Franco-American and Black Women in My Family
by Jane E. Anderson, Philadelphia, PA

Professor Rhea Cote Robbins
Franco-American Women's Experience Final Project

Franco-American/Black Women 

December 12, 2002 

Franco-American and Black Women in My Family
 I approached this course with very little knowledge about Franco-Americans women. Once I received my course package, I began to search the websites to find as much information as possible to help me make it through this course. In the process I discovered that this was going to be an interesting adventure for me. I have always been around women that are great role models, so when I started to read about the immigration and lifestyle of the Franco-American women the connection to my family was clear. The way that these women lived through the hardships of wildness, mills, and farming demonstrated the same pattern of bravery and strength found in my family.
The one main difference is that my ancestors came into this country by force, and Franco-Americans women had choices. "Calico Bush" by Rachel Field is a great example of how someone free was reduced to bondage in a pioneering family. This story tells how a young fifteen year old Franco-American girl had the courage to face hardships with determination and endurance. She struggle through Indian attacks, hungry, rough winters and the fact that she would never see her family again. (6) For me this was like being in slavery of a different kind. I guess I formed this opinion based on the definition of slavery by Julius Lester: "It is a submission to a dominating influence, the state of a person who is a chattel of another, the practice of slaveholding. (11) Canadians did not refer to the term 'slave," as it was potentially controversial with the United States and therefore referred to the term "servant." 
  I had no problems finding a family member that reminded me of Rachel's life. My great-grandmother had a similar story told to her by her grandmother. It was about a cousin, who was African-born and captured when she was about eight years old and sold to a family in North Carolina as a household servant. She was raped and beat until she had too much fear to escape. The owner soon found out she was not only brave, but she was also very smart. I guess having a high IQ was a life saving because; once they knew this the owner's wife took over and started to educate her. She showed amazing aptitude and soon she was writing and telling stories about her African background and her love of freedom. As an adult, she used her education to work for her freedom and the freedom of other women. 
As I studied Franco-American women transition from French to Canada and later the United States, I found many things that had similarity to my ancestors. Although my ancestors endured being captured like animals; to be denounced from African Royalty to another's man possession of property; to face the agony of being separated from their families. The two cultures still had connecting factors: Franco-Americans children were made to feel ashamed to speak French in schools and this resulted in Franco-Americans that could not speak or understand their own cultural language, (French).. (12) I discovered that my ancestors were denied the freedom to speak their native tongue by slave owners. One must acknowledge slavery as part of our history and culture which we should not ignore or feel a sense of humiliation. It is through this unbearable treatment, that made African-American women in my family so strong  (11) 
I found it strange also that "the African Slave Trade" was not only a segment of United States' History, but it also played a part in Canadian History. However, unlike the United States, who had recorded the history of slavery through documentaries, books and the television Mini Series "Roots," little has been written with regard to slavery in Canada. As Africans, who came from a rich prosperous continent, before bondage, the white loyalists took advantage of their skills (blacksmiths, millwrights, caulkers, and coopers) by associating them with pioneering frontier settlements, such as working the fields, building houses, clearing and. (9) The treatment of slaves in Canada was just as severe as their treatment in the United States. They were punished when they disobeyed their master and in some cases they were whipped, tortured, or murdered. Eventually laws were passed which made killing slaves as serious a crime as killing a freedman. Slavery in Canada did not flourish economically as to slavery in America. However, the two countries did have similarities as to those who supported slavery, and as to those who opposed work. (9)
                 As I read about how the Franco-American women and their families came from Quebec and New Brunswick to the United States before the Civil War, I wondered what black was doing at that time. In this class I read how French Canadians migrated to the United States in search of work in the newly formed companies of the industrial revolution. They moved to states from New England to the Midwest and worked in paper mills, saw mills, cotton factories, auto factories, shoe factories and the steel industry, to name a few. They planned to only stay a few years, but most stayed forever and raised their families here. And they brought with them their language, their culture, and their religious traditions. The immigrant generation of Franco-American women was documented in Celeste DeRoche's "I Learned Things Today That I Never Knew Before"  The Oral History at the Kitchen Table is the telling of the past and current generation. (4)
My grandmother always said if women don't tell their own stories, they won't get told. That is the reason so many African-American women write their stories to set the record straight. My grandmother told me stories of how women in my family worked against slavery and faced a death warrant if seen by the wrong people doing anything to become free. African-American writers like Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is, without peer, the greatest writer of the 20th Century Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks,  Mari Evans, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Carolyn Rodgers, Sonia Sanchez, and Alice Walker all write about historical connection with the black foremothers who defended their names and images and documented their literary and cultural traditions at the turn of the century. In their work lie the cornerstone of black feminist literary expressions, and at the same time document today's black women. (7) The migration of Franco-American women and their families from Canada to the United States have a remarkable resembles to the migration of African-American women and their families to the North after the Civil War. I will attempt to explain why so many black women left my family and their friends to come "north" to find a so called better life. Tobacco has always been an important part of North Carolina's economy and a vital crop to provide my family's income. When I talk to the people in my family I can always find a heritage relating to some area of the tobacco industry. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the movement of blacks to the North increased tremendously. The reasons for this "Great Migration", as it came to be called, are complex. Thousands of African-Americans left the South to escape sharecropping, worsening economic conditions, and the lynch mob. They sought higher wages, better homes, and political rights. Between 1940 and 1970 continued migration transformed the country's African-American population from a predominately southern, rural group to northern, urban groups, (9) 
