Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christine Wills

Daughter of Robert Wills and Doris Laurent

Rest in Peace, Chrissy

Chrissy at Kaydeross Park, Saratoga Lake

Christine loved her dogs, horses, goats and all animals fiercely - caring more about their welfare than her own.  She was free spirited, unpredictable and generous with what she had. I hope she is riding wild horses now, in fields of gold.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More about Eels

One year ago, I posted a story about eels on this blog.  Eels provided an inexpensive meals for many ancestors in the north east.  I must confess I have never an opportunity to partake!  Now it seems eels are vanishing from the great rivers and there may never be a chance to know what our French Canadian ancestors experienced.  In October, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) ran a story abut the vanishing eels in the St Lawrence River...

Site d'interprétation de l'anguille de Kamouraska

Saint Lawrence seaway eels slipping into oblivion
 by Guillaume Lavallee (AFP) – Oct 20, 2011

KAMOURASKA, Canada — Standing in tall rubber boots in mud smeared with gooey algae, Bruno Ouellet tugs on massive nets strewn across the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, hoping to snag just a few eels.  "The fishing isn't good," the 47-year-old says. "In the early 1980s, you could catch 1,000 eels in a cage, but today I've only got three and I have to work just as hard."

For centuries, aboriginals and later French colonists fished eels from the shores of the mighty waterway at Kamouraska, Quebec about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Montreal.
Then suddenly, the eel population collapsed and only a handful of fishermen are still tending their nets here, from September to October each year.  The eels of this region reproduce in the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.  The larvae migrate towards Canadian shores where they are fished, or they go on to inland lakes and rivers where they grow into adult eels that eventually return to the waters near Bermuda to start over the cycle.

Researchers and fishers noted a decline in the population starting in the 1980s. "It's a freefall," said Guy Verreault, a biologist with the Quebec ministry of natural resources.
Pollution in the Great Lakes is partly to blame.  Also, 12,000 dams and other obstacles were erected along the eels' migration route on the Saint Lawrence River towards the Great Lakes over the years, hindering their reproduction.  "Of the eels that do manage to overcome these obstacles (on their way to freshwater basins inland), 40 percent later die in the hydroelectric turbines on their way back to the Sargasso Sea," Verreault said.

Twenty years ago, fishermen caught up to 400 tonnes of eels per year, but now their annual catch is less than 40 tonnes, he estimated.  The odorous, fatty white meat was smoked and exported to Germany and Japan. But nowadays, the lean harvest is mostly sold to Chinatowns in North America.

The government of Quebec in 2009 bought back most of the eel fishing permits issued over past decades, in an effort to prevent a total collapse of the fishery.  Today, there are just 14 licensed eel fishers in these parts, including Gertrude Madore, a 75-year-old redhead who was the first and maybe the last woman to be licensed by the province.  In the past, fishermen would cross the muddy beach on horseback to bring the eels back to their village. "There were spots where the horses got stuck so we had to haul the eels out in sacks on our backs; they would wiggle and we'd fall face first into the sludge," Madore recalled.  "Today we have tractors, but there are no more eels," she said.

According to Canadian government statistics, the number of young eels entering inland lakes and rivers through the Saint Lawrence has dropped to less than three percent of the numbers recorded in the 1980s.  During the same period, the population has remained stable in other North American coastal waters.  Biologist Louis Bernatchez of Laval University in Quebec City believes the divergence in the population numbers inland and in coastal waters in North America may be due to genetic changes.  "It takes an eel with specific genetic qualities to make it to the upper Saint Lawrence river," he explained. "Generations of eels were crushed in electric turbines, and so these (robust) qualities are less present among this population."

"If it continues, the eel will disappear from these parts," he said.  Biologists say if it can be done it will take 25 to 30 years for the eel population to bounce back in these waters.
On the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, the last eel fishers tend their nets, breathing in the salt air blowing from the ocean and listening to geese squawking above as they begin their annual migration south for the winter.

"My children and my grandchildren will continue to fish. One day, things will change back to the way they were," Madore said hopefully.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Art St Hilaire's Little Pleasures

One of the fellows atop this building on the campus of RPI, Rensselear Polytechnical Institute, 
repairing brickwork is Art St. Hilaire, a mason by trade.

