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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Colhouns of Donegal

The LagganThe Laggan is a fertile, low-lying area in Donegal County, Ireland, stretching from Lough Swilly south and east to the River Foyle near Strabane in County Tyrone.  It stretches from Letterkenny almost to Londonderry, and south to the Finn Valley.  Confiscated by the English, its Irish inhabitants evicted, the Laggan was awarded in 1611 to Scottish and English families for settlement as part of a widescale plan called The Plantation of Ulster.

The Laggan was divided into two precincts of 12,000 acres each; Portlough to the north, and Lifford to the south.  The appointed undertaker of Portlough was Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox in Dumbarton, Scotland, and his task was to assign estates of 1,000 acres each to Scottish families who would settle there.  All the estates were given to Stewart and Cunningham families except one which was given to Alexander, Laird of Colquhoun and Luss.

The Colquhouns had recently suffered defeat at the hands of the MacGregors (at the probable instigation of Campbell, Earl of Argyll) in a battle at Glen Fruin, and were in no position to be sending men over to Donegal.  Alexander passed the grant to his son Adam, but the only Colquhoun to settle in Donegal was Adam's sister Nancy, who was married to John McAuselan.  The settlement, named Corkaugh, was in what is now Raymoghy Parish.  Adam's son Robert was sent to live with his Aunt Nancy in 1629, at the age of seven.  When Robert was twelve, his father in Scotland died, and the grant passed to him.  Robert married one of the McAuselan girls, his cousin Katherine, in 1641.  They had four sons and three daughters.  It is said that it was Robert who officially changed the family name to Colhoun.

In 1651, Robert's eldest son William inherited an estate in nearby Tyrone County, near NewtownStewart, at the tender age of eight years.  The inheritance was from Sir William Stewart, 1st Baronet of Ireland, apparently a relative.  In order to keep the inheritance, William had to live there, so Alexander and Jennett McCausland, relatives already living in Tyrone and possibly already caretakers of the estate manor, agreed to raise William.  He, in turn, married their daughter Catherine in 1661, and took over the manor, called Crosh House.

*  *  *

In the late 1960's, a retired Orval Calhoun, who lived in Ontario, Canada, began pursuing his genealogy.  He interviewed all of his relatives, and ended up traveling to Ireland to record church records and gravestone inscriptions.  He read extensively, learning of the aristocratic Colquhoun line going back to the 13th century.  Then he published his landmark book:  800 Years of Colquhoun, Colhoun, Calhoun, and Cahoon History.  It was a single volume that grew, over the next twenty years, into four huge volumes, filled with genealogies sent to him from all over the world.

The book is still privately available, and it is held at various libraries including the LDS Family History Library and the Odom Genealogical Library in Georgia.  It is the primary source of a great number of published genealogies, especially online, and has been a fantastic inspiration for many Calhouns looking to link their line to this great big tree.

Orval was not a professional genealogist, and he worked from a lot of secondary sources that he had no way of authenticating.  The book should be read primarily as a compilation and narrative rather than as hard-nosed research, though there is some of that.  Many people use the book as their only research, which is a mistake.  As Orval himself pointed out, the book should be a starting point for further research.

This narrative that I have written about the Donegal Colhouns is largely based on Orval's narrative about the Scottish Colquhouns who came to Ulster and then later emigrated to Canada, the United States, and Australia.  In other words, it is not based on any research I have done.  One should not imagine that all Colquhouns followed this route, nor that all Colquhouns are descended from any one person.  The existence of this book does not mean that you are somehow more related to Colquhouns than to all the other lines in your genealogy, including the lines you know nothing about.

I took the time to round up this information to see if my New Brunswick Calhouns were somewhere in this group.  Sadly, I have not been able to trace them.  Though the Donegal and Tyrone Colquhouns took the name Colhoun, there were other Colquhouns in Ulster who did not, and who were not directly involved in the Plantation.  Some were bureacratic, financial, and legal professionals who came to Londonderry and Belfast for work.  Some had migrated to Counties Antrim and Down at some point after the Plantation (I have found hints that my Calhouns might be from this group).  There were Colquhouns who moved freely between Ulster, England, and Scotland, depending on the conditions.  When any of these Colquhouns came to North America, some kept the name Colquhoun, some adopted Cahoon, and others used Calhoun.  Not all Calhouns descend from the Donegal and Tyrone Colhouns.

But let us continue the narrative.

*  *  *

The most celebrated Colhoun emigrant was James Patrick, son of The Reverend Alexander and grandson of William and Catherine in Tyrone.  He may have been the earliest of the many Colhouns who left Ulster for the American colonies, and his example set a pattern that was to be followed by many others in later years.  James Patrick left Ulster in 1733, arriving most likely in Philadelphia with his wife Catherine Montgomery and their children.

Matters were quite different in Ulster by 1733 than they had been a century earlier.  Though the original intent of the Plantation was to encourage numerous settlements held by relatively small landholders, by 1733 land ownership was dominated by a few English Anglican aristocrats who were absentee landlords.  A good example was James Hamilton, the Earl of Abercorn, who controlled something like 80,000 acres in Ulster, much of it in Tyrone and Donegal.  Some of these landlords were as hostile to the Scottish Presbyterians as they were to the Irish Catholics.

The Ulster Presbyterian Scots found themselves affected by laws that disenfranchised them politically and religiously.  They found it increasingly expensive to own or rent land, while finding the land less and less able to support them through droughts and crop failures.  Having aided the English in their effort to displace the Catholic Irish, the Scots found themselves in the same boat with the Irish, with no political or legal relief.  Rebellion was one possibility, emigration another.  An entire emigration industry was to develop and prosper, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Philadelphia was the largest city in the American colonies at the time, and Pennsylvania was actively recruiting immigrants looking for religious tolerance and land.  Ulster Scots settled in Pennsylvania, and later generations looking for inexpensive land headed down the Great Wagon Road to Virginia, then to the Carolinas, or to Tennessee and Kentucky.  Some headed west to Ohio and beyond.  The irony was that these frontier settlers were once again being used by the English to displace another people, the Native Americans, particularly the Cherokee, or to fend off an ancient enemy, the French.

Abbeville DistrictThus it was that James Patrick's family, after he had died in Pennsylvania in 1741, headed down the Shenandoah Valley to claim land grants in Augusta County, Virginia.  During the French and Indian War, the family moved again, to the Abbeville district of South Carolina.  This became their ultimate settlement, in spite of a Cherokee raid in 1760 that almost wiped out the family.  This was the family whose descendants were important South Carolina politicians, especially John Caldwell Calhoun, who became Vice President of the United States in 1825, and later Senator of South Carolina.

When New France was finally taken by the English in 1763, and Ontario opened up as a frontier, another emigration route became established.  Colhouns came to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, then west to Ontario and beyond.  Orval Calhoun's ancestor George Colhoun took the route from Tyrone to Ontario in about 1860, settling in Reach Township near Toronto.  My Calhouns arrived in St John, New Brunswick, moved inland to claim land in Queens County in 1856, then migrated through Maine to Boston, Massachusetts in 1878.


Related websites:
The Ulster Plantation
The forum for Calhoun.
The Great Wagon Road on Wikipedia.
James Patrick Calhoun, with notes on the Long Canes Massacre.
Index to Orval Calhoun's Our Family History on the Clan Colquhoun Blog.
Fred and Sara Visit Ireland, sharing photos of Crosh House and Corkaugh.
Photos by Kenneth Allen of Crosh House and the Newtownstewart countryside.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Bombards of New York

(This chart is meant to accompany the post Un Canadien Errant.)

This is a chart of the descendants of André Bombardier who are thought or known to have lived in Clinton County NY in the early 1800's.  Some of these families emigrated to Vermont first, others passed through New York on their way to Vermont, and other families moved on to other counties in New York.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Un Canadien Errant

Richelieu River & Lake Champlain(This post is meant to be accompanied by the chart The Bombards of New York.)

In 1842, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie wrote a song called Un Canadien Errant.  The lyrics are about a melancholy young man who is reminded of his former life in Quebec.  I first heard and played the Leonard Cohen version of the song only recently.  I asked the vocalist what the song was about, and she mentioned that it had something to do with a rebellion in Quebec.  I realized that she meant the 1837 Rebellion.  When we performed the song, I introduced it with a brief history of the Rebellion, and mentioned that the title, often translated as The Wandering Canadian, would more accurately be The Exiled Canadian.

Many Québécois farmers left Quebec in the 1830's and 40's and came to the United States.  Some left as a direct result of the Rebellion, but many others left, throughout the 19th century, for the same reasons that led to the Rebellion in the first place.  In fact, throughout Europe and North America (including the United States), migration and rebellion marked the transition from agrarian to industrial economies during these decades after the Napoleonic wars.  The Irish, for instance, left Ireland for exactly the same reasons, further driven by repeated failures in the potato crop (which were not limited to Ireland).

Aside from the Rebellion, the emigration of the Québécois was peaceful and persistent.  The border with the United States was quite porous, as they say, and families moved back and forth easily from Quebec and Ontario to New England, New York, Michigan and beyond.  The difficulty in Quebec was due to the manner of land ownership and management, which remained almost medieval in nature, during a time of rapid population growth.  As more and more gentry tried to make income from the land, more and more habitants were trying to feed their families and pass their land rights to their children.  Because the gentry controlled the government, there was no political relief for the farmers.  You could fight for political reform, fight for land reform, or just move on.  Emigration to the United States had been happening since the war with England, so the various trails into New York and Vermont had already been blazed for this wave of nineteenth-century migrants.

In the United States, owning land for farming was possible, yet relatively expensive.  But employment, both agricultural and industrial, was readily available.  In the Ausable Valley, the iron industry was booming, and workers were needed for mining, the iron mills, and the nail factories.  Coopers, mechanics, and blacksmiths were needed.  Shipping on Lake Champlain provided work.  Local farms and lumber camps needed help, too.  A new state prison in Dannemora hired many.  There were few Catholic churches in the area, so missionaries from Quebec would visit New York and Vermont, and record the births and marriages back in Quebec.  Dispensations were constantly needed for civil marriages, marriages of cousins, marriages with non-Catholics, events not usual in Quebec.  Eventually the Valley built its own churches, in Keeseville and Black Brook and Ausable Forks, after other churches to the north in Champlain, Coopersville, and Plattsburgh.

I have been helping Bev Farrington, a well-known researcher and genealogist, untangle the many Bombard families in Clinton and Essex Counties of New York.  The name is relatively easy to follow.  Bombardier dit LaBombarde is the full handle; families used Bombardier or Labombard (or both), or, more simply, Bombard.  Families in the Ausable Valley fared rather well, apparently - the population boomed, and in three generations there were more Bombards than you could shake a stick at.  This was true for other Clinton County Québécois names:  Amell or Hamel, Seguin (Sawyer), Diguette or Guyette, Giroux, Thibeault, Danette or Dennett, Cusson, Demarais or Demara or Demarce, Duclos (Douglas), Freniere, Gauthier (Gokey), Pelletier (Pelkey), Lafontaine and Lavallee and Laramie and Lussier, Rocque and Rougier, and on and on.  There was another group of Bombards out in Franklin County, and another in Grand Isle County, Vermont.

Eventually overpopulation and the decline of the iron industry (replaced by the steel industry in the Midwest) led to more migration.  In the 1880's, the New York families began moving to mill towns in New York and New England, further south, continuing the pattern of southern migration down the Richelieu River from Montreal to Marieville to Henryville to Alburgh to Burlington, or Laprairie to Napierville to Champlain to Plattsburgh to Keeseville.  Or they followed the lumber industry to Maine or Michigan and Wisconsin, or migrated out to the western US and Canada.  Some went back to Quebec, to work in the growing mill towns there.

Of the sons of André Bombardier, it was André Jr, Jacques, and Joseph who had descendants who emigrated to Clinton County, New York in the early 1800's.  André Jr married Josephte Anne Poudrette dite LaVigne.  It was his son Augustin whose children emigrated south.  Jacques, or Pierre Jacques, who married Francoise Thibeault dite St Louis, had a grandson named Pierre, son of Jacques, whose children emigrated south.  And Joseph, who married Marie Francoise Fontaine, had four sons whose children emigrated; Benjamin, Joseph, Francois, and Antoine.  So this gives us six lines into New York (and Vermont) with twelve branches:

Augustin & Pelagie Boileau Jacques & Charlotte Goguet Benjamin & Anne Danette
René Augustin & Pelagie Masse Pierre & Charlotte LaRose Antoine & Rosette Ouimette
Joseph & Louise Hache   Joseph & Marie Louise Corneau
André & Suzanne Courtemanche   Pierre & Angèlique LeClerc
Jean Baptiste & Josephte DuGuay
Francois & Marie Louise Riendeau
Joseph & Celeste Beaudin Francois & Josephte LaPlante Antoine & Francoise Vaudrin
Jean & Flavie Belouin Francois & Seraphine Patenaude Antoine Ambroise & Archange Rougier

We have not attempted to document other branches into Vermont and Franklin County NY, nor branches that stayed in southern Quebec but which may have moved south in the migration wave of the early 20th century.  There are also a couple of branches whose attachments to the main tree have not been determined yet.  As is always the case in genealogy, this is a work in progress.


Related websites:
Un Canadien Errant - history and lyrics.
Virginia Demarce's groundbreaking study of migrant families to Vermont.
The forum for Clinton County NY.
The forum for Bombardier, where Bev Farrington has posted her research.
The full New York Bombards database at Rootsweb.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Origin of the Name McKnight

North ArgyllMcKnight is one of many variations on the name MacNaughton.  MacNaughton is the Anglicized version of mac Nechtan, which means son (or descendant of) Nechtan.  So who was Nechtan?  Why, Nechtan Morbet, known as Nechtan the Great, ancient King of the Picts, or so it is often said.  But there were three Pictish kings named Nechtan, not to mention two Dál Riata kings with sons and grandsons named Nechtan.  And then there was Nechtan of Moray, a noble who was loyal to his king, Malcolm IV, and rewarded with an estate.  In other words, it's not at all clear who Nechtan was.  In a sense, he was all of them.

The Dál Riata were the people who lived on the Scottish west coast, in what is now called Argyll.  Their roots were in Ireland, part of a larger collection of Celtic people called the Ulaid, and after whom Ulster is named.  By the fifth century AD the Dál Riata had become unified into a kingdom that included what is now north Antrim, Argyll, and many of the islands between in the Irish Sea.  The people, called Scots by the Romans, identified themselves as members of various kin groups, or cenéla, which were a broader version of the smaller clans yet to come.  Each cenél was said to descend from a particular king - whether this was actually true or not, or even whether the king actually existed, was beside the point.  The point was not to delineate a factual genealogy, but instead to invoke a heroic genealogy.  This was a way to honor one's ancestors (whoever they may have been) and to bring their spirit into one's present life.  One aspired to emulate the ancestor's character and deeds, as understood in the present, at whatever scale one was capable of.

The Cenél Loairn were the great kindred of northern Argyll.  They claimed descent from the mythical second king of Dál Riata, Loarn mac Eirc.  This cenél was further divided into cenéla descending from Loarn's sons and grandsons.  The ancestors of those who came to call themselves mac Nachten were of one of these cenéla, the Cenél Báetáin, a branch of the Cenél Muiredaig.

The Picts were a Celtic people who preceded the arrival of the Dál Riata by a millenium or so.  The northern Picts of Scotland were established around the Great Glen of what is now Inverness, around the Moray Firth, and further north.  The southern Picts lived south and east in what is now Aberdeen, Perth, and Fife.  The northern Picts and the Cenél Loairn shared a lot of territory, sometimes peaceably and sometimes not.

It is said that Nechtan is a Pictish name, yet the name appears among the Cenél Loairn and Cenél Comgaill nobility around the end of the sixth century.  This could indicate a diplomatic bowing to the Picts, a genuine trend of intermarriage, or simply the use of a similar and apparently popular name.  But by the beginning of the seventh century, there likely was intermarriage among the nobility.  It would not be long before the more important families of both the Dál Riata and the Picts could claim a mixed heritage.  In time, there was sufficient cultural intermixing and intermarriage to diminish the ethnic difference between Pict and Dál Riata Scot, though the political differences remained.  After the Viking invasions in the ninth century, these Picto-Scots began to consider themselves Gaelic, which was their shared language, and the vast shared territory came to be called Moray.

But before then, toward the end of the seventh century, the Cenél Loairn for the first time began to dominate the kingship of Dál Riata over the Cenél nGabráin to the south.  This might have been a benefit of the cultural alliance with the northern Picts, and may have paved the way for Pictish dominance over all of Dál Riata by Óengus I in the middle of the eighth century.

The mac Nachten line apparently descends from a son of one of these Cenél Loairn kings, Domnall Dunn mac Ferchair Fota mac Feredaig (bearing in mind how uncertain these medieval genealogies are).  Descended from Domnall are a remarkable string of Nechtans - father, son, and grandson.  To tell them apart, one is called the Elder (Nechtan Mor), another the Younger (Nechtan Og) and the one between is called Nechtan Nisin, Nechtan of the Wounds.

This Nechtan Mor is definitely not the great king of the Picts, Nechtan Morbet, who lived three centuries earlier, nor Nechtan II of the Picts.  His birth was probably in the early or mid eighth century, which means that his father lived in the time of the Pictish king Nechtan mac Der-Ilei.  Perhaps Nechtan the Elder was named by his father in honor of some connection with the king, and this honor was passed down three generations.  If so, it would probably have been a political connection rather than familial.  Still, at this early point, there would be no Clan MacNaughton as we think of it, the source of a surname.  Yet I'm sure there came to be a kin group who identified themselves as the sons of these Nechtans, and perhaps, in the heroic sense, of King Nechtan himself.

In about 1160, Malcolm IV, King of Scotland, moved several families from Moray to Perth as part of an effort to tamp down rebellion in Perthshire.  Among these families was a Nechtan of Moray, who was granted land in Strathtay, apparently as thane of Loch Tay.  It is almost certainly this Nechtan who is the eponym of the subsequent Clan mac Nechtan, honored as he was with land and title.  Over time, the MacNaughtons acquired lands to the southwest, and established a stronghold in Argyll, between Lochs Awe and Fyne.

Nechtan the Elder lived three and a half centuries before the MacNaughtons of Strathtay, some ten generations back.  It's possible that Nechtan of Moray knew about his Nechtan ancestors, but I'd bet that it was later generations of MacNaughtons who celebrated their name with a heroic genealogy stretching back to antiquity, containing a half dozen Nechtans and hinting at Pictish nobility.


Related websites:
Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
Electric Scotland
Clan Macnachtan Association
The Records of Argyll (PDF document)
Celtic Scotland
Moll's 1745 Map of Argyle

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Origin of the Name Sheppeck

Uplyme, Devon I can't say that I know the origin of this unusual name, but it would be fun and perhaps instructive to try to make an educated guess.  All of my Sheppeck ancestors came from Dorset, England, and particularly the area around Bridport, so that is a place to start.

The name has many variations, mostly spelling differences involving the vowels, and the "ck" at the end is sometimes a "ch."  The oddest variation I've found is Shakeup, which was probably a mis-hearing of the name by an official.  But the variation that I think points to an origin is Shapwick, which in England would be pronounced something like Shappick.

Shapwick is a Saxon placename meaning sheep farm.  Sheep are certainly plentiful in all of Saxony, which is the southern and western part of England, so this is potentially a common placename.  I have only found two villages ever called Shapwick, however; the more well-known one in north-central Somerset, and another in eastern Dorset.  A family from Shapwick could have called itself "de Shapwick," and this could have devolved to Sheppeck.

Some evidence would come in handy, and indeed there are historical references to de Shapwicks from both of these villages.  But the name seems not to have stuck as a surname.  There is little evidence of any clan of Shapwicks or Sheppecks around either of these villages, or anywhere else in England with one exception.  There are plenty of Shapwicks, Sheppecks, etc. in western Dorset going back to the mid 1600's, in Allington, Bridport, Beaminster, and the surrounding towns.

Could this group have moved here from one of the Shapwick villages?  It's possible, but I don't think likely.  There are no direct routes connecting either Shapwick with this part of Dorset.  Could a nearby manor or estate have been called Shapwick?  I began digging deeper into old placenames, and sure enough, I found a Shapwick estate quite nearby, just over the line in Devon.

Long ago English counties were divided into administrative units called hundreds, and each hundred was divided into ten tithings.  Shapwick Devon was once a tithing of Axminster hundred, and a part of the manor of Axminster.  Now Shapwick is just a part of the parish of Uplyme.  It lies west and a bit south of Uplyme village, about 4 miles south of Axminster town and a couple of miles northwest of Lyme Regis, in Dorset.  The estate ranged from Shapwick Hill southward to the Lyme Regis - Exeter highway.  In his history of Devon, Hoskins says that Shapwick is mentioned as early as 1167.

Finding Shapwick on old maps is fun enough, but there's even a book!  It turns out that a Cistercian monastery in Axminster called Newenham Abbey ended up owning Shapwick.  The details are laid out in a book called The History of Newenham Abbey, written in 1843 by James Davidson, and this book is available and viewable online thanks to Google's book-digitizing project.

In 1245 the manor of Axminster was given to Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire for the purpose of establishing a new abbey.  It was built about a mile southwest of Axminster town, above the Axe River, and named Newham.  Some of Shapwick was part of this gift, and within a few years the Abbey had acquired most of the remaining portions of Shapwick.

The last part, donated in 1333, was a part once held by a family named "de Shapwick."  It wasn't clear even then who this family was, so the Abbey asked for and received a brief pedigree, as follows:

The last Shapwick to hold the land was John, in 1317.  His son, also John, became chaplain and prior of St John's Hospital in Bridport, Dorset, in 1357.  So there's the Bridport connection, and perhaps the ancestor of all us Sheppecks.


