Name given to the French claim and possessions on the North American continent from 1524 when Verrazano reconnoitered the coast and claimed the country for Francis I of France, till their surrender in 1763.
It comprised, with the exception of the English colonies of Virginia, Maryland, New England, and New York, the greater part of North America from Hudson Bay to Mexico, including the basins of the Saint Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi Valley, Labrador, Nova Scotia (till 1713), New Brunswick, and part of Maine.
Jacques Cartier, who dedicated the land to the Catholic Faith, failed in his attempt to plant the first colony on the banks of the Saint Lawrence, 1534-1543, and the project was abandoned until 1605, when after several futile efforts a settlement was made at Port Royal (now Annapolis, Nova Scotia), by Pierre Du Guast, Sieur de Monts, and Samuel de Champlain.
When Port Royal was destroyed by the English, Champlain sailed to the Saint Lawrence, where he founded Quebec, 1608, and established the first permanent French colony in New France.
With the desire to possess the land went the determination to protect the natives and to establish firmly there the name of Jesus Christ.
"France aimed to subdue not by the sword but by the Cross, not to overwhelm and crush the nations she invaded, but to convert, civilize and embrace them among her children" (Parkman, Pioneers of France, 462).
Probably at the suggestion of Champlain, but in response to the urgent solicitation of the Recollects the Jesuits came in 1625 to take up the work of the missions inaugurated by their predecessors, Biard and Masse, at Port Royal, 1611, and by the Recollects.
The "Relations" of their missionary labors stirred the soul of France, and inspired in her noble youth the spirit of sacrifice, and the abandonment of a life of ease for the perilous work of the Indian missions that meant untold hardship, and, for many, cruel torture and martyrdom.
The expansion of French influence was powerfully promoted by these intrepid missionaries who penetrated far into the wilderness, often alone, sometimes side by side with the great explorers and discoverers, winning the admiration, confidence, and friendship of the savage tribes by their courage and self-denial, converting many, and attaching them indissolubly to New France.
The Jesuit Fathers Jogues and Raymbault, penetrated as far as Sault Sainte Marie in 1641, and were, says Bancroft, "the first missionaries to preach the gospel a thousand miles in the interior, five years before John Eliot addressed the Indians six miles from Boston."
Father Claude Dablon, Father Claude Allouez, and Father Jacques Marquette established missions on Lake Superior, 1680, and were the first to inform the world of the rich copper mines of that region.
It was Dablon who appointed Marquette to undertake the expedition, joined by Louis Joliet as leader, which resulted in the discovery of the Mississippi from the north, and inspired La Salle's explorations of the great river with the Franciscan Father Louis Hennepin, in 1678, which added the vast territory of Louisiana to New France.
The bulk of the trade of New France was in furs, and the custom of inducing the Indians to trade furs for rum was a matter of bitter contention between the ecclesiastical and the civil authorities.
From the beginning New France was engaged in almost incessant warfare with the English colonies and their Iroquois allies, but notwithstanding her vast and sparsely populated territory she repelled the invader until, abandoned to her fate by the motherland at the instigation of Voltaire and other malignant or short-sighted publicists, she lost her last fight under the gallant Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec, 14 September 1659.
Among illustrious names in the history of New France are those of
>François de Montmorency Laval, first bishop;
Marc Lescarbot, colonizer;
Jean Talon, first intendant;
Argenson and Frontenac, governors;
de Maisonneuve, founder of Montreal;
Iberville, naval commander and colonizer of Louisiana;
Bienville, founder of New Orleans;
De La Verendrye, explorer of the West; and
Louis Joseph Gozon, Marquis de Montcalm, soldier.
New Catholic Dictionary