- Following Father Chiniquy. Immigration, Religious Schism, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Illinois by Caroline B. Brettell
I first read Caroline B. Brettell twenty-five years ago, in a graduate school class on peasants, artisans, immigrants, and the bourgeoisie in contemporary France. Her work on the lives of Portuguese women facilitated a deeper understanding of the issues facing immigrant communities in their newly adopted societies. We Have Already Cried Many Tears (1982) served as a reminder that immigration was [End Page 575] certainly not a new phenomenon in modern France and that individuals from around the Mediterranean basin, not anonymous masses, traveled north to France, often before more recent immigrants left former French colonies for the Metropole. In her latest work, Brettell brings to the attention of scholars a lesser known and rather unique immigrant population. Drawing upon a distinguished career as an anthropologist of settler communities in Canada, the United States, and France, she examines a group considerably closer to "home." Brettell reveals that her connection to Charles Chiniquy and his movement is familial; his autobiography literally passed from her father's hands to her own. "For a Canadian living in the United States as an immigrant, a Canadian whose father was himself an immigrant, and a Canadian whose paternal grandmother was descended from a union of two prominent Huguenot families . . . " (xiii), this story is indeed personal.
Following Father Chiniquy examines a small group of French Canadians who settled in northeastern Illinois and converted to Protestantism along with their magnetic leader: "The current volume offers an opportunity to examine, in a microlevel context, a range of important historical and anthropological questions concerning immigration, ethnicity and religion" (1). Father Chiniquy had the verve to take on the Catholic Church, an institution that began to draw criticism for its papist, antidemocratic tendencies in the 1850s. Chiniquy strongly objected to the Vatican forbidding the faithful from reading the Bible (87). While some converted to Protestantism as he did, other immigrants chose not to do so; the schism splintered families and communities. One of the central points of the analysis is that the effects of this emphatic migration and religious schism were pervasive, resulting in subtle, measurable differences distinguishing Catholics from Protestants.
Unlike French Canadians in New England, this immigrant group was not regularly replenished with new members, rendering it more distinct than comparable in some regards. Brettell finds that French Canadian immigrants in the Midwest had prospered, and unlike the textile workers in the Northeast, acquired land. Some continued to farm. French Canadians in the Midwest tended to assimilate more quickly than their brethren further east; they could not maintain the French schools, newspapers, religious institutions, and services that were vital to ethnic preservation and identity. They appear not to have benefitted from the mutual aid organizations that assisted Franco-Americans in New England for over a century: the Association Canado-Américaine and Union Saint Jean Baptiste d'Amérique. Hence, survivance or French cultural preservation may not be an accurate frame for identifying this subsection of Canadian settlers. Brettell concludes that they were not, in fact, strictly Franco-American (223). Sustained French language, Catholic faith, and cultural traditions have long been pillars of a postcolonial, Franco-American identity in the United States.
It is the religious schism that makes this particular French Canadian immigrant experience pertinent, led by the polarizing figure of Father Charles Chiniquy. Despite his innocuous appearance, Father Chiniquy was the source of a surprising amount of conflict (84). Brettell finds that it is still difficult to talk about a man who literally moved a few thousand people, both physically and figuratively, but who was also prone to egomania and sensuality, among other reputed character flaws. By taking members of his flock into Anglo-Protestant territory, readers discover how followers of two faiths differed in their expression of Franco-American identity. Brettell documents discrepancies in wealth, property, inheritance, fertility, linguistic practices, and politics. Protestants of French Canadian descent tended to [End Page 576...