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New France: 1600-1763, Early Years

Medard Chouart, Pierre Esprit Radisson, Groseilliers, Cardinal Richelieu, sieur

To confirm its claims to North American territory, France needed to build permanent forts and settlements. But settlements were expensive, and in order to pay for them, commercial colonizers sought a monopoly on the fur trade. Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts, acquired such a monopoly from the king of France, and in 1604 he established a post in Acadia. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain, an explorer hired by de Monts, founded a settlement at Quebec on the St. Lawrence River. Champlain, who became the champion of French colonization, understood that a monopoly of the inland fur trade could be better protected there, where the river narrowed, rather than at sites on the open coast of Acadia. Consequently, French colonization began to focus on the St. Lawrence valley. Eventually, Champlain convinced Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to King Louis XIII, of the importance of North America. In 1627 Richelieu organized the Company of One Hundred Associates to develop and administer New France.

To maintain his settlement and develop the fur trade on the St. Lawrence, Champlain had to form alliances with the local Algonquian nations and their inland allies, the Huron confederacy. These indigenous allies brought the furs to Quebec, and with their assistance Champlain was able to travel widely and to map eastern North America from Newfoundland to the Great Lakes.

Under the company, the Canada colony continued to grow after Champlain died at Quebec in 1635. More settlements were founded, notably at Trois-Rivieres (1634) and Montreal (1642). However, the colony remained small in population and dependent on the fur trade. Fur traders also maintained a small French presence in Acadia, and in the 1640s a small, settled Acadian community took root around Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal) on the Bay of Fundy.

In the 1640s New France was unable to aid its ally, the Huron confederacy, in a war with the Iroquois. After the Iroquois defeated and scattered the Huron in 1649, New France’s fur trade was devastated, and Montreal and Quebec were exposed to attack. The colony survived, however, and the fur trade rebounded after the Ottawa, Ojibwa, and other Algonquian nations replaced the Huron as French allies and suppliers. New France’s trader-explorers also began to venture inland from Montreal in search of new sources of furs. Two of them, Medard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers, and Pierre Esprit Radisson, explored the west side of Lake Superior in the 1650s.

Article key phrases:

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