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Monday, October 16, 2006

André Bombardier

André Bombardier dit LaBombarde dit PassePartout came to New France in about 1701 as a soldier in the D'Aloigny Company.  It is probably safe to assume that his name indicated his role in the French Army as cannoneer.  He was born in about 1679 in Lille, in what had been Flanders but had recently become a part of the French Empire, won in battle and treaty from the Netherlands.  He was the son of Jean Bombardier and Marie Françoise Cambin Flamand Guillin.

One of King Louis XIV's first tasks in consolidating newly won territory was to improve the defenses of cities like Lille, and that meant improving the walls of the city and expanding its defensive brigades, including the cannon brigade.  Lille was a significant city in the Middle Ages, and had had a cannon brigade for some time.  Cannon were finicky weapons - they could explode while being fired, so the cannoneer had to be knowledgeable about the bronze of the cannon.  Thus cannoneers were often drawn from the families that made the cannon, a skill passed down from father to son.  Perhaps André was from such a family.

The French Army kept excellent records, and required soldiers to have both a family name and a nickname.  In the Middle Ages, it was not common to have a family name.  Aristocrats and other important people had identifiers, like titles and estate names, that eventually became family names.  Common people would just adopt a family name, based perhaps on their trade or where they lived or the name of the Lord of their land.  The nicknames, dit nom or nom de guerre, were assigned depending usually on which company you were assigned to.  If you left the company, you also left the nickname behind.  In Québec, however, the dit nom often became a family name.  André was unusual in having another dit nom of PassePartout - not too many other Québecois carried it.  It seems to mean "free to pass."  I have not seen an adequate explanation of it, so here's a guess:  if André was an expert cannoneer, and thus a specialist, he might have been assigned to different companies as needed, and he would have been allowed to keep his nom de guerre, LaBombarde, as he moved from company to company.*

In New France, André would have been part of the defense against both Native Americans and the British.  He may have seen service at Fort Frontenac, in what is now Kingston, Ontario, and at Fort Pontchartrain in Detroit, which was also a French colony.  In a few years, he served out his term and returned to Montréal, where he probably became part of the local militia, as did all other former soldiers.  In 1706, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, arrived in Montréal with a proposal.  He would give any former soldier willing to settle in Detroit free land.  The hitch was that the soldier had to be married, and had to be prepared to leave right away with Cadillac.

Marriage was not quickly done in those days.  Precautions were taken to ensure that the marriage would be legitimate, and those precautions took a lot of time.  Cadillac was in a hurry, though, so he convinced the religious authorities to allow marriages to happen quickly for the soldiers who wanted to go to Detroit.  André was among these soldiers, and he married the daughter of a long-time Montréal family, Marguerite Marie Dumais dite Demers.  Then off he went with Sieur Cadillac to his new home at Detroit.

Detroit was a very small colony out in the middle of nowhere, high on the banks of the Detroit River.  Cadillac had a small village inside the wooden palisade of the fort, large plots of farmland up and down the river, and small settlements of friendly Native Americans nearby.  Each soldier was given a tiny "city" lot inside the fort for constructing a house, and then allotted a plot for farming, for which rent was paid.  The houses were tiny one-room cabins, 20 feet square, made of small tree trunks driven vertically into the ground as pickets and topped with a roof of split rails covered with bark or thatch.

Cadillac ran the colony like a fiefdom.  He controlled every aspect of the colonists' lives.  Most of the former soldiers were loyal to him, but there were plenty of complaints.  There were also business interests trying to wrest control of Detroit away from Cadillac.  Finally, Cadillac was "promoted" by the King's minister to another colony (Louisiana), thus losing everything he had in Detroit.  Many of the former soldiers left Detroit at this time, including André.  It was 1710, and André and his wife moved back to Québec with their two sons.

André settled on the northern end of Île de Montréal, the opposite end of the island in the St Lawrence River where Montréal was located.  He farmed land somewhere between Pointe-aux-Trembles and Rivières-Des-Prairies until his death in 1754.  He was widowed in 1741, and married Marie Thibault dite LeVeille, who died a year later. 

During this time, New France was being regularly attacked by England.  By 1710, the English controlled half of Newfoundland and were raiding Acadia and Québec.  They took Acadia finally in 1713, and Cape Breton in 1745.  Ten years later, the French and Indian War, an extension of the Seven Years' War in Europe, went in favor of the French initially, but the English finally gained control.  The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ceded all of New France to Great Britain.

I am descended from André's fifth child, Pierre Jacques Bombardier dit Labombarde, born August 30, 1714.  He married Marie Françoise Thibault dite St Louis in 1738.  Not long after his father died, about the time Montréal fell to the English in 1760, Pierre moved east to the Chambly region, down on the Richelieu River.


* My apologies for the all the guesswork.  It's equally possible that André was dragooned into the French Army, assigned a French name, and sent as far away as possible, to New France.  This would have been part of a standard policy of clearing men of fighting age from newly captured territories like Flanders.

Related websites:
Musée des Canonniers Sédentaires de Lille,
translated from the French by Google.
History of Detroit


  1. Hello, I am believed to be a descendant of Andre Bombardier and love this information! I'd love to talk more sometime -

  2. Hello,

    I actualy am a decendant of André. So that article made me proud to be a Bombardier

  3. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Hi, I am a Bombard and was totally fascinated by your accounts of my family history. Who/what are your sources if I may be so bold to ask? Would love to get in touch with you. My grandfather was Edward Thomas Bombard of Keeseville, NY. His grandfather was Moses Bombard. is my email.

  4. Good day, André is my 6th. maternal great-grand father. During my genealogical searches found lots of infos, and yours certainly very well completed them. Regards Antonio Girolamo (Italian/French-Canadian descendant) living in Montréal, Qc,Canada

  5. Thank you Antonio for reading my blog!