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The "French 500" who came over to America in 1790

Updated on September 9, 2012
Photograph is not of the ship that brought some of the French 500 over
Photograph is not of the ship that brought some of the French 500 over | Source

With the French Revolution underway, many noblemen and their families, along with common people, took to fleeing the chaos that ravaged their country. Many undertook the journey to America in ships, hoping to start new lives away from the carnage they knew because of the revolution. On 19 February 1790, a ship called the Patriot left Le Havre de Grace, France to sail for the new world. Aboard were about 150 people. The passengers on this ship were part of a group that took sail on five different ships bound for the Northwest Territory area of the United States, in what is now Ohio. The other four ships were the Recovery (which sank at sea but no lives were lost), the Scarborough, the Liberty and the Lady Washington. The Patriot took port in Alexandria, Virginia on 3 May 1790.

The group that had taken to these ships from France were fearing the guillotine and had paid money for land in this area to an unscrupulous seller in Paris, though sources differ as to who they bought the land from. Some say it was the Scioto company, while another states it was one William Playfair who sold them the land. Whoever it was, they were very good at swindling. In October, 1790, when the French finally got to the Northwest Territory and the land they thought they now owned, in what is now Gallia County, Ohio, they discovered that the land they had paid for had not been bought and the deeds they now held in their hands were worthless. The French were despaired and sought help. Some returned to France, while others dispersed in the new world for other places. Others stayed in Ohio, where they did buy new land from the proper owners or settled on land deeded to them by Congress in 1795. The city of Gallipolis in Ohio was named in their honor. Eventually, these settlers would become known as the "French Five Hundred" and would settle many parts of Ohio.

Life was not easy for these settlers. Most of them were accustomed to the finer lifestyles of nobleman France, having been part of the upper class of the reign of King Louis XVI. The life in their new colony was rough and basic, but many strove to make it work because the alternative would have been to return to France and possibly face the guillotine.

One notable passenger aboard the Patriot was a man by the name of Count Jean (John) Joseph De Barth. He was born in 1726 and died sometime in 1793. De Barth was a deputy to the National Assembly from the Alsace region and a member of a society known as "Societe des 24." After finding out the land in Ohio was not indeed theirs, he traveled north to New York to meet with the president of the Scioto Company to work out an arrangement to get the families land. He also met with George Washington as part of a group trying to secure land for the French. He himself entered into an agreement with President Washington to buy Washington's land in the Ohio area in March of 1791. However, he could not make the payments required of him, and the agreement was cancelled by Washington in April of 1793.

Two other notable passengers aboard the Patriot that did not journey to Ohio were Dominique vautier, a young farmhand, and Maria Louisa DeLaittre, a young woman who was traveling with her older brother. These two, according to a family story, traveled with De Barth, who had befriended them either in France or on the journey to the new land. The couple ended up in Philadelphia, where they would marry in 1793 and raise a family. These two were two of my ancestors, and my reason for becoming interested in these part of history.

Copyright Kelley Davis 02 December 2009


"History of Gallipolis." Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Prospects for the Gallipolis Settlement: French Diplomatic Dispatches edited and translated by Phillip J. Wolfe and Warren J. Wolfe". Ohio History. Vol 103 pg 86.

"Schedule of Property: The Wills of George Washington". Papers of George Washington.

Sheets, Lewis M. "French 500" Gallia County Ohio Bio. Published 1882.

"The French 500" Gallia County Genealogical Society OGS Chapter, Inc.

"Letter To Joseph De Barth dated April 30, 1793." Washington, George, 1732-1799. The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.

and my own family history research


Submit a Comment

  • Alicia Payne profile image

    Alicia Payne 

    2 years ago

    My 8X great grandfather was Nicholas Thevenin. He settled in Gallipolis, Ohio. Wondering if anybody has any info on him and his life or ancestors in France before him?

  • kelitad profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Norwalk, Iowa


    I am sorry, but I have not done any research on any of the other passengers that came over as part of the French 500. You can look through some of my sources to see if there is anything on him. Other then that, I cannot help you. My apologies.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Do you know anything about Claude Menanger of the French 500? I am a descendant of his.

  • De Greek profile image

    De Greek 

    8 years ago from UK

    Nice that you can trace your family back as far as that. Well done.. :-)

  • kelitad profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Norwalk, Iowa

    I'm not sure about how many were killed by the guillotine. Several thousand at least were killed, but I have not done research on that particular subject.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    I really enjoyed your article. I was just many families in France exactly, where killed by the guillotine? I know many fled to America but many fled to relatives in England as well.


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