People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. French Americans Part 1

About the French Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous French-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: The earliest French migrants to America came from the seafaring western provinces of France, particularly Normandy and Brittany. Later immigrants came from all over the country.

Why They Left: As Protestants-called Huguenots-many of the early immigrants faced religious persecution and economic discrimination in Catholic France. Others, political refugees, left France during the French Revolution, after the defeat of Napoleon, and after the outbreak of W.W. II. But most French emigrants were lured by cheap land and high wages and the chance to make good. And most of the farmers, craftsmen, and professionals who came here from France did just that.

Where They Settled: The first permanent French settlements in the New World were along the banks of the St. Lawrence and in "Acadia"-now Nova Scotia, the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and parts of Maine and Quebec. The largely Protestant Dutch colony of New Amsterdam attracted Huguenots from its very first months. The first European child born on Manhattan, in 1614, Jean Vigne, was of Huguenot descent. Later, French immigrants on the move headed for upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, and South Carolina (Charleston was 20% French in 1723). By 1900 French Americans lived chiefly in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Louisiana.

Numbers: The first great wave of French immigration to America followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which caused hard times for French Protestants. Some 15,000 of them fled to the 13 colonies between 1685 and 1750. By 1790 there were 55,000 French natives in the U.S. Their numbers swelled over the next 10 years, when 10,000 to 25,000 refugees from the French Revolution sought asylum. In 1791 a black revolt in the French plantation colony of Santo Domingo drove an additional 10,000 to 20,000 French fugitives to the U.S. After 1815, thousands of Napoleon's former soldiers and officials found new homes in Louisiana, Alabama, and Philadelphia.

Still, in 1900 only 104,197 French immigrants lived in the U.S. The small stream of French immigration slowed to a trickle in the 20th century. However, after the fall of France in 1940, numerous artists, writers, and other expatriates escaped to the U.S. The Immigration Act of 1924 and the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 restricted French migration to about 3,000 people a year. Today there are approximately 350,000 French Americans.

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