Over the past few days, we've all been thinking of France. The recent tragedies in Paris have been in our hearts and on our minds. Here in Louisville, our city reflects French heritage in so many aspects of our everyday lives. Fleurs de lis adorn everything, we sip whiskey that carries the name of a French ruling house, and our city itself bears the name of a French monarch. In fact, our city was French well before it was a city or even part of Kentucky: the Falls of the Ohio were once home to an outpost of La Belle, France.
Among the earliest settlers of the areas now known as Louisville, KY and New Albany, IN were second-and third-generation American-born French, the descendants of Hugenots who had fled France in the late 17th century to avoid religious persecution. These adventurers followed René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle's expedition into the area. The next wave of French settlers included by the French military forces who'd allied themselves with American troops during the Revolutionary War. A third group of French settlers were members of the clergy and nobility who fled the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, settling in the commercial areas known as Shippingport and Portland. The strong ties between early Americans and the French are still reflected in the heritage and branding of modern Louisville.
Fleur de Lis
When the city of Louisville was founded by George Rogers Clark in 1778, legend tells us, he carried a French naval flag bearing three fleurs de lis; until the consolidation of the Louisville metro area, our city's flag included three fleurs de lis as well. The fleur de lis icon -- the stylized lily that represents nobility in French heraldry -- is visible all over Louisville as a symbol of our city.
King Louis XVI
The area now known as Kentucky was still part of Virginia in 1780, the year in which Louisville's town charter was approved. The Virginia General Assembly named the town in honor of King Louis XVI, whose soldiers were allied with American troops in the Revolutionary War. Although the French king soon fell out of favor with his own subjects, who overthrew the monarchy in 1791, the Derby City continues to honor a leader who assisted the United States' fight for independence. In 1967, Louisville's French sister city, Montpellier, presented the city with a statue of Louis XVI.
Louisville isn't the only Kentucky place whose name reflects the French monarchy. Bourbon County was first established as part of Virginia in 1785 in honor of Louis XVI, a member of the royal House of Bourbon. The present-day Central Kentucky Bourbon County reflects the historical county from which it was carved. Of course, Kentucky's bourbon county is recognized as the home of bourbon whiskey, that special concoction of corn, wheat, and limestone water for which Kentucky is famous.
Here's to the French settlers who made Louisville a distinctive and charming city. Salut, y'all!