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France was one of the two powerful colonisers of the17th century. In the last chapter, we have seen how large the area of the British Empire after its border has been extended to include all of its colonies. In this chapter, we will see how France influenced the world with its colonies. We can see how the French model of colonisation was different from that of British

What motivated France to start their colonisation?

France had two motivations for its colonisation. Firstly, it wanted to establish markets, strategic bases for the French military and trading fleets around the world. Secondly, it wanted to exploit the natural resources and cheap labour of the colonies.

The first French colonial empire

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France had colonial possessions since the beginning of the 17th century till the 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km2 of land.

Although France made some early explorations in the 16th century, they were not successful in founding any new colonies because Spain took very tight control of all of its colonies. The second reason was that many religious wars happening inside France in the later 16th century, which prevented it from establishing further colonies.

From 1605, France found Port Royal in the colony of Acadia in North America, now is known as Canada. This event really marked the beginning of the France's colonial empire. Following this, France acquired its largest colony called New France. This region comprised most of eastern Canada and the portion of the present United States from the Appalachians in the east to the Missouri River in the west and from the Great Lakes in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south. The colonies grew slowly at first because France only took interest in fur trade and not colonising.

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As the French empire in North America expanded, the French also began to build a smaller but more profitable empire in the West Indies. Settlement along the South American coast in what is today French Guiana began in 1624, and a colony was founded on Saint Kitts in 1627

In Senegal in West Africa, the French began to establish trading posts 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 in Chandernagore in Bengal (1673) and Pondicherry in the Southeast (1674), and later at Yanam (1723), Mahe (1725), and Karikal (1739) (see French India). Colonies were also founded in the Indian Ocean, on the Île de Bourbon (Réunion, 1664), Île de France (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756)

Colonial conflict with Great Britain

From 1744 to 1815, France frequently had direct conflict with Great Britain, which led to a series of wars. They included War of the Austrian Succession (1744-1748), the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the War of the American Revolution (1778-1783), and the French Revolution (1793-1802) and Napoleonic (1803-1815) Wars.

The second French colonial empire

The true beginnings of the second French colonial empire started in 1830 when France invaded Algeria. During this period, Napoleon also established French control over Asia, including Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia (from 1885-1886).

France acquired most of its colonies after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. In 1849, French colonisation in Shanghai, China was established, which lasted until 1946.

The French also expanded their influence in North Africa, establishing a protectorate on Tunisia in 1881. Later on their territory expanded up to Northern, Western, and Central Africa by the end of the century. In 1911, Morocco became a French protectorate.

The French also had colonies in the South Pacific, including New Caledonia, the various island groups which made up French Polynesia (including the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus).

Trading between France and its colonies

In most of its colonies, France built up many sugar plantations. It led to the remarkable expansion of sugar production in the West Indies. There were many reasons why sugar plantations were built in these colonies. First, the colonies could supply raw materials, sugar and cheap labour to France. Then France could use these colonies as the market to buy and sell all the products made in France or other colonies. To protect itself and to prevent the development of its colonies, France applied the policy of `exclusive. This policy meant the mother country was the only country which had the right to trade with its colonies.

To maintain these sugar plantations, the French needed to have slave to work for them. The French turned four times as many Africans into slaves as the Americans did. They also used the slaves far more brutally and in a longer period. France officially abolished slavery in its colonies only 14 years after America did. See image 3 The French used African people as slave labour on their sugar cane plantations in the colonies.

Most of the French colonies had a rigid class structure. The head of the colony were often white officials and planters. These officials governed the merchants, buccaneers (who were similar to adventurers), and small farmers, white labourers, and the slaves.

When France conquered North America and set up New France, it started to exploit the fur trade of the region. In these countries where the weather was cold, the fur trade was more profitable than farming or fishing. This led the French to explore widely in the region, to get closer to the native Indians, and to set up forts and trading posts.

In the second colonial empire, Indochina became to the most profitable colony for France. It supplied raw materials and was also a marketing area for French industrial products. In the southeast region of Indochina, the French invested mainly in rice and rubber cultivations. Besides that, Indochina also provided a lot of natural resources, which included coal, lead and tin.

The French colonial empire began to fall apart during the Second World War.


Like the other two more modern colonisers, France also left many legacies behind in all of its colonies.

When the French came to any country, they also attempted to educate the inhabitants of that country in the same language and educational system of France. As a result, many countries in the world now have French as the first or second language. They also had similar educational systems as that of France.

Another consequence of French colonisation was the exhaustion of the natural resources of the colonies. When France colonised the Africa and South East Asia, the technology of these countries had not been developed. Consequently, France, with its advanced technology, could take advantage of these countries and a large amount of natural resources had been taken away from them.

To help transporting its products in the colonies, France tried to build many road and railway systems. It also built school, post office and hospitals in these colonies. As a result, in many Asian countries, the influence of French architecture can still be found in some of their historical buildings.


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