French American Port Cities

Cécile Vidal

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
French American Port Cities

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  • History of the Americas
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Most urban settlements founded by the French in the Americas were port cities on the sea or on a river. Because the historiography focuses on the main ports and neglects secondary towns, most of the references in this entry deal with eleven port cities: Quebec City, Montreal, Louisbourg, New Orleans, Cap-Français, Port-au-Prince, Saint-Pierre, Fort Royal, Basse-Terre, Pointe-à-Pitre, and Cayenne. The entry covers the following periods: for Canada, 1608–1763, from the foundation of Quebec to the treaty of Paris; for Louisiana, 1702–1769, from the founding of Mobile to the definitive establishment of the Spaniards in New Orleans (although one can argue that the Louisiana capital remained French until the 1840s owing to the importance of Francophone migrations in the first decades of the 19th century); for Saint-Domingue, 1670–1804, from the foundation of Cap-Français to Haitian Independence; for the Lesser Antilles and French Guiana, 1630s–1848, from the foundation of Saint-Pierre and Cayenne to the second abolition of slavery in 1848. For a very long time, the historiography on French colonies has neglected these port cities and has focused on the countryside, mainly because the rural population and agricultural activities were the most important. In Canada, moreover, a focus on the St. Lawrence Valley’s peasants served the agenda of all Canadian historians, both Francophone and Anglophone, who place emphasis on Canada as a civilization rooted in America (distant from France), while in the Caribbean the slave plantation system attracted all the historical attention. Because the global historiography on the French Empire also remains very much divided according to national fault lines, the specific historiography on French American port cities is not well integrated and does not cover the various colonies equally. In declining order, the cities that have been the most extensively studied are those in Canada, Louisiana, the Antilles, and finally Guyana. Until the late 20th and early 21st centuries the questions addressed for these different cities were not the same, and no common debates animated the various national historiographies. However, the development of Atlantic studies and imperial history in recent years has prompted a growing interest in port cities and has encouraged a degree of unification of the field. Primary concerns are the importance of port cities in the colonial and imperial processes and the specificity of social, interethnic, and interracial relations in an urban setting.

Article.  9398 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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