The Defense of New France in North America.

XVII and XVIII Centuries

Operational Conditions and Fighting Tactics.

This prolonged and victorious defense in the time of the French colony is due to several tactical and operational reasons.

One of them is the transitibility of the extensive woodland that separated it from the 13 English colonies, especially south of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the San Lorenzo River basin. Transitibility is the geographical dimension on and where military actions take place. In its application, it is framed by the surface (and spatial, modernly) capacity of the terrain to sustain and permit maneuvers and combat by the military means. Thus, the superficial non-simultaneity of these means is one of their absolute conditioning factors.

It also has relative functions, which depend on geography. And, therefore, the road network (urban geography) and climate, hydrology (river network), orography, seasons, meteorology and time of day (physical geography). The transitibility determines the physical ease or difficulty for the passage of men and other means and their fighting mode in a field. Thus, it conditions the speed of «operational movement» and the «total time of operations» in motion.

In New France were integrated units of march and attack, formed by French regular forces (royal or of the colonizing companies), that offered their discipline and logistic capacity, by self-defense militias from the French-Canadian territory and by allied Indian warriors, singularly from the Iroquois tribes, who knew the skills of deep incursion tactics of the irregular infantry.

Winning the strategic initiative, both in attack and in defense, to the Anglo-Americans and regulars of the 13 English colonies. And, keeping the unity of central command and of the combined incursion forces in the marches and assaults on the Anglo-American positions and locations and in the fighting in the virgin forests, which separated both great colonies.

The settlement of New France.

In 1524, French explorers first arrived in North America. They were looking for a new sea route to China. To overcome the terrestrial obstacle encountered by the Spaniards in the area of the Caribbean Sea and the Tropic of Cancer, to make that trip. The failure of this expedition did not prevent France from insisting on taking control of part of the New World.

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In 1534, Jacques Cartier began his expeditions to the San Lorenzo River, which failed to settle on its banks. In 1604, French settlers managed to settle in Acadia, the land around a part of the Gulf of San Lorenzo. In 1608, Samuel Champlain raised Quebec on the banks of the San Lorenzo.

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The policy of the French crown in New France was to allow entrepreneurial commercial enterprises to bring settlers and equipment to America. In exchange for the rights to exploit the resources of the colony. But, the shortage of settlers and the conflicts that arose with the neighboring Indians withered those plans.

The Iroquois had settled for millennia in the lands south of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the upper San Lorenzo basin. And, their trade routes ran through them. In the time of Champlain, five large Iroquois branches, the Seneca, the Oneida, the Mohawk, the Cayuga and the Onandaga united and formed the «League of Five Nations«, which would later make up six.

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The Indians knew the trades of hunting and fur and exchanged their skins for the goods offered by the French, firearms, metals and fabrics. They also taught the first settlers to orient themselves in the extensive and hard forests existing throughout the mentioned area and to travel in canoes the abundant rivers and tributaries that crossed them.

This exploitation of the area’s animal resources, its fur processing and trade with France, brought intermittent clashes between tribes and settlers. As these demanded many more skins for their trade, than the tribes hunted for their subsistence. In the 1630s and 1640s, the Iroquois began attacking other Indians and French settlers who hunted for trade themselves. Also, native beliefs were affected and harmed by white activity. Because the Iroquois believed that they should be compensated by the French with prisoners, by reason of their relatives who died in these areas and by those who died from contagious diseases.

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This triggered a series of armed conflicts. They were characterized by more or less deep incursions into enemy settlements. And it unleashed a self-destructive spiral of fur hunting, its wild trade and blood revenges, that shocked New France. At this time, the French government decided that New France was not profitable for it and did not take additional measures to protect its colonists.

Thus, the governor of the French-Canadian settlement of Trois-Riviers developed an effective defense plan. Based on early warning, the rapid grouping of armed settler militias, close to the Indian attack, training of those as irregular light infantry, and acting with sufficient aggressiveness. And in 1653 he rejected a 9-day siege, the result of which led the Indians to negotiate peace.

But, in the next decade, the tribes managed to invade and control much of the rural, free areas of New France. The main reason for this strategic defeat of the French was the colony’s meager population. About 3,000 French and Canadians lived there, including soldiers from the colonizing company and regular ones, trappers, merchants, woodcutters-farmers and small artisans, and about 500 women.

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In 1663, King Louis XIV (the Sun King) decided to change the situation of his North American colony and qualitatively strengthen its defense and demographics. To do this, the crown paid some 800 women their trip to New France to get married. They were young and poor women from all over France. And half of them also received dowries and trousseau. And so, they all acquired a better future than they could aspire to in the metropolis. The women selected their husbands, touring the settlements of the colony. And, most were getting married soon. Wealth of the colony in survival means allowed the easy survival of the women and their children in New France.

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Furthermore, in 1665 Louis XIV sent 1200 regular soldiers to the colony, which was a qualitative plus for the guarantee of the defense of New France. Within a few months, these metropolitan soldiers, trained for closed-formation fighting, musket discharges by small units, and bayonet assaults, were trained for irregular infantry warfare.

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As a result, in 1667 New France and the 5 Iroquois Nations signed a lasting peace treaty. And, in 1701, the French and Iroquois signed a final peace treaty, which lasted until the end of the French colony.

By the beginning of the 18th century, New France had expanded to 20,000 inhabitants. Montreal had 4,000 people and Quebec had 8,000. The other settlements were inhabited by a few hundred settlers and Indians. This allowed the French to establish a series of fortified positions along the Mississippi. They really had testimonial garrisons. But, they served in part for the restraint and rejection of the explorations and expansionist attempts of the English colonists to the west of their settlements. These already reached a population of 2 million souls. The expansion to the north (Canada) seemed to the English to be a very hard bone to gnaw and of little profitability.


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