Grande Soiree de Famille 

St. Jean de Baptiste, 1927

Family Night of  Song and Dance given by the Club LaFayette, Newmarket NH

Translated From a program dated June 23, 1927

This program was delivered in French and English during the August 2012 New Market Historical Society meeting held at the Stone Church.  The program “Soiree Canadienne”  was an old-fashioned French Canadian gathering of food, song,  and story-telling which was partially spoken in the Québécois that was heard on the streets of Newmarket.  The language started to fade after the late 1960s,  and by the 1990s  it slowly disappeared as the older French generation passed.

If regional historians appeared who could bring to light gestures of our race in this country since the inception of the American Colony, many surprises would be revealed.  Belknap, the New Hampshire historian, assures us that Pere Thury gave the first mass in Durham near to Newmarket in 1694.

Before this time around 1640, a Frenchman, one of the first colonists in Newmarket, Jean Lampre, established himself on the River Lamprey’s Edge and gave it his name.  (1)

So early in the town’s history we find French people in Newmarket prior to its separation from Exeter in 1727.   Acadians who were brutally expelled from Acadia, New France, settled in Newmarket around 1755.   After their expulsion, history smothers with a thick silence the presence of Franco Americans in Newmarket.

 Madame Sophie Gadbois arrived in the early 1870s, married in St, Mary’s Church in 1879. (2)  When she arrived there were five Franco American Families in town.  Three of whom were Beauchesne, Labranche, and St. Hilaire.  Other Quebecois soon arrived and were not very welcomed by their own.  Rocks and epithets were thrown.

(photo: Drapeau-Carillon-Sacré-Coeur, the traditional flag of the St. Jean de Baptiste Society in 1926. Between 1903 and the 1940s it was promoted as “the flag of French Canadian Catholics.”)

 After 1877, town records of French marriage and town births are greater than any other Nationality.  Since then, and increasing until today (1927) the Franco American account for ½ the town’s population and 4/5th the parishioners of St. Mary’s Church.   And this is the result of the “Conquette de verceaux” — Conquest of the Cradle.   —- A social philosophy whereby larger families are created in order to maintain their tradition and culture.  The Franco Americans in spite of prejudice, poverty, and hostilities built a French Catholic School, to promote and encourage their French Language, and Catholic Values.

Because of a 50 cent membership fee collected by the Club LaFayette, the French School was able to keep going.  By 1910, the Franco American community gave the noble Father Riley enough money to build the St. Mary’s Parish School. (3)   At that time, the teaching staff of the Sisters of the Holy Cross opened a school upstairs here at the Stone Church, and then by 1920 they opened the doors at St. Mary’s School, on South Main Street with an attendance of 300 children. [Hence the Conquette de verceaux].

 Although nowadays, hardships experienced by the Franco Americans are not as difficult as they once were — history may give us heroes, but our story gives us men of heart!  The Newmarket Franco Americans show initiative and show a good, practical business sense.  50 years ago, in the 1870s, there was but one Franco American merchant.  Now in 1927, commerce is in their hands.  Everywhere can be seen a Franco bakery, a grocery store, and a butcher shop.

(photo: Newmarket’s LaFayette Club Baseball team, 1903)

Amidst all the Franco American Associations, only the Association Canado-Americiane seems to be flourishing and promises the most for the future in power and influence.  In politics, the Franco Americans were unable to exercise the power and influence that merits their numbers.  They were not able to maneuver themselves thru the ruse and duplicity of the political system due to their forth-rightness and their own inexperience.  Therefore, benefits due to the Franco Americans were dispersed elsewhere.

In regard to Patriotism, Newmarket’s Franco Americans do not relinquish their place in the front seat.  Their actions in times of national need illustrate their devotion to this country and their integrity to civic duty.  They are one hundred percent American – with actions of sacrifice which speak louder than the vociferous ballyhoo of a burlesque show.   In The Great War, (4)  without ostentation, 180 Newmarket soldiers, 100 of whom were Franco American, left to fight and honor our flag.  We honor them.

                                                           (photo: Rev.Thomas Reilly, 1887,  St. Mary’s Church)

On this Day of our National Feast of St. Jean Baptiste, let’s take the opportunity to return to the past and review our strengths and the reality of our situation.  A Patriotic meditation gives birth of resolutions for the goodness of our race.  If these recollections were done more often, there would be less apathy and less defection from our people.  Our last celebration was in 1919.   Today, 1927, will the first time in eight years that we are able again to celebrate our feast day, the Faith of Franco Americans, and the Patron of our race, St. Jean de Baptiste.

Editorial Notes:

(1)  This has been disputed by other historians who state the river was named after the Lamprey eel which was abundant in the river, and the river listing of Lamprille, Lampre and Lamprey-Eell appear in documents prior to anyone settling in the area. 

(2)  St. Mary’s Church was on top of Zion’s Hill in 1879, in the building known today (2013) as the Stone Church.

(3)  St. Mary’s School in 1927 is, today, the Newmarket Town Hall on South Main Street.

(4)  In 1927  WW I was known as  ”The Great War”