By the late 17th century, a French colonial empire began to take shape. Although some French traders and fishermen had ventured overseas earlier, the French colonial empire effectively began under Francis I. He supported French voyages of exploration along the Atlantic coast of North America and in the Canadian interior. Sponsored by trading companies enjoying state monopolies, the first permanent French settlements were made in the Americas under Henry IV. The explorations of Samuel de Champlain led to the founding of Québec City in 1608 as a fur-trading post. Competition with England arose immediately, and in 1613 the English attacked a French encampment in present-day Maine. Both powers allied with opposing factions among the Native American tribes, thereby amplifying the conflict.
Under Louis XIII, the first French colonies in the Caribbean were established in Martinique and Guadeloupe. At first these colonies relied on indentured white servants for labor in the sugarcane fields, but gradually they shifted to African slaves.
Colbert sought to breathe new life into colonial trade and settlement by amalgamating established trading companies and by forcing the pace of migration to the colonies. Neither the unified trading companies, including the French East India Company (see East India Company) based in India, nor the settlement policies were noticeably successful. Although French explorers continued to widen French claims in North America, the French population of Canada in the 1680s stood at only about 10,000. Partly for this reason and partly because the French navy was weak, England was able to seize Nova Scotia and the asiento—the right to sell slaves in the Spanish colonies—from France by the early 18th century. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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