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2.2 16th–18th Centuries

The Portuguese Crown claimed it had territorial rights in the area visited by Cabot. In 1493, the Pope – assuming international jurisdiction – had divided lands discovered in America between Spain and Portugal. The next year, in the Treaty of Tordesillas, these two kingdoms decided that the dividing line would be drawn north-south, 370 leagues (from 1,500 to 2,200 km (930 to 1,400 mi) approximately depending on league used) west of the Cape Verde Islands. Land to the west would be Spanish, to the east Portuguese. Given the uncertain geography of the day, this seemed to give the “new founded isle” to Portugal. On the 1502 Cantino map, Newfoundland appears on the Portuguese side of the line (as does Brazil). An expedition captured about 60 Aboriginal people as slaves who were said to “resemble gypsies in colour, features, stature and aspect; are clothed in the skins of various animals …They are very shy and gentle, but well formed in arms and legs and shoulders beyond description ….” Only the captives, sent by Gaspar Corte-Real, reached Portugal. The others drowned, with Gaspar, on the return voyage. Gaspar’s brother, Miguel Corte-Real, went to look for him in 1502, but also failed to return. Scholars believe that Miguel Corte-Real carved inscriptions on the controversial Dighton Rock.

Because of these voyages, the names Terra Cortereal and Terra del Rey de Portugal began to appear on European maps, and it clear that the Portuguese were very interested in what the new lands had to offer – fish, timber and slaves. But the extent and nature of Portuguese activity in the region during the 16th century remains unclear and controversial. The number of Portuguese place names that survive to this day, and the evidence of Portuguese maps, suggests that their presence was significant.

The French first began to explore further inland and set up colonies. In 1524, King Francis I of France sent a Florentine navigator, Giovanni da Verrazzano, on a voyage of reconnaissance overseas. He explored the eastern coastline of North America from North Carolina to Newfoundland, giving France claim to the New World as well. Ten years later in 1534 Francis I would follow up on the work of Verrazano by dispatching an expedition under Jacques Cartier to report on the lands he discovered and the people he met. Cartier named the coasts of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and viewed by Anticosti Island what might be the mouth of a great river. Cartier attempted to penetrate beyond the St. Lawrence River the following year on a second expedition. Cartier travelled upstream with three small vessels where he discovered the native village of Stadacona, near the present day city of Quebec. 150 mi (240 km) further up the river Cartier came upon an island in the river where he discovered another native settlement called Hochelaga, on the site of present day Montreal, occupied by St. Lawrence Iroquoians. The Lachine Rapids blocked his navigation further upstream and Cartier would return to France before making one last expedition. In 1541 made his third and last voyage up the St. Lawrence, leading a group of French colonists under Jean Francois de la Rocque that would mark the first attempt by France to settle in Canada. The project, located at Cap-Rouge failed with 60 colonists dying before the attempt was abandoned and France would not attempt further colonisation for another 60 years. In the early 1600s the Iroquois came into conflict with another Iroquoian people, the Wyandot, (known also as the ‘Hurons’) of what is today southwestern Ontario, as the two groups clashed over the trade in beaver pelts introduced by the early traders of New France. While the Wendat became allies of the French, the Iroquois entered into trade with the Dutch of New Amsterdam and then formed an historic alliance with the English which endured through the Seven Years’ War.

Throughout the rest of the 16th century European fleets continued to make almost annual visits to the eastern shores of Canada to cultivate the fishing opportunities there. A sideline industry emerged as well though in the unorganised traffic of furs. In Europe methods of processing the furs developed and Beaver pelt hats became particularly fashionable. European countries encouraged the development of this infant trade and thus a new emphasis was put on settlement in Canada. On August 5, 1583 Humphrey Gilbert, armed with letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I, formally took possession of Newfoundland in St. John’s harbour on behalf of England. In 1598, Troilus de Mesgouez, Marquis de la Roche, set out for Canada armed with a new kind of authority—a royal monopoly which gave him the exclusive right to trade in furs. La Roche established a small colony on Sable Island, southeast of Nova Scotia. The settlement, which was a dismal failure, was the first of French sponsored colonisation attempts in Canada with the promise of a monopoly on the fur trade. An attempt at settlement was made in 1600 at Tadoussac by Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit; the settlement failed, but Tadoussac remained a trading post.

In 1604, Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons received the fur trade monopoly. Dugua led his first colonisation expedition to an island located near to the mouth of the St. Croix River. Samuel de Champlain, his geographer, promptly carried out a major exploration of the northeastern coastline of what is now the United States. Under Samuel de Champlain, the Saint Croix settlement was moved to Port Royal (today’s Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia), a new site across the Bay of Fundy, on the shore of the Annapolis Basin, an inlet in western Nova Scotia. Acadia was France’s most successful colony to date. The cancellation of de Guast’s fur monopoly in 1607 ended the Port Royal settlement. Champlain was able to persuade de Guast though to allow him to take colonists and settle on the Saint Lawrence, where in 1608 he would found France’s first permanent colony in Canada at Quebec City. The colony of Acadia grew slowly, reaching a population of about 5,000 by 1713. New France had cod fishery coastal communities and farm economies supported communities along Saint Lawrence River. French voyageurs travelled deep into the hinterlands (of what is today Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, as well as what is now the American Midwest and the Mississippi Valley) trading guns, gunpowder, cloth, knives, and kettles for beaver furs. The fur trade kept the interest in Frances overseas colonies alive, yet only encouraged a small population as minimal labour was required, and also discouraged the development of agriculture, the surest foundation of a colony in the New World.

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