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Caroline B. Brettell
Historical Research and Narrative

Sometime around 1825 a French-Canadian fur trader, Francis Bourbonnais, arrived in Illinois. He married a Pottawatomie squaw who had been given 640 acres as a reservation along the Kankakee River. As a result of the marriage, the town of Bourbonnais was founded. Noel LeVasseur, a voyageur who had set up a trading post among the Pottawatomie Indians, settled at Bourbonnais in 1832. Sometime after 1837, LeVasseur returned to Canada to encourage the emigration of his compatriots to Illinois. Several families came in 1844, and more in 1848 and 1849. The new arrivals settled in Bourbonnais, buying or renting from fifteen to forty acres of farmland, some of which they purchased from LeVasseur.

Kankakee French Area
In September 1845, in a letter addressed to Bishop Bourget of Montreal, Mgr. William Quarter (the first bishop of Chicago), requested a priest to "labor with apostolic zeal for the salvation of the souls of these excellent and deserving [French] Canadians." Other requests followed, and Bishop Bourget finally responded in May 1847 when he sent Rene Courjeault as the first resident priest. When Courjeault arrived in the Kankakee Valley he counted 59 French-Canadian families; in the fall he reported 108. In the 1850 population census, 248 families (total population 1,720) were enumerated in Bourbonnais Township. Of these 201 were French Canadians (81 percent). A handful of other French-Canadian families were scattered in other townships of Will and Iroquois counties.

It was, however, a visit from French-Canadian priest Charles Chiniquy in the spring of 1851, and his resolve to organize a group of French-Canadian colonists to settle to the south and east of Bourbonnais, that gave new impetus to this westward migration. Chiniquy published a letter about Illinois in several French language newspapers in Quebec in August of 1851. Beginning with the premise that the flow of emigration would not stop until the government of the province initiated certain changes in social and economic conditions, Chiniquy proposed to turn these French-Canadian migrants away from the towns of New England, which were the "tombs of all that is dear to a Canadian: his religion, his language, and his nationality," and lead them instead to the midwest. "Nothing," he continued, "is more discouraging than to see with


what ease our youths (in New England) are exposed to the contagion of heresy, impiety, and indifference." He contrasted the miserable conditions he had witnessed among his compatriots on the east coast with the happiness and prosperity of those living in the Midwest. He concluded by recommending that those with the penchant to emigrate, as well as those already in the eastern United States, join him in Illinois where land was cheap and plentiful, and where a "sober and religious man" can thrive.

Despite Chiniquy's clearly stated desire to assemble a Catholic community in the Midwest, the Quebec Catholic Church did not respond in a wholeheartedly favorable manner. Neverthless, during the three years after Chiniquy's arrival in Illinois in November 1851, it was estimated that between nine hundred and one thousand families left Quebec and some of the New England states to settle on forty square miles of land in central Illinois.

The New Settlements: St. Anne, St. Mary, Papineau, and L'Erable

The prairies of central Illinois to which the French Canadians came in the early 1850s were different from the land in Quebec they had left behind. Illinois remained relatively unsettled, and while considerable acreage was already in the hands of speculators, federal government lands were still available at $1.25 per acre. Only about 4 percent of the available acreage in the central counties of Illinois in 1850 was improved in farms. The price of that land varied from $5 to $25 per acre according to its location, quality, and distance from stations and settlements.

The French Canadians took advantage of these opportunities. Riding through the area in 1859, a Scot named James Caird described "passing through a settlement of French Canadians ... Each settler has about forty acres and their farms are laid out along parallel roads at right angles to the railway. They exhibit signs of careful cultivation."

Although Bourbonnais was the first community in central Illinois to be settled by French Canadians who ventured to the Midwest in the 1840s, the focal point of Chiniquy's migration effort was to the east and south, in and around an area known as Beaver Creek in Iroquois County. Sometime in 1850 a French Canadian, Michel Allain, moved from Bourbonnais to Beaver Creek with his wife, his two sons (Ambrose and Antoine), and their families. He clearly stimulated the rapid growth of the settlement in 1851 and 1852. By the end of January 1852 forty cabins were built. In a November 27, 1851, letter to Bishop Bourget, Jacques Olivier of the Chicago diocese described Chiniquy's intentions to build a church at Beaver Creek in the spring. This building was indeed completed—a forty-square-foot chapel—and in April of 1852 it was dedicated to St. Anne, the patron saint of the Province of Quebec. St. Anne was organized as a parish of the newly formed Kankakee County in 1853, and in October of 1855 a Catholic school for boys was started. St. Anne Township was created in 1857 from parts of Aroma and Momence Townships. In April of that year the first town officers were elected. Three were French Canadians.

As increasing numbers of French-Canadian immigrants moved into St. Anne Township, some settled in adjacent Iroquois County communities. To the immediate south, they settled in Papineau. Papineau Township was originally settled by Dutch immigrants who had arrived in the 1840s. The township was originally called Weygandt after one of the major immigrant families. Life for the earliest residents of Weygandt Township was harsh. Farming was difficult because the soil was sandy. In 1855 half the population, which by this time also included Yankee and German settlers, died in a severe cholera epidemic. As the region was increasingly settled by French Canadians it was renamed Papineau after the great Quebec nationalist hero of the 1830s.

A sawmill was soon built by a settler, Joseph Delude. The first school was opened in 1861, and a Methodist church was built in 1867. The village was finally incorporated in 1874. A Catholic church was erected in 1872, and attending priests came from nearby St. Mary and St. Anne. Eventually the Papineau church was demolished and never rebuilt. The majority of Papineau residents-whether Protestant or Catholic-worshipped in the churches at St. Anne.

Adjacent to Papineau Township was Beaver Township. The southern part of Beaver township, around the community of Donovan, was a Swedish immigrant stronghold. The northern part had been settled by Norwegians in 1835, but a cholera epidemic in the following year wiped out half the population, and the survivors moved to Wisconsin. The French Canadians moved into the northern part, founding the village of St. Mary (platted in


1859 and renamed Beaverville in 1905) along the border between Beaver and Papineau townships. The first settlers arrived in St. Mary in the spring of 1853, and the first house was built in 1857 by Joseph Caillouette. The village was originally platted on land belonging to a French-Canadian, Charles Arseneau. By 1858 roughly fifty families were worshipping in the church built in the community on twenty acres of land also donated by Charles Arseneau. In 1872 the Cincinnati, Lafayette and Chicago Railroad linked St. Mary's to the Chicago markets. The Lambert family owned and operated a bank, a grain elevator, and a lumberyard. In the early 1900s H. L. Lambert started a tile factory that eventually employed twenty-five men. In 1895 six sisters of the Holy Heart of Mary came from Paris to direct a parish school that became Holy Family Academy. The Academy, which opened with sixty pupils, boarded children from the country. The enrollment grew rapidly, necessitating a new building that was completed in 1905, four years before the cornerstone was laid for the new church of St. Mary's. By 1915 there were three hundred students. The school remained active until 1969, and the buildings were razed in the mid-1970s.

The final village in the area founded by French Canadians was L'Erable settled in 1853 and 1854 as a mission of Maternity Church in Bourbonnais. The name L'Erable, is derived from the sugar maple, many of which were planted by the original settlers. Peter Spink, Chiniquy's adversary in a famous slander lawsuit, was a resident of L'Erable in the early years. He acquired large tracts of lands that he later sold to newcomers. In 1854 a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist was built on land donated by Spink, and St. Jean Baptiste day was celebrated on June 24th, as it is to this day in the province of Quebec. In 1875 the wood frame church that still stands was completed. In 1857 L'Erable was platted but never incorporated. By the end of the 1850s the French Canadians in L'Erable and the surrounding acres of Ashkum Township were soon outnumbered by French-speaking immigrants from Belgium and a few from France. Many descendants of these Belgian and French families still remain in the area.

