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[Detail] Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. 1755.

Collection Overview

France in America is a collaborative project between the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, France’s national library. This collection, which is presented in both English and French, documents the presence of the French in the United States from the beginning of the 16th century until the end of the 19th century. Included in the presentation are discussions of French exploration of the United States and Canada, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be ll-encompassing.

  • Period of Exploration, 1492-1763
  • Global Expansion and Encounter, 1450-1770
  • An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914
  • Colonial Settlement, 1492-1763
  • The American Revolution, 1763-1783
  • The New Nation, 1780-1815
  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

You may search the collection using the descriptive information for collection items, the interpretive text or the full texts of items found within the collection. All search options can be found at A site map of the collection can be found at



Map of New France

Canada ou Nouvelle France. When was this map drawn? What does it tell you about French exploration in North America?

France in America/France en Amérique is a bilingual digital library made available by the Library of Congress in partnership with the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.  The collection contains complete books, maps, prints, and other documents from the partner libraries illuminating the role France played in the exploration and settlement of the continent, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution.  Additional documents exploring economic, scientific, literary, and artistic exchanges between the two nations in the course of the nineteenth century will be added to the site.

France in America augments the study of American and world history through a variety of primary and secondary sources including travel narratives, missionary accounts, journals, prints and drawings, and an extensive collection of maps.  Documents from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Library of Congress examine early French explorations, colonial settlements, Franco-Indian alliances, international colonial rivalries, French support of the American Revolution, and the U.S. acquisition of Louisiana.  These materials provide an exceptional documentary record of French colonial America and Franco-American relations in the early nineteenth century.

The Themes section offers essays on numerous aspects of France’s role in the early years of European influence in North America, all illustrated with and linked to documents from the collection. Also included are a helpful chronology and a series of descriptive maps. This section provides an excellent entry point for students wishing to explore the collection.

A number of documents in the collection reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century explorers regarding Native Americans they encountered.  In addition, historical narratives written in the nineteenth century also contain offensive references that expose some prejudices of the period.

Exploration and Settlement

The first exploration of the Americas by the European powers was undertaken under Spanish sponsorship by Christopher Columbus, who was seeking a route to Asia that would bypass Portuguese-controlled Africa. Columbus’s initial exploration of several islands of the Caribbean is documented in the France in America collection, in the form of a letter from Columbus to a friend.

In 1524, France made its first major contribution to exploration of the Americas when Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian sponsored by France, made the first exploration of North America’s Atlantic coast. Verrazano’s voyage was just the first of France’s many contributions to generating knowledge about the American continents (see the Theme essay on Exploration and Knowledge, for more information).

The collection has a wide variety of French-language documents from Bibliothèque Nationale de France on the early exploration of North America, including a handwritten report of the second voyage of Jacques Cartier, c. 1535 and Samuel Champlain’s account of his voyage of 1603.

Secondary sources also provide insight into Champlain’s explorations. Francis Parkman’s "Historic Handbook of the Northern Tour," published in 1885, provides a survey in English of the French exploration of settlements of North America.  "Papers Relating to the French Occupation in Western Pennsylvania, 1631-1764" provides a general history of French settlements in North America from Champlain’s discoveries through the conflicts in the Ohio Valley during the French and Indian War.

 The "History of Brulé’s Discoveries and Explorations, 1610-1626" further elaborates the exploits of the early French explorers.  Stephen Brulé, the subject of this book, was an aide and interpreter for Champlain, one of a small number to survive the first year at Quebec. In order to learn their language, Brulé spent a year with the Huron, becoming the first European to see, among other things, Lake Huron.

Read selections from several of the sources noted above.

  • On a map, trace the routes of the explorers discussed in the selections you read. Add symbols to indicate where significant events in their explorations occurred. Note the locations where various Indian tribes lived.
  • Describe the interactions of the French explorers with the Indians. In what ways did the explorers use the Indians to further their own ends?  How did the Indians respond?
  • How did the explorers document their voyages? Why were the exploits of Cartier and Champlain better documented than those of Brulé?
  • The author of "History of Brulé’s Discoveries and Explorations, 1610-1626" says in the preface that Brulé’s story is "one of the most romantic chapters of adventures wherein is related the captivity and suffering of an explorer at the hands of savages."  In what ways were the adventures of the explorers "romantic"? (You may need to look for alternative definitions of the word romantic in order to answer this question.) What adjectives would you use to describe the explorers’ exploits?

Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle was another noted French explorer. In 1682, he journeyed to the mouth of the Mississippi River, claiming the Mississippi Valley, which came to be known as Louisiana, for France. (Note that Louisiana referred to a much larger territory than the modern-day U.S. state.) Read from the "Memoir of Robert Cavelier de La Salle" on the purpose for taking possession of Louisiana (c. 1684).

The principal result which the Sieur de La Salle expected from the great perils and labors which he underwent in the discovery of the Mississippi, was to satisfy the wish expressed to him by the late Monseigneur Colbert, of finding a port where the French might establish themselves and harass the Spaniards in those regions from whence they derive all their wealth. The place which he proposes to fortify lies sixty leagues above the mouth of the Rivert Colbert (Mississippi), in the Gulf of Mexico, and possesses all the advantages for such a purpose which can be wished for, both upon account of its excellent position and the favorable disposition of the savages who live in that part of the country.

From  the "Memoir of Robert Cavelier de La Salle"

Also read from the English translation of "Henri Joutel’s Historical Journal of Monsieur de La Salle’s Last Voyage to Discover the River Mississippi."   Joutel accompanied La Salle, and his account of the voyage was first published in 1713. 

  • What was the stated purpose of the La Salle expedition?
  • Why was France anxious to establish a colony to "harass the Spanish"?
  • What do these stories tell you about the preparations necessary for a voyage such as La Salle’s? Does any of this information surprise you?

Henry de Tonty’s memoir of 1693 in "Documents, Papers, Materials and Publications Relating to the Northwest and the State of Illinois" gives a lengthy account in English of the La Salle expeditions in the Great Lakes region.

The French expanded their hold in the Mississippi Valley with the founding of New Orleans by Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in 1718, and then established a series of forts at the junctions of tributaries of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Read selections from the English translation of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville’s historical journal on the colonization of Louisiana (c. 1699). Also read a description of the founding of New Orleans in "Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, From the First Settlement of the Colony to the Departure of Governor O'Reilly in 1770."

  • Why was control of the Mississippi River deemed important for France?
  • What difficulties did France encounter in establishing control over Louisiana?
  • What was the strategic importance of the French settlement at New Orleans?  Can you think of other eras in U.S. history when New Orleans has had strategic importance?

American Indian Cultures and Missionary Activity

French explorers, missionaries, and soldiers amassed a great deal of information about the Indians with whom they came into contact. Understanding the Indians helped the French live among the Indians more easily and provided them with critical information about how to survive in the territories they were exploring. In their willingness to learn about the Indians and to use that understanding as the basis for their relationship with Indians, the French differed from the English and, later, the Americans. A French-Ojibwa historian named William Warren, quoted in the  Themes section Knowledge of the Indians, said "...the Ojibwas learned to love the French people, for the Frenchmen, possessing a character of great plasticity, easily assimilated themselves to the customs and mode of life of their red brethren."

cover of Le Grand Voyage du Pays

Le Grand Voyage du Pays. What can you infer about the contents of the book by examining the cover?

Understanding the Indians also helped those among the French who wanted to change the Indians, including missionaries, who hoped to convert the Indians to Christianity. Many of the missionaries who worked among the Indians wrote extensively about their culture and religion.

A number of the works with detailed observations of Indians are available in French only. Three examples are the two-volume "Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains" by Joseph-Francois Lafitau; "Le Grand Voyage du Pays"  by Gabriel Sagard; and  "Nouvelle relation de la Gaspesie."  by Chrestien Le Clercq.

A 1903 translation of Father Claudius Dablon’s narrative about Father James Marquette is provided in "Relation of the Voyages, Discoveries, and Death, of Father James Marquette." Section VI provides a detailed description of the Illinois Indians, including this description of their diet:

They live by game, which is abundant in this country, and on Indian corn, of which they always gather a good crop, so that they have never suffered from famine. They also sow beans and melons, which are excellent, especially those with a red seed. Their squashes are not of the best; they dry them in the sun, to eat in the winter and spring.

From "Relation of the Voyages, Discoveries, and Death of Father James Marquette", page 26.

Read Section VI of Dablon’s account and answer the following questions:

  • How had the Illinois been affected by indirect contact with the French?
  • What was the calumet? How was it used by the Illinois? Why do you think it was held in such high esteem?
  • Compare the 1903 description with an 1852 version. How are the two sources different? Who provided the additional information in the 1852 version? How can you assess the accuracy of that information, compared to the earlier edition?

