Although French fishermen had caught cod off Newfoundland as early as 1504, fish were not what motivated the voyages sponsored by King Francis I in the sixteenth century. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano sailed up the east coast from present‐day North Carolina to Nova Scotia looking for a northwesterly passage to Asia. The same objective was behind Jacques Cartier's three voyages (1534–42) that were the basis for future French claims to Canada. He explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence and discovered the St. Lawrence River, on which members of his expedition founded a short‐lived settlement near Quebec. Abortive colonies were also established by French Huguenots (Protestants) within the modern‐day boundaries of South Carolina (1562–64) and Florida (1564–65).
The Wars of Religion, which pitted Catholic against Protestant, delayed further French exploration until the seventeenth century. Under the leadership of Samuel de Champlain, who made numerous voyages to the eastern Canada region beginning in 1603, the city of Quebec was founded (1608) and alliances were made with the Hurons to develop the fur trade. Indeed, furs rather than settlements were more important to France at the time. The Dutch became one of the great seafaring and commercial nations of Europe in the seventeenth century and were rivals of the Portuguese in the East Indies. The Dutch East India Company financed English sailor Henry Hudson in 1609 for another search for the elusive Northwest Passage. He discovered Delaware Bay and sailed up the river later named for him, establishing Dutch claims for the territory known as New Netherland. Like the French, the Dutch were fur traders, and they established lucrative ties with the local tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy.