When Brunswick farmer Eustache Eusebe Martin Sr died suddenly in early 1915, his widow Anastasie, who had never held a job outside the home and spoke little English, had to figure out how to care for her brood. She and her seven children left the Bunganuck Road farm and returned to the more crowded, urban Little Canada along the Androscoggin River by Cabot mill.
Elder son, nineteen-year-old Eustache, became the family breadwinner –- and bread maker –- working at nearby Tondreau’s Bakery.
Just as before, Anastasie’s life revolved around her children, seeing to their health, safety, and Catholic upbringing. The Martins renewed old friendships and re-accustomed themselves to living cheek by jowl with other Franco American families. The close quarters created a decided lack of privacy in the neighborhood. It also meant that illness spread quickly.
Among the Martins’ friends was the Levesque family who lived on nearby Cushing Street. That August, Anna Levesque, wife of Napoleon, gave birth to Rosario. Anastasie’s daughters, in particular 14-year-old Eva and 11-year-old Alfreda, found joy in caring for infants and young children. It’s not hard to imagine the two girls walking to the Levesque home to help Anna, who was exhausted from childbirth. Anna was also weak from the tuberculosis that seemed to constantly circulate throughout the mid-coast’s urban areas. (See It Happened in 1916.) Unable to regain her strength, the new mother died two months after her son’s birth.
A Great War raged in Europe, though it had little impact on the day-to-day lives of those in Brunswick’s Little Canada. That changed on June 13, 1917, when the first American troops landed in France. First-generation American citizen Eustache registered for the draft two days later, but applied for an exemption as the sole support of his mother, brother Ovila, and sister Noella. He didn’t list his other siblings as dependents because the teenagers, ranging from thirteen to seventeen, were old enough to have jobs.
In the autumn, twenty-one-year-old Eustache did the same as many soon-to-be World War I soldiers: he married his sweetheart. Twenty-six-year-old Antoinette Favreau, a mill worker had left Canada only eleven years before. It’s interesting to note that Jr followed the same path as his late father by marrying a woman a few years his senior.
What did Anastasie think of this turn of events? Did Eustache and bride Antoinette live with the Martins? If so, Antoinette’s paycheck would have been a welcome addition to familial resources. If the couple were to have a child, would Antoinette leave her job while simultaneously adding another mouth to feed? Only time would tell.
By the following June, Eustache, along with thousands of other young Americans, became a soldier in the army. Now Anastasie had to face the very real possibility that her son, her first child, upon whom the family depended for their subsistence, was in danger of being injured or even killed in this war.
Eustache was luckier than thousands of other American soldiers. He served overseas in the Quartermaster Corp beginning in October 1918, just a month before the Germans and Allies signed the November 11th Armistice that ended the war. Millions of troops were demobilized and returned home, including Eustache who arrived in the States in March 1919 and was honorably discharged in April.
Anastasie’s first-born American child resumed married life. That fall, he and Antoinette moved to their newly purchased home south of Bowdoin College, on Harpswell Street near Hambleton Avenue.
Eva and Rosario: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
(Eva and Rosario: the more things change, the more they stay the same)
That still left Anastasie and six children in one household. The 1920 census reveals that three Martin sisters worked to help sustain the family. Two had joined the throngs manufacturing cotton goods at Cabot mill: Rose (age 20) was a carder and Alfreda (age 16) was a spinner. Marie Anne (age 15) bucked family tradition: she was a sales lady at a grocer’s. Three siblings were “at home”: Eva (age 18), Ovila (age 12), and Noella (age 12).
Why wasn’t Eva working? About the time Anna Levesque gave birth to son Rosario and then died, Eva contracted tuberculosis. Five years later she hadn’t the strength to hold down a job. Ultimately, the move from open-aired Bunganuck back to the densely populated mill area proved fatal to Eva: she died in February 1920. Younger sister and best friend, Alfreda, mourned “the sweetest girl” for the rest of her life.
What became of Rosario Levesque and his siblings? By 1920, their father Napoleon, a beater at Pejepscot Paper on the Topsham side of the Androscoggin River, had moved into his brother’s home on Bridge Street in Topsham, without the children. The brothers and sisters were separated from one another, going to live with family and friends.
It seems that, rather than worrying about how little she had, Anastasie was of the opinion that a little was better than nothing, and could always be stretched further. Having neither the financial means nor the knowledge to proceed through the legal system, she “adopted” Rosario simply by bringing him into her home and family. Called “Pete” by his new brothers and sisters, he would tell his future Martin nieces and nephews that Anastasie “saved” him when she took him in.
Qui se resemble, s’assemble
(Birds of a feather flock together)
The end of World War I marked the end of 19th century living and world isolation in the United States. Rural soldiers brought back first-hand knowledge of European city life and culture. Radio empires and movie palaces brought universal entertainment to American towns and cities alike. They also brought a more immediate knowledge of worldwide events. The country’s newfound prosperity and urbanism was matched by scientific and cultural advancement.
These rapid changes scared those who felt Americans had lost their “national innocence.” Some who mourned the “good old days” found comfort in religious fundamentalism and nativism in the form of the Ku Klux Klan.***
Though we in Maine currently think of the KKK as a southern organization focused on returning African Americans to their demoralized and abused antebellum status, the white Protestant Klan did exist in New England states and Canada in the 1920s. In this overwhelmingly white region, Klan members focused their discrimination against Catholics, Jews, and the foreign-born.
Known in Canada as les negre blanc francophones (french-speaking white Negroes), French Canadian Catholics were both the wrong religion and foreign-born. What was American-born, Great War veteran Eustache to think when the Maine Klansmen and women sang:
It’s your land, and my land, to own, to rule, to love.
It’s bled for, and died for, and blessed by God above.
It’s your land, and my land, and while the world shall be,
We’ll fight to keep it our land, America the free.*
In a 1923 social column entry in the Brunswick Record listing a change in night of the Klan’s weekly lodge meetings in Harpswell and Orrs Island, the writer estimated that 65% of the islands’ residents were members of the group. Another entry in the Brunswick Record that year described a Klan “Americanism” event at the Brunswick Town Hall that drew an audience of 800 men and women.**
The Klan’s anti-Catholic, anti-French Canadian sentiments served to reinforce and prolong the Franco community’s tendency to send their children to parochial school, to speak French whenever possible, trade with other francophones, and to marry within their own group.
Indeed, Anastasie’s children continued that tradition in the first half of the 1920s as three daughters married men from the area’s close-knit Franco community: Alfreda to Edouard Bernier (house painter) in 1921, Rose to Louis Laffely (laborer) in 1922, and Marie Anne to Emile Lachance (railroad sect hand) in 1925 .
Remaining with Anastasie were sons Ovila (bakery truck driver) and Pete, as well as youngest daughter Noella (spinner at cotton mill). How different it must have felt to Anastasie, used to a boisterous group of six or seven, to have only half that number around her.
By 1930 Anastasie’s three married daughters had given her a baker’s dozen grandchildren. It was appropriate, then, that she found companionship and sisterhood within St. John’s church in the women’s group, Ladies of St. Anne. Anne, as any Catholic knows, was the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, as well as the patron saint of grandmothers.
Throughout the years, Anastasie also kept in touch with her remaining siblings in Quebec.
The stock market crash of 1929 precipitated the Great Depression, which resulted in unemployment and breadlines in some urban areas. Many Brunswick businesses, however, continued to thrive. Entrepreneur Joseph Helie even expanded his Mill Street bakery.
Helie’s optimism was contagious. By 1932, Ovila Martin, Anastasie’s second son, was a weaver at the cotton mill and apparently felt financially secure enough to wed Joseph Helie’s daughter, Irene.
When Ovila moved into the Helie home at 11 Mason Street, only two children remained with Anastasie.
La pomme ne tombe jamais loin de l’arbre
(The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree)
Anastasie had shown her children by her deeds that life is to live and love is to share. Following her example of opening her home to one in need, when Anastasie’s health failed in late 1933, her daughter Rose Laffely brought Anastasie to the Laffely home on Thomspon Street. Eustache followed suit, inviting his siblings Noella and Pete to move into his current home at 26 Cushing, just around the corner from his trucking business and wood dealership at 10-12 Swett Street. Still living close to the mill, Noella and Pete were able to continue walking to their jobs at the cotton factory.
