11.4 European Colonies in North America

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.

Illustration of men in canoes traveling by river with forested hills on the banks, where native men are signaling.

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.


  • Explain why the colony of New France grew slowly.
  • Analyze the establishment and growth of the English colonies.
  • Understand why Europeans competed for power in North America and how their struggle affected Native Americans.

Key Terms

  • New France
  • revenue
  • Pilgrim
  • compact
  • French and Indian War
  • Treaty of Paris
  • Jacques Cartier
  • Samuel de Champlain
  • John Cabot

New France

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.

French Exploration Begins

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.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments