Quebec in America: did you know that a French Canadian was once governor of Rhode Island?

Quebec in America: did you know that a French Canadian ever served as Governor of Rhode Island?


We have been talking for a long time about the famous American dream, this tenacious idea according to which anyone can become prosperous, as long as that person is hardworking, courageous and determined. If we often evoke the illusory character of the American dream, this is nevertheless what happened for a young man from Yamachiche after his migration to the United States.

Portrait of Aram Pothier.

I borrow from the historian Martin Pâquet, of Laval University, the idea of ​​associating the concept of the American dream with the journey of Aram Pothier after his arrival in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Martin Pâquet presents it as follows: “In pursuit of the American dream, Aram-Jules Pothier follows the paths taken by Horatio Alger, this American Hero who, from a poor British immigrant on the docks of Baltimore, conquers both wealth and prestige in this Promised Land. »

Home of Aram Pothier in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

The American Dream

The course of the French Canadian is not trivial. Pothier owes his success to his talent, his spirit of initiative and the relationships he forges with influential people, both within the English-speaking community and with his compatriots.

Store employee , bank clerk, financial management advisor, then president of the institution that employs him, he rose one by one through the ranks that allowed him to propel himself onto the political scene.

Like many other Franco-Americans, Pothier was close to the Republicans, the party that dominated the presidential elections from 1896 to 1928, with six victories in eight elections. While Pothier was very involved in the public domain, his progress was rapid on the political scene. 

Poster for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. Aram Pothier was at that time an official delegate. It was during one of his trips to France that he met his future wife, Françoise de Charmigny.

From a simple member of the Woonsocket School Board, he became the city's financial controller, mayor of his municipality, then lieutenant-governor of Rhode Island from 1887 and 1898. Twice, in 1889 and in 1900, he was sent as a delegate to the Universal Exhibition in Paris. It was during the first journey that he met the one who was to become his wife, Françoise de Charmigny. Aram Pothier reached the peak of his career when he was elected governor of Rhode Island, a position he held from 1905 to 1909, then from 1925 until his death in 1928.

Aram Pothier's mausoleum is at Precious Blood Cemetery in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

French Canadians, but not too much

When we study the behavior of French Canadians who migrated to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries  centuries, we can generally identify two main trends: either we become adept at “survival” and you fight to preserve your language and your religion, or you opt for assimilation.

Aram Pothier found himself at the junction of these two currents. Proud of his origins and aware of the importance of the Franco-American vote, he invites his fellow citizens, without asking them to deny their past, to integrate and not stand apart.

Pothier's life and career therefore contribute to maintaining the myth of the American dream. He is both the pride of a community that he defended while wishing to distinguish himself from it, and the member of an Anglo-American bourgeoisie who knew how to use his modest origins to get closer to working class circles.