THE FRENCH COMPANIES
In the reign of Louis XIV and Colbert several
trade companies were founded for the exploitation of territories overseas.
They had to compete with Portuguese, the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) and West India Company (W.I.C) and also with the British East- and
West India Companies which laid the foundations for the 19th century powerful
There have been many different French trade
companies but the most important were the Compagnie des Indes Orientales
(1664-1719), the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales (1664-1674), the Compagnie
d’ Occident (1717-1719) and the Compagnie
Perpétuelle de Indes (1719-1770).
Seal of the Compagnie Française des Indes Occidentales, founded in
The French West
India Company (Compagnie des Indes occidentales) was a chartered
company established in 28 May 1664 and with its seat in Le Havre. Its charter
gave it the exclusive right of exploitation of Africa between Cabo Verde and
Cape of Good Hope, property and seignory of Louisiana, Acadia, the Antilles,
Cayenne, and the terra firma of South America, from the Amazon to the
Orinoco. They had an exclusive privilege for the commerce of those places,
and also of Senegal and the coasts of Guinea, for forty years, only paying
half the duties.
The stock of
the company, contributed by the king and amounting to 6 million livres, was
so considerable, that in less than 6 months, 45 vessels were equipped; with
which they took possession of all the places in their grant, and settled a
commerce. Yet the company was
incapable to fullfil its obligations at the same time obstructing the
provisioning an commerce of the French in America who, dissatisfied, favoured
Dutch contraband and in this way ruined the policies of Colbert.
In 1674, the
grant was revoked, and the various countries reunited to the King's
dominions, as before; the King reimbursed the actions of the adventurers.
The seal of the
company, described in Art. 32 of the charter, showed a coat of arms semy of
fleurs de lys, a crown of five flowers and two savages, armed with clubs as
supporters. The legend reads: SCEAU DE LA COMPAGNIE DES INDES OCCIDENTALES 1664.
The text in
«Prendra la dite
Compagnie pour ses armes un écusson au champ d'azur semé de fleurs de lys
d'or sans nombre, deux sauvages pour supports et une couronne tréflée,
lesquelles armes nous luy concédons pour s'en servir dans ses sceaux et
cachets et que nous luy permettons de mettre et apposer aux édifices publics,
vaisseaux, canons et partout où elle le jugera à propos».
The arms are
the ancient arms of France. The crown indicates the rank of Sovereign Prince
and Pair (peer) of France granted to the Company.
ð See also: Daniel
Cogné: Sceau de la Compagnie des Indes Occidentales.
“Compagnie françoise pour le
commerce des Indes orientales”
Arms of the “Compagnie des Indes Orientales”, founded in 1664
Royale des Indes Orientales was a commercial enterprise, founded in
1664 to compete with the British and Dutch East India companies. Planned by
Jean Baptiste Colbert, it was chartered by King Louis XIV for the purpose of
trading in the Eastern Hemisphere.
The Company failed to found a colony on Madagascar but established ports
on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Île-de-France (today's La Réunion and
Mauritius). By 1719, it had established itself in India but was near bankruptcy. In the same year
it was combined under John Law with
other French trading companies to form the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes.
It resumed independence in 1723.
decline of the Moghul Empire, the French decided to intervene in Indian
political affairs to protect their interests, notably by forging alliances with
local rulers in south India. From 1741 the French under Joseph François
Dupleix pursued an aggressive policy against both the Indians and the English
until they ultimately were defeated by Robert Clive.
The Company was not able to maintain itself financially, and it was
abolished in 1769, a few years before the
Several Indian trading ports, including Pondicherry and Chandernagore,
remained under French control until 1949.
