MSS-051-Silent Presence: The French in New England-Pt 1

Episode 051-August 9, 2016

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Distribution of French Americans according to the 2000 census (By [2] ([1]) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Jeanne Douillard has studied the silent presence of the French in New England. In this episode, she presents the historical background. She then compares and contrasts the history of two groups of French settlers in North America, the Acadians and the Canadians, as a way of establishing a framework upon which she’ll build in Part 2.

Jeanne is an independent scholar specializing in the story of the French in New England with roots in France, Québec, Old Acadie, England and the Algonquin Nation. She is a contributor to the soon-to-be-published Heliotrope: French Heritage Women Create, a publication of the Franco-American Women’s Institute as well as the book Building a Better Life: The French Canadian Experience in Western Massachusetts by The Republican.

Silent Presence: Background

During this interview, Jeanne presented the following ideas as historical background to Silent Presence:

  • There were two distinct groups of Frenchmen who settled in the New World in the seventeenth century. There were those who settled in Acadie and those who settled in Canada.
  • Both groups came from similar political and economic backgrounds.

England and France: Historical Background


  • 1066: French-speaking Normans invaded England, bringing a change of leadership, laws, and language.
  • 1215: With the signing of the Magna Carta, autocracy was curbed. It led to the formation of the English Parliament and representative government.


  • In Old World France, before the 1400s, kings worked closely with their lords and barons. After that, absolute monarchical rule was the norm.
  • By the mid-1700 century (the time of immigration), the king acted on the belief that he ruled directly from the will of God and was not subject to any other human authority.
  • This element of feudalism traveled with the French to Canada.
  • The Church also had quite a bit of power and was a significant landholder.

In North America

  • English focus was colonization. The British monarchy remained engaged in and supported the British colonies. By 1750, there were 60,000 people living in the French colonies and 1.25 million English people living along the eastern seaboard of America.
  • The French claimed a vast territory from the eastern coast of Acadie, along the St. Lawrence River, through the interior of the country, and down the Mississippi River. This vast territory was difficult to govern.
  • Accumulating riches was more important to the French king than colonization.
  • As early as 1672, the French government turned its efforts to European domination.


  • Between 1605 and 1713, the land known as Nova Scotia switched hands six times between France and England.
  • The people of Acadie had grown up in a semi-feudal society and were now dabbling in self-government. They learned these practices not only from their English overlords but also from the Natives, the Mi’kmaq.
  • In 1713, the Acadians became British citizens. The French government in Québec wanted them to move to French-owned areas, but the Acadians no longer identified as Français, but as Acadiens. The British wanted the Acadians to take an oath of allegiance to the English king, something the Acadians felt they could not do. They, however, stated that they would not fight for either side. This attempt at neutrality did not work, and they were expelled from their lands in 1755. No French soldiers came to their aid.
  • When the Acadians first settled in North America, there was no competition with the Natives. The Acadians settled the marshlands which were of no use to the various tribes.

The French in Canada

  • Québec was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. He brought elements of the feudal system with him. All power was in the hands of the monarchy with a strict class system. Lands, called seigneuries, were arranged in long, narrow strips along the St. Lawrence River. A seigneur oversaw the land and recruited habitants to work his land.
  • Because of the strong presence of the French government and the Church in Canada, these settlers did not have the opportunity to explore other forms of governance.
  • By the mid-18th century, the people began to think of themselves, not so much as French, but as Canadian. The strict class system began dissolving. Church, government, and military leaders were chosen from among the Canadians and not so much assigned from France. Could they now determine their own destiny?
  • The French loss in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 ended French domination of the region.

We will begin Part 2 of Silent Presence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and follow the French-Canadians into the settling of New England.

Acadian Ancestral Tour 2016 and Beyond

From July 12-18, Lucie LeBlanc Consentino, forty-two cousins, and I walked in the footsteps of our Acadian ancestors in places such as Prince Edward Island, Memramcook, Fort Beauséjour, and Annapolis Royal. It was a trip that went far beyond our expectations. As one tour member posted, “A week ago today I got on a bus with more than 40 strangers. Yesterday I got off that bus with more than 40 new friends.” And these friends came from all over the country (New England, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Mississippi, New York, Florida) and Ontario, Canada.

Acadian Ancestral Tour 2016If you’d like to see some pictures of our tour, go to to view our day-by-day experiences.

So successful was this trip that we will be planning another one for the summer of 2018. So if you missed the first one, start saving those pennies so you can join us for the next one. We’ll begin sending out details and plans next summer.


We are going to extend Survey #50 for another couple of weeks. So if you haven’t done so yet, please go to and answer the following question: Which social media platforms do you use regularly for genealogy?

You can check as many as apply. Choices are Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Pocket, Periscope, Blab, Rootsweb mailing lists, E-mail, and Others where you can type in any other platforms that you use. Reminder: these are only the ones you use for your genealogy work, not for personal use.

French-Canadian News

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The American-French Genealogical Society

  • Saturday, August 6, 9 AM: Janice Burkhart will present ‘How to Read the Various Repertoires.’ Classes are held at the AFGS Library, 78 Earle Street, Woonsocket, RI, and begin at 9:00 AM (unless otherwise noted).

The Franco-American Centre

  • If you are listening to this podcast the day it comes out, then tonight is Half-Way to Mardi Gras. Details are in episode 50.
  • Friday, August 19, 7 AM – 2 PM at the Passaconaway Country Club in Litchfield, New Hampshire: the Annual Golf Tournament to benefit the Franco-American Centre and The Euclide Gilbert French Language Foundation Scholarship Fund.

The French-Canadian Genealogical Society in Tolland, CT

  • August 16, 6:30-9 PM: Beginning Genealogy Research in French Canada
  • August 18, 2-4 PM: Overcoming Brick Walls for Beginners

All classes are free and are held at the FCGSC Library in Tolland.

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