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French immigration to Puerto Rico

French immigration to Puerto Rico
Notable Puerto Ricans of French Ancestry

First row:
Alejandrina Benítez de Gautier • José Gautier Benítez
Second row:
Manuel Gregorio Tavárez • Fermín Tangüis

Location of the island of Puerto Rico (green)

The French immigration to Puerto Rico came about as a result of the economic and political situations which occurred in various places such as Louisiana (USA), Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and in Europe.

Another factor which encouraged French immigration to the island was the revival of the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815. The Spanish Crown decided that one of the ways to end the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico was to allow Europeans who were not of Spanish origin and who swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown to settle in the island. Therefore, the decree was printed in three languages, Spanish, English and French.

The French who immigrated to Puerto Rico intermarried with the locals and settled in various places in the island. They were instrumental in the development of Puerto Rico's tobacco, cotton and sugar industries and distinguished themselves as business people, politicians and writers.


  • Situation in Louisiana 1
  • Frenchmen in the defense of Puerto Rico 2
  • Haitian Revolution 3
  • Situation in Europe 4
  • Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 5
  • French influence in Vieques 6
  • French influence in Puerto Rican and popular culture 7
  • Surnames 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Situation in Louisiana

Map of North America in 1750, before the French and Indian War, that is part of the greater world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years' War (1756 to 1763). – possessions of Britain (pink), France (blue), and Spain (orange) –

In the 17th century, the French settled an area in the so-called "New World" which they named New France. New France included an expansive area of land along both sides of the Mississippi River between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, including the Ohio Country and the Illinois Country. Louisiana was the name given to an administrative district of New France.[1] Upon the outbreak of the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years' War (1754–1763), between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its North American Colonies against France, many of the French settlers fled to the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Hispaniola (The island which now consists of the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Puerto Rico. These islands were part of the Spanish Empire, which welcomed and protected the French from their English enemy.[2]

Frenchmen in the defense of Puerto Rico

When the British attempted to invade Puerto Rico in 1797 under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby, many Frenchmen offered their services to Spain and came to the defense of the island. Among them was Corsair Captain and former Royal Naval officer of the French Navy, Capt. Antoine Daubón, at the time owner and captain of the ship L'Espiégle and Captain Lobeau of the ship Le Triomphant. Capt. Daubón, who had acquired a 'Letter of Marque' from France was in the San Juan Bay area after having captured the American ship 'Kitty', of Philadelphia, and was holding captive a crew of American soldiers. Capt. Daubón, son of Jacobin French Revolutionary activist, Raymond Daubón, was one of three registered corsairs in the Caribbean's Commercial Tribunal of Basse-Terre, Guadaloupe, licenced to seize and capture enemy vessels on behalf of France. Daubón offered his services and the use of his vessel and men to the Governor of Puerto Rico and together with the French Consul on the island, M. Paris, gathered a group of French nationals and was sent to successfully protect the entrance of San Juan at Fort San Gerónimo. Among the French surnames of those who fought on land were the following; Bernard, Hirigoyan, Chateau, Roussell, Larrac and Mallet. It must also be mentioned that the British landed a force of 400 French prisoners, who were ordered to fight against their will. French Consul M. Paris, sent a letter addressed to the French soldiers fighting for England, promising them a safe haven in San Juan which was signed by Governor Castro. Due in part to this successful effort, the British forces were further weakened. (Andre Pierre Ledru, Voyage Aux Les Iles de Tenerife, La Trinite, St. Thomas, St. Croix et Porto Rico) p. 135 [3] The invasion failed and the British retreated on April 30 to their ships and on 2 May set sail northward. Many of the Frenchmen who fought preferred to stay and live in the island. Some descendants of the families which they established continue to live there today.[3]

Haitian Revolution

Battle of Vertières

In 1697, the Spanish Crown ceded the western half of the island of Hispaniola to the French. The Spanish part of the island was named Toussaint L'Ouverture and rebelled against the French in what is known as the Haitian Revolution.[4] The ultimate victory of the slaves over their white masters came about after the Battle of Vertières in 1803. The French fled to Santo Domingo and made their way to Puerto Rico. Once there, they settled in the western region of the island in towns such as Mayagüez. With their expertise, they helped develop the island's sugar industry, converting Puerto Rico into a world leader in the exportation of sugar.[5]

Among the families who settled in Puerto Rico were the Beauchamps. Francois Joseph Beauchamp Menier, from St. Nazaire, France, was a member of the French Army stationed in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) with his family during the slave revolution. When the French ranks were disbanded he boarded a boat bound for Las Marias and Ramón Beauchamp Gonzáles was the Secretary of the Senate in 1916.[6]

Another Frenchmen who escaped from then-Saint-Domingue was Dr. Luis Rayffer. Rayffer first lived in Mayagüez and in 1796 moved to the town of Bayamón where he established a coffee plantation.[7]

Situation in Europe

Type of steamship in which French and Corsicans arrived in Puerto Rico

France and Corsica (an island ceded to France by Genoa in 1768) were going through many economic and political changes during the 19th century. One of the changes occurred with the advent of the Second Industrial Revolution, which led to the massive migration of farmworkers to larger cities in search of a better way of life and better-paying jobs. Starvation spread throughout Europe as farms began to fail due to long periods of drought and crop diseases.[8]

There was also widespread political discontent. King Louis-Philippe of France was overthrown during the Revolution of 1848 and a republic was established. In 1870–71, Prussia defeated France in what became known as the Franco-Prussian War. The combination of natural and man-made disasters created an acute feeling of hopelessness in both France and Corsica. Hundreds of families fled Europe and immigrated to the Americas, including Puerto Rico. All of this came about when the Spanish Crown, after losing most of her possessions in the so-called "New World", was growing fearful of the possibility of losing her last two possessions, Cuba and Puerto Rico.[9]

Royal Decree of Graces of 1815

Royal Decree of Graces, 1815

The Spanish Crown had issued the Royal Decree of Graces (Real Cédula de Gracias) on August 10, 1815 with the intention of encouraging trade between Puerto Rico and other countries who were friendly towards Spain. The decree also offered free land to any Spaniard who would be willing to move to the island. The decree was revived in the mid-19th century with several changes. The Spanish Crown decided that one of the ways to end the pro-independence movement was to allow Europeans of non-Spanish origin to settle the island. Therefore, the decree was printed in three languages, Spanish, English and French. Those who immigrated to Puerto Rico were given free land and a "Letter of Domicile" with the condition that they swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. After residing in the island for five years the settlers were granted a "Letter of Naturalization" which made them Spanish subjects.[10]

Hundreds of Frenchmen and Corsican families (the Corsicans are French citizens of Italian descent) settled in Puerto Rico. The cultural influence of the French began with the building in 1884 of one of Puerto Rico's grandest theater "El Teatro Francés" (The French Theater) which was located on the Calle Méndez Vigo in the City of Mayagüez (the theater building was later destroyed by an earthquake).[11] The Corsicans settled the mountainous region in and around the towns of Adjuntas, Lares, Utuado, Guayanilla, Ponce and Yauco, where they became successful coffee plantation owners. The French who immigrated from mainland Europe settled in various places in the island. They were instrumental in the development of Puerto Rico's tobacco, cotton and sugar industries. Among them was Teófilo José Jaime María Le Guillou who in 1823 founded the municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico.[12]

French influence in Vieques

In 1823, Teófilo José Jaime María Le Guillou immigrated from France to Puerto Rico and settled down in the island of Vieques. He is considered the founder of the municipality of Vieques. In 1832, Le Guillou succeeded Francisco Roselló as the military commander of Vieques after Roselló's death. Between 1832 and 1843, Le Guillou, who had been given the title of "Political and Military Governor of the Spanish Island of Vieques" by the Spanish Crown, developed a plan for the political and economic organization of the island.[13] He established five sugar plantations in the island named Esperanza, Resolución, Destino, Mon Repos and Mi Reposo.[14][15]

Le Guillou, who was the most powerful landlord and owner of slaves on the island, requested from the Spanish Crown permission to allow the immigration of French families from the Caribbean Islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, which were and still are French possessions. Attracted by the offer of free land, which was one of the incentives stipulated in the revised Spanish Royal Decree of 1815, dozens of French familles, among them the Mourailles, Martineaus and Le Bruns, immigrated to Vieques and with the use of slave manpower established sugar plantations.[13] By 1839, there were 138 "habitaciones" which comes from the French word "habitation" meaning hacienda or plantation.[14] These habitaciones were located from Punta Mulas and Punta Arenas. Le Guillou died in 1843 and is buried in the town of Isabel II in Vieques, founded in 1844.[14]

French influence in Puerto Rican and popular culture

French provincial-style mansion in Moca, Puerto Rico.

The French eventually intermarried into the local population, adopting the language and customs of their new homeland.[16] Their influence in Puerto Rico is very much present and in evidence in the island's cuisine, literature and arts.[17] French surnames are common in Puerto Rico. This immigration from mainland France and its territories to Puerto Rico was the largest in number, second only to Spanish immigrants, and today a great number of Puerto Ricans can claim French ancestry; 16 percent of the surnames on the island are either French or French-Corsican. The descendants of the original French settlers have distinguished themselves as business people, politicians and writers. "La Casa del Francés" (The Frenchman's House), built in 1910, is a turn-of-the-century plantation mansion, recently designated as a historical landmark by the National Register of Historic Places, located on the island of Vieques. It is now a guest house.[18]

Besides having distinguished careers in agriculture and the military, Puerto Ricans of French descent have made many other contributions to the Puerto Rican way of life. Their contributions can be found, but are not limited to, the fields of education, commerce, politics, science and entertainment. Among the poets of French descent who have contributed to the literature of Puerto Rico are Evaristo Ribera Chevremont, whose verses are liberated from folkloric subject matter and excel in universal lyricism,[19] José Gautier Benítez, considered by the people of Puerto Rico to be the best poet of the Romantic Era,[20] Enrique Laguerre, a nominee for a Nobel Prize in literature,[21] and writer and playwright René Marqués, whose play La Carreta (The Oxcart) helped secure his reputation as a leading literary figure in Puerto Rico. The drama traces a rural Puerto Rican family as it moved to the slums of San Juan and then to New York in search of a better life, only to be disillusioned and to long for their island.[22]

In the field of science Dr. Carlos E. Chardón, the first Puerto Rican mycologist, is known as "the Father of Mycology in Puerto Rico". He discovered the aphid "Aphis maidis", the vector of the sugar cane Mosaic virus. Mosaic viruses are plant viruses.[10] Fermín Tangüis, an agriculturist and scientist developed the seed that would eventually produce the Tangüis cotton in Peru, saving that nation's cotton industry.[23]


