For a short chronology of the history of the French in New Mexico, click here.

Starting in the 16th century, hundreds of French ships departed each year from the numerous harbors dotted along France’s western and northern coasts, loaded with people coming to trade, to find a new life or to fight wars.  They settled or traversed the North Atlantic coast, the St. Lawrence Valley and the Great Lakes, the Caribbean Islands, the Mississippi Valley, the Great Plains and Mexico, and quite a few of them moved to the American West and New Mexico.

In the early 1500s, Franciscan friar Marcos de Niza (from Nice) and the Moor Esteban claimed to have sighted the legendary “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola” in what is now western New Mexico; in the mid 1700s, the brothers Pierre-Antoine and Paul Mallet traversed the Great Plains all the way to Santa Fe, with six other Frenchmen from Canada; in the 1780s Pierre Vial, from Lyons, was employed by the government in New Mexico and pioneered the way from St. Louis to Santa Fe; in the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson, a lover of France, sent Lewis and Clark on their famous voyages, with Frenchmen in their team; in the mid 1880s, John Frémont, the “pathfinder”, and his famous scout Kit Carson, explored the American West through five expeditions; Francis Aubry, nicknamed the “Skimmer of the Plains”, made the fastest crossings, with a record 800 miles from Santa Fe to Independence Missouri in five and half days.

The fur trade was controlled by French and French-Canadians, at both management and field level, making up 80% of the traders.  Taos was one of their main centers, illustrated by famous names such as Céran St. Vrain and the Robideaux brothers. Starting in about 1850, the French dominated New Mexico’s catholic church.  Under the impetus of the first New Mexico bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy,  legions of French priests, some bringing relatives and friends, came to New Mexico, a tradition followed until 1914 by the succeeding four French bishops.

The French were no strangers to land grab and speculation.  Gervais Nolan, a French fur trapper and resident of Taos, applied for his half million acre land grant in 1843 on the basis of his military service. Also in Taos the same year, Narciso Beaubien and S.L. Lee got a 1 million acre land grant. The famous Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell Land Grant, also known as the Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant, was one of the largest contiguous private landholdings in the history of the United States with 1.7 million acres mostly in present day New Mexico.  And on a smaller scale, even the church was involved, with the Lamy land grant of sixteen thousand acres near Santa Fe.

21 Responses to History

  1. My grandparents were Leandro Mercure married to Juanita Garcia Mercure and they lived in Lumberton, my mother was Leanor Mercure from Lumberton, but I am going to give you a contact number and name that can help you with some of the information at you need, my tio Alejandro Mercure lived in Lumberton and was the last sibling of the Mercure’s in Lumberton, Great Grandson of Henry Mercure…
    He (my tio Alejandro) has a granddaughter that lives in California and I will give you her name and phone number and SHE should be able to help you with some answers she has done this search before….My tio was married to Gregorita Garcia from Lumberton….do you know these folks….I live in Alaska and I am the daughter to Leanore Mercure Montoya, she married Jose Maria Montoya in Lumberton around the 1944 – 45. So they left there and went on to Utah, that is where I was born, but I have heard some of these names all my life…so I would be interested in a book, where can I purchase one??? Thank you for your search, and it is always wonderful to meet NEW family members….God Bless You in your efforts and here is the name and number of my prima….Hope that she can help you…..the number I have for her is Melissa Salomon …1001 Burge Loop….Chula Vista, CA. 91910 USA
    619-216-2500 and her mom is still living, but I do not think she would be much help to you her name is Teddi Mercure and her phone number is 619-656-1819 her brother Mark lives in Galina, NM. But I do not think she knows too much of the history….they are younger than me, I am going to be 65 this year….so I would not be that much help too you….and not too many in my family remember the names….but Melissa should be able to help….hope that she does. God Bless You in your efforts and like I said always wonderful meeting new family members… my mother is buried between Lumberton and Dulce, in the little Cemetery there…by her parents and brother. Thank again, and please do keep me informed of your findings….and if there is a book, I would really love to purchase one….Thanks again, and God Bless you, With Sincere Joy, Maria Juanita Mercure Montoya Littrell in Anchor Point, Alaska

    • Terri Klemmer says:

      I know you wrote this almost 5 years ago, so I don’t know if you’ll see this reply. I was just looking up Lumberton for some reason today and found this article and read your post. We have the same family line. Leandro and Juanita Mercure are my great great grandparents. Their oldest daughter, Eugenia, is my great grandmother. Her daughter Mary Ann is my grandmother. When my grandma was about 4, their family moved north and ended up in Butte, Montana. I would say they started living in Butte around 1920 or so. I once met your uncle Alexandro and aunt Gregorita one time around 1975 or 1976 when they came to visit in Butte. One of my my mom’s cousins did some extensive genealogy a few years back. I also have a lot of family photos of our ancestors. If you are interested, feel free to contact me. My email address is that80smom@gmail.com

      ~Terri Klemmer

  2. Sandra says:

    Hello to the Nolan’s from Gervais (Gervasio) line,

    I just wanted to let you know about the group on facebook its called “The Nolan’s of New Mexico”. If you are on facebook request to join the group. We can share information like family reunions, photos and stories. Please pass this email along if you know any other family members that might be interested.

    Don’t forget about the family reunion in August 2011! 🙂

    Your cousin, Sandra

    • Cath Huerta says:

      just now finding this site. we are from the Maria Necleta Lenore Nolan branch specifically her son Joseph (Jose) . We are from Raton .
      Would like any other information you could give . we have always felt like we had no relatives since my grandmother did not talk about her family.

  3. Aldred Nolan says:

    I am a decendent of Gervais Nolan, and I am very interested in reading any documents, or history in Frenchmen of New Mexico

  4. Katharine Emsden says:

    Good synopsis. I am writing a nonfiction account of Henri de Tonti, who sailed with La Salle as his First Lieutenant to Montreal in 1678. Tonti was from Naples but came as a baby with his parents to the court of Versailles where he served Louis XIV as a naval captain. Having lost a hand in battle, he was despatched by the King to provide help but also surveillance over La Salle’s beaver trade with western Indians. For the next 30 years Tonti was in charge of French posts along the Mississippi after sharing credit for claiming the entire Mississippi drainage for France. Although he traveled west of the Mississippi Tonti never went as far as New Mexico.
    There is a recent scholarly book on 17-18th century NM. I can send you the reference.

  5. Alex Valdez says:

    Hello Maria

    Just read your email…..my mom was baptized by your grandparents.

  6. Genevieve Martinez says:

    I am almost positive that my great grandfather, was Fr. Jean M. Garnier. If you have any information on him, please let me know. I will give you details later of what I know. thanks

  7. Alejandro A. Mercure says:

    I am Alejandro A. Mercure. My Father Alejandro P. Mercure was the son of Alejandro J. Mercure, who was the son of Henri Mercure. Alejandro J. Mercure was married to Gregorita Garcia. All three of us outside of the hispanic community were called “Alex.” My Father and Grandfather(retired to Chula Vista, CA) have both passed away. I also have a brother and three sisters. All but one of my sisters and myself live in New Mexico. My mother still lives in New Mexico, also. Alejandro and Gregorita also had a daughter named Teadora. She had 2 children named Melissa and Mark. Melissa and Teadora live together in California and Mark lives in Gallina,NM.

    Enjoyed this site


    • Terri Klemmer says:

      Hi Alejandro! My name is Terri. I believe we are distant cousins. My great grandmother was Eugenia Mercure Lucero. I just replied to Maria’s post above before I even saw your comment, so excuse any duplicated information. I believe I once met your grandparents and your father when they came to visit us when we lived in Butte, Montana in the 1970’s. I mentioned in my last reply that a cousin has done some extensive genealogy and I also have photos of our ancestors. If you are interested, feel free to contact me at that80smom@gmail.com.

      ~Terri Klemmer

  8. Grace Talamante says:

    I am Family to Gregorita Garcia My Grand Parents were Fermin Talamante and Alejandrina Garcia. I was born and raised in Lumberton I also know that Juanita was my Prima. I have been doing my Family History sence my Abuelita passed away in 1999, she told me great stories on the Garcia side. I was always asking questions about all my relitives. I miss her, and sence then I have been looking for as many relitives as I can find. I have put a book together of all my ancesters and to this day, I may be missing a few but this is why I look for more relatives, so I can make sure they are included in my book. every year I say Im closing it but then I find another relative and there I go again. I love meeting them and just knowing there related to me I get excited. I would love to know more so I hope to here from you. Grace

  9. aggie cordova carrillo says:

    Hi Juanita I dont know if you remember me haven’t seen you, in probably more the fifty years oh my gush do I sound old . I am Aggie Cordova Carrillo daughter of Emilio Cordova married to Louisa Mercure Cordova daughter of Henry Mercure and Rosa Montoya Mercure and grand daughter of, Landero Mercure marrried to Juanita Garcia Mercure.