The France in America collection includes several English-language secondary sources—histories or biographies—drawing on the early primary sources about Indian cultures. One such source was "The Life of Father Isaac Jogues," translated from the French, which examines the life and work of a Jesuit missionary slain by the Mohawks in 1646. Shortly after Father Jogues arrived at the Huron mission, he fell ill; after he recovered, the same disease swept through the Huron population. Some historians estimate that between 1634 and 1640 as many as 60 percent of the Huron were killed by European diseases to which they had no immunity, diseases such as measles, smallpox, and influenza. Father Jogues’ biographer described the Indian medical practices as follows:

The medicine-men . . . had recourse to numberless acts of superstition, which they palmed off as efficacious remedies. Now they would blow on the sick with all their might to drive off the evil spirits; then they would throw into the fire small pieces of tobacco as a sacrifice to the spirits, who were adjured to protect the cabin. They could be seen searching everywhere for the spell which they supposed to be source of the evil; and when recovery seemed certain, they had tact enough to pretend they had just found it. They almost always had recourse to dances, which Indians like, and which enter largely into their superstition.

From "The Life of Father Isaac Jogues," page 48 

Read more of Chapters II through V of "The Life of Father Isaac Jogues" and consider the following questions:

  • Why, according to the author, did the missionaries find learning the Huron language difficult?
  • Why did the Indians refuse to allow the missionaries into their towns when illness struck? Do you think this refusal was justified? Why or why not?
  • Describe the means of travel used by the Indians and missionaries. How was knowledge gained from the Indians important to the missionaries?
  • Create a web of information about the Iroquois presented in Chapter V. Why were the Iroquois so feared? What factors may have contributed to their being "successful in all their undertakings"? 
  • What author bias can you detect in this biography of Father Jogues? How does this bias affect your reading of the work?

Consider what you have read about the work of the Jesuit missionaries.

  • How did the Indians respond to the missionary activities of the Jesuits?
  • What role did the missionaries play in the pacification of Indian nations?
  • How did missionary activity in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys open the way for colonial settlement?

A history published in 1858, Edward D. Neill’s "The History of Minnesota; From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time," draws upon the writings of explorers and missionaries. Edward Neill was thoroughly American. An ordained minister, educator, and historian, he worked as an assistant to Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, served as Minnesota’s first superintendent of schools, and then as the first president of Macalester College.

  • In what ways does Neill’s description of the Indians who lived in what is now Minnesota reflect his experience as a white American?
  • How would you assess his description of Indian life compared to those of the French missionaries?

French and Indian War

By the eighteenth century, France had three colonies in North America: Acadia (by 1713 just one island at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence), Canada, and Louisiana. While New France was large—stretching from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico—its population was not. Only about 90,000 colonists lived in New France around 1760. In contrast, 1.6 million people lived in the 13 British colonies. The sparseness of the population would prove to be a disadvantage to the French in their ongoing conflict with Great Britain over control of North American territories and trade.

A new British-French conflict in North America began in 1754. That year, the colonial governor of Virginia sent Colonel George Washington into the Ohio Valley to order the French to withdraw from the area.  Washington returned, informing the Virginia governor that the French had refused to leave the region.  With a small group of volunteers and some Indian allies, Washington returned to the Ohio Valley and surprised a French detachment near Great Meadows.  The French sent a force from Fort Duquesne, a fort they had recently constructed where the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers formed the Ohio River, and forced Washington’s surrender at Fort Necessity.  The conflict over the Ohio Valley soon developed into a full-scale war between France and England.

In a two-volume study, "An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North-America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760," British officer John Knox describes the sieges of Quebec and includes some documents relating to the conflict.  In June 1759, before the siege began, Knox wrote that the "prevailing sentimental toast among the Officers is—British colours on every French fort, port, and garrison in America" (Volume 1, page 279).  In September, when the British were nearly ready to admit failure and leave Quebec, Knox reflected on differences between French and British approaches to battle:

Upon our coming to an anchor, they [the French] turned out their floats, and ranged them in great order; their cavalry then dismounted, formed on the right of the infantry, and their whole detachment ran down the precipice with a ridiculous shout, and manned their works. I have often reflected upon the absurdity of this practice in the French, who entertain a high opinion of their own discipline and knowledge in the art of war; there is nothing that can be more absurd than such noises in engaging an enemy . . . How different, how nobly awful, and expressive of true valour is the custom of the British troops! They do not expend their ammunition at an immense distance; and, if they advance to engage, or stand to receive the charge, they are steady, profoundly silent, and attentive, reserving their fire until they have received that of their adversaries . . . experience plainly shews us, that the troops, who, in perfect silence, engage an enemy, waiting for their first fire, will always preserve a superiority.

From "An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North-America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760," Volume 2, pages 56 and 57.

How might a French officer respond to the reflections of Captain Knox? What defense could you make for the "noisy" approach to engaging the enemy?

The collection does include accounts by French officers (in French), such as the "Journal du Marquis de Montcalm," which details campaigns in Canada between 1756 and 1759 from the perspective of the French commander. 

Read the act of cession of Louisiana by the King of France to the King of Spain, November 3, 1762  in the appendix to "Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, From the First Settlement of the Colony to the Departure of Governor O'Reilly in 1770." According to this document, why was the colony of Louisiana turned over to the King of Spain?

A collection of documents published by the Illinois State Historical Library, "Anglo-French Boundary Disputes in the West, 1749-1763," examines critical issues that embroiled France and England in colonial conflicts.  One chapter of this publication includes letters written by British and French officials regarding a conflict over the wording of the preliminary draft of the treaty of peace. Read the pages referring to the disputed wording of the treaty, especially Article 7. Research the final terms of the Treaty of Paris, 1763. 

  • Why was the question over lands east of the Mississippi a major point of contention?
  • Why was navigation of the Mississippi River such an important aspect of the treaty?
  • Do the British appear to know that France had ceded Louisiana to Spain in late 1762? How might this affect the negotiations?
  • What evidence do you see of a lack of trust between British and French officials? How typical do you think this lack of trust might be among nations negotiating a peace treaty?
  • Compare the maps above. What territory did France lose as a result of the war? What might be the impact of losing this territory?

Examine "The Critical Period, 1763-1765," for documents relating to the history of the Illinois country under British rule following the French and Indian War.

American Revolution

The French and Indian War had serious repercussions for both the British and the French. The British had spent a great deal of money in pursuing the war and sought to recoup those funds, in part, through a series of taxes on the colonies. These taxes were one of the factors that stimulated the American colonists to revolt from Great Britain. Meanwhile, the defeated French enacted various military reforms, while maintaining their anti-British policies. These actions prepared the French to assist the colonists in their rebellion. An overview of the French role in the American Revolution is provided in the Themes section of the collection.

Examine the Comte de Rochambeau’s "Amérique Campagne," a collection of 46 maps of encampments during the American Revolution.  France in America also includes a number of military maps of engagements during the Revolution:

What information can be garnered from these maps about the scope of the war and the Franco-American alliance? While events in the 13 colonies on the Eastern seaboard took center stage during the American Revolution, there was a western front as well. Read excerpts from "George Rogers Clark’s Conquest of the Illinois," beginning with Chapter VII.

  • How important was Clark’s western campaign during the Revolution?
  • How did Clark use news of the alliance with France to further his goals?

France and the United States Following the Revolution

Following the American Revolution, trade between France and the United States increased, and many French men and women visited the United States. While some stayed,particularly during and immediately after the French Revolution,others observed American life before returning to their home country. Their writings about the United States became popular reading in France. Read an excerpt from "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux," in which he draws a distinction between Europe and the new American republic.

Some political writers, especially the more modern, have advanced that property alone should constitute the citizen. They are of opinion that he alone whose fortune is necessarily connected with its welfare has a right to become a member of the State. In America, a specious answer is given to this reasoning: amongst us, say they, landed property is so easily acquired, that every workman who can use his hands, may be looked upon as likely soon to become a man of property. But can America remain long in her present situation?

From "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux," Volume 2 pages 345-346

Read more of the Marquis’s views on American democracy and consider the following questions:

  • What did Chastellux think about the relationship between property ownership and citizenship?
  • What evidence can you find in Chastellux’s writing of the differences between European and American attitudes toward class?
  • Chastellux says that to understand a nation, one must look at not only "its actual legislation, but the oppositions which may exist between the government and prejudices, between the laws and habits." What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree or disagree with his point?

Research Franco-American diplomatic relations from the beginning of the French Revolution through Spain’s surrender of Louisiana to France in 1802.  Napoleon’s assumption of control over Louisiana threatened to nullify a recent U.S. treaty agreement with Spain guaranteeing that the United States would have free access on the Mississippi River and the right of deposit in New Orleans.  Berquin-Duvallon, in "Vue de la Colonie Espagnole du Mississipi,"  wrote of a revived French empire in America and urged French planters ousted by the slave uprisings in Saint-Domingue to emigrate to Louisiana.  Napoleon’s failure to put down the Haitian revolt ended his dream of a new empire and opened the way for the United States to purchase the Louisiana territory. 

