Did You Know? The French in North America Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Sep 25, 2017 in History
Did you know that there are 10.4 million Americans who can trace their history back to France or to French Canada? While it is generally known that French-American relations were very friendly during the Revolutionary Period (indeed, France’s centuries-long tension with Britain provoked a military relationship between the fledgling United States and France that directly led to American victory), the histories between these two countries and people actually goes back much further.
Here are some more facts about the deep connection between France and North America:
- French Huguenots, protestants who faced prosecution under the Catholic monarchy in France, attempted to create havens from prosecution in North America as early as the sixteenth century. In 1564, Jean Ribault established Charlesfort in South Carolina although it was soon abandoned. In 1564, Fort Caroline was established in Jacksonville, Florida. However, it was sacked by Spanish troops one year later and was subsequently abandoned. Many Huguenots later settled in modern-day Manhattan.
- The French arrived in northeastern Canada in 1604. Despite the fact that native peoples had lived there for centuries, these French colonists claimed the region for the King of France and lived somewhat peacefully with the native population for many years, coexisting through mutually beneficial trading practices (particularly with beaver furs). They named their capital Port Royal in 1605 and this land became known as L’Acadie (or Acadia). The French who settled this land became known as Acadians and many Acadians married members of the native Wabanaki tribe, producing offspring known as métis. Acadia largely fell to the British in 1713.
- Many Acadians were forced from their homeland by the British in what is known as the Great Expulsion or Le Grand Dérangement beginning in 1755. This was during the French and Indian War and was a strategy used by the British military to control the region. Of approximately 14,000 Acadians in the region, around 11, 500 were deported. Many of these Acadians ended up in Louisiana after being exiled in France; Louisiana was a popular destination because it was not settled by the British during this time but was ruled by Spain, with which France had a good relationship. The region of Louisiana settled by Acadians became known as Acadiana and these Acadians formed the basis of Cajun culture.
- Many important early American figures shared French ancestry, including Paul Revere (whose father was a Huguenot born with the name Apollos Rivoire), John Jay (the second governor of New York and also descended from Huguenots), and Alexander Hamilton (whose mother, Rachel Faucette was—you guessed it—half Huguenot!).
Anything you’d like to add to this brief history of Franco-American relations? Add your insights in the comments below!
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