While English, Dutch, and Swedes were settling on the Atlantic seaboard of North America, the French took possession of the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi. Though the attempt of Cartier to plant a colony on the St. Lawrence failed (p. 30), the French never lost interest in that part of the world, and new attempts were made to plant colonies.

THE FRENCH IN NOVA SCOTIA. - All failed till De Monts (d'mawng) and Champlain (sham-plan') [1] came over in 1604 with two shiploads of colonists. Some landed on the shore of what is now Nova Scotia and founded Port Royal. The others, led by De Monts, explored the Bay of Fundy, and on an island at the mouth of a river planted a colony called St. Croix. The name St. Croix (croy) in time was given to the river which is now part of the eastern boundary of Maine. One winter in that climate was enough, and in the spring (1605) the coast from Maine to Massachusetts was explored in search of a better site for the colony. None suited, and, returning to St. Croix, De Monts moved the settlers to Port Royal.

QUEBEC FOUNDED. - This too was abandoned for a time, and in 1607 the colonists were back in France. Champlain, however, longed to be again in the New World, and soon persuaded De Monts once more to attempt colonization. In 1608, therefore, Champlain with two ships sailed up the St. Lawrence and founded Quebec. Here, as was so often the case, the first winter was a struggle for life; when spring came, only eight of the colonists were alive. But help soon reached them, and France at last had secured a permanent foothold in America. The drainage basin of the St. Lawrence was called New France (or Canada); the lands near Port Royal became another French colony, called Acadia.

EXPLORATION OF NEW FRANCE. - Champlain at once made friends with the Indians, and in 1609 went with a party of Hurons to help fight their enemies, the Iroquois Indians who dwelt in central New York. [2] The way was up the St. Lawrence and up a branch of that river to the lake which now bears the name of Champlain. On its western shore the expected fight took place, and a victory, due to the fire-arms of Champlain and his companions, was won for the Hurons. [3] Later Champlain explored the Ottawa River, saw the waters of Lake Huron, and crossed Lake Ontario. But the real work of French discovery and exploration in the interior was done by Catholic priests and missionaries.

THE CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES. - With crucifixes and portable altars strapped on their backs, these brave men pushed boldly into the Indian country. Guided by the Indians, they walked through the dense forests, paddled in birch-bark canoes, and penetrated a wilderness where no white man had ever been. They built little chapels of bark near the Indian villages, and labored hard to convert the red men to Christianity. It was no easy task. Often and often their lives were in danger. Some were drowned. Some were burned at the stake. Others were tomahawked. But neither cold nor hunger, nor the dangers and hardships of life in the wilderness, could turn the priests from their good work. One of them toiled for ten years among the Indians on the Niagara River and the shores of Lake Huron; two others reached the outlet of Lake Superior; a fourth paddled in a canoe along its south shore.

THE KING'S MAIDENS. - For fifty years after the founding of Quebec few settlers came to Canada. Then the French king sent over each year a hundred or more young women who were to become wives of the settlers. [4] Besides encouraging farming, the government tried to induce the men to engage in cod fishing and whaling; but the only business that really nourished in Canada was trading with the Indians for furs.

THE FUR TRADE. - Each year a great fair was held outside the stockade of Montreal, to which hundreds of Indians came from the far western lakes. They brought canoe loads of beaver skins and furs of small animals, and exchanged them for bright-colored cloth, beads, blankets, kettles, and knives.

This great trade was a monopoly. Its profits could not be enjoyed by everybody. Numbers of hardy young men, therefore, took to the woods and traded with the Indians far beyond the reach of the king's officers. By so doing these wood rangers (coureurs de bois), as they were called, became outlaws, and if caught, might be flogged and branded with a hot iron. They built trading posts at many places in the West, and often married Indian women, which went a long way to make the Indians friends of the French. [5]

THE MISSISSIPPI. - When the priests and traders reached the country about Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, they heard from the Indians of a great river called the Mississippi - that is, "Big Water" or "Father of Waters." Might not this, it was asked, be the long-sought northwest passage to the Indies? In hopes that it was, Father Marquette (mar-ket'), a priest who had founded a mission on the Strait of Mackinac (mack'i-naw) between Lakes Huron and Michigan, and Joliet (zho-le-a'), a trapper and soldier, were sent to find the river and follow it to the sea.