Related websites:
Devon County History Page
The History of Newenham Abbey

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lost in Upstate New York

This is an article I wrote for Je Me Souviens, the semi-annual publication of the American French Genealogical Society.  It appeared in the Autumn of 2007 (Vol 30 No 2).  It's an account of how I searched for and located the records of my French-Canadian branch.  It's a bit technical (and long-winded), but if you research genealogical records, you may find it informative.

-  -  -

I'm not a very dedicated genealogist.  I reluctantly got started only because I couldn't match my mother's memory.  After years of asking her the same questions about our family history over and over, I finally figured out that a computer's memory is pretty good, if the software cooperates.  So I bought a genealogy program and filled it with everything my mother knew about our family.  Then I added everything my eldest aunt could remember.  Then everything my cousin had from a great-grandmother's Bible.  There was a distant cousin in New York who had my family tucked away in a corner of her own genealogy.  An unknown gentleman had sent my uncle a big handwritten record of his cemetery tramping in lower Scotland.  There was a lot of information out there, it turned out, and I was busy just recording it, let alone checking anything.

The funny part is that in any genealogy there are these gaps just begging to be filled.  I tried to ignore them, I'm still trying, but I really can't resist.  So I find myself going, again, to spend a couple of hours at the American French Genealogical Society.

When I first walked in to the Society's library, and they kindly assigned me a volunteer, I explained to him that my ancestors had come from upstate New York.  The poor man rolled his eyes – oh those records are terrible, what little there is, he explained, you'll be really lucky to make the connection to Quebec.  God bless him, he tried, and failed of course, but within minutes of opening the first index we looked at, I was staring at the first piece of genealogical information I had ever gathered by myself: a listing of the marriage of my great-great grandparents, Joseph Laramie and Delphine Grenier, at Immaculate Conception in Keeseville, NY.  So I had filled in one gap, and I was hooked.

At that very moment, I had also hit my first brick wall: the witnesses to the marriage were two Irish guys.  There were no parents listed.  So my volunteer showed me how to cross-reference the witnesses to other marriages and baptisms, teasing possible relationships out of the information.  He tried to explain dit names, and demonstrated the world of mis-spellings and mis-hearings, bad transcriptions and Latinizations and Anglicizations.  And that is how I became lost in upstate New York.

There's more, click here . . .

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Laramies of Laprairie

Louis Bertrand Aupry dit LaRamée was a soldier, and he arrived in Québec sometime in the early 1690's.  He had been born in St Pierre, in Bordeaux, France, in about 1674, the son of Jean Aupry and Françoise Coiffard.  In 1694 he married Anne Dumas dite Rencontre, the daughter of another soldier who had arrived a generation earlier in the famous Carignan Regiment, and who had married one of the Filles-du-Roi, women sent to New France specifically to marry the soldiers and colonists.

Louis and his wife married and lived in La-Prairie-de-la-Madeleine, across the St Lawrence River from Montréal.  LaPrairie was a village that had sprung up around the Jesuit Mission that was ministering to the native Americans, specifically the Mohawk.  A successful colony of Catholic Mohawks had been established on the riverbank to the west, and it survives to this day as the Kahnawake Tribe Reservation.  Louis may have been part of a military detachment stationed at LaPrairie after it had been attacked, twice, by the English from New York in 1691.  He and his family would have lived within the wooden palisades of the village.

Louis' son, François Antoine, also married and lived in LaPrairie.  Sometime between 1755 and 1770, François and his family moved east to Chambly.  Perhaps it was after the death of his mother, Anne Dumas, in 1761.  These were the years of the French and Indian War, and of the loss of New France to the English.  François returned to LaPrairie County in the late 1780's, apparently with his son Denis and his family.

Denis, with his wife Marie-Elisabeth Lefort dite Laforest, established himself in St Philippe, where he lived until his death in 1806.  It was three of his sons who decided to emigrate to the United States.  Two of them, François-Xavier and Ambroise, decided to seek their fortune in the Missouri Territory in the United States in about 1805, where they took another dit nom, Constant.  They moved to the Florissant Valley, just north of St Louis.

Fifty years earlier, the French had controlled the entire Mississippi basin, from New Orleans up to the Great Plains, from the Ohio Valley through all of the Great Lakes.  It was called Louisiana, after King Louis XIV.  This was the backbone of the fur trade.  There was not enough French population to establish large settlements, but the French controlled navigation on the rivers, thanks in part to a network of alliances with Native Americans.  In 1763, the Treaty of Paris gave all French territory east of the Mississippi to England, and the remaining territory to Spain.  French settlers on the east side of the Mississippi moved across the river, and the Spanish established civil governments in settlements like St Louis, which became the capital of Upper Louisiana.  Fleurissant, the Valley of the Flowers, became San Fernando.

