Bucksport’s first Franco Americans Were Patriots, Rebels and, Above All, Persistent.

In several histories of the Catholic church in Bucksport, Maine, the tradition is maintained that the earliest members of that faith to settle in the town came from Quebec around 1835 – a distance of 200 miles – on foot. Remarkable as this is, the backstories of some of these families may be even more interesting.
About a dozen French Canadian families, primarily from the Beauce region of Quebec, came to the town between 1830 and 1850. Why they chose to come to Bucksport, which even then was a fairly small settlement on the coast of Maine, is unclear. The town did experience something of a population boom in this period, growing from 1700 inhabitants in 1820 to 3400 by 1850, but making such a long journey along a barely maintained road through the uplands of western Maine could not have been easy. On their arrival, the Canadiens would have found themselves virtually the only foreigners in Bucksport, and the only Catholics in a town that, as a condition of its founding in the 1790s, had been peopled strictly by protestants.
But like other early French-Canadian communities in Maine, they persevered. According to the historical tradition, the women of the community taught catechism to the children, and families made trips back to their hometowns for baptisms and weddings. Eventually, visiting priests from Bangor, Ellsworth and Winterport would serve the growing number of parishioners in the town, until they got their own parish in 1890. Nearly all of the early Franco-American families spoke only French, and church records in Quebec confirm the tradition that almost none could read or write in any language. One member of the community, recorded in the histories as “Judge Bushnow” for his literacy, acted as translator for the others. The first masses were said in his house.
Bucksport in this era was a shipbuilding town, and the construction of Fort Knox in 1844 provided some other employment opportunities. The Franco Americans in town appear solely as laborers on the early censuses, although some of their children became fisherman, ship’s carpenters, and mariners. Nearly all had been farmers in Canada, and are examples of the wave of emigration that flowed from,Eastern Quebec into Maine and other places as desperate men looked for work – any work – elsewhere.

Bucksport Waterfront, c1860. Image via Buck Memorial Library/Maine Memory Network.

But a few of the founding families’ back stories offer other compelling reasons to leave Canada in the late 1830s. In 1837 and 1838, two uprisings challenged British authority in its colonies of Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec). In Lower Canada, this rebellion was largely comprised on French Canadians and is known as the Patriote Uprising. At least one of the Bucksport families is strongly associated with this event, and British reprisals in the wake of the failed rebellion would have provided a strong motivation to leave Canada.
“Judge Bushnow” was in fact born in Hubert Boissonnault in the parish of Saint-Francois-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud in 1806. [1] Though his father Nicholas was a farmer, his oldest brother, also Nicholas, became a businessman who owned several sawmills and a store in Quebec city. Hubert himself seems to have chosen the same career path. He entered into contracts with Peter Patterson and Jerôme Paré, both Quebec City businessmen, and with his older brother [2]. In 1831, Hubert himself is listed as a “Marchand.” [3] But soon politics intervened. Nicholas, the elder Boissonnault brother, was the local representative to the parliament of Lower Canada, and a captain in the local militia. As a member of the Parti Canadien and then the Parti Patriote, Nicholas voted for the 92 resolutions that demanded a more representative government in the colony. Given this association with the Patriotes’ political aims, and his military experience (he was a veteran of the War of 1812) [4] , it seems,likely that Nicholas took up arms in the failed rebellion against the British government in Canada. This might explain the emigration of Hubert to Bucksport some time before 1840 [5], especially if he shared his brother’s sympathies or was a participant himself. While there was a general amnesty issued for the Patriotes in 1845, Hubert did not return to Canada until late in his life. In October 1865, he was admitted to,what was then called the Quebec Lunatic Asylum, with dementia. He died just 90 days later [6].

Battle of Saint-Eustache, lithograph, Charles Beauclark, c1839. Image via Wikimedia commons.

Boissonault was not the only one of the emigrés with an interesting past, though he was the most closely associated with the Patriote cause. Zacharie Bolduc, another early member of the community, was also a veteran of 1812 [7]. In fact, Bolduc was one of the veterans who received a land grant in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in 1830 [8]. Just a few years later,  however, Bolduc and his wife and children had left Canada for Bucksport. Although they would certainly not be the only family to have received land that turned out to be unfarmable, the timing of their departure may be significant. The Bolducs were one family that came back to their home parish (Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce) to have their children baptized. The records of that parish show that the family left after the  burial of their daughter Sophie on the 21st of February 1838 [9], but before their son Thomas was born on the 24th of March the same year. [10] Patriote Robert Nelson had attempted to launch an invasion of Lower Canada from Vermont on the 28th of February, 1838. Their first return trip, which saw 3 of their children, including Thomas, baptized was not until 1843, after the first amnesty for participants in the uprising.
Like Boissonault, the Bolducs chose to stay in Bucksport, as did other families.
Those who did had their names anglicized and, encouraged by the lack of literacy among the population, the new names and spellings stuck. Bolduc became Bulduc, the Poulins became Poolers, and the Doyons, Dyers.  Some took translations of their French names – like the Boisvins, who became Drinkwines. The French Canadian heritage of these early settlers faded to the extent that in the program for Bucksport’s 250th anniversary, the authors are uncertain even about the term “French Canadian,” which appears in quotation marks. On the other hand, when the community finally did gain a parish, it was named for the French Saint Vincent de Paul, and the cornerstone of the church building was laid on July 14, 1890 – Bastille Day.
At least some of the second generation of Bucksport’s Franco Americans embraced their identity as Americans. Naturalization petitions for some,survive [11], and a number served their new country in war. Joseph Dyer (Doyon); Frank Pooler (François Poulin) and Charles Prue (Proulx) all served in the Maine infantry in the US Civil war, [12] while Joseph “Depray” (Dupuis) became a member of the US navy in 1857 [13].
The complicated nature of identity in this community is perhaps summed up best by the legacy of the elder Bolduc. While Zacharie Bolduc’s headstone in the cemetery of St Vincent de Paul in Bucksport notes that he was “a soldier of 1812,” a Star-Spangled banner is dutifully placed beside it on memorial day, unaware that the veteran buried there actually fought under the Union Jack repelling the American invasion of Canada, and later likely fought for greater representative government against the soldiers of the British crown carrying the same flag
With much gratitude to the members of the “Acadian and French-Canadian Genealogy and History” Facebook group who assisted in tracking down many of these individuals.
Also to Gilles Laporte’s excellent database of Patriote leaders and members of the uprising, 1837.qc.ca
[1] Qubec parish records for Saint-François-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, April 5, 1806. Online via ancestry.com
[2] Notarial records between Hubert Boissonault and a number of other parties survivive – quittance with Michel Guilmet, notarized by Augustin Larue, Oct 17, 1827; obligation with Messieurs Patterson et Compagnie, 16 July, 1832, notarized by Augustin Larue; obligation with Jérôme Paré, 19 May, 1832, notarized by Fabien Ouellet; 26 Nov 1833, obligation with “N Boissonnault,” notarized by Edward Gluckmayer.  Indexes may be viewed online at the Bibliotheques et Archives Nationale sde Québec.
[3] Census of Canada, 1831, Parish of Saint Vallier, county of Hereford.
[5] United States Census, 1840, Bucksport.
[7] Private Carie Bolduc, in Captain Lepichon’s Company, 1st Battalion of the Embodied Militia of Canada. Muster rolls of the Battallion, September 1814-Jan 1815. Viewable online at Libraries and Archives Canada.
[9] Qubec parish records for Saint-François-de-Beauce (Beauceville), 21st February, 1838. Online via ancestry.com
[10] Qubec parish records for Saint-George-de-Beauce, July 20th, 1843. Online via ancestry.com
[11] For example, Philip Doyer (son of Philippe Doyon). Petition filed 6th Sept 1876 at Bangor, Maine. He attested to coming to the United States in 1836, aged 9.
[12] Joseph Dyer (b 1846), received a military headstone as a civil War veteran. Died Jul 24 1909. Private, 14th Me infantry;

Frank Pooler served in the 16th Me, K Company. He was admitted to the Soldier’s Home at Togus, Maine, in 1900 with Peripheral/[…] of alcoholism. He was discharged Dec 9 1863 at Alexandria VA;

Charles Prue enlisted 21 Aug 1862, age 19. Enlisted in Company G, Maine 18th Infantry Regiment on 21 Aug 1862.Mustered out on 19 Dec 1862.Transferred to Company G, Maine 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment on 19 Dec 1862.Mustered out on 19 May 1864 at Spotsylvania Court House, VA.

[13] Joseph “Depra” ( b1831 at Bucksport), enlisted in the “naval rendezvous” at Boston, Feb 3, 1857. No prior service. 26 yo, no occupation. 5’5 ½”, hazel eyes, black hair, “dark complexion”
James Myall

About James Myall

While I currently work for an Augusta-based non-profit, I spent four years as the Coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine. In 2015, I co-authored "The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn," a general history of that population from 1850 to the present. I was also a consultant for the State Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans in 2012. I live in Topsham with my wife and two young daughters.