Encyclopedia > French colonial empire

  Article Content

French colonial empire

In various forms, France has had colonial possessions since the beginning of the 17th century. Currently, the only remnants of what was once a large empire are four overseas departments[?] - the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and the small South American mainland possession of French Guiana; 3 overseas territories: French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, New Caledonia, ; and one territorial collectivity: Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

The First French Colonial Empire

The early voyages of Giovanni da Verrazano and Jacques Cartier in the early 16th century, as well as the frequent voyages of French fishermen to the Grand Banks[?] off Newfoundland throughout that century, were the precursors to the story of France's colonial expansion. But Spain's jealous protection of its American monopoly, and the disruptions caused in France itself by the Wars of Religion in the later 16th century, prevented any consistent efforts to establish colonies. Early French attempts to found colonies at Rio de Janeiro and in Florida were unsuccessful, due to Portuguese and Spanish vigilance.

The story of France's colonial empire truly began on July 27, 1605 with the foundation of Port Royal in the colony of Acadia in North America, in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada. A few years later, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, which was to become the capital of the enormous, but sparsely settled, fur-trading colony of New France (also called Canada). Although, through alliances with various Native American tribes, the French were able to exert a loose control over much of the North American continent, areas of French settlement were generally limited to the Saint Lawrence River valley, and backwards French economic and immigration policies left even these regions far behind the English North American colonies in both population and economic development. Acadia itself was lost to the English in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

In 1699, French territorial claims in North America expanded still further with the foundation of Louisiana near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Although the colony claimed control over the whole watershed of the Mississippi, effective control was only exerted in a small coastal region, near the cities of Mobile and New Orleans (founded 1718).

As the French empire in North America expanded, the French also began to build a smaller, but more profitable empire in the West Indies. Settlement along the South American coast in what is today French Guiana began in 1624, and a colony was founded on Saint Kitts in 1627 (the island had to be shared with the English until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when it was ceded outright). The Compagnie des Iles de l'Amerique founded colonies in Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1635, and a colony was later founded on Saint Lucia (1650). The most important colonial possession, though, did not come until 1664, when the colony of Saint-Domingue was founded on the western half of the Spanish island of Hispaniola. In the 18th century, Saint-Domingue grew to be the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean.

French colonial expansion was not limited to the New World, however. In Senegal in West Africa, the French began to establish trading posts along the coast in 1624. In 1664 the French East India Company was established to compete for trade in the east. Colonies were established in India in Chandernagore[?] in Bengal (1673) and Pondicherry in the Southeast (1674), and later at Yanam[?] (1723), Mahe[?] (1725), and Karikal (1739). Colonies were also founded in the Indian Ocean, on the the Ile de Bourbon (Reunion (1664), Ile Royale (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756).

Colonial Conflict with Great Britain, 1744-1815

In the mid-eighteenth century, France began a series of colonial conflicts with the British, which would ultimately result in the demise of most of the first French colonial empire. These wars were the War of the Austrian Succession (1744-1748), the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the War of the American Revolution (1778-1783), and the French Revolutionary (17/wiki/Wikipedia:Bug_reports Bug reports93-1802) and Napoleonic (1803-1814; 1815) Wars.

Although the War of the Austrian Succession was indecisive - despite French successes in India under the French Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix, the Seven Years War, after early French successes in North America, saw a catastrophic French defeat, with the British conquering not only New France, but most of France's West Indian colonies, and all of the French Indian outposts. While the peace treaty saw France's Indian outposts, and the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe restored to France, the competition for influence in India had been won by the British, and North America was entirely lost - New France was taken by England, while Louisiana had to be ceded to Spain as payment for Spain's late entrance into the war (and as compensation for Britain's annexation of Spanish Florida). Also ceded to the British were Grenada and Saint Lucia in the West Indies.

Some recovery was made during the French intervention in the American Revolution, with Saint Lucia being returned to France by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but not nearly as much as had been hoped for at the time of French intervention. True disaster came to what remained of France's colonial empire in 1791 when Saint Domingue, France's richest and most important colony, was riven by a massive slave revolt, caused partly by the divisions among the islands elite resulting from the French Revolution of 1789. The slaves, led eventually by Toussaint l'Ouverture and then, following his capture by the French in 1801, by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, held their own against French, Spanish, and English opponents, and ultimately achieved independence as Haiti in 1804. In the meanwhile, the newly resumed war with England resulted in English capture of practically all remaining French colonies. These were restored at the Peace of Amiens in 1802, but when war resumed in 1803, the British soon recaptured them. France's repurchase of Louisiana in 1800 came to nothing, as the final success of the Haitian revolt convinced Bonaparte that holding it would not be worth the cost, leading to its sale to the United States in 1803 (the Louisiana Purchase). Nor was the French attempt to establish a colony in Egypt in 1798-1801 successful.

The Second French Colonial Empire

At the close of the Napoleonic Wars, most of France's colonies were restored to it by Britain, notably Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, French Guiana on the coast of South America, various trading posts in Senegal, the Ile de Bourbon (Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, and France's tiny Indian possessions. Britain finally annexed Saint Lucia, Tobago, the Seychelles, and the Ile Royal (Mauritius), however.

The true beginnings of the second French colonial Empire, however, were laid in 1830 with the French invasion of Algeria, which was conquered over the next 17 years. During the time of Napoleon III, an attempt was made to establish a colonial-type protectorate in Mexico, but this came to little, and the French were forced to abandon the experiment after the end of the American Civil War. Napoleon also established French control over Cochin-China (the southernmost part of modern Vietnam, including Saigon), as well as a protectorate over Cambodia.

It was only after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 that most of France's later colonial possessions were acquired. From their base in Cochin-China, the French took over Tonkin and Annam (in modern Vietnam) in 1883. These, together with Cambodia and Cochin-China, formed French Indochina (to which Laos was added in 1893). The French also expanded their influence in North Africa, annexing Tunisia in 1881. Gradually, French control was established over much of Northern, Western, and Central Africa by the turn of the century (including the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Mali, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo), as well as the east African coastal enclave of Djibouti (French Somaliland). In 1911, Morocco became a protectorate.

The French made their last major colonial gains after the First World War, when they gained mandates over the former Turkish territories that make up what is now Syria and Lebanon, as well as most of the former German colonies of Togo and Cameroon.

The French colonial empire began to come apart during the Second World War, when various parts of their empire were occupied by foreign powers (the Japanese in Indochina, the British in Syria and Lebanon, the Americans and British in Morocco and Algeria, the Germans in Tunisia). Although France's colonies were restored in 1945, France had almost immediately to engage in suppressing a bitter independence struggle in Indochina. When this ended with French defeat and withdrawal in 1954, the French almost immediately became involved in a new, and even harsher conflict in their oldest major colony, Algeria. Algeria was particularly problematic due to the large number of European settlers (or pieds-noirs) who had settled their in the century and a quarter of French rule. Eventually, Charles de Gaulle's accession to power in 1958 led to independence for Algeria in 1962. Most of the other French African colonies had already been granted independence in 1960

After independence, some of France's former colonies continued to participate in the French Community[?], nurturing to varying extents political, trade and cultural ties with the former colonial power.

Remnants of the French colonial empire include overseas départements in the Caribbean and in the Indian Ocean, as well as sundry territories in the Pacific and in Antarctica.

See also:



All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

 
  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
 
 
  
  Featured Article
Antiquary

... Robert Stephen Hawker John Leland - to king Henry VIII. He was appointed Royal Antiquarian in 1533 Edward Lhuyd[?] Fred Rosenstock William Forbes Skene Georg ...