France and the French


Philadelphia’s long connection with France and the Francophone world took shape over several centuries. French settlers, visitors, expatriates, and refugees contributed significantly to Philadelphia’s early sociopolitical development. Over the years, Philadelphia received refugees from the French Revolution and French-speakers from the Caribbean and Africa who made lasting cultural contributions. Philadelphians celebrated Bastille Day, erected a monument to Saint Joan of Arc, adopted French styles in fashion, art, and architecture, and formed organizations to foster and advance Franco-American relations. As the city and the surrounding region grew and changed, the French connection remained.

Map of Joseph Bonaparte's estate at Point Breeze.
Joseph Bonaparte purchased an estate in Bordentown, New Jersey, named Point Breeze. This 1847 map shows the extensive gardens and forests that surrounded his mansion. (Library of Congress)

French immigrants arrived in Philadelphia as early as the seventeenth century. Many French Protestants (Huguenots) left France after Louis XIV (1638–1715) issued the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, which denied the legality of Protestantism and opened the door for mass violence and persecution against Protestant communities scattered throughout the kingdom. Some of those who fled Catholic-dominated France sought religious liberty in the tolerant Quaker colony of Pennsylvania. Most of these early French immigrants arrived as indentured servants and did not coalesce into a substantial ethnic community.

One of the most influential French Protestant arrivals was the educator and abolitionist Anthony Benezet (1713–84), whose family fled to England in 1715 in search of religious tolerance, and from there to Philadelphia in 1731. In his new city, Benezet embraced Quaker ideals of individual human value and universal humanitarianism. He embarked on a tireless mission of abolitionism, which linked Philadelphia to a network of prominent anti-slavery writers and activists on both sides of the Atlantic. At the Rising Sun Tavern at York Road and Germantown Avenue in 1775, Benezet called to order Pennsylvania’s first anti-slavery organization, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Benezet also established America’s first school for girls in 1754 and a school for Black children in 1770. Through his experience with religious persecution, empathy for the oppressed, and humanitarianism, Benezet embodied the spectrum of influence of Frenchmen on the developing Quaker City.

Other early arrivals to the region formed trade networks between France and indigenous North American populations. Rising tensions in Europe prompted French privateers to raid British plantations and ships along the coast of Delaware’s New Castle County in the 1740s, leading Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) to propose a defense association funded in part by Philadelphia’s first lottery. As Pennsylvania merchants sponsored the westward expansion of British colonial trade, French fur traders and their allies—including the Lenni Lenape, native to the mid-Atlantic region—pushed back, eventually resulting in the Seven Years’ War (1754–63, also known as the French and Indian War). During the conflict, over 450 French settlers exiled by the British from the Canadian region known as Acadia arrived in Philadelphia as refugees. Many Philadelphians viewed the newcomers with suspicion, and largely quarantined them in “French Houses” at Sixth and Pine Streets. There, Ann Bryald established an informal French-language school and became the first known Catholic teacher in Philadelphia. Though many Acadian refugees received aid from wealthy French Huguenots, including Benezet, an outbreak of smallpox nearly halved the community by the mid-1760s, and subsequent emigration further diminished it.

The Revolutionary Era

Chromolithograph depicting Franklin standing next to several French individuals along a river.
In October 1776, Benjamin Franklin departed from Philadelphia on a diplomatic trip to Paris, France. This chromolithograph from 1888 shows Franklin standing next to several French individuals. (Library of Congress)

Connections between Philadelphia and France intensified during the War for Independence from Britain (1776–83), when an alliance with France became critical for an American victory. As the meeting place of the Continental Congress, Philadelphia received several French diplomats who supported the young nation’s cause. France’s first envoy to the Congress, Julien-Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir (1749–83), met clandestinely in Carpenters’ Hall with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay (1745–1829) to discuss French support for America’s cause. Francis Daymon, a French-born Philadelphian and secretary to the Congress, arranged the meetings, which readied the path for further Franco-American negotiations. In Paris as commissioner for the United States, Franklin helped to forge the alliance that produced the supplies, ammunition, and troops from France that became indispensable for the success of the American war effort.

