We have just returned from a wonderful cruise that took us to areas of Nova Scotia and Quebec from which my maternal ancestors hailed, and, not surprisingly, that has me thinking about these folks. Unfortunately, we don’t know even a fraction as much about my Mom’s roots as we do about my Dad’s, but thanks to the miracle of Ancestry.com, I am making some headway and have been able to add some information to the records that were given to me by family members. As far as I have been able to determine thus far, my Mom’s ancestors are all of French ancestry and came to the US after generations in Canada, although one side is Acadian and the other not.
The majestic scenery of Acadia National Park, on the US side of the border near Bar Harbor, Maine, was certainly a highlight of our recent journey, as was our stop on Prince Edward Island. From my research, I have learned that the term Acadian refers to those French who originally settled and developed lands that are now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. On the other hand French Canadians are the rest of the French in Canada, in places such as Montreal and Quebec. My understanding is that there was initially little interaction between the two groups, and therefore the distinction does have considerable genealogical significance. [A related term that we perhaps more frequently hear is Cajun, and this is can be confusing. Cajun – a dialectal derivation of Acadian – refers to people with Acadian ancestry who emigrated to the Louisiana area. Like us, most Acadians and their descendants can not be called Cajuns as they never went anywhere near Louisiana.]
In my mother’s maternal branch of the family tree, the surnames of all four of her great-grandparents have been identified by scholars as Acadian: Richard, Beaudreau, Bourque, and Arseneau. Although we don’t yet have any information about our specific line beyond this generation, we do know that these names existed in the Acadian region from the time of the French arrival. I’ve learned that Acadia was home to the first permanent French settlement in North America, which was established at Port-Royal in 1604. The French settlers built a fort at the mouth of the St. Croix River, which separates present-day New Brunswick and Maine, on a small island named Île-Ste-Croix (now just inside the Maine border). The following spring, the settlers sailed across the Bay of Fundy to Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal), in present day Nova Scotia. During the 17th century, about sixty French families were established in Acadia. They developed friendly relations with the aboriginal Mi’kmaq, learning their hunting and fishing techniques. The Acadians lived mainly in the coastal regions, farming land reclaimed from the sea through diking. Living on the frontier between French and British territories, the Acadians found themselves on the frontlines in each conflict between the powers. Acadia was passed repeatedly from one side to the other; the Acadians learned to survive through an attitude of studied neutrality, refusing to take up arms for either side, and thus came to be referred to as the “French neutrals.” In the 150 years between 1604 and 1755, the Acadians turned the wilderness into productive lands and became prosperous. However, in 1755, the British confiscated the Acadian lands, property, and virtually all they had, and expelled/deported the Acadians who would not swear loyalty to the British Crown and religion. Since my mother’s people were all Catholic and spoke French until her grandmother’s generation, I would have to guess that they were not among the group that swore loyalty to the British, although the Bourque-Arseneau line emigrated to the US from Nova Scotia a century later, so they either found a way to stay in the area or returned to it later (or were not descended from the original settlers and did not come to Canada from France until after the time of deportation). Some 2000 Acadians – perhaps my Bourque and Arseneau ancestors among them – are believed to have fled to the woods and found refuge and help from the Mi’kmaq Indians, who aided them in either escaping to Quebec Province or resettling after the war – which may, perhaps, be how our Richard ancestors came to be in Sorel, Quebec in the mid-1800s. Many families were split up in the confusion that ensued; some were sent back to France. Others were dispersed throughout British colonies in North America, primarily New England, and when our line did emigrate to Massachusetts a century later, they may have found relatives there.
