New France

Carte Geographique de La Novvelle Franse, by Samuel de Champlain, 1612

Carte Geographique de La Novvelle Franse, by Samuel de Champlain, 1612

Courtesy of Library of Congress and Bibliothèque Nationale de France

French traders established settlements at Québec and Montreal along the St. Lawrence River in the early 1600s. French Jesuits also traveled to the colony to bring Catholicism to Native peoples. But New France focused primarily on the fur trade. Relatively few immigrants left France to settle in the New World, and some who did were Protestant Huguenots, welcome in British colonies but not in Catholic New France. Despite limited immigration of Europeans, New France laid claim to broad swaths of the continent, based on extensive military and economic alliances with Native peoples.

New Identities

Some Native people adopted the Christian beliefs taught by Jesuits and learned other French practices. For their part, many Frenchmen hunted alongside Algonquian peoples in the upper country. Such woodsmen often married Algonquian women. They and their children (called Métis) often became effective traders, translators, and diplomats.

Fur Trade

By 1700 France and England competed with each other to profit from the fur trade and win Native allies. Native peoples competed with one another to serve as intermediaries between rival powers. Gifts helped cement key agreements in these new systems of negotiation and alliance.

Fur traders in Canada, from “A map of the inhabited Part of Canada from the French Surveys,” by William Fadden, 1777

Fur traders in Canada, from “A map of the inhabited Part of Canada from the French Surveys,” by William Fadden, 1777

Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

A Middle Ground

The upper country of the Great Lakes and beyond was neither fully French nor fully Algonquian. Neither group commanded enough power to make the other abide by its wishes. The area became a site of constant negotiation and compromise over such issues as prices, fairness in exchange, and the obligations of military alliance.

Fox man, by French artist, around 1720

Fox man, by French artist, around 1720

Courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

French woodsman, or coureur de bois, wearing snowshoes

French woodsman, or coureur de bois, wearing snowshoes

Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

Marketing Moccasins in North America

Just as Native Americans adopted European goods, Europeans came to appreciate moccasins. Moccasins could withstand local conditions and be remade regularly using efficient design and readily available materials. European traders, farmers, and priests quickly adopted them. By the mid-1700s European settlers in Detroit were manufacturing them for sale in both French and English towns and cities to the east.

Canadian woman in moccasins, Native-style leggings, European skirt, and bodice. Artist unknown, Genre Studies of Habitants and Indians, around 1780

Canadian woman in moccasins, Native-style leggings, European skirt, and bodice. Artist unknown, Genre Studies of Habitants and Indians, around 1780

Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum © ROM

These two pairs of moccasins came from the Michilimackinac trading post in today’s far northern Michigan. The unadorned pair may have been made for trade. The decorated pair, featuring porcupine quills, deer hair, and silk ribbons, may have been made for personal use or as a gift.

Man's Moccasins, Northern Michigan, around 1790

Man's Moccasins, Northern Michigan, around 1790

Loan from National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Man's Moccasins, Northern Michigan, around 1790

Man's Moccasins, Northern Michigan, around 1790

Loan from National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution