Je m'abonne

Sur la piste des migrants francophones en Amérique du Nord

On sait tout du voyage de Jacques Cartier, le navigateur malouin qui découvrit la baie du Saint-Laurent au Canada en 1534. Mais que sait-on des autres francophones qui peuplèrent l’Amérique du Nord à partir du XVIIe siècle ? C’est l’objectif d’un ambitieux projet de recherche transatlantique qui se poursuivra jusqu’en 2026.

Des Moines dans l’Iowa, Traverse City dans le Michigan, Eau Claire et Prairie du Chien dans le Wisconsin, Belle Fourche dans le Dakota du Sud, Coeur d’Alène dans l’Idaho… Les toponymes d’origine française sont partout en Amérique du Nord. Sans oublier au moins 17 villes qui portent le nom de Frenchtown ! Les colons francophones, cependant, sont les grands absents des livres d’histoire.

« Les migrants francophones ont longtemps été négligés par les historiens nord-américains, concentrés sur l’histoire anglophone du continent », explique Yves Frenette, professeur à l’Université de St. Boniface de Winnipeg et directeur du projet de recherche Trois siècles de migrations francophones en Amérique du Nord (1640-1940). « C’est notre objectif de redonner une voix aux communautés dont on n’entends peu parler. »

Plus de 40 chercheurs américains, canadiens et français

Pendant les sept années à venir, 41 chercheurs américains, canadiens, anglais, français, belges et suisses étudieront les migrations des communautés francophones dans six grandes régions : l’Acadie, le Québec, la Nouvelle-Angleterre, la région des Grands Lacs et la vallée du Mississippi, les Grandes Plaines américaines et l’Etat de Washington. Comment les migrants, ceux qui restent derrière et ceux qui les accueillent ont-ils vécu cette expérience ? Qu’en ont-ils dit dans leurs lettres, journaux intimes et chansons ?

Ces recherches, menées en partenariat avec 27 universités, musées et associations dont La Loure, qui entretien les traditions orales normandes, porteront sur les migrants venus de France, de Suisse et de Belgique, les Canadiens d’origine française, les Acadiens ainsi que les métis. Les Syriens et Libanais francophones, arrivés entre 1880 et 1940, feront aussi l’objet d’une étude. « Ils sont peu nombreux », précise Yves Frenette, « mais ils ont eu une grande influence de par leur activité de marchands et de colporteurs ».

Les recensements, pratiqués au Canada depuis 1666 et aux Etats-Unis depuis 1790, permettront aux chercheurs de peindre « un grand portrait » des francophones du XVIIe au XXe siècle. Date et lieu de naissance, profession, langue parlée à la maison : ces données, aujourd’hui disponibles en ligne, offrent une image précise des communautés francophones et de leurs mouvements. « On peut ainsi dresser le profil d’une famille de Franco-Canadiens du Minnesota en 1910 puis, en étudiant les recensements canadiens et les actes d’état civil, retracer leur parcours. »

Un projet à l’échelle continentale

Parmi les autres sujets de recherches : Gérard Fabre, chercheur au Centre d’étude des mouvements sociaux du CNRS, étudiera le récit des migrants et France Martineau, linguiste à l’Université d’Ottawa, la diffusion des langues franco-amérindiennes dont le mitchif, un mélange de français et de cri parlé dans le Manitoba et le Dakota du Nord. Robert Englebert, historien à l’Université de Saskatchewan, se penchera quant à lui sur les relations entre explorateurs francophones et femmes amérindiennes dans plusieurs villages de la vallée du Mississippi.

Ce « projet continental », financé grâce à une subvention du Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada d’un montant de 2,5 millions de dollars, donnera lieu en 2026 à une exposition virtuelle bilingue. En attendant, le travail des chercheurs sera partagé en ligne et présenté au cours d’expositions et conférences organisées localement. Au mois de juin 2020, un colloque à Whitman College, à Walla Walla dans l’Etat de Washington, présentera notamment la colonie francophone de Frenchtown, fondée en 1824 au sud-ouest de Seattle et la présence francophone dans l’Ouest américain.

