During the seventeenth century, the French penetrated from the Saint Lawrence Valley to the Great Lakes and eventually across the drainage divide west to the Mississippi, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and north to Hudson Bay. Considering the few people involved, the distances covered, and the difficult physical obstacles faced, this was a magnificent achievement, made even more significant when compared with the absence of any similar exploration by the Dutch and the English inland from the Atlantic seaboard and the shores of Hudson Bay during the same period.
This chapter outlines the achievements of French seventeenth-century inland exploration. Prefacing the substantive section on the actual voyages of exploration is a brief discussion of French exploration as a scientific process and a discussion of the main factors that influenced the progress of exploration over time. These discussions furnish the structure as well as some of the necessary background for the more substantive portions of the chapter. Wherever possible, the discussion presented here has been based on primary documents and maps.
Most seventeenth-century French journeys of exploration and discovery for which the documentation has survived tended to begin by defining general or specific aims. This step was followed by gathering information from natives or coureurs de bois who were inclined to share knowledge. Finally, guides were hired, equipment was assembled, such as canoes and trade goods to pay for food and further information, and the journey was undertaken. On their return, many explorers presented verbal, written, and/or cartographic reports of what they had discovered. These precise