A Distinct Alien Race

The Untold Story of Franco-Americans, Industrialization, Immigration, Religious Strife


“The French number more than a million in the United States….
They are kept a distinct alien race,
subject to the Pope in matters of religion and of politics.
Soon…they will govern you, Americans.”
— British-American Citizen
(Boston), 1889

Americans don’t think of Canada as a source of potential terrorists—speaking a foreign tongue, serving a foreign religion, and invading their country. But when a million French-Canadians crossed the border between 1840 and 1930, many seeking work in New England’s burgeoning textile industry, they were cast as foot soldiers in an alleged Roman Catholic plot.

A Distinct Alien Race places these Franco-Americans in the context of contemporary issues: the rise and fall of manufacturing in the U.S.; Nativism and the fear of the Other; emigration to the U.S. across land borders; and the construction of race. Vermette traces individuals and families, from the textile barons whose profits in the Caribbean and China trades financed a new industry, to the rural poor of Québec who crowded into fetid tenements after the Civil War. His social history exposes the anti-Franco-American agitation of Protestant clergy, the Ku Klux Klan, and the eugenics movement.

David Vermette is a researcher, writer, and speaker on the history and identity of the descendants of French North America. He was born and raised in Massachusetts.


“the work of David Vermette on the French-Canadians who migrated from Quebec to the United States from the 1860s to the early decades of the twentieth century constitutes the equivalent of a gold mine.” Vincent Geloso, EH.net (Economic History Association)

“First, let me say simply that this is a terrific book, the best synthesis of Franco-American history written to date…Both the research and prose are wonderful…Everyone with an interest in Franco-Americans should read this book.” Leslie Choquette, Résonance  Vol. 1 , Article 24. Read entire review

“Readers interested in Canadian and American immigration history will appreciate the depth of Vermette’s research and the fascinating story he tells.” Publishers Weekly, Read entire review.

“Meticulously researched and overflowing with facts, yet so well written that it’s difficult to put down, the book tells a story few Americans are aware of.” Emilie Noelle Provost, The Bean Magazine (Lowell, Mass.)

“I was struck by the ease with which [Vermette] is able to organize data-dense material and interpret it into natural and compelling prose. As a non-fiction writer, he has a kind of narrative patience I greatly admire, an ability to make his argument with a light touch, through the strength of his research and writing rather than with explicit or bellicose assertions… [H]e is a persuasive and entertaining storyteller. A Distinct Alien Race is a great gift to those of us with Franco-American ancestry, and to other readers it offers a thorough introduction to a large but often invisible ethnic group that has shaped New England and the U.S. more generally.” Abby Paige   Performer and Author of When We Were French

“David Vermette’s A Distinct Alien Race is an important study that goes well beyond just recounting an economic and social history of New England and Quebec. Vermette, an excellent and engaging writer/researcher, exposes an area of the past that has been somewhat dismissed and even discounted by both American and Quebec/Acadian historians who study the enormous French-speaking Canadian emigration from Quebec and the Maritimes to the textile industries of Massachussetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York from the 1840s to the 1930s.” Sandra Stock, Quebec Heritage News, Fall 2018.

Interview with David Vermette

“It’s really an unknown episode in U.S. immigration history,” says David Vermette “It’s significant now, because we think what’s happening on our southwestern border is unique and unprecedented, and it’s just not. On the northeastern border 120 years ago, there were issues of bilingualism, nativism, concerns that ‘they weren’t sending us their best people,’ worries about the political leanings of the immigrants, et cetera. We’ve been down this road before, but no one knows about it. I think that’s really the surprising thing.” Read more…


In writing A Distinct Alien Race, David Vermette consulted a vast number of sources. Please click below to view the bibliography.

A Distinct Alien Race – Works Cited



NOTE: For a complementary book that deals with the cotton textile industry in Canada and emigration from Quebec, see Through the Mill, Girls and Women in Quebec’s Cotton Textile Industry, 1881-1951.

Visited 30593 times , 8 Visits today

No rating
6 X 9
B & W illustrations and maps