Arthur St. Hilaire

A family contributor and grandson emailed FrancoAmerican Gravy with memories of Art St Hilaire's small pleasures and his character.

"Pip" also enjoyed his Camels -- several packs a day, in fact -- until the summer of 1977 when an X-ray showed an unidentifiable spot on his lung. He never smoked again after walking out of the doctor's office that day. For someone who smoked so heavily, Pip never complained when he stopped and as far as I remember it didn't affect his disposition one bit. It was just something he had to do, so he did it, he didn't complain, and he moved on with life. Lots of packs of unopened camels stayed undisturbed in the old "smoke stand" for at least two or three years after that, when he gave them away. That's one of the most important lessons I learned from him, a template for handling unpleasant situations, or things that seem overwhelming: Just do what needs to be done and get over it; something better is bound to be on the other side. In his case, who knows how many years he added to his life by stopping smoking in 1977?
Another simple pleasure -- very Franco-American, as I understand it -- was a fondness for pickled pigs' feet (pied de cochon). Yuck!
In later years, the biggest pleasure was sitting around and chewing the fat with anyone who was around -- at the American Legion bar, where he was an "honorary member" (never actually having served in the military), at home with whoever stopped by, at his friends Marge and Danny's "camp" on the NY side of the Crown Point Bridge on Lake Champlain.

Thankful for Life's Little Pleasures

Thanksgiving time and I am thinking about simple pleasures that make me thankful.  Then I get thinking about the people in my life who have passed on....and some of the simple things that brought them happiness and small pleasures.

Dad, Uncle Al, Uncle Bob immediately came to mind..

 Al  Rivet loved "Good & Plenty"

 Bob Wills loved eight track tapes

Art Mylott loved reading science fiction by Edgar Rice Burroughs


And all three loved cigarettes, Camels or Lucky Strike,  until they all gave up smoking!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

French Huguenots: First Thanksgiving and First Pilgrims to North America

At Thanksgiving 2008, the New York Times published an Op-Ed written by Kenneth C Davis, the author of  America's Hidden History.  It truly made its impression on me, forcing me to try to understand why the collective memory of the United States pays such tremendous tribute to the New England pilgrims.  Perhaps because the the Plymouth pilgrims survived at the cost of so many natives people's lives and grimly pushed their righteous cause to above others they are remembered, canonized and immortalized.  The dead cannot speak their story, so I went to the library to borrow America's Hidden History.  The first chapter, about the massacre of the French Protestants in what is now a suburb of Jacksonville, Florida, certainly forced me to remember there were so many others who came to North America to escape religious freedom and servitude. Most did not survive.  The first pilgrims were not the founders of the Plymouth colony, they were the French Huguenots of Fort Caroline.

From the New York Times on November 26, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor

