Friday, July 9, 2010

Famous Belgian-Americans

This is not exactly what I plan to be making a habit of, but since I mentioned in my first post trying to do a little bit of education for the locals about Belgium, I thought I might list some of the famous Belgian-Americans who have had a big impact on the United States. I note them here because, in school for example, many of these are people that are fairly well known but no one knows that they're Belgians!
  • Father Louis Hennepin, aka Father Antoine, was a Flemish Catholic priest from what is now the Belgian province of Hainaut, at the time called the Spanish Netherlands. During the war with France he was captured and later sent to North America, part the time with the famous French explorer La Salle. He discovered Niagara Falls, modern Hannibal, Missouri and was first to mark 'Chicago' on the map of America.
  • Peter Minuit, someone many history students have heard of, was actually a Walloon though many assume he was Dutch because of his service with the United Provinces. He famously bought the island of Manhattan from the Indians, was Governor of the New Netherland colony and later the founder of the New Sweden colony as well.
  • Audrey Hepburn, really needs no explanation. Even people who do not know her movies or her many awards know her as a classic beauty, they know her beautiful face if nothing else. She had British and Dutch ancestry but many do not know she was born in Ixelles, Belgium.
  • Father Damien, the famous priest who founded the leper colony on Hawaii and who was canonized by the Pope and today is patron saint of lepers, outcasts and AIDS patients was born in Flanders as Jozef de Veuster.

There are many more of course, some are quite well known and do not need me to draw the attention of people to their nationality (like everyone knows Jean-Claude Van Damme is the "Muscles from Brussels" (and I like his movies, they are fun for what they are) and most know that the late Liz Clainborne was birthed in Belgium but those above are some of those I mention at the impact Belgians had on America, past and modern and hear people so surprised that these were from Belgium. Most have no idea.

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