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French and Dutch Immigration

French and Dutch Immigration

During the seventeenth century, France and the Netherlands sought to expand their empires in the New World. Both countries established important colonies in North America but could not maintain them. French and Dutch people immigrated to these colonies in small numbers. After the establishment of the United States, larger numbers of French and Dutch immigrants came to America.

Persecution of the Huguenots

The first French colonists to the New World were the Huguenots, a group of Protestants who were followers of the doctrines of French theologian John Calvin (1509–1564). They believed that the symbols and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church were useless, and that the only instrument necessary to achieve grace (God's help or mercy) was the Bible. In their view, salvation and grace were available only to the few people—the “elect”—whom God had already chosen to receive divine favor.

Many French Huguenots were from powerful noble families, and the Catholic royal family felt threatened by them. In 1536, the French government issued a general order urging the extermination (killing of an entire population) of the Huguenots. By 1550, Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism were being burned at the stake. Over the next few decades, tens of thousands of Huguenots were killed.

Huguenot migrations

Some Huguenots, eager to escape the turmoil, looked to the New World colonies for a new home. The first group of 150 Huguenot settlers set up a colony in what is now South Carolina . They were ill-prepared to survive there and soon returned to France. A second expedition of 304 Huguenots settled in what is now Jacksonville, Florida . Spanish forces, threatened by France's presence in Florida, attacked the colony and killed the settlers.

In 1685, when the king of France renewed the persecution of Huguenots, they fled France by the hundreds of thousands. Between 1618 and 1725, between five thousand and seven thousand Huguenots reached the shores of America, concentrating in New England, New York , Pennsylvania , Virginia , and South Carolina.

New France

Most of France's early dealings with North America involved the fur trade. French fur traders established alliances with many North American native tribal groups, who supplied them with furs, guides, and transportation in return for European goods. French missionaries arrived in the early 1600s to try to convert the natives to Christianity. In 1603,

the French king sent the explorer Samuel de Champlain (c. 1567–1635) to investigate the area that was to become New France . Champlain succeeded in settling vast areas of what is now Canada, but despite his efforts, New France grew slowly. Most of the French people who arrived in the New World were trappers who lived in the wilderness. There was never a mass migration to New France, and the French colonies were never well populated.

In the seventeenth century, French explorers navigated down the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans. By 1717, the colony of New France extended from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. France governed the vast Louisiana Territory until 1763, when it ceded the Louisiana Territory to Spain and the rest of New France to England. France regained the Louisiana Territory temporarily in the early 1800s. However, realizing it could not control colonies overseas, France sold the whole Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803 in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase .

French Americans

During the entire century and a half of French colonization in North America, only about ten thousand people actually migrated from France to the New World. Between the 1790s and 1850s, after a shift in French politics, another wave of immigration brought between ten and twenty-five thousand French immigrants to America. Between 1840 and 1860, another estimated one hundred thousand French people arrived.

Most French Americans quickly assimilated (blended) into the mainstream culture. Only Louisiana and, to a lesser extent, New England maintained cultures that were distinctly French. Louisiana's population retained a mixture of people descended from free and enslaved Africans and Caribbean Africans, the French, the Spanish, and the Cajuns. Cajuns were people who were exiled (forced to leave) by the British from French-speaking Acadia, in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada.

In 2000, the U.S. Census listed 8,309,908 persons of French ancestry and an additional 2,349,684 with French Canadian ancestry.

The Dutch immigrants

In the seventeenth century, the Netherlands was highly successful in international trade. The Dutch East India Company charted profitable trade routes to Africa and Asia, its ships coming home laden with riches. In 1609, the Dutch East India Company hired British explorer Henry Hudson (d. 1611) to explore the American continent. He found a river—now the Hudson River in present-day New York State—rich with furs, and claimed it for the Dutch.

The Netherlands then hired the Dutch West India Company to create a permanent trading post in the New World. The problem was that few Dutch people wanted to emigrate because life was comfortable in their homeland. The Dutch West India Company paid the first colonists to make the trip. They arrived in New Netherland, the Dutch colony in America, in 1624.

New Netherland encompassed Manhattan Island and New York Harbor, part of Long Island, and an area including most of present-day New Jersey and Delaware and part of Pennsylvania. The port in New Netherland was perfect for trade, and the land was fertile.

Life in New Netherland

The first settlers in New Netherland were poor and illiterate, and life was rough. They lacked the skills in farming and manufacturing that were badly needed for building communities. In the 1660s, New Amsterdam, now New York City, was a community of about thirteen hundred people. It was very dirty, with animals running loose and sewage running down its streets.

As they settled in, the Dutch colonists tried to make their new home more like the Netherlands. They built schools and established the Dutch Reformed Church, a Protestant Calvinist denomination. The Dutch welcomed people of all religions, including Jews, and they were more open to freeing African slaves than other colonies. Immigrants from England, Sweden, and France began to pour into New Netherland.

The Dutch West India Company, which continued to govern the people of New Netherland, was mainly interested in profits, and the colonists were unhappy with its rule. In the 1660s, when Britain decided to try to seize the colony, the residents refused to defend it, allowing Britain to take over their government.

Postcolonial immigration

By the early nineteenth century, the Netherlands had ceased to be a global power, spurring greater Dutch immigration to the New World. Between 1820 and 1914, about two hundred thousand Dutch peasants immigrated to the United States in several major waves, including those in the 1860s, 1880s, and 1890s. Many of the Dutch immigrants headed out to the American Midwest and West to farm.

Most Dutch Americans immigrated in entire family units and settled in communities with others from the same province of the Netherlands. Creating tightly knit communities of Dutch Americans, they were slow to assimilate and kept Dutch culture intact for a number of generations.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 5,203,974 Americans claim Dutch descent. About one-third live in the Midwest, and a significant number continue to live in the Hudson River Valley area of New York.

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