'Guide to French and American Claims Commission' details Civil War losses in Avoyelles

"A Guide to the French and American Claims Commission 1880-1885: Our French Immigrant Ancestors and the American Civil War" by Carol Mills-Nichol focuses on the French families who laid claim to items, property and lives lost during the Civil War.

One of the largest counties in the U.S. with land claims was Avoyelles Parish. A section of the work details each one of the more than 40 French natives in Avoyelles who made claims. Only two of the claims were approved. Her details give remarkable insight into the hardships of life during and immediately following the Civil War in Avoyelles.

The U.S. Civil War was fought mostly on Southern soil where many foreign residents suffered significant monetary and personal losses.

In 1880 the United States and France set up a commission to examine claims from French citizens living or doing business in America between 1861 and 1866. Over 700 claims were adjudicated, although few were paid any significant amount of money.

The case files, housed at the National Archives, are a treasure-trove of information about these immigrants and their families, their origins, their occupations, as well as the operations and conduct of both
Southern and Northern troops who fought literally in their backyards. The majority of the claims were filed from Louisiana, although a hundred or so came from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

These French immigrants had come from metropolitan France, most from small villages, although a few hailed from large venues such as Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes and Nancy. A substantial number also came from the French Antilles: Saint-Domingue (Haïti) and Martinique. Others were natives of southern Belgium, the Rhinepfalz (Bavaria, Germany) and Monaco, born French between 1799 and 1815 during the reign of Napoleon.

A select few of the claimants were wealthy businessmen and French noblemen who had assets, but had never resided in the United States.

Although the claimants’ wealth and social status varied greatly, tragedy and hardship beset them equally. From Champagne Charlie Heidsieck, who earned, lost, and recovered a fortune in America; to women like Marie Dugout, who fled France with her daughter and her paramour to start life over in Louisiana, each story is unique and compelling. Sadly, only a handful of claimants, or their heirs, received enough money to compensate for their losses.

Mills-Nichol received a B.A. from New York University, and an M.A. from Fordham University in French language and literature. Although her first two books, The Forgotten Jews of Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, and Louisiana’s Jewish Immigrants from the Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France, were devoted to Jewish immigrants who came to Louisiana, her research into their lives led her to discover the rich genealogical information contained in the files of the French and American Claims Commission. She has identified these claimants, and told of their experiences as victims of a war in which most had taken no side. Carol’s work illustrates that there are still many little-known sources which can help the family researcher uncover important facts about an ancestor’s life

"A Guide to the French and American Claims Commission" is available online at amazon.com. Cost is $68 in paperback.

This is the second book of interest to Avoyelles readers by Carol Mills-Nichol. She previously authored "The Forgotten Jews of Avoyelles." She has family roots in the parish.

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