French in Early Albany
French speakers and/or those of "French" ancestry were present in Albany and its predecessors from its earliest days. The so-called Walloons were among the first settlers sent to Fort Orange during the 1620s.
The cultural makeup of the New Netherland Dutch who first settled on the site of Albany included a number of more and/or less historically visible individuals who (for a variety of reasons) might be characterized as of "French" rather than "Dutch" (or more generally "Germanic") heritage. Yes, we have made an "either - or" distinction here. However, indistinct cultural borders between France and its neighbors warn us away from definitive pronouncements concerning identity. Through the next generations in America, some of these individuals assimilated and even flourished in the colonial city. Others retained their ancestral cultural attributes publicly and mostly relocated to the Albany hinterland and beyond. As with all of the people of colonial Albany, the story of the so-called French in the early city takes us to individual lives.
Following the visit of the Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues during the 1640s, a number of French Catholics were notable residents of Albany during the seventeenth century. They included Jan Rosie, Pierre De Garmo, and perhaps the Catholic Frans Pruyn. Their notoriety was enhanced by prevailing suspicions that they were agents (spies is perhaps too strong) of both France and Rome! Members of Albany's Marselis family sometimes were called "Marseilles" or "Ffrance" but were not included among those who were under suspicion. Frequently, they married Albany-born women and would set down roots in the colonial city.
Rank-and-file French speaking Protestants including members of what became known as the Truax, De Foreest, maybe La Grange, and De Wandelaer families found entry into the community mainstream much easier that the ordeal endured by the French speaking Catholics. By the end of the century, French speaking newcomers from downriver sought to participate in the Albany business and trading communities. Chief among them were Anthony Lispenard followed by city father Johannes De Peyster.
Catholics and Protestants, a number of these families persisted, intermarried, and even flourished in eighteenth century Albany.
French and Native American ancestry Genevieve Masse became the wife of frontier operative John Henry Lydius. Unlike her notorious husband who died in England, this beloved woman spent much of her notable and long life in a landmark home across from the Elm Tree Corner.
A number of French speaking émigrés settled in Albany during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. They included the Alsacian John Maley. Others like Stephen De Lancey were members of prominent downriver families.
Fleeing the so-called Reign of Terror, during the 1790s Frenchmen came to America, to New York, and to Albany. By mid-decade a number of conspicuous émigrés´ took up residence in Albany and its environs. Among them were Louis Le Couteulx - a founder of St. Mary's Catholic Church and Simon Desjardins - pioneer of the Castorland settlement..
Opportunists and refugees, newcomers flocked to America and to New York during the decades prior to the Civil War. Some of them came from France - although often via Canada. A few of them (compared to the more historically visible French speaking enclaves of the manufacturing cities) would settle in Albany. Unlike the nearby "mill towns" of Cohoes and Troy, the city of Albany did not attract large numbers of French Canadians during the first stage of the Industrial Revolution. The continuing story of the French in Albany appears to be one of more individual cases that begins after 1800 - a time beyond the scope of our concern. Our contribution on the French in early Albany seeks to account for those (hopefully every person) individuals who were in the community before 1800. .
Sources: This page intends to provide access to information on early Albany people of French ancestry appearing on this website. It also strives to link to exceptional semi-permanent and also notorious resources that appear online. This sketch is informed chiefly by family and community-based resources developed by the Colonial Albany Project.
My first history professor Warren Roberts also has written about these exotic characters in what he refers to as a "love letter" to his adopted city in a monograph entitled: A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825 (published in 1998). As has been his custom, his study of this place focuses on the extraordinary characters (the "Greats") whose lives/contributions were not really concerned with and almost oblivious to the actual/factual development of early Albany community and society. This wonderful teacher has greatly influenced me over the years beginning with bringing me to understand that we engage the past from opposite directions.
first posted 1/10/17; last considered 6/5/17