A predominantly white state, most of whose immigrants have come from nearby parts of Canada, Maine has also become the home of small but increasingly significant numbers of African and Asian immigrants, who have become economic and cultural assets.

Most inhabitants of Maine lived on farms at the time Maine became a state during the early nineteenth century. Early immigrants helped produce dairy products and crops such as hay, potatoes, apples, and blueberries. Aroostook County became one of the major potato-producing areas of the United States. Most of the state’s early immigrants were French Canadian immigrants;MaineFrench Canadians, many of whom worked in the lumber industry. Newcomers from the Canadian coastal region found opportunities in fishing along the state’s extensive Atlantic coast and in another important Maine industry, shipbuilding, especially in Bath. Before 1870, however, these northern immigrants formed a very small part of the total population.MaineCanadian immigrants;MaineMaineCanadian immigrants;Maine[cat]STATES;Maine[03370]

Immigrants in the Mills

The first large textile mill was built in 1826 in Saco. Lewiston later became the main Textile industry;Mainetextile center in the state. Earlier nineteenth century immigrants tended to be Irish immigrants;MaineIrish but were less numerous than in other New England states, and they tended to leave the mills for other types of work. Between 1870 and 1930, with a peak during the 1880’s, French Canadian workers with relatively short routes to travel arrived in railroad stations in southwestern Maine towns such as Biddeford and Lewiston. Many of them planned later to return to Canada, but continuing economic troubles in their former homeland often made them stay in Maine. Some immigrants worked in paper-making, one of the state’s largest industries after the early 1880’s.

Franco-Americans became steady and reliable workers who expected their children to follow in their footsteps, but they limited the educational opportunities of the next generation. This limitation and linguistic difficulties with English impeded social development of younger immigrants. As late as 1970, 43 percent of Maine’s Franco-American residents had only grade-school levels of education or less. During the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, however, cultural centers were established in public colleges at Fort Kent, near the Canadian border, and in Lewiston. Special television programs were also established for Franco-American children.

Early Twenty-first Century Developments

Fabric mills and the towns that depended on them declined sharply during the late twentieth century. An unusual form of integration has provided new life for Lewiston, a town generally perceived to be dying. Hundreds of African immigrants;MaineAfrican immigrants, particularly from Somali immigrants;MaineSomalia, began arriving after 2000. Many opened restaurants and small businesses, and some introduced their own versions of textile arts. African immigrants have energized the state’s cultural life with their oral poetry, music, and colorful clothing. Some Sudanese immigrantsSudanese and Congolese immigrantsCongolese have followed the Somali initiative. A large increase in the number of people studying English as a second language indicates that they are also accommodating themselves to their new linguistic situation.

Immigrants from China and Cambodian immigrants;MaineCambodia have injected Asian culture into Maine’s largest city, Portland. Although Maine natives have been thought of as distant to outsiders, they seem to have welcomed these African and Asian newcomers.MaineCanadian immigrants;Maine

Further Reading

  • Brault, Gerard J. The French-Canadian Heritage in New England. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1986.
  • Fairfield, Roy P. Sands, Spindles, and Steeples. Portland: York Institute, 1956.
  • Judd, Richard William, et al. Maine: The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present. Orono: University of Maine Press, 1995.
  • Rivard, Paul E. A New Order of Things: How the Textile Industry Transformed New England. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2002.

African immigrants

Asian immigrants

Canadian immigrants


Language issues


Rhode Island