After a brief illness, Anastasie (Paradis) Martin died January 3d, 1934, at age 67. Her obituary was published in the Brunswick Record the very next day:
Mrs. Eustache Martin
Mrs. Eustache Martin, formerly Anastasie Paradis, died last night at the home of her daughter Mrs. Emile Lachance on Thompson street at the age of 67, after a short illness.
She was born in Chicoutimi, Canada, on September 2, 1866, and had resided here for over 40 years. She was a member of the Ladies of St. Anne. She is survived by two sons, Eustache Martin, Jr., and Ovila Martin and one adopted son Rosario Levesque, four daughters, Mrs. Rose Laffely, Mrs. Alfreda Bernier, Mrs. Emile Lachance, and Noella Martin, two sisters, Mrs. Lida Levesque of Iberville, Canada, and Mrs. Juliette Tremblay of Lac St. Jean, Canada, also two brothers, Adelard Paradis and Xavier Paradis both of Chicoutimi, Canada.
Her funeral will be held Saturday morning at 8 o’clock from the Church of St. John the Baptist.
Forty years after Anastasie left her Canadian homeland, not twenty years after her husband’s death was unremarked by the local newspaper, the Franco community had become American enough to fight for their country, had spread from the mill’s Little Canada to all parts of Brunswick and Topsham’s villages and countryside, owned thriving businesses, and finally warranted a mention in the local English language newspaper.
Nous sommes arrivés.
Next Blog: Bright and Shiny
- Translation of Anastasie Paradis Martin funeral card:
In sweet memory of
Anastasie Paradis Martin
Widow of Eustache Martin
Born in Canada and died in Brunswick,
Maine, January 3rd, 1934.
At age 67 years and 4 moos.
R.I.P. (Rest in Peace)
- Translation of Nous sommes arrivés: We have arrived.
- For more on Franco American history in Brunswick and beyond, please read David Vermette’s blog http://frenchnorthamerica.blogspot.com.
- For more on the Ku Klux Klan in New England, please read Not a Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s by Mark Paul Richard.
- Ancestry.com: Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriages).
- Mrs. Eustache Martin obituary, Brunswick Record, January 3, 1934,. p4
- Tondreau’s Bakery image, Brunswick Directory Including Topsham 1922, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine, http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1922-23-Brunswick-Directory-Including-Topsham.pdf, accessed May 12, 2016.
- Helie’s Bakery image, Brunswick Directory, 1928-’29, Crowley & Lunt, Portland, Maine, http://www.curtislibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/1928-29-Brunswick-Directory.pdf, accessed May 13, 2016.
- Sainte Anne prayer card image, Carmelite Heritage, Victoria Forrester, http://carmeliteheritage.blogspot.com/2010/07/sts-joachim-and-anne-feastday-july-26.html, accessed May 12, 2016.
- Many People, One Nation poster, Ray Greenleaf, Library of Congress http://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/ppmsca/39700/39709r.jpg, accessed May 14, 2016
- Cross burning, Ku Klux Klan, 1925, Harris & Ewing photographer, Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/hec2013015121/, accessed May 13, 2016.
- Photo of Anastasie (Paradis) Martin before 1934. Courtesy of Agnes (Martin) Maynard, May 2016.
- Anastasie Paradis Martin funeral card, ibid.
- *Not a Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s, Mark Paul Richard, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst & Boston, 2015, P 23.
- First Maine Heavy Artillery, Camp Greene, Charlotte, N. C., Brunswick Record, January 25, 1918, Photos from the Brunswick newspapers from 1902 to 1960, rephotographed by Richard Snow, http://www.curtislibrary.com/brunswick-history/, accessed May 13, 2016.
- The Cove, With Orr’s Island in the Distance, Brunswick Record, July 5, 1923, ibid.
- **French North America: Clan in the North: Klan Activity in Brunswick, Maine http://frenchnorthamerica.blogspot.com/2012/08/klan-in-north-ku-klux-klan-activity-in.html, David Vermette, August 1, 2012, accessed April 22, 2016.
- ***The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: History by EraThe Roaring Twenties, Joshua Zeitz, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/progressive-era-new-era-1900-1929/roaring-twenties, accessed April 23, 2016.