Emigration to the United States

The exact reason for the departure of the Aubrys and Grillots from France is unknown. Historians generally agree that the essential motive for leaving Alsace and Lorraine in the 19th century was poverty, stemming from a variety of causes. Population of the region had increased steadily; inheritance laws had led to extremely small and fragmented land holdings; revisions in the forest code restricted the ability of the poor to graze their livestock or gather wood for fuel; and many people faced limited opportunities, high prices, and unemployment. Unlike some other areas of Europe, Lorraine had sustained less industrial development in the early 19th century, so the region's economic infrastructure failed to absorb peasants displaced from the land by population growth.

Why did they move to the United States?  France's neighboring countries offered few opportunities for farmers.  Only the developing areas of the New World and Russia offered prime land for cultivation.  In the Russian Ukraine economic opportunity was bought at the price of political repression and many areas of the New World were plagued by political instability.  For many Europeans of that era, the United States appeared to be the one place offering opportunity, freedom, and political stability.

Some French emigrants also left to evade the unpopular conscription laws under which long terms of military service were possible. Perhaps this was on the mind of the Grillots and Aubrys, as the oldest Grillot son was 18 when they left and Etienne Aubry was already approaching his teenage years when his family departed.

The first step in beginning the emigration process was to obtain a foreign passport at the cost of 10 francs (the average wage was about 1 to 2 francs per day). Money alone was not enough to secure a passport. Emigrants often needed a "certificate of morality and good behavior" from the mayor of their village and proof that their taxes had been paid.

When the paperwork was in order the emigrants gathered some of their belongings, sold or gave away the rest, and departed with their life savings for the port of Le Havre (a distance of some 300 miles). According to one study, the average time between the issuance of a passport in Lorraine and the issuance of visa of embarkation at Le Havre was a little over 9 days.

 On a lucky day, those arriving at Le Havre might find several ships ready to depart for the United States. At other times they may have had to wait as long as several weeks. The schedules of sailing ship were irregular due to such factors as weather, ocean currents, and availability of cargo.

While the exact cost of the ocean voyage is unknown, it was probably about 150 francs for adults and half price for children. The price did not include food as passengers were expected to provide their own supplies, bedding, and cooking utensils. The total cost of emigrating included passports, transportation to Le Havre, living costs there until a ship was ready to leave, the fare for passage, and supplies for the trip. Even after arriving in the United States, they needed additional funds to reach their final destination in Ohio.

The Grillots (in 1838) and Aubrys (in 1840) traveled to the United States on American sailing ships.  Usually these packet ships carried cargo, perhaps bales of cotton, on the voyage from America to France.  For the return trip, the empty holds were transformed into a semblance of living quarters for the emigrants.  Shelves arranged around the walls, three tiers high, served as berths.  Each family was assigned an appropriate space that some managed to curtain off for a bit of privacy.  They went up on deck for exercise, fresh air, and to prepare food on cook stoves.

The Grillot and Aubry families both sailed from Le Havre to New Orleans.  In this era, New Orleans was the second leading American port of debarkation for French immigrants, after New York.  Although the percentage was usually much lower, in 1838 about 45% of the French citizens entering the United States came into New Orleans.

The family of Louis Grillot left Le Havre on the ship Oglethorpe in the late spring of 1838 and arrived in New Orleans on July 7.  There were many other French families on the Oglethorpe and at least two -- the Begin and George families -- were also on their way to western Ohio.

 The Aubrys departed from the port of Le Havre on the ship Appollo in the spring of 1840. Traveling with them were several families from Herbeuville, Combres-sous-les-Côtes, and Hannonville-sous-les-Côtes (Herbeuville is between the other two villages, about a mile from each) - the Ayet, Humbert, Couchot, and Mougeville families. The ship arrived in New Orleans on April 28. Less than two weeks later another ship from France arrived carrying the Mathieu family, also from the same villages in the Meuse.

The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean took about seven to eight weeks weeks to complete.  There were always dangers involved with such a long ocean voyage, primarily from storms and disease.  The families on these two ships may have suffered some from illness, but the captains reported only one death -- that of a young boy in the George family.  Another family had a baby born on board the Oglethorpe eight days before the arrival in New Orleans.

The final destination of these immigrant families was the small French immigrant community in Darke and Shelby Counties in western Ohio.  New Orleans was a popular point of arrival for French immigrants heading for Ohio.  Although today this may seem a less than direct route to get from northern France to Ohio, the relatively cheap transportation up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers by boat was easier than overland transportation from New York until the construction of railroads. The immigrant families soon pushed on by riverboat up the Mississippi River (at a cost of $2 each - a little over 10 francs). These low-fare paddle wheel steamers stopped at every town and plantation along the river, so it may have taken them two weeks to steam up the river to Cairo, Illinois, and then up the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Canal boats probably took them on the 24 hour trip from Cincinnati up past Dayton to Shelby County, Ohio.

Note on Sources

Vital statistics on these French families have been gleaned from publications compiled by Marianne Doyle of Beavercreek, Ohio. She transcribed these from microfilm copies of the original French civil and church records, focusing on the records of the families who emigrated to western Ohio in the 19th century. Then she published the transcriptions both in book form (for Hennemont and Hannonville-sous-les-Côtes) or in her bimonthly newsletter French Ancestors (published from 1988 to 2002). In addition to vital records transcripts, the newsletters contained articles and stories about the everyday lives of these ancestors, many of which were useful in preparing this sketch.

Please send corrections or additions to wmcnitt@hotmail.com

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