  • What accounts for the change in U.S. foreign policy toward France after the American Revolution?
  • How did France respond to the U.S. Neutrality Act of 1793?
  • What problems were created by the "Citizen Genet Affair" (1793) and the XYZ Affair (1797)? 
  • How were Franco-American relations affected by the resumption of French control over Louisiana in 1802?

Read the memorial presented to the United States Congress in 1804 from the inhabitants of Louisiana.  Although expressing support for annexation and gratitude that they were offered full citizenship, subscribers to the memorial voiced opposition to restrictions on slavery and the slave trade and their desire to keep their language and customs.

WE THE SUBSCRIBERS  Planters, Merchants and other Inhabitants of Louisiana respectfully approach the Legislature of the United-States with a Memorial of our rights, a remonstrance against certain Laws which contravene them and a petition, for that redress to which the laws of nature, sanctioned by positive stipulation have entitled us.

From "Mémoire présénté au Congrès des États-Unis d'Amérique par les habitans de la Louisiane."

  • What nineteenth-century problems does this memorial foreshadow?
  • What evidence can you find in other sources that the French citizens of Louisiana were able to maintain their language and culture?


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Constructing a Timeline

In 1668, King Louis XIV wrote a memoir to the governor-general of New France. The memoir, written to justify French claims to North America from Florida to Cape Breton, provides a survey of French explorations and settlements from the voyage of Giovanni da Verrazano through the 1660s. Use the memoir (and footnotes) to construct a timeline of French exploration and colonization of North America, including a title that describes its contents.

Compare your timeline with the France in America: Chronology provided with the collection. Do you note any differences?

Chronological Thinking: Interpreting Data Presented in Timelines and Maps

The theme Descriptive Maps includes five maps showing imperial claims and political boundaries from before 1763 to the era of the Louisiana Purchase.

Study the five maps and note important changes. What questions do you have about the changes, particularly the reasons for the changes? 

Now look for answers to your questions in the France in America: Chronology. Use information from the timeline to construct a brief explanation of the changes from map to map. What questions remain unanswered? Where might you find answers to those questions?

Historical Comprehension: Analyzing Historical Maps

Maps, like other historical documents, may contain biases. Thus, when analyzing maps, one must consider who created the map and why. Study the map below, carefully reading the bibliographic information. Who created the map? What was the purpose in creating the map?  Can you detect any bias in the map?

Select another map from the collection for analysis. Who created this map? What was the purpose in creating the map?  Can you detect any bias in the map?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Identifying Causes

Read excerpts from the Narrative of the first voyage of Jean de Ribault, along with footnotes that explain Gaspard de Coligny’s motives for the establishment of a French Huguenot colony in Florida in 1562. Compare the French source with the account of the Spanish destruction of the French colony of Fort Caroline in Florida from the "Narrative of Don Solis de las Meras," brother-in-law of the Adelantado of Florida, in the Memoir of Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales.

Thus ended the efforts of the French to establish a colony on the southern coast of North America. The lily of France was trampled in the dust, and the flag of Spain waved over St. Augustine, San Mateo, and San Lucia. The destruction of the Huguenots excited the utmost gratification at the Court of Spain, and the conduct of Menendez was approved and commended by the bigoted Philip II., and drew forth a letter of gratulation from Pope Pius V.

From "Narrative of Don Solis del las Meras," in "Historical Collections of Louisiana and France," page 222

The collection also includes accounts of these events in French: "La Reprinse de la Floride" attributed to Dominique de Gourgues, the French captain who avenged the slaughter of the Huguenot colony of Fort Caroline in 1567, and  "Histoire Mémorable du Dernier Voyage aux Indes, Lieu Appelé la Floride, (Nouvelle France,) Fait par le Capitaine Jean Ribault by Nicolas Le Challeux."

  • Why did the French establish a colony in Spanish-claimed Florida?
  • How were the religious conflicts in Europe manifested in North America?
  • How do the French and Spanish accounts of the Huguenot colony differ?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Considering Views on History

In remarks delivered before the Historical Society of Louisiana in 1836, Henry Bullard, president of the society, explained the need for maintaining an accurate historical record of the past:

As contemporary  history is liable to be discolored by interest, by prejudice and passion, each generation, as it passes away, is under obligations to its successors to furnish them those authentic materials for which alone its true character can be known to posterity, and to perpetuate the public documents and correspondence which accompany and explain every public transaction. But we, who are enjoying the fruits of the labors, and fatigues, and sufferings of our predecessors, owe it also to their memory, to snatch from oblivion the record of their actions, and no longer to leave their fame to rest on the loose, and garbled, and exaggerated narrations of contemporary writers, or catch-penny authors of what the world calls history.

