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French Influence in Early American History

October 9, 2015

During assembly on Friday, October 9, Robert Morrissey, professor of history at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, spoke to assembly about the influence of the French in early American history. His appearance was made possible by Elizabeth Gentry Sayad ’51, who has established a joint speaker series at Burroughs and Wash U to “enhance our region’s understanding of the colonial French influence in the Mississippi Valley.”

Morrissey said that the Midwest is frequently overlooked in discussions of early American history – as is the role of the French. The discussions, instead, focus primarily on the East and on the British. In fact, he said, early America was an imperial contest. The British and French both scorned the Spanish presence as oppressive to native people but the two nations pursued very different tacks:  The British promised to help but were paternalistic and violently encroached on Indian land. They essentially pursued a frontier of exclusion. The French, on the other hand, embraced a frontier of inclusion, supporting and integrating economically and socially with the Indian people, and allied with them against the British. The French influence was particularly notable throughout the Midwest – from Detroit to New Orleans, and St. Louis in between – in loci and as important supply sources for pioneers as they moved West.

Morrissey spent the morning at Burroughs, speaking with senior and middle school students taking French as well as all juniors taking United States history.