Trade as well as politics forged lasting links between France and Philadelphia. French native Stephen (Étienne) Girard (1750–1831), an accomplished sailor and merchant, spent ten years traversing the Atlantic from his native Bordeaux to the French colonies of St. Domingue (later Haiti) and Martinique. He arrived in Philadelphia early in the historic summer of 1776 after severe weather and the increased menace of a British trade blockade diverted his ship and its cargo from its probable destination in New York. Rather than return to France, Girard settled in Mount Holly, New Jersey, and opened a small business on Water Street, selling goods to Philadelphians suffering the consequences of the British blockade. Finding himself at the center of a revolution that spanned the Atlantic Ocean, Girard risked his life and business by sending ships through the blockades to procure supplies for American and allied troops. After the war, he continued his active role in the economic and civic affairs of his adopted city, connecting the port to the far reaches of the globe through trade. This trade empire, along with the labor of enslaved people of African descent working at his Louisiana plantation, made Girard one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Print depicting the Haitian revolt at the port of Le Cap.
The Haitian Revolution consisted of several conflicts, including the 1791 revolt by enslaved people in the Haitian port of Le Cap, depicted in this 1815 print. About 3,000 refugees arrived in Philadelphia during this revolution. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

During the last decade of the eighteenth century, when Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital, the region’s French population ebbed and flowed with statesmen, émigrés, and refugees. The United States received approximately twenty-five thousand French exiles following the start of the French Revolution in the early 1790s, and three thousand refugees arrived in Philadelphia following the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). Of these, about 30 percent were enslaved people of African descent, who infused Catholicism and Francophone culture into Philadelphia’s free Black community. American-born Black Philadelphians successfully rallied against legislation intended to allow refugees to maintain ownership over the enslaved, although the majority of those emancipated were subsequently indentured to their former enslavers. In 1803, Benjamin Nones (1757–1826), a native of Bordeaux and veteran of Washington’s army, became the official interpreter of French in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Utilizing his leadership role in Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel synagogue, Nones encouraged Jewish refugees from St. Domingue to manumit the enslaved people they brought with them. From his office on Chestnut Street, he also aided Francophone newcomers in obtaining American citizenship.

City Tavern at Second and Walnut Streets became a common meeting place for the city’s growing French community, and a French business district developed in the blocks around it. Refugees received news about their friends and family across the Atlantic through newspapers like those produced in the book and printing shop of Martinique-native Médéric-Louise-Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry (1750–1819). When a yellow fever epidemic swept the city in 1793, French doctors from the Caribbean brought their medical knowledge of the tropical illness to the hospitals of Philadelphia. Among them was Dr. Jean Devèze (1753–1829), whose autopsy research disproved a widespread theory that refugees from St. Domingue had spread the fever.

A Role as Fringe Settlers

Steel engraving of Stephen Girard.
This 1863 steel engraving depicts Stephen Girard, a French native who arrived in Philadelphia during the historic summer of 1776. He settled within the city and became a staunch supporter of the American democratic cause. (Library of Congress)

Frenchmen also played a modest role in developing the countryside in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as they settled on uncultivated lands and began small Francophone communities. In 1793, several influential Philadelphians, including Stephen Girard, purchased 1,600 acres of wilderness in present-day Bradford County, Pennsylvania. There, they built the short-lived town of French Azilum as a sanctuary for refugees from the violence of revolutionary France and St. Domingue. The swelling population of refugees also prompted Francophone settlements at Frenchtown (1794) in New Jersey and New Geneva (1795) in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

In Philadelphia, French allegiances converged with controversies over foreign policy during the presidency of George Washington (1732–99). After Washington’s administration implemented the Jay Treaty with the British in 1795, merchants and members of the emerging Democratic Republican party protested that the Jay Treaty was an insult to France, which had been instrumental in procuring America’s independence just over a decade earlier. During the administration of John Adams (1735–1826), the series of naval conflicts between Britain and France known as the “Quasi War” (1798–1800) further strained Franco-American relations, leading to the passage of the 1798 Alien Friends Act, which targeted so-called radical French citizens for deportation.

