Why they came: Franco-American immigration

A presentation on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College Franco-American Collection, highlighted important histories about Maine’s immigrants. French-Canadian, Franco-American and recently the French-Africans are now part of the history of French immigration into Maine.

Why they came

Héritier Nosso and Jean Claude Redonnet spoke in French about “Why they came” at USM LAC FAC

Lorraine Masure chronicled her Franco-American family’s immigration in “Growing Up Franco-American With No Patent Leather Shoes“, reported in this blog at this link.

Moreover, a year ago, this blog reported about an informative publication created in 1982, by students of the Hyde School in Bath, titled “Immigrants from the North”.   It’s a historic overview about the Franco-American immigration history from French-Canada into Maine.

Encore! This timely subject was again the topic of discussion at a presentation titled “Why They Came“, at the Jan. 16, USM LAC FAC program.

Two points of view about immigration were presented. Jean Claude Redonnet, a cultural historian from Falmouth, Maine, described the French-Canadian history of immigration and Héritier Nosso, of Lewiston described the reasons why new Mainer’s from French speaking Africa came to Maine.

Why They Came” told the stories of two cultures, with the same goals.  French-Canadians and French-Africans came to Lewiston as immigrants with the purpose of building new and better lives for themselves and their families. Both cultures experienced the challenges of learning how to live in a new world,  speaking the English language and adapting to American culture, while also maintaining pride for their roots in France, Canada and in Africa.

Les Grand Derangement

Les Grand Derangement map shows where the Acadians traveled after the cruel deportations of 1755

A history of French-Canadian immigration is rooted in the 17th century when France dominated Europe.  Under the leadership if the ambitious King Louis XIV, who was nicknamed “The Sun King”, the French were quick to take advantage of opportunities in the colonial era’s New World across Atlantic ocean, by sending settlers and explorers to claim land in North America.

By 1620, France had permanent colonies in Quebec City, and on the Saint Lawrence River in Canada, and at Port Royal, in Nova Scotia.  In 1642, Montreal was founded.

Additionally, the French established posts in the wilderness areas to support the growing fur trade, started by woodsmen known as “coureurs de bois.”

A change in the balance of power between France and England caused a reversal in the strength and power over control of the New World.  After 1675, the French government stopped sending new colonists to Quebec becuase it was becoming too expensive to finance European wars and support colonization at the same time.  As part of a peace treaty with France in 1713, the English were given control over Acadia (the English named it the Nova Scotia colony).  This turnover led to terrible problems for the French settlers who were expected to pledge their allegiances to England.  When King Louis XIV died in 1715, the French gradually lost strength and leadership and the transition from French to English rule was not peaceful, especially in Nova Scotia.

In 1755, Governor Lawrence, the English governor of Nova Scotia and Port Royal, where the French settlers thrived, demanded Acadian loyalty. When the Acadians refused, but chose to remain neutral, the Governor ordered their deportation.  Thousands of Acadian men, women and children were “herded like cattle” onto small ships and sent to various ports in the American colonies and elsewhere, (Immigrants from the North, p. x).  Another large group Acadians fled, and they hid in the woods of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where they eventually made their way to the northern limits of the Saint John River and lived in the Madawaska territory.  This terrible series of events are called “le grand derangement” (the great upheaval).

Acadians probably arrived in the Saint John Valley in 1785, according to most research, where they established a community in the St. David Parish, in Madawaska.

French-Canadian settlers continued to be challenged by the scarcity of good farm land and a negligence from the English speaking Canadian government towards their needs.  As the austere conditions increased, the French-Canadians began to look for opportunities to find work in the growing textiles and shoe factories being built in New England. In Lewiston, the Grand Trunk Railroad created a perfect highway to a life where they could earn an income by working in the manufacturing mills. Many others traveled by wagon and on foot along the Old Canada Road, the now Route 201 North, going through Jackman, Maine.

Becoming American citizens become a goal for thousands of French-Canadians who found economic security, albeit in the harsh conditions they experienced in the manufacturing mills. Their lives in communities known as “petit Canadas” was preferable to the arduous existence they left in Quebec and New Brunswick.  Masure wrote in “Growing Up Franco-American”, about the bravery her grandparents demonstrated their decision to leave their agrarian way of life on the farms to come to New England, to earn a “predictable paycheck”.  They moved 400 miles from the manual labor of the farms, where you “eat what you grow”, into the industrial revolution.  Masure told an audience at a USM LAC FAC presentation about her memoire that the loveliest story she wrote was about how mother and siblings became American citizens.  “With great trepidation, they studied in what was, for them, a second language. They learned the booklet for weeks about how to become a citizen.  My Mom never forgot the judge’s eloquence when he explained how their native country was like their parents, but their new country, the United States of American, was like a spouse.  He told them, ‘When you marry, you don’t stop caring about your parents. So should it be with you.  Always honor, in your own way, your native country, yet, be true and devoted to the United States of America’.”

In a future blog, I will write about the experiences shared by Héritier Nosso, who told his story about “Why they came”.

A link to the USM LAC Franco-American Collection is here.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.