Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Québéçois racing in the 1911 TT?

On the face of it, the birthplace of Jacob DeRosier (or DesRosiers), Indian factory 1911TT race team member, would seem to have little bearing on his ability to put a racing motorcycle into competition. However nationality is a cherished element in the imagination of historians, academics, and journalists linked to motorcycle culture. In my brief exploration into the nationality of Jacob/Jake DeRosier at the request of Dave Roper, I was party to some rather illuminating correspondence on this matter.

The life of Jacob DeRosier after the turn of the 20th Century is widely known and part of public record. The specific circumstances of his life, prior to 1900, is less clear, and this is where some controversy occurs. Open participation, on- line resources either related to the Indian marque or DeRosier in particular, have him born in Canada in 1880, which as we can suspect might not necessarily be meticulously researched from primary sources. In private email exchanges, and I will paraphrase, Jacob DeRosier was said to be: born in Ontario, Canada near the Quebec border, in Quebec near the border of Maine, in France, and emigrated to the USA, and my favorite, born in outer space. These various observations were put forward by persons linked to the 2011 TT project and the entry of the Canadian built replica Indian race machine. After quickly consulting my own modest moto library, general consensus, with the exception of T. Rafferty who referred to Jacob as French Canadian, from historians Glendinning, Carrick, and Shilling refer to Jacob DeRosier as American. Nationality within motorcycle culture is a contested territory especially when world records and championships are at stake.

It could be argued that French is the language of speed and motorsport in Canada, one has only to think of the families’ Villeneuve and Duhamel for confirmation. To add Jacob DeRosier to this list is very tempting, if not essential. However, place of birth and nationality are not necessarily equivalent and in the case of the Québéçois motorsport families, international careers served to blur this distinction. Yet, place of birth does play to the imagination no matter where a sportsman or sportswoman engages in competition “away from home” and is an essential enrichment for spectators, journalists, and historians alike. The confirmation of Jacob DeRosier’s birth place therefor, cannot be left to conjecture.

In May of this year Maggie Humberston , of the Springfield Musems in Springfield MA, through perseverance and expertise has come the closest to verification of the birth place of Jacob DeRosier. In an email she makes this assertion:

“I think I’ve finally got it, by process of elimination! The birth record of Joseph Jacques Desrosiers of St. Ulric, Quebec (right next to Baie Des Sables) baptized 10 December 1879,legitimate son of Alphonse Desrosiers and Georgina Ratte”

It must be said that digital mediation of physical archive material for the most part, led Humberston to this conclusion. Nevertheless, enthusiasm and an intuitive intelligence is a far more powerful research tool. Her further research reveals the marriage record of Jacob Derosier to Melvina Castonguay on Oct. 28, 1899 in Fall River, Mass. and lists both sets of parents, as Massachusetts records from this time period do.

“As an aside, Jake DeRosier was an uncle by marriage to Woodsy and Frenchy Castonguay, the 1930s Indian racers. His first marriage didn’t work out, but he had two children, a girl born in 1900 and a son several years later. We haven’t been able to track what happened to them”.

A Québéçois in competition at the TT in 1911 seems closer to a matter of fact than the product of romantic imagination.

Bill Rodgers July 2011,with thanks to Maggie Humberston

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