From "A Discourse Delivered before the Historical Society of Louisiana," page 2

Read more of Bullard’s paper and answer the questions that follow:

  • What factors did Bullard believe influenced the writing of "contemporary history"? Do you agree that these factors influence the writing of history?
  • What remedy did Bullard suggest? Do you agree that each generation has an obligation to preserve historical records of its time? Why or why not?
  • What evidence can you find to support Bullard’s conclusion that historical events are related to the public through "exaggerated narrations of contemporary writers, or catch-penny authors"? 
  • How can one distinguish between an unsupported expression of opinion and an informed hypothesis grounded in historical evidence?

Historical Issues Analysis and Decision Making: The Treaty of 1763

The author of "The Expediency of Securing Our American Colonies,"  a pamphlet published in Edinburgh in October or November 1763, recognized that the French would probably seek revenge for the loss of their North American colonies at the conclusion of the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War):

Their passion for universal empire having been thus frustrate [sic], and their deep concerted scheme of American dominion rendered abortive, they will, no doubt, be filled with revenge, and with a strong desire to recover the power they have lost, and the territory they have been forced to cede. These and other considerations give us great reason to expect, that a Nation, whose humour is constitutionally ambitious and restless, and which keeps no treaty longer than they think it their interest to break it, will, by their natural subtlety, evade the late treaty also, whenever a promising view of advantage shall offer. An attempt of this kind, if compared with many similar instances of their conduct, both in former and later times, need give us no surprise. But the probability of such event, ought to make us use all necessary precaution for our own security, especially where it may seem most in their power to annoy or injure us.

From "The Expediency of Securing Our American Colonies," in "The Critical Period, 1763-1765," page135

In order to secure the region under British control, the pamphleteer called for a new colony, Charlotina, to be established west of the Appalachian Mountains.  The author was thus expressing opposition within Britain to the Proclamation of 1763 that prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.

  • Why did the author of the pamphlet believe that France would seek to recover Canada and the Ohio Valley?
  • According to the author, was the Proclamation of 1763 a mistake?  Explain.
  • What alternative course of action could the British government have taken in 1763?
  • How might the author have responded upon hearing the news, some 15 years later, of a Franco-American alliance during the American Revolution?

Historical Issues Analysis and Decision Making: A Delaware Chief’s Decision

While the parties engaged in a war obviously must make numerous decisions, those not initially involved also face an important decision: whether to support one side or the other or to remain neutral. Such was the case for Indians when the British and Americans clashed in the American Revolution. Read the remarks that Buckongahelas, a Delaware chief, is reported to have made to the Indians explaining his reasons for supporting the British during the American Revolution. 

Friends! Listen to what I say to you! You see a great and powerful nation divided! You see the father fighting against the son, and the son against the father! The father has called on his Indian children, to assist him in punishing his children, the Americans, who have become refractory. I took time to consider what I should do; whether or not I should receive the hatchet of my father to assist him. At first I looked upon it as a family quarrel, in which I was not interested. However, at length, it appeared to me that the father was in the right; and his children deserved to be punished a little. That this must be the case, I concluded from the many cruel acts his offspring had committed from time to time on his Indian children, in encroaching on their land, stealing their property, shooting at, and murdering, without cause, men, women, and children. Yes! even murdering those, who at all times, had been friendly to them, and were placed for protection under the roof of their father's house—the father himself standing sentry at the door at the time. Friends! often has the father been obliged to settle, and make amends for the wrongs and mischiefs done to us by his refractory children; yet these do not grow better. No; they remain the same; and will continue to be so, as long as we have any land left us. Look back at the murders committed by the Long-knives [English colonists] on many of our relations, who lived peaceable neighbors to them on the Ohio. Did they not kill them without the least provocation? Are they, do you think, better now than they were then?

From "Memoir sent in 1693, on the discovery of the Mississippi," pages 175-176

  • What reasons did Chief Buckongahelas give for joining the British during the American Revolution?
  • What metaphor did Buckongahelas use to describe the revolution? In what way might this metaphor have convinced others to support his position?
  • How do you think Buckongahelas regarded the terms of the treaty of peace? Explain your answer.

