French and English Exploration
The French began their voyages to America for business reasons: they wanted to expand the fur trade. Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 and Jacques Cartier in 1535 were the first Frenchmen to explore any part of North America. It took until 1603 for the French to establish their first American colony, when a party of fur traders traveled west to Canada. Samuel de Champlain went with the party as mapmaker. He mapped the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic coast. Champlain founded the towns of Port Royal and Quebec. He established friendly relations with the Algonquin and Huron Indians; this friendship led to an important alliance of forces during the French and Indian War.
In 1615, Champlain became the first European to see the Great Lakes. This area became the hub of the French fur-trading industry. As the French prospered, they explored farther south. They settled parts of Ohio and sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, where René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle founded the colony of Louisiana.
The earliest English voyages to the west were made in search of a trade route to Asia; the elusive Northwest Passage. In 1497, John Cabot landed on the coast of Maine, becoming the first European since Leif Erikson (a Norseman who had reached the coast of Canada about five hundred years earlier) to see North America. It was Cabot’s voyage that assured Europeans that they had stumbled across a new continent: America was clearly not Asia.
Cabot never returned from a second voyage. His son Sebastian followed him in 1508, reaching the entrance to Hudson Bay. In 1509 Henry Hudson found the mouth of the Hudson River and followed it north to Albany before he realized it led north, not west. On a second voyage, Hudson drove his crew farther and farther west through a network of islands north of Canada. Terrified for their lives in the unknown, frigid waters, Hudson’s crew marooned him and turned the ship back east toward safety.
England’s interest in acquiring colonies arose when Elizabeth I realized that Spain and France were establishing a foothold in the Americas. During the 1560s, English pirate ships began venturing into the Atlantic to capture Spanish cargoes (see Chapter 4). Cousins John Hawkins and Francis Drake were especially successful; Drake became the first Englishman to sail around the globe, and he was knighted on his return to England in 1580. This gesture on the queen’s part was one of the sparks that set off the great naval battle with the Spanish Armada in 1588.
England joined the North American land grab by sending Sir Walter Raleigh west in 1584 to claim a large territory that included the present-day states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas. Raleigh named the territory Virginia, in honor of Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.
Raleigh and his companions established a town on Roanoke Island, off present-day North Carolina. A second group of settlers sailed west for Roanoke the following year, led by John White, who immediately returned to England for supplies. When White sailed back to the colony in 1590, he found no trace of the settlement he had left behind. No one knows to this day what became of the settlers of Roanoke.
This failure did not discourage the English from trying. Their first success was the Chesapeake Bay colony of Jamestown, founded in 1606. By 1638, England had founded seven colonies along the Atlantic coast. As the American population grew, the colonies began to expand westward, carrying out the commands of their royal charters.
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