Group learns about early Franco-American life

PLATTSBURGH The newly-formed North Country Franco-American Club has been meeting since this summer to make people aware of the history and culture of the French and French Canadians in North America, specifically in northern New York. Most recently, the club gathered at the Emmaus Room of St. Peters Church for their third meeting to learn about the history of some of the early Franco-American settlers in the Plattsburgh area. Clinton County historian Anastasia Pratt, also of Franco-American decent, was able to portray what life was like for people who traveled down from Canada to settle in this area. Although many towns aside from Plattsburgh had settlers as well, Pratt explained there are not enough documents to get a vivid idea of how people lived in those areas, and so she described what she knew of Plattsburgh. What hasnt been easy, is getting people to study ... Franco-American groups in this area, said Pratt. Its been far easier for folks to look at bigger cities, where there are bigger industrial complexes. Pratt began her explanation of life of the early French settlers by describing their motives for entering this country. Those Frenchmen who came to this country, came to this continent, didnt come with the same motivations as explorers from other places, said Pratt. Unlike the Spanish, they werent so much interested in the conquest of taking gold and goods back home. Although, they were concerned about sending wood and furs back home, but they came and they more peacefully settled. Pratt continued by saying the Frenchmen who entered the United States mixed with the native groups and traveled along waterways, settling as they went. A lot of that waterway travel certainly influences who we are and how we came to be in this area, said Pratt. Pratt also explained what she knew of typical characteristics of Franco-Americans. One of the things that we see if were talking about Franco-Americans in Clinton County is that were talking about people who value family greatly, said Pratt. [They] use the family as an organizing and economic unit. And were talking about people who are Catholic. These two characteristics led to the attitude the Franco-Americans had towards other aspects in life, such as gender, education and work, explained Pratt. For most Franco-Americans in this county and certainly in northern Vermont as well, life was about working constantly, said Pratt, who added many children did not complete school, but worked instead. What were really seeing is lots of people listing themselves as laborers. And thats the sacrifice that families [made], Pratt said. Education wasnt as important as getting the paycheck to make sure the family was in an economically stable condition. Most of the time, a large number of children in a family became skilled or unskilled laborers. The only person in a household who never worked outside of the home was the mother. Although Im sure there were lots of kids around here who wanted to go to school, I dont know how many of them would have dared go against what the family needed in order to do that, said Pratt. If youre family needs you to contribute money so that your family can eat or can be warm in the winter, or can actually have a place to live, whos going to make a big fuss saying, No, but I wanted to go to school. Many families continued to work, even after the work day ended. The family is not only willing to work so hard just to survive, but the family is willing to work that hard also to build a church for their community, said Pratt. St. Peters Church, located on Cornelia Street, is one of the churches built by the Franco-Americans who lived in the French Quarter of Plattsburgh. The French Quarter is made up of Montcalm Avenue and Platt, Lafayette, Champlain, and St. Charles streets.The people who lived in that area would work on building the church during the evenings after work or on the weekends, explained Pratt. The masons and the bricklayers and the contractors are building a church after their normal jobs because it is so important to them, said Pratt. It is such a visible sign of who they are and what their community is. The North Country Franco-American Club is a non-profit organization focused on education, history, culture and genealogy. There is no need to speak French or have French ancestry to join. Meetings are held the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. Pratt will be the lecturer at the Oct. 1 meeting, continuing her presentation on Franco-American history with a focus on the architecture of the area. For more information, contact David Graham at 563-1779.

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