Historical Research Capabilities

Searching for the "Northwest Passage"—a hoped-for commercial sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, north and west of the North American landmass—provided the motive for much exploration of North America. The noted explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle was one of many determined to discover a route to China:

THE first design of the sieur de la Salle had been to find the long-sought passage to the Pacific ocean, and although the river Colbert (Mississippi) does not lead to it, yet this great man had so much talent and courage, that he hoped to find it, if it were possible, as he would have done, had God spared his life.

From "Account of La Salle’s Attempt to Reach the Mississippi by Sea"

Find three different types of sources that provide information about the search for the Northwest Passage. For example, you might examine a map, an account by missionaries among the Indians of the American Northwest who inquired about the possibilities that rivers crossed the continent, and a secondary source from the Themes section of the collection. Compare the information about the Northwest Passage available in each source. What are the advantages of each? What are the disadvantages? How would you answer these questions based on the sources you used?

  • How did the fables of the Northwest Passage begin?
  • Why did European explorers seek to find a Northwest Passage?
  • Other than La Salle, which French explorers sought to find a passage to the Western Sea?

Historical Research Capabilities: Marshalling Information to Construct a Narrative

John Law, a Scot who served as France’s Controller General of Finance and Inspector General of the Bank of the French Company of the Indies, was described as "a Scotch Gentleman whose Genius always carry’d him to the Study of Trade and Money" in a booklet entitled "A Full and Impartial Account of the Company of Mississipi," Law was the creator of a stock scheme that he claimed would generate enough money to retire the French government’s debt.

Search the collection and the interpretive materials to learn more about John Law.  You may also want to check other sources for information about Law. Who was Law? Why, as a Scot, was he working for the French government? Was the stock scheme he developed successful? Use the information you have gathered about John Law to write a brief narrative of his career as the Controller General of Finance and Inspector General of the Bank of the French Company of the Indies.


Arts & Humanities

Literature: Travel Narratives

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, travel accounts, especially those reporting on observations of the United States, were extremely popular.  For example, in "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782," the Marquis de Chastellux wrote:

…I got on horseback, and penetrated afresh into the woods, mounting and descending very high mountains, until I found myself on the borders of a lake, so solitary and concealed, that it is only visible through the trees with which it is surrounded. . . . I was now in the wildest and most desert country I had yet passed through; my imagination was already enjoying this solitude, and my eyes were searching through the woods for some extraordinary animals, such as elks or caribous (supposed to be the same as the rein deer) when I perceived, in an open spot, a quadruped which seemed very large. I started with joy, and was advancing slowly, but on a nearer observation of the monster of the desert, to my great regret I discovered it to be a horse peaceably browsing the grass; and the opening, no other than a field belonging to a new settlement. On advancing a few steps farther, I met two children of eight or ten years old, returning quietly from school, carrying under their arms a little basket, and a large book. Thus was I obliged to lay aside all the ideas of a poet or a sportsman, to admire this new country, where one cannot travel four miles without finding a dwelling . . .

From "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782," Volume 1, pages 347 -348

In 1782 St. John de Crvecoeur, veteran of the French and Indian War, published his impressions of America in a book, Letters from an American Farmer, which was widely read in Europe; a French translation of the work is available in the collection. Another Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, traveled in the United States for nine months in 1831. Based on notebooks of his observations, in 1835 he published Democracy in America, which is still widely read.  A French version of Democracy in America is also available in the collection.

Read the impressions of American social and political life from one of these works and consider the following questions.

  • What does the popularity of these literary works suggest about Europeans’ interest in American life? How do you explain this interest? Might Europeans have been equally interested in other areas of the world? How could you find out whether your answer to this question is correct?
  • What preconceptions about American did the writer bring to the narrative? What conclusions did he draw? Based on your knowledge of America at the time the author was writing, how accurate were these preconceptions and conclusions?
  • What appeal do these "travel accounts" have today?  Why?
  • Are contemporary travel accounts widely read today?  How do these compare with the works of Chastellux, Crèvecoeur, and Tocqueville? Using contemporary and historical examples, explain why travel writing appeals to some readers.

Writing: Using Anecdotes

Writers often use anecdotes—short accounts of interesting incidents—to make a point in an understandable way. For example, consider the following anecdote from "A Description of the English Province of Carolana," by Daniel Coxe:

In a new colony, the first care is to provide food for their subsistence. The Great Duke of Rohan, famous for wisdom and valor. . . advances it as a maxim, that he who will be a great warrior must, in the first place, make provision for the belly. . . The Spaniards tell a pretty, and I think instructive story; that upon the discovery of the immense riches contained in the mountain Potosi, in Peru, two Spaniards resorted thither. The one bought slaves, hired servants, overseers, and found a rich vein of silver ore. The other (land being then common in the neighborhood) fed sheep. The mine master wanting wool for the clothing of his servants (that place being much colder than others in the same latitude), and food for his overseers (who could not be satisfied, being Spaniards, with the poor fare of the Indians and negroes), bought flesh and wool of the shepherd; and after some few years, the shepherd grew rich and the master-miner poor.

From "A Description of the English Province of Carolana," page 257

  • What point was Coxe making in this excerpt?
  • How did the anecdote support Coxe’s point?
  • What other technique did Coxe use to support his point?
  • Which strategy do you think was more effective—the anecdote or the reference to an authoritative source? Why?

Anecdotes may also be used to convey something of the character of a person. After describing the accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Chastellux included the following anecdote in his travel narrative:

I recollect with pleasure that as we were conversing one evening over a bowl of punch, after Mrs. Jefferson had retired, our conversation turned on the poems of Ossian. It was a spark of electricity which passed rapidly from one to the other; we recollected the passages in those sublime poems, which particularly struck us, and entertained my fellow travelers, who fortunately knew English well, and were qualified to judge of their merit, though they had never read the poems. In our enthusiasm the book was sent for, and placed near the bowl, where, by their mutual aid, the night far advanced imperceptibly upon us. Sometimes natural philosophy, at others politics or the arts were the topicks of our conversation, for no object had escaped Mr. Jefferson; and it seemed as if from his youth he had placed his mind, as he has done his house, on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the universe.

From "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782," Volume 2, pages 45 and 46

  • What did the writer intend this anecdote to convey about Thomas Jefferson’s character?
  • How might the anecdote have been self-serving? That is, what did it communicate about the author’s character?

Think of a popular adage or saying. What anecdote could you use to illustrate the meaning of the saying? Think of someone you know well. If you were writing a character study of that person, what anecdotes would you use to convey his or her character? What would these choices communicate about you?

Writing: Detail and Imagery as Tools in Descriptive Writing

Among the tools of the writer trying to describe a place or event are detail and imagery. Details can appeal to all the reader’s senses, can show the reader something rather than telling. Details contribute to developing an image of what the writer is trying to convey. Colorful, evocative language can also help develop that image. Read historian Francis Parkman’s "Massacre of the Devil’s Hole" from the "Historic Handbook of the Northern Tour" for the imagery in the author’s narrative.

  • What details in Parkman’s account help you build an image of the place where the events occurred? What details help you picture the event?
  • What examples of colorful and evocative language can you find in Parkman’s account? How does this language help you imagine the place and events?
  • In your opinion, what is the role of imagery in conveying a historical episode?
  • Can strong imagery help to convey a particular bias? Use examples of Parkman’s account to support your answer.

Art: European Depictions of Native Americans

As early as the sixteenth century, artists’ portrayals of Native Americans were available in Europe. Among the first such portrayals were a series of 42 drawings of the Timucua Indians of Florida by artist Jacques Lemoyne de Morgues.

  • Describe what is happening in the picture, providing as much detail as possible.
  • Browse through other drawings by de Morgues and select two for closer analysis. For each, describe what is happening, providing as much detail as possible.
  • How did these pictures help Europeans of the time understand the Timucua Indians of Florida? How do these pictures help you understand the Timucua Indians of Florida?
  • Would you describe these pictures as sources of information, works of art, or both? Explain your answer.

Study the print, "Le Commerce que les Indiens du Mexique font avec les François au Port de Mississipi," by Jollain.  The Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West) was responsible for populating Louisiana and insuring that the colony became profitable.  Jollain’s print is believed to have circulated as a means of enticing settlers to New Orleans. 

  • What inferences can be drawn about prospects for gaining wealth in New Orleans and along the Mississippi from Jollain’s print?
  • What techniques did the artist use to convey a colonial utopia along the Mississippi? How would you describe the artist’s technique?
  • How effective do you think this piece of art would be in promoting colonial settlement? Explain your answer.

Use the table of contents in Joseph- François Lafitau’s  "Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains, Comparées aux Moeurs des Premiers Temps" to find drawings portraying Indians and comparing them to earlier Europeans.

  • Why do you think Europeans brought artists to North America?
  • How were Indians portrayed in the artwork you have examined?