Quebec Studies

We Too Are Sons of Liberty: Franco-American Ethnic Advocacy in Joseph P. Choquet's Under Canadian Skies, a Historical Novel of the Rebellion of 1837

Quebec Studies (2012), 53, (1), 111–126.

Abstract

111 We Too Are Sons of Liberty: Franco-American Ethnic Advocacy in Joseph P. Choquet's Under Canadian Skies, a Historical Novel of the Rebellion of 1837 Leslie Choquette Institut français, Assumption College Unearthing an obscure ethnic novel from the 1920s requires less justifica­ tion today than it would have prior to the canon wars of the previous few decades. Yet a Franco-American novel from that period, written in English, inherits a double burden of marginalization. As an ethnic novel, and a pri­ vately published one at that, it is excluded from the American literary main­ stream. As an English-language novel, it also stands apart from an ethnic literary canon predicated on survivance. Studies of early twentieth-century Franco-American literature have been heavily weighted toward works written in French as a result of the dominance of survivance ideology among Franco-American elites.1 As late as the 1970s, efforts to reclaim FrancoAmerican voices through a series of National Materials Development Cen­ ter reprints focused exclusively on French-language fiction.2 Looking only at writing in French, however, gives a skewed vision of the full range of Franco-American literary expression, even in the first half of the twentieth century, when acculturation of the immigrant community was already in full swing.3 This essay attempts to broaden our perspective by examining the novel Under Canadian Skies: A French-Canadian Historical Romance, pub­ lished by Joseph P. Choquet in 1922.4 I have identified this unknown author as the oldest surviving child of Ambroise Choquet, originally of Varennes, Québec, and Alexandrine Christine Lenoir dite Roland.5 The family's story illustrates the appeal of the United States for upwardly mobile Quebecers in the late nineteenth cen­ tury; these immigrants were not destitute habitants. Ambroise (1840-1938), the third son of a farmer, studied law at McGill University and was ad­ mitted to the Lower Canada bar in 1865. He and his wife, whom he mar­ ried in 1867, had eight children in Montreal between 1868 and 1882, two of whom died in infancy. Joseph P. was born in 1869. Around 1884, the family immigrated to Rochester, New York, where Ambrose (he anglicized his name right away) found work as a confectioner and lawyer. In 1885, he be­ came editor of a French-language newspaper in Plattsburgh,6 and by 1888, he was editing Worcester's Le Travailleur, the distinguished newspaper founded by Ferdinand Gagnon. Naturalized and admitted to the Massa­ chusetts bar in 1888, he practiced law in Worcester until 1891, when he moved his practice to Pawtucket. He became a probate court judge in Lincoln, Rhode Island in 1893 and a district court judge in 1899. After re­ tiring from the bench in 1922, he served in the Rhode Island Senate. Joseph P., meanwhile, learned the printer's trade, probably due to his father's foray into the newspaper world. Like two of his younger brothers, he became a linotype operator. A third brother also worked for a printing Québec Studies, Volume 53, Spring/Summer 2012

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Choquette, Leslie