although the early victories in the French and Indian War went to the French, victory ultimately was achieved by the British in 1763. The Treaty of Paris enlarged the British Empire to include all of Canada, East and West Florida, St. Vincent, Tobago, Dominica, and all territory east of the Mississippi in North America. However, the British allowed the French settlers of New France to keep their language and customs. This may explain why these French settlers did take advantage of the American Revolution a decade later to rise up against their British conquerors.

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