Publishing the history & culture

of Southeastern New England • Since 1981

Coming Soon

ISBN 978-0932027-

— pages • 8” x 10.5”
100+ photos & Illustrations

French New Bedford

An American Story: The Early Years

by Alfred H. Saulniers

Spinner Publications announces the publication of the most comprehensive early history of New Bedford’s Franco-American communities. The new book examines the years up to the 1930s. It covers the communities’ early beginnings, growth and expansion, and then the abrupt end to growth triggered by immigration restrictions, the Great Textile Strike of 1928 and the onset of the Great Depression.

The book reveals a history far more complex than the familiar extended family-parish-neighborhood ethnic accounts found in other New England cities.

Most French in New Bedford hailed directly from Quebec. Others came from different places in the US where their Quebec-born parents or grandparents had settled.

Still others had Acadian roots. Their ancestors settled the Maritime Provinces until driven out by the English during the ethnic cleansings of the mid-eighteenth century. The Acadians had pride in their heritage and often remained apart.

Yet others came to New Bedford both from metropolitan France. In addition, some French came from that nation’s overseas departments and territories.

Lastly, French-speaking areas of Belgium and Switzerland contributed to the mix. The result was a group of loose-knit local communities. The book covers them all.

The earliest French flocked to New Bedford when it was a booming whaling capital. Some hoped to find jobs by shipping out. Others arrived at the end of a whaling journey having been engaged along the way. Some worked in town and provided goods and services for whalers, while others transformed whale products into candles and other items. Nowhere else had New Bedford’s whaling-related attractions for the French. The book reveals them all in detail.

During New Bedford’s second economic boom, many French came to work in the textile mills. They readily found ready employment in all stages of production except in supervisory levels where they remained scarce. Some workers took so much pride in their work that they invented and patented improvements to production. Yet others used textile scraps to create stunning quilts. The book covers them all.

The growth of French communities led to a demand for services delivered in French. Providers included French-speaking priests, ministers and nuns; physicians, midwives, dentists, pharmacists, nurses and undertakers; owners and staff in small food markets, grocers, bakers, meat cutters, sausage makers and fish dealers; and tailors, dressmakers, milliners and shoe and boot sellers.

French-speakers also became architects, contractors, builders, carpenters, masons, bricklayers and plumbers. Yet others worked as carriage makers, blacksmiths and automobile dealers or operated garages and gas stations.

Many entertained through choral music and brass bands. A few became vaudevillians, stage magicians and early motion picture actors. Yet others took up boxing or harness racing, flew homing pigeons or walked competitively.

To participate in electoral politics and get city jobs, New Bedford’s French learned English, became US citizens and eventually overcame the entrenched Protestant Yankees plus English and Irish migrants who chose election candidates and filled city staff jobs.

The French fought for the United States at every opportunity. Quaker New Bedford could not fill its quotas of enlistees during the Revolutionary War. Newly arrived French joined in their stead. The book also looks at New Bedford’s French who served during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the China Relief Expedition, the Mexican Expedition against Pancho Villa and the First World War. During the last, the French from New Bedford fought and died under four different flags, those of Belgium, France, Canada and the US.

About The Author

Acushnet-born and raised Alfred Saulniers left southeastern Massachusetts after graduating from high school. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He then worked successively for the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University.

Saulniers had an extensive international career as an economist before returning to New Bedford in 2000. His long-term foreign residencies included Peru, Zaïre, Kenya, Morocco and Pakistan, where he taught and consulted.

Back in New Bedford, Saulniers served as the lead writer for Spinner Publication’s two volumes of the Picture History of New Bedford.

In a pre-television era, Saulniers was raised as a native French speaker. French New Bedford reflects deep pride in his – and New Bedford’s – French roots.