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The French colonization of the Americas began in the 16th century, and continued on into the following centuries as France established a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. France founded colonies in much of eastern North America, on a number of Caribbean islands, and in South America. Most colonies were developed to export products such as fish, sugar, and furs. As they colonized the New World, the French established forts and settlements that would become such cities as Quebec and Montreal in Canada; Detroit, Green Bay, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the United States; and Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien in Haiti.
North America 
The French first came to the New World as explorers, seeking a route to the Pacific ocean and wealth. Major French exploration of North America began under the rule of Francis I, King of France. In 1524, Francis sent Italian-born Giovanni da Verrazano to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland for a route to the Pacific Ocean. Verrazzano gave the names Francesca and Nova Gallia to that land between New Spain and English Newfoundland, thus promoting French interests.
Later, in 1534, Francis sent Jacques Cartier on the first of three voyages to explore the coast of Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River. The French subsequently tried to establish several colonies throughout North America that failed, due to weather, disease, or conflict with other European powers. Cartier attempted to create the first permanent European settlement in North America at Cap-Rouge (Quebec City) in 1541 with 400 settlers but the settlement was abandoned the next year after bad weather and first nations attacks. A small group of French troops were left on Parris Island, South Carolina in 1562 to build Charlesfort, but left after a year when they were not resupplied by France. Fort Caroline established in present-day Jacksonville, Florida in 1564, lasted only a year before being destroyed by the Spanish from St. Augustine. An attempt to settle convicts on Sable Island off Nova Scotia in 1598 failed after a short time. In 1599, a sixteen-person trading post was established in Tadoussac (in present-day Quebec), of which only five men survived the first winter. In 1604, Saint Croix Island in Acadia was the site of a short-lived French colony, much plagued by illness, perhaps scurvy. The following year the settlement was moved to Port Royal. Fort Saint Louis was established in Texas in 1685, but was gone by 1688. France lost New France to the British through six colonial wars (see the four French and Indian Wars as well as Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre's War).
A major French settlement lay on the island of Hispaniola, where France established the colony of Saint-Domingue on the western third of the island in 1664. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Antilles", Saint-Domingue became the richest colony in the Caribbean before a 1791 slave revolt, which began the Haitian Revolution, led to freedom for the colony's slaves in 1794 and, a decade later, complete independence for the country, which renamed itself Haiti. France briefly also ruled the eastern portion of the island, which is now the Dominican Republic.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, France ruled much of the Lesser Antilles at various times. Islands that came under French rule during part of all of this time include Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Vincent and Tobago. Control of many of these islands was contested between the French, the British and the Dutch; in the case of St. Martin, the island was divided in two, a situation that persists to this day. Great Britain captured some of France's islands during the Seven Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars. Following the latter conflict, France retained control of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Marie-Galante, St. Barthélemy, and its portion of St. Martin; all remain part of France today. Guadeloupe (including Marie-Galante and other nearby islands) and Martinique each is an overseas department of France, while St. Barthélemy and St. Martin each became an overseas collectivity of France in 2007.
South America 
From 1555 to 1567, French Huguenots, under the leadership of vice-admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, made an attempt to establish the colony of France Antarctique in what is now Brazil, but were expelled. From 1612 to 1615, a second failed attempt was made in present-day São Luís, Brazil.
French Guiana was first settled by the French in 1604, although its earliest settlements were abandoned in the face of American Indian hostility and tropical diseases. The settlement of Cayenne was established in 1643, but was abandoned. It was re-established in the 1660s. Except for brief occupations by the English and Dutch in the 17th century, and by the Portuguese in the 19th century, Guiana has remained under French rule ever since. From 1851 to 1951 it was the site of a notorious penal colony, Devil's Island (Île du Diable). Since 1946, French Guiana has been an overseas department of France.
In 1860, a French adventurer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens proclaimed himself king of Araucania and Patagonia. His claim was not accepted by foreign powers and Chile and Argentina took firm control over the regions, treating him as insane.
See also 
- Atlantic World
- History of Canada
- Former colonies and territories in Canada
- French and Indian Wars
- French colonial empire
- French in Canada
- French in the United States
- Illinois Country
- New France
- List of French possessions and colonies
- 1524: The voyage of discoveries, Centro studi storici Verrazzano
- As the French and Indian War started two years earlier, and continued until the signing of the peace treaty, the name Seven Years' War is more properly applied to the European phase of the war.
- Holbrook, Sabra (1976), The French Founders of North America and Their Heritage, New York: Atheneum, ISBN 0-689-30490-0