Monday, May 2, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #19: What if the French Colonized America?

Alright, so the title is going to confuse some people, because they know that they did colonize parts of it, namely New France (aka, modern day Quebec, the area called "just a few acres of snow," and the reason why French is one of two national languages of Canada and everyone bends over backwards to make sure they won't leave...), but they were evicted by the British in 1759. Other areas like Louisiana and different Caribbean islands also have a significant French background.

No, what I mean is, what if the area we know today as the Thirteen Colonies, the ancestors of the modern United States, was a French dominion?

Couldn't make these jokes now, could you 'MURICA?

Note: For the sake of simplicity, I'm just going to name most of the towns after their IRL name, with a few exceptions that will be noted.

Point of Divergence

This one is pretty easy: Samuel de Champlain, when he set out to colonize areas of North America for the King of France, landed not in the St. Lawrence River, but further south, closer to modern day Boston in 1608. This settlement grew slowly, serving mostly as a trading hub for the few farmers who settled outside it's walls, as well as a trading post with the nearby natives, though not with the furs they originally anticipated. Eventually more towns would sprout up up and down the coast, the most prominent being Acadia in Nova Scotia, which was founded before Boston.

Immediate Outcomes

Over the next 100 years, further European colonies began to sprout along the coast of North America. The Dutch still settled around New York, and other small colonies by nations like Sweden also were started. But like our history, the colonization of North America was mostly done by the French and the British.

So... flip the blue and the red around, and this map should be just about good. I think.
The French, with their colony in Acadia, Boston, and further south along the coast, as well as outposts in Newfoundland, held a huge tract of land mostly focused on the Eastern seaboard, and later on around New Orleans and up along the Mississippi River. The British, on the other hand, focused on the north: what would have been OTL Quebec is mostly British, with settlements at Montreal and Quebec City, and stretching down to the Niagara Peninsula.

The colonies, and the nations that controlled them, were very different. One way the colonizing of the America's was explained in regards to those Natives that were already there: The Spanish exterminated and enslaved, the British scorned and neglected, and the French embraced and welcomed. This approach, along with some other parallels with our history, would remain. The British focused more on settling the land. Besides the bigger towns, many smaller towns also sprouted up along both sides of the St. Lawrence River, serving local farmers, a growing merchant and artisan class, and the fur traders. Whereas the French in OTL had about 60,000 settlers and inhabitants in Quebec by 1750, the British would have had many times more, say closer to 250,000. But like OTL, the British colonists wanted more land, and they pushed south and west, coming into constant conflict with the Indians and the French.

The Governor of New France participating in a ceremonial dance. Imagine a British guy doing this.
The French, with their colonies on the seaboard, were more focused on trading with the natives. However, the richness of the land, and the growth of crops like tobacco to sell back to the homeland and food stuffs like corn to support a growing population, lead to more settlers going to New France ATL. However, unlike the British, the natives got along a lot better with the French, to the point that the French aided the Iroquois and other tribes resisting the English, and gently pushing them to set up their own confederacies, kingdoms, and nations to better withstand the English expansion. Intermarriage was also a huge factor, with many single Frenchmen marrying native women, leading to the growth of the Metis. With more room (or, at least, less frigid, more hospitable room), more settlers, and more Metis, New France ATL would have close to 500,000 people, which would have been half of what the Thirteen Colonies OTL would have had in the 1750s. Louisiana, similar to OTL Louisiana Territory, would have have thousands more people, but mostly focused on the trading and supporting native alliances.

Other colonies, like New Amsterdam and New Sweden, would most likely trundle along, or be sold/captured by the other colonial powers in the course of European Wars. So, to simplify this article, I'm going to just say that by 1750, only the French and English were in North America (minus the Spaniards holding Florida and most of the land from California to Texas with Mexico).

This would have a huge impact on the future. Whereas the history of European colonization in North America from about 1650s until 1763 was a story of the huge, but sparsely populated New France loosing ground in war after war to the more populous, land hungry British settlers, in this TL, the roles would be almost flipped. Almost. The French, with all their land and less intensive colonization, but larger population and alliances with the natives would be able to hold back the British, and confine them to the St. Lawrence River basin. Wars between the French and British in the 17-18th centuries would be pretty much confined to limiting the expansion of each other, and then eventually a balance of power.

Just hang in there... Turkey! Push your bayonet up more!

This would also have some bigger issues. Without one colonial power dominating the continent, the need for support from the homeland for defence would mean that independence fights like the American Revolution would be not only unfeasible, but unpopular with the majority of the colonialists. I'm also unsure that, despite the distance and taxes, that the citizens of New France would be willing to leave the Kingdom. If anything New France would already have a large amount of autonomy, and would be willing to live like they were. The British would still try to gain more land, and they might thanks to victories in Europe, but it's hard to see how they would be able to drive all of the French out of North America unless the British focused only on North America, which seems very unlikely. If the Quebec colonists did try to rebel and form their own country, what's to stop New France from occupying Quebec as well? Or, at the very least, relegate it to a second-class position to New France.

So without a decisive victory in a French and Indian War like OTL, and with the New French holding a slightly stronger position along with their autonomy, I'd think the colonies of Britain, France and Spain would continue along as they were. Maybe in each war the borders shift a bit, but nothing massive. About the only thing that I'd see breaking New France from the motherland would be a financial crisis that came from the American Revolution, or wars in Europe, that would lead New France to question their relationship with the homeland. But it would most likely be a demand to have a representation in the Estates General, or official autonomy or responsible government, or go so far as to give a son of the King of France the title of King of New France. But this wouldn't happen for a very, very long time.

They are busy, busy people.

This also means that the French Revolution would be delayed, if it happens at all. It was the expenses of the American Revolution, along with the failure of the French and Indian/Seven Years War that was one of the major catalysts of the calling of the Estates General in 1789. So the 18th century Balance of Powers would most likely continue until such a revolution did occur, in France, Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy... who knows where?

So that's where I will leave this article. About 1800, with the colonies of New France and British Quebec not going anywhere. Maybe someday in the future I will try to write a full fledged story, and make a nice map to go with it. Or maybe even try to a New French Revolution. Or just let us keep powdered wigs and massive poofy dresses right until the present.

But what do you think? What would have happened if the French colonized OTL's Thirteen Colonies? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

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