A French Connection

TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America's shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the "New World" were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.
Long before the Pilgrims sailed in 1620, another group of dissident Christians sought a haven in which to worship freely. These French Calvinists, or Huguenots, hoped to escape the sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants that had bloodied France since 1560.
Landing in balmy Florida in June of 1562, at what a French explorer had earlier named the River of May (now the St. Johns River near Jacksonville), the French émigrés promptly held a service of "thanksgiving." Carrying the seeds of a new colony, they also brought cannons to fortify the small, wooden enclosure they named Fort Caroline, in honor of their king, Charles IX.
In short order, these French pilgrims built houses, a mill and bakery, and apparently even managed to press some grapes into a few casks of wine. At first, relationships with the local Timucuans were friendly, and some of the French settlers took native wives and soon acquired the habit of smoking a certain local "herb." Food, wine, women — and tobacco by the sea, no less. A veritable Gallic paradise.
Except, that is, to the Spanish, who had other visions for the New World. In 1565, King Philip II of Spain issued orders to "hang and burn the Lutherans" (then a Spanish catchall term for Protestants) and dispatched Adm. Pedro Menéndez to wipe out these French heretics who had taken up residence on land claimed by the Spanish — and who also had an annoying habit of attacking Spanish treasure ships as they sailed by.
Leading this holy war with a crusader's fervor, Menéndez established St. Augustine and ordered what local boosters claim is the first parish Mass celebrated in the future United States. Then he engineered a murderous assault on Fort Caroline, in which most of the French settlers were massacred. Menéndez had many of the survivors strung up under a sign that read, "I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to heretics." A few weeks later, he ordered the execution of more than 300 French shipwreck survivors at a site just south of St. Augustine, now marked by an inconspicuous national monument called Fort Matanzas, from the Spanish word for "slaughters."
With this, America's first pilgrims disappeared from the pages of history. Casualties of Europe's murderous religious wars, they fell victim to Anglophile historians who erased their existence as readily as they demoted the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine to second-class status behind the later English colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth.
But the truth cannot be so easily buried. Although overlooked, a brutal first chapter had been written in the most untidy history of a "Christian nation." And the sectarian violence and hatred that ended with the deaths of a few hundred Huguenots in 1565 would be replayed often in early America, the supposed haven for religious dissent, which in fact tolerated next to none.
Starting with those massacred French pilgrims, the saga of the nation's birth and growth is often a bloodstained one, filled with religious animosities. In Boston, for instance, the Puritan fathers banned Catholic priests and executed several Quakers between 1659 and 1661. Cotton Mather, the famed Puritan cleric, led the war cries against New England's Abenaki "savages" who had learned their prayers from the French Jesuits. The colony of Georgia was established in 1732 as a buffer between the Protestant English colonies and the Spanish missions of Florida; its original charter banned Catholics. The bitter rivalry between Catholic France and Protestant England carried on for most of a century, giving rise to anti-Catholic laws, while a mistrust of Canada's French Catholics helped fire many patriots' passion for independence. As late as 1844, Philadelphia's anti-Catholic "Bible Riots" took the lives of more than a dozen people.
The list goes on. Our history is littered with bleak tableaus that show what happens when righteous certitude is mixed with fearful ignorance. Which is why this Thanksgiving, as we express gratitude for America's bounty and promise, we would do well to reflect on all our histories, including a forgotten French one that began on Florida's shores so many years ago.
Kenneth C. Davis is the author of "America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation."

In May 2010, I briefly visited the Fort Caroline National Historic Site on the Saint John's River  where the French Huguenots settled.  Here's a few photographs:

 A French Bread Oven just like the ovens along the roadside in Québec!

 Shell Midden


Monday, October 31, 2011

Goodbye October

Haven't been blogging too much in October for a few at my job has been very busy, there's that tinge of carpal tunnel problems the longer I stay at the keypad, autumn has been too beautiful to stay indoors and finally, my affectionate cat is back on my lap every time I sit down to write.  I don't want to leave FrancoAmerican Gravy empty for the month of October, so here are photos taken in the past two days in the Lake George and Champlain Valley of New York.  Here they are...some taken before the snow dusting and some afterwards...



Sunday, September 25, 2011

Addie K. Johnson, wife of John Mylott, and Death on the Docks of New York City: TyphoMalarial Fever - a Discarded Diagnosis

In the 21st century, clinicians know typhoid fever and malaria as two distinct diseases. However, in the 19th century, even experienced physicians may have been unable to to distinguish between them. When a doctor couldn't determine, the "catch all" diagnosis, "typhoidmalarial fever" was often used. This was the case in the death of great grandmother Addie K Johnson.

Addie K Johnson married John Mylott in Whitehall New York on the 15th of February 1882.  Their marriage did not make its sixth anniversary because Addie Johnson died on New Year's Day 1888 on a canal boat docked in the Atlantic Basin in Brooklyn, New York.  John Mylott was a Champlain canalman and navigated the water from New York Harbor to the St. Lawrence.  Addie and John had several children in that short time: Walter Robert Mylott 1882-1934, Milo Benjamin Mylott 1884- 1937, George Leslie Mylott 1887-1964 and possibly an infant, Eleanor 188?-188?.

The Atlantic Boat Basin in Brooklyn where Champlain Canal
boats docked while in New York Harbor

It was customary for the wife and kids to live aboard in canaling season. So John, Addie, Walter, Benjamin, Leslie and Eleanor were, no doubt, all aboard the canal boat on many trips.  December was late in the season to be traveling the Champlain canal and Hudson River and perhaps in 1887, the ice had not yet formed on the river so they made the trip to New York City with some cargo. Then something went wrong because on December 10th,1887 a doctor began attending Addie while the boat was docked in the Atlantic Basin in Brooklyn.  Twenty one days later, in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 1888, the young mother was dead on the family's canal boat.

