History of the French in Louisville

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Statue of King Louis XVI given to the city of Louisville by its French sister city, Montpellier

The influence of those of French ancestry on Louisville, Kentucky, USA and the surrounding area, especially New Albany, Indiana, is immense. Louisville was even named for a French king, Louis XVI. Before Louisville a French outpost existed called La Belle.[1]

18th century[edit]

Louisville was almost completely settled by French immigrants from the Rhine.[2] Early French immigrants came in three phases; the first group of about 15,000 settled mostly on the coastal states. The first French settlers of Louisville were second- and third-generation American-born Huguenots. The first generation arrived in North America in 1685 after the Edict of Nantes was repealed. These were represented by such people as Thomas Bullitt, a surveyor who started Bullitt's Lick, Kentucky's oldest industry.[3] The second significant immigration was mainly of culture value during the American Revolution as most of the French that came overseas during this time returned after the war.

The third migration during the French Revolution during 1793 provided a wide variety of people from nobles to clergy.[4] Most of the groups that traveled to Kentucky settled in Louisville at the Falls of the Ohio. During this time, the French descendants and immigrants utilized Shippingport and Portland for commerce. A settler named Aaron Fontaine ran a ferry system called Fontaine Ferry that later became the namesake for Fontaine Ferry Park.[5] In 1782, Jean A. Honoré and Bethelemi Tardiveau had a business at Shippingport in which they dealt in flour, furs and land, leading them to meet George Rogers Clark.[4] Their business became the first exploit of the New Orleans trade.[4]

19th century[edit]

Shippingport remained a large part of early French immigrants' lives until a flood in 1832. Portland then became the more prominent area for the French-based community after the flood. In the mid-19th century, the French commerce boomed. Frenchman James Berthoud established Kentucky's second insurance agency and chartered the first Bank of Kentucky.[4] Berthoud's son Nicholas went on to be a charter member of the Louisville and Portland Canal.[4]

Louisville experienced its largest impact from immigration in the period from 1830 to 1850. The majority of immigrants were of French, German, and Irish descent.[6] The two counties that saw the most impact in the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area were Jefferson County, Kentucky and Floyd County, Indiana. The populations for the two counties doubled within this time period. Floyd County saw French immigrants locating in the county as early as 1817.[7]


As a tribute to Louisville's connection to the French, Louisville's sister city in France, Montpellier, gave Louisville a statue of King Louis XVI of France, the namesake of Louisville, that it held in storage for years. The statue was officially presented in 1967, and still stands at the southeast street corner of Louisville Metro Hall.

French influence remains in the community by such groups as the Alliance Française of Louisville which hosts events and help teach French.[8]

See also[edit]

The city, whose previous name was Bardstown, was later named Louisville. This occurred after they were named sister city to a city in France, by the name of Louis.


  1. ^ Kleber, John E. Encyclopedia of Louisville (University Press of Kentucky) page 322
  2. ^ Howe, Henry Historical Collections of Ohio: An Encyclopedia of the State: History (Lanning Printing Co) page 624
  3. ^ Kleber pg.321.
  4. ^ a b c d e Kleber, John E. Encyclopedia of Louisville (University Press of Kentucky) page 321-322
  5. ^ Kleber pg.304
  6. ^ Kleber, John E. Encyclopedia of Louisville (University Press of Kentucky) page 714
  7. ^ Kleber pg.302
  8. ^ Alliance Française of Louisville - Activities