Kinsearching September 9, 2012




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Many genealogists are aware that refugees from seventeenth-century France immigrated to what became the United States and resided in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies. But family researchers may not realize that some of the early pioneers went to the New England region. Elisha R. Potter focuses on a small group of them in his work, MEMOIR CONCERNING THE FRENCH SETTLEMENTS AND FRENCH SETTLERS IN THE COLONY OF RHODE ISLAND.

     Originally published as Number 5 in the Rhode Island Historical Tracts series in 1879, Potter’s publication consists of two parts: historical and genealogical. He begins with a brief history of the French Protestants (often referred to as Huguenots) in their native country and the persecutions that forced many of them to flee to other nations, especially after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Then he furnishes information about the agreement in 1686 between the Proprietors of the Narragansett Country in Rhode Island and a group of Huguenots for a settlement of approximately thirty French families in the New England colony. In addition, he provides verbatim reproductions of several documents (the contract with the Bay Purchasers, complaints and remonstrances of Dr. Peter AYRAULT, and court proceedings in 1700) pertaining to the settlement, which eventually became known as “Frenchtown.” His historical notes supply background material regarding the problems that influenced the decision of many of the Rhode Island French to migrate, especially to Boston.

     Genealogical materials form the second section. In his genealogical notes, Potter explains the difficulties that may accompany tracing lineages, such as the lack of records, multiple families of the same surname in the same locale, and name changes, particularly in surname spellings. Brief genealogies make up the rest of the book. Family sketches concern French progenitors or individuals of British descent who married French wives and pertain to the surnames MAWNEY (originally LE MOINE), BOWEN, AYRAULT, BERNON, TOURTELLOT, CRAWFORD and ALLEN, HELME and CARPENTER, GAUNEAUX (which eventually became GANO), MARCHANT, TARGÉ (often spelled TOURGÉE), LUCAS, JERAULD, and GINNADO. Other French families who were Rhode Island settlers, but who the author does not discuss, include LEVALLEY; JACQUES/JAQUAIS/JACOWAISE; LE BARON; GEOFFROY, TARABOX, BOURDILLÉ/BARDINE; ALAIRE; COLLIN; JOUET; MOIZE LEBRUN; LEGENDRE; ST. JULIEN; and LEGARÉ.

     Potter’s work brings attention to a subject that is often overlooked in genealogical publications. Genealogists and other individuals who want to know more about the history of ethnic groups in pre-Revolutionary New England will be interested in reading MEMOIR CONCERNING THE FRENCH SETTLEMENTS AND FRENCH SETTLERS IN THE COLONY OF RHODE ISLAND.

     The 138-page soft-cover reprint contains three maps. To the book's price of $18.95, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $5.50 for one book and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $7.50 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional book. The volume (item order 4690) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, Maryland 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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