If you did a keyword analysis of my blog, you might conclude that I’m obsessed with food: cocktails, French pastries, and the search for pancakes in Paris. You might be right. The truth is that I am a gourmand; I can’t deny it. But my real passion — my real obsession — is history.
HISTORY NERD ALERT: If you don’t like history, this may not be your favorite blogpost, but try it out anyway. You might find it interesting. If you’re in my family, you’re going to want to read this regardless of whether you like history, because it’s your story too!
Here we go …
I have always loved to immerse myself in old stories and, as a child, I often imagined myself in other times, leading a different life in the midst of some historical event about which I was reading. I loved listening to family stories, too, especially those of my Great Aunt Adeline, who could recount the exploits and travails of the family with such color that you had the impression that she was actually there when it all happened. I probably owe my love of history to some combination of Aunt Adeline’s stories and the World Book Encyclopedia.
As soon as I arrived in Paris a few years ago, I very quickly found myself enraptured not only by the beauty of the city, but by the depth of history that is always present, sometimes obscured by modernity, but always just beneath the surface. Michel has pointed out on a few occasions that when we come across an old building or monument, he is struck by its form, its colors, and its beauty, but I am struck by a sense of wonder at what happened there, to whom, and why. I knew that I had some French ancestors in my family tree (although they were very, very deep in the roots), so it’s no surprise that I soon started to wonder about my genealogical connection to France, however attenuated it might be.
I knew from Aunt Adeline that I was descended from the Joseys who — according to at least one account — were Huguenots (French Protestants) who emigrated to Scotland from France during the 1500s and anglicized their name before eventually emigrating to Virginia in the mid-1600s. I decided to delve into my old genealogical records and do some heavy-duty research on ancestry.com to track down the first French Josey. It didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I ended up tracing the family back to Virginia in the 1600s, to London in the 1500s, and to Scotland in the 1400s. There were Josseys, and Jossys, and even Jowseys, but the French connection remained elusive, and the Huguenot story seemed to fade in the light of my research. It seemed that I had reached a dead-end.
But then … the lightbulb went off:
There are DuBoses in my family! Now, THAT‘s a good French name!*
I knew that I was descended from Peter DuBose, a captain in the South Carolina militia who served during the Revolutionary War under the “Swamp Fox,” General Francis Marion (incidentally, also of Huguenot extraction). I consulted my family tree to confirm it — yep, there he was: my fifth great grandfather. (That would be my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandmother’s father. Yeah, we’re really close.) He’s not a major historical figure by any stretch of the imagination — well, maybe in the South where everyone has a dead hero in the family plot — but he is known to history, and I knew that there would be some good records about his life. After all, he’s famous enough to have a historical site marker on the side of Highway 15 just north of Bishopville attesting to his role in the Revolution and marking the location of his nearby grave. He would be the perfect place to restart the search. Back to ancestry.com …
After tracing backwards from Peter just one generation, I found my French connection:
Peter’s father, Andrew Dubose, was born in 1699 in Jamestown, Carolina (also known as St. James Santee or “French Santee” because of the large number of French settlers in the area) and was the first of my French ancestors born on American soil. Andrew’s parents, both of whom were Huguenots, had emigrated from France because of religious persecution there. Andrew’s father, Isaac Dubosc, was from Dieppe in Normandy and immigrated to Carolina between 1685 and 1687, probably by way of London where it appears he had immigrated by 1682. (There is a record of his giving testimony at the Threadneedle Street church in London on August 23, 1682.) Isaac’s wife, Susanne Couillandeau, was born in La Tremblade in Saintonge (or Xaintonge), in the region now known as Poitou-Charente, just north of Bordeaux. (If you speak French, please no jokes about her family name. I’ve already heard them from my French friends. If you don’t speak French, don’t worry about it. Write to me and I’ll explain.)
Conflicting sources raise questions about whether Susanne immigrated separately from Isaac, or if she, too, immigrated first to London before going on to Carolina with him. It does appear that her mother, Marie Fougeraut was in London and was (once again?) a widow, before she immigrated to Carolina. In any case, both Isaac and Susanne, as well as Susanne’s mother Marie and her brother Pierre, appear on a “List of French and Swiss Refugees in the Province of Carolina who wished to be Naturalised English,” a document prepared in 1695/1696 based on the passenger manifests of various ships arriving in Charles Towne at that time. The South Carolina archives include a 1691 deed she signed along with her son Peter or Pierre Couillandeau, her son-in-law Isaac Dubosq, and his wife and her daughter Susana Dubosq. Isaac Dubosc’s name was later transcribed in The Royal Land Grants book, now archived in Columbia, as both “Isaac DuBosek” and “Isaac Dubose,” hence the several variations of the original French name used at different times even by the same person. According to some records, the couple were married in French Santee in 1688 and had ten children, of which Andrew was the sixth. Other records indicate that they married as early as 1680 (either in France or in England).
Now, a little backstory:
The period during which my French ancestors came to America was one of relatively heavy Huguenot emigration, not only to America (particularly Carolina), but to England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and the Dutch colonies in South Africa as well. Despite the Edict of Nantes, which had been promulgated in 1598 by King Henry IV to end the religious wars in France by granting limited freedom of religion to Protestants, the position of Huguenots fluctuated continuously according to the tides of domestic politics and France’s foreign relations with neighboring Protestant powers. During the reign of Henry’s son Louis XIII, and especially after his son Louis XIV acceded to the throne, persecution of Protestants increased significantly.
In the 1660s, as the crisis was coming to a head, the Huguenot leadership elected a delegation to go to the King’s court to plead the Huguenot cause. The delegate from the churches in Normandy was a cousin of my ancestor Isaac Dubosc: Pierre du Bosc, the minister of the Protestant church in Caen and widely considered the greatest Huguenot preacher of his day. His words to the King were said to be so eloquently delivered that the King retired to his chambers to reflect upon them:
“We are everywhere forced to the wall. Our condition is one of calamity; it is no longer endurable. Our houses of worship have been taken away. We are forbidden to practice our trades. We are not allowed to make a living. When they see the dike broken, they will expect the waters to burst through in a great flood. And in confusion and fear, each man will seek safety in flight. The Kingdom of France will witness the departure of more than a million people, to the great harm of business, manufacturing, farming, the trades and the arts, and to the whole prosperity of the Realm.”
Despite du Bosc’s eloquence that day and the esteem in which the King subsequently held him, the situation continued to deteriorate over time. Ultimately, the King revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and Protestantism was once again illegal in France. The wars of religion were not reignited but, as du Bosc had predicted, the floodgates of emigration to England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, and America were opened, and the trickle of immigration that included my ancestors Isaac and Susanne turned into a veritable exodus in which 400,000 Huguenots fled the country.
So there you have the story of my French connection: how the last of my purely French ancestors was also one of my first ancestors born in America. Having a sixth great grandfather (my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandmother’s grandfather) who was French makes me just 1/256 French, but at least it’s nice to know where that 0.04% comes from!
* The name DuBose is generally said to derive from the French “du bois” meaning “from the woods.” The name “Dubosc” or “du Bosc” derives from the Norman dialect for the same expression.
© 2011, Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved