France had colonial possessions, in various forms, from the beginning of the 17th century until the 1960s. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, its global colonial empire was the second largest behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 km² (4,767,000 sq. miles) of land. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 km² (4,980,000 sq. miles) in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6 percent of the world’s land area.
From the middle of the 15th century forward, France tried to establish several colonies throughout North America that failed due to weather, disease, or conflict with other European powers. 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 from 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, which was plagued by illness. The settlement was moved to Port Royal following year. Fort Saint Louis was established in Texas in 1685, but was gone by 1688.
SOURCE: Boundless. “The French Empire.” Boundless U.S. History. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 20 Nov. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/the-new-world-1492-1600-2/the-exploration-and-conquest-of-the-new-world-38/the-french-empire-256-8093/
France’s experience in Africa was conditioned by two things. First, France had a longstanding interest in the region bordering the Mediterranean Sea thanks to its own coast line between Italy and Spain, its active role in the Crusades and its incorporation into the Roman Empire. Second, France lost most of its original overseas empire in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the Napoleonic Wars (1790s-1815) and it suffered a major setback in its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Thus, French imperialism was an effort to regain lost power rather than a continuation of previous successes, and its African empire grew out of developments along the North African coast.
Toussaint L’Ouverture is a slave in Saint-Domingue who has served his master as a coachman and has achieved some degree of literacy. He emerges as one of the leaders of the first independence movement in the West Indies.
The rebellion of the slaves against their French masters in 1791 is not fully successful until Toussaint L’Ouverture and others join an army invading Saint-Domingue in 1793 from the Spanish half of the island (Santo Domingo, forming the eastern end of Hispaniola). Thereafter Toussaint steadily establishes himself as the strongest of the various black leaders. By 1800 he is master of French Saint-Domingue. In 1801 he invades Santo Domingo and achieves control over the entire island.
Among those ruled by the French in western Africa, the spectacle of white men killing each other in World War I eroded much if not all of whatever view they had that whites were indeed superior to Africans. During the war, the French had recruited 175,000 from their colonies in West Africa, some of these recruits becoming combat soldiers, some others becoming support personnel. These were a variety of men of many shades of brown, some of them Moslems, and some not. After the war some of them stayed in France, where several became advocates for more rights for Africans, most of them favoring assimilation rather than national independence. A movement that favored nationalist independence was led by a missionary-educated military veteran, André Matswa, whose movement spread to French-controlled Brazzaville in the Congo.
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