Wednesday, December 12, 2012

(Another) Canadien in the American Civil War: Cyprien Racine Becomes George Root

In an earlier post I told the story of Philibert Racine alias Philip F. Root. Philibert was a Canadien veteran of the Civil War and the brother of two of my great-great-grandmothers. He served with the First Vermont Battery Light Artillery that saw action in the Red River campaign in Louisiana.

I mentioned in that post that Philibert reportedly had a brother who called himself George S. Root who served in this same unit in the Civil War. I surmised that “George” was an alias for Cyprien Racine, baptized May 30, 1843 at Saint-Damase-de-Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. I believe that I can now confirm the theory that George S. Root was Cyprien.

In the records of the U.S. National Archives I find the following pension document recording the February 25, 1928 death of a George S. Root.

The record appears to indicate that George S. Root’s rank was Artificer, that he served in the 1st (Independent) Battery Vermont Light Artillery, and gives his place of death as Mendon, Michigan.

The place of death was significant since I had information from Racine genealogist extraordinaire, Jules Racine of Québec, that another brother of Philibert, Charles Appolinaire Racine, had contracted his second marriage in Mendon, St. Joseph County, Michigan.

I turned to the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, eight years prior to the veteran’s death, and found a George S. Root living with his wife Lucy in Mendon Township, MI. The census reports that George was born in Canada, his mother tongue was French, and that the same is true of both of his parents.

The census gives his age as 75 on January 9 or 10th of 1920, which, assuming he hadn’t yet had his birthday that year, yields a birth year of 1844. Tracing George and Lucy back through the U.S. Census of Mendon, MI, I find that George, a farmer by trade, in 1900 gives his month and year of birth as May 1844.

This is reasonably close to the May 1843 date of birth of Cyprien Racine, given that these discrepancies are often found in the census records. The information in the census seems fairly consistent with my theory that George and Cyprien are the same person.  

In 1880 I find George, Lucy and family in nearby Leonidas, MI. Here we learn that the couple had three daughters Mary, 9, Catherine, 7, and Virginia, 2. The two older girls were born in Kansas, while the youngest was born in Michigan. This places George and Lucy in Kansas from about 1871 to about 1873 but likely back in Michigan by 1878 or so.

Searching for the marriage record of George and Lucy, I find a wedding at Mendon, MI on May 27, 1869 of a George Root, born in Canada, to a Lucia Monton (also Mouton or Moutaw) born in Mendon. The age of the groom is recorded as 24, which is consistent with a birth year of 1844 or 1845.

The final document in this series is an application to the U.S. War Department for a veteran’s headstone made by Mrs. Virginia Lighthiser, most likely George S. Root’s daughter whom we met as a two-year-old in the 1880 census.

This record confirms that a George S. Root, who had close kin named Virginia, served in the Civil War in the First Vermont Battery Light Artillery, died on February 25, 1928, and is buried in Mendon, MI.

I have little doubt that my theory is correct that George S. Root is Cyprien Racine. I can now piece together the outline of his life.

Born in Québec in 1843, his family lived briefly in Richford, Vermont, on the Québec border, in the late 1840s and early 1850s before they eventually settled in Roxton Falls, QC. By 1861, Cyprien, says the Canadian census of Roxton Falls in that year, is back in the United States.

In January 1862, at the age of 18, he enlisted for service in the American Civil War and served until August 1864. He appears to have returned to Canada but, by 1869, he is married in Michigan to a woman from that state.

The family spends the earlier portion of the 1870s in Kansas before returning to St. Joseph County, Michigan. George’s is a farm family and he lives for most of his days in his wife’s hometown where he dies, at age 84, and is buried.

His brother Philibert lived in a Franco-American enclave in Brunswick, Maine, but George did not live among other Canadiens. Philibert used his Yankee alias, Philip F. Root, when it suited him and reverted to his ancestral Racine identity when that served him better.

His tombstone in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Brunswick reads “Philibert Racine” while the document above indicates that Cyprien's government issue headstone reads "George S. Root."

I see no evidence that Cyprien ever used his French name after coming to the States. The census says that he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and he was so not only by law, but also de facto.

Cyprien Racine, the son of a man who fought for the liberté of Québec in the Rebellion of 1837, became Grand Army of the Republic veteran and Midwestern farmer George S. Root.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"There is No Forty-Fifth Parallel": Division or Unity for French North America?

I had made a terrible faux pas. I made the mistake of asking a proud Franco-Manitoban what part of Québec he was from.

It should have been a clue that he described himself as French-Canadian rather than Québécois. But in the USA a Québécois might have used the former expression especially when speaking English. However, the author of a blog called French North America should have known better.

After correcting my misapprehension, my new Franco-Manitoban acquaintance made a revealing admission. He first said that he hated being mistaken for Québécois and then said, “There are pockets of French all over Canada. And they don’t like each other.”

