Week 3: Spanish and French America The week of January 17 23, 2005

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Week 3: Spanish and French America

The week of January 17 – 23, 2005


One myth that most of us grow up with is that of the earliest settlers in North America arriving on the Atlantic seaboard, the Pilgrims and all that wonderful stuff. However, the truth is that England was a bit late in arriving on the continent, behind their two primary European competitors – Spain and France. For a long period of time, these two rival nations held claim to vast areas of North America, and Chapters 3 and 4 in your text give you the “geography behind the history” for this era. Today, in 2005, the legacy of the French in North America is minimal – restricted primarily to Quebec Province in Canada - while the legacy of the Spanish era is tremendous, and growing.

By the way – if you haven’t already done so, I would suggest that you keep a good atlas on North America close at hand, so that you can locate places that are unfamiliar to you. After all, Geography is a spatial discipline.

  • Spanish Exploration and Discovery

  • Spanish Borderlands – geographic extent

  • Spanish Borderlands – institutional context

  • Spanish Borderlands – contemporary legacy

  • French Exploration and Discovery

  • French America – harvesting of the natural resources

  • 1763 – French and Indian Wars

Learning Objectives

  1. To understand basic geography, events, and individuals associated with the Spanish-colonial historical geography of the southern United States.

  2. To understand basic geography, events, and individuals associated with the French colonial experience in North America.

  3. To understand the differences between the Spanish and the French in terms of their relationship to the physical geography of the land, their different approaches toward the natural resources, and the nature of their commitment to settlement.


1) Do the Assigned Reading and look through the Additional Resources.

2) Complete the Online Quiz

3) Begin working on mid-term essay assignment.

Required Reading

  • Textbook: Chapter 3: “the Spanish Borderlands”

  • Textbook: Chapter 4: “France in North America”

  • Instructor’s Notes and all embedded Internet links.

Instructor’s Notes
Spanish Exploration and Discovery

If you take a look at the Map of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, you see immediately that the continent of North America was peripheral to their major interests at the time. The 16th century was an era of exploration and discovery, but even more, it was an era of Conquest – the most dramatic being the conquests of the Inca Empire in the Andes of South America and the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico.

The North America story begins with the amazing journey of Cabeza de Vaca, (map of route) as described briefly in your text. It was this odyssey which ultimately led to the far-reaching expedition led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. This expedition is short-changed in your text, so please read about it at a great site prepared by researchers in Tucson, Arizona: Coronado’s Expedition into the American Southwest. An expedition of equal significance in the southeastern part of North America, at about the same time, was that led by Hernando de Soto starting in 1539: De Soto Expedition. You will hear more about this expedition during your mid-term essay assignment.
Spanish Borderlands – Geographic Extent

Please read the essay by Albert Hurtado for a good snapshot description of this geographic (and historical) region. Your text presents a detailed picture of the Spanish settlement frontier, beginning with Florida, which was first settled by the Spanish in 1565 and remained a part of the Spanish empire until 1819.

New Spain’s Northern Frontier is defined as having four nodes of activity: New Mexico, Pimeria Alta (southern Arizona), Texas and the California Coast. In your reading you should see the differences from place to place, and you should also see the features in common. The one theme that was consistent in all these nodes of Spanish influence was the goal of creating a buffer against incursions by other European nations, and in later years against the new nation of the United States. Buffer against what? You may recall that Spain was very much into exploiting the resources of the Americas; in particular gold and silver – and these mines were in abundance in the region that is now central and northern Mexico.
Spanish Borderlands – Institutional Context

This topic is well described in your text; also read about Spanish Presidios, at this site from El Paso, which describes the history of a typical Spanish presidio. My home, Tucson, also started as a typical Spanish presidio and you can read a brief history of it at Mexico/Arizona: Biographical Survey.

Spanish Borderlands – Contemporary Legacy

You should carefully review Figure 3.13 in your text, and be sure to know a few key dates – those that mark the territorial additions to the rapidly growing United States. Mexico achieved independence form Spain in 1821; therefore, later territorial additions by the United States were lands that were obtained form the nation of Mexico – by purchase, coercion, or conquest. Know these dates!

The legacy of the Spanish Borderlands is thus one of a legacy from Spain and a legacy from Mexico – a legacy of culture, of demographics and landscape. Web sites in the additional resources below allow you to explore some of the contemporary issues. I refer you in particular to the web site titled “Border Crossings.”
French Exploration and Discovery

A French map of North America printed in 1700 gives a good indication of how the French saw the New World – a land dominated by waterways - and your text provides a good discussion of the productive, but brief, era of New France in the Americas. The story is well told in the series of maps in chapter 4.

I also refer you to a more colorful presentation on Jacques Cartier. Read this material and then decide whether or not Cartier belongs in the French Hall of Fame (or Shame?). My thoughts:

For these reasons, his efforts were a failure:

–No riches found, in spite of native claims of gold and silver over the next hill

–Familiar crops could not be grown

–Climate was daunting

–Rest of the century – no French efforts to settle this land they had claimed

On the other hand:

–Knowledge of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the River

–Powerful French claim to this region (entry to a vast continent)

–Established irrelevancy of expectations on colonization, and made it clear that economic activity and settlement here would be based on two natural resources: cod fishery and fur trade

A similar discussion of Samuel de Champlain would suggest that his voyages of exploration and discovery were perhaps more important – so does he belong in the French Hall of Fame?

French America – Harvesting of the Natural Resources

Look at a map of North America 1n the year 1700. It is a useful snapshot in time of the relative influence of the three dominant European powers in North America (for an actual map of the era, go here). It is striking that the French held influence over a vast area of the interior of the continent – essentially the entire Mississippi River drainage basin, and the drainage of the St. Lawrence River. Yet, their areas of settlement were minimal – “In 1700 fewer than 20,000 people of French background were scattered across North America from Newfoundland to the Mississippi” (page 77 in your text). The French were in the Americas to harvest natural resources – furs and fish – and their enterprise was therefore water-based: coastal fishing and beaver on the rivers. There you are……and in 1763…….

1763 – French and Indian Wars

From the previous map you can see that there were vast areas in the interior of the continent claimed by both French and British. At the same time, these two snarly opponents were engaged in constant skirmishing at home. A particularly long engagement on the European continent was known as the Seven-Years’ War. Inevitably, it spilled over into North America along the frontier where it was known as the French and Indian Wars. The British won, the French lost; and with the Treaty of Paris (1763), the French were expelled from the Americas. They will show up again briefly a few decades later; but after 1763 they disappear from the map of North America. End of chapter! But, you aren’t done yet. Please go to Dan’s Notes – French and Indian War, a portion of a lecture I prepared for a presentation last year in another class. Then, you will be done.

Additional Resources – these are not required reading, but they sure are

interesting (at least to me)

Florida History Site of early Spanish Exploration and Conquest

The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (PBS: The West)

The Journey of Coronado (PBS: The West)

The Pueblo Revolt (PBS: The West)

European Journeys of Exploration – University of Calgary

Guitterez map (1562) of Spanish America

The Spanish Influence on Surveying and Mapping in the Americas

A Review of Web Sites on the US-Mexican Border

Border Crossings – a wonderful collection of links related to US/Mexican Border issues

Historiography of Borderland Studies – an essay for the history majors

Samuel de Champlain’s Map of 1607

Discovery, Exploration and Colonies – maps and history

Discovery and Exploration of Canada

Hispanic Reading Room – Library of Congress

Historical Maps of the United States

French and Indian War – great resource from Ohio History pages

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