FRENCH. France was given a claim to Texas by the explorations of René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and his establishment, in 1685, of La Salle's Texas Settlement. In 1700 Louis Juchereau de St. Denis made an expedition up the Red River, and in 1714 he crossed Texas from Natchitoches, Louisiana, to San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande in an attempt to open an overland trade route with the Spanish in Mexico. Later at Natchitoches he traded with Indians of the Red River and East Texas area. In August 1718 Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe established a trading post among the Caddo Indians in the area of present Red River County. He and his party entered a bay on August 27, 1721, which they thought to be San Bernardo but was probably Galveston Bay. Hostile Indians forced La Harpe to withdraw. Another French trader at Natchitoches, Joseph Blancpain, also engaged in trade with the Indians of Texas until his capture in 1754. In April 1817 the French pirate Jean Laffite set up a "republic" on Galveston Island. His settlement grew to more than 1,000 persons, reached its peak of prosperity in 1818, and was abandoned early in May 1820. In 1818 a group of Napoleonic exiles under Gen. Charles Lallemand attempted to make a settlement at Champ d'Asile, on the Trinity River near the site of present Liberty, but the settlement had to be abandoned because of food shortages and threats from Spanish authorities.
On February 14, 1840, a commercial treaty was made between France and the Republic of Texas, and with the making of the treaty French interest in Texas increased. A French chargé or minister was sent to the republic, and plans were made for sending French colonists to Texas. One such plan, the Franco-Texian Bill, proposed sending 8,000 French soldiers to the Texas frontier. The bill was introduced in the Texas Congress in 1841 but failed because of popular opposition. Snider de Pellegrini, director of a French colonization company, arrived with fourteen immigrants at Matagorda in July 1842, but his efforts to found a colony failed. The most successful of French colonization projects was that of Henri Castro, who in September 1844 founded Castroville, west of the line of the frontier. From 1843 to 1846 Castro brought a few more than 2,000 immigrants to Texas and was instrumental in establishing Quihi, Vandenburg, and D'Hanis. Victor Prosper Considérant founded, near the site of present Dallas, a socialistic colony named La Réunion, which flourished briefly in the middle 1850s but ultimately failed because of poor soil, inexperienced farmers, poor financing, and too much unsocialistic individualism.
The French who came to Texas in search of better social, political, and economic conditions contributed to the state in extending the frontier and in encouraging cultural development. The census of 1850 showed 647 French-born men in Texas; that of 1860 listed 1,883. In 1930 the census showed 10,185 persons of French nationality in the state. In 1990 there were 571,175 people of French descent in Texas.
Eugéne Maissin, The French in Mexico and Texas, 1838–1839 (Salado, Texas: Anson Jones Press, 1961). Robert S. Weddle, The French Thorn: Rival Explorers in the Spanish Sea, 1682–1762 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.