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Monday 13 February 2012

Family History

During the Summer of 2011 we had two very nice couples stay with us from Melbourne in Australia. Fred had been researching his family history and it had brought him back in the 1700’s to La Rochelle. Armed with what he had we met up with Jean Pierre (a member of the local Genealogical society) at the archive centre in La Rochelle. We spent a very interesting day researching through documents from the period which I found to be fascinating of a bygone era, a world away from the present day yet a lot of the buildings mentioned are still standing and used on a daily basis today, If walls had ears and a mouth they could tell a story or two. Fred got back to me the other day with his findings and I thought that it would be interesting reading for any body interested in genealogy and History of La Rochelle.

Here is his story.

Hi Nigel,

You are indupitedly a Gentleman for taking the pictures of the Street of the Gentlemen. Could it be otherwise? Thank you so much for that.

I have to confess that I have never left
La Rochelle (or Landrais). It was without doubt the best Holiday I have ever had. And coming from a poor English family, thats not many. Although it could be added that living on the Scilly Isles was one long holiday.

The day we visited the archives was amazing and that is all due to you driving us. I am glad that you offered because it wore on my nerves having two very nervous passengers in the back of the car.

Anyway onto the news about
La Rochelle.

If I repeat myself then please bear with me. Some of the stuff I attach and tell you may be able to help Louie or Ellie with a homework assignment. It will certainly be a talking point for your visitors at drinks around the Pool.

Jean Pierre Vignaud has translated all the documents we found that day. Imagine if we had done more than one day!

He has also been urging me (gently) to write about the Gerald family for the Cercle Genealogique de Saintonge, which i am a member of and I have also been in touch with the St Savinien connection. Madame Monique Godinaud, the wife of the Mayor and her three "amis" in their small Genealogical circle. They could not have been nicer to me in their letters. (more of that later)

Following his translations, it was apparent that Pierre Gerald and Esther Grandin lived in this street for a long time.(Since 1691) Pierre died in 1712 and in one of the documents, a Marriage contract between Madeleine Abbey and Paul Duran in 1719 Esther still lived there. Madeleine Abbey was the Niece of Esther Grandin. Her son Pierre Issac Gerald was her Guardian because her parents were dead. It appears that the owner of the house was a relative of either the Gerald or Grandin connection.

Pierre Gerald's father came from St Savinien and he was a merchant Hat maker/seller. (looking back at these times it is amazing to see how many of the professions have disappeared).
Pierre was a merchant (not sure what type) and Esther Grandin came from a Merchant family. It goes without saying that all of these people I am talking about were Protestant.

La Rochelle had always been a Protestant town in France, but all of that ended in 1628 when the town was laid siege to by the forces of Cardinal Richeleau. The British sent a fleet but the town was reduced and its fortifications torn down. This was all part of what were known over a couple of hundred years as the Wars of Religion. In 1598 Henry IV of France signed the Edict of Nantes, which gave the Protestants Religious and Political freedom. The French protestants followed the doctrine of Calvin. The biggest upheaval for them later in the century was the Edict of Foinainbleau, which is also known as the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Louis XIV was King by this time and he was staunchly Catholic (even though he had many mistresses and had many illegitimate children). This was a state of Politics rather than Christianity. Control of the populace was always done through the local priest and any dissenters, like the Protestant Huguenots were a Political menace. The Huguenots were educated and also industrious. They could read and write, which was a skill only the Catholic clergy and the Nobility had had up until their emergence. So the whole deal was about control.

In these times the King exercised control over everything, including Trade and Taxes. (The Taille (used for maintenance of armies etcf) and the Gabelle (a Tax on Salt which was used for curing food)). He is famous for a couple of quotes. Such as L'etat ces moi. I am the state and Apres moi le deluge. After me the flood.

Anyway back to the Huguenots. The terms of the Edict of Nantes were gradually whittled away but edict after edict and by the 1690's places like Saintonge and
Aunis (present day Charente-Maritime) were in the grip of these regulations. basically the deal was that the Protestants had to renounce their religion in favour of Catholicism (known as Abjuration) and then they would be allowed the full privileges of the state. If not the men would be sent to the galleys until they abjured and the women to convents.

