Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Franco-Americans That Built a Community in Maine.

Logging Wharf on the Kennebec River in Hallowell Maine

       The earliest recorded French~Canadian who arrived in Augusta, Maine was Gabriel Cotee' (Cote); he was listed as a taxpayer in the town, in 1828. The census reports for 1840 lists four French families, although the tax rolls indicated that there were several more. In 1850 the census contained six families; in 1860, ten families; in 1870, twelve families; and in 1880, fifty~three families. They were listed by census takers, but many were not included, perhaps due to the lack of compassion for the French~Canadians in the early days.
      The great influx of French immigrants occurred between 1880 and 1900. The question as to what brought these "foreigners" can be answered as follows: (1) The desire to own land which was not available in Canada; (2) the aspirations for advancement in the socio~economic world; (3) to escape the yoke of British dominance of their lives; (4) to enhance the Catholic church's position in it's attempt to Catholicize the state of Maine.
      The increase in Catholic population in Maine is traceable to the immigration of the Irish and French~Canadians - two racial groups with large family traditions. They constituted what has been called the first and second colonization of New England.
      The Irish constituted the predominant minority group in the decades prior to the Civil War, and, although this state of affairs continued during the postwar period, they eventually were outnumbered by the French~Canadians in Augusta.

      In the 1830's, construction of buildings and the Kennebec dam, later called the Edward's Mill Dam, which cost $300,000, required a tremendous number of laborers. This need was furnished by the Irish immigrants. Their trials were many, and this new minority in Augusta was hard pressed. Their survival can be attributed to the successful attempts of the Catholic church, which banded and guided them. The first St. Mary's Church was founded in 1836, in an abandoned Unitarian church, with visiting priests from North Whitefield, administering to the flock. 1*
      The depression of 1837 hit still harder at this group which was beginning to get adjusted, and caused the loss of it's church. Augusta reverted to a mission status for Catholics, again, under North Whitefield, and it wasn't until 1845 that a resident priest returned and a lot was purchased on State Street. Finally, the church opened formally for services in July of 1847.
      Again the pastor's services were lost through transfer and, for almost ten years, St. Mary's was under the jurisdiction of North Whitefield, once more. Finally, in 1856, St. Mary's began it's second phase of a long parish history, when Reverend Charles Egan assumed the duties of resident pastor.
      The situation in Augusta was the scene of a repressed Catholic minority in the Irishman's  struggle to maintain an existence and to improve their status. It was in this arena that the French~Canadians appeared, replacing the Irish as the lower~class citizens of the 1880's.
      In Canada, mounting pressures forced drastic measures on the ever growing French communities. Many decided to accept the invitation of the mill owners in the New England towns and cities. Some of the French did not come with the intent of establishing permanent residences, and hence there was much traveling back and forth over the Maine and Canadian border. However, the great majority remained, and it is estimated that there were 53,000 French~Canadians in Maine during the 1890's.
      Not all lived in textile towns. From the start, the Madawaskans numbered 16,000 at the turn of the century and gave some balance between factory and farm life.