They started in the spring of 1673 with five companions in two canoes. Their way was from the Strait of Mackinac to Green Bay in Wisconsin, up the Fox River, across a portage to the Wisconsin River, and down this to the Mississippi, on whose waters they floated and paddled to a place probably below the mouth of the Arkansas. There the travelers stopped, and turned back toward Canada, convinced that the great river [6] must flow not to the Pacific, but to the Gulf of Mexico.

LA SALLE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, 1682. - The voyage of Marquette and Joliet was of the greatest importance to France. Yet the only man who seems to have been fully awake to its importance was La Salle. If the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, a new and boundless Indian trade lay open to Frenchmen. But did it flow into the Gulf? That was a question La Salle proposed to settle; but three heroic attempts were made, and two failures, which to other men would have been disheartening, were endured, before he passed down the river to its mouth in 1682. [7]

LOUISIANA. - Standing on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, La Salle put up a rude cross, nailed to it the arms of France, and, in the name of the French king, Louis XIV, took formal possession of all the region drained by the Mississippi and its branches. He named the country Louisiana.

La Salle knew little of the extent of the region he thus added to the possessions of France in the New World. But the claim was valid, and Louisiana stretched from the unknown sources of the Ohio River and the Appalachian Mountains on the east, to the unknown Rocky Mountains on the west, and from the watershed of the Great Lakes on the north, to the Gulf of Mexico on the south.

LA SALLE ATTEMPTS TO OCCUPY LOUISIANA, 1682. - But the great work La Salle had planned was yet to be done. Louisiana had to be occupied.

A fort was needed far up the valley of the Mississippi to overawe the Indians and secure the fur trade. Hurrying back to the Illinois River, La Salle, in December, 1682, on the top of a steep cliff, built a stockade and named it Fort St. Louis.

A fort and city also needed to be built at the mouth of the Mississippi to keep out the Spaniards and afford a place whence furs floated down the river might be shipped to France. This required the aid of the king. Hurrying to Paris, La Salle persuaded Louis XIV to help him, and was sent back with four ships to found the city.

LA SALLE IN TEXAS, 1684. - But the little fleet missed the mouth of the river and reached the coast of Texas. There the men landed and built Fort St. Louis of Texas. Well knowing that he had passed the river, La Salle left some men at the fort, and with the rest started on foot to find the Mississippi - but never reached it. He was murdered on the way by his own men.

Of the men left in Texas the Indians killed some, and the Spaniards killed or captured the rest, and the plans of this great explorer failed utterly. [8]

BILOXI. - La Salle's scheme of founding a city near the mouth of the Mississippi, however, was carried out by other men. Fear that the English would seize the mouth of the river led the French to act, and in 1699 a gallant soldier named Iberville (e-ber-veel') built a small stockade and planted a colony at Bilox'i on the coast of what is now Mississippi.

NEW ORLEANS FOUNDED. - During fifteen years and more the little colony, which was soon moved from Biloxi to the vicinity of Mobile (map, p. 134), struggled on as best it could; then steps were taken to plant a settlement on the banks of the Mississippi, and (1718) Bienville (be-an-veel') laid the foundation of a city he called New Orleans.


1. After many failures, a French colony was planted at Port Royal in Acadia (Nova Scotia) in 1601; but this was abandoned for a time, and the first permanent French colony was planted by Champlain at Quebec in 1608.

