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New France: Settlement of the territory

This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of European Colonies in North America.

By the mid-18th century, New France covered a considerable area between the Estuaries of the Saint Laurence and of the Mississippi.  

The original European population remained relatively low and colonies were only established in specific areas: the Saint Laurence Valley, Ile Royale and New Orleans.

Peripheral areas saw an extensive colonization based mainly on fur trading.  

To obtain furs from Indian tribes, men known as ‘coureurs des bois’ penetrated further and further into the interior of the continent.

This development emerged first in the Pays d’en haut, now known as the region of the Great Lakes.

It extended along the Mississippi and its tributaries after Cavelier de la Salle explored this region in 1682.

At the beginning of the 17th century, this development spread out towards Lake Winnipeg.  The French hoped to intervene in the fur trade which, in these regions, was flowing into the English ports on Hudson Bay.  

As French trappers advanced further into America’s inland territories, a series of trading posts and forts were built in order to protect this commerce and defend the colony.

Some of these forts were protected by a simple wooden palisade, while others were larger with more solid constructions in stone and equipped with artillery.  These included the forts of Frontenac, Pont Chartrain, and Michilimackinac in the Pays d’en haut, Chartres and Duquesne in Illinois territory, and Rosalie in Louisiana.

Authorities in New France sought to encourage settlements near some of these forts. The most successful settlement was founded in 1701 by Antoine de Lamothe-Cadillac in the colony of Detroit next to Fort Pontchartrain.

These attempts remained limited and many of the peripheral areas of New France were in fact colonies ‘without populations’.