Between the Pincers

My great-grandmother’s family left New Brunswick at the beginning of the Acadian renaissance, in 1883  (a year before the Acadian tricolor was adopted at Miscouche). Acadian leaders had little sympathy for those leaving at this critical time.. Léon Thériault comments,

…. Although exact figures are not available, it appears that people from St. Mary’s Bay, N.S., and those from southeastern New Brunswick were more inclined to emigrate than those from other Acadian regions. The literature of the time was harsh on emigrants; their taste for wealth, their contempt for traditional values, especially religious and cultural ones, were denounced:

To those compatriots who are, either directly or indirectly encouraging emigration, shame, contempt, and infamy….

Mercenaries are needed in the United States, slaves [this was actually the word used] are needed, and it is amongst ourselves that they are found [Le Moniteur acadien, 17 September 1869].

[Léon Thériault, “Acadia from 1763 to 1990: An Historical Synthesis.” In Jean Daigle, ed., Acadia of the Maritimes (Moncton, NB: Université de Moncton, Chaire d’études acadiennes, 1995), pp. 64-65.]

But the folks back home were not the only ones critical of the motives of Acadian migrants. Acadian migrants to New England found themselves in hostile territory. In the 12th Annual Report of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor (1881), Commissioner Carroll D. Wright wrote:

With some exceptions the Canadian French are the Chinese of the Eastern States. They care nothing for our institutions, civil, political, or educational. They do not come to make a home among us, to dwell with us as citizens, and so become a part of it; but their purpose is merely to sojourn a few years as aliens, touching us only at a single point, that of work, and, when they have gathered out of us what will satisfy their ends, to get them away to whence they came, and bestow it there. They are a horde of industrial invaders, not a stream of stable settlers. Voting with all that it implies, they care nothing about. Rarely does one of them become naturalized. They will not send their children to school if they can help it, but endeavor to crowd them into the mills at the earliest possible age. [Cited by Gerard J. Brault, The French-Canadian Heritage in New England (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1986), p. 68.]

At the same time, Protestants targeted them for proselytizing. Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists were most active in this, identifying Protestantism with Americanism. Typical examples were the Protestant newspaper, Le Franco-Américain, published in Fall River in 1888, and Rev. Calvin E. Amaron of Massachusetts, author of The Evangelization of the French Canadians (1885), republished as Your Heritage; or New England Threatened(Springfield, MA: French Protestant College, 1891). Here’s the Introduction, by Rev. Joshua Coit, Secretary of the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society:

The importance of the French-Canadian problem in New England can hardly be overstated. The present number of French Canadians in New England (in Massachusetts one twelfth of the whole population); their certain increase, both by immigration and by propagation; the openly declared purposes of those who control the great mass of this people as no other class in our land is controlled:–all unite to make this problem a present and pressing one. The French already begin, not only to feel, but also to boast of the strength of their numbers. The Boston Herald of June 25 1891 in its very full report of the “Fête Nationale” held by the French Canadians in Pawtucket R.I. on St. Jean Baptiste’s day, June 24, credits an ex-Mayor of Pawtucket with saying: “Mr. Thibault, in his address in French, made a remark that I have heard in English many times to-day. “Here are the future rulers of the country.” This is because there is no other race more prolific than the French Canadian unless it be the Irish.” These are significant words uttered by one, repeated by many and endorsed by a mayor of no mean city.It may seem foolish to pay any heed to what should be looked upon simply as the idle boast of a Fête-day orator. But the same hope or expectation crops out in many ways and in many places. Formerly and until recently the order from the bishops and priests to this people was “Do not become citizens in the states, but return with your gains to your old homes in Canada”. And the order was obeyed and the French were a shifting, restless class among us. But now the word has gone forth: “Become citizens” and this is obeyed. The French are buying farms and homes. Many have become voters already and very many more have taken out the first papers. This means that there is gathering among us a large mass of voters more pliant and obedient than ever the Irish were to be controlled by orders from their superiors. Great care is taken by the Romish priests, not only through the parochial schools but also from their pulpits, to keep these people well in hand. That they succeed so well is to be accounted for not simply by the ignorance of the people, though this is deplorable, but also by their piety, which is admirable. The danger to our land of this state of things among any considerable portion of the people is plain and will become plainer as the years go by. What risks are in store for our civil and religious liberties. What confusion between public and parochial schools. What conflicts at the ballot box.

This book assures us that the warfare has already begun and brings before the public an array of facts that should be considered by every lover of his country. Make what abatement you please on account of the enthusiasm of the author, there still remains uncontrovertible evidence of peril.

If New England is to maintain its high standing in our land as a home of intelligence, education and religion, she must recognize the changes that are taking place from year to year and awake to the danger of an imperium in imperio.

Let the French Canadians be truly Americanized and freed from subjection to a foreign power and by their industry and frugality they will add strength to our strength. But kept distinct in language and religion, told by those to whom they listen to remain French, they add weakness.

There is no better way to Americanize them than by the influence of Christian education. They seven French Protestant churches under Congregational auspices in Massachusetts, the missions under other denominations, the French Protestant newspaper and the French Protestant College are all in the way to do great service to the State by moulding the characters of those who, if the prophecy of the Pawtucket orator be true, are to be the future rulers of the country.

Boston, Mass., June 25th, 1891.

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