Saturday, November 18, 2006

THE CITY DESK - Rory Riddler, Councilman Ward 1

Name Change May Be In Order
For Founding Father Of Florissant

Since the 18th Century, the people of Florissant have honored the name of Francois Dunegant as their founder and first Spanish Commandant of this historic community. There is even a city park named for him. While the man so honored is the same, it appears the history books will have to be rewritten somewhat. New evidence has uncovered what is likely the original spelling of the surname of Florissant’s most distinguished historic personage and with it, new details of his life and family.

Unearthing this 220 year old mistake began as a collaborative effort between myself and Florissant’s Mayor Robert Lowery. Like St. Charles, Florissant takes pride in its French Colonial roots. Knowing my interest in historic research, I was asked to help pull together a biographical sketch of what was then known of the life of Francois “Dunegant” at the behest of the Mayor in 2004. What bothered me as an amateur historian was the lack of details of Dunegant’s life prior to coming to St. Louis and ultimately Florissant. There simply weren’t any other Dunegant family records or histories outside of St. Louis and Florissant. Most knowledgeable people knew the name was probably misspelled, but variations that were tried didn’t pan out.

For ex-Police Chief turned Mayor Lowery, this was the ultimate cold case. But it also presented a challenge to someone use to uncovering the facts. I was asked to do further voluntary research and try every angle to help uncover Florissant’s true heritage. Recently we made a major breakthrough.

The break came not from the numerous variations on the spelling of Dunegant we had tried, but from researching his “dit” name. Both Francois and his brother Charles shared a “dit” name. The French term dit can substitute for a hyphen in double family names or can be a nickname or alias of sorts. It can also refer to land owned or inhabited by an ancestor, or the name of an ancestor. The practice of using dit names is archaic, but was widespread among the French settlers of New France. Our own Louis Blanchette, the founder of St. Charles, had a dit name as well. Blanchette was called “the hunter”.

The Dunegant’s dit name was Beaurosier. Previous Florissant histories had not speculated on the meaning, and there was no direct translation available, however, it is most likely a compound word. “Beau” for beautiful and “rosier” meaning a rose bush, bed or arbor.

It seemed to be a strange “nickname” for someone to share with their brother on the frontier of civilization, so I focused on trying to uncover anyone who shared the same dit name Beaurosier. Following the dit name provided the break we were looking for.

In genealogical records I was able to find a Francois “Lunegent” who was born in Treguier, Bretagne (Brittany) and married to a Louise Ouimet who was born in 1724 in Sault-au-Recollet. The records show the couple were married on the 19th of February 1748 at Notre Dame in Montreal.

The marriage record lists this Francois Lunegent’s father as Bertrand Lunegent dit Beaurosier and his mother as Francoise Goiselout. There are also listed the names of Louise Ouimet’s parents, Pierre Ouimet and Marguerite Brault Pommainville.

We knew that the Francois who founded Florissant was named after his father and that his mother was Louise Ouimet. These were most likely his parents. We also knew that Florissant’s Francois was born in 1752 so the ages were right for these to be his parents.

It was the Beaurosier dit name that led to the Lunegent spelling of the name.

But this particular genealogical record only listed the birth of a daughter to this couple; a Charlotte Beaurosier Lunegent Boursier. Even with a match for the father’s first name, the mother’s name and the corresponding dates, we did not have a direct link to Florissant’s Francois that we could prove.

As the Mayor, a former long-term Police Chief would say, we needed more collaborating evidence before changing the name on a park and in the official histories of the region. Armed now with the spelling as Lunegent, I undertook further research and soon got the break we needed. Translating a notation from a work called, La Population des Forts Francais d’Amerique du XVIII Siecle or roughly The Population Of The 18th Century American Forts by Marthe Fairbault-Beauregard, I found the here-to-fore elusive baptismal record of Florissant’s founding father.

In Volume I, page 31, there is a notation about a baptism that occurred on the 9th of December in 1752. It took place at Fort Frederic and states that Marie Coulon de Villiers, wife of M. Douville, a Lieutenant of Infantry and second in commend of the fort, was the godmother for the baptism of a Francois Michel Luenegaud (corrected in document to Lunegent). This Francois it states was the son of a Francois and Marie Louise Quimet.

Here was the additional evidence we needed. We had a son whose name matches, being born to parents whose names match those of our Francois and born in the right year. We also now have two separate sources for a Lunegent spelling. Lowery had also learned, in his years of police work, that there comes a point where the evidence makes its own case.

This same French document said that the Lunegents were “inhabitants des cotes voisines”. While an obscure reference today, a 1611 French dictionary lists voisine as meaning neighbors. Cotes can be a slope, hill or shore. I would speculate this meant that the Lunegents were living at this time on a neighboring shore to Fort Frederic.

Fort Frederic in 1752 was an imposing stone fortress, with a multi-storied massive keep, much like a medieval castle. It was located at Crown Point on Lake Champlain in New York, an area then under French control. The fort was abandoned when the French pulled out in 1759 and they dismantled it so the British could not use it.

What brought the Lunegents inside Fort Frederic may have been the birth of their son or for protection during an incident in the French and Indian Wars. Francois Lunegent’s birth inside the fort, explains why his baptismal record was not with other Church records which recorded his parents marriage and the birth of a sister.

While the genealogical record first found, did not list Florissant’s Father as having the same dit name, but only listed the grandfather’s, a third document clears that up as well. It is a record from France that shows a Francois Lunegent dit Beaurosier, from St. Jean-Kerdaniel in Cotes d’Armor left France with a destination of Quebec. This area is also in Brittany.

As a footnote to the story, this area of Brittany is known as the ‘rose’ granite coast. A nearby town today is described as being famous for its beautiful ‘flowered’ houses covered with trellises of flowers. Perhaps with more research we can establish that the Beaurosier dit name and the memories passed down from father to son of their homeland may have influenced the naming of Florissant itself.

What brought Francois Lunegent, the father of Florissant’s Francois to New France? Records show his occupation at the time of his arrival being a “Soldat dans les troupes de la Marine, campagnie de St. Ours.” He arrived as a member of the French Marines and his company assigned to the village of St. Ours. These early records also show his birth date in Vers of 1723 and his first mention in the military records of New France in the year 1745. The military records add a further twist to the mystery, spelling his last name Lunegan, though including the dit name Beaurosier.

Previously we knew that our Francois had a brother named Charles who also came to St. Louis. His name in our local histories appears as Charles Dunegant. But he is listed in early French records of Quebec as being born Charles Lunegent dit Beaurosier in the year 1759, so that we now know Charles was Francois’ younger brother by seven years. Records from Quebec show Charles was likely born in the Village de Longueuil, placing Francois in this lower village of Montreal at the time. In September of 1760 Montreal surrendered to the British. Still to be uncovered is what happened to the Lunegent Family from 1759 (when Francois was 7) till he began farming in St. Louis in 1768 at the age of 16.

The dit name Beaurosier also led us to records that indicate Francois may have had as many as three sisters. Charlotte, who was previously cited, married a Prosper Desgroseilliers on February 17, 1772 and the couple had five children. A Marie Louise Lunegent married a Thomas Fissiau Laramee in Beauhamois, Quebec and their marriage record indicates she was born in 1750, also at Fort St. Frederique. And a Marguerite Lunegent Beaurosier married a Jacques Dorais in Montreal and her date of birth in 1749 and dit name also make her a likely older sister of our Francois as well.

So how did Lunegent of Lunegan get to be Dunegant in Florissant records? For one thing, he was illiterate. A contemporary described him in later life as being embarrassed that he could not read or write. He would have been only eight years old when Quebec fell to the British in 1760. The disruption of the war would likely have interrupted his formal education.

Our Francois did, however, affix a signature to official documents. Many people who could not read or write learned to copy their own signature. It appears on these documents to be Dunegan, So we are left with a further mystery. Did Francois Michel Lunegent dit Beaurosier, the founder of the City of Florissant, change his name for some reason? Was it taught to him as an adult the wrong way? Or was it being signed by others for him? I think it unlikely he changed his name because he was trying to hide. If he wanted to change identities, he would have changed his dit name as well. Keeping his dit name showed he was proud of the name of his father and grandfather whom he inherited the name from.

On September 13, 1825, Lunegent died at the age of 73 and was buried in the parish cemetery. The burial register of St. Ferdinand’s records that Du Negant (as it was listed) “…was the founder of this village.” Perhaps the priest may not have been as familiar with the rough French spoken by the older inhabitants of the newly Americanized Florissant. It isn’t such a great leap from Lu to Du. These mistakes are common to anyone who has done any genealogical research on their own family, it is just a little more unusual in a historic personage people thought they knew so well.

Mayor Lowery said he will recommend to the City Council modifying the name Dunegant by adding Lunegent as the predominant variant or original spelling. He would also like to see the memory of Francois Michel Lunegent dit Beaurosier recognized in a statue depicting the founder of Florissant. The Mayor added, “I believe an accurate portrayal of Francois should one day grace our community and perhaps, help make up for getting his name wrong all these years.”