The Settler Population: A Snapshot in 1860

In 1860 approximately a third of the population of Kankakee County (which included St. Anne Township) was foreign-born, while a fifth of the population of Iroquois County (which included Beaverville, Papineau, and Ashkum townships) was born elsewhere than in the United States. The total population in St. Anne, Beaverville, Papineau (called Weygandt in 1860), and Ashkum townships in that year was 3,561 and of these, the total number of French-Canadian or French-Canadian descent settlers numbered 2,632 or 74 percent of the total.

St. Anne, Papineau, Illinois


In general, and as is characteristic of the migrations of other nationality groups to the American Midwest in the nineteenth century, this was primarily a familial migration, and the society that was built was one based on kinship. The familial nature of the migration is reflected not only in the fairly even distribution of men and women in the overall population, but also in household structure. In 1860, 64 percent of French-Canadian households were composed of simple nuclear families. Households were generally large in size and fertility was high. These are patterns that were characteristic of the French-Canadians of Quebec at this time.

An analysis of four predominately French-Canadian townships shows that in 1860, 76 percent of the French-Canadian male heads of household reported their occupation as farmer. Another 7 percent, of whom three-quarters were under forty, called themselves farm laborers. Ten percent were skilled craftsmen such as masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, joiners, shoemakers, wagon makers, and butchers. Two percent were in low white-collar occupations such as merchant, clerk, or innkeeper, and another 2 percent were in high white-collar occupations (priest/minister, attorney physician). One man listed himself as a laundry man, and the remainder had no occupation listed. The majority of French Canadians who settled in this area farmed from forty to eighty acres, though some had more acreage and a few somewhat less.

The Next Generation: A Snapshot in 1880

By 1880, the children who arrived in Illinois at a young age or who were born there in the early years of settlement had reached or were reaching maturity The 1880 census data indicate that the total number of French-Canadian or French-Canadian descent individuals in the four townships increased only slightly (by 41 persons) from 1860. This was a relatively stable population, reinforcing the idea that the migration to these communities in Illinois occurred solely during a few decades in the middle of the nineteenth century. They were not constantly reinvigorated, as were many of the French-Canadian communities in New England during a migration that lasted from the middle of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Some French-Canadian settlers arrived in Illinois into the 1860s, but they were few in number and generally had kinship contacts. The natural increase was also offset by the departure of some members of the second generation to places further west, particularly to Clay and Cloud counties in Kansas where, in the 1870s, 160 acre plots of land were made available by the U. S. government under the terms of the Homestead Act.

In 1880 the household structure among those who remained in the four Illinois settlements differed little from 1860. Simple-family households were still predominant, although the proportion of households made up of couples living alone had increased from 4 percent of the total to 12 percent of the total. Households were also generally smaller in size. In 1880 65 percent of the French-Canadian male heads of household in the four townships analyzed reported their occupation as farmer. This represented a decline of 11 percent from 1860. Another 11 percent, of whom slightly more than half were under forty, called themselves farm laborers. This represented an increase of 4 percent from 1860. Six percent were skilled craftsmen and 3 percent were unskilled workers. Two percent were in low white-collar occupations such as merchant, clerk or innkeeper, and another 1 percent was in high white-collar occupations (priest/minister, attorney, doctor). The remaining individuals were listed as having other occupations, no occupation, or as retirees. These were still primarily farming communities, although the increase in the proportion of agricultural laborers is further evidence that it was harder to secure a farm in 1880 than it had been two decades earlier.

Just under half of French-Canadian or French-Canadian descent farmers in the four townships were still cultivating farms of 80 acres or less compared with 92 percent in 1860. However, the amount of acreage that remained unimproved had declined to an insignificant level. With time, in short, the French-Canadian settlers who owned farms had achieved some economic success, and differences in wealth were beginning to emerge. This success was reflected in the assessed cash value of farm property. For 13 percent this value was under $1000; another 57 percent had an assessment between $1,000 and $2,999; and 29 percent were assessed above $3,000.

A New Generation: A Snapshot in 1900

In 1900 the total French-Canadian and French-Canadian population in the four townships was 3,116, an increase of 443 individuals from 1880. Oral historical evidence suggests that early marriage persisted for several more


decades. For example, one female informant born in 1915 said she quit school after the eighth grade to help her mother out at home and was married at 17. "Education was not as important in those days as it is now," she said. Her sister also married early. A major change in the composition of the populations of French Canadians living in these townships of central Illinois during the forty years between 1860 and 1900 was in the proportion of the population over fifty. In 1860, this population represented 7 percent of the total population; in 1880, 12 percent; and in 1900, 14 percent.

The data on the structure and size of households reflect to some extent the aging of the French-Canadian population in these townships over the course of five decades. In 1900, 6 percent of the households headed by French-Canadian or French-Canadian-descent males were extended, largely by the presence of a widowed parent and, to a lesser extent, by the presence of unmarried siblings of the head of household. Almost 15 percent were households comprised of married couples living alone (as compared with 4 percent in 1860), and it is quite apparent that many of these were "empty-nest" households. These empty-nests explain in large part the decline in the proportion of simple family households from 61 percent in 1880 to 53 percent in 1900. Concomitantly, of course, the average size of households declined. In 1900 only 34 percent of households were composed of six or more persons, compared with almost twice that number in 1860. The largest decline over four decades was in households of ten or more persons.

Forty-five percent of the French-Canadian male heads of household in the four townships in 1900 reported their occupation as farmer, a decline of 20 percent from 1880. This change reflected national trends. Whereas farming used 60 percent of the labor force in 1860, it used less than 40 percent by 1900. Another 9 percent of the French-Canadian male heads of household in the four townships were farm laborers, and 1 percent (9 individuals) were railroad laborers. Six percent were skilled craftsmen, 7 percent were in low white-collar occupations, and another 2 percent were in high white-collar occupations. One man was a laundry man, 19 (2.5%) were landlords or in real estate, 2 were in stock raising, and 3 were grain dealers. The remaining individuals (17%) were recorded in the census as having no occupation or were in a range of other occupations (9%). The population in 1900 was clearly more diversified in terms of occupation. Low white-collar workers had increased by 5 percent, and some individuals were clearly living off the property they owned.

A comparison of data from county atlases for the turn of the century with those from the early 1880s reveals that much of the land originally acquired by the settler generation remained in their hands or in the hands of heirs. These maps also indicate that the majority of French-Canadian or French-Canadian descent farmers had quarter-sections of 160 acres. A few had more and some had less. Efforts were made to maintain adjacent plots of land, but sometimes farmers had 80-acre tracts in different parts of one or more townships. Indeed, by the turn of the century, greater differences in personal wealth began to emerge. After printing a list in the February 16, 1906, edition of the St. Anne Record of St. Anne, Papineau, and St. Mary's taxpayers who paid over $100, the newspaper followed with an editorial on February 23 drawing attention to the scarcity of medium-range residents in these communities. Of the 35 listed for St. Anne, 25 were French-Canadian descent individuals and another was the partnership of Archambault and Delacourt (father-in-law and son-in-law ran a hotel in St. Anne). The remainder were businesses—the First National Bank, Cornish Lumber Company, and St. Anne Light and Water—or individuals of other ethnic backgrounds, including French-born Edward Pallissard. Papineau and St. Mary's each had just one property owner paying in excess of $100 in taxes: Joseph Nourie Sr. and Moses St. Pierre, respectively. Of the largest landowners, the majority were first-generation immigrants who came as young children or young adults.

Group of St. Anne Residents - French Canadian descendents, early 20th century. Collection: Caroline B. Brettell


The descendents of the French Canadians who immigrated to Illinois in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s were not only geographically mobile, they were also socially mobile. They solidified their ownership of land, and in many cases they were able to pass along substantial holdings to those members of the second generation who stayed in the communities. As time passed, increasing proportions of the


population that remained in the original Illinois settlements moved out of farming, especially in the main township of St. Anne. The January 1915 souvenir edition of the St. Anne Record included a full page of pictures of the prominent businessmen in the community, the majority of them descendents of the original settlers with the names Allain, Dumais, Robillard, Brouilllette, Allard, Bonvallet, Martin, St. Pierre, Trudeau, Baron, and Lebeau. These populations set down roots, and within two decades they were building important institutions such as St. Viateur's Seminary in Bourbonnais and newspapers such as the Journal de I'lllinois and the Coumer de Illinois which, at least for a time, were important vehicles of communication for the French-speaking populations of the state.

Melissa Craig

Chiniquy's Tomb-Mount Royal Cemetery-Montreal, Quebec Collection: Caroline B. Brettell


Main Ideas
The following lesson will explore the early French-Canadian settlements in Illinois. It will trace the Catholic Church's influence in the area and show how the townships or settlements in the Kankakee County developed into the communities of today. This area has grown and developed largely because of the tenacity of the original immigrants who instilled their beliefs in their descendents. They worked hard to develop their land, build their businesses, and become leaders in the community. Students will use maps, plats, newspaper articles of the time, and other reference materials to trace the development of the area. They will also graph the changes in the socio-economic climate of the region.

Connection with the Curriculum
These materials can be used to teach not only Illinois history, but also migration patterns into the United States. The primary focus of this study is the French Canadian and farming communities of Illinois. These materials may be appropriate for Illinois Learning Standards 14.D.3; 14.D.4; 14.D.5; 14.F.3; 16.A; 16.B; 16.C;16.D;and18.A.

Teaching Level
This exercise would be appropriate for grades 7-12

Materials for Each Student
• Copy of narrative portion of the article
• Copy of activities
• Paper, pens, colored pencils, and other drawing materials
• Copies of maps and plats
• Websites: <History of Kankakee County">; <"The-A-Ki-Ki">; "Letter from Rev. P. Chiniquy" <>; and "Chiniquy: Lincoln Writings">


Objectives for Each Student
• Assess the role of the Catholic Church on French-Canadians who settled in the Kankakee Region.
• Analyze the importance that individuals like James Caird, Peter Spink, and Charles Chiniquy had on the development of the area.
• Examine the locations that were chosen by the church to build parishes, and explain how they fostered community growth.
• Trace the path of the rail systems. Use the rail that connected St. Mary's with Chicago and explain its impact on the economy of the area.
• Explain in words, photographs, or drawings the changes that subsequent generations have brought to the area.


Opening the Lesson
Begin this activity with the students reading the narrative portion of the article. Then discuss several of the main points with the students. In addition, have a variety of maps to familiarize the students with the area in and around Beaver Creek. As the students move through the activities, they may want railroad pamphlets that will enable them to trace the area's connection with Chicago.

Developing the Lesson

In Activity One, students will read the narrative portion of the article and ascertain the reasons and the arguments used by a variety of insightful people to colonize the Kankakee area in Illinois, They will further identify those individuals, their contributions, and the lasting affects they have had on the area.

Students will continue their investigations by mapping the community of Beaver Creek. This investigation will continue with an exploration of the churches of St. Anne and St. Mary. Other churches in Papineau and surrounding areas can also be included. The students will find photos, permits, letters, and other documents from newspapers, diocesan records, and court files to formulate their responses to certain questions.

In Activity Two, the students will continue their study of the area by investigating the health of the region. They will identify the cholera epidemics that devastated the region and draw conclusions about its origin and any subsequent connection to the growth of the county and surrounding townships.

Activities Three and Four will require the students to investigate the changing economics of the region. This investigation will include the affect of the railways on the townships of the region. It will also bring into focus the changes of the families who first settled the area as farmers and then moved into the business community. The students can use charts, graphs, and maps to plot this ever-changing element of society.

Activity Five will focus directly on the families of the region. Students can use photos, newspaper pictures, and visuals from the historical society, or they can do their own representational drawings to show how the families have changed through the generations.

Concluding the Lesson
Each activity can be graded or discussed individually in large or small groups, or the entire unit can be a collective activity. There can be on-going discussions and interactive groupings to bring out the most of each lesson. One grade can then be given at the end of the unit.

Extending the Lesson
Students can develop their own activities by researching the townships of the Kankakee County. They might draft letters to the diocesan office or the various church archives to gain more information. Some students might want to further investigate the families who immigrated from Canada; for instance, is the business a family currently owns the same as the occupation of the earlier French-Canadian settlers. Other students may want to do even further research into the epidemics of that time and other medical problems in the vicinity. In-depth discussions as to the "whys" about various events in the narrative portion of the article can help students analyze their information, as well as other events in our history.

Assessing the Lesson
Each teacher should feel free to develop his/her own rubric to fit the needs of the classroom. Quizzes can be given after each activity, or one test can be administered at the conclusion of the lesson. In addition, the students could make an around-the-room time line or a bulletin board entitled "The French-Canadian Connection in Illinois."


Using the narrative portion of the article and any relevant reference materials listed in Materials for Each Student, describe the rationale that Father Chiniquy used to persuade the French-Canadian migrants to go to Illinois instead of choosing the more popular paths to towns in New England.

1. Why did Father Chiniquy believe a Catholic community was necessary to the development of Illinois? Include issues raised by the leaders of the church in Canada and how he overcame their opposition.

2. What was James Caird's evaluation of the French-Canadian settlements in central Illinois? What conclusions can be drawn from his observations?

3. Describe the importance of Peter Spink, and describe how his contributions are still evident today.

4. Using old maps of Beaver Creek and Iroquois County, plot the development of the community of Beaver Creek


Brainstorm with the students about primary sources. Where can they find the best information on a given topic? How do they contact people who might be able to help them in their search?

1. The church of St. Anne was built in Beaver Creek, St. Mary's was constructed in Beaverville, and yet another Catholic Church was built in Papineau. What were these churches like? Who designed and built them? Try to find pictures or written descriptions that will allow you to compare and contrast these and other churches in the vicinity

2. What is an epidemic?

3. In 1835 and again in 1855, in the same region, one-half of the population was wiped out by cholera epidemics. What is cholera? How was it brought into the area? Was there something in the soil or water that could have triggered these epidemics 20 years apart?


Commerce: How do different groups make their way in the wilderness? Where does the revenue come from, and what causes the people in an area to change their source of income?

1. When did the railroad come to central Illinois? What would make it a profitable undertaking, and how did the trains that linked the community of St. Mary's to Chicago have an effect on the economy of that community?

2. Find the old rail routes and the stops that were made. Make a model or a display showing this and also the products and types of passengers that were transported. Can a connection be made between the founding of the railroad lines and the economy of the region?

3. Make a pie graph showing the percent of French-Canadian population in relationship to the total population. Include other foreign born as well as those born in the United States. Students may want to choose a particular decade, or they may want to make comparisons between several key dates.


4. What were the main occupations of the 1850s, 1860s, and 1880s? Make another chart showing what percent each occupation held and how they differed from decade to decade. Can any correlations be made between occupations and the immigrants who came into the area?


Picture That

1. The 1880s. Find or make a picture of a family from one of the townships in the 1880s.

2. More 1880s. Why was the migration into the four settlements slow or next to nothing during this time period? How did the people living in this area maintain stability?

3. How did the family unit change between 1880 and 1900? Make a drawing of a typical family. Can you explain the changes?

4. In 1915 the St. Anne Record ran photos of the most prominent business people in the area. Who were these people, and when had their families arrived in the Kankakee County? Why had they stayed, and what caused them to move from the farms of their ancestors into the business centers of their towns?


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