Where Have the French Gone?

More than one nation had territorial ambitions in California in the early 19th century. Spain, Mexico, Russia, Britain, and the United States all cast their eyes toward the Golden Coast at one point or another. And yes indeed, the French had ideas of their own. By the 1830s, clearly unimpressed with Mexican republican rule and the secularization of the Mission system, interested parties in France sought to establish a monarchical Catholic presence along the coast – and thus exploit what they considered wasted opportunity.

Their lofty ambitions did not amount to much in Southern California. Plans for a military invasion of San Diego (and elsewhere) settled in a Paris archive, where they would gather dust for a long long time. The only noteworthy presence in the 1830s materialized in the form of a Los Angeles French winery. Established by Jean Louis Vignes, known as Don Luis del Aliso by his Mexican friends, this winery endeavored to replicate the great wineries of the South of France. Vignes made quite a name for himself in the process. Apparently, his vino was better than decent. He continued to peacefully ferment for decades – the grapes, that is.

But while many cultures made a noticeable imprint on what would become Southern California identity, the French, at least in the Los Angeles area, didn’t make much of a splash once Anglo/Americans began pouring into the neighborhood after the Civil War.

It is interesting to see what cultural forms Americans would adopt in the ensuing years. Stay tuned.

With compliments,

2 thoughts on “Where Have the French Gone?”

  1. Keith, I find this type of history really interesting so thank you for sharing. Many of my students assume it was a done-deal that North America would be all “American.” . Your post just adds another wrinkle to European ambitions and rivalries in the West. That the US may have been at odds or in competition with England or France is also a challenge for my students given what they know today about our friendly relations in NATO and so on. The “cultural forms” could be something that I think would be interesting for my students to dive into next year; to use existing forms as a lens to investigate how the West was developed and ask can we use the cultural reminders today as a way of telling who “won” (at least in the short term) the settlement battles of the early-mid nineteenth century.

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