                  My family was very fortune, because from the time African-Americans started to own land, my ancestors had their share of very productive and rich land. As I watched the video "Harvest of Hope", I was reminded by Alban Bouchard, how farming is still a hard job and how it takes special people to make it work. (12) It seemed that the men in my family died at an early age, and the women were left to take care of children, houses, and the farms. My mother was one of those women, my dad died in 1949, leaving my young mother with eight children and a large tobacco farm. I was very young, but I remember the hardships of her being sick and still able to handle her farm and children. I have always said my mother was one of the strongest women I knew and she gave me enough strength and ambition to last a life time. It is through her eyes that I see why the idea of becoming a farmer's wife never appealed to me. I also rejected the idea of not being able to have a great job or career because of my race. In the beginning the men in the my family made this move, but later the women started to move to the "north" seeking a better life like the Franco-American women from Quebec. 
I guess like the Franco-American women, the young women in my family found that the only jobs for Africa-Americans during migration were in mills, factory, or as maids for wealth families. The houses were unfit, and overrun with people that my relatives had never dealt with. The urban born people considered them to be dumb, uneducated, and slaves of a different kind. (5) My mother's sister was among these women and she gave me her version of what it was like to be young, black, and poor living in Philadelphia in 1915. She was living in section of Philadelphia with other black women from all areas of the South. Her first job was for a wealth Jewish family that had no respect of concerns about the life she had outside of their resident. She was facing a life that was so hard she wanted to return to the South, but she refused to give in. She stated that this life was still better than where she came from. If was not what she wanted, but it was where she had to be to get what she felt she should have.
When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed less than eight percent of the African-American population lived in the Northeast or Midwest. However, migration from the South has long been a significant feature of Black History. An early exodus from the South occurred between 1879 and 1881, when about 60, 000 African-Americans moved into Kansas and Oklahoma Indian Territories in search of social and economic freedom. (9) At the same times Franco-American women I read about was experiencing the same hardships when they migrated to the United States. Their lives were filled with pain, hardships, and working in jobs unlike the ones they thought they would have in the United States.
  The following is from my input from week thirteen concerning Franco-American women who worked in the mills): Ora Pelletier: I guess it was the type of environment she lived in that made Ora not like school, in those day, young girls was not given any encouragement in getting an education. The weavers, doffing, and spinners, and sink room with water so hot the worker heated their food in it for lunch. The mills were a form of entertainment for the worker, and they even stayed after work to socialize. It was a hard life, but at that time it seemed to be one place most Franco-American women could work. (2)
 Franco-American and African-American women had yet another tradition in common, the kinds of foods they cook I found out the salty pork rines, ploys (flatbread), and Atkins Cajun Pork Chops (recipe below) was three foods I have eaten, that is popular with Franco-Americans Cajuns and Rhea Cote Robbins in Maine.
tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp Pepper, ground
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, (to taste)
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp Olive oil
4 large Pork chops, 1/2 thick ( 1 )
After my aunt established a resident and lined up jobs, she sent for other women in my family. Most of them had no education and no skills for jobs in the city. It became a practice that when some rich woman needed a new maid my aunt would send for another niece or cousin that was waiting to come to Philadelphia. I know things changed in my family, because when my mother died in 1956, my aunt moved all my siblings and me to the city. I know how lucky we were that a strong black woman like my aunt had established a lifestyle that would lead to greatest my generation of women. I never had to do domestic work, and I lived in the best section of the city. My sisters, cousins, and I are all well educated, and have or had jobs that we chose at an early age. I know for sure that all these positive things happening to me is due to the hardships my aunt endured before me. 
  The Franco-American women of the past made it possible for Franco-American women of today to obtain education, careers and any job offered in the United States. I would be remiss if I did not cite them and their achievements. There were the heroic deeds of Madeleine de Vercheres, the faith of the Sisters of Charity/Gray Nuns and Madame de a Petrie, Marie Guyart, the founder of the first Ursuline school in New France, and the teaching of Marguerite Bourgeoys. (10) There are a lot of young Franco-American women still setting example to ensure their culture will not be forgotten. I see it in the writing of Rhea Cote Robbins, Cathie Pelletier, Doris Provencher Faucher, and Juliana L'Heureux and Grace Metalious (7) I also explored the Franco-American Women's Institute organization. The women come together as Franco-American women Québécois, Acadian, Métis, Mixed Blood, French Canadian, 'Cajun, Creole and Huguenot in a way which encourages them to be voiced while collecting a record of their and their maman's existence. Daughters, mamans, and mémères. (8)
After reading the stories about the women from both cultures working so hard I now know why they made those choices. It was because the places they came from could not provide the things they wanted or needed to live better. The kind of information about the immigration experiences of both cultures will help me maintain cultural aspects that are important to both cultures. The immigration of the Franco and African American women continues today within the United States. As a library student, I know how further research in the Library's general and special collections will continue to help us understand one basic thing: How migration affected social and economic changes in individual cities, towns, neighborhoods and even my family. In conclusion I would like to cite a quote by Gena MacFarlane, 1906, I find it to be so fitting for this paper, "All honour to women for what they have done; what they are doing and what they will do". (11)

Works Cited
Akins Nutritional Recipes." Quick Recipes" Internet 12 Dec. 2002
AMOSKEAG. Life and Work in an American City. Reprinted with permission via
            the Copyright Clearance, fall 2002.
Ball, Edward. Slaves in the Family. New York: Random House, Inc., 1998 
DeRoche, Celeste. "I Learned Things I Never Knew Before." Oral History Review.
Ferguson, Moira. Nine Black Women: Anthology of Nineteenth Century Writers. New York
             Routledge, 1998.
Field, Rachel. Calico Bush. New York:  Aladdin Paperback, 1998.
Franco-American Connection. "Franco-American Writers" Internet, 12 Dec 2002.
The Franco-American Women's Institute:  Internet, 12 Dec 2002
Gaspar, David, B., More than Chattel: Black women and slavery in the Americas. New York:  Indiana University Press, 1996.
Knight, Kelvin." New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia" Robert Appleton Company, Online
            edition. 2002. Available: Lester, Julius. To Be a Slave. New York:  Scholastic, Inc, 1985
Libby, Bob. Harvest of Hope: our stories.

(Dates listed here are dates of access to the Internet)

Sunday, December 22, 2002 9:25:27 AM
From:  Rhea Cote
Subject: Re(2): one more thing
To:  Jane E. Anderson

I was wondering if I could have permission to publish your paper on the FAWI 'ezine, moe pi toe, meaining, me and you?

thanks, rhea

  Sunday, December 22, 2002 9:51:48 AM
From:  Jane E. Anderson
Subject: Re(3): one more thing
To:  Rhea Cote

Yes, it would be a honor, Thanks Rhea,  my aunt the raised me would be delighted, she is presently 87 years old and she us not able to talk, but when we tell her things she reactions to it.  I will tell her about this and I know her eyes will light up.


         My name is Jane E. Anderson and I was born in Richland a small town near Jacksonville, North Carolina.  My parents were farmer of tobacco and corn and that was not an easy life in fact it was very hard at times.  We were a family of twelve including three girls and seven boys.  In that town my family, (The Fishers) were considered to be bright, hard workers and eager for higher education.  All my siblings were good students and so was I.  My father was a great horseman and we learned to ride at an early age and my mother was a good cook and she was constantly asked to bake for different affairs in that town.  I had great parents and they spent almost all their spare time with us.  We went to church a lot and most of our enterainment was with other members of the Fisher Family.  We still meet yearly for the Fisher Family Reunion.  It is held in North Carolina, the first weekend in August.  This how our children keep up with their roots and get to know each other even though we live and different parts
 of the United States.

        As a black family, in the south, there were more than everyday things to worry about.   However, because my parents were so respected we never encounter any real bad situations.  My mother often read poem by famous black poets and we continue to do that when we meet for family gatherings.  I lost both parents at an early age and we moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when I was thirteen years old and I still reside here.  My mother's sister and her husband provided a good home for us, but the changes in our lifestyle were not easy at first.  We had to get familiar with large building, streetcars, sidewalks, and no place to play with the exception of the playgrounds.  Yet, with time everything fell in place as my sisters and brothers all went to college and helped each other until we were all old enough be independent

  After I graduated from high school, I chose to get married and have a family.  My husband was one the nicest person on earth and we had two fine children, a boy and girl. My husband was in the army and I got to travel to different states, but never any foreign counties.  When my daughter graduated from high school we took a two-week trip to Canada and that was the first time I was around people that spoke mostly French.  We visited a lot of cities there and it is still a favorite part of my past. 

                    I was a housewife for a lot of years and when my children were entering high school I decided to return to school.  I became a student at Community College of Philadelphia, in the Library Technology Program and graduated in 1981 with an AS Degree.  I got a job for the government in a Scientific and Technical Library and I worked there for fourteen years.  While working there I was offer a grant for more education and I was accepted at Temple University to pursue a degree in Business Management.  My husband of 34-years was told he had cancer in 1997, and he passed away December of that year.   My life was hard at first, but I had the love of my children, grandchildren, siblings and friends.   I changed jobs and started to work in a Medical Library at the Veteran Medical Center, while there I joined the Associate for Library Technician and I found out about the BS Degree Program at the University of Maine at Augusta.  I applied and I became a student in the Spring 2001.  After this semester, I only need nine for credits to graduate.  I retired in March 2002, and I am not devoting a lot of time to my family and my education and it is a real pleasure.

  This class is a requirement for me, but I am sure I will enjoy it.  I know nothing about the French language, because I took Spanish in college, but I always stop talking in listen when my friend's husband speaks French (he is from one of the Trinidad).  I am having some difficulties getting use to First-Class, because all my previous classes have been on Blackboard.  I am always interested in learning more about women of the world and I am sure this will be a new highlight for me.

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