The following is an official list of the surnames of the first French families who immigrated from mainland France to Puerto Rico in the 19th century. This list was compiled by genealogists and historians of Proyecto Salon Hogar who have done an exhaustive research on the matter.[24]
Surnames of the first French families in Puerto Rico
Abesto, Abre Resy, Affigne, Affrige, Agapit, Agrand, Albet, Alegre, Alers, Alexo, Alfonso, Allinor, Ambar, Ambies, Amil, Andragues, Andrave, Anduze, Anglada, Angur, Aran, Ardu, Arnaud, Arril, Artaud Herajes, Auber, Aymee, Bablot, Baboan, Bacon, Bainy, Balsante Petra, Baner, Bapeene, Bargota Boyer, Baron, Barrera, Bassat, Baux, Baynoa, Beabieu, Beaupied, Begonguin, Beinut, Belnar, Beltran, Belvi, Bellevue, Benevant, Benito, Berantier, Bergonognau, Bernal Capdan, Bernard, Bernier, Berteau, Bertrand, Betancourt, Bicequet, Bidot, Bignon, Binon, Binot, Bitre, Blain, Blanchet, Blaudin, Blondet, Boirie, Boldnare, Bollei, Bonafoux Adarichb, Bonch, Bonifor, Bontet, Bordenare, Boreau Villoseatj, Borras, Bosan, Botreau, Boudens, Boudovier Bertran, Bougeois, Boulet, Boulier, Boullerie, Boure, Bourjae, Boyer, Boyse, Boyset, Braschi, Brayer, Brevan, Brison, Broccand, Brochard, Brun, Bruny, Bruseant, Brusso, Bueno, Bufos, Bugier, Buis, Bulancie, Bullet, Burbon, Buriac, Burtel, Busquets, Cachant, Calmelz, Callasee, Cambet, Camelise, Camoin, Camy, Capifali, Cappdepor, Carbonell, Cardose, Carile, Carle, Caro, Casado Jafiet, Casadomo, Catalino, Catery Judikhe Vadelaisse, Caumil, Caussade, Cayenne, Cecila, Cerce, Ciobren, Ciriaco, Clausell, Coillas, Coin, Combertier, Compared, Conde, Constantin, Coriel, Cottes Ledoux, Coulandres, Couppe, Cristy, Croix, Crouset, Cruzy Marcillac, Curet, Chadrey, Chamant, Chamanzel, Chansan, Chanvet, Charle, Charles, Chariot, Charpentier, Charron, Chasli, Chassereau or Chasserian, Chatel, Chatelan, Chavalier or Chevalier, Chavarnier, Chebri, Cherot, Chevalot, Chevremont, Chicatoy Arenas, Choudens, Dabey, Dacot, Daloz, Daltas, Dalvert, Dambe, Damelon, Dandelor, Danloits, Dapie, Datjbon Duphy, Daunies, Debornes, Debrat, Declet, Defontaine, Delange, Delarue, Delema or Delima, Delestre, Delmas or Delinas, Delorise, Denasps Gue, Denichan, Denis, Denton, Desaint, Desjardins, Despres, Desuze, Detbais, Deuview, Dodin Dargomet, Doisteau, Dollfus, Domincy, Domon, Donz, Doval, Dubine, Dubois, Dubost, Du-Croe, Dudoy, Dufan, Duffant, Duffrenet, Dufour, Dugomis, Duha or Dulia, Dumartray, Dumas, Dumestre, Dumont, Dupay, Duplesi, Dupont, Dupret, Durey, Durad, Duran, Durant, Durecu, Durecu Hesont, Durruin, Duteil, Dutil, D'Yssoyer, Eduardo, Eilot, Eitie, Enrique Ferrion, Enscart, Escabi, Escache or Escachi, Escott, Esmein, Espiet, Espri Saldont, Faffin Fabus, Faja, Falasao or Tasalac, Falist Oliber, Farine De Rosell, Farrait, Faulat Palen, Feissonniere, Ferrer, Ferry Pelieser, Ficaya, Fineta, Fleuricun, Fleyta 0 Fleyeta, Fol, Follepe, Foncarde, Fongerat, Fontan, Forney, Francolin, Frene, Froger, Furo, Garie, Garo or Laro, Gaspierre, Gaston, Gautier, Georgatt, Gevigi, Gineau, Giraldet, Giraud, Girod, Girod Danise, Glaudina Godreau, Golbe, Gonzaga, Gonzago, Goriel, Goulain Jabet, Gregori, Gremaldi, Greton, Grivot, Grolau or Grolan, Guestel, Gueyt, Gullie or Gille Forastier, Guillon, Guillot, Guinbes, Guinbon, Guuiot, Guinot, Gure, Habe, Hardoy Laezalde, Hilario or Ylario, Hilnse, Hory, Hubert Chavaud, Icaire, Ithier, Jayaoan De Roudier, Joanel, Jourdan, Jovet, Juliana, Julien, Kercado, Kindell, LaRue, LaSalle, Labaden Laguet, Labault De Leon, Labergne or Labergue, Labord, Laboy, Lacode or Lecode, Lacon, Lacorte, Lacroix, Lafalle, Lafebre, Laffch, Lafont De La Vermede, Lafountain, Laguerre, Laporet, Lagar Daverati, Lagarde, Lairguat, Lalane, Lambert Beniel, Lamida, Lamond, Landrami, Landro, Lang, Lantiao, Lapierre, Laporte, Larbizan, Larohe, Larracontre, Larrony or Labrouy, L'Artigaut, Lasy or Lasey, Lasenne, Lassere, Lassise, Laugier, Lavergne, Laveiere or Lavesier, Layno, Lazus, Le Guillou, Lebron, Lebrum, Ledaut, Ledir or Lediz, Ledoux, Lefaure, Lefebre, Lefran, Legran, Legre, Le Guillon, Lelon, Lesirges, Libran, Liciz Getas, Logellanercies, Lombarda, Longueville, Loubet, Loubriel, Lourent or Saint Lourent, Lubes, Luca, Luca O'Herisson, Luis, Maillet, Malaret, Marqués, Malerve, Mande, Mange, Maoy, Marciel, Mareaty, Maren, Maria, Martel Belleraoch, Martilly, Martin, Mase, Mates Caslbol, Maturin, Mayar, Mayer, Mayostiales, Maysonave, Meaux, Medar, Menases, Mengelle, Mentrie, Merced, Micard, Michar Sibeli or Libeli, Michet, Midard Garrousette, Miguncci, Millet, Miyet, Moget, Molier, Moncillae, Monclova, Mondear, Monge, Monroig, Mons, Montas, Montrousier, Morell, Moret, Morin, Mosenp or Moreno, Mouliert, Moulinie, Mourei, Moysart, Misteau or Msiteau Chevalier, Naclero or Nadero, Nairsteant, Neaci, Nevi, Nod or Noel, Nogues, Noublet, Nunci, Nurez, Oclave, Odeman, Odiot, Ogea, Oliney, Orto, Oschembein, Osoglas, Panel, Paret, Parna, Patterne, Paulin Cesuezon, Pedangais, Pedevidou, Perrosier, Petit, Pepin, Peyredisu, Pibalan, Pilagome, Piletti, Pilioner, Pinaud Marchisa, Pinaud Marquisa, Pinplat or Puiplat, Pipau, Pitre, Plumet, Plumey, Poigmirou, Polok, Pomes, Ponteau, Porrata Doria, Posit, Potier Defur, Pouyolk, Pras, Preagnard, Preston, Principe Boussit, Privat, Pujols, Punan Sordeau, Raff, Ramel, Raplis De Pierrugues, Raty Menton, Raymond, Regnaire or Reguaire, Regnan, Reis, Reive, Renuchi, Resu, Rey, Richard, Rined De Boudens, Rinire, Rirwan, Riset, Ritter, Rivier, Roberson, Robiens, Robledo, Roblin, Rochette, Ronde, Ronse or Rouse, Rormi or Piormi, Roudier, Rous, Rousset, Roy, Royer, Rufait, Ruffin, Sabatel Mariel, Sabathie, Saladin, Salcedo, Saldri or Saldu, Saleinon, Sallaberry, Samanos, Saneburg, Sanlecque Botle, Sanocouret, Sansous, Sante Ylaide or Haide, Santeran, Santerose, Santie or Santiecor, Sapeyoie, Satraber, Saunion, Savignat Bruchat, Schabrie, Seguinot, Segur, Sellier, Sena Feun Fewhet, Senac De Laforest, Serracante Cacoppo, Simon Poncitan, Simonet, Sofi Mase, Sotier, Souche, Souffbont, Souffront, Soutearud, Stefani, Steinacher, Stucker, Suquet, Tablas, Tafa, Taret, Taura or Faura, Teanjou, Teber, Telmo Navarro, Tellot, Terrefor, Terrible, Terrior, Thillet, Tibaudien, Timoleon, Tinot, Tolifru, Tollie, Tomet, Tomey, Totti, Tourne or St. Tounne, Tourne, Trabesier, Traver, Turpeand or Turpeaud, Umosquita, Ursula, Vanel, Veuntidos, Verges, Viado, Vignalon, Vignon, Villanueva, Vilencourt, Villard, Vigoreaux, Vizco, Vodart, Vora Bonel, Walleborge, Yarden or Garden, Ybar, Ylario, Yorde or Forte Godiezu, Yormie, Yuldet, Zanti

