Working upward from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the source of this and of the Mississippi, and then down the latter river, Franciscans and Jesuits their pioneers, braving dreadful hardships and dangers in efforts, more courageous than successful, to convert the Indians, the French had come to control that great continental highway and boldly to claim for France the entire heart of North America.
In 1659, Groseilliers and Radisson penetrated beyond Lake Superior, and dwelt for a time among the Sioux, who knew of the Mississippi River. Next year Groseilliers went thither again, accompanied by the Jesuit Menard and his servant, Guerin. In 1661 Menard and Guerin pushed into what is now Wisconsin, and may have seen the Mississippi. These explorations made the French familiar with the copper mines of Lake Superior, and awakened the utmost zeal to see the Great River of which the Indians spoke. La Salle probably discovered the Ohio in 1670, and traced it down to the falls at Louisville. His main eulogist holds that he even reached the Mississippi at that time, some three years earlier than Joliet, but this is not substantiated. We also reject the belief that he reached the stream by way of the Chicago portage in 1671.
In 1672 Count Frontenac, Governor of New France, despatched Louis Joliet to discover the Great River. He reached the Strait of Mackinaw in December, and there Pere Marquette joined him. In May, next year, they paddled their canoes up the Fox River and tugged them across the portage into the Wisconsin, which they descended, entering the Father of Waters June 17, 1673. They floated down to the mouth of the Arkansas and then returned, their journey back being up the Illinois and Desplaines Rivers. Joliet gave his name to the peak on the latter stream which the city of Joliet, Ill., near by, still retains. Joliet arrived at Quebec in August, 1674, having in four months journeyed over twenty-five hundred miles.
It thus became known how close the upper waters of the great rivers, St. Lawrence and Mississippi, were to each other, and that the latter emptied into the Gulf of Mexico instead of the South Sea (Pacific); yet, as the Rocky Mountains had not then been discovered, it was for long believed that some of the western tributaries of the Great River led to that western ocean.
In 1676 Raudin, and three years later, Du Lhut, visited the Ojibwas and Sioux west of Lake Superior. Du Lhut reached the upper waters of the Mississippi at Sandy Lake. He went there again in 1680. In 1682 La Salle crossed the Chicago portage and explored the lower Mississippi all the way to the Gulf, taking possession of the entire valley in the name of France and naming it Louisiana. Nicholas Perrot travelled by way of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers to the upper Mississippi in 1685, and again in 1688. It is in his writings that the word "Chicago" first appears in literature.
There were thus between the two great valleys, 1, the Superior route; 2, the Wisconsin and Fox route; 3, the Illinois River route, whether by the Kankakee, La Salle's way, or by the south branch of the Chicago River, Joliet's way; and 4, the route by the Wabash and Ohio. The Wabash, too, could be approached either from Lake Erie or from Lake Michigan, through St. Joseph's River. At high water, canoes often passed from Lake Michigan into the Mississippi without portage.
La Salle had the ambition to get to the South Sea from the Mississippi. Governor De la Barre, who followed Frontenac, opposing him, he repaired to France, where he succeeded in winning Louis XIV. to his plan. At the head of a well-equipped fleet he sailed for the mouth of the Mississippi, reaching land near Matagorda Bay on the first day of the year 1685. Not finding the Mississippi, La Salle's officers mutinied. The expedition broke up into parties, wandering here and there, distressed by Indian attacks and by treachery among themselves. La Salle was shot by his own men. Nearly all his followers perished, but a small party at last discovered the river and ascended it to Fort St. Louis on the Illinois, reaching France via Quebec. In this expedition France took possession of Texas, nor did she ever relinquish the claim till, in 1763, the whole of Louisiana west of the Mississippi was ceded to Spain, La Salle's ill-starred attempt led later to the planting of French colonies by D'Iberville at Biloxi Island, in Mobile Bay, soon abandoned, and at Poverty Point, on the Mississippi; and still later to the settlement of New Orleans and vicinity. Growth in these parts was slow, however. So late as 1713 there were not over three hundred whites in the entire Mississippi Valley.
By this time French traders had set foot on every shore of the great lakes and explored nearly every stream tributary thereto. The English, pushing westward more and more, were trying to divide with them the lucrative business of fur-trading, and each nation sought to win to itself all the Indians it could. The Mohawks and their confederates of the Five Nations, now equipped and acquainted with fire-arms, spite of alternate overtures and threats from the French, remained firm friends to the English, who more and more invaded those vast and fertile western ranges. It grew to be the great question of the age this side the Atlantic, whether England or France should control the continent. King William's war, declared in 1689, was therefore certain to rage in America as well as in Europe.
One sees by a glance at the map what advantage France had in this struggle. It possessed the best fishing grounds and fur-producing districts, and fish and furs were at first the only exports of value from the north of America. The French, too, held all the water-ways to the heart of the continent. Coming up Lake Champlain they could threaten New York and New England from the rear. The colonies farther south they shut in almost as straitly, French bullets whistling about any Englishman's ears the instant he appeared beyond the mountains.
In other respects England had the advantage. In population English America had become as superior as French America was territorially, having 1,116,000 white inhabitants in 1750, to about 80,000 French. The English colonies were also more convenient to the mother-country, and the better situated for commerce both coastwise and across the ocean. Among the English, temper for mere speculation and adventure decayed very early, giving way to the conviction that successful planting depended wholly upon persistent, energetic toil.
A piece of fortune more important yet was their relatively free religious and political system. Toleration in religion was large. Self-government was nearly complete internally, and indeed externally, till the navigation acts. Canada, on the other hand, was oppressed by a feudal constitution in the state, settlers being denied the fee simple of their lands, and by Jesuits in Church. "New France could not grow," says Parkman, "with a priest on guard at the gate to let in none but such as pleased him. In making Canada a citadel of the state religion, the clerical monitors of the Crown robbed their country of a transatlantic empire." Thus the Huguenots, France's best emigrants to America, did not come to New France, but to New England and the other Protestant colonies.
The Indian hostilities which heralded King William's War began August 13, 1688. Frontenac prepared to capture Albany and even Manhattan. He did not accomplish so much; but on the night of February 8, 1689-90, his force of ninety Iroquois and over a hundred Frenchmen fell upon Schenectady, killed sixty, and captured eighty or ninety more. Only a corporal's guard escaped to Albany with the sad news. This attack had weighty influence, as occasioning the first American congress. Seven delegates from various colonies assembled at New York on May 1, 1690, to devise defence against the northern invaders.
The eastern Indians were hardly at rest from Philip's War when roused by the French to engage in this. An attack was made upon Haverhill, Mass., and Hannah Dustin, with a child only a few days old, another woman, and a boy, was led captive to an Indian camp up the Merrimac. The savages killed the infant, but thereby steeled the mother's heart for revenge. One night the three prisoners slew their sleeping guards and, seizing a canoe, floated down to their home. Dover was attacked June 27, 1689, twenty-three persons killed, and twenty-nine sold to the French in Canada. Indescribable horrors occurred at Oyster River, at Salmon Falls, at Casco, at Exeter, and elsewhere.
In 1702 Queen Anne's War began, and in this again New England was the chief sufferer. The barbarities which marked it were worse than those of Philip's War. De Rouville, with a party of French and savages, proceeded from Canada to Deerfield, Mass. Fearing an attack, the villagers meant to be vigilant, but early on a February morning, 1704, the wily enemy, skulking till the sentinels retired at daylight, managed to effect a surprise. Fifty were killed and one hundred hurried off to Canada. Among these were the minister, Mr. Williams, and his family. Twenty years later a white woman in Indian dress entered Deerfield. It was one of the Williams daughters. She had married an Indian in Canada, and now refused to desert him. Cases like this, of which there were many in the course of these frightful wars, seemed to the settlers harder to bear than death. Massachusetts came so to dread the atrocious foe, that fifteen pounds were offered by public authority for an Indian man's scalp, eight for a child's or a woman's.
