Compagnie de la Nouvelle France
For the first two decades of French interest in North America, fishing, the fur trade, and missionary activity predominated, none requiring large-scale settlement. With the advent of mercantilistic economic theory and its focus on maintaining a favorable balance of trade, overseas colonies were viewed as important to state finances. Louis XIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, responded to the lobbying of explorer and entrepreneur Samuel de Champlain, by creating the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France, often known as the Company of One Hundred Associates. The associates provided 300,000 livres of working capital and were to settle 4,000 French Catholics between 1627 and 1643. In return, they were given title to all French lands and granted a monopoly on all economic activity except fishing. In order to maintain control of the colony, Protestants and naturalized citizens were prohibited from permanent settlement.
The company enjoyed little success. In addition to bad weather that inhibited immigration, England constantly threatened French interests, destroying expeditions in 1628 and 1629 and occupying Quebec from 1629 to 1632. The first substantial group of settlers, not sent until 1634, included merchants, landless noblemen, skilled workers, and indentured servants (see indentured servitude). The company employed the seigneurial system for distributing land, giving large tracts to companies or individuals, known as seigneurs, or lords, who would undertake to establish settlements. Under the new system, settlements were established at Trois-Rivières (1634) and on the island of Montreal (1642), though they failed to attract substantial settlement. In 1645, the company relinquished its monopoly of the fur trade to a group of businessmen known as La Communauté des Habitants, along with direct responsibility for settlement, while retaining control of lands. By the early 1660s, it was clear that private settlement schemes would not work. Only 3,000 settlers populated the vast area of New France, and more than one-third of these settlers had been born in North America. Although 60 siegneuries had been granted, the settlement provisions had largely gone unfulfilled. In 1663, the government of the region was completely reorganized. The company was disbanded on February 24, 1663, and the colony brought directly under royal control. The Crown then transferred the administration of New France into the hands of the Compagnie des Indes Occidentals (French West Indies Company).
See also Jean-Baptiste Colbert.