French American

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For the language spoken by some of these people, see American French. For other interpretations, see Franco-American.
French Americans
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Total population

11,804,485

[2]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in New England, the Midwest and Louisiana
Languages
American English, French (CajunAcadianCanadianMissouriNew England French)
Religion
47% Protestant, 39% Roman Catholic, 3% Christian – unspecified; 12% other[3]
Related ethnic groups
French people, French Canadian, Québécois, Cajuns, Acadians

French Americans (French: Américains français), also called Franco-Americans (French: Franco-Américains), are Americans of French or French Canadian descent. About 11.8 million U.S. residents are of French or French Canadian descent, and about 2 million speak French at home.[4] An additional 450,000 U.S. residents speak a French-based creole language, according to the 2000 census. While Americans of French descent make up a substantial percentage of the American population, French Americans arguably are less visible than other similarly sized ethnic groups. This is due in part to the high degree of assimilation among Huguenot (French Protestant) settlers, as well as the tendency of French American groups to identify more strongly with "New World" regional identities such as Québécois, French Canadian, Acadian, Cajun, or Louisiana Creole. This has inhibited the development of a wider French American identity.

History[edit]

Unlike other immigrants who came to the United States from other countries, some French Americans arrived prior to the founding of the United States. In many parts of the country, like the Midwest and Louisiana, they were the founders of some of these villages, cities, and first state inhabitants. While found throughout the country, French Americans are most numerous in New England, northern New York, the Midwest, and Louisiana. French is the fourth most-spoken language in the country, behind English, Spanish, and Chinese.[5] Often, French Americans are identified more specifically as being of French Canadian, Cajun, or Louisiana Creole descent.[6]

An important part of French American history is the Quebec diaspora of the 1840s-1930s, in which one million French Canadians moved to the United States, principally to the New England states, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Historically, the French Canadians in Canada had among the highest birth rates in world history, which is why their population was large even though immigration from France was relatively low. They also moved to different regions within Canada, namely Ontario and Manitoba. Many of the early male migrants worked in the lumber industry in both regions, and, to a lesser degree, in the burgeoning mining industry in the upper Great Lakes.

Louisiana[edit]

Map of New France about 1750 in North America

Louisiana Creole people refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent. The term is now commonly applied to individuals of mixed-race heritage. Both groups have common European heritage and share cultural ties, such as the traditional use of the French language and the continuing practice of Catholicism; in most cases, the people are related to each other. Those of mixed race also sometimes have African and Native American ancestry.[7] As a group, the mixed-race Creoles rapidly began to acquire education, skills (many in New Orleans worked as craftsmen and artisans), businesses and property. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, spoke Colonial French (although some also spoke Louisiana Creole French), and kept up many French social customs, modified by other parts of their ancestry and Louisiana culture. The free people of color married among themselves to maintain their class and social culture. The French-speaking mixed-race population came to be called "Creoles of color".

The Cajuns of Louisiana have a unique heritage. Their ancestors settled Acadia, in what is now the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and part of Maine in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In 1755, after capturing Fort Beauséjour in the region, the British Army forced the Acadians to either swear an oath of loyalty to the British Crown or face expulsion. Thousands refused to take the oath, causing them to be sent, penniless, to the 13 colonies to the south in what has become known as the Great Upheaval. Over the next generation, some four thousand managed to make the long trek to Louisiana, where they began a new life. The name Cajun is a corruption of the word Acadian. Many still live in what is known as the Cajun Country, where much of their colonial culture survives. French Louisiana, when it was sold by Napoleon in 1803, covered all or part of fifteen current U.S. states and contained French and Canadian colonists dispersed across it, though they were most numerous in its southernmost portion.

During the War of 1812, Louisiana residents of French origin took part on the American side in the Battle of New Orleans (December 23, 1814 through January 8, 1815). Jean Lafitte and his Baratarians later were honored by US General Andrew Jackson for their contribution to the defense of New Orleans.[8]

In Louisiana today, more than 15 percent of the population of the Cajun Country reported in the 2000 United States Census that French was spoken at home.[9]

Another significant source of immigrants to Louisiana was Saint-Domingue, which gained its independence as the Republic of Haiti in 1804, following a bloody revolution; much of its white population (along with some mulattoes) fled during this time, often to Louisiana, where they largely assimilated into the Creole culture.

Biloxi in Mississippi, and Mobile in Alabama, still contain French American heritage since they were founded by the Canadian Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville.

The Houma Tribe in Louisiana still speak the same French they had been taught 300 years ago.

Colonial era[edit]

In the 17th and early 18th centuries there was an influx of a few thousand Huguenots, who were Protestant refugees fleeing religious persecution in France. For nearly a century they fostered a distinctive French Protestant identity that enabled them to remain aloof from American society, but by the time of the American Revolution they had generally intermarried and merged into the larger Presbyterian community.[10]:382 The largest number settling in South Carolina, where the French comprised four percent of the white population in 1790.[11][12] With the help of the well organized international Huguenot community, many also moved to Virginia.[13] In the north, Paul Revere of Boston was a prominent figure.

Midwest[edit]

From the beginning of the 17th century, French Canadians explored and traveled to the region with their coureur de bois and explorers, such as Jean Nicolet, Robert de LaSalle, Jacques Marquette, Nicholas Perrot, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Pierre Dugué de Boisbriant, Lucien Galtier, Pierre Laclède, René Auguste Chouteau, Julien Dubuque, Pierre de La Vérendrye, and Pierre Parrant.

The Trapper's Bride shows a trapper, Francois, paying $600 in trade goods for an Indian woman to be his wife, ca. 1837

The French Canadians set up a number of villages along the waterways, including Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; La Baye, Wisconsin; Cahokia, Illinois; Kaskaskia, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan; Saint Ignace, Michigan; Vincennes, Indiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; and Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. They also built a series of forts in the area, such as Fort de Chartres, Fort Crevecoeur, Fort Saint Louis, Fort Ouiatenon, Fort Miami (Michigan), Fort Miami (Indiana), Fort Saint Joseph, Fort La Baye, Fort de Buade, Fort Saint Antoine, Fort Crevecoeur, Fort Trempealeau, Fort Beauharnois, Fort Orleans, Fort St. Charles, Fort Kaministiquia, Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Rouillé, Fort Niagara, Fort Le Boeuf, Fort Venango, and Fort Duquesne. The forts were serviced by soldiers and fur trappers who had long networks reaching through the Great Lakes back to Montreal.[14] Sizable agricultural settlements were established in the Pays des Illinois.[15]

The region was relinquished by France to the British in 1763 as a result of the Treaty of Paris. Three years of war by the Natives, called Pontiac's War, ensued. It became part of the Province of Quebec in 1774, and was seized by the United States during the Revolution.[16]

New England, New York State[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Quebec diaspora.

In the late 19th century, many Francophones arrived in New England from Quebec and New Brunswick to work in textile mill cities in New England. In the same period, Francophones from Quebec soon became a majority of the workers in the saw mill and logging camps in the Adirondack Mountains and their foothills. Others sought opportunities for farming and other trades such as blacksmiths in Northern New York State. By the mid-20th century French Americans comprised 30 percent of Maine's population. Some migrants became lumberjacks but most concentrated in industrialized areas and into enclaves known as 'Little Canadas.'[17]

The Statue of Liberty is a gift from the French people in memory of the American Declaration of Independence.

French Canadian women saw New England as a place of opportunity and possibility where they could create economic alternatives for themselves distinct from the expectations of their farm families in Canada. By the early 20th century some saw temporary migration to the United States to work as a rite of passage and a time of self-discovery and self-reliance. Most moved permanently to the United States, using the inexpensive railroad system to visit Quebec from time to time. When these women did marry, they had fewer children with longer intervals between children than their Canadian counterparts. Some women never married, and oral accounts suggest that self-reliance and economic independence were important reasons for choosing work over marriage and motherhood. These women conformed to traditional gender ideals in order to retain their 'Canadienne' cultural identity, but they also redefined these roles in ways that provided them increased independence in their roles as wives and mothers.[18][19] The French Americans became active in the Catholic Church where they tried with little success to challenge its domination by Irish clerics.[20] They founded such newspapers as 'Le Messager' and 'La Justice.' The first hospital in Lewiston, Maine, became a reality in 1889 when the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the 'Grey Nuns,' opened the doors of the Asylum of Our Lady of Lourdes. This hospital was central to the Grey Nuns' mission of providing social services for Lewiston's predominately French Canadian mill workers. The Grey Nuns struggled to establish their institution despite meager financial resources, language barriers, and opposition from the established medical community.[21] Immigration dwindled after World War I.