Governor Spotswood urged aggression on the French to the west; Governor Hunter of New York had equal zeal for a movement northward. New York raised 600 men and the same number of Iroquois, voting 10,000 pounds of paper money for their sustenance. Connecticut and New Jersey sent 1,600 men. A force of 4,000 in all mustered at Albany under Nicholson of New York. They were to co-operate against Montreal with the naval expedition of 1711, commanded by Sir Hoveden Walker. Walker failed ignominiously, and Nicholson, hearing of this betimes, saved himself by retreating.
Sir William Phips had captured Port Royal in 1690, and Acadia was annexed to Massachusetts in 1692. In 1691 the French again took formal possession of Port Royal and the neighboring country. In 1692 an ineffectual attempt was made to recover it, but by the Treaty of Ryswick, 1697, it was explicitly given back to France.
At the inception of Queen Anne's War, in 1702, there were several expeditions from New England to Nova Scotia; in 1704 and 1707 without result. That of 1710 was more successful. It consisted of four regiments and thirty-six vessels, besides troop and store ships and some marines. Port Royal capitulated, and its name was changed to Annapolis, in honor of Queen Anne. Acadia never again came under French control, and was regularly ceded to England by the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713. Notwithstanding this, however, French America still remained substantially intact.
If the great struggle for the Ohio Valley now became a silent one, it was none the less earnest. Spotswood had opened a road across the Blue Ridge in 1716. In 1721 New Yorkers began settling on Oswego River, and they finished a fort there by 1726. Closer alliance was formed with the Five Nations. The French governor of Quebec in 1725 pleaded that Niagara must be fortified, and on his successor was urged the necessity of reducing the Oswego garrison. It was partly to flank Oswego that the French pushed up Lake Champlain to Crown Point and built Fort St. Frederick.
The Treaty of Utrecht had left Cape Breton Island to France. The French at once strongly fortified Louisburg and invited thither the French inhabitants of Acadia and Newfoundland, which had also been ceded to Great Britain. Many went, though the British governors did much to hinder removal. This irritated the French authorities, and the Indian atrocities of 1723-24 at Dover and in Maine are known to have been stimulated from Montreal. Father Rasle, an astute and benevolent French Jesuit who had settled among the Indians at Norridgewock, became an agent of this hostile influence. In an English attack, August 12, 1724, Rasle's settlement was broken up and himself killed. The Indians next year made a treaty, and peace prevailed till King George's War.
This opened in 1744, England against France once more, and in 1745 came the capture of Louisburg, then the Gibraltar of America. This was brought about through the energy of Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts, the most efficient English commander this side the Atlantic. That commonwealth voted to send 3,250 men, Connecticut 500, New Hampshire and Rhode Island each 300. Sir William Pepperrell, of Kittery, Me., commanded, Richard Gridley, of Bunker Hill fame, being his chief of artillery. The expedition consisted of thirteen armed vessels, commanded by Captain Edward Tyng, with over 200 guns, and about ninety transports. The Massachusetts troops sailed from Nantasket March 24th, and reached Canso, April 4th. "Rhode Island," says Hutchinson, "waited until a better judgment could be made of the event, their three hundred not arriving until after the place had surrendered." The expedition was very costly to the colonies participating, and four years later England reimbursed them in the sum of 200,000 pounds. Yet at the disgraceful peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748, she surrendered Louisburg and all Cape Breton to France again.
In 1746 French and Indians from Crown Point destroyed the fort and twenty houses at Saratoga, killing thirty persons, and capturing sixty. Orders came this year from England to advance on Crown Point and Montreal, upon Shirley's plan, all the colonies as far south as Virginia being commanded to aid. Quite an army mustered at Albany. Sir William Johnson succeeded in rousing the Iroquois, whom the French had been courting with unprecedented assiduity. But D'Anville's fleet threatened. The colonies wanted their troops at home. Inactivity discouraged the soldiers, alienated the Indians. At last news came that the Canada project was abandoned, and in 1748 the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was declared.
This very year France began new efforts to fill the Ohio Valley with emigrants. Virginia did the same. To anticipate the English, the French sent Bienville to bury engraved leaden plates at the mouths of streams. They also fortified the present sites of Ogdensburg and Toronto. Even now, therefore, France's power this side the Atlantic was not visibly shaken. The continental problem remained unsolved.