French Exploration of the New World: History & Overview

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  • 0:01 The Beginning of…
  • 0:49 Establishing Settlements
  • 2:10 Profiting From Exploration
  • 2:56 Exploring the Mississippi
  • 3:28 Legacy of French Exploration
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn about the French exploration of the New World in this lesson. Discover how French sailors mapped territories, and explore the impact of the French on the Native Americans.

The Beginning of French Exploration

After Columbus made the first voyage to the New World in 1492, other European nations also began to make exploratory voyages. The French initially concentrated their efforts on the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, where they found large schools of fish. Soon, many French fisherman began making the long but very profitable journey to the New World.

In 1524, several French captains began seeking the Northwest Passage, a mythical water route that connected the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. During the 1500s, many Europeans believed that the Northwest Passage would provide a safe water route from Europe to Asia. No one ever found it; however, they did map out significant portions of the Canadian and New England coastline.

Establishing Settlements

During the 1530s, Jacques Cartier sailed up the Saint Lawrence River into Canada as far as the modern city of Montreal with the intent of setting up a permanent settlement. However, Canada proved to be too cold for the French to establish a lasting community. Nevertheless, Cartier did establish a cordial trading relationships with several Native American tribes that allowed the French to establish temporary trade sites. For much of the 1500s, the only French settlements in the New World were temporary trading outposts.

Finally in 1608, the French government established a permanent settlement at Quebec City under the leadership of Samuel de Champlain. Overall the French attempts at colonization tended to produce small, isolated colonies for the purpose of trading. Few French settlers wanted to set up communities in the frigid region. The French monarchs of the period were largely interested in trading and not in setting up permanent communities.

In 1718, the French Mississippi Company founded one of the most successful French colonies at the end of the Mississippi River. They called their colony La Nouvelle Orleans, or New Orleans, in honor of the regent of France at the time. The French Mississippi Company controlled colony until 1779, when the Spanish took control of the city. The French regained control of New Orleans in 1801, but they sold New Orleans to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

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