Just a quick question I've been unable to google an answer to. I was looking at this map, to get a better idea of the progress of French colonialism in the 19th century.

A couple of google and word searches only turned up that a comptoir was a trading post -- so my assumption is that it reflects an administrative difference between settler and trading colonies, but bot speaking French I'd like to know for sure, in whatever detail you're willing to provide. Thanks for your time.

1 Answer 1


An "éphémère" is something that was "ephemeral," and disappeared quickly or early. France's "American" colonies fall into this category. These had only 80,000 settlers in 1750, even after 100 years of haphazard "colonization," which is one reason why the French lost the French and Indian War (the 13 colonies had 1.6 million settlers).

A "comptoir" is something that you can "count on" for a somewhat longer time. They were, as you put it, overseas trading posts that were highly organized for two way trade. France regarded its African (and few Asian) colonies in that category. These were (mostly) the recipient of decent-sized infusions of French settlers, not just a few "wanderers" as in the case of the American colonies. For instance, France wrested Vietnam from China using 20,000 soldiers.

  • Gotcha. Just to clarify, was this a legal, categorical difference in French imperial administration (comparable to the way British crown colonies, chartered companies, Dominions, protectorates, etc. represented distinct approaches to governance), or was it a less formal observation of difference in character and purpose?
    – Random
    Aug 9, 2017 at 1:10
  • 1
    @Era: I would guess not. More of an "after the fact" characterization. For instance, in 1750, no one would have characterized the French stay in North America as "emphemeral." Fifteen years later, it was a different story.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 9, 2017 at 1:26

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