Well, here’s my first blog entry ever and I am excited to be able to start sharing some personal observations about CT history and some very neat objects in the CHS collection.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries thousands of French-Canadians, including my mother’s family, migrated to the United States, drawn by the prospect of work. New England in particular witnessed significant numbers of these newcomers seeking jobs in factories and, in particular, textile mills. These new arrivals brought with them their language, customs, and Roman Catholic faith, and often settled together in neighborhoods near their jobs. As a way to preserve their culture, these new immigrants sometimes organized social and other clubs as part of their support network.
CHS recently acquired an impressive painted silk banner for such an organization, Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, organized in Thompsonville in July 1902. This mutual-benefit organization was established in Quebec in the 1830s to promote French culture, language and religion, and in the late 19th century chapters began to appear in communities of French-Canadian immigrants. Thompsonville, home to the Hartford Carpet Company (later Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company), attracted hundreds of French-Canadians beginning in the decades after the Civil War. So many of these immigrants lived in the Pleasant Street neighborhood near the mill that the area came to be known as “Frenchtown”, fertile ground indeed for such an organization.
Postwar foreign competition and the lure of cheap labor in the South combined to decimate New England’s once-thriving textile industry. Though Bigelow-Sanford moved its carpet manufacturing to South Carolina in 1957, descendants of French-Canadian workers continue to live and work in the area. I counted many as friend and classmates growing up in Thompsonville in the 1950s and 1960s.