Jacques et Gilles work at the mill;
That stands beside the water;
Could be Lowell, could be Lawrence;
Or Nashua, New Hampshire;
Jacques et Gilles, they hate the mill;
But they’ve too many sons and daughters.
(Jccques et Gilles: McGarrigles from Matapaedia Album)
Lydia Morrisette, my granddaughter’s 2nd great grandmother on her mom’s side, was a real Americanophile, or so Lydia’s daughter, Irene, told me just the other day. Lydia always raved to Irene about life the US despite the fact she had lived and worked there for a mere seven years in her youth, in Franklin, New Hampshire from 1903 to 1910.
Why do you think your mother loved the United States so much, I asked Irene. After all, work in New England textile mills by most accounts was no picnic, not even at the best of times, what with the long hours, the lack of respect, the bad ventilation and lint and dust flying everywhere, the dangerous machines that could ‘jump’ at any time and the NOISE. Oh, the noise! Let’s not forget the institutionalized racism against French Canadians, often referred to as pea-soupers, or the paternalistic behavior of the French Canadian overseers.
“She liked the independence,” said Irene. “She liked the money.”
So, it seems that Marie-Leonie Ledia Morrisette, like so many other Edwardian women out in the workforce in the big cities of the Western World, valued her independence and enjoyed having an occupation in which she took some pride. After all, the Sulloway Mill up on the hill produced top-of-the-line men and women’s hosiery.
Irene agrees. “They made nice socks,” she says.
Maria-Leonie Lydia (Ledia) Morissette was born in 1889 (with the help of Dr. Harel1) in Ste Gertrude, Becancour, Quebec, a short ferry ride across the St Lawrence to Three Rivers, to farmer Eugene Morrisette and his wife, Clarisse Heon.
In 19032 The Morrisettes and their children, four five girls and two boys, set out to work in Franklin Mills, a smaller, happier sort of industrial town of around 6,000 people on the Miramack River.
With four girls and two boys (including a newborn with “muscular atrophy” ) moving to a mill town where the older children could help support the family was a logical step for a Quebec subsistence farmer.
The 1910 United States Federal census has Lydia and her two sisters, Antonia and Elivina (Alvina) working in a “hosiery mill” (almost certainly the Sulloway Mill) as helpers/top hand and boarding in Ward 2, up from the river and the mill, with teamster M. Poirier and his family.
Lydia, as young “Canadiennes” were instructed to do by the community patriarchs (wherever they happened to be living) ceased work in 1910 to marry handsome Quebecker Henry Hamel. Of course, biology likely had its part in this 🙂 The couple moved back to Drummondville, Quebec and raised a large family. Irene, born in 1918 (and the last surviving child, needless to say) is the among the youngest of their brood.
Lydia was the only female member of her strong-willed Morrisette girls to marry. A sister Alvina remained a mill worker in Franklin and two of her sisters became nuns.3
Perhaps because Franklin was a smaller, kinder New England textile down with fewer workers; perhaps because Franklin is where Daniel Webster of dictionary fame was born; perhaps because the Morrisettes lived in Franklin during an era of exponential change, Lydia and her sisters were different from many New England mill workers from Quebec – who usually kept to themselves. The women took pride in integrating and learning English.
Indeed, their one healthy brother, Horace, was of a similar stamp. He stayed in New Hampshire with his parents, Eugene and Clarisse, and his sister Alvina and married an English girl, Mary Murray.
1. This is the first time I have seen something like this on the Drouin records. Was the birth difficult?
2. This 1903 date is given on the US Federal Census, shown above and on Eugene Morrisette’s death certificate in 1937.
3, Alvina is listed in the 1930’s as a working as a finisher, which might mean sewing toes and heels into socks or applying chemicals and pressing the socks. Another sister, Antonia, joined a Catholic order back home, but moved to Ontario as she spoke good English. Another sister, Aurore, became a nun in Africa, much to her parents’ displeasure.
325,000 Quebecers left between 1860 and 1900. Just 100,000 between 1900 and 1910 with 40,000 returning. This 2020 YouTube Video from Rhode Island Genealogy Society explains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyWu46jbauk Country life was very hard for Quebeckers in the Victorian Age. The burgeoning New England textile industry proved most alluring to many farm families. As industry competition increased over the decades, some New England Textile Corporations actively sought out French Canadian workers who, because of their large families who could pool their income, could toil for less money and were less inclined to agitate. French Canadians were also valued for their excellent work ethic.