  10. Michael E. Pitel says:

    I am working on a one-color, Downtown Santa Fe walking tour brochure of Santa Fe Trail (SFT)-era points of interest for the SFT Association’s End of the Trail Chapter and the National Park Service. It will be distribution at the four-day-long SFTA Symposium in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in September, 2015. I have located the site (the street address) of the Mercure Brothers Mercantile in downtown Santa Fe. I’d like more information about Henri Mercure. For example, what year did he die, where did he die, and where was he buried? If his burial was in a cemetery, what is the name of the cemetery, and where is that cemetery located? Where was his brother buried?

  11. mccachren says:

    etienne lacassagne, b france, clermont-ferrand region, 1838, 42 y o in santa fe by 1866, 1880 fed census;
    paul l 1889 -1939. b santa fe
    melinda l. 1892- 1987, b santa fe
    paul 31 in 1920;melinda 28 in 1920 look to 1880 census, and 1920; paul has cemetary plaque, santa fe; chk church records.

  12. Sylvia Frank says:

    Leandro and Juanita Mercure were my great grandparents. Eugenia Mercure Lucero was my grandmother and Joseph Lucero were my grandparents. They had six children. My mother was Margarita Francesca Lucero. This is very interesting.

    • michael mccachren says:

      greetings. my great grandfather, etienne lacassagne* came to santa fe to work on bp lamy’s new cathedral, designing the ceiling trimwork. he started a brick business, which supplied brick and dressed stone for the cathedral, loretto chapel, a fireplace in the palace of the governors and the new penitentiary, (a lawsuit with the lobato family came from this.) he built at least two ‘reredos’, altar screens, one in a private chapel in santa fe, and one for the church in pecos. he did a number of ‘western’ paintings’, some portraits, and many signs for santa fe businesses. he married into the ortiz family; his son paul, also founded businesses, incl. an advertising agency and left gold-leafed storefronts and windows, signage, and married melinda delgado de lacassagne. they had 8 daughters and one son. (*native of lyon, also, clermont-ferrand.) looking for ‘lost’ drawings, drafts, letters, etc. + my padrino was osmundo lucero of cerrillos, we may be related!

    • Terri Klemmer says:

      Hi Sylvia! I just found this thread, too. Kind of funny how we have both found this article within a month of each other. This is definitely interesting. It’s like a big family reunion of people we never knew were in our family.


  13. michael mccachren says:

    french trappers came to taos for the great trade fairs , 1728 to early 1730s, causing the viceroy in mexico city some concern that french settlers and militia might follow. french trappers and traders did settle in the northeast of the territory coming in with the santa fe trail (1830s). french artisans came with bishop lamy in the 1850s. lacassagnes were settled in louisiana after being thrown out canada by the british, but that was in the 1760s?. probably related to my great grandfather, etienne lacassagne. santa fe traders went east for iron stoves, tin wainscoting and ceilings, door sashes and window jambs, iron utensils, french fashions, carriages and kerosene lamps and shades.

  14. michael mccachren says:

    (french huguenots fled france, went mostly to the northern colonies and the southern colonies-paul revere, ‘revoir’ was one such; also french and spanish basque have herded sheep in southern colorado and northern new mexico for most of a century now; french left a great legacy in missouri, and of course louisiana.) as you may well know, francois-marie patorni is writing a book on the french in new mexico. my family have given this gentleman some leads. most the 1850s french were artisans and businessmen. not politicians, though they and their businesses do appear in business directories for new mexico-1880, 1882, 1900. 1920. i am researching here.–i did a paper on the lacassagne v lovato lawsuit which is with the territorial archives in santa fe. church archives will have dates, and census records, 1880, 1920 esp. i am very glad for the effort mr. patorni is putting forth. (france scholes, r e twitchell, also)

  15. Rebecca Coleman says:

    This is such an interesting site! My father Aldopho Ortiz Jr was born in Los Ojos, NM. His mother was Benigna Mecure. I remember meeting Uncle Alex as a child. I have always been interested in my French ancestry but I don’t have much information about this side of the family.

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