Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670-1730

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670-1730

Article excerpt

In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670-1730. By James Pritchard. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xxvii, 484. Preface, note on dates, weights, measures, and currency, illustrations, maps, graphs, tables, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. $75.00.)

James Pritchard's book on France's American colonies in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries is a much-needed study. In contrast to Spanish and British America, there has been surprisingly little effort to synthesize the history of the French colonies. The book's geographic scope and unifying theme make it valuable and original. Pritchard admirably includes all of the French American colonies-Canada, Acadia (Nova Scotia), Terre-Neuve (Newfoundland), Louisiana, Guiana, and the nine island colonies of the French West Indies (Grenada, Martinique, Marie Galante, Guadeloupe, Saint-Christophe, Saint-Barthélémy, Saint-Martin, Sainte-Croix, and Saint-Domingue). To allow for geographic breadth, he limits the book's time span. French exploration of the St. Lawrence Valley began in the 150Os, but Pritchard starts in 1670, when French colonization across the Americas was in full force. He ends in 1730, arguing that these decades set the pattern for the rest of the eighteenth century.

The book's central argument is that there was no unified French imperialism. Local Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans had considerably more influence over these colonies than did men in France or even those in positions of colonial authority. As Pritchard puts it in his section on governance, "from the beginning of royal rule colonial subjects normally questioned, evaded, or modified laws. Only as a last resort did they obey them" (p. 260).

Pritchard divides the book into two quite different parts. Part one compares the colonies in various ways, providing a useful demographic, social, economic, and political history. Part two gives a chronological overview, mostly of the period's wars. …

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