Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Exactly How Big was LA's French Community?

One estimate puts LA's historic French community at a mere 2 percent. Another estimate puts the figure at a whopping 20 percent - one out of every five Angelenos.

That's a pretty big discrepancy.

So which figure is closer to the truth?

I will, at some point, dig through census records and count all the French, Quebecois, French-speaking Swiss, and French-speaking Belgians (and their descendants). But for now, I'll share a rough approximation.

I recently read John W. Robinson's Los Angeles in Civil War Days. Robinson states "Foreigners make up a small but significant part of the population. Largest is the French community numbering more than 400, many engaged in wine-making." On the preceding page, Robinson states that the 1860 census counted 4,399 Angelenos.

"More than 400" out of 4,399 people. Robinson doesn't specify whether his "more than 400" figure included people of mixed French descent (i.e. Marcelina Leonis, who was half Chumash) or the American-born descendants of French Angeleno families.

Until I have time to go over the 1860 census myself (thank goodness for Ancestry.com), I feel comfortable saying French Angelenos accounted for about 10 percent of LA's 1860 population.

One out of every ten people.

That's an awful lot of people to just disappear from LA's narrative.

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