(The FRENCH, DUTCH and ENGLISH to AMERICA – continued)

home | 16-17th centuries index


previous | next

French Expansion and King William's War

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in 1650 Montreal had a population of 196. In 1660 that increased to 472, and Montreal's population continued to grow, reaching at least 2,000 in the 1690s. The fort at Montreal was an impenetrable haven during continuous warring with the Iroquois. Montreal, rather than Quebec, had become the center of trade and society, while Quebec remained the seat of colonial government.

This was Catholic society, the French, like the Spaniards, not allowing Protestants in the areas they considered theirs. The number of French in the Americas was only one twentieth of the number of people in England's colonies, prosperous France having had few who wanted to leave to try for a new life in what they saw as a primitive and dangerous America.

In 1667 the French signed a peace treaty with the Iroquois, which made possible expanded trade. Also, French fur traders had begun operating along the Missouri River as far south as the Kansas River and perhaps beyond. The French explored the Great Lakes region, and in 1672 voyaged down the Mississippi River as far as the Arkansas River. The French built a few forts in the Great Lakes area, and in 1682 the French explorer René LaSalle led 33 Frenchmen and 31 Indians down the Mississippi in canoes, to the Gulf of Mexico and back. He claimed all lands drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries for France. He named this vast area Louisiana in honor of his king, Louis XIV, and LaSalle was rewarded with a monopoly on trade in the Mississippi Valley.

LaSalle went to France in 1684 and returned to the Americas with four ships and 400 men, planning to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, but he could not find it and landed instead at Matagorda Bay in what is now Texas. There, in February 1685, he established Fort St. Louis, establishing a claim to Texas for France. Some of LaSalle's men disliked their stay at this remote outpost. They revolted, killed LaSalle and sailed away, and by 1690 disease and Indians destroyed the last of those who remained.

Frenchmen versus Englishmen

By the 1680s, around 800 Frenchmen were spread out across the Great Lakes region, and several hundred Englishmen had entered the area pursuing trade with the Indians, with violence occurring when French and English frontiersmen met. The competition between the French and English extended to the French sending 90 soldiers to capture three English trading posts at Hudson Bay, the French capturing 50,000 furs from the English.

In 1689, England and France went to war over European rather than American concerns, but the war extended to the Americas, the English arming Iroquois who were again warring against the French. In 1689 the Iroquois burned homes, killed women and children and mutilated bodies, the attacks forcing the French to abandon several of their more western settlements. The French struck back against English colonists at Portland and Schenectady, English deaths there totaling 162 men, women and children. In 1690 an English force sailed from Boston in 34 ships, including fishing boats, and captured Acadia (Nova Scotia) from the French. The force reached Quebec and demanded its surrender, but it was repelled and the English withdrew in failure.

The war in Europe between the French and English was exhausting the two powers, and in 1697 they made peace, the Peace of Ryswick. Meanwhile, the French held on to a few islands in the Caribbean – Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Dominique (Haiti) – where Frenchmen operated sugar plantations and worked slaves.


The Oxford History of the American People, by Samuel Eliot Morison, 1965

American Colonies, (The Penguin History of the United States), by Alan Taylor, 2001

The Great Frontier War, by William R Nester, Praeger, 2000

The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire, by Francis Jennings, Cambridge University Press, 2000

Colonial America by Ronald P Dufour, West, 1994

The Roots of American Civilization: a History of Colonial Life, by Curtis P Nettels, 1938


The New World, fictionalized account of love and hate in Jamestown, by Terrence Malick, 2005

Additional Reading

The Formative Years, 1607~1708, by Clarance L Ver Steeg, 1964

Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.