New France

5th Grade New France Inquiry

Did the French Lose Out in North America?
Download Entire Inquiry Here

Staging the Compelling Question

To open the inquiry, students examine an image bank of two maps, one of New France in 1750 and one of French-speaking North America in 2006. Students then speculate about why the maps differ. After examining this initial information about the decline in French influence in North America, students should be better prepared to examine the reasons for these changes.

  • Source A: Image bank: Maps of New France in 1750 and French-speaking North America in 2006
Supporting Question 1- Where in North America did the French explore and settle?
  • Source A: Canadian Museum of History, collection of maps and other sources related to the French colonial settlement known as New France, “The Virtual Museum of New France” The “Virtual Museum of New France” (, from the Canadian Museum of History, contains information that teachers and students may wish to use to complete this inquiry. Animated French explorer maps showing routes of exploration, as well as additional information, can be found under “The Explorers” tab on the left-hand side of the web page. Teachers may want to use maps available on the pages about Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Marquette, and Louis Joliet.
  • Source B:  Source bank: Excerpts from accounts of French expeditions to North America by Jacques Cartier in 1535 and Samuel de Champlain in 1604  NOTE: Jacques Cartier was one of the first French explorers in North America. In his first voyage in 1534, Cartier claimed the land he called Canada for France. Cartier made two later voyages. On his second voyage in 1535, Cartier wrote the following description of the lands that would become part of the French colony called New France.
    [T]hrough the present expedition undertaken at your royal command for the discovery of the lands in the west formerly unknown to you and to us, lying in the same climates and parallels as your territories and kingdom, you will learn and hear of their fertility and richness, of the immense number of peoples living there, of their kindness and peacefulness, and likewise of the richness of the great river [St. Lawrence River], which flows through and waters the midst of these lands of yours, which is without comparison the largest river that is known to have ever been seen. These things fill those who have seen them with the sure hope of the future increase of our most holy faith and of your possessions and most Christian name, as you may be pleased to see in this present booklet wherein is fully set forth everything worthy of note that we saw or that happened to us both in the course of the above voyage and also during our stay in those lands and territories of yours, as well as the routes, dangers, and situation of those lands.
    Public domain. Henry Percival Biggar, The Voyages of Jacques Cartier: Published from the Originals with Translations, Notes and Appendices. Ottawa, Canada: F. A. Acland, 1924.

    NOTE: Although Jacques Cartier established France’s claim in the St. Lawrence Valley in 1534, it would not be until the early 17th century that France founded its first permanent settlements. Here, the explorer Samuel de Champlain describes how he encouraged the Native peoples to participate in the fur trade.
      I went on shore with my companions and two of our savages who served as interpreters. I directed the men in our barque to approach near the savages, and hold their arms in readiness to do their duty in case they notice any movement of these people against us. Bessabez [the chief], seeing us on land, bade us sit down, and began to smoke with his companions....They presented us with venison and game.
      I directed our interpreter to say to our savages that...Sieur de Monts [Champlain's patron] had sent me to see them, and...that he desired to inhabit their country and show them how to cultivate it, in order that they might not continue to lead so miserable a life as they were doing....They expressed their great satisfaction, saying that no greater good could come to them than to have our friendship, and that they desired to live in peace with their enemies, and that we should dwell in their land, in order that  they might in the future more than ever before  engage in hunting beavers, and give us a part of them in return for our providing them with things which they wanted....
                        Public domain. William L. Grant, ed., The Voyages of Samuel De Champlain. New York: 1907: 49–     50. 
  • Source C: Source bank:  Excerpts from accounts of French Catholic missions in 17th-century Canada NOTE: Father Paul Le Jeune served as the superior of the Jesuit mission in Canada from 1632 to 1639. As part of his efforts to promote Catholicism in the region along the St. Lawrence River, he encouraged fellow missionaries to learn various Native American languages and to promote religious literacy at the expense of oral histories.
    Jesuit Paul Le Jeune, 1632
    …We have seen a great many fishing also for cod. I saw here -a number of seals, and our people killed some of them. In this great river, which is called the St. Lawrence, white porpoises are found, and nowhere else. The English call them white whales, because they are very large compared with the other porpoises; they go up as far as Québec.
    On the day of Holy Trinity, we were compelled to stop at Gaspay a large body of water Extending into this country. It was here that we trod land for the first time since our departure. Never did man, after a long voyage, return to his country with more joy than we entered ours; it is thus we call these wretched lands….But it is my opinion that I come here like the pioneers, who go ahead to dig the trenches; after them come brave soldiers, who besiege and take the place.
    After Mass we went into the woods; the snow was still very deep, and so strong that it bore our weight. In the morning there was a hard frost; and, when I went to wash my hands in the torrent of water which flowed down from the mountains, I found the edges of it completely frozen….
    Public domain. The Jesuit Relations: and Allied Documents Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries, 1632. 
    NOTE: Father Gabriel Lalemant worked as a missionary among the Nipissings, an Algonquian-speaking nation, until his death in 1649. In 1642 he wrote a report describing the Nipissing Feast of the Dead of which an excerpt is provided.
    A French Jesuit missionary, 1642
    To make a Christian out of a Barbarian is not the work of a day….A great step is gained when one has learned to know those with whom he has to deal; has penetrated their thoughts; has adapted himself to their language, their customs, and their manner of living; and when necessary, has been a Barbarian with them, in order to win them over to Jesus Christ.
    Public domain. 

Supporting Question 2- What relationships developed between Native Americans and the French over the fur trade?
  • Source A: William Faden, engraving of beaver fur trading, A Map of the Inhabited Part of Canada, 1777 NOTE: This 1777 engraving from William Faden depicts French fur traders in Canada trading a beaver with local Native Americans. The engraving was part of a map published in London, England, titled A Map of the Inhabited Part of Canada from the French Surveys With the Frontiers of New York and New England from the Large Survey by Claude Joseph Sauthier.
  • Source B: Horace T. Martin, illustration of modifications of the beaver hat, Castorologia, Or, The History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver (detail), 1892 NOTE: Trading between Native Americans and European settlers exploded after beaver hats became fashionable in Europe. Wool felt hats made from beaver fur were less likely to tear, bend, or get damaged by water. Unlike today, men and women commonly wore hats as part of formal wear. Higher-quality hats were made entirely from beaver wool. Some lower-quality hats included materials from other animals. Freshly caught beaver pelts that were immediately dried were called "parchment." Another kind of pelt was called "coat beaver." These were skins that Native Americans had worn for a year or more. Hatters and felt-makers began to make hats that used both parchment and coat beaver because the result was stronger, smoother, and more waterproof.
  • Source C: Ann M. Carlos and Frank D. Lewis, chart of the price of beaver pelts in Britain in the 18th century, “Property Rights, Competition and Depletion in the Eighteenth-Century Canadian Fur Trade: The Role of the European Market,” 1999
Source D: Chrestian LeClerq, Algonquian response to European claims of cultural superiority, “Your People Live Only Upon Cod” (excerpts), New Relation of Gaspesia, 1691 NOTE: Native Americans and the French maintained a delicate balance in the fur trade. Some Native Americans thought the French were taking advantage of them. French priest Chrestian LeClerq traveled among the Native American people living in Canada. He recorded this Micmac leader’s complaint about the French in 1680.
I am greatly astonished that the French have so little cleverness, as they seem to exhibit in the matter of which thou hast just told me on their behalf, in the effort to persuade us to convert our poles, our barks, and our wigwams into those houses of stone and of wood which are tall and lofty, according to their account, as these trees. Very well!...  This is not all, my brother, hast thou as much ingenuity and cleverness as the Indians….Thou art not as bold nor as stout as we, because when thou goest on a voyage thou canst not carry upon thy shoulders thy buildings and thy edifices.…
Thou sayest of us also that we are the most miserable and most unhappy of all men, living without religion, without manners, without honour, without social order, and, in a word, without any rules, like the beasts in our woods and our forests, lacking bread, wine, and a thousand other comforts which thou hast in superfluity in Europe.…We consider ourselves nevertheless much happier than thou in this, that we are very content with the little that we have; and believe.…that thy country is better than ours. For if France.…is a little terrestrial paradise, art thou sensible to leave it?…
And if we have not any longer among us any of those old men of a hundred and thirty to forty years, it is only because we are gradually adopting your manner of living, for experience is making it very plain that those of us live longest who, despising your bread, your wine, and your brandy, are content with their natural food of beaver, of moose, of waterfowl, and fish, in accord with the custom of our ancestors and of all the Gaspesian nation. Learn now, my brother, once for all, because I must open to thee my heart: there is no Indian who does not consider himself infinitely more happy and more powerful than the French.
Public domain. From New Relation of Gaspesia, with the Customs and Religion of the Gaspesian Indians, Chrestien LeClerq, translated and edited by William F. Ganong. © 1910. Toronto: Champlain Society, pp. 103–06. The full speech is available at the History Matters website:

Supporting Question 3- How did the French and Indian War affect the French influence in North America?
  • Source A: Hoodinski, map of territorial claims and military activity during the French and Indian War, “Schematic map of the French and Indian War,” 1754–1763
  • Source B: George Craig, painting of the removal of French Canadians from Nova Scotia by British forces in 1755, Deportation Grand-Pré, 1893 NOTE: In the 17th and 18th centuries entire communities fell victim to larger European imperial struggles. During the French and Indian War, British authorities expelled thousands of French Acadians from their homes in Nova Scotia. By choice or by force, Acadians migrated to Britain's North American colonies, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, and Louisiana. In Louisiana’s Bayou Country, their descendants contributed to a distinctive French culture that came to be know as “Cajun”—a phonetic variation of the word Acadian.
  • Source C: English trader Alexander Henry (excerpts), 1761NOTE: In this 1761 speech to an English trader named Alexander Henry, Minavavana, a Chippewa or Ojibwa chief, warns the English that France's defeats during the French and Indian War do not mean that England can assert sovereignty over Indian lands.
    Englishman!—You know that the French King is our father. He promised to be such; and we, in return, promised to be his children. This promise we have kept.
    Englishman!—It is you that have made war with this our father. You are his enemy; and how then could you have the boldness to venture among us, his children? You know that his enemies are ours....
    Englishman!—Although you have conquered the French, you have not yet conquered us! We are not your slaves. These lakes, these woods and mountains, were left to us by our ancestors. They are our inheritance, and we will part with them to none....
    Englishman!—Our father, the king of France, employed our young men to make war upon your nation. In this warfare, many of them have been killed; and it is our custom to retaliate, until such time as the spirits of the slain are satisfied. Now the spirits of the slain are to be satisfied in either of two ways. The first is by the spilling of the blood of the nation by which they fell; the other, by covering the bodies of the dead, and thus allaying the resentment of their relations. This is done by making presents.
    Englishman!—Your king has never sent us any presents, nor entered into any treaty with us. Wherefore he and we are still at war; and, until he does these things, we must consider that we have no other father, nor friend, among the white men, then the king of France. But, for you, we have taken into consideration, that you have ventured your life among us, in the expectation that we should not molest you. You do not come armed, with an intention to make war. You come in peace, to trade with us, and supply us with necessities, of which we are much in want. We shall regard you, therefore, as a brother; and you may sleep tranquilly, without fear of the Chippewa. As a token of our friendship, we present you with this pipe to smoke.
    Public domain. B. B. Thatcher, Indian Biography, Vol. II. New York: 1841, pp. 76-77.  The full speech is available at the Digital History website:

Supporting Question 4- Where is French culture represented in North America today?
  • The fourth supporting question—“Where is French culture represented in North America today?”—prompts students to Take Informed Action. Students demonstrate that they understand by identifying examples of French influence on the heritage of such places as the province of Quebec and the city of New Orleans. They demonstrate their capacity to assess by evaluating early French influences in North America in light of modern-day influences. And they demonstrate their ability to act by conducting a community forum focused on the French influence in North America.
New York State Social Studies Framework Key Idea & Practices 5.3 EUROPEAN EXPLORATION AND ITS EFFECTS: Various European powers explored and eventually colonized the Western Hemisphere. This had a profound impact on Native Americans and led to the transatlantic slave trade.
   Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence       Geographic Reasoning          Economics and Economic Systems
Staging the Question Examine two maps—one of New France in 1750 and the other of French-speaking North America in 2006—and speculate about why the maps are so different.

In addition to the Key Idea expressed earlier, this inquiry covers the following Conceptual Understandings:
  • (5.3a) Europeans traveled to the Americas in search of new trade routes, including a northwest passage, and resources. They hoped to gain wealth, power, and glory.
  • (5.3b) Europeans encountered and interacted with Native Americans in a variety of ways.