Reasons for Emigration

In contrast to the other European countries, France never really experienced much of an emigration wave. The majority of today’s French-American citizens did not arrive directly from France but rather are descendants of the early settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Quebec Quebec, Canada, ca. 1918
Library of Congress

The first French settlers arrived in Quebec and Acadia in Canada between 1632 and 1713. Around the same time, in the United States, French Jesuits were attempting to Christianize the native population, followed by French Huguenots forming their own self-governed units beyond the control of the French government. They settled in New Paltz, New York in the 1660s. Those settlers entering Canada via the St. Laurence Delta called themselves Canadians. The distinction of being French-Canadian was only made after more and more English settlers arrived and called themselves Canadian, too. During the period of 1840 through 1930 some 900,000 French-Canadians moved to the U.S. and settled mainly in the New England states. Today only about 13 million U.S. residents are of French descent.

Similar to the Italian emigrants, many French migrated to other areas on the European continent establishing colonies in the Holy Roman Empire (Austria-Hungary in the 1720s), to Russia, Ukraine and Banat in the mid to late 18th century and again in the early 19th century.

Some of the French emigration was certainly also politically motivated: some 500,000 refugees flee the French Revolution (1789-1791). They were followed by those political refugees as a result of Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. The poor farming population fled to the cities where the hygiene situation decreased as the population numbers increased. This resulted in cholera and typhoid epidemics in the poor quarters. In contrast, the rich bourgeoisie did not suffer much during that period. Through the set up of gas supply in 1836 followed by canalisation in 1844 the situation was immensely improved for the vast majority of the cities’ residents.

In the 1830s to 1860s in France, too, emigration agents travelled from town to town recruiting emigrants to go to America. Towards the end of the 19th century here too the growth in population and the industrialization was felt.

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