Cause of Death:
TyphoMalarial Fever
Meningitis and Convulsions
click on image for more detail

In the 21st century, there is no such diagnosis called TyphoMalarial Fever. Some of the credit in determining the fact that these are two separate diagnoses - before the advantage of modern microbiology and laboratory techniques, goes to the father of modern medicine, William Osler.  A Canadian physician, Osler practiced in Montreal and later Baltimore where he was one of the four founders of John Hopkins Medical School. His famous contribution to medical literature, "The Principles and Practice of Medicine",  a classic blend of keen observation, listening to complaints of patients, clinical experience was published four years after Addie K's death. Below is an abstract of a paper written in 2004 firmly giving Osler credit for his keen ability to differentiate typhoid from malaria.  

Infectious Disease Clinics of North America: 2004 Mar;18(1):111-25.

Osler on typhoid fever: differentiating typhoid from typhus and malaria.

Cunha BA.. 
Early in the history of medicine, physician had a difficult time differentiating acute febrile illnesses without localizing signs. Typhoid fever and malaria share common features, which caused diagnostic problems during the 1800s. Physician even introduced a new term, typho-malaria, a testimony to their diagnostic confusion. Osler, consummate clinician and careful observer, had vast experience with typhoid fever and malaria. He was able to easily discern between the key features of both of these infections. He also relied on fever patterns to clearly differentiate typhoid fever from malaria. Osler is credited for debunking the term typho-malaria. His clinical description of typhoid fever remains unsurpassed. Clinicians still can benefit greatly from reading Osler's clinical description of typhoid fever.

On a personal note, I doubt great grandmother Addie K. died from malarial in the midst of winter in New York City.  The 1887-1888 winter, by all accounts, was unusually cold and later produced the "The Great White Blizzard of 1888" on the east coast and "The Children's Blizzard of 1888" in the upper mid west.  Addie K's death certificate states the doctor began caring for her on December 10th.  Malaria in New York City in December?  It is much more likely Addie succumbed to typhoid due to using water for cooking and drinking directly from the Hudson River while navigating to New York City or while docked in the Atlantic boat basin.  Sewerage into the river ran freely from the cities along the river - Troy, Albany, Kingston, Newburgh, Yonkers and Manhattan. Sanitation on barge boats was not treated and went directly into the waters and if Addie used a bucket dipped into the river water for her cooking, there was a good chance the culprit was typhoid.

There is one other possibility and that is that the death certificate is completely wrong.   There is some  evidence that Addie had an infant girl, Eleanor at the time of her death. Perhaps, the cause of death was  puerperal fever, an infection after childbirth.  We will never know.  

Today, due to modern sanitation, hand washing, and a typhoid vaccination, typhoid fever and puerperal fever are infrequent.

The Lancet, 2002 Oct 26;360(9342):1339.

Addie K's body was returned to Whitehall and she is buried with her family in the North Granville Cemetery along NY route 22.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Raymond A Rivet 1922 - 2007

Raymond A Rivet was only eighteen months old when his mother, Marie Louise Lacasse Rivet died.  He was raised, along with his older siblings, by his father's third wife, Malvina Hamel.  He married Rose, the girl his older brother dated but left behind for military service in World War II. While Raymond joined the US Coast Guard, Al joined the army and was deployed to Europe. Raymond began dating Rose, eventually marrying and moving in to the house on 28 Summit Street in Cohoes. Below is their wedding photograph...

Raymond and Rose on their Wedding Day

I never got to know Uncle Ray very well but I know he was a quiet and unassuming person with down to earth taste and a good father to his boys with a steadfastness when times were hard that lasted to the very end of his life.  

Sitting at tables.... a young man, Ray is the young gentleman sitting on the right side , second from the front.  The occasion for the gathering is not known.

 Sitting at older man now, Ray is at his son's wedding

Finally, here is his obituary from the Albany Times Union: