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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

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