In 1562 Jean Ribaut came to explore the coast of Florida and to find a place of settlement for French Huguenots. Ribaut landed at the St. Johns River and then went north to Port Royal harbor (now Paris Island, S. C.), where he built Fort Charles for the protection of the thirty men left there. The men soon abandoned the place, and in a boat built by themselves returned to Europe. In 1564, Ren6 de Laudonni6re brought over a larger group of Huguenot colonists, who built Fort Caroline, on the St. Johns River. The Spanish considered a French settlement in Florida dangerous for their security, and destroyed it. The French court demanded redress, but Spain’s answer was that the French had invaded Spanish territory and would not be permitted to establish permanent settlements in that part of the New World.
After the rebuff in Florida, France again turned her attention to Canada, which she called New France. Samuel de Champlain was the guiding spirit of the French exploring and colonizing movements there. In 1603 he was exploring in the St. Lawrence region. A colony that he planted (1604) in what is now Nova Scotia was abandoned in 1607, but in 1608 he succeeded in planting a settlement at Quebec. The French had increased their interest in New France. Champlain was determined that the French should possess the Great Lakes region, and worked faithfully toward that end. Territorial conquest, conversion of the Indians to Chris- tianity, and the rich fur trade with the Indians spurred them on.
It was an easy step from the basin of the Great Lakes to the basin of the Mississippi River, and the French pressed on to spread the faith and reap the profits of the fur trade. In 1673 Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit, and Louis Jolliet (or Joliet), a trader, ascended the Fox River from Green Bay, made the short portage to the Wisconsin River, and descended that river to the Mississippi. They paddled their canoes down the Mississippi until the mouth of the Arkansas was reached. They were anxious to reach the sea, but fear that the Spanish might capture them and that their secret of the short portage might be lost, made them return to the Illinois River. They ascended that stream and after another portage reached the Chicago River, which carried them back into Lake Michigan. Jolliet, with a keen eye f of trade, more than two and a half centuries ago saw the value of a Lakesto-Gulf ship, waterway.
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was the pathfinder who finished the exploration begun by Marquette and Jolliet. He was the contemporary and co-worker of New France’s greatest governor, Frontenac. Coming to this country in 1666 to his grant of land on the St. Lawrence, he found exploring more to his taste and spent little time on his estate. By 1669 he was exploring the country south of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. When a fort was needed at the outlet of Lake Ontario to protect the fur trade, Frontenac sent him to France to use his influence to obtain it. He was successful and Fort Frontenac was established. As La Salle’s plans for exploring and trading grew he needed more money and other forms of assistance. He went to France in 1677, and obtained a monopoly of the fur trade in the Mississippi Valley. He also acquired a lieutenant in Henri de Tonty, who became his loyal assistant. After many delays, La Salle, Tonty, and a party of more than fifty men went from Lake Michigan by way of the Chicago-Illinois portage to the Mississippi River. They descended the river to its mouth, reaching the Gulf April 9, 1682. A column was erected and the ceremony of taking possession of the Mississippi Valley for France was performed – following similar ceremonies at Gasp6 pay in 1534, and at Sault Ste. Marie in 1671.
La Salle named the region Louisiana, in honor of his king, Louis XIV. While Tonty stayed to hold the forts at the portages, La Salle returned to France and secured four ships loaded with colonists and started for the mouth of the Mississippi. After an unfortunate journey, which ended with missing the destination and landing on the coast of Texas, many of the colonists returned to France. The others, with La Salle, built a fort, but their situation became desperate. La Salle set out overland to reach Tonty, or to go on to Montreal, but he was murdered by some of his companions. La Salle failed to accomplish his aims, but his fortitude, foresight,’ and his unselfish patriotism are worthy of praise. In 1699 two brothers, d’Iberville and Bienville, did succeed in planting a trading post on the Gulf coast at Biloxi.