« Contrairement aux idées reçues, les populations francophones ont toujours migré et n’ont pas toujours été accueillies à bras ouverts », explique Yves Frenette. « La situation de ces colons il y a un siècle est comparable à la situation des migrants hispaniques et africains aujourd’hui, ce qui donne à notre projet de recherche une portée actuelle. »

  • My family immigrated to the US after World War Two when my aunt became a war bride. I’ve written a solo play about it called Transatlantic.

  • Well over 10 millions in the US alone are of French heritage, yet this not widely known or researched. As Dr. Frenette is quoted in the article, “Francophone migrants have long been ignored by North American historians, who preferred to focus on the continent’s Anglophone history.” So true/tellement vrai! Best wishes in this wonderful research project.

  • Bonjour,
    Mon nom : Jean Claude Bruneau, venu aux USA le 5 mars 1973 dans le village de LeSueur, Minnesota, pour fabriquer des camemberts et bries dans une usine laitiere de la ville en representation du groupe Bongrain (aujourd’hui Savencia). C’etait la premiere installation manuelle des fabrications francaises des pates molles aux Etats Unis. Le village de LeSueur a ete cree en 1682 par Pierre Charles LeSueur (ne en Artois en 1657). L’histoire, reelle, dit que Mr. LeSueur a ete envoye par le roi de France pour non selement decouvrir de nouvelles opportunites, mais egalement collecter certaines taxes dans l’Etat de Louisiane. Pierre Charles devint un fugitif apres la collection d’impot et remonta le Mississipi jusqu’a la Minnesota River qu’il prit par megarde et trouva son point d’atterissage a un endroit qu’il fortifia et qui prit son nom. Personellement, j’ai joue le role de Mr. Le Sueur lors du Bicentenial de 1976. Une tres belle histoire plus detaillee pourrait etre fournie, non seulement par moi-meme, mais egalement par la ville de Le Sueur.
    A votre service.

    Jean Claude Bruneau

    • Merci pour cette histoire ! Pierre-Charles Le Sueur, en remontant le Mississippi depuis le Golfe du Mexique, est devenu le premier Européen à explorer la vallée de la rivière Minnesota.

  • A large area of Northwestern Minnesota was settled by French Canadians, like Pierre Bottineau who settled Red Lake Falls. At one time, the Catholic priest was a francophone as many of the parishioners spoke French. There are many French place names. My own ancestors are all French Canadian. The first one came with Champlain and others later in the 18th c. I will look forward to hearing more of this research.

  • The first French colony in South Carolina was established in the 16th century, although it wasn’t successful. By the mid-18th century, Huguenot settlers had established towns throughout the state. My grandmother and her extended family lived in Abbeville and New Bordeaux, SC. Since the colony was primarily British at the time, the French assimilated to British culture and language.

  • Formidable ce numero. Je suis moi-même casablancaise de mère française, arrivée aux USA en 1964. Nous avons d’abord vecu au Wisconsin, où l’influence française est bien marquée. Je me demandais au debut ce que voulait dire « prairie du chiiine ». J’ai appris. Fiere d’etre américaine, mais je n’oublie jamais mes racines françaises et nord-africaines. En fait, je viens de publier mon dernier livre, Le Riad au Bord de l’Oued, en français. Great job !

  • Mes ancêtres étaient les Acadiens, Cadiens (Cajuns) et Créoles qui ont habité dans la Louisiane depuis les 1700s (et en Acadie depuis les 1600s). Ma famille et moi habitont aujourd’hui dans le sud de la Louisiane.

  • Did you research the group of French-speaking « Cajuns » in Louisiana?
    We are from Acadien people!

    Merci bien,
    John

  • I have always felt alone as a French-American girl growing up in California. So I visited my mother’s family in Brittany when I was seventeen in 1977. I welcome this project to celebrate our heritage.

  • The Center for French Colonial Studies in Plano, Texas, is a great resource. Assumption College’s French Institute in Worcester, Mass is also.

  • Il faudra venir dans le Maine où il y a toutes sortes de francophones d’origines québecoise, acadienne, cajun, française, belge, suisse et de divers pays du continent africain. A bientôt j’espère !

    Régine Whittlesey
    Présidente Alliance Française du Maine

  • My ancestor Olivier Charbonneau came to Montreal with his family in the late 1600s. In the 1800s among his descendants a Charbonneau came to Detroit, originally a French settlement on the Detroit River founded by Cadillac, and settled there. My father, Louis H. Charbonneau was a prominent Detroit attorney and retired as a Brigadier General after serving in WWI and WWII. I learned la belle langue francaise in high school, and taught French for many years. I am fiercely proud of my French-Canadian heritage and delighted at the prospect of this study.

  • Ayant immigré à Seattle en 1971, prof de français toutes ces années, je serai très contente d’en savoir plus sur la présence francophone dans l’Etat de Washington. Le colloque à Walla Walla est ouvert au grand public ?

  • I am 100 % Acadian and am so very interested in this project. I have traced my ancestry to their arrival in 1632. Many ended up in the USA following the deportation of 1755. I have not traced them in that country. Your project sounds exciting and will be of great interest.

  • I am very surprised that the French colony in San Francisco is not part of the study. It was the largest concentration of French immigrants outside of France starting in the mid-1800s, continuing into the mid-1900s! The French church (Notre Dame des Victoires) is separate from the San Francisco Archdiocese, started by Marist priests from France. Many of its large retail businesses were started by French merchants. One sad note was that, although many of these people married, had children, and became naturalized American citizens in the early 1900s, the men were drafted by the French Army at the beginning of WWI–when they did not return for this, they became persona non grata in France for the rest of their lives.

  • I am from New Brunswick, Canada, and have been living in Fitchburg, MA for now 58 years. Both my parents were Acadian French, my dad was a Thibodeau and my mom a Leger and both were from NB and my great, great, great, etc. from Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

  • I have been researching my heritage for years and have come against a stone wall for my 4th great-grandparents who came to Vermont from Quebec, as so many did, still speaking French and knowing of their Metis blood, but hiding it. I hope this helps to clarify Jean Baptiste Meloche (Manosh, Minish, Menoche) born circa 1802 in St Michel? Married to Lizzie Lambert with at least two children, John Jr and Mary, and second marriage to Cordelia Adelaide Chauvin, from Chambly, with many more children. My ancestor died in the Civil War, John Jr who married Mary Laplant. I and my many cousins keep searching, and DNA connects us to Meloche people all over Quebec and even into Manitoba, as well as into Michigan and points west, and all of New England. Yet, I do not know his parents or Lizzie Lambert’s. They were part of the tub building industry in Montgomery, VT.
    I look forward to this study!

  • Check out Western PA all along the French Supply Route, Allegheny River, and French Creek from Fort Duquesne (aka Pitt) to Fort Presqu’Ile (Erie), and big concentration in Crawford County.

  • I have three sides of French heritage. My grandfather was a Landry, my grandmother Bonneville (born in Farnham, near Montréal) and my other grandmother a Langlais, one of whose ancestors was the child of English settlers in Maine who were captured and brought to Canada. I have been both to Québec and to France many times. Celebrating our heritage gives me great joy!

  • My 7 times great-grandfather was designated as one of the First Pioneers of Canada. Etienne Fontaine, son of Jacques (De,Des) Fontaine & Jeanne Colinet in Saint-Sauveur On Ille d’Yeu, France left France to apprenctice for 3 years on a ship that sailed the world. Eventually he married Marie Conille in New France and also had a Brigantin called The Saint Louis. He and his sons traded goods up and down the St Lawrence seaway until 1708. He owned 50 arpents of land and employed many. Much more was gleamed on his life from Quebec archives whom translated for me a brief history of his life on L’lle D’Orleans. I have been researching for over 25 years and at present await the digitizing of France archives of all of there holdings to unblock a « brick wall » on Jacques (De,Des) Fontaine and his father’s pedigree in France.

  • Red Lake Falls, MN is located about 20 km west of Oklee, MN that was absorbed by the non-extant Lambert Town, so named because of the large number of Lambert families, where missionaries first held mass services between 1881-1884. Alphonse Lambert and Marie Rodrique headed one of the Lambert Town families, Alphonse being a descendant of Aubin Lambert, born in France’s ancient Perche province, who settled in New France’s Quebec area. Another descendant of Aubin Lambert, Gervais Lambert, married to Catherine Lesieur, settled from Yamachiche, New France to Bourbonnais, IL.

