French Americans or Franco-Americans are citizens or permanent residents of the United States of French descent. About 11.8 million U.S. residents are of French descent, and about 1.6 million speak French at home. 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.
French American Population
While found throughout the country, they are most numerous in New England, Northern New York, Louisiana (where more than 15% of the population of the Cajun Country reported in the last census that French was spoken at home) and Michigan. French Louisiana, when it was sold by Napoleon in 1803, covered all or part of than fifteen current U.S. states and contained French colonists dispersed across it, though they were most numerous in its southernmost portion.
Often, Franco-Americans are identified more specifically as being of French Canadian, Cajun, or Louisiana Creole descent. 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 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 lesser degree, in the burgeoning mining industry in the upper Great Lakes.
Another significant source of immigrants 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.
The Cajuns of Louisiana have a unique heritage. Their ancestors settled Acadia, in what is now the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, in the seventeenth and early eighteenth 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.
Because the ancestors of most French Americans had for the most part left France before the French Revolution, they usually identify more with the Fleur-de-lis of monarchical France than with the modern French tricolor.
French American communities
According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2000, French Americans (of French and French-Canadian ancestry) made up close to, or more than, 10% of the population of:
In states that once made up part of New France (excluding Louisiana):
French Americans also made up more than 4% of the population in
National percentage of Americans of French & French-Canadian ancestry: 5.3% States with the largest French communities include (according to the 2000 U.S. Census)
French and French-Canadian
French Americans are divided between those of Roman Catholic
heritage (which includes most French Canadians and Cajuns) and those of Huguenot
) background, most of whom came during the colonial period. For most of its existence, New France
was open only to Catholic settlement. In response, many Huguenots – who sought to emigrate as they faced religious discrimination in France – moved instead to other countries (mainly England
, the Netherlands
) and their overseas territories, including the 13 colonies
of Great Britain and the Dutch Cape Colony
. Huguenots tended to assimilate more quickly into English-speaking society than their Catholic counterparts. One-third of all American Presidents
have some proven Huguenot ancestry, along with other famous politicians such as Alexander Hamilton
and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay
French language in the United States
According to the National Education Bureau, French is the second most commonly taught foreign language in U.S. high schools, colleges and universities behind Spanish. French was the most commonly taught foreign language until the 1980s, when the influx of Hispanic
immigrants aided the growth of Spanish. According to the U.S. 2000 Census, French is the fourth most spoken language in the United States after English, Spanish and Chinese with over 1.6 million speakers. In addition to parts of Louisiana
, the language is also commonly spoken in Florida
, northern Maine
and New York City
, home to large French-speaking communities from France, Canada, and Haiti.
As a result of French immigration to what is now the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the French language was once widely spoken in much of the country, especially in the former Louisiana Territory, as well as in the Northeast. French-language newspapers existed in many American cities, especially New Orleans. Americans of French descent often lived in French-dominated neighborhoods, where they attended schools and churches that used their language. In New England, Upstate New York and the Midwest, French-Canadian neighborhoods were known as "Little Canadas".
- Founded by the French and the Indians, Chicago is pronounced with the French pronunciation of the sound ch as opposed to the English ch (China, Chair, etc...)
- Detroit was founded by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French army captain and was originally called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, after the minister of marine under Louis XIV and the French word for "strait."
- The limousine, invented as a co-project between Ford and Cadillac, is named for the French province of Limousin, and is associated with the long cloaks once worn by the shepherds there
- The Louisiana Territory, sold to the United States in 1803, comprised 15 of today's modern states (from North to South: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of Texas and New Mexico).
- Little Canada, Minnesota located between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota has the largest French-American (or Canado-Américaine) community outside the Northeast.
- The US state of Vermont comes from a contraction of French words, Vert(e), green, and Montagne, mountain. Hence the Green Mountain state.
- Marianne Fedunkiw. " French-Canadian Americans", in everyculture.com, retrieved April 24, 2008
- Bradley G. Bond (2005). French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World, LSU Press, 322 pages ISBN 0807130354 (online excerpt)
- James S. Pritchard (2004). In Search of Empire. The French in the Americas, 1670-1730, Cambridge University Press, 484 pages ISBN 0521827426 (online excerpt)
- Yves Roby (2004). The Franco-Americans of New England. Dreams and Realities, Montreal: Les éditions du Septentrion, 543 pages ISBN 2894483910 (online excerpt) translated by Mary Ricard.
- Jean Lamarre (2003). The French Canadians of Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 209 pages ISBN 0814331580 (online excerpt)
- Franc̦ois Lagarde (2003). The French in Texas. History, Migration, Culture, University of Texas Press, 330 pages ISBN 029270528X (online excerpt)
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- Carl J. Ekberg (2000). French Roots in the Illinois Country. The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times, University of Illinois Press, 376 pages ISBN 0252069242 (online excerpt)
- Armand Chartier and Claire Quintal (1999). The Franco-Americans of New England. A History, Manchester and Worcester: ACA Assurance and Institut français of Assumption College, 537 p. ISBN 1880261057
- Albert Valdman (1997). French and Creole in Louisiana, Springer, 372 pages ISBN 0306454645 (online excerpt)
- Dean R. Louder, Eric Waddell (1993). French America. Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience Across the Continent, Louisiana State University Press, 371 pages ISBN 0807116696
- Carl A. Brasseaux (1987). The Founding of New Acadia. The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803, LSU Press, 229 pages ISBN 0807120995
- Gérard-J Brault (1986). The French-Canadian Heritage in New England, Hanover: University Press of New England, 1986, 282 p. ISBN 0874513596 (online excerpt)
- Louis Fréchette (1982). The United States for French Canadians, 345 pages ISBN 0665177941 (was originally published in the 1890s)
- Pierre Anctil (1979). A Franco-American Bibliography: New England, Bedford, N. H.: National Materials Development Center, 137 p.
- J.L.K. Laflamme, David E. Lavigne & J. Arthur Favreau.
- Charles Washington Baird (1885). History of the Huguenot Emigration to America, Dodd, Mead & Company, (online: Volume I)
- Philip Henry Smith (1884). Acadia. A Lost Chapter in American History, published by the author, 387 pages (online)