With this post coming the day after Thanksgiving, you’re probably expecting a run-down of how I spent my fourth Thanksgiving living in France. Alas, this has nothing at all to do with that. We’re actually not celebrating this most American of holidays until tomorrow evening, so you’ll have to wait a few more days for that story. Instead, this article is just an update on a genealogy project of mine. It’s probably not very interesting or exciting to most of you, but it’s a big deal for me:
First of all, allow me to apologize for the delay in writing something for you, but things have been in a state of flux since we officially became a French family a fews weeks ago. That little red family register has changed a lot of things for us, the most immediate of which is that now I don’t have to be a full-time student to stay in the country! Given that I was already feeling both overqualified and overwhelmed in my last academic pursuit, I decided to just drop out. In the long term, that means that my schedule will be much more conducive to holding down a full-time job. In the short term, it means my schedule will be much more conducive to pursuing all kinds of personal projects ranging from the mundane like writing for je parle américain, to the utterly useless like learning Irish Gaelic, to the extremely ambitious like … writing a novel.
Yes — writing a novel.
Now, I know that might sound like a pipe dream, and
I know that living in Paris hasn’t transformed me into Ernest Hemingway,
but bear with me for a moment.Continue reading Once upon a time …
Detail from a 1701 portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud
It’s time for yet another “franecdote” — an interesting fact or story from “THATyear in French history“ where “THAT year” is this year minus the number of Facebook fansje parle américain has every Thursday.
Today’s franecdote is from July 11, when je parle américain had 328 Facebook fans. So …
The year 2013 — 328 fans = 1685, and the franecdote is …
It’s appropriate that I’m publishing today’s post from the United States, because September 6 is the birthday of one of the greatest heroes of the American Revolution: the Marquis de Lafayette. It’s also appropriate that I’m publishing from South Carolina, because Lafayette not only was a Franco-American hero, but he had a special connection to my home state.
You should know by now that I’m a big history nerd. I’ve been one all my life, and the older I get, the more convinced I am that somewhere along the way I got sidetracked from my destiny to become a history professor. The people in my life closest to me can attest to that fact. Just Sunday night, at dinner with Michel and our friends Leigh and Dwight in Columbia, I was heard correcting a Frenchman’s account of the role of the French Revolution in the birth of French laicity. What can I say? It’s a passion. So it came as no surprise when, during my first semester of French classes at the Sorbonne, I chose to do my 15-minute oral report on the life of the Marquis de Lafayette. It also came as no surprise that my 15-minute report ended up lasting half an hour! I’m pretty sure that most of my classmates’ eyes start to glaze over after about 20 minutes because … well, not everyone can be as into Franco-American history as I am. In any case, je parle américain‘s homage to the Marquis on this, the 255th anniversary of his birth, is based on that long oral report … but today, at least, I’ll be telling it in English and not broken French. So, hopefully your eyes won’t glaze over before you get to the bottom of the page.
Today marks the 450th anniversary of the day that Captain Jean Ribault sailed into the body of water that would later be known as Port Royal Sound in what is now South Carolina. The colony that he founded there became the first French settlement and—with the exception of a very short-lived Spanish outpost possibly near present-day Georgetown, South Carolina—the first European settlement in what is now the United States.
The middle of the 1500s was marked by competition among the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the French to colonize the Americas. The English, the Dutch, and even the Swedish eventually arrived on the scene, but their efforts came at least a generation later. The Spanish dominated the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and western South America. The Portuguese dominated eastern South America—that’s to say, Brazil. That left northern North America for the French. In the early to mid-1500s, though, a lot of it was still very much up for grabs. In fact, the French were showing up all over the place, building forts and giving places French names. For instance, there was:
Cap Rouge, on the St. Lawrence River. Cap Rouge was founded by explorer Jacques Cartier in 1541, but the outpost was abandoned after only one year. (The maple syrup was good, but that winter wasn’t anything to write home about, I guess.) Nevertheless, Cap Rouge went down in history as the first French settlement in the Americas. Incidentally, the city of Québec, capital of the province of Québec, was founded in 1608 on the site of the old settlement.
France Antarctique, near present-day Rio de Janeiro. This interestingly named colony was France’s first South American one. “Brazil?” you might ask. Yes, the French even colonized Brazil. But, really, who could blame them after having endured that chilly Canadian episode? France Antarctique was founded in 1555 as a refuge for French Protestants fleeing from the wars of religion back in France. Fort Coligny, named for the French admiral who supported the expedition (and was, himself, a Huguenot), was built on the island of Serigipe in Guanabara Bay. The village of Henriville, named for King Henri II of France, was located just onshore. Of course, the settlement was in violation of the Papal Bull of 1493, which had given the area to the Portuguese, and they eventually succeeded in destroying the French settlement in 1567.
Given that history, it should come as no surprise that the French also tried to colonize Spanish Florida, which at that time comprised all of present-day Florida and the coastal regions of present-day Georgia and the Carolinas. While the Spanish had claimed Florida as their own in 1513, they didn’t succeed in building a permanent settlement there until 1565, when they founded Saint Augustine. The French looked at that track record, of course, and thought, “Well, why not? Spanish Florida is big, and the Spanish aren’t doing anything with it!”
Carolina was an English colony, of course, but did you know that the French actually beat the English in the race to get there? Of course, the Spanish beat them all in 1526. Quelle surprise. Their settlement, San Miguel de Gualdape, was actually the first European settlement in what is now the United States, possibly located near the site of present-day Georgetown, South Carolina. Unfortunately for the Spanish, though, San Miguel was abandoned after only 3 months when famine, disease, and unrest among their Native American neighbors forced the settlers to return to Santo Domingo. The French arrived in 1562, after Admiral Gaspard de Coligny organized an expedition to settle the region. The expedition, led by Norman navigator Jean Ribault, built Charlesfort on present-day Parris Island but, like the Spanish before them, they didn’t stick it out for very long. Ribault, having returned to Europe for supplies, was detained because of the French wars of religion, leaving his fledgling settlement to founder. After only one year, all but one of the 28 remaining settlers set off across the Atlantic in a makeshift vessel. You may have read about their fate: by the time they were rescued by a passing English ship, the unfortunate crew had already resorted to cannibalism to stay alive as they drifted aimlessly on the ocean. Meanwhile, the Spanish sent an expedition from Cuba to destroy Charlesfort, and the French experiment in colonizing the area came to an end. It wasn’t the end of French settlement though …
If you did a keyword analysis of my blog, you might conclude that I’m obsessed with food: cocktails, French pastries, and the search for pancakes in Paris. You might be right. The truth is that I am a gourmand; I can’t deny it. But my real passion — my real obsession — is history.
HISTORY NERD ALERT: If you don’t like history, this may not be your favorite blogpost, but try it out anyway. You might find it interesting. If you’re in my family, you’re going to want to read this regardless of whether you like history, because it’s your story too!
Here we go …
I have always loved to immerse myself in old stories and as a child, I often imagined myself in other times, leading a different life in the middle of some historical event I was reading about. I loved listening to family stories, too, especially those of my Great Aunt Adeline, who could recount the exploits and travails of the family with such color that you had the impression that she was actually there when it all happened. I probably owe my love of history to some combination of Aunt Adeline’s stories and the World Book Encyclopedia.