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Knox County (IN, USA)

The Belgian Glassworkers of Vincennes

by Lynn David Recker
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Originally for the Vincennes Sun-Commercial, Sunday Edition, 12 September 1999
Northwest Territory Genealogical Society Monthly Column.

In 1903 the Blackford Window Glass Company relocated to Vincennes. The company was as cooperative effort of skilled Belgian glass-workers and was headed by its General Manager, Frank Bastin. But the immigrant stories of these French-speaking "Walloons" began some 20 years earlier in the mid-1880s when several hundred skilled Belgian Glass-workers were invited to fill jobs in the glass factories of America. These ‘pioneers’ found wages 3 to 4 times above that in Belgium. Labor unrest in the Belgium glass-working region, centered on the city of Charleroi, would result in the emigration of many more glass-workers to America. At this time the American glass industry was centered in the east, but in the 1890s the shallow Trenton gas field of northeastern Indiana and the promise of free land for factories drew many Belgians. There, primarily in Grant (Marion) and Blackford (Hartford City) counties, Belgian and other glass-workers formed cooperatives; so many that by the early twentieth century there were over 40 glass factories in Indiana. Among these was Blackford Glass. Blackford was organized early in 1901 with directors: August Young (Jeune?), Edmond Squifflet, Frank Bastin, Fred Lambiotte, Emile Goosens, Acide Brasseur, and Nicolas Berger. All but Young and Berger are later found in Vincennes.

Soon after Blackford Glass was formed the Trenton gas field began to fail due to misuse and overuse. Most gas-belt factories relocated near more reliable fuel sources. Vincennes gained the National Rolling Mill, in addition to Blackford Glass, from Hartford City. The availability of coal, railroads, and the promise of a low shipping rate were all favorable factors for Vincennes in 1903. With the coming of these factories a housing shortage developed and a building boom followed. The Belgian glass-workers generally chose to live south of Vigo St. between 3rd and 11th streets in the vicinity of their new factory, which was southwest of Willow St. between 4th and 5th streets.

Among the known skilled glass-workers that originally relocated to Vincennes were the following. Listed by skill these are - Blowers: Alcide Brasseur, Gaspard Brasseur, Albert Brasseur, Camille Castiaux, Fred Lambiotte, J. B. Lambiotte, Edmond Squifflet, and Aristide Tredez; Gatherers: Victor Brasseur, J. B. Cassaubon Sr., J. B. Cassaubon Jr., and Emile Goosens; Flatteners: John B. Bastin and John Goosens; and Cutters: Armand Bastin, Joseph Bastin, and Fernand Tredez. The family histories of these and other Belgian glass-worker immigrants are indeed diverse, but they do follow certain patterns. Most had apparently come first to Indiana; but many had first settled in western Pennsylvania. Family names with known Pennsylvania ties include: Andre, Bastin, Dognaux, Dourlet, DuBois, and Leroy. Others came through Ohio, such as LeFevre, Tourney, and Frank Bastin, who had lived at Fostoria, Ohio. Some were married men who had left their families in Belgium. There are four on the 1910 Census – Collart, LeGros, and two Bouchers. Albert LeFevre was also one such man; he was the original Blackford Glass "Master Teaser" (Production Manager). In the spring of 1905 after a series of incidents at the new Vincennes factory (damage from flood, fire, wind and a defect in the furnace) LeFevre returned to Belgium and his wife. Another man, Alfred LeFevre (perhaps Albert’s brother?) had come to America in 1899 with the permission of his wife. In 1905 he returned to Belgium to induce his wife to return with him, but she refused. In 1907 LeFevre sued his wife for divorce in the courts of Knox County.

Blackford Glass lost two Master Teasers to an early morning incident in March of 1906. Joseph Pacquet had induced his brother, Charles Pacquet, to come to America as Blackford’s night Master Teaser. Charles Pacquet could not speak English and his gesturing and apparent attitude towards the "Americans" who manned the coal-gas producers had created much ill feeling; although, General Manager, Frank Bastin, would later say that Pacquet was not naturally quarrelsome and a very good worker. That morning when Charles Pacquet entered the gas-producer room, William McCoy thought that Pacquet mean to hit him because McCoy’s furnace was not properly working. But McCoy struck first – with a scoop-shovel! Charles Pacquet sustained three deep head wounds; he was bleeding profusely, vomiting, partly unconscious, and was thought to have sustained a concussion. Dr. Emanuel Masgana, a physician of Greek origin who attended to most of the Belgian workers, treated him and through his careful ministrations Charles Pacquet recovered. Both Pacquet brothers resigned their positions as Master Teasers. William McCoy was discharged for his part in the incident and several other American workmen quit because of McCoy’s dismissal. McCoy was tried for assault and battery, but the jury could not reach a decision. It supposedly had voted 7 for acquittal to 5 for conviction.

Wherever they had previously lived in America, nearly all Belgian glass-workers originally came from the Belgian province of Hainaut, in and around the city of Charleroi. Based upon the Knox county naturalization records the commune (town) of Jumet contributed the most surnames; these include: Abrassart, Arcq, Belgeonne, Botmans, Depuis, Faux, Frere, Freshman, Jacquet, Pacot, Phillipart, Wallot, and Wezet. Belgian immigrants claiming Charleroi as home included: Abrassart, Aucremanne, Bastin, Brasseur, Phillipart, Prince, and Tredez. Other communes and the families claiming them as their home were: Binche (Dehon), Dampremy (Botmans, Renard, Tamigneaux), Gosselies (Quinet), Joissart (Wallot), Lodelinsart (Boucher, Brison, Sortet), Marchienne-au-Pont (DuBois), and Ransart (Andre, Dessy). Some Belgian glass-workers were originally from France, such as the Bouillet and Devenot families.

The tradition of hand-blown glass remained strong at the Blackford Glass and the company resisted mechanization until 1922. In contrast, the other glass company in town, Vincennes Window Glass, installed four glass-blowing machines by the fall of 1909. This did away with the profession of the glass-blower and the gatherer; at Vincennes Glass these were about 50 positions. Ironically, Blackford Glass acquired Vincennes Glass in 1915. In 1922 Blackford installed glass-blowing machines. In 1924 a new plant was built to house the machinery to produce glass by the Fourcault Process of flat drawn glass. A 1925 promotional brochure for Vincennes called the new Blackford Glass factory "the largest glass plant in the United States using the Fourcault drawn-sheet process."

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