Americans in France From 1750 to Today

  • 01 of 05

    The Early Story of Americans in France


    The First Significant Arrivals

    Interestingly, some of the best known early Americans to leave their country for France have significant ties to the founding of the U.S.A. In the first half of the 18th century, the Jesuit College in St Omer attracted large numbers of Catholic American students. Among them were three members of the Carroll family from Maryland studying in St. Omer. Daniel was one of only two Catholics who signed the Constitution; John founded Georgetown University and Charles signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  

    In 1803 the French sold Louisiana to America in the largest such acquisition by the US in its history. In the following years, it’s estimated that up 50,000 free black citizens arrived in Paris escaping slavery but little is known in detail of their history.

    19th-century Europe was dominated culturally by Paris, the art capital of the world. Post Civil War Americans included artists as well as businessmen, writers and more. Like all ex-pats they formed their own communities, most notably on the Left Bank.

    Early American Arrivals in North France

    From 1880 to 1914 a group of artists like Walter Gay and Max Bohm made their way to northern France and set up a school of painting at Etaples near Le Touquet-Paris Plage.

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  • 02 of 05

    Americans and Canadians in France in World War I

    Mary Anne Evans

    Young Americans joined the Foreign Legion to fight the Germans before the official entry of the U.S. into World War I. Many of them joined the French in May 1915 when the offensive turned into a massacre. Some fought at the battle of Notre-Dame de Lorette and are buried in the huge cemetery and ossuary here.  

    There's also the fascinating story of the Native American and Canadians who joined up, including Sioux, Mohawks, Onondagas, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Chippewas, Crees, Algonquins, Malecites, Bloods, and Iroquois. They made colorful, enterprising soldiers, as Mike Mountain Horse, a Blood Indian from Alberta wrote later:

    “I released my pent-up feelings in the rendering of my own particular war song…though some of my companions assured me that my war whoops had stopped the war for at least a few seconds, I have never been able to ascertain exactly what was Jerry’s reaction to my outburst.” 

    Once the United States had joined the war, the first 14,000 U.S infantry troops landed at Saint-Nazaire on the French Atlantic coast. By May 1918 over 1 million U.S. troops were in France with half on the front lines.

    You can see the casualties of the War to end all Wars at the American memorials and cemeteries dotted around northern France, particularly the major Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Canadians have the moving Vimy Ridge Memorial which commemorates the huge Canadian force. 

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  • 03 of 05

    Americans in France Between the Wars

    Lisa Gerard-Sharp

    Post World War I

    Many of the troops were African Americans, and they brought their own distinctive music with them. This was the start of the French love affair with jazz. In the 1920s musicians like Sidney Bechet and Archie Shepp settled permanently in France, starting the great jazz festivals that fill French cities and towns today. In 1925 Josephine Baker burst onto the scene in the Revue Nègre at the Théatre des Champs-Elysée and was an instant success with her sexy, semi-naked style of dance. She settled in France, eventually buying the Château des Milandes in the Dordogne where she lived until 1968 when she was forced to sell.

    The Roaring Twenties

    It was the south of France that attracted the majority of Americans, with its mix of cool living, light, warmth, and color. The best known was the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who arrived in the Roaring Twenties on the Mediterranean coast. "One could get away with more on the summer Riviera, and whatever happened seemed to have something to do with art."

    Fitzgerald and his wife settled on the Cap d’Antibes and Juan-les-Pins

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  • 04 of 05

    Americans in France in World War II

    Calvados Tourisme

    France declared war on Germany in September 1939, changing the lives of the 30,000 or so Americans who lived in or around Paris and many of them moved out. In June 1940, German troops marched into Paris where around 5,000 Americans were still living. African Americans and Jewish Americans were the main targets of the Nazis, but with America still officially out of the war, institutions like the American Church and the American Cathedral were left alone.

    However, the official entry of the United States into the war shattered the safety. US male citizens were first sent to internment camps, to be joined by American women in September 1942. 

    The enormous contribution of American troops on the D-Day Normandy Landing Beaches is, quite rightly, celebrated each year in June and the subject of some great D-Day movies. It's a remarkable story and the sights and memorials along that stretch of Normandy coast make a fascinating visit.

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  • 05 of 05

    Information and Websites for Americans in France Today

    american cathedral
    Wikimedia Commons

    The U.S. government doesn’t track the numbers of Americans leaving the United States, whether temporarily or permanently, meaning that there are only estimates of how many U.S. citizens live overseas. The French government number American expats today as around 34,000, while the US Embassy quotes around 100,000.While the numbers of ex-pat Americans vary wildly, between the 34,000 estimated by the French, to the US Embassy quote of 100,000, there’s no doubt that Americans form a significant part of French society.