Monday, July 30, 2012

What is French North America?

Take any map of North America. Ignore the national boundary between Canada and the United States. Then trace the vast arc beginning in the East where the Atlantic Ocean meets the great St. Lawrence River, move your gaze westward to the Ottawa River, the Great Lakes region, southward to the Ohio Valley, and then follow the Mississippi to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Throughout this vast expanse you will find one French place name after another, from the many parishes of rural Québec named after ancient saints, to American cities such as Detroit, Saint Louis, and Baton Rouge, which most Americans now forget were originally pronounced with a French accent.

Throughout this territory and further west in both Canada and in the United States, through these names our ancestors left to mark their presence, one may perceive the remnant of a forgotten chapter in the history of our continent. This is the history of our French ancestors, who were among the earliest European explorers and settlers in North America. Small in numbers but great in courage and intrepidity they pressed deep into the continent before the USA was born.

This Gallic presence, ignored today by most of the inhabitants of North America, casts its shadow across the continent. Except in Québec, where our people make up the majority, and in certain pockets of New Brunswick, New England, and Louisiana, French North America is not distinct in the minds of most of the continent’s inhabitants – even in the minds of the French North Americans themselves. Starting with the voyages of Jacques Cartier in the 16th c. up until the historic defeat on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and even beyond, the French established a presence, the ghost of which still haunts North America.

Confused by the artificial border between Canada and the USA, and separated from one another by the vagaries of history, many peoples with different names – Québécois, Canadien-français, Acadian, Cajun, Créole, Franco-American, Franco-Ontarien, Franco-Manitoban, Fransaskois, etc. – are all the descendants of the same period of migrations from 17th and 18th century France, the France of Louis XIV, the Sun King, the France of The Three Musketeers, of Racine and of Molière.

Separated by history and geography, these peoples and the lands they inhabit together constitute French North America. This blog will explore their common roots, their history, genealogy, geography, and cultures. The author has spent years researching this topic. I have pieced together the story of my own ancestors and those of other French North Americans and I have developed my own viewpoint on their past, their present, and on how their future could unfold. I will concentrate on the regions I know best in the Northeastern portions of the continent but also hope to give the topic its continental scope.

I wish that all peoples, of all ethnicities, those whose native tongue is English, French, or any other language, will read and learn about one of the least-known communities on this continent: French North America.

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