The French colonization of the Americas began in the 16th century, and continued on into the following centuries as France established a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. France founded colonies in much of eastern North America, on a number of Caribbean islands, and in South America. Most colonies were developed to export products such as fish, sugar, and furs. As they colonized the New World, the French established forts and settlements that would become such cities as Quebec and Montreal in Canada; Detroit, Green Bay, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the United States; and Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien (founded as Cap-Français) in Haiti, Cayenne in French Guiana and São Luís (founded as Saint Louis) in Brazil.
The French first came to the New World as explorers, seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean and wealth. Major French exploration of North America began under the rule of Francis I, King of France. In 1524, Francis sent Italian-born Giovanni da Verrazano to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland for a route to the Pacific Ocean. Verrazzano gave the names Francesca and Nova Gallia to that land between New Spain and English Newfoundland, thus promoting French interests.