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French and English Colonization

New York bays, English explorers, René-Robert Cavelier, Spanish Florida, Sir Walter Raleigh

While Spain was consolidating its position in southern North America, France and England explored and settled the continent from present-day Canada southward. England and Spain had been generally allied in international politics during the early part of the 16th century, and as a result the English did not then attempt to compete with Spain in North America. France, the chief rival of Spain for hegemony on the European continent, entered the race for colonial empire somewhat belatedly, but its territorial acquisitions in the New World were nonetheless important. In 1524 Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano, sailing in French service, followed the North American coast from Cape Fear northward to a point usually identified as Cape Breton. In the course of this voyage he explored what are now called Narragansett and New York bays. French explorer Jacques Cartier made three voyages between 1534 and 1542 in an area including the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the St. Lawrence River, and the settlement of indigenous people that later became the site of Montréal. France claimed most of the northern part of the continent on the basis of these explorations. Because of domestic turmoil resulting from the Protestant Reformation, the French were forced to suspend colonial activity for more than half a century. Beginning in 1599, they established fur-trading posts along the St. Lawrence River. Numerous French Jesuit priests came thereafter to the St. Lawrence region, seeking to convert the Native Americans to the Roman Catholic faith, and various French explorers found and claimed for France new and widely separate sections of the continent. Among the most notable of these explorers were Samuel de Champlain, who founded Québec in 1608 and explored what is now northern New York; Jesuit missionary Claude Jean Allouez, who opened up new territory around Lake Superior; and Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette and explorer Louis Joliet, who in 1673 together explored the upper Mississippi River as far south as present-day Arkansas. In 1682 one of the most noted French pioneers in North America, René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and his associate, Italian explorer Henri de Tonty, navigated the Mississippi from its junction with the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming all the land drained by the river for Louis XIV, king of France, and naming it Louisiana.

The English crown laid claim to the North American continent on the strength of the Cabot voyage of 1497 to 1498, but for nearly a century made no attempts at colonization. The earliest colony in North America was established in 1583 near the present city of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, by English navigator and soldier Sir Humphrey Gilbert, but the settlers returned to England the same year. Twice, in 1585 and in 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, in present-day North Carolina, but when English explorers called at Roanoke in 1590, they found no trace of the colonists. The first permanent British colony on the continent was Jamestown, established in Virginia in 1607. Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620 on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, and Massachusetts Bay Colony was established between 1628 and 1630 on the shores of Massachusetts Bay. After 1630 the English systematically colonized the entire Atlantic seaboard between French Acadia and Spanish Florida. In 1664 they annexed the Dutch colony of New Netherland, settled in 1624, which they renamed New York, and the settlements on the Delaware River that the Dutch had seized from Swedish colonists in 1655. The English colonies grew rapidly in population and wealth.

At the beginning of the last decade of the 17th century, most of the North American continent from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico was occupied by the French and English colonial empires. The French colonies were widely scattered. The principal settlements were grouped in Canada and near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and a line of trading and military posts along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers connected the two regions. The English colonial holdings consisted of 12 colonies extending along the Atlantic seaboard. A 13th, Georgia, was chartered in 1733.

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