What It Means to Be American
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Places

The Elite Parisian Family That Educated Antebellum Kentucky

The Mentelles Brought French Enlightenment Values to the New World

By Randolph Paul Runyon
April 26, 2018

Sometimes in American history, immigrants deeply influence a place and its people not by fitting in, but by standing apart.

One such story involves a cultured Parisian family that found its way to Kentucky.

The story starts in 1790. Though France was not a leading source of immigration to the young United States, that year some 500 French citizens managed to found the town of Gallipolis in southeast Ohio, then the Northwest Territory.

These settlers were not aristocrats fleeing for their lives …

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Identities

What Benjamin Franklin Ate When He Was Homesick

Living Abroad, the Founder From Philadelphia Saw America's Essence in Turkeys, Succotash, and Cranberries

By Rae Katherine Eighmey
February 19, 2018

In the midst of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin envisioned the turkey as an exemplar of the ideal American citizen. In a 1783 letter home to his daughter Sally, written while Franklin was serving as chief diplomat to France, he wrote about the “ribbons and medals” presented to the French by grateful Americans in thanks for significant military and financial support. The tokens bore an image of an eagle—but, Franklin explained, some recipients complained that the workmanship was not up …

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Encounters

The American Revolution Story Has a Hole the Size of Spain

While the Marquis de LaFayette Gets a Share of the Glory, Names Like Gardoqui and Gálvez Are All But Forgotten

By Larrie D. Ferreiro
November 29, 2016

Americans like to think of our nation as exceptional in nature, a dramatic break from all that came before it. Being exceptional, it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that two European powers provided invaluable assistance in our struggle for independence from Britain. So we usually don’t. The American origin story thus has scrappy colonists fighting the British alone, with little outside help except for France’s Lafayette, and a cameo by General Rochambeau at the very end. But Americans could have never won …

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Ideas

The Marquis de Lafayette’s Great American Love Affair

Why a 19-Year-old Frenchman Traded Versailles for Valley Forge

By Laura Auricchio
January 16, 2015

The 19-year-old Marquis de Lafayette had met only a handful of Americans when he signed up to join General George Washington’s army, but he felt certain that the people of the United States were as honorable as the cause of freedom for which they fought. Their idealism was intoxicating, and its hold on Lafayette reminds us of a time when the young United States seemed to promise a brighter future for all mankind.

Lafayette was hardly the only Frenchman of his …

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