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.
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
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.
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 twentyfive 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 Frenchspeaking 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 presentday 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.
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
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.
During the seventeenth century, France and the Netherlands sought to