French Settlement in Montrose, Belleville and French Town WisconsinFrench Colony Near Belleville
Settlement of 400 from Swiss Border in South of County From Haute-Saone District
Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin (April 24, 1902)
In the town of Montrose along the Green County line southwest of Madison, one meets two more of the nationalities that comprise the mixed population of Dane County. These are Townships like Christiana, Pleasant Springs and Mount Horeb, where Norwegian emigration has centered. Middleton is a type of the German Township. The Scotch picked Verona as their favorite colony. Irish, English and American are a flavoring in all sections. Here in Montrose the peculiar nationality is French. There are also some Swiss.
A French farmer settlement is something uncommon in this country. It is a familiar thing to most Germans, Irish, Scandinavians, English, or Scotch in any part of the United States. There are few distinct French settlements except along the eastern Canadian line, and these settlements are French- Canadian. The French settlement here is of immigrants direct from France.
The French who have settled here are from the region of Haute-Saone. (Haute means high and Saone is a river). This is a region near the Swiss border about eighty leagues (240 miles) southeast of Paris. The first settler from France who found his way to Dane County was John Roy. He came to America as early as 1835 settling in New York state. John Roy enlisted in the Mexican War in 1848 and after peace was declared he came to Dane County in about 1850. Roy at once wrote back to his neighbors at Haute-Saone telling them of the cheap lands and the opportunities that America offered. Then the French emigration to Dane County began. In all some score of families (over 100 people) came over, all settling in a compact colony to the northeast of the village. Immigration has now ceased. Lands are too high to attract poor people. The colony has grown by natural increase. The French families tend to be large. There are often ten to a dozen children. In all there must be some 400 or 500 in the French district here now.
August Tisserand is among the first who arrived after the letters of John Roy started the movement westward from Haute-Saone. He came with his parents as a boy of 15, in 1853. Born in 1838, he is now near his 64th year. The French emigrants have tended to confine themselves to their native tongue. Of course, the children have learned English, but the parents are not as a rule, adept in the tongue of their adopted country. Many, especially the women, cannot converse, except in French. August Tisserand differs from his countrymen in this. His English is fluent and easily understood. "I can do better than most of the children even after they go to the English school, he asserts." "The people who came over from France were of a poor class," he said in telling of the early settlement. "Most of us came with nothing. My parents landed in New York with but $13. My father died the day after reaching this country. He left my mother and us children to face the world alone." "Over in France our people were used to small farms. A man might have 20 acres, but even that was in small patches, an acre here and acre there. To have 100 or 150 acres of land was new to us. We raised in France about the same crops we do here, barley, oats and such small grain. The fruit sections of France are further to the south that where we came from.
Mr. Tisserand has the French facility for story telling. He has a droll tale of the days of the Civil War. Towards the middle of the conflict his own name together with the names of three other Belleville Frenchmen, Olymp Genin, August Francois, and Xavier Gavoille, were put on the list of those liable to be drafted. None of the four wanted to be forced into the service. They took the train to Janesville, Wisconsin to protest. "I was the only one of the four who could speak English" said Mr. Tisserand in telling the story. "I told the recruiting officer that we were not yet citizens of the United States and could not be drafted. The officer who had come up to see what we wanted at once became very busy and said he had no time to talk with us." One of our car party said, "Tell him we want to enlist and he will have to listen to us, I'll bet." So in a joking spirit I said, "Officer, I was about to tell you that these are friends of mine who cannot talk English and who want to enlist." The officer gave an order. Two men came up and marched Genin, Francois, and Gavoille into a booth quick as a wink; stripped off their clothes; examined them physically, pronounced them in good health; and in less time than it took my friends to realize what was going on they had been enrolled as recruits and hustled into a car and sent to Camp Randall at Madison. They had gone down to Janesville to protest to the possibility of being drafted with the result that they had enlisted. The funniest part of it was that I got $15 a piece ($45 in all) for bringing down the three recruits. The three served over two years in the First Wisconsin Heavy Artillery. They got the best of Tisserand in the end by the pensions awarded to them. Gavoille now draws $24 a month, Francois draws $12 a month, and Genin $6 a month. Another Belleville Frenchman who served in the Civil War was August Genin, now dead.
August Tisserand last month sold his farm and moved into the village. The man who purchased it will introduce tobacco culture in this section. He will raise five acres this season. If it succeeds, Montrose Township may soon become as much a center for the industry as any other part of the country. At present it raises none.
Montrose Township was first settled in 1840, the pioneer of the township being John Kendrick, a Kentuckian. The township is named after a place in Pennsylvania. Another early settler, also a southerner, was one named McFadden. McFadden served in the Blackhawk War. In the campaign he came through Montrose and his family fastened upon it. After his discharge from the Army, he came here to settle. Some springs to the north are still known as McFadden Springs.
The unfortunate Francois 'Will' case is apt to leave a lasting division of sentiment in the French colony. Delphine Francois is the Frenchman who about a year ago committed suicide after having left a Will leaving his wife the use of his property until her death or until such time as she remarried, ---in which case the property would pass to his blood relatives. The widow contested the will, the contention being that Francois was mentally unbalanced when the Will was drawn. The fact that Francois had lost his children to diphtheria, that he had been a hard drinker for months before his death, and the very fact that his death had been by his own hand, are urged as arguments that he was insane. The case was fought out in Probate Court, Judge Zimmerman holding that the Will was valid. It was carried to the Circuit Court before Judge Siebecker and the decision in that court is pending. Last Saturday there were 40 people from Belleville and vicinity on the train who had been summoned as witnesses. The costs in Probate Court were $1400. In the Circuit Court they will be much heavier. Such attorney's as John M. Olin and Burr W. Jones ask snug fees. Mr. Francois' estate only aggregates about $8000. It is a case where the lawyers and the Court will consume a life's savings.
-- August Roden, Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin (April 24, 1902)
-- Belleville Quasquicentennial Book 1851-1976
French Town is located in the Montrose Township, Dane County, northeast of the village of Belleville. The first French native to settle in French Town was Jean Roy in 1850. He was followed within the next few years by 32 additional French families, and by 1912 an estimated 400-500 persons of French descent lived in the French Town area. Most came from France with very little money. There, they had been accustomed to farming small twenty acre farms and were,therefore, glad to own 80 acre farms in this country. Moreover, the crops they produced here, such as barley and oats, were similar to those grown in their native land. They also grew grapes and every farm had barrels of wine in the cellar.
Some early French family names were: Tisserand, Remy, Pillar, DuBay, Genin, Fleury, Pernot, Faivre, Lamboley, Begey, Viney, Carteron, Francois, Menigoz, Frelin, LeClerc, Perin, Durand, Clergey, Germain, Tourdot, Garvoille, Grillot, Petitot, and Henry. Most of the above names appear on the headstones in St. Raphael's all-French Cemetery which was dedicated in 1890. Jule A. Remy, the patriarch of the settlement, died in 1965 at the age of 103, after living in French Town for 100 years.
Dane County's Later French Group near Belleville
One of the interesting little foreign groups in Southern Wisconsin a generation ago was the so-called French settlement near Belleville, in Dane County. Wisconsin was first settled by the French nearly three centuries ago,and of this early element much has been written and preserved. This earliest stream of settlement came by way of Canada, and many of the first arrivals were Canadians of French descent. The little French settlement in Dane County, however, was formed only a little over three-quarters of a century ago, and was unique not only in its isolation but in the fact that the settlers came directly from France to their destination.
They came from near the Swiss border, about 240 miles southeast of Paris. John Roy, who came to New York in 1835, and served in the Mexican War, finally came to Dane County, probably with a soldier's land warrant. He wrote to hisrelatives, and soon thereafter about twenty families came. The Tisserands were among the first, arriving in 1853. The father died soon after landing in the United States, and the widow and children came on west. They settled in Montrose, northeast of Belleville, and in time the colony numbered 500. Most of the families were poor. In time they prospered. To show their patriotism in the Civil War, four of them, August Tisserand, Olamp Genin, August Francois, and Xavier Gavoille, went to Janesville and enlisted before they could be drafted. (Note: Wisconsin State Journal article details a different version of this story)
Recently, in a paper read before the Oregon Women's Club, Mrs. Louise Short of Belleville described the early settlement. In part, she said:
"One of the first to arrive was a man by the name of August Tourdeau, a man of strong character, as most people are who start life over in a new world. About this time, too, came Felician Pillar, father of the Pillars that we know, and are familiar with. He at once began to work for Captain W.H. Short, father of the man who some 25 years later became my husband. He worked for Captain Short for three years, then went back to France to get the girl he had left behind three years before. They were married and came back and as Captain Short was a well-educated English gentleman and could speak high French fluently, those young people were delighted to find one who could speak their language and interpret for them and both came to the same place and worked again, to learn the new language and American ways. And many were the amusing mistakes they made! At that time these people experienced many hardships in not being able to speak or understand English. Milwaukee was the nearest market for farm produce. It would take several days to make the trip and they would have to put up at a hotel, and not understanding our language or money would in many instances open their purses, trusting to the honor of "man's humanity to man" to not take more than was due.
It was in the year 1875 that I went as a bride to live on the outskirts of what was at that time called 'the French settlement', on the Short Farm and for 25 years I knew many of these French people quite intimately, and learned many of their quaint customs. These early settlers were a sturdy, hard- working class, and trained their children to be saving and industrious. They were a kind neighborly class, always willing to assist a neighbor, or a fellow countryman newly arrived, many times taking in a whole family of five or six children, giving them 'bed and board' until they could make other arrangements. Most all of these new settlers were living in the old-time log houses, 14 or 15 feet square, with an attic room above and it meant a large amount of self-denial and unselfishness to do these big-hearted things. At night straw ticks were laid on the floor, and all slept soundly and in the daytime these beds were hung on a fence to line out of the way, out of doors.
These French people were good farmers, and gardeners, and being frugal and industrious soon accumulated enough to live very comfortably. Having very little education in France, their language was a sort of patios, so experience was their only teacher in many instances. Their religion was Roman Catholic, and they were very true to the teachings of their church. Many of them had very good voices for singing and their notes in French songs were soft, smooth, and sibilant, though somewhat nasal. They brought with them their love for the wine of the fatherland and planted vineyards and the remains of some of them can be seen now and many of the descendants are still on the old homesteads. Their mode of dress was quaint, and they held to it for 25 or 30 years, the wooden shoe or sabot (pronounced sabo) being the last to be given up. These were hewn out of dry poplar during the winter season, were stained black with a homemade dye, and sold for the sum of 25 cents a pair. As the children all went barefooted, one woman told how she wanted a pair of sabots when a young child, but could not get them, but on doing a favor for a stranger he gave her 25 cents and she got the sabots. Their tiny babies were kept swathed in bandages or 'bindings' from head to foot, laid in a crude cradle, perhaps a dry goods box on rockers, and then laced across over the top and they were kept in this until several weeks old. But when we know that these mothers often worked in the fields, it may have been considered the safest way to leave them."
Three Belleville Ancestors at the Time of the Civil War
Olympe Genin -- Belleville Ancestor
Value of Real Estate: $1800
Value of Personal Property: $335
State Historical Society of Wisconsin
1870 U.S. Census -- Dane County, Wisconsin
Additional articles from The Capital Times, 1945 and 1962 will be added when permission received
Information submitted by John Hawley
Page modified 1/21/00
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