.. onsocket from town to city occurred when Samuel Slater smuggled the specifications for textile manufacturing equipment from England (Wessel 214). This opened the floodgates for the erection of the Mill City that we see today. Entrepreneurs like Ed Harris and others erected profitable mills along the Blackstone River throughout Woonsocket. By 1850 The city had regular mail service, a transportation system consisting of roads, The Blackstone Canal and the Providence & Worcester Railroad, And a plethora of textile manufacturing mills. Woonsocket had grown to a population of 4000, accommodating 17 cotton mills, 3 woolen mills, 6 machine shops, an iron foundry, 2 grist mills, a saw mill, a soap manufacturer, and 2 grocery stores (Wessel 215). Although there were French-Canadians living in Woonsocket throughout the 17th century, the largest influx of French immigrants came to Woonsocket from Canada after 1830, and then again in 1860 when several of the mill hands were called away to fight in the Civil War (Wessel 216).
Of all the immigrant groups that have given to Woonsocket its present character and reputation, none other has been so numerous or influential as the French Canadian, and the reason for this pre-eminence is not hard to discover. While living in the province of Quebec, before migrating to New England, these French Canadians were neither contented nor prosperous. The farms on which they were living had been cultivated too long and replenished too little. Moreover, these farms were too small to support the large families that tilled them, and neither capital nor enterprise was available for introducing the improved agricultural methods and machinery which might have made the impoverished acres yield an adequate supply. Their well-established dislike of British institutions and British neighbors made the Quebecois disinclined to seek escape from their adversity by migration to other parts of Canada. They were, however, without any such prejudice against their neighbors to the south.
When the invitation came, to migrate to this land of freedom and opportunity, they responded in constantly increasing numbers. Because of their geographical proximity, the call was very definitely sent to them by the mill owners of Woonsocket, hard pressed by the labor shortage caused by the civil war. For the Canadians to accept this invitation was relatively easy. Possible competitors from Europe had to cross the stormy and expensive Atlantic Ocean, but immigrants from French Canada had to cross only the frontier. If the first town they reached did not offer the opportunities they were seeking, they could continue their overland journey to another and to yet others. In the course of these journeys, many of them came to Woonsocket and settled there.
Whether they liked the conditions of this new mill town or not is unkown, but they did write home and advise others to come. Regardless of the insults and bad treatment that they received from their Yankee and Irish predecessors, By the 20th century French-Canadians were the majority inhabitants of Woonsocket. In fact, The Mayor, 8 of the councilmen, (Wessel 224) and 84.3% of Woonsocket’s inhabitants were French-Canadian in 1920 (Wessel 228). In Woonsocket as in other textile producing cities the French Canadian influence is evident in their churches. The French in Woonsocket were very poor. They had to attend catholic mass at English speaking parishes until Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste raised enough money to erect Precieux Sang in 1875. From 1890-1953 Seven more Catholic, French churches were erected in Woonsocket.
Most of them were named Sainte Anne, Sainte Joseph or Notre Dame (presumably after the incredible church on the Ile de France in Paris). More evidence of the French prominence in Woonsocket is The abundance of French Language newspapers in the archives at the American French Genealogical Society; La’Sentinelle, La’Tribune, La’Courier du Rhode Island, La’Courrier Canadien, and Le Re’veil. The French newspapers helped these immigrants retain their language and culture. In fact, it is not uncommon to see French being spoken in Woonsocket in 1999. Although the French culture has endured, efforts have been made to acculturate the French. In the early part of the 20th century legislative measures were taken to ban French speaking parochial schools.
The Americanization forces, crusading to make Rhode Island literate in English, secured the passage of the Peck Law, under which English was to be the basic language in all schools (Wessel 223). Woonsocket’s French community objected, Ostensibly. After repeated attempts to amend the Peck law the French Canadians of Woonsocket were successful, in 1925, when a compromise was reached and the Peck law read: Reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, the history of the United States, the history of Rhode Island, and the principles of American government shall be taught in the English language substantially to the same extent as such subjects are required to be taught in the public schools, and that the teaching of the English language and of other subjects indicated herein shall be thorough and efficient; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall be construed or operate to deny the right to teach in such private schools.any of said subjects of any other subject in any other language in addition to the teaching in English as prescribed herein C. 678 of Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, January 1925. American French Genealogical Society Archives. The following passage from a sociology book written in 1931 Called An Ethnic Survey Of Woonsocket Rhode Island does a good job of summarizing the French Canadian presence in Woonsocket: To make clear the fact that Woonsocket is, to a degree rarely matched throughout the United States, a foreign city.
The Federal Census of 1920 shows its native stock to constitute 15.7 per cent, while its foreign-born stock is 84.3 per cent of the total population. It is a foreign city, predominantly French Canadian, to the extent of more than half the whole number of its inhabitants. Approximately half the school children attend the parochial schools; more than half the public school children are Catholic; and an overwhelming majority of the churchgoers attend the Catholic church. Wessel, Bessie Bloom, pg. 228. Worcester Unlike Woonsocket the immigrants to Worcester never had the opportunity to create a little Canada.
Due to Worcester’s geology, agriculture was marginal at best, and textile mills were not as abundant as in other towns of the Blackstone Valley. Regardless of Worcester’s status as the mid-point between the Connecticut River Valley and Boston, the construction of the Blackstone Canal in the 1820s, and the construction of the Boston Turnpike, it remained isolated until 1840 due to the implementation of the railroads. Regardless of the lack of hydropower Worcester grew as a manufacturing city. Worcester didn’t boom as a textile center during the industrial revolution like other cities in the Blackstone Valley but as a manufacturing center. Many of the textile producing machines and other tools were produced in Worcester. Steel mills and shoe manufacturers can still be found near Webster Square. Although W.M.
Steel and Worcester shoe remain, several of the buildings have been rented to other businesses. Within these buildings there are distribution warehouses, practice space for local bands, Jonell Upholstering company, and Bay State Gym. Because of the industry diversity unskilled French-Canadian labor didn’t flock to Worcester. However, the French-Canadians that did migrate established a St. Jean the Baptiste Society, Assumption High School and College, and several churches including the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Canadians to preserve their heritage.
Prior to 1947 Assumption College was one of the flagship institutions of the French American educational establishment. Originally located in Greendale, assumptions eight-year program was designed to prepare catholic clergy and professionals. Assumptions curriculum was a liberal arts program influenced by traditional values and Roman Catholic theology (Brault 97). During the first four years or 9-12th grades students were required to take Ancient history, French, Greek, Latin, and religion, all of which were taught in French. Founded by the assumptionist fathers of France, the French influence was passed to it’s students. The school was known for it’s bilingual atmosphere.
However, in 1947 Assumption college began admitting all nationalities rather than strictly French. English speaking professors slowly replaced the French faculty. Multiculturalism was slowly infiltrating the school when a tornado struck the Greendale campus in June of 1953 (Brault 98). The prep school was forced to close and the college reopened at it’s present site on Salisbury Street in 1956 (Brault 99). Assumption currently offers coeducational graduate and undergraduate courses to about fifteen hundred students.
Although Assumption College is no longer thought of as a French institution, the Roman Catholic influence remains strong and some members of the faculty are very involved in the promotion of the French culture. Claire Quintal, one of Assumption Colleges faculty is a member of Institut Francais and the author of several books on French Canadians. Worcester, like other cities, had French language newspapers. L’Opinion Publique was the most popular of the late 17th century. Two other French newspapers were publishid by ferdinand Gagnon in Worcester: L’Etendard National and Le Travailleur.
Worcester’s French-Canadian population never reached the numerical proportion of textile cities in the Blackstone Valley. In addition they were not compactly settled in Franco-American neighborhoods. Responding to economic opportunities French-Canadians in a highly diversified and rapidly expanding manufacturing city were residentially dispersed. However, they were still drawn together by the memory of their ties to the homeland by fears of cultural annihilation in the American environment, and by a determination to establish themselves permanently in Worcester while remaining Canadiens. Notre-Dame-des-Canadiens is their monument. Northbridge, Whitinsville, Linwood, Rockdale, and Riverdale Whitinsville is one of five mill villages that comprise the town of Northbridge.
It developed as an early mill village along the banks of the Mumford River, a tributary to the Blackstone River, during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in New England. Whitinsville’s mills reflect more than a century’s evolution in two of New England’s leading industries, textiles and textile machinery. Whitinsville, by the 1920’s, housed the world’s largest textile machine shop in the Whitin Machine Works. Known as South Northbridge prior to 1835, the village was renamed Whitinsville in honor of Paul Whitin, Sr., who established large-scale industry in the community. Paul Whitin, whose family came from Dedham Massachusetts, apprenticed in the iron forge owned by James Fletcher. Paul Whitin married Fletcher’s daughter, Betsy Fletcher in 1791. In 1800, Paul and Betsy Whitin built a large Georgian Homestead, which is now The Victorian Restaurant.
There they had five sons, Paul Jr., John C., Charles P., Nathaniel D., and James F., and one daughter Margaret. With the help of his sons, Paul Whitin Sr. and his wife between the years 1800 and 1850 created what would later become a world leader in the production of cotton in this nation. What separated the Whitins and set them on their significant course was the inventive genius of one of the sons John C. Whitin.
In 1831, he patented a cotton picker machine that was such an improvement over its predecessors that it generated a great and lasting demand. It was on the basis of this and succeeding inventions that the Whitin Machine Works (WMW) was founded and expanded into an industrial giant. From its first building in 1847, the Whitin Machine Works expanded decade by decade through the 1920’s to meet regional, national, and eventually international demand. Other mills followed and in the late 19th century Paul and Betsy decided to divide the family business among the five sons. Paul Jr. managed the Riverdale and Rockdale mills. Which have become a wire mesh manufacturer and Coz Chemical.
Charles P. got the granite Whitinsville Cotton Mill and the little Brick Mill, Which is now a center for the mentally handicapped and a retirement home. John C. received the most lucrative part of the enterprise by acquiring the Machine Shops themselves, Which house many small and large businesses, including Eastern Acoustic Works. James F.
Whitin got the Crown and Eagle Mill of North Uxbridge and later constructed the Linwood Cotton Mill in 1866, both of which are now apartment complexes. The breakup of the business among the sons is the reason for Northbridge being comprised of so many smaller villages. By the end of the 19th century the family business was expanding at such a rate that a shortage of labor became a serious problem. As a result, the Whitins started bringing in a large influx of French Canadians to fill labor needs. The French formed a section of Northbridge called The Village.
Several blocks of buildings constructed identically in which there are six apartments in each structure identify the village. This is evidence of the strong French Canadian kinship. Entire families would inhabit the entire building. The parents may occupy one apartment, while the children occupied others, and grandparents, yet another. In Northbridge, as in the other cities of the Blackstone Valley the French provided the labor for the industrial revolution.
They erected French churches also; like Bon’Pasteur in Linwood. By the 1930’s the mills were suffering, as were all businesses from the great depression. The War, as with most industries, provided a surge in Whitin Machine Works production once again. By 1948, the mills were operating at peak capacity. However, the 1940’s witnessed labor unrest and a move toward union activity, which eventually brought an end to the mills by the 1950’s.
Today, the mills still stand and over the years have been renovated into apartment complexes, shopping places, and the homes of several large businesses. The mills, built over 150 years ago, are still being used as the major source of business in Northbridge. In fact, The Riverdale Mills Corporation, a wire mesh manufacturer, is Northbridge’s largest employer. Bibliography Bibliography Aguire, Adalberto JR. & Turner, Jonathan H. American Ethnicity: The Dynamics and Consequences of Discrimination. McGraw-Hill, Boston, Ma.
1998. Brault, Gerard J. The French Canadian Heritage in New England. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, Quebec. 1986. Brown, Craig. The Illustrated History of Canada. Lester & Orpen Dennys LTD, Toronto Canada, 1987 Doty, C.
Stewart, The First Franco-Americans. The University of Maine at Orono Press, Orono ME. 1985. Wessel, Bessie Bloom. An Ethnic Survey of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL. 1931.