FOR two centuries colonial rivalries were mainly coastal in their scope, and naval strength was inevitably an important factor. The coasts of America (North and South), India, Africa, China, and Japan were known, but little was known of the interiors, or of Australasia. Some European countries were overpopulated in proportion to their productive capacity at that time, among them England; but the intention of early imperialists was to get trade and wealth, not to settle surplus population overseas, except as an aid to the more important aim.
Portugal held some African and Indian ports and Brazil, while Spain (her overlord, 1580-1640) had the rest of South and Central America. Neither power was strong enough to extend its territorial possessions in contention with the nations that now began to compete-France, England, and Holland, and to a very limited extent Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia.
The land which was-rather obscurely-named Canada was discovered by Cabot, and further explored by Verrazano and Carrier in the early sixteenth century, though no permanent settlement was made till 1604. The French founded Quebec and Montreal, fought the Iroquois redskins and tried to convert them to Christianity; they had numerous wars with the English during the seventeenth century. There were small stations in the woodlands surrounding the lonely Great Lakes. A missionary reached the upper Mississippi (1678), and the great explorer La Salle journeyed down two thousand miles of it to the Gulf of Mexico, where New Orleans was founded. The French were fortunate in their governors, of whom Frontenac was the greatest, and they proposed to use the river routes of the vast Mississippi basin to link the St. Lawrence settlement with New Orleans, so holding the British settlers of the east coast back from expansion westward. It was necessary only that they should hold the gap at the watershed between Lake Erie and the headwaters of the Ohio. " New France " was controlled by royal officials and missionaries, and it had a very small population-some eighty thousand hunters, trappers, and peasants, subject to feudal conditions of land tenure.