French Colonialism

As a country that is a member of European Union defined by, France had colonial possessions, in various forms, from the early 17th century through the 1960s. At its highest point, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire stretched over 12,347,000 km² of land. Including the metropolis France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 km² in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6% of the world’s land area.

The remnants of this great empire are hundreds of islands and archipelagos located in the North Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the South Pacific, the North Pacific and the Antarctic Ocean, as well as a continental territory in South America, totaling together 123,150 km², which represents only 1% of the area of the French colonial empire before 1939, with 2,543,000 people living there in 2006.

The first French colonial empire

In 1534 Francis I sent Jacques Cartier to explore the coast of Newfoundland and the Saint Lawrence River. In August 1541, this group established a fortified colony, baptized as Charlesbourg-Royal, on the site of the present Cap-Rouge district in Quebec City ; However, later, it will be decided to leave the place due to diseases, the abominable climate and the presence of natives.

Thus, the first voyages of Giovanni da Verrazano and Jacques Cartier in the 16th century, together with the frequent voyages of French fishermen to the Great Banks of Newfoundland throughout that century, were the precursors of the history of French colonial expansion.

But Spain’s zealous protection of its empire in America, and the ruptures caused in France itself by the Wars of Religion in the last years of the 16th century, prevented any consistent effort by France to establish colonies.

The French attempts to found colonies in Brazil, in 1555 in Rio de Janeiro (the proclaimed France Antarctique) and in 1612 in São Luís (the proclaimed France Équinoxiale), and in Florida were unsuccessful, due to Portuguese and Spanish vigilance and prevention.

The history of the colonial empire of France really began the 27 of July of 1605, with the founding of Port Royal, in the colony of Acadia in North America, in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada. Already a few years earlier, Samuel de Champlain had made his first trip to Canada on a fur-trading mission. Although he did not have an official mandate regarding this trip, he writes a letter and writes, upon his return to France, an account entitled Des sauvage s (account of his stay in an Innu tribe near Tadoussac). Then, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, which would become the capital of the huge, but sparsely populated, fur trading colony of New France (also called Canada).

Although through alliances with various Native American tribes, the French were able to exercise some control over much of the North American continent, French population areas were limited to the St. Lawrence River valley. Before the establishment of the Sovereign Council in 1663, the territories of New France developed as merchant colonies.

It is only after the arrival of Mayor Jean Talon, that France gave its American colonies the appropriate means to develop colonies with population comparable to that of the British. But there was relatively little interest in colonialism in France, which concentrated more on dominance within Europe, and for most of New France’s history, even Canada lagged far behind the British North American colonies in population and in size. economic development. Acadia itself was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

In 1699, French land claims in North America expanded further, with the founding of Louisiana, in the Mississippi River basin. The extensive trade network throughout the region connected Canada via the Great Lakes, and was maintained through a vast system of fortifications, many of them centered on the Illinois countryside and present-day Arkansas.

As the French empire in North America expanded, the French also began to build a smaller but more profitable empire in the West Indies. The population along the South American coast in what is now French Guiana, began in 1624 and a colony was founded in San Cristóbal in 1627 (the island had to be shared with the English until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when it was ceded entirely).

The Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique founded colonies in Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1635, and a colony was later founded in Saint Lucia in 1650. The food-producing plantations of these colonies were built and sustained through slavery, with the supply of slaves dependent on the African slave trade. The colonialists always fiercely faced the natives who still lived in their colonies, reaching total extermination as occurred in several of the Caribbean islands.

The most important Caribbean colonial possession did not arrive until 1664, when the colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was founded in the western half of the Spanish island of Hispaniola. France took advantage of Spain’s disinterest in the western part of the island and, through its buccaneers (from Tortuga Island), gradually seized that western sector of Hispaniola until finally Spain ceded it to France in 1697.

The French turned this western sector, which they called Saint Domingue, into one of the richest colonies in France thanks to its plantations worked by black slaves brought from Africa.

French colonial Haiti, in the last third of the 18th century and under a harsh slave system, had a population of just 20,000 white people, 30,000 free mulattoes, and almost 800,000 slaves who worked the sugar, tobacco, indigo, cotton, etc. plantations.

The wealth of Saint Domingue made the French call it the Pearl of the Antilles since it produced 60% of the coffee and 40% of the sugar consumed throughout Europe.

French colonial expansion was not limited to the New World, however. In Senegal in West Africa, the French began establishing factories 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 at Chandernagore, in Bengal (1673), and Pondicherry in the southeast (1674), and later at Yanaon (1723), Mahe (1725), and Karikal (1739). Colonies were also founded in the Indian Ocean, on the Île Bourbon (Reunion, 1664), Île de France (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756).

Colonization of Africa

See also: Algeria as a French colony
The mass rebellion of young Arabs and Africans in late October and November 2005 represents a historic awakening. For the first time, immigrant communities spread across the urban centers of France have risen up in the face of decades of racism, poverty and neglect.

The uprising was sparked when two North African teenagers, Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore, were electrocuted to death on October 27 after being pursued by police. Their deaths provoked an outpouring of massive fury. Tens of thousands of young people took to the streets across France, burning cars and confronting the police. What began as a sporadic protest in Chichy-sous-Bois, a working-class suburb of Paris, soon morphed into a nationwide rebellion. In a few weeks, young Arabs and Muslims took to the streets in more than 300 cities and centers.

The situation faced by African and Arab immigrants in France today is a direct result of French colonialism in North Africa, especially Algeria, which was the main French colony on the continent.

In early 1945, after World War II, the French government responded to the labor shortage by encouraging Algerian workers to immigrate to France. Successive French governments continued this policy by extending formal democratic rights to Algerian immigrants, being fully French, and offering some social benefits. But Algerian immigration coincided with the Algerian liberation struggle that began in 1954. While the French army stalled in a brutal war of colonial pacification, Algerian neighborhoods became a bastion of support for liberation struggles within France. Efforts to pacify those internal colonies with economic concessions failed.

Algeria achieved its independence in 1962, but not before millions of Algerians were killed by the brutal French counterinsurgency campaign. The scars of French brutality are still felt today.

France’s interest in Algeria dates back to Napoleonic times. The French colonial policy had suffered a turn in the last decades of the reign of the Bourbons as a result of the enlargement of the British Crown, since in the Seven Years’ War it achieved an almost total victory. Napoleon had also thought of the colonies at the time of the European conquests, an example of this was the adventure in Egypt. Napoleon chose Algeria to punish the king for his wrong move between France and England. The plans for the conquest were carried out only in 1830 by Carlos X. Algeria represented an ideal and strategic place for an empire like France, determined to found colonies in North Africa. After the restoration, France resumed a program of colonial expansion, with a purely imperialist idea.

This is the list of African countries colonized by France:

  • Algeria
  • Tunisia
  • Morocco
  • French West Africa
    • Mauritania
    • Senegal
    • French Sudan (now Mali)
    • Guinea
    • Cameroon
    • Ivory Coast
    • Niger
    • Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso)
    • Dahomey (now Benin)
  • French Equatorial Africa
    • Gabon
    • Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo)
    • Ubangui – Chari (now the Central African Republic)
    • Chad
    • French Somaliland (now Djibouti)
    • Madagascar
    • Comoros


French Colonialism