Sad. But, in my experience, also true. One of the most hateful, vitriolic anti-Québec rants I have ever read appeared on the blog of an acadienne. The Acadian resentment of Québec is something I’ve noted in both written and verbal communication.

Being three-quarters a grandson of Québec and one-quarter a grandson of Acadie, I once asked a young Québécoise in the Beauce region about the Acadians. She expressed sorrow about the history of Acadie but then said that her sense was that the Acadians were the mouton noir of the Francophones in Canada.

We were not always so divided. There was a time when the French North Americans felt a unity of language, religion, and customs, at least when these were perceived as threatened.

Witness an article that appeared on page 8 of the June 9, 1911 edition of the Boston Evening Transcript. The matter at hand was a convention of Franco-Americans meeting in Biddeford, Maine to discuss the Corporation Sole controversy.
Boston Evening Transcript
June 9, 1911
French North Americans
United Against the Corporation Sole

This dispute concerned a Maine law that had placed all of the temporal property of the Catholic parishes in the state in the hands of the Bishop of Portland and his successors. The law took assets that were purchased and improved at great expense by the impecunious Franco-American Catholics and turned them into the personal property of the Bishop.

French North Americans on both sides of the border were united against the Corporation Sole legislation. The 1911 article reports that Pascal Poirier “the representative in the Canadian Senate of the French Acadian people of New Brunswick” sent the convention this message: 
“I wish to tell you that I am, like everybody else here in New Brunswick, entirely with you in heart, soul and spirit. It is the cause of the religion of our fathers, it is the French language, it is liberty, it is right you are defending…God who has made us French and Catholic – Catholic in the truest sense of the term – expects that we will defend by all means within our power, our nationality and our religion… No representation, no taxation. This motto has made of the English a nation of freemen. Let it be our motto also, especially when certain persons in authority are using our own property to destroy our children, our language, and our faith.”


Note that the “French Acadian” Senator refers to “our nationality,” which he owns as the common possession of Acadians and Franco-Americans, the majority of whom had roots in Québec. For the Senator, the Franco-Americans are a we and not a them.

I imagine that the Senator did not fancy himself any less an Acadian when he refers to “our nationality” in common with New England Franco-Americans. He had not only a local identity as Acadian but he also claims a wider French North American identity.

At the 1911 Biddeford convention a letter from Cyrille F. Delage the President of the Saint Jean Baptiste Society of Québec was also read. Monsieur Delage writes:
“We cannot attend your convention, but we are with you in heart and spirit. Your struggle interests and passionates (sic) us in the highest degree. We are following it in all the details, for it has all our sympathies, and we consider your cause our own. There is no forty-fifth parallel between the descendants of the French race in America…. Justice shall be given you and success will crown your noble efforts for the preservation of our language and our traditions. If we can aid you, either financially or otherwise please command us.”
“There is no forty-fifth parallel between the descendants of the French race in America.” Monsieur Delage seems to means the 49th parallel, the traditional border between Canada and the USA. Despite this geographical miscue, he recognizes that the French North Americans are a nation without a state straddling the border between two federal unions, the USA and the Dominion of Canada.

The word “our” is used a number of times to emphasize what M. Delage states frankly: that the struggle of the Franco-American is also the struggle of the Québécois. The great-grandparents of today’s Québec nationalists considered the Franco-Americans to be of one “race” with them.

The article also notes the enthusiastic response given by the assembly to the address, and indeed the very presence, of Olivar Asselin, a Québécois journalist, “former associate of Henri Bourassa,” “leader of the Nationalist party,” and a “special delegate from the Saint Jean Baptiste Society of Montreal,” the foremost French-Canadian national society of its day.

In addition to the journalist Asselin, the article reports that, “all the French-Canadian papers in Québec and New England, including La Presse, La Patrie, Le Devoir, and La Revue Franco-Americaine of Montreal are represented almost all of them by their editors themselves.”

When was the last time that an organ such as the venerable Le Devoir took an interest in a Franco-American convention? Imagine the editor of a major Montréal or Québec City media outlet today attending such a convention in Maine.

One hundred years ago, in a very different ideological milieu, the “French race in America” formed a coherent bloc, albeit with local distinctions. Elsewhere I have pointed to the example of the Latinos. Although they have their origins in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other places, they have recognized their common interests and christened themselves with a new name. They have become a major socio-political bloc thereby.

The ties of language and religion that once united us across national and provincial borders have loosened considerably. But have we cooperated, unwittingly, in a strategy of divide and conquer advanced by the assimilationists? Rather than nursing grievances based on ancient resentments or parochial differences, the fragile plant I call French North America could choose to reinforce its roots in the soil of a common heritage.

Once the “French race in America” in its various pockets in Canada and the USA had a wide, continental perspective. If we may still speak of la survivance a return to this more inclusive French North American identity may be our last, best hope.