Saturday, July 4, 2009

Prominent Flemish Americans

Today, here in America, we celebrate the 233rd anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence. Given the occasion, it seems fitting to me to recognize some of those Americans of Flemish ancestry who have contributed to this country's greatness. Note that the Flemish ancestry of those I mention below is documented, even if I have yet to post it here. Likely there are other names whom I have failed to mention. If you do know names of Flemish-Americans I have missed please kindly contact me directly.

Throughout history the Flemish national traits of modesty and quiet diligence have stood the Flemings well. These traits have allowed Flemings to emigrate and assimilate throughout not only throughout North and South America but also the rest of Europe, the Middle East, and even Africa and Asia!

Unfortunately those same traits of modesty and easy assimilation often meant that our historical claims went unrecognized, unknown or even ignored. Oftentimes prominent Flemish-Americans have been labeled either French or Dutch or English – as well as, occasionally, Belgian. My purpose is to highlight to all fellow 1,000,000+ Flemish-Americans that our ethnicity – while not often recognized – has had an impressive impact on America, and, with the exception of the odd underworld figure, for the betterment of society.

Contributions to the United States by Prominent Americans of Flemish Descent - by Field of Endeavor

Founders of American Colonies

William Penn - established the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania

George Calvert - established the Roman Catholic colony of Maryland

Governors of American Colonies

Willem Beekman - longest serving mayor of Nieuw Amsterdam, ancestor of George Bush

Jacques Carpentier - First Governor of Nieuw Amstel - what later became Delaware

Presidents of the United States

George Washington - Father of our Country, 1st President of the United States.

Martin Van Buren - 8th President of the United States.

Theodore Roosevelt - 26th President of the United States.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt - 32nd President of the United States.

George Herbert Walker Bush - 41st President of the United States.

George Bush - 43rd President of the United States

First Ladies of the United States

Elisabeth Kortright - wife of James Monroe, 4th President of the United States.

Martha Wayles Jefferson - wife of Thomas Jefferson, authored the Declaration of Independence, 3rd President of the U.S.

Lucretia Garfield - wife of James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States.

Eleanor Roosevelt - wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States

Prominent Women
Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee - wife of Robert E. Lee, famous Confederate General.

Leo Hendrik Baeckelandt*
- inventor of plastics, company was a predecessor of Union Carbide.

Charles Van de Poele
- created the first electric network in cities, electric trolley inventor.

Henry Ford
- Founder of Ford Motor Company; 'inventor' of the assembly line.

George Washington
- (of Brugge) inventor of freeze-dried coffee.

James A. Folger
- invented mass production of ground coffee ready for the pot.


George Washington Goethals
- First Flemish West Point grad; builder of the Panama Canal


Benjamin Franklin - first ambassador; Continental Congress; statesman; inventor; businessman.


Louis C. Rabaut - author of the legislation to include "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance


John Ericsson - invented the screw propeller - and the 'Monitor' during the Civil War.

Karel Jan Bossart - Father of the Atlas Missile - 1st U.S. ICBM


Robert De LaSalle - first to explore Illinois and the Mississippi River.

Ludovicus Hennepin - created the first map of the Great Lakes and discovered Niagara Falls

Protestant Clergy

Hugh Peters - advocated the execution of King Charles I and helped settle New England

Willem Bertholf - founder of the Dutch Reformed Church in America

Fr. Pieter DeSmet - ministered to the Plains Indians

Fr. Damian (Joseph DeVeuster) - the missionary of Molokai

George Washington De Pauw - Founder of DePauw University in Indiana

Charles Stiers - Founder of the University of Maryland


George Sarton - founder of the History of Science as a distinct discipline


Arnaud DeBorchgrave - regular columnist for The Washington Post

Nelson DeMille - author of more than a half-dozen bestseller novels

Marguerite Yourcenaer – world-acclaimed author


Christian VanDeVelde – leading cycling champion

Jonathan Toews - captain of the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup winning team
Roger DeCoster – motorcross world champion

Cecil B. DeMille - director and producer of movie classics Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments.
Humphrey Bogart - famous actor of the mid-20th century

Frank Oz (born in England to a Flemish expatriate) - voice of Yoda and of Muppets (Miss Piggy,etc.)

Henry (also Peter, Jane & Bridget) Fonda - famous acting family spanning 3 generations

Richard Gere - actor and human rights activist
Lee DeWyze - 2010 American Idol winner

*Per correspondence with LHB's grandson Frederick, this is the correct and original spelling.
Copyright 2009 by David Baeckelandt All Rights Reserved


  1. Eindelijk een website over de Vlaamse aanwezigheid in de Verenige Staten. Als meer Vlamingen zich eens bewust waren van hun rijke geschiedenis en achtergrond! Keep it up, zou ik zo zeggen. Ik ken een Amerikaan die deels van Vlaamse afkomst is, ga hem de link naar uw blog doorsturen. Vriendelijke groet.

  2. Beste Mijnheer "PaleRider": Dank u heel veel voor uw vriendelijke aantekening. Het is mijn geweldig genoegen om uw e-mail te ontvangen. Voor mij is deze blog een passie. De Verenigde Staten zijn een van een stam land: elke etnische afkomst ofwel gevechten om hun tradities bij te houden en levend te kweken of gootstenen in het "smeltene pot". Mijn wens is voor die van ons hier in Amerika, een generatie weg van Vlaanderen, om zelfs wanneer enkel door gemeenschappelijke geschiedenis te herenigen, met onze neef in Vlaanderen. Verontschuldig alstublieft mijn arme bekwaamheid om gepast Nederlands te schrijven.
    Met vriendelijke groeten vanuit Chicago, De Bende van...

  3. De Bende van.. mijn verontschuldigen, ik dacht dat u Nederlandstalig was! Your Dutch is pretty good actually. From what I've heard, Dutch isn't that easy a language to learn. I'm really astounded by your enthusiasm and effort at learning about the land of your ancestors as well as their language! If I can contribute to your blog in any way, please let me know. There's plenty of interesting material on this site and much that I can learn from myself. It is all the more fascinating to me because of my love for the Anglo-Saxon countries. Best regards from a Flemish reader! :)

  4. Engels is ook niet bepaald gemakkelijk. In tegenstelling tot wat aangenomen wordt is Engels niet de tweede taal voor de meeste mensen in de wereld.

    1. It does not matter what rank English has in the world. The fact is that English is my mother tongue. And it is the first language for most Flemish Americans