2. From these settlements grew up the two French colonies called Acadia and New France or Canada.

3. New France was explored by Champlain, and by many brave priests.

4. Marquette and Joliet reached the Mississippi and explored it from the Wisconsin to the Arkansas (1673).

5. Their unfinished work was taken up by La Salle, who went down the Mississippi to the Gulf (1682), and formally claimed for France all the region drained by the river and its tributaries - a vast area which he called Louisiana.

6. Occupation of the Mississippi valley by the French followed; forts and trading posts were built, and in 1718 New Orleans was founded.


[1] Samuel de Champlain (born in 1567) had been a captain in the royal navy, and had visited the West Indies, Mexico, and the Isthmus of Panama, across which he suggested a canal should be cut. In 1603 he was offered a command in a company of adventurers to New France. On this voyage Champlain went up the St. Lawrence to the site of the Indian town called Hochelaga by Cartier (p. 30); but the village had disappeared. Returning to France, he joined the party of De Monts (1604).

[2] The year 1609 is important in our history. Then it was that Champlain fought the Iroquois; that the second Virginia charter was granted; and that Hudson's expedition gave the Dutch a claim to territory in the New World.

[3] The fight with the Iroquois took place not far from Ticonderoga. When the two parties approached, Champlain advanced and fired his musket. The woods rang with the report, and a chief fell dead. "There arose," says Champlain," a yell like a thunderclap and the air was full of arrows." But when another and another gun shot came from the bushes, the Iroquois broke and fled like deer. The victory was won; but it made the Iroquois the lasting enemies of the French. Read Parkman's Pioneers of France in the New World, pp. 310-324.

[4] About 1000 came in eight years. When married, they received each "an ox, a cow, a pair of swine, a pair of fowls, two barrels of salted meat, and eleven crowns in money." Read Parkman's Old Regime in Canada, pp. 219-225.

[5] The fur trade, which was the life blood of Canada, is finely described in Parkman's Old Regime in Canada, pp. 302-315.

[6] Marquette named the river Immaculate Conception. He noted the abundance of fish in its waters, the broad prairies on which grazed herds of buffalo, and the flocks of wild turkeys in the woods. On his way home he ascended the Illinois River, and crossed to Lake Michigan, passing over the site where Chicago now stands. Read Mary Hartwell Catherwood's Heroes of the Middle West; also Parkman's La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, pp. 48-71; and Hart's American History as told by Contemporaries, Vol. I, pp. 136-140.

[7] In the first attempt he left Fort Frontenac, coasted along the north shore of Lake Ontario, crossed over and went up the Niagara River, and around the Falls to Lake Erie. There he built a vessel called theGriffin, which was sailed through the lakes to the northern part of Lake Michigan (1679). Thence he went in canoes along the shore of Lake Michigan to the river St. Joseph, where he built a fort (Fort St. Joseph), and then pushed on to the Illinois River and (near the present city of Peoria) built another called Fort Crèvecoeur (crav'ker). There he left Henri de Tonty in charge of a party to build another ship, and went back to Canada.

When he returned to the Illinois in 1680, on his second trip, Crèvecoeur was in ruins, and Tonty and his men gone. In hope of finding them La Salle went down the Illinois to the Mississippi, but he turned back and passed the winter on the river St. Joseph. (Read Parkman's description of the great town of the Illinois and its capture by the Iroquois, in La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, pp. 205-215.)

From the St. Joseph, after another trip to Canada, La Salle (with Tonty) started westward for the third time (late in 1681), crossed the lake to where Chicago now is, went down the Illinois and the Mississippi, and in April, 1682, floated out on the waters of the Gulf.

On his first expedition La Salle was accompanied by Father Hennepin, whom he sent down the Illinois and up the Mississippi. But the Sioux (soo) Indians captured Father Hennepin, and took him up the Mississippi to the falls which he named St. Anthony, now in the city of Minneapolis.

[8] Read Parkman's La Salle, pp. 275-288, 350-355, 396-405.