History

Published on August 10th, 2015 | by Maureen Youngblood

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Half French…

Did you know that France once owned almost half of the United States? Early in the growth years of the territories and colonies, France played a large role in the development of what is now the United States due to the Louisiana Purchase, an agreement between France and the territories of the U.S.

In the 17th century France had explored the area called the Mississippi river valley, which runs from current day Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. This river essentially divides the current United States in half. During this time of exploration, France established settlements that were dispersed throughout this region.

louisiana

Louisiana, around 1804. Unknown mapmaker. Photo by Wikipedia.

It was in 1682 that René-Rober Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed for France “all territory drained by the Mississippi River from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico”; he named this 828,000 square miles (1,332,537 sq. km) Louisiana. Interestingly, in 1995, La Salle’s ship, La Belle, was discovered in Matagorda Bay in Texas and is on display at the Bullock Texas State Museum.

To this day, there are still counties, towns, lakes and roads in the Midwest that bear French names that originated from these settlements. A few examples are Eau Claire, Waterloo, La Porte, Paris, Lyons, etc. The list is endless.

It wasn’t until 1718 that New Orleans, Louisiana was founded. This was an extremely important cargo port with a route directly into the interior of the land by way of the Mississippi River. During the French and Indian war (1754-1763), France gave up control of French Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain. Not long after, in 1763, France transferred ownership of territories east of the Mississippi and north of New Orleans to Great Britain.

treaty-louisiana

The Treaty that secured the Louisiana Purchase. 1803. Photo by Wikipedia.

In 1783 the Treaty of Paris, signed by Great Britain and the U.S., gave the United States unlimited access to the Mississippi River. However, in 1784 Spain decided to deny foreigners any access to the river, thus creating havoc with shipping commerce. Eleven years later, the Pinckney treaty of 1795, between Spain and the United States, allowed the United States to navigate the Mississippi River once again.

Napoleon had an idea to revive the French empire in the New World, thus threatening this navigational route once again. It was in 1800 that this large area of land was transferred back to the ownership of France from Spain in exchange for Euturia, a small kingdom in Italy. This agreement hindered the westward growth plans of the United States.

Napoleon intended to seize control of St. Dominique (now Haiti) from a slave rebellion and in 1802 he sent the French army to this Caribbean island in order to regain control of the prosperous sugar producing area. The army sustained major losses due to a large outbreak of yellow fever; the army was basically destroyed by the disease.

His additional plan was to use Louisiana as a granary for his empire, so he also sent troops to New Orleans, Louisiana in order to secure the area for the French. This move by Napoleon did not rest well with Thomas Jefferson, who made military plans for a battle in the Mississippi valley against France. It was at this time that Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert Livingston to France with an offer to buy New Orleans and West Florida for $10 million dollars. With a war between France and England a possibility, Napoleon abruptly abandoned his plans for the Louisiana territory and sold the entire lot to the United States for $15 million dollars.

Spain, not happy about this sale, but with no way to prevent it, formally returned the Louisiana territory to France on November 30, 1803. France then formally transferred ownership to the United States on December 20th with the United States taking formal possession on December 30th, 1803. This new land acquisition doubled the size of the new U.S.; it was only a matter of time before the U.S. map would stretch all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The United States is seen as a melting pot of multiple races and cultures. This mixture actually began long before the final borders of the country were ever established. This newly obtained land from France was one of several areas of land that were eventually acquired by the United States from other countries such as Russia, Denmark, Spain, Great Britain, and the Republic of Hawaii, all of which continue to have a cultural presence within the borders of the United States.

Included in this cultural melting pot, one must also remember the original inhabitants of what is now the United States, the over 1,000 American Indian tribes. Unable to hold their ground to foreign invaders, only 562 federally recognized tribes exist today. It is interesting to note that several American and Canadian Indian tribes speak French, or a mixture of their native language and French, such as the Houma, Creole, Osage and other tribes.

Though France no longer holds title to the land, as a result of those first French explorers, a strong French cultural impression still remains in the United States today.

Sources
The Louisiana Purchase. http://www.history.com/topics/louisiana-purchase. Date accessed: May 6, 2015.

The Louisiana Purchase. http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/louisiana-purchase. Date accessed: May 6, 2015.

Native America. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Americans_in_the_United_States. Date accessed: May , 2015.

Heading Photo: The Stars and Stripes of the US flag replaces France at Place d’Armes New Orleans. Photo by Wikipedia.


About the Author

was born and raised in the United States and is currently living in California. She discovered her love of the French language and culture in high school and continued her education of all things French in college where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She enjoys living near the ocean, traveling and French pastries.



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