In 1681, the area was hit by the arrival of Dragoons, who were billeted on the Protestants. The people had to feed them, pay their wages and all sorts of other things were done to them until they abjured. Many of the Protestants didn't and went onto leave
France and find refuge in Switzerland, Holland and England.

The ones who left kept their Faith and the ones who stayed basically said the words but didn't mean it. They had to attend te catholic Church and their children had to be baptised into the Catholic rite.

In 1684 the Protestant temple had its last service and was torn down (from Louis Delmas the Huguenots of
La Rochelle). on 22 October 1685, the Edict of Nantes was revoked and a flood of people left France because they could not Abjure.

Pierre and Esther Grandin married in 1691 and so the Edict had been signed 6 years before. I found the church document (St Sauveur, La Rochelle.) where Esther Grandin and her Mother and siblings abjured in Sept 1685. I have also found all of children of Esther Grandin and Pierre Gerald, baptised in St Sauveur church in
La Rochelle. (Not surprising as they lived do close!). In all of them they are named as illigitimate as they were not married in church. In Huguenot terms this is known as "au desert" . Probably a service in a Barn where their nuptials were blessed by a wandering preacher. (on pain of death by the state). I cannot find the marriage of Pierre and Esther for this reason.

Sorry to be so long winded. The most information I have found out about the Gerald's has been Pierre Isaac Gerald, their eldest surviving son. He married Anne-Elizabeth Colbert (the descendent of the Colbert's who invented Sel de Colbert of
La Rochelle salt (Andrews Liver salt's) You might say he gave everyone the shits. (Sorry). Anyway the Colbert's were very rich because of this and became Armateurs. (Merchants who financed and equipped trading expeditions to Various parts of Europe and the Americas).

I was shocked to find by doing a google search that Pierre Isaac Gerald was a Slave trader. More research and I found a chap called Mettas had done a work in two volumes of all the Slave Trade voyages from La Rochelle (and the rest of France) in the 18th C (1700's). So I bought the book. It cost $200 but was and is worth every penny. The archives in
La Rochelle had also printed a book about La Rochelle and the Traite Negriere in the 18e Siecle. Jean Pierre sent me a copy before Christmas.

At the same time I found an article published by the Geographical society of Rochefort about Jacques Dupin and his Slave trading adventures. Written by a lady called Danielle Pouzache who wrote about him as part of a Masters at
Poitiers. I wrote to her and she wrote a magnificent letter back telling me all about Pierre Isaac Gerald and his merchant endeavours. Jacques Dupin married Anne Elizabeth Colbert's sister Suzanne Sarra Colbert. She had 19 children and Dupin was a large Merchant house in la Rochelle. By far the biggest.

All of the merchants were protestants and they all married into each others families. Jacques Dupin was the chairman of the Chamber of commerce in
la Rochelle in 1734.

All of this then led me to the Merchant ventures they embarked on. Mainly with Saint-Domingue and the
West Indies generally but also with South America and Louisiana (an area much bigger than present day Louisiana streaching to the present Canadian border and beyond.).

They traded in Slaves, Coffee, Indigo, sugar and other goods.

To pause in the story. I have copied all of the 1700's slave voyages from
La Rochelle in Mettas into a Spreadsheet and I have also done a database of associated families of the Armateur families of La Rochelle
. I have sent copies to the Archives for them as an analytical tool.

I have attached the two files I mentioned. One is called de Pont because it is the name all the others are related too. There is a filter on the spreadsheet so you can choose an armateur and see how many voyages they did to get slaves. The Dupin family did 42 (as well as other merchant adventures).

Henry Gerald (the younger brother of Pierre Isaac Gerald) was my direct ancestor. He left France in 1717 and traveled to Holland and then 2 years later to England I am sure now that he left to enhance the mercantile range of the Gerald's and not because he was Huguenot.

There is more but thats it for now. I haven't even started writing a lot of this up yet.

Best wishes to you all.

Fred and Sandy.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

3rd place Landrais best garden award

In 2011 we signed up for the local best garden competition for the first time and we were very pleasantly surprised to receive 3rd prize, Its a good feeling to know that your efforts are appreciated locally.