What I know for certain is that my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Louise Catherine Richard, and she was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on December 5, 1912. I knew her as a child, but not well, as she and my mother were not close. Her parents were Albert Joseph Richard and Anna Mae Bourque. They met in Brockton and were married there on September 4, 1911. Their marriage certificate lists Albert’s occupation as “barber” (although my mother says “hairdresser” would be a more accurate term for what she recalls) and Anna’s as “Shoe Op,” which suggests that Anna worked at one of Brockton’s many shoe factories at the time of their wedding, although the 1910 Census tells us that, in the preceding year she was employed in a factory which made shoe boxes (while her two older brothers were already then working a shoe factory.) This is not surprising, as The French Canadians in New England (MacDonald, 1898) tells us:
The great movement of French Canadian emigration to New England began shortly after the close of the Civil War, the chief determining causes being the demand for labor created by the growth of manufactures, and the relatively high wages obtainable by comparatively un-skilled workmen. Before the enactment of the contract labor law, probably the larger part of the French Canadians came at the solicitation and under the charge of representatives of manufacturing corporations…. It is not surprising that, to the average Canadian habitant, the prospect should have appeared irresistibly attractive. His family was large, his farm remote, his life laborious…. Taught by the Church that he who brought many children into the world did God service, the utter disparity between the number to be fed and clothed and the wherewithal to feed and clothe them became every year more apparent. To achieve even a meagre living was difficult: to do more was impossible. Yet he knew no other life, and was cut off, by situation, poverty, and ignorance, from nearly every opportunity for betterment. But the assurance of steady employment, not laborious, and at wages which to many must have seemed almost fabulous, was a tangible and irresistible appeal. The factory offered a place, not for himself alone, but also for his wife and older children. The more children he had, the larger the sum total of the family income.
In many New England towns, textiles were the product being manufactured, but in Brockton, it was all about the shoes. The USGenWeb Geneaological Site for the City of Brockton tells us that its
most famous industry began in 1811 when shoemaker Micah Faxon rode to Boston with 100 pairs of shoes which he sold at wholesale. By 1837 over 100,000 pairs of North Bridgewater (Brockton’s original name) shoes were produced each year and the industry employed 1,125 workers in that year…In the early 1860s Gordon McKay improved and patented a sole-sewing machine which spurred the growth of the shoe industry in the town, and by the end of the Civil War North Bridgewater was the largest center of shoe production in the nation. Factories supplying tools and materials for the shoe manufacture proliferated, and the growth of the industry led to the nickname of ‘The Shoe City”…. By 1908, Brockton had 35 shoe factories… Other industries included a furnace and forge, grist- and saw-mills and textile manufacturing…. products include paper and wooden packing boxes, nails and spikes, and shoe fittings and tools.
Clearly my ancestors were among those drawn from Canada to New England by the promise of a more prosperous life. Albert’s parents, Arthur Richard and Ezilda Beaudreau, came with their parents, Arthur at age 12 in 1869 and Ezilda at age 21 in 1881. They must have met soon after her arrival, for they were married in 1882 and their first child was born the following year. By 1900, the Census lists nine children, aged from 9 months to 17 years, in their household (and a tenth child had died). Arthur, though, it seems did not go for factory work. As we have already seen would be the case with son Albert, Arthur’s occupation is listed as “barber,” although the oldest two children, Wildred (age 17) and Lydia (age 15) show on the Census as employed at a shoe factory, he as a sorter and she as a stitcher. We don’t know whether this trade of “barber” was something Arthur’s father brought with them from Sorel, Quebec, or whether it is a new line of work Arthur picked up in his new country. But we do also know from the Census that the four middle Richard children were “at school” in 1900, while the three youngest were still at home; Ezilda’s profession is left blank (it ought to say ‘baby-production”!).
From family records, I know that Anna’s parents, Theodore Bourque and Pauline Arseneau, were from SpringHill, Nova Scotia, and that is where Anna was born; Anna was baptized in St. John’s Church there. However, the 1910 Census lists the name as Burke, shows Theodore’s occupation as telephone lineman, and says they are from “English Canada.” The confusion is interesting, but probably not surprising – the Census workers often (mis-)spelled things as they heard them, and Brockton records indicate there were many Irish Burkes in the town at that time. The assimilation imperative of the “melting pot” ideal was hard at work!
The one at right was taken in 1961. Anna passed on to the next part of her journey in 1966, and Albert followed her in 1969; both are buried in Brockton.
So, that’s what I know thus far about our Acadian connection. More about our French Canadian connection in a future posting!
Full text of The French Canadians in New England is available at http://archive.org/stream/jstor-1881895/1881895_djvu.txt
USGenWeb Geneaological Site for the City of Brockton, Massachusetts: