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


4% of the U.S. population (2009)
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in New England, The Midwest and Louisiana
American English, French(CajunAcadianCanadianMissouriNew England French), Pennsylvania German language
Predominantly Roman Catholicism,
Calvinism, Protestantism, Deism, Atheism
Related ethnic groups
French people, French Canadian, Québécois, Cajuns, Acadians

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 2.0 million speak French at home.[2] An additional 450,000 U.S. residents speak a French-based creole language, according to the 2000 census. French Americans of Alsatian and Lorrainian descent who speak Pennsylvania German language are sometimes regarded as German Americans.

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.


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.[3] Often, French Americans are identified more specifically as being of French Canadian, Cajun, or Louisiana Creole descent.[4]

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 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.[5]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.

In Louisiana today, more than 15% of the population of the Cajun Country reported in the 2000 United States Census that French was spoken at home.[6]

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

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.[7]:382 The largest number settling in South Carolina, where the French comprised four percent of the white population in 1790.[8][9] With the help of the well organized international Huguenot community, many also moved to Virginia.[10] In the north, Paul Revere of Boston was a prominent figure.


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 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.[11] Sizable agricultural settlements were established in the Pays des Illinois.[12]

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.[13]

New England, New York State

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% of the Maine's population. Some migrants became lumberjacks but most concentrated in industrialized areas and into enclaves known as 'Little Canadas.'[14]

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.[15][16] The French Americans became active in the Catholic Church where they tried with little success to challenge its domination by Irish clerics.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] 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'.[14][21]

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.[22]

Civil War

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.[23] The French government and British government supported the Confederate cause, but no soldiers were sent.[24] Leading Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was a noted French American from Louisiana.


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.[25]

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.[26]

Franco-American Day

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 held Franco-American Day festivals on June 24.[27]


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:

Maine 25.0%
New Hampshire 24.5%
Vermont 23.9%
Rhode Island 17.2%
Louisiana 16.2%
Massachusetts   12.9%
Connecticut   9.9%

In states that once made up part of New France (excluding Louisiana):

Michigan 6.8%
Montana 5.3%
Minnesota 5.3%
Wisconsin 5.0%
North Dakota   4.7%
Wyoming 4.2%
Missouri 3.8%
Kansas 3.6%
Indiana 2.7% [28]
Ohio 2.5%[29]

Franco Americans also made up more than 4% of the population in

Washington   4.6%
Oregon 4.6%
Alaska 4.2%
States with the largest French communities including (according to the 2010 U.S. Census)

French and French Canadian

1. California 1,210,000
2. Louisiana 1,070,000
3. Massachusetts    850,573
4. Michigan    706,560
5. New York    680,208
6. Florida    630,000


Most Franco Americans have a Roman Catholic heritage (which includes most French Canadians and Cajuns). Besides the Protestant Huguenots who fled from France in the colonial era, there were some Protestants from Switzerland who came in the 19th century.[30]

There was tension between the English-speaking Irish Catholics, who controlled the Church in New England, and the French immigrants, who wanted their language taught in the parochial schools. The Irish controlled all the Catholic colleges in New England, except for Assumption College in Massachusetts, controlled by the French, and one school in New Hampshire controlled by Germans. Tension reached a breaking point during the Sentinelle affair of the 1920s, in which Franco-American Catholics of Providence, Rhode Island, challenged their bishop over control of parish funds in an unsuccessful bid to wrest power from the Irish American episcopate.[31]

Marie Rose Ferron was a mystic stigmatic; she was born in Quebec and lived in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Between about 1925 and 1936, she was a popular "victim soul" who suffered physically to redeem the sins of her community. Father Onésime Boyer, promoted her cult.[32]

French language in the United States

According to the National Education Bureau, French is the second most commonly taught foreign language in American schools, 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 third most spoken language in the United States after English and Spanish, with 2,097,206 speakers, up from 1,930,404 in 1990. The language is also commonly spoken by Haitian immigrants in Florida and New York City.[33]

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 a few dozen scattered villages in the Midwest. Migrant from Quebec after 1860 brought the language to New England. French-language newspapers existed in many American cities; especially New Orleans and in certain cities in New England. Americans of French descent often lived in predominately French neighborhoods; where they attended schools and churches that used their language. Before 1920 French Canadian neighborhoods were sometimes known as "Little Canada".[34]

Cities founded by the French and French Canadians

American states named by the French

  • Arkansas – named by French explorers from the corrupted Indian word meaning "south wind". Arkansas Post was its first French establishment in 1686 by Henri de Tonti.
  • Illinois – French for the land of the Illini, a Native American tribe. Also named from the Pays des Illinois which had a substantial population at the time of New France.
  • Louisiana – from the French "Louisiane", in honor of King Louis XIV of France. Named by Cavelier de La Salle who founded Louisiana and died in Texas.
  • Michigan – French transcription of Ojibwe word Mishigamaw which means "great lake". The French forts of Fort Saint-Joseph and Fort Michilimackinac, as well as the French establishments of Detroit and Saint Ignace were located in the area of Michigan which was part of New France.
  • Oregon – may have been named by early French explorers after "le fleuve aux ouragans", the hurricane river, a name used to describe the windiness of the Columbia River.
  • Vermont – comes from a contraction of French words, Vert, green, and mont, mount, mountain. It was named by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain. French seigneuries were subdivided along Lake Champlain at the time of New France, which was later given to the British colonies by the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
  • Wisconsin – named after the Meskousing River. This spelling was later corrupted from the local Native American language to "Ouisconsin" by French explorers, and over time this version became the French name for both the Wisconsin River and the surrounding lands. La Baye was Wisconsin's main community at the time of New France. English speakers anglicized the spelling to its modern form when they began to arrive in greater numbers during the early 19th century.[40]


Richard (2002) examines the major trends in the historiography regarding the Franco-Americans who came to New England in 1860–1930. He identifies three categories of scholars: survivalists, who emphasized the common destiny of Franco-Americans and celebrated their survival; regionalists and social historians, who aimed to uncover the diversity of the Franco-American past in distinctive communities across New England; and pragmatists, who argued that the forces of acculturation were too strong for the Franco-American community to overcome. The 'pragmatists versus survivalists' debate over the fate of the Franco-American community may be the ultimate weakness of Franco-American historiography. Such teleological stances impede the progress of research by funneling scholarly energies in limited directions while many other avenues, for example, Franco-American politics, arts, and ties to Quebec, remain unexplored.[17][19]

Immigration from France, Canada, and Acadia

See also



  • Anctil, Pierre. (1979). A Franco-American Bibliography: New England, Bedford, N. H.: National Materials Development Center, 137 p.
  • Volume I)
  • Barkan, Elliott Robert. (1980) "French Canadians." in Stephan Thernstrom, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups 388-401, comprehensive survey
  • Bond, Bradley G. (2005). French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World, LSU Press, 322 pages online excerpt)
  • Brasseaux, Carl A. (1987). The Founding of New Acadia. The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765–1803, LSU Press, 229 pages ISBN 0-8071-2099-5
  • Brault, Gérard-J. (1986). The French-Canadian Heritage in New England, Hanover: University Press of New England, 1986, 282 p. online excerpt)
  • Brown, Michael. "Franco-American Identity at the University of Maine," Maine History 1997 36(3-4): 106-119
  • Chartier, Armand, 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 1-880261-05-7. 537pp; encyclopedic coverage, 1860 to 1990s.
  • Doty, C. Stewart. "The Future of the Franco-American Past," American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2000, Vol. 30 Issue 1, pp 7–17 calls for further research on trade unionism, politics, farming and logging, links with Quebec elites, and literary figures.
  • Ekberg, Carl J. (2000). French Roots in the Illinois Country. The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times, University of Illinois Press, 376 pages online excerpt)
  • Fedunkiw, Marianne. "French-Canadian Americans", in, retrieved April 24, 2008
  • Fréchette, Louis (1982). The United States for French Canadians, 345 pages ISBN 0-665-17794-1 (was originally published in the 1890s)
  • ISBN 1-58211-223-1
  • Geyh, Patricia Keeney, et al. (2002). French Canadian Sources. A Guide for Genealogists, Ancestry Publishing, 320 pages online excerpt)
  • Girod André " French-American Class" Publibook [1]
  • Lagarde, François. (2003). The French in Texas. History, Migration, Culture, University of Texas Press, 330 pages online excerpt)
  • Lamarre, Jean. (2003). The French Canadians of Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 209 pages online excerpt)
  • Laflamme, J.L.K., David E. Lavigne and J. Arthur Favreau. (1908) PD-icon.svg 
  • Louder, Dean R., and Eric Waddell, eds. (1993). French America. Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience Across the Continent, Louisiana State University Press, 371 pages ISBN 0-8071-1669-6
  • Lindenfeld, Jacqueline. (2002). The French in the United States. An Ethnograpic Study, Greenwood Publishing Group, 184 pages online excerpt)
  • Monnier, Alain. "Franco-Americains et Francophones aux Etats-Unis" ("Franco-Americans and French Speakers in the United States). Population 1987 42(3): 527-542. Census study; In the 1980 Census 13 million Americans claimed to be of 'French origin' and one-and-a-half million spoke French at home.
  • Perreault, Robert B. Franco-american Life and Culture in Manchester, New Hampshire: Vivre La Difference (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Potvin, Raymond H. "The Franco-American Parishes of New England: Past, Present and Future," American Catholic Studies 2003 114(2): 55-67
  • Pritchard, James S. (2004). In Search of Empire. The French in the Americas, 1670–1730, Cambridge University Press, 484 pages online excerpt)
  • Richard, Mark Paul. (2008) Loyal but French: The Negotiation of Identity by French-Canadian Descendants in the United States, on acculturation in Lewiston, Maine, 1860 to the 2000
  • Richard, Sacha. (2002) "American Perspectives on 'La Fievre aux Etats-Unis,' 1860–1930: A Historiographical Analysis of Recent Writings on the Franco-Americans in New England," Canadian Review of American Studies 32(1): 105-132
  • Roby, Yves. (2004). The Franco-Americans of New England. Dreams and Realities, Montreal: Les éditions du Septentrion, 543 pages online excerpt) translated by Mary Ricard.
  • Rumily, Robert. (1958) Histoire des Franco Americains. a standard history
  • Stewart, Alice R. "The Franco-Americans of Maine: A Historiographical Essay," Maine Historical Society Quarterly 1987 26(3): 160-179
  • Thernstrom, Stephan, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American ethnic groups (1980)
  • Valdman, Albert. (1997). French and Creole in Louisiana, Springer, 372 pages online excerpt)
  • Weil, François. "Les Franco-Americains et la France' ("Franco-Americans and France") Revue Francaise d'Histoire d'Outre-Mer 1990 77(3): 21-34

Primary sources

  • Madore, Nelson, and Barry Rodrigue, eds. Voyages: A Maine Franco-American Reader (2009)
  • Robbins, Rhea Cote. Wednesday's Child (2008)
  • Robbins, Rhea Cote, ed. Canuck and Other Stories (2006)

External links

  • Extensive studies, Documents, Statistics and Resources of Franco American History
  • Franco American Center
  • Franco American Women's Institute
  • Institut français
  • Dave Martucci, , in Flags of the World
  • Orange County, California
  • Bonjour L.A. !- Bonjour L.A. ! Los Angeles with a French touch
  • Council for the Development of French in Louisiana - a state agency.
  • [2] Oral History of French Canadians in Franklin County, New York and of a small sawmill and logging community in the Northern New York State populated by French Canadians
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