In mounting sustained efforts to establish colonial systems in North America during the early colonial era, the French and the English differed immensely in their economic and cultural responses to and interactions with Native American Indians. Although both groups affected natives adversely in some ways, the French were by far more benevolent in their interactions. The English, on the other hand, found their interests come in conflict with those of the Indians more often than not, and were generally less benevolent in their efforts to fulfill their colonial agenda.
The economic foundation and overall purpose of French colonization in North America provided the context of their mutually beneficial relations with Native Americans. France sought to establish a colonial economy centered on the fur trade, dependent on trapping and skinning beaver. However, the northern expanses through which these rodents roamed provided limited capacity for agriculture, thus restricting the development of large settlements. The French “colonies,” therefore, were little more than a series of outposts that ran along the St. Lawrence River, through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi, with a small occupancy of couriers de bois rather than the established colonial centers of the English in Massachusetts and Virginia. With an extremely small ratio of French trappers to Indians, early French explorers such as Champlain immediately began to see Native Americans such as the Huron as potential allies with aligned interests. Economically, the French began to incorporate large numbers of natives into the fur trade to account for the small number of actual French settlers. A symbiotic relationship thus began to evolve where the Indians would trade furs to the French in exchange for knives, guns, and other commodities. However, this market was perpetuated so immensely that Native American groups began to compete amongst themselves for the benefits of French trade. While some groups...
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