Dans le American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940, on retrouve quelques bribes de l’histoire des Franco-Américains aux États-Unis. Philipe Lemay et Steve Comeau sont parmi les personnes qui ont témoigné de leur expérience. Ces témoignages contiennent plusieurs informations sur la vie des Canadiens français avant et après leur émigration au États-Unis. On y aborde le travail dans les usines, leur vie avant d’émigrer, les raisons qui les ont incité à partir, les relations difficiles avec les Irlandais (dont Jean-Baptiste Blanchette a été la victime en 1880), la vie communautaire, le catholicisme, l’éducation, etc.
Philippe Lemay a émigré aux États-Unis en 1864 avec sa famille. Ils habitaient à Saint-Ephrem d’Upton. Philippe Lemay a à Lowell puis à Manchester.
French Canadians from the province of Quebec have worked in the mills of Manchester for a long, long time. There was one as far back as 1833, and for more than 50 years they kept on coming until now we are 35,000 strong, 40% of the entire population of the city. Ours is said to be the largest single nationality group.
I am going to tell you as well as I can the story of the French Canadian textile worker; what brought him here; how he came, lived, worked, played and suffered until he was recognized as a patriotic, useful and respected citizen, no longer a ‘frog’ and ‘pea soup eater,’ a despised Canuck. And it’s the story of all the French Canadians who settled in New England mill towns. The picture of one French Canadian textile worker and the picture of another are just as much alike as deux gouttes d’eau, or, as we have learned to say in English, like two peas in a pod.
Steve Comeau est né à South River, Nouveau Brunswick, en 1876. Ses parents ont plus tard déménagé à Kouchidouduac, Nouveau-Brunswick. Il a émigré au Maine en 1896. Il a habité Greenville et Waterville.
A study of French Canadians in the eastern part of Maine, at least, can not be regarded in the same light as a study of an alien racial group that has occupied a part of a territory largely inhabited by Americans, or dominated by groups of other nationalities. I don’t think that the French in Canada regard eastern Maine exactly as they would foreign soil. There are a number of reasons why this should be so. Many of the early explorers who sailed from the old world and travelled through this region, and many of the early pioneers who settled here were French. This section once formed a part of the province of Acadia, and for long periods it was owned and controlled by Frenchmen. French Jesuits played a prominent part in the early religious life of the inhabitants, and in many communities scarcely any language but French was spoken. Even today same villages are predominantly French, and French Canadians and French Americans form a varying proportion of the population of every town.
In those early times there were many French in Canada, but there were also many in eastern Maine. Part of the time there was no boundary line between the two lands. The French here « grew up with the land. » They fought in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812. Maine first belonged to the Indians, and when America established its independence, the French in Maine did not feel as thought they belonged to an alien race.
Il a habité Old Town. Extrait
It’s too bad old Zeb (an uncle of his) isn’t alive. He knew a lot about this stuff. (magic, ghosts, superstitions) I remember a story they used to tell about a time when there was an epidemic of black cholera over on the island (French Island). There was an old covered wooden bridge that ran across the river at that time, and guards bad been stationed at this end of the bridge to prevent any one from crossing in either direction.
La transcription complète rend bien l’accent de monsieur Martin. Extrait
Worked on the farm and in the woods in Canada. Went to Lille when he was 17 years old in 1898. Worked there 15 years mostly as a carpenter but sometimes in the woods. Moved to Old Town in 1913 and has remained here ever since. Went to school only two years in Canada between the ages 6 and 8. The small house in which he lives and the large corner lot on which it stands belong to the church. He is janiotr of the church. He takes care of the fires in the convent school, the sisters’ house, the church, and the priest’s home; shovels paths and keeps ice off the roofs. Mows lawns and does other work about the church property in the summer time. The job keeps him pretty busy. Is a very fast and eifficient worker. Good carpenter. Has never worked in a factory. Interested in local politics and local affairs. Is a Catholic. A little above medium height, slim, and dark. Has good teeth and a scar on his left eyebrow. Talks with a pronounced French accent in spite of his years in Maine. Smokes cigars.
La suite de ce billet se trouve ici (cliquez).