Explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano sailed to North America in search of a sea route to the Pacific.
In 1608 another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, sailed up the St. Lawrence., Champlain and his colonists founded Quebec which became the base of France's colonial empire in North America, known as New France.
In 1673 French Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette and trader Louis Joliet explored the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi., Later Sieur de La Salle explored the lower Mississippi., He claimed the entire river valley for France and named Louisiana in honor of the French King Louis XIV., By the early 1700's New France covered much of what is now the midwestern United States and eastern Canada.
Though France's North American empire was immense it was sparsely populated., A large number of French colonists did not want to build towns or raise families., Many settlers were Catholic priests who saught to convert Native Americans., Settlers also included young single men engaged in what had become New France's main economic activity, fur trade.
In 1606, a company of London investors received from King James a charter to found a colony in North America., The colony's start was disastrous, settlers were more interested in finding gold than in planting crops., During the first few years seven out of every ten people died of hunger, disease or battles with the Native Americans., Jamestown became England's first permanant settlement in North America.
Persecuted for their religious beliefs in England these colonists sought religious freedom., 10 years later a group known as Puritans also sought religious freedom from England's Anglican Church, they established a larger colony at Massachusetts Bay., The Puritans wanted to build a model community that would set an example for other Christians to follow.
Henry Hudson sailed west searching for a northwest sea route to Asia. Not finding a route he explored three waterways that were named after him., Dutch claimed the region along these waterways, establishing a fur trade with the Iroquois indians., Dutch merchants formed the Dutch West India Company., Dutch holdings in North America became known as New Netherland.
On the islands the Europeans built huge cotton and sugar plantations.