By Edmond J. Massicotte

      Wherever they went, the French followed a similar pattern of life. The Quebec family and parish life were transferred to Maine's towns and cities, they formed a closely knit community around their parish church and their faith. They isolated themselves from the mainstream of the town's life and also from the Irish~Catholics of the locality whom they had displaced.
      From the 1840's through the 1900's, the migration of French speaking Canadians to Maine reached record proportions, which required controls to limit their numbers, in the early 1920's. this was accomplished mainly in order to stabilize the labor market in the area. The exodus from Canada began when the availability of land in Quebec and in other sections became restricted. Most French families that owned farmland in these locales came under the strict control of the local customs, government, and land speculators.
      In Canada, with land ownership saturated, growth and expansion of family holdings became impossible. Through lineal traditions, a father would bequeath to his heir to carry on. In this design, such geographical names as Les Concessions, des St. Amands were derived from clannish exploitation of the land by various families.
      In most areas of French Canada, it was nearly always the youngest who inherited the paternal property. When the eldest boy reached the age when he wished to establish himself, his parents still possessed their strength and were not planning to retire; accordingly, they were limited to giving their sons the means to set up a farm in a neighboring parish that had recently been settled and had land available at a better price. Often, a son who was married moved to the area of his in~laws. 2*
      The same plan was adopted along down the line. When the last son who was ready to head a farm remained, the father, approaching the age of retirement, and provided the son was of desirable intelligence, passed his holdings on to him. A condition was inserted, in the transfer of land that the son pension his parents for life under the provisions of a contract signed by a notary.
      However, the large number of offspring which were fostered precluded the distribution of land to the natural heirs. There just wasn't enough land to go around. Therefore, it became evident that if French~Canadians were to improve their conditions, they would of necessity have to immigrate to the south in order to survive.
      Most of the arrivals in Augusta in the 1880's came from the rural areas of Quebec Province and were spurred on by famine and the need to support large families. A great many who were single,  found employment in northern Maine as lumberjacks. The family minded man was hired for cheap wages in the imported labor pool. They were very poor, they needed work, and they could not be particular about the conditions. In most cases, the first job offered was accepted.
      The earliest Frenchman ever to settle in Old Hallowell came from France and could be cause for some confusion in the modern era. Genealogists have been frustrated in their quest for information relating to ancient settlers and in many cases have run into so~called brick walls, where it appears there is no information or data recorded to maintain continuity. In other examples, some are astonished to discover that they are not descendants of persons which would seem to be the normal evolution of families. Such a case history is contained in Nash's History of Augusta which contains information to such a change of name, in this case concerning the name Davis. In Old Hallowell, (including, generally, the greater, tricity areas), a settlement was called New France. This area, in the central western section of modern Farmingdale, extended two or three miles, southwest of Loudon Hill and was reached by a road known today as Maple Street, at it's eastern end.
      Thomas D'Avis, son of John and Betsy, was born in Ingorville, France, in 1762 3*. Nash informs us that "he came to America in the French Service during the Revolutionary War and at the close of the war remained in this country and lived for awhile, in New Hampshire. He came to Old Hallowell in 1786 and began the settlement of New France, which was so called from his being a Frenchman." D'Avis married Margaret Bungough (Bunyow) of Pownelborough (modern day Dresden), and such intentions was recorded and filed on October 20th, 1788. "They had six children of whom three were sons. The youngest was Thomas Jefferson Davis, who succeeded to the homestead which occupied (circa 1800) a beautiful situation about half a mile from the nearest road."
      There is a cause to ponder and reflect on the part of those retaining the Davis family name, and descendants from Thomas D'Avis of New France in 1786, should be especially enlightened.
      In the period prior to the 1880's, the French immigrants to Augusta were few. Those who appeared earlier were integrated into the Anglo~Saxon way of life. Records of the census list Antoine Guoir, who came to Augusta in 1820 from France and who married Sylvia Savage, daughter of Joel Savage. He purchased a farm in the northern area of Augusta on modern day, Old Belgrade Road. He was the first permanent French resident to be recorded. The tax rolls of Augusta record that he acquired property of $3,200 value (140 acres) by 1853, as a farmer. The entire family, Antoine, his wife Sylvia, and son George L., with his wife, are interred in Bracket's Corner Cemetery, on the Old Belgrade Road, in Augusta. The gravestones are the oldest marked graves of French settlers in Augusta. The name, D'Avis, is now extinct. There are now, descendants in the area named, Davis.
      Gabriel Cotee', noted earlier, was listed as a taxpayer of the town of Augusta in 1828. He was the first French~Canadian. Town Order Book of Augusta, entry #219 of August 1, 1828, authorized "Gabriel Cotee' a payment of $7.50 for highway work" on July 12, 1828. Cotee' is not listed in the census of 1830, and it is concluded that he moved on to other areas. He is probably not the only French~Canadian to have attempted to settle in Augusta, however, no one else is recorded.
      Several families are noted in the 1840 census. Leonard Busha (Boucher) entered as a laborer with a family, including a wife, thirty to forty years of age, three sons, ages five to ten, one son and one daughter under five. This family is not found in the following, 1850 census.
      Nash's, History of Augusta lists, as a taxpayer in Augusta, the name of Leon Bushee (Boucher), age twenty~eight. He also was included in the 1840 census. He was an immigrant from Canada and was posted as illiterate. His family, including a wife, Helen, twenty~six, three sons, Fidele, six, Baleine (Barney), four, Se'rapha (Se'raphin), two, and Mary, one.
      Another from the census report in 1840: Louise Charlante, age forty to fifty. She was listed as working in manufacturing. Later, she became the operator of a boardinghouse on Capital Street. Her family included one male, fifteen to twenty, two females, and one male under five.
      Joseph Delamaire was listed as a taxpayer in 1840.
      John Pullen (Poulin), age twenty~six, was an immigrant from Canada. The census record lists his name as Pullen, but Nash's History of Augusta includes his name as John Pooler in 1847, as a taxpayer. The family included one male, aged twenty to thirty, and one female, aged fifteen to twenty.
      In 1847, Alonzo Gaubert appeared in Augusta as an immigrant from France. He worked as a tradesman and later became the owner of a bookstore on Water Street. He also sold dry goods. According to Kennebec Journal advertisements during the period, he was a stagecoach passenger agent. He owned a house and lot on Winthrop Street ( of which, I lived next door to, in 1990.), which in 1853 had a valuation assessment of $3,900. The name is not included on the rolls of modern Augusta.
      Others who are recorded were Cyrene'es Pullen (Poulin), an immigrant from Canada. His family included one male, aged twenty to thirty, one female, aged fifteen to twenty, and two males, aged ten to fifteen. Peter Boucher was a laborer from twenty to thirty, one female, age fifteen to twenty, and two males, ages ten to fifteen. Peter Boucher, a laborer from Canada and appears in the census of 1850. A very close interrelationship existed between the families of Leon and Peter, which will be discussed later.
      Another immigrant from France, who became prominent as the founder of the "Augusta Steam and Dye House" on Water Street, in 1867, was Emile Barbier. He died in 1894, and his family name has, since disappeared from Augusta.
      Historic records indicate that from Augusta, during the Civil War, volunteers for service from the French~Canadians came from the "Busheys". 4* Under the law of the land, substitutes were acceptable to replace citizens who had been drafted for service, and it appears the Bushees, having no civil status, enrolled as volunteers and received a bonus estimated at $100.00 each for service. Those involved were William Bushea, Charles Bushey, and Joseph Bushey. The names were corrupted due to the fact none of them could read or write English. A note if interest in connection with the service of Joseph Bushey is worthy of mention. He appears on the rolls, listed under the name of "Bushey", however, he was the only casualty of the Civil War from the Augusta French~Canadian ranks. He is immortalized on one of the plaques of the beautiful monument, erected in Augusta's Memorial Circle and further corrupted as Joseph "Bushea".

Civil War Monument with 1st French Casualty ~ Joseph Bushea
      A great many more have appeared in Augusta prior to the 1880's, but their stay was of short duration and was never officially recorded.
      Those who did remain, did not become a part of the French community after 1880 but became integrated into the Anglo~Saxon orb of the community. The Bouchers and the Poulins became Anglicized, and their descendants are purported to be in the Bush and Pullen or Pooler successions. No relationship can be found with the Bouchers or the Poulins who arrived after 1880.
      With the advent of the textile, shoe, and paper industries in New England, labor was extremely short. Mill owners devised a plan to induce French~Canadians to fill the void with promises of good jobs and homes. Up to this time, the Irish minority had been exploited in this capacity, but their numbers could not supply the needed labor to sustain the expanding industries.
      The French came in droves: Families uprooted themselves and liquidated whatever link existed with the past. They came overland and by rivers. The trek was long and harsh. It is reported that several could not afford the cost of transportation and traveled the entire distance from Quebec to Augusta on foot. The majority, however, used the railroad, which provided greater comfort. It was not uncommon to see an entire family disembark in Augusta, with each member carrying his share of the household goods. All sorts of conveyances were used to transport these newcomers to their homes, lavish buggies, commercial wagons, drays, and hay racks. Some walked.

"The Yankees drew back from them, in the mills and on the streets. But the men of P.Q. did not mind. They had friends enough to keep them company. They kept coming by new batches, cousins and cousins and cousins. They wrote back home: 'Big money down here, Uncle Amadis, leave the farm. We only work fourteen hours a day here. And on Sundays we wear our fine clothes and do nothing but smoke. It is easy to learn, the weaving. Sacre' bleu! It is easy! You will get on. Of course, it is not home, not like Canada. The people have not our ways. But there is money to think of. Even little Pierre has a pair of shoes. Think of that!' " 5*

      Thus, it can be concluded that land pressure in Canada created a structural problem in the society of French~Canadians which necessitated the change, cultural as well. French society was experiencing a trial~and~error behavior in an attempt to find the solution to the problem. The growing lack of land forced parents to seek other outlets for their children.
      Conflict grew between the old patterns of establishment and lack of land, increasing attempts to find a better way. The great runoff of surplus population to the towns and cities of New England took unlimited quantities of labor in the later nineteenth century, as the mill towns and their industrialization provided a solution which evolved to give this minority a permanent place in the history of Augusta and the state of Maine.

      1* Chronology of St. Mary's Church, Augusta, Maine. Diocese of Portland, Maine, Archives: 1835~1972. 
      2* Marcel Rioux and Yves Martin, French~Canadian Society, vol. 1 (Toronto-Montreal: McLelland and Steward Limited, (1964), p. 34
      3* Nash, Charles E. History of Augusta. Charles E. Nash and Son, Augusta, Maine, 1904. Edith L. Harpy, Augusta, Maine, 1961, p. 325
      4* Kingsbury, Henry D. & Deyo, Simeon L. Illustrated History of Kennebec County 1625~1892. New York: H.W. Blake & Co., 1892, pp. 122-123, 136-137, 171-172.
      5* Coffin, Robert P. Tristam. Kennebec~Cradle of Americans. New York: Farar and Rinehart, Inc., 1937, pp. 193-194.
      6* Rioux and Martin, op. cit., p. 149.
And Maurice Violette, The Franco~Americans, pp. 20-28  


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