People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. French Americans Part 2

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.


Their Story in America: In the late 17th century Louis Jolliet, Jacques Marquette, and the Sieur de La Salle left "New France" to explore the Mississippi River. They claimed the territory of Louisiana-which included much of the North American Midwest-for France. To harass and outflank the British, small French "spite" settlements were established at Detroit and in what is now Louisiana. The French and British, each abetted by Indian allies, contended for possession of the North American continent during the 18th century. Eventually the British conquered "New France." The French colonists in Acadia who refused to become British subjects were suspected-not entirely unjustly-of being enemy agents. Their tragic deportation and migration to the Louisiana territory in 1755 was the subject of Evangeline, an epic poem published in 1847 by American author and professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. People living in the vicinity of Lafayette, La., where the Acadians settled, mispronounced their homeland's name, thus coining the term by which they are still called today--Cajuns."

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson convinced Congress to purchase the Louisiana territory from France. Louisiana joined the Union in 1812 and remained for most of the 19th century the most important center of French culture in the U.S. In Philadelphia and New York, French Americans sent their children to French-speaking schools and served French food. But in Louisiana, such families also spoke only French at home. Louisianians published newspapers, literary reviews, and even medical journals in their native tongue. The most sought-after physicians in the state were those who could sign themselves DMP-Doctor of Medicine, Paris-to show that their training had been French.

Thousands of Frenchmen--20,000 of them by 1854-pursued the gold rush in the hills of California. A few succeeded as prospectors, but most wound up running San Francisco's hotels, restaurants, and importing businesses, where they, like so many French immigrants before and after them throughout America, had a tremendous impact on American food, language, and culture.

Famous French Americans: Essayist Henry David Thoreau; poets Sidney Lanier and Stephen Vincent Benet; actresses Claudette Colbert and Leslie Caron; press secretary to Pres. John F. Kennedy Pierre Salinger; Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis; union organizer Eugene Debs; meat packer Philip Armour; progressive governor and senator Robert La Follette; pirate Jean Laffite; bacteriologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rene Jules Dubos; the Marquis de Lafayette, who was commissioned by Congress to serve as major general in the Revolutionary War; Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, economist and statesman who fled to the U.S. during the French Revolution, and his son, Eleuthere Irenee Du Pont de Nemours, an industrialist and chemist who founded the family firm that still bears his name; naval officer Stephen Decatur; and the Statue of Liberty, whose residence in New York harbor began in 1886 on what was then called Bedloe's Island.

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