During the 1600s, France, the Netherlands, England, and Sweden joined Spain in settling North America. At first, Europeans were disappointed that North America did not yield gold treasure or offer a water passage to Asia, as they had hoped. Before long, though, the English and French were turning profits by growing tobacco in Virginia, fishing off the North Atlantic coast, and trading furs from New England and Canada with Europe.
French explorer Jacques Cartier found that the St. Lawrence River was a gateway into a vast territory of rich forests, with an abundance of fish and animals that could provide wealth from trade.
By 1700, France and England controlled large parts of North America. As their colonies grew, they developed their own governments that differed from each other and from that of Spanish America.
By the early 1500s, French fishing ships were crossing the Atlantic each year to harvest rich catches of cod off Newfoundland, Canada. Within 200 years, the French had occupied or claimed nearly half of North America.
French claims in Canada—which the French called New France—quietly grew while French rulers were distracted by wars at home in Europe. In 1534, Jacques Cartier (zhahk kahr tee AY) began exploring the coastline of eastern Canada, eventually discovering the St. Lawrence River. Traveling inland on the river, he claimed much of present-day eastern Canada for France.
French explorers and fur traders gradually traveled inland with the help of Native American allies, who sought support against rival Native American groups. Jesuits and other missionaries soon followed the explorers. They advanced into the wilderness, trying with little success to convert the Native Americans they met to Christianity.