French immigration to the United States has been episodic, generally paralleling religious, political, and economic upheavals in France.
French settlement in the United States began during the age of exploration and colonization of the seventeenth century in
French interest in the Americas was stimulated by the earlier voyages of the Spanish, Portuguese, and English. During the seventeenth century, explorers sailing under the French flag navigated the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and founded settlements along the
Emigration from France was strictly regulated by law. French settlers in the New World were usually trappers, soldiers, or clerics until 1685, when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes stripping the Protestant
The first U.S. Census in 1790 listed 11,307 residents of French origin. New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Maryland had the largest numbers of French-speaking residents. Other states with significant French populations included
Between 1819 and 1870, 245,812 French immigrants arrived in the United States. Their numbers steadily rose–from 8,868 during the 1820’s to 45,575 during the 1830’s. The next two decades witnessed further increases of French immigrants: 77,262 during the 1840’s and 76,358 during the 1850’s. The increased numbers of French immigrants during each of those decades reflect the disorders caused by political revolutions in France in 1830, 1848, and 1852.
During the 1860’s,
The 1900 census showed a further decline in the size the French-born population, whose numbers had dropped to 102,535. The largest communities were in New York,
Immigration from France declined during the upheavals brought by World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). After 1945, Europe experienced an economic recovery that further discouraged emigration to the United States, and new immigration was most likely to be motivated by marriages between French and American citizens. The postwar French immigrants who came to the United States generally had high levels of education and significant job skills.
In 1980, the U.S. Census began collecting information on national ancestry and found that 13 million American citizens regarded themselves as having French ancestry. More than one-quarter of these people lived in the Northeast. A similar percentage in north-central and southern states claimed French ancestry, but in the West only 19 percent claimed French heritage. The individual states with the most residents claiming French ancestry were
Brasseaux, Carl A. The Foreign French: Nineteenth-Century French Immigration into Louisiana. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1990. Survey of the complex ethnicity of Louisiana, which was founded as a French colony and still retains much of its French heritage. Houde, Jean-Louis. French Migration to North America, 1600-1900. Translated by Hubert Houle. Chicago: Editions Houde, 1994. Broad historical survey of French migration to Canada and the United States. Kaiser, Hilary. French War Brides in America: An Oral History. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008. Collection of oral histories, detailing the experiences of fifteen French women who married American servicemen and came to the United States. Three stories come from World War I, the rest from World War II. McDermott, John Francis, ed. Frenchmen and French Ways in the Mississippi Valley. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1969. Collection of scholarly articles on the contributions of French explorers and immigrants to the Mississippi region. Robbins, Albert. Coming to America: Immigrants from Northern Europe. New York: Delacorte Press, 1981. Broad survey of the history of immigration to the United States from northern European nations including France.
History of immigration, 1620-1783
History of immigration, 1783-1891
History of immigration after 1891