The Company of St. Christopher.—In 1625 a small brigantine commanded by Pierre d'Esnambuc and Urbain de Roissey, "the pirate of Dieppe," sailed to the West Indies. After escaping from a Spanish galleon near Jamaica, they proceeded to St. Christopher, where a settlement was begun. The following year the Company of St. Christopher was formed, and three vessels with over five hundred men set sail from France in 1627, but only half of them survived the voyage. Two settlements were for
Santo Domingo.—A few of them went to the northern coast of Santo Domingo, whence they carried on buccaneering enterprises against the Spaniards. After the Spanish attack the company did little to assist, and the colony was left to its own devices. Trade with the Dutch immediately sprang up and the settlers began to make a profit from tobacco.
Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Tortuga.—In 1634 the Company of St. Christopher was bankrupt, and the following year it was reorganized as the Company of the Isles of America. Guadeloupe and Martinique were immediately occupied. In 1640 the English were expelled from Tortuga, and the island was occupied by Levasseur, who soon broke loose from the control of the company and conducted a pirate haven. Several of the smaller islands were also occupied. The French West Indies soon attracted a considerable immigration, in 1642 the population being estimated at more than seven thousand. The tobacco business not continuing profitable, sugar began to take its place as the staple product. Due mainly to the clash of authority among officials, a condition which led to anarchy, by 1648 the company was bankrupt.
Other Islands occupied.—Between 1649 and 1651 the various islands were sold to proprietors who ruled them until 1664. Between 1648 and 1656 settlements were made on St. Martin, St. Bartholomew, St. Croix, The Saints, Marie Galante, St. Lucia, and Granada, and by 1664 the French flag floated over fourteen of the Antilles. The sugar business proved to be exceedingly profitable and cultivation of the cane made slave-labor desirable. Population increased rapidly, in 1655 the whites numbering about fifteen thousand and slaves being almost as numerous. During the period of the proprietors there was little restriction on commerce, most of the carrying trade passing into the hands of the Dutch.
The Crown assumes control.—Colbert became controller-general of the finances in 1662, one of his functions being the control of the colonies. He determined to send a representative to assert the king's authority; in 1663 De Tracy was made lieutenant-general in all the French colonies and was given supreme executive and judicial powers. The following year he sailed with De La Barre who was about to establish a colony at Cayenne. De Tracy soon established the king's authority and corrected abuses in the West Indies, and then proceeded to Quebec, where he remained until 1667.
The West India Company.—In 1664 Louis chartered the great company which was granted the mainland of South America from the Orinoco to the Amazon, the island of Cayenne, the French West Indies, Newfoundland, Acadia, Canada, the rest of the mainland of North America as far south as Florida, and the African coast from Cape Verde to the Cape of Good Hope. Former proprietors were to be compensated, and with the exception of the fisheries of Newfoundland, the company was to have a monopoly of trade and colonization for forty years. After considerable opposition the company succeeded in establishing its authority in the islands, but the war which broke out in 1666 between France, and England and Holland proved disastrous, a French fleet which was sent to protect the Antilles being destroyed by the English. Colbert assisted the company financially, but it failed to become a profitable undertaking and in 1674 was dissolved. The inhabitants, however, continued to prosper, mainly because of the increasing number of independent merchants who traded with the islands and the growing importance of the sugar industry.