Napoleon secretly gained this territory back from Spain in 1800, with plans to recreate an empire in North America.  War with England was imminent, however, and when American diplomats approached him in 1803 to purchase New Orleans, he sold them instead the entire Louisiana Purchase.  Upper Louisiana became the Missouri Territory, and eventually St Ferdinand became Florissant.  To this day there are a large number of Laramies in and around St Louis.

The third son to emigrate, Joseph, was not seeking his fortune.  He may have been trying to save his neck.  These particular events would not unfold for three decades, though.  Until then, Joseph lived in St Philippe with his other siblings, having married Marie-Françoise Perrault in 1804.  He had twelve children, and by 1834 had moved to St Edouard, in neighboring Napierville County, to the south.

The early 1800's was a difficult time for farmers in Québec, especially French farmers.  Land continued to be controlled by a system best described as feudal, and though the government in Québec was technically democratic, it was actually controlled by a small elite.  Demand for political reform combined with a need for land reform, and by the 1830's agitation was growing for change.  Both the Roman Catholic Church and the British authorities were keen to squelch this agitation, and in 1837 a group of politicians decided that rebellion was the only course.  A number of public protests were held, farmers and laborers were recruited, and armed rebellion ensued.

Hundreds of Quebeckers, both English and French, pledged their support, and hundreds more were sympathizers.  The Richelieu Valley, which included Napierville, was one particular hotbed of rebellion.  Far fewer actually joined the insurgent militias, and fewer still actually fought, but British suppression was quick and brutal.  Many families thought it a good time to leave for Vermont or New York.  There is no written record of Aupry LaRamées being involved in the rebellion, but one of Joseph's sons-in-law, Antoine Achim dit St Andre, had pledged support.  In 1838, Joseph and his family relocated to Champlain, New York.

It was not complete exile.  The border with Canada was porous, and Joseph's children would go back to St Edouard to baptize their children.  But within a decade, the families had settled in the Au Sable Valley, in Ausable Forks and Black Brook and Clintonville and Keeseville, along with hundreds of other French-Canadian immigrants looking for work.  The iron industry in the Au Sable Valley was booming.  Work was available in the iron mines, in the cast-iron mills and foundries, and in the nail factories.  The barges in Lake Champlain needed crews.  There was always farm and lumberjack work.  And here Aupry dit LaRamée would become Aupry or Obry or Laramee or Laramie. 

One of Joseph's grandsons, also named Joseph, worked in an iron mine.  He lived in Ausable Forks, where he married Olive Delphine Grenier in 1856.  They had both been born in Québec, and had come to New York as children.  Now, five years after their marriage, with children of their own, they would once again return to Québec, this time to sit out the American Civil War.  Joseph was joined by his brother François-Xavier in Montréal.  It was during this hiatus that my great-grandmother, Edwidge Mary, was born.

Joseph returned to the Au Sable Valley after the war, and stayed for almost two more decades.  On the day Edwidge married in 1882, her parents packed up their remaining children and headed for Michigan.  Other Laramies headed for Michigan at about the same time, including Joseph's uncles François-Xavier and Theophile.  Better work was available in the timber industry, way up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Marquette County, which was easy to reach through Ontario.

Meanwhile, the iron industry was petering out in the Au Sable Valley.  Edwidge and her two older siblings, Euclid and Mysie, moved their families across Lake Champlain to Burlington, Vermont in about 1888.  Edwidge and her husband, Frank Bombard, continued on to Barre, where my grandmother Mildred Marguerite was born in 1901.


Related websites:
The Carignan Regiment and Filles du Roi
The English Colonial Raid on LaPrairie
The French and Indian War (Seven Years War)
The Louisiana Purchase
The 1837 Rebellion

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Alvena McGraw

Josephine, Marg, and Vena McGraw, abt. 1913 All of us grandchildren knew Alvena as Nana, which I think was a corruption of her nickname, Vena.  I remember her as a jolly old lady (she was 60 years older than I) who loved family gatherings.  She was famously gullible, and easy to confuse.  She sometimes had funny ideas about what was happening around her.  I have always been intrigued with her face, a big Irish/English mug with unusually squinty eyes and a small, perfectly horizontal smile atop an imposing chin.  The eyes she got from her dad, James McGraw, and the mouth/chin combination from her mother, Selina Sheppeck.  Some of us have inherited her plump Irish nose with chagrin.

I have also been intrigued with stories about Nana's possible emotional or intellectual deficiencies.  I had no experience of this except for the increasing level of dementia that accompanied her aging (she lived to be not-quite ninety).  So I have had to rely on the descriptions and explanations of other relatives.

One frequently-told story is that Nana came from an isolated, rural setting to live in big, cosmopolitan Boston, and the change was too much of a shock.  The only problem is that Nana grew up in Ithaca NY, a small city to be sure, but a county seat with a significant population.  In addition, plenty of people successfully made the transition from country to city, so if Nana couldn't, why not?  Well, she was a little simple, or slow.  You mean, like mentally retarded?  Oh no, nothing like that, she just seemed not to have been exposed to much in her early life.  I'm sure, though, that Nana had the basic schooling that most of her contemporaries had.  And a person can have plenty of smarts not related to traditional school achievement.  My dad, Nana's son, was dyslexic, but that didn't prevent his educational and professional success.  So the question remains - what was up with Nana?  Well, she was a little unstable emotionally.  How so?  She could get confused and then hysterical, and not be able to function.

It was Nana's inability to function as a mother that seemed to be the main symptom of her ailment.  Her unhappiness, as many put it, seemed to begin with the move to Boston.  As she gave birth to more children (she had six altogether) she seemed less able to care for them, or keep a proper home.  My dad, who was her youngest, felt that he had really been raised by his father's sisters (especially his Aunt Mazie).  By the time my dad was six, his older sister Josephine had married and moved her family in, effectively taking over Nana's duties.

Hysteria was the name given to a disability that seemed to afflict mostly women.  Sigmund Freud's career was based on trying to solve the hysteria puzzle, and hysteria was continuing to be diagnosed as recently as the nineteen-thirties.  The cause was unknown, which stopped no one from guessing, and the treatments were often bizarre, humiliating, and sordid by today's standards.  The existence of hysteria helped reinforce the notion that women were weak, fragile, unstable, and unreliable.

Fortunately, hysteria is no longer a valid medical diagnosis.  Though just about every kind of mental illness has been labeled hysteria when manifest in a woman, the most common problem seems to have been an anxiety disorder.  Agoraphobia is a good example, but Generalized Anxiety Disorder may be the more common illness, and may be what afflicted Nana.

Nana's father, James McGrath, was born in a log cabin in Avon, New York, the son of William McGrath and Catherine Kelly.  He was their second child.  Catherine died young, in childbirth, when James was nine, and William moved the family to a house in Avon town.  James met and married Selina Sheppeck when he was about 23, and he and his family continued living with William.  Alvena was their second child, born in 1894.  When Vena was about four, James got a new job in Ithaca and moved the whole family, including his father.  Selina had her sixth child in 1905, the same year that William died.  Vena was eleven.

When Vena was about eighteen, her parents separated, and her father moved away to Rochester, some eighty miles distant.  I imagine he continued supporting the family, though I can't imagine he saw them often.  James and Selina never divorced, but never reconciled.  It was 1918 when Vena met and married James Calhoun - she was twenty-four.  She and James stayed with the family in Ithaca.  Two years later Vena gave birth to Josephine, her first child.  And six months later Vena's mother, Selina, died unexpectedly, of a stroke.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is thought to run in families.  It is often triggered by a stressful event in young adulthood, and from there it is chronic, and can get worse.  It creates a state of excessive worry, not about anything in particular, but every little thing in general.  If the anxiety is severe or prolonged enough it can lead to depression - an inability to function at all.  It is similar to ordinary worry (my dad was well-known as a worrywart), but is more like a continuous, subdued panic attack.  It is very tricky to diagnose correctly, even by professionals.

After Selina's death, Vena and James moved to Massachusetts, and lived and worked on a chicken farm in Reading, a dozen miles north of Boston.  I've not heard many stories from this period in their lives, but I have heard that they were very happy.  James and Vena lived in Reading until after the birth of their third child, Mary, in 1925.  They moved to South Boston, where the rest of James' family lived.  And this is when, at age 31, the "unhappiness" for Vena began, and grew worse.

But I will always remember the happy Nana, forty years later, who loved the kids, and laughed when she was teased, who lived in the mysterious triple-decker with the smell of varnish, and who was just a little nutty, in a most delightful way.