The French Canadian community in New England tried to preserve some of its cultural norms. This doctrine, like efforts to preserve francophone culture in Quebec, became known as la Survivance.[22]

Potvin (2003) has studied the evolution of French Catholic parishes in New England. The predominantly Irish hierarchy of the 19th century was slow to recognize the need for French-language parishes; several bishops even called for assimilation and English language-only parochial schools. In the 20th century, a number of parochial schools for Francophone students opened, though they gradually closed toward the end of the century and a large share of the French-speaking population left the Church. At the same time, the number of priests available to staff these parishes also diminished. By the 21st century the emphasis was on retaining local reminders of French American culture rather than on retaining the language itself.[23] With the decline of the state's textile industry during the 1950s, the French element experienced a period of upward mobility and assimilation. This pattern of assimilation increased during the 1970s and 1980s as many Catholic organizations switched to English names and parish children entered public schools; some parochial schools closed in the 1970s. Although some ties to its French Canadian origins remain, the community was largely anglicized by the 1990s, moving almost completely from 'Canadien' to 'American'.[17][24]

Representative of the assimilation process was the career of singer and icon of American popular culture Rudy Vallée (1901–1986). He grew up in Westbrook, Maine, and after serving in World War I attended the University of Maine, then transferred to Yale, and went on to become as a popular music star. He never forgot his Maine roots, and maintained an estate at Kezar Lake.[25]

Civil War[edit]

French Americans in the Union forces were one of the most important Catholic groups present during the American Civil War. The exact number is unclear, but thousands of French Americans appear to have served in this conflict. Union forces did not keep reliable statistics concerning foreign enlistments. However, historians have estimated anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 French Americans serving in this war. In addition to those born in the United States, many who served in the Union forces came from Canada or had resided there for several years. Canada's national anthem was written by such a soldier named Calixa Lavallée, who wrote this anthem while he served for the Union, attaining the rank of Lieutenant.[26] Leading Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was a noted French American from Louisiana.

Politics[edit]

Walker (1962) examines the voting behavior in U.S. presidential elections from 1880 to 1960, using election returns from 30 French American communities in New England, along with sample survey data for the 1948-60 elections. From 1896 to 1924, French Americans typically supported the Republican Party because of its conservatism, emphasis on order, and advocacy of the tariff to protect the textile workers from foreign competition. In 1928, with Catholic Al Smith as the Democratic candidate, the French Americans moved over to the Democratic column and stayed there for six presidential elections. They formed part of the New Deal Coalition. Unlike the Irish and German Catholics, very few French Americans deserted the Democratic ranks because of the foreign policy and war issues of the 1940 and 1944 campaigns. In 1952 many French Americans broke from the Democrats but returned heavily in 1960.[27]

As the ancestors of most French Americans had for the most part left France before the French Revolution, they usually prefer the Fleur-de-lis to the modern French tricolor.[28]

Franco-American Day[edit]

In 2008, the state of Connecticut made June 24 Franco-American Day, recognizing French Canadians for their culture and influence on Connecticut. The states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, have now also held Franco-American Day festivals on June 24.[29]

Population[edit]

Distribution of Franco Americans according to the 2000 census

According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2000, 5.3% of Americans are of French or French Canadian ancestry. French Americans made up close to, or more than, 10% of the population of seven states, six in New England and Louisiana. Population wise, California has the greastest Franco population followed by Louisiana.

States with the highest percentage of Francos
State Percentage
Maine 25.0%
New Hampshire 24.5%
Vermont 23.9%
Rhode Island 17.2%
Louisiana 16.2%
Massachusetts 12.9%
Connecticut 9.9%
Michigan 6.8%
Montana 5.3%
Minnesota 5.3%
State Percentage
Wisconsin 5.0%
North Dakota 4.7%
Washington 4.6%
Oregon 4.6%
Wyoming 4.2%
Alaska 4.2%
Missouri 3.8%
Kansas 3.6%
Indiana 2.7%
Ohio 2.5%
States with the largest Franco communities
State Population
California 1,303,714
Louisiana 1,069,558
Massachusetts 947,319
Michigan 942,230
New York 834,540
Texas 673,606
Florida 618,426
Illinois 485,902
Ohio 464,159
Connecticut 370,490
Maine 347,510
State Population
Wisconsin 346,406
Missouri 345,971
Washington 339,950
Pennslyvania 338,041
New Hampshire 337,225
Minnesota 321,087
New Jersey 213,815
Virginia 212,373
Oregon 209,239
Rhode Island 206,540
Vermont 165,623