The French established colonies across the New World in the 17th century. They were developed to export sugar and furs among other products.

Table of contents
1 North America
2 Caribbean Islands
3 South America
4 See also:
5 Reference

North America

Explorers and settlers from France settled in what is now Canada, the Mississippi Valley and along the Gulf coast in what is now Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana founding the cities of Quebec, Montreal, Detroit, Michigan, St. Louis, Missouri, Mobile, Alabama, Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

The first French attempt at colonization was in 1598 on Sable Island, southeast of present Nova Scotia. This colony went unsupplied and the 12 survivors returned to France in 1605. The next and first successful colony was Acadia founded in 1603 with its town of Port Royal, now Annapolis.

The French were very interested in the fur trade and purchased fur from and formed alliances with Native American tribes such as the Huron and Ottawa. They actively engaged in warfare with the traditional enemies of the Hurons and Ottawas, the Iroquois.

France once held vast possessions in North America including the Mississippi and St. Lawrence river valleys. The colony of Louisiana was founded in 1699. However, as a result of the French and Indian War, all French territory on the North American continent was divided between the British and the Spanish. The sole exception was the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the Canadian coast, retained as a fishing outpost. The French were able to briefly regain some of the Spanish possessions in North America during the Napoleonic Era. However, because France did not have the navy to resupply its North American holdings and because France did not want its possessions to fall into the hands of the British, Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States, a sale referred to as the Louisiana Purchase. The only remaining French possession in North America is Saint Pierre and Miquelon.

Caribbean Islands

Haiti, called Saint Domingue by the French, was first settled in 1625 with French rights confirmed by the Spanish in the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. It became independent of France in 1804.

Martinique first settled by the French in July 1635 by Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, a noble from Normandy. It remains a French overseas department.

Guadeloupe including the islands of St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Les Saintes, La Désirade, Marie-Galante and Guadeloupe was settled by the French about 1635 after an unsuccessful Spanish attempt at colonization. It remains a French overseas department. Guadeloupe and Martinique were captured by the British during the French and Indian War from 1759 to 1763. The French regained the islands at the end of the war in exchange for giving Great Britain rights to their Canadian lands.

Saint Lucia was founded by the French in 1650. It changed hands between the British and French 14 times before 1814, after which it remained in British hands.

Grenada was founded in 1650 and remained a French colony until 1762 when it was captured by the British during the Seven Years War. It was recaptured by the French in 1779 during the American Revolutionary War but returned in 1783 in Treaty of Paris.

Tobago was a French colony before being captured by the British in 1762.

South America

French Guiana was first settled by the French in 1604. It remains an overseas department of France.

See also:


  • The French Founders of North America and Their Heritage, Sabra Holbrook, Atheneum, New York, 1976, hardback, ISBN 0-689-30490-0