See also


  1. ^ New France
  2. ^ Historical Preservation Archive: Transcribed Articles & Documents
  3. ^ a b "Historia de Puerto Rico" de Paul G. Miller, Rand McNally, editor, 1947, pp. 221–237
  4. ^ Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography by J. R. Beard, 1863
  5. ^ The Haitian Revolution
  6. ^ a b Beauchamp family
  7. ^ "Cuaderno Histórico de Bayamón"; Page 20; Publisher: Instituto de Historia y Cultura Municipio de Bayamón – 1983
  8. ^ Second Industrial Revolution in France by Hubert Bonin, Retrieved July 31, 2007
  9. ^ Documents of the Revolution of 1848 in France, Retrieved July 31, 2007
  10. ^ a b Archivo General de Puerto Rico: Documentos
  11. ^ "Puerto Rico, Then And Now", by: Jorge Rigau, page 26, ISBN 978-1-59223-941-2
  12. ^ Puerto Rico por Dentro
  13. ^ a b Enlaces de Vieques (Spanish)
  14. ^ a b c Historia de Vieques
  15. ^ Enlances
  16. ^ Corsican immigration to Puerto Rico, Retrieved July 31, 2007
  17. ^ Puerto Rican Cuisine & Recipes
  19. ^ Evaristo Ribera Chevremont: Voz De Vanguardia by Marxuach, Carmen Irene
  20. ^ El Nuevo Dia
  21. ^ Rossello, Hernandez Colon, Ferre Urge Nobel Prize in Literature for Enrique Laguerre Associated Press. March 3, 1999
  22. ^ An Analysis of “The Oxcart” by René Marqués, Puerto Rican Playwright
  23. ^ Los Primeros años de Tangüis
  24. ^ Historia de Puerto Rico En orden afabético, Retrieved January 20, 2009

External links

  • 19th century French Politics
  • French influence in Puerto Rican cuisine
  • National Register of Historic Places
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