I the Déclaration du Roi portant Etablissement d’une
Compagnie pour le commerce des Indes orientales dated Vincennes, August
1664 and registered by the parliament on next 1 September, the Company was
granted a coat of arms of one golden fleur de lys on a blue field,
surrounded by a crown of palm and olive and the fleur de lys from the
arms as a crest. The motte reads:
« FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR », (I Will Flower wherever I am Planted). Peace and Abundance
were supporting the shield. The grant reads:
Nous avons accordé à la
dite Compagnie de prendere pour ses armes un écusson de frome ronde, le fond
d’azur chargé d’une fleur de lys d’or, enfermé de deux branches d’une de
palme et l’autre d’olivier jointes en haut, et portant und autre fleur de lys
d’or, pour devise, Florebo, quo cunque
ferar, et pour support deux figures, l’une de paix et l’autre de l’abondance,
desquelles armes la dite Compagnie se pourra servir dans ses sceaux et
cachets, et les faire apposer sur ses canons, vaisseaux, édifices et partout
ailleurs qu’elle avisera. 
the Conseil supérieur
de la Compagnie des Indes orientales.
BnF, Clairambault 331, n°5
Arms: Azure, three fleurs de lis Or.
Crown: The Royal Crown of France
Supporters: Two angels
Legend: LVD(ovici). XIIII. FR(anciae). ET. NA(varrae) . REG(is) . SIG(illum) . AD . VSVM. SVPR(emi) . CONS(ilii) . GALLI(a)E . ORIENTALIS. 1664
In 1674 Colbert abolished the
Compagnie des Indes Occidentales that controlled the (french) trade of the
African coasts, in the West Indies and in North America. A new company, the
Mississippi Company was founded in 1684.
Arms of the Mississippi Company
Historische en geographische beschryving van
Louisiana, 1721 
arms of the company were green and showed two Indians supporting a cornucopia,
lying on a chest of drawers, pouring water in a sea in base (symbolizing the
river Mississippi), and two fleurs de lys, crowned with a crown of three
leaves in chief.
Picture on a map of French America
showing the arms of the
Compagnie du Mississippi entitled Ins. Gall Societatis Indæ Occidentalis 
Below is a pelican which
would later become the symbol of Louisiana.
1717 king Louis XV renamed the Mississippi Company into Compagnie
d’Occident by letters patent. Commercial priviliges, formerly granted to
Seigneur Crozat for Louisiana and to the Seigneurs Néret and Gayot for Canada were granted now to this
coat of arms for the Company was described in art. 54 of the Letters patent.
The grant reads:
Pourra la dite compagnie prendre pour ses armes un écusson de sinople
à la pointe ondée d'argent sur laquelle sera couché un fleuve au naturel,
appuyé sur une corne d'abondance d'or; ayant deux sauvages pour supports et
une couronne trefflée; lesquelles armes nous lui accordons pour s'en servir
dans les sceaux et cachets et que nous lui permettons de faire mettre et
apposer à des édifices, vaisseaux, canons et partout ailleurs où elle jugera
Seal of the Compagnie d'Occident founded in 1717.
Archives of Canada. Photo NMC 18252.
said Company may adopt as its arms a shield Vert with a pile wavy Argent on
which is resting a River proper, leaning on a cornucopia Or; having two
savages as supporters and a flowered crown; we grant these arms for use on
seals and stamps and we allow to attach it on buildings, ships, cannon and
everywhere else where it is thought necessary.)
Achievement of the “Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes” founded in 1719.
Sculpture in the Musée de la
Compagnie des Indes, Lorient (Morbihan).
1719, John Law, a Scottish banker and General Financial Auditor of France,
reorganized the big french trade companies into a single one named “Compagnie
des Indes” (India Company) sometimes also called “Compagnie perpétuelle des
Indes” (Everlasting India Company) . The company, which survived
the bankruptcy of Law in 1720, used the same coat of arms as the Compagnie
d’Occident which it had incorporated. Below the achievement was the motto of
the former Compagnie des Indes Occidentales: FLOREBO
QUO FERAR (I
Flower where I am Planted).
Having become a real threat for its rivals the
company was broken by the war with the British after 1744. Badly helped by the
French Navy it was financially exhausted by the costs of the War of
Succession (1740-’48) and the Seven Years War (1756-’63). It was finally
dissolved in 1770 as a result of the pressure of free-traders ferociously
opposed to its monopoly position.
Medal showing the Achievement of the Compagnie
Beleow is the date of its foundation 1785
In 1784 Guillaume Sabatier and his associate Pierre Desprez went to
London to negotiate with the English government the creation of a new French
Indian Company. On 3 June 1785 the Compagnie
des Indes orientales et de la Chine was created.
company was given the monopoly of the trade east of Cape of Good Hope.
April 1791 the French National Assembly decreed that the Indian trade on the
other side of Cape of Good Hope was free for all french citizens and so
deprived the company of it monopoly.
the Compagnie de Indes was suspected of counter-revolutionary
activities and on 26 July 1793 the Convention decreed the putting under seal
of the buildings of the Company. A second decree of 11 November 1793
abolished the Company and confiscated its ships and merchandise.
attempt to refound the Company in 1795 proved unsuccesful.
The achievement of the Company only slightly
differs from the achievement of the Compagnie Perpetuelle. Arms and crown are
the same but these are supported by a man sitting on a rock and keeping an
anchor in his right hand on the dexter, and of a standing man in a skirt
armed with a bow on the sinister. On the background are a bush of sugar-cane and a sailing vessel.
© Hubert de Vries 2009-04-07. Updated 2012-10-01; 2015-06-30
 This seal is on the Instructions for the office of
Lieutenant general and criminal given to Louis Théantre Chartier de Lotbinière by the
members of the Compagnie des Indes occidentales in Paris, 14 March 1670. This
document was in a US private collection until its acquisition by the National
Archives of Canada in 1991.
 Sottas, Jules: Histoire de la Compagnie Royale des Indes Orienales 1664-1719. Paris, 1905. P. 12.
 Historische en geographische beschryving von Louisiana, gelegen in Noord America, aan de mond van de groote rivier Mississippi. Benevens een berigt van de nieuwe Fransche Indische Compagnie, en eenige aanmerkiningen over den tegewoordigen handel in actien. Met authentieke stukken voorzien. By Paul Jacob Marperger, 1720.
Baptist: Amplissimæ regionis Mississipi seu provinciæ Ludovicianæ â R.P.
Ludovico Hennepin Fransisc. Miss in America
Septentrionali anno 1687. Norimbergæ [Hommaniani heredibus, 1759]
John Law (1671 April 21 – 1729 March 21) was a Scottish economist who believed that
money was only a means of exchange and did not constitute wealth in itself, national wealth depended on trade.
Law urged the
establishment of a national bank to create and increase instruments of credit,
and the issue of paper money backed by land, gold, or silver. He had the almost
socialist idea of abolishing minor monopolies and private farming of taxes and
creating a bank for national finance and a state company for commerce and
ultimately exclude all private venue. This would create a huge monopoly of
finance and trade run by the state, and its profits would pay off the national
debt. The Conseil des
Finances, merchants, and financiers objected to this plan.
In 1716 a General
Bank was set up by Law. It was a private bank, but ¾ of the capital consisted
of government bills and government accepted notes. The next year Law floated a
joint-stock trading company called the Compagnie d'Occident which was granted a
trade monopoly of the West Indies and North America. The bank became the Royal
bank in 1718, meaning the notes were guaranteed by the king. The Company
absorbed the Compagnie des Indes Orientales, Compagnie de Chine, and other
rival trading companies and became the Compagnie Perpetuelle des Indes in 1719.
In 1720 the bank and company were united and Law was appointed Controller
General of Finances to attract capital.
the wealth of Louisiana with an effective marketing scheme, which led to wild
speculation on the shares of the company. Time, however, proved his forecast
for the territorial wealth to be true. Shares rose from 500 to 15,000 livres,
but by summer of 1720, there was a sudden decline in confidence, leading to
panic and a fall of 50% in share prices. By the end of 1720 Philippe II of
Orleans dismissed Law, who then fled from France. Law died a poor man in Venice
Vachon, Auguste (M.A., C.S.H.C., a.i.h. Héraut Saint-Laurent): des
armoiries pour le canada au temps de louis xiv Article publié dans L'Héraldique au Canada, vol. XXV, no 1 (mars 1991), p. 13-17 et vol. XXV, no 2 (juin 1991), p. 6-8. Révisé en juin 2000.