The French Colonial Empire began with the successful founding of New France and expansion in America. Unlike other empires that were largely concerned with taking advantage of the spice trade in the east, the French were concerned with two main economic enterprises: in the North, it was the fur trade and in the south (Louisiana, Caribbean, Guiana) it was the slave plantation economy, producing sugar, indigo, tobacco, and coffee for consumption in Europe. Throughout their history, the French met with significant opposition from the British but eventually found success in their expansion in Africa in the later nineteenth century, establishing numerous colonies in the continent.
1535-34:After exploring the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, Jacques Cartier met the Iroquoian First Nations peoples, and renames their town of Hochelaga “Mount Royal” (Montreal); it would later become French Canada’s second city after Quebec.
1555-62:The French attempt to expand their colonial presence in Brazil and Florida but are unsuccessful because of the strong Portuguese and Spanish presence in these areas.
1608:Samuel de Champlain founds Quebec as the first permanent French settlement in New France and establishes it as the centre of the French fur trade.
c.1630:The French establish a colony in Guiana alongside rival Dutch and English colonies.
1660:Louis XIV gives New France the status of a royal province.
1668:The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) establish themselves in Sault Sainte Marie, which allows for exploration south of the Great Lakes.
1682:Explorer Robert de la Salle sails down the Mississippi river and claims Louisiana for France.
c. 1690:By this time, France has established six fortified trading posts around the coast of India.
1697:Spain cedes the western half of Hispaniola to Francein the Treaty of Rijswijk. France names this new colony Saint-Domingue (now Haiti).
1701:The War of the Spanish Succession begins. Both France and Austria vie for the Spanish throne.
1746:Maurice de Saxe succeeds in occupying the entirety of the Austrian Netherlands.
1749-55:The French claim the Ohio valley. Conflict arises as a result and the French struggle to maintain their colonial presence here. The British join forces with the Iroquois to fight the French in the Ohio area.
1756:France and Austria sign a treaty of Alliance known as the Diplomatic Revolution.
1759:British General Wolfe defeats the French and captures Quebec, but dies in battle.
1763:In the Treaty of Paris, the French cede all North American territory north of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River to the British; they hand New Orleans and the lands west of the Mississippi to the Spanish.
1791-1804:Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) gains independence. First it is ruled independently from France by Toussaint L’Ouverture with the help of Spain. His rule was short lived, and two years later the French reclaim Saint-Domingue and L’Ouverture is imprisoned in France. Haiti declares independence in 1803 and achieves it the following year.
1830:The French invade Algeria. Eventually, Algeria will become France’s most important colony.
1853:The Crimean war begins when the Ottoman sultan declares war on Russia, believing he will receive French and British support.
1858:Under the direction of Napoleon III, the French begin colonization of Vietnam.
1863:The French establish control over, but also protect, Cambodia.
1880:A number of Oceanic islands become French colonies and together form French Polynesia.
1881-97:The French increase their control in Africa, obtaining control of Tunisia, Madagascar, Gambia, and the Ivory Coast.
1893:Lao is incorporated into what is known as French Indochina.
1906:France gains informal control of Morocco.
1910:French colonies south of the Sahara are consolidated as French Equatorial Africa.
1912:Spain and France agree to split colonial power in Morocco using North and South boundaries.
1920:Following the First World War, the League of Nations makes France responsible for Syria and Lebanon.
1945:Vietnam becomes independent from the colonial power of France. One year later, the Indochina war breaks out between the French and the people of Vietnam because the French were opposed to Vietnamese independence. This war ended with Vietnamese victory in 1954.
1954: The Algerian War for Independence breaks out, in which Algeria fights for independence from the French empire. After years of brutal fighting, the war ended in 1962 and Algeria gained independence after 130 years of French colonial rule.
1955:Morocco attains independence and armed conflict breaks out between the Moroccans and the French as a result.
1958:Guinea breaks ties with France and becomes its own Republic.
1960:Numerous French colonies in Africa gain independence, such as Togo, Sudan (now Mali), Chad, Gabon, Senegal and Mauritania.
1977:French territories of Afars and Issas gain independence as Djibouti.