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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Un Canadien Errant

Richelieu River & Lake Champlain(This post is meant to be accompanied by the chart The Bombards of New York.)

In 1842, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie wrote a song called Un Canadien Errant.  The lyrics are about a melancholy young man who is reminded of his former life in Quebec.  I first heard and played the Leonard Cohen version of the song only recently.  I asked the vocalist what the song was about, and she mentioned that it had something to do with a rebellion in Quebec.  I realized that she meant the 1837 Rebellion.  When we performed the song, I introduced it with a brief history of the Rebellion, and mentioned that the title, often translated as The Wandering Canadian, would more accurately be The Exiled Canadian.

Many Québécois farmers left Quebec in the 1830's and 40's and came to the United States.  Some left as a direct result of the Rebellion, but many others left, throughout the 19th century, for the same reasons that led to the Rebellion in the first place.  In fact, throughout Europe and North America (including the United States), migration and rebellion marked the transition from agrarian to industrial economies during these decades after the Napoleonic wars.  The Irish, for instance, left Ireland for exactly the same reasons, further driven by repeated failures in the potato crop (which were not limited to Ireland).

Aside from the Rebellion, the emigration of the Québécois was peaceful and persistent.  The border with the United States was quite porous, as they say, and families moved back and forth easily from Quebec and Ontario to New England, New York, Michigan and beyond.  The difficulty in Quebec was due to the manner of land ownership and management, which remained almost medieval in nature, during a time of rapid population growth.  As more and more gentry tried to make income from the land, more and more habitants were trying to feed their families and pass their land rights to their children.  Because the gentry controlled the government, there was no political relief for the farmers.  You could fight for political reform, fight for land reform, or just move on.  Emigration to the United States had been happening since the war with England, so the various trails into New York and Vermont had already been blazed for this wave of nineteenth-century migrants.

In the United States, owning land for farming was possible, yet relatively expensive.  But employment, both agricultural and industrial, was readily available.  In the Ausable Valley, the iron industry was booming, and workers were needed for mining, the iron mills, and the nail factories.  Coopers, mechanics, and blacksmiths were needed.  Shipping on Lake Champlain provided work.  Local farms and lumber camps needed help, too.  A new state prison in Dannemora hired many.  There were few Catholic churches in the area, so missionaries from Quebec would visit New York and Vermont, and record the births and marriages back in Quebec.  Dispensations were constantly needed for civil marriages, marriages of cousins, marriages with non-Catholics, events not usual in Quebec.  Eventually the Valley built its own churches, in Keeseville and Black Brook and Ausable Forks, after other churches to the north in Champlain, Coopersville, and Plattsburgh.

I have been helping Bev Farrington, a well-known researcher and genealogist, untangle the many Bombard families in Clinton and Essex Counties of New York.  The name is relatively easy to follow.  Bombardier dit LaBombarde is the full handle; families used Bombardier or Labombard (or both), or, more simply, Bombard.  Families in the Ausable Valley fared rather well, apparently - the population boomed, and in three generations there were more Bombards than you could shake a stick at.  This was true for other Clinton County Québécois names:  Amell or Hamel, Seguin (Sawyer), Diguette or Guyette, Giroux, Thibeault, Danette or Dennett, Cusson, Demarais or Demara or Demarce, Duclos (Douglas), Freniere, Gauthier (Gokey), Pelletier (Pelkey), Lafontaine and Lavallee and Laramie and Lussier, Rocque and Rougier, and on and on.  There was another group of Bombards out in Franklin County, and another in Grand Isle County, Vermont.

Eventually overpopulation and the decline of the iron industry (replaced by the steel industry in the Midwest) led to more migration.  In the 1880's, the New York families began moving to mill towns in New York and New England, further south, continuing the pattern of southern migration down the Richelieu River from Montreal to Marieville to Henryville to Alburgh to Burlington, or Laprairie to Napierville to Champlain to Plattsburgh to Keeseville.  Or they followed the lumber industry to Maine or Michigan and Wisconsin, or migrated out to the western US and Canada.  Some went back to Quebec, to work in the growing mill towns there.

Of the sons of André Bombardier, it was André Jr, Jacques, and Joseph who had descendants who emigrated to Clinton County, New York in the early 1800's.  André Jr married Josephte Anne Poudrette dite LaVigne.  It was his son Augustin whose children emigrated south.  Jacques, or Pierre Jacques, who married Francoise Thibeault dite St Louis, had a grandson named Pierre, son of Jacques, whose children emigrated south.  And Joseph, who married Marie Francoise Fontaine, had four sons whose children emigrated; Benjamin, Joseph, Francois, and Antoine.  So this gives us six lines into New York (and Vermont) with twelve branches:

Augustin & Pelagie Boileau Jacques & Charlotte Goguet Benjamin & Anne Danette
René Augustin & Pelagie Masse Pierre & Charlotte LaRose Antoine & Rosette Ouimette
Joseph & Louise Hache   Joseph & Marie Louise Corneau
André & Suzanne Courtemanche   Pierre & Angèlique LeClerc
Jean Baptiste & Josephte DuGuay
Francois & Marie Louise Riendeau
Joseph & Celeste Beaudin Francois & Josephte LaPlante Antoine & Francoise Vaudrin
Jean & Flavie Belouin Francois & Seraphine Patenaude Antoine Ambroise & Archange Rougier

We have not attempted to document other branches into Vermont and Franklin County NY, nor branches that stayed in southern Quebec but which may have moved south in the migration wave of the early 20th century.  There are also a couple of branches whose attachments to the main tree have not been determined yet.  As is always the case in genealogy, this is a work in progress.


Related websites:
Un Canadien Errant - history and lyrics.
Virginia Demarce's groundbreaking study of migrant families to Vermont.
The forum for Clinton County NY.
The forum for Bombardier, where Bev Farrington has posted her research.
The full New York Bombards database at Rootsweb.

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