The Philadelphia French community diminished by the onset of the nineteenth century as many refugees returned to their homeland once the political climate became less volatile. Between the 1820s and 1840s, several hundred English- and some French-speaking Philadelphians of African descent emigrated to Haiti. Although many later returned to Philadelphia, they continued to follow news from the newly emancipated country. The white descendants of permanent French immigrants to colonial and early Republican Philadelphia blended into the cosmopolitan city and did not retain a strong collective French identity.

Nineteenth-Century Impact

Portrait of Marquis de Lafayette.
Marquis de Lafayette, depicted in this 1782 portrait, became a major general within the Continental Army. (Library of Congress)

The dissolution of Napoléon Bonaparte’s (1769–1821) empire spurred another influx of French émigrés to the region. In 1815, Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844), the exiled king of Spain and Naples and elder brother of the recently defeated Emperor Napoléon, purchased a house at 260 S. Ninth Street in Philadelphia and later moved to Lansdowne, the former country home of John Penn (1729–95). A desire for greater privacy later led the former king to the environs of Philadelphia where he purchased Point Breeze, the former residence of American diplomat Stephen Sayre (1736–1818) in Bordentown, New Jersey. During the Bonaparte family’s stay from 1817 to 1839, the estate welcomed the elite of both Philadelphia and France, including the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834) in 1824.

Lafayette, a French nobleman who came to Philadelphia as a young man to volunteer for service in the American Revolution, returned to the United States in 1824–25 to a hero’s welcome. During the war, he had camped with Washington at Valley Forge and led twenty-two hundred soldiers—including nearly fifty of the Oneida warriors he had recruited to the American cause—in the Battle of Barren Hill (1778). As Lafayette approached Philadelphia in 1824, six thousand uniformed volunteer militiamen greeted him with cannon blasts, and crowds of spectators carried banners featuring portraits of George Washington and Lafayette inscribed with the words, “To their wisdom and courage we owe the free practice of our industry.” French and Americans alike came out to show appreciation for the man who had fought alongside Washington and drafted the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

Soon after the visit of Lafayette directed Philadelphians’ attention to their history, the death of Stephen Girard in 1831 served to shape the city’s future. In a massive bequest to Philadelphia, the merchant funded the establishment of Girard College, which opened in 1848 as a school for poor, white fatherless boys (expanded later to admit girls and, through court action in 1968, any race). Girard also bestowed funds for the construction of Delaware Avenue, a wide thoroughfare along the city’s busy waterfront, to ensure the continued success of Philadelphia’s port.

As the region continued to develop, new industries emerged. In 1802, French refugee Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834) had opened a gunpowder mill in Wilmington, Delaware. With the growth of mining and the outbreak of the Civil War (1861–65), E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company expanded and became the largest supplier of gunpowder to the U.S. military. Other industrial enterprises founded by Frenchmen included Vineland Flint Glass Works, established by Victor Durand Jr. (1870–1931) in Vineland, New Jersey, in 1897.

Cultural Expressions

Sculpture of Joan of Arc near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In 1889, French Philadelphians appealed to the sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet to cast a monument to one of France’s national figures, Saint Joan of Arc. This 2011 photograph shows the statue standing at its current location near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, French culture maintained its presence in Philadelphia. Restaurants in the finer hotels featured French cuisine, and department stores imported French fashions. Black St. Dominguan caterers and craftsmen established business networks that tied together the small community of first- and second-generation refugees from Haiti. Following the 1804 declaration of Haitian independence, Black ministers began to deliver annual sermons of thanksgiving to commemorate the day, which coincided with the abolition of the American slave trade. On July Fourth of that year, French- and English-speaking Black Philadelphians gathered in Southwark to celebrate another kind of independence—independence from slavery. Annually, Philadelphians also commemorated the fall of the Bastille, the event that sparked the French Revolution. The celebrations included picnicking in city parks, wearing red, white, and blue badges, and singing La Marseillaise in support of the nation. For the 1889 centennial of the storming of the Bastille, the small French community in Philadelphia appealed to noted equestrian sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet (1824–1910) to cast a monument to one of France’s national figures, Saint Joan of Arc (1412–31). Frémiet’s statue stood at the east end of the Girard Avenue Bridge from the time of its dedication on November 15, 1890, until 1948, when it was moved to a more prominent location near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Many civic buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflected trends in French architecture, such as the French Second Empire style, which characterized the Louvre in Paris. Philadelphia’s City Hall (designed prior to 1871) became one of the best examples of the style in the United States, and Second Empire features could also be found on mansions and row houses around the region. The Beaux-Arts style, developed in Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts, also featured prominently in Philadelphia public spaces, including Memorial Hall (completed in 1876 for the Centennial Exhibition) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (designed in 1896). In an era when many European nations outside of France gravitated away from Beaux-Arts, American architects embraced the style, which gained its grandest local expression with the construction of the Fairmount Parkway (later renamed for Benjamin Franklin, built beginning in 1917). An attempt to renew the urban landscape and ease heavy congestion in Center City, French-born architects Jacques Gréber (1882–1962) and Paul Cret (1876–1945) intended the thoroughfare to emulate Paris’ famous boulevard, the Champs-Elysées. Lining the Parkway are other Beaux-Arts buildings, including the Parkway Central Library (1927) and Philadelphia Museum of Art (1928)—both designed in part by African American architect Julian Abele (1881–1950)—and the Rodin Museum (1929)—designed by Cret—which featured one of the world’s most comprehensive public collections of work by French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917).

French Impressionism captivated the enthusiasm of artists and collectors in the Delaware Valley for more than a century. In 1866, Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), left her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and moved to Paris, where she continued her artistic training and eventually exhibited with the Impressionists. The style also crossed the Atlantic with artists like John Fulton Folinsbee (1892–1972), who studied in France and then settled in Bucks County, where Impressionism found an American expression with the flourishing of the New Hope School. A great supporter of the artistic movement, Albert Barnes (1872–1951), a chemist and businessman, amassed one of the world’s largest collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. In 1922, he established the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania, making his collection a centerpiece for art education. A new showcase for the collection opened on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012.

The First and Second World Wars reinforced historic connections between France and the United States. On May 9, 1917, shortly after the United States entered the First World War, a commission of French dignitaries arrived in Philadelphia. Like Lafayette almost a century earlier, these representatives of the French war effort received a heroes’ welcome from more than 100,000 spectators hoping to show their solidarity with France. In addition to soldiers and medical personnel, over six hundred Quaker pacifists deployed to France during the war to build housing for displaced persons under the auspices of the newly formed, Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee. Demonstrations of Philadelphia’s affiliation with France continued when war in Europe stirred again. With news of France’s defeat by German forces in 1940, Philadelphia’s annual Bastille Day ceremony took on a somber tone as the Consul of France placed a wreath at the foot of the statue of Joan of Arc. A wistful sonnet written by Pierre Giroud (c. 1856–?), a former professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania, invoked the saint as the community’s rallying point and protector of their homeland.

Contemporary Connections

The Philadelphia region gained new French-speaking populations in the twentieth century as the colonial empire of France crumbled. Haitian migration to the United States resumed in the twentieth century in three waves: during the American occupation of the island from 1915 to 1934, during the regimes of François Duvalier (1907–1971) and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1951–2014) from 1957 to 1986, and after the coup d’état of Jean-Bertrand Aristide (b. 1953) in the 1990s. Philadelphia became a growing destination for Haitians seeking more affordable living conditions. By 2015, the U.S. Census recorded approximately thirteen thousand Haitian immigrants living in the Greater Philadelphia region, primarily centered in three districts: the Olney-Oak Lane section, the Near Northeast, and West Philadelphia. Organizations like the Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Haitian American Chamber of Commerce facilitated cultural programming and offer assistance for new immigrants and developing businesses in these communities. Haitians also settled in Upper Darby, Delaware County, and throughout New Jersey, where growing communities in Trenton and Willingboro continued to receive new immigrants and refugees—many of whom were granted Temporary Protective Status following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Immigrants also came from former French colonies in Southeast Asia and West Africa. Refugees from the Vietnam War in the 1970s settled primarily in South, West, and Upper North Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s first Vietnamese retail plaza, established in 1990, helped to make South Philadelphia’s Washington Avenue a commercial center, and associations such as Huong Vuong emerged to serve the growing community. In the first decades of the twenty-first century, Francophone migrants and refugees from Senegal, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast joined a community of West African immigrants living and working in Southwest Philadelphia’s “Little Africa,” home to a thriving restaurant district.

Organizations formed during the twentieth century joined established institutions like the French Benevolent Society (1793) in fostering and advancing Franco-American relations. Philadelphia’s chapter of the Alliance Française, dedicated to promoting French language and culture, held its first meeting at the Acorn Club at Fifteenth and Locust Streets on March 9, 1903. The language classes grew into a school, opened in the 1970s, and the group now sponsors a variety of recreational activities. The French International School of Philadelphia, (École Française Internationale de Philadelphie), located in Bala Cynwyd in Lower Merion Township, opened in 1991 to serve the region’s rising French expatriate population. By 2014, the school enrolled 320 French, American, and international students. The nonprofit association Philadelphie Accueil formed in November 2000 to welcome and provide information to French speakers new to the Philadelphia region.

On the economic front, Philadelphia gained a chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce (FACC), established in 1989 as part of the bi-national nonprofit organization. In 1991, forty-seven French companies operated in the mid-Atlantic region; that number continued to grow as French corporations sought out greater Philadelphia’s central location between New York and Washington, D.C. The largest employers included Saint-Gobain, a manufacturing company headquartered in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and Air Liquide, a supplier of industrial gasses headquartered in Newark, Delaware. In partnership with the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in France, in 2014 the FACC-Philadelphia began a business development program that assisted fifteen French enterprises and entrepreneurs in entering into the American market in its first four years. In 2018, French companies employed over seventy-five thousand people in the tri-state area, and France was the largest foreign employer in New Jersey.

French ties to the region were strengthened by the passage of a Partnership City agreement between Philadelphia and Aix-en-Provence in 1999. With the goal of forging lasting economic ties and cultural understanding, Citizen Diplomacy International coordinated exchange trips for students, business leaders, and cultural institutions in the two cities. During a 2014 trip to France to promote Philadelphia as a center for tourism and industry, Mayor Michael Nutter (b. 1957) visited the headquarters of Paris’s bike share program to learn best practices prior to the 2015 launch of the Indego bike share program in Philadelphia.

Photograph of French chef George Perrier at his restaurant, Le Bec-Fin.
French chef George Perrier opened Le Bec-Fin on Spruce Street in Philadelphia in 1970. This photograph, taken between 1990 and 2000, shows Perrier standing within his restaurant on Walnut Street, where it moved in 1983. (Library of Congress)

From venues for French cooking near Rittenhouse Square—promoted as the “French Quarter”—to cultural showcases at museums around the region, Francophone culture continued to appeal to Philadelphians and draw visitors to the region. From the time of its founding, Philadelphia maintained a trans-Atlantic dialogue with France through commerce in goods, and more importantly in ideas that shaped the character of both nations. Ideas concerning the promotion of abolitionism and universal human liberties were shaped through exchanges between French and American scholars, business owners, and philanthropists. French architecture and art transformed Philadelphia’s urban and cultural landscape. The enthusiasm of Philadelphians for French culture fluctuated with the tides of international political change, but France’s mark on the city remained.

Christina Virok is a Foreign Language educator in the greater Philadelphia area and earned her master’s degree in history at Villanova University. (Author information current at time of publication.)

Lauren Cooper is the Interpretive Planner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She completed a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked at cultural institutions throughout Philadelphia. (Author information current at time of publication.)

Copyright 2020, Rutgers University


Map of Point Breeze

Library of Congress

Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844), the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), immigrated to the United States at the close of the Napoleonic Wars and settled in the Delaware Valley. This exiled king of Spain and Naples purchased a house at 260 S. Ninth Street in Philadelphia and later moved to Lansdown, the former country home of John Penn (1729–95). A desire for greater privacy led the former king to acquire an estate in Bordentown, New Jersey, named Point Breeze. This estate was the former residence of American diplomat Stephen Sayre (1736–1818). Bonaparte chose Bordentown due to its position on the main route between Philadelphia and New York. He had two palatial mansions constructed, the first destroyed by a fire in 1820. His son-in-law, Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803–57), also lived at Point Breeze. Charles was a noted biologist and naturalist, perhaps inspiring the estate’s sprawling park. It included an artificial lake, formal gardens, and miles of winding roads, as shown in this 1847 map.

Small vestiges of the Bonaparte estate still exist: the entrance to a tunnel to the river, some of the garden hedges, and material evidence such as pieces of marble recovered by an archaeological team from Monmouth University. Beyond physical evidence, the Bonaparte family continues to have a hold on the local imagination through place names. These include the Pointe Breeze apartments off Route 206, the Bonaparte Village apartments, and Bonaparte Antiques.

Benjamin Franklin’s Reception in France

Library of Congress

Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) departed from Philadelphia in 1776, at the age of 70, on a diplomatic trip to Paris, France. He played a seminal role in connecting Philadelphia and France through his work as Commissioner for the United States in Paris. While staying in the Parisian suburb of Passy, he helped to publicize his country’s struggle for independence from Britain by translating and publishing American state constitutions and news from across the ocean. This 1888 chromolithograph shows Franklin interacting with several French individuals along an unnamed river.

In 1778, Franklin and his team of diplomats signed a treaty of alliance with officials from the court of Louis XVI (1754–93). This treaty resulted in supplies, ammunition, and troops for the American war effort. With the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Franklin participated in peace negotiations between the United States and Britain, which culminated in September 1783, with the Treaty of Paris granting independence to the former colonies.

Haitian Slave Revolt

Library Company of Philadelphia

The Haitian Revolution stretched from 1791 to 1804, as enslaved people sought relief from the strict caste system and the brutality of their owners. This 1815 print depicts an early revolt in the Haitian port of Le Cap. By the late 1790s, formerly enslaved Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803) controlled parts of Haiti and expressed limited support for the French. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) sent a military expedition to the island in 1801 to reassert control, which led to Louverture’s imprisonment the next year. Several of Louverture’s lieutenants, including Jean-Jacques Dessalines (ca. 1758–1806) and Henry Christophe (1767–1820) resumed the war and gained independence in 1804. Haiti became the first country founded by formerly enslaved people.

Approximately 3,000 refugees arrived in Philadelphia after the revolution began, with about thirty percent being enslaved people of African descent. Many of these enslaved individuals gained their freedom in Philadelphia either through manumission or flight. Pennsylvania was the first state to pass a gradual abolition act, allowing a large community of free Africans to grow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Stephen Girard

Library of Congress

French native Stephen Girard (1750–1831) worked as a sailor and merchant during his early life, traversing the Atlantic from his native Bordeaux to the French colonies of St. Domingue and Martinique. He arrived in Philadelphia as captain of the merchant ship Jeune Babe early in the historic summer of 1776. On this voyage, he originally planned on unloading his cargo from St. Domingue at the port in New York, but severe weather and the increased menace of a British blockade caused him to dock in the port at Philadelphia on the Delaware River. Rather than risk going back to sea, Girard chose to sell the ship and set up a small business on Water Street. Despite his status as a French citizen, he remained in the geographic center of the revolution against the British, quickly becoming a staunch supporter of the American democratic cause. After the War, he developed a maritime fleet capable of trading around the world.

Girard’s interactions with expatriates and refugees within Philadelphia’s French population ebbed and flowed following the tide of revolution in France and her colonies during the 1790s. He continued to correspond with his father through letters until the latter’s death, but never returned to Bordeaux. His final trip to France was on a mercantile mission from Philadelphia to Marseille in 1787 and 1788. Girard later refused an offer from his friend Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844) to buy an estate near Paris, though he did make several real estate investments in Pennsylvania and rural Louisiana. Through his work over the years as a Philadelphia-based merchant, Girard connected the city to the far reaches of the globe by sending out trading vessels. Upon his death, he left property and much of his fortune to the city to improve trade and education. This went toward the creation of Girard College and the building of Delaware Avenue along the waterfront. This steel engraving depicts Girard in 1863.

Marquis de Lafayette

Library of Congress

Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834) became an orphan in his early teens, inheriting a vast fortune and entering the court of King Louis XVI (1754–93). In his desire to win glory as a soldier, he travelled to Philadelphia in 1777. He soon joined the Continental Army, where he achieved the rank of Major General despite his lack of prior combat experience. He fought with distinction during the Battle of Brandywine and eventually received command of an army in Virginia. By late July 1781, he managed to trap Lord Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805) in Yorktown, Virginia. With each success on the battlefield, he grew closer to George Washington (1732–99).

After the American Revolutionary War came to an end, Lafayette returned to France in support of Louis XVI and the concept of a constitutional monarchy. His popularity throughout France waxed and waned as the French Revolution wore on, until he defected to the Austrians during the Reign of Terror. He returned to the United States in 1824 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the War, providing Americans with a link to a heroic past that was rapidly fading. On December 10, 1824, he became the first foreign citizen to address the U.S. House of Representatives. After his death in 1834, he was buried alongside dirt from Bunker Hill.

Joan of Arc Statue

Wikimedia Commons

In 1872, the French government commissioned Emmanuel Frémiet (1824–1910) to produce a statue of Saint Joan of Arc (1412–31) for display at the Place des Pyramides in Paris. Members of the French community in Philadelphia sought out Frémiet in 1889, with the help of the Fairmount Park Art Association, to purchase one of the Joan of Arc statues. He produced a near identical statue to the one displayed in Paris, which stood several inches taller. The statue stood at the east end of the Girard Avenue Bridge from the time of its dedication on November 15, 1890, until 1941, when it was moved to a more prominent location near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Fairmont Park Art Association, now known as the Association for Public Art, gilded it in 1960. This photograph shows the statue in 2011.

Georges Perrier at Le Bec-Fin

Library of Congress

French chef George Perrier (b. 1943) immigrated to the United States in 1967. He established his restaurant Le Bec-Fin on Spruce Street in 1970. It soon became renowned in the United States for its seafood-centric dishes. The restaurant moved to Walnut Street in 1983 and remained there until its closure in 2013. This photograph, taken between 1990 and 2000, shows Perrier standing within the Walnut Street location. Filmmaker Erika Frankel breathed new life into Perrier’s story with her film King Georges. It premiered in 2016 at the Roxy Center in Center City and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute in Bryn Mawr.

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Related Reading

Branson, Susan. These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Davies, John. “Saint-Dominguan Refugees of African Descent and the Forging of Ethnic Identity in Early National Philadelphia.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 134 (2010): 109–26.

Dull, Jonathan R. “Franklin and the French.” In Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution, 65–84. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

Furstenberg, François. When the United States Spoke French. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.

Herbert, Anne Catherine Bieri. “The French Element in Pennsylvania in the 1790s: The Francophone Immigrants’ Impact.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 108 (1984): 451–69.

Jackson, Maurice. Let This Voice Be Heard: Anthony Benezet, Father of Atlantic Abolitionism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Ledet, Wilton Paul. “Acadian Exiles in Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania History 9 : 2 (April 1942): 118–28.

Lundy, Garvey F. “Philadelphia’s Haitian Community: Transnationalism and Unity in the Formation of Identity.” In Global Philadelphia: Immigrant Communities Old and New (Philadelphia Voices, Philadelphia Vision), edited by Ayumi Takenaka and Mary Johnson Osirim, 202–25. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.

Miller, Lynn H. and Annette H. Emgarth. French Philadelphia: The French Cultural & Historical Presence in the Delaware Valley. Wayne, Pa.: Beach Lloyd Publishers, 2007.

Muraskin, Bennett. “Benjamin Nones: Profile of a Jewish Jeffersonian.” American Jewish History 83 : 3 (September 1995): 381–85.

Nash, Gary. “Reverberations of Haiti in the American North: Black Saint Dominguans in Philadelphia.” Pennsylvania History 65 (1998): 44–73.

Wilson, George. Stephen Girard: America’s First Tycoon. Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Books, 1995.

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