  • Great project! Yves Frenette has been doing research on the migrations of Francophones in North America for years. With renewed interest more will be published, hopefully better assessing what the French have brought to North America. I myself have written Le rêve californien : Migrants français sur la côte Pacifique on the history of the French in California from 1769 to the end of the 20th century when this book was published. More will follow.

  • Will there be research about the Alabama Gulf Coast? I descend from Jean-Baptiste Baudreau dit Graveline (père) who was from Quebec. He was sent to south Alabama (Dauphin Island) in the early 1700s by d’Iberville to colonize. Supposedly over 10,000 Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama residents descend from him, yet I feel like he is not given much attention nationally.

  • I descend from many French/Canadien ancestors. Have been tracing my family for about 25 years. Some of the names are Clavet, Melanson, Thibault, Cloutier, Mouet de Moras, Delanglade, Grignon,Charbonneau, Miville, Pepin, Boyer, and many more. This sounds like a great project!

  • J’espère que le Pays des Illinois (la région sud de ces états : IL, MO, IN) fera partie aussi de ces recherches et leur français qu’on appelle « Paw Paw French ». Suivre les routes des bateaux qui ont quitté l’Acadie au moment du Grand Dérangement et identifier les ports où les Acadiens ont débarqué tout le long de la côte est devrait offrir de bonnes pistes pour ces recherches. Bonne continuation!

  • My father claimed we descended from Captain January or the Marquis de Janvier. Searching different databases seems to indicate we are in a January line going back to Huguenots expelled from France. Will research done assist in clarification? What is a Marquis? When my father died he said the title passed to the oldest son.

  • California is not one of those areas one thinks of in terms of French immigrants that had an important impact on the local history and economy. However, Claude Chana was a French immigrant who had a major impact on the economy of Northern California, as he discovered gold in Auburn Ravine in early 1848, just 5 months after James Marshall’s historic discovery at Coloma. Chana’s discovery, right on the heels of Marshall’s, brought a second wave of gold-seekers, and essentially made possible the founding of Auburn, California. A monumental statue of Chana now stands at the entrance to the town.

  • This is very exciting to see. My original research (dissertation) focused on the Dupont Family and the French emigres to America in the late 18th century. I would be interested in following your project.

  • Don’t forget the French Huguenots who arrived early in Charleston, SC, settled there (Jamestown settlement, north of C’ston), intermarried, have long lines of well-known descendants there, to this day: Beaulieu plantation, the Huguenot church, the Huguenot Society (for genealogical research). From C’ston, a number spread north through the Carolinas, south to Mississippi and Alabama and Texas westward.
    J. Briscoe/famille Pierre Robert

  • All my ancestors except my parent and I Irish side spoke French. I just remember gentle lyrical words. I understand more French than speak. I am from many Acadian families and am trying to improve my French. I have a BA in History, minor in Anthropology. My direct line is to Charles-Melanson-dit-La-Rammé I would really like a Master history program on the Acadians. Or second BA. If a dig happens in the Melanson settlement would love to help. How can I do a deeper dive? Am I the only one in St. Augustine, Fl?

  • There is a French community near where I live. Mostly French nobility and gentry moved near the Towanda, Pennsylvania area. They believed that Marie-Antoinette would escape France and move to this area. The website is FrenchAzilum.com. Joanna Higgins, a graduate from SUNY-Binghampton, NY wrote a historical fiction novel about this area called Waiting for the Queen.

  • I came to the U.S. as a French young woman born in Morocco, age 20, to complete a degree in American Studies… I have lived in California for the most part, but I conducted my fieldwork in anthropology in South Dakota among Lakota Indians. I recently published a book titled Russell Means, The European Ancestry of a Militant Indian (X:Libris, 2018) with a solidly researched chapter on French and Indian relations of days that preceded the American era, intermarriages and the existence of French Indian half-breeds in the Great Plains and more particularly in South Dakota. See my bio and books on my web site at http://www.helenehagan.com

  • Related