Letter to my Viser Cousins/McCann Kin



June 9, 2004
Updated March 18, 2009

© Karen McCann Hett  All Rights Reserved

Dear Friends and Kinfolks:

These web pages will be an attempt to share with you the research that it has been my privilege to undertake during the last thirty-plus years of my life.

I will try to tell the history of my search for our elusive ancestor, André Visier, and I will invite you, my cousins, also to share your findings.

Many of us have gathered records of our ancestor and puzzled over their meaning. I have been helped immensely through the years by other Viser descendants, who have generously shared their records and their ideas, and later I will tell you about those cousins, some of whom are no longer with us.

On these pages, I hope to post scans of the most important records, and to invite you to write to me with your comments and analysis.

Several new documents were discovered on a trip to the local archives in Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama, in the spring of 2003. After Cousin Hallie Lowe Johnson and I visited the archives, Cousin Margaret Lane (descendant of John L. Viser and Polly Dillahunty) also spent a day there. We were able to copy the estate inventory of Andrew Viser, along with a petition he filed in 1827 asking for pension. This 1827 pension application is not the same as the one we had previously, and it contains new information.

Due to a heads up by researcher Joann Crafton, we have now been able to tie these applications to the records of a particular soldier. Thanks to James Howard's expertise in military matters and familiarity with France, we finally have a much better picture of this special ancestor.


In his pension applications, Andrew claimed to be a French soldier who came with Rochambeau’s army to fight with the allied forces (allied with the American colonists) in the regiment commanded by Duc de Lauzen. He came to fight for American Independence as a volunteer.

We are quite sure, now, that our old Andrew Viser arrived in America with the name André Joseph Vasseur.

This man, Vasseur, was a common soldier, a grendadier, in the regiment commanded by the Duc de Lauzun. The French records show that he was born in 1858 at Vendeuil in the Department of Aisne, France. Vendeuil is very close to the town in which Cousin James Howard was stationed, so he knows the territory well.

Andrew's petition for pension stated that he was sworn in by “George Washington, himself.”

According to French armed forces records, he deserted on May 12, 1782, at Charlotte County, Virginia, where Lauzun's Legion was in winter quarters. His pension application indicates a June desertion at Charlotte's Court House (the county seat).

His name was soon Anglicized to Andrew Viser, and that is what I will call him.

Note that Andrew's middle name was Joseph, not Jacques, as some descendants have thought.

The story of a French ancestor has been passed down through all of Andrew’s families.

One of Andrew's great-granddaughters, Fannie McGary Gillespie, wrote about her grandfather being the son of a French soldier in her memoirs: A grand old man was (Grandfather William) Visere, son of a French soldier who came with Lafayette to fight for American Independence, just a young adventurer, perhaps; but, at any rate a very important personage to us of his lineage...

But was he really French? Did he really come with Rochambeau’s army? Did he really fight in the regiment of the Duc de Lauzen, as he claimed in his rejected applications for a pension from the U. S. government?

For many years, we had no hope of obtaining the records of the individual French soldiers who came to America, we had to take Andrew at his word. However, there are now Revolutionary War researchers who have obtained the regimental records from the French Archives and have translated them into English.


Andrew's pension applications claim that he came to America in May of 1780, with Lauzun’s Legion. However, Lauzun’s actually left France in May and arrived in America in July. Andrew admitted that he left his regiment at Charlotte Courthouse in 1782; essentially, he deserted, opting to stay in America rather than going back to France. Perhaps he had an American girl friend by that time and knew that his economic prospects were better in the New World.

He was not the only soldier who stayed behind. One hundred thirty-two members of Lauzun’s legion deserted and avoided recapture. Fifty-five percent of the regiment was comprised of German-speaking men from Alsace and Lorraine. The Germans were more likely to desert than the French, according to the historians who compiled the statistics.

Only twenty-six Frenchmen deserted, and twenty of those deserted in Virginia in the spring and summer of 1782, about the same time as Andrew. We learn that most of the Germans were Protestant and would be sheltered by Americans if they deserted, whereas the Catholic Frenchmen were usually not welcomed or assisted by American colonists.


The name Vasseur is a common one in France, and there are quite a few families of that name who settled in Canada and the northern U. S., though they seem to have arrived either earlier or later than Andrew.

Through the family of his son Peter has passed the tradition that Andrew was Huguenot. However, researcher Dr. Robert Selig writes that the French regiments were almost 100 per cent Catholic.


We are pretty sure that Andrew had at least two wives. The first wife he married in Virginia in about 1783 or 1784. By this wife he had at least three sons, John L., Peter, and William. Without doubt, the couple also had daughters, but we don’t have a clue as to their identity at this point.

Andrew probably married his second wife in Tennessee in 1813 or 1814. By the second wife he had at least three children, daughters Sarah and Elizabeth and a son of unknown name. In one record in Lawrence County, Alabama in later years, Andrew is called Andrew Viser, Sr., but “senior” in those days could refer to a grandfather or uncle of Junior.


Why is it so difficult to obtain records on Andrew Viser?

First and foremost, he chose to live the first couple of decades of his life in America in a county in Virginia, Buckingham, whose courthouse burned to the ground in the late 1800s. Thanks to Margaret Lane for discovering Andrew's name on a printed tax list of the county, we now know where he was living during the years from his desertion until his removal to Montgomery County, Tennessee.

If there were records generated by Andrew and filed in the courthouse, whether deeds, jury lists, marriages, or court minutes, they are gone. I ordered the Buckingham tax lists on microfilm and read them from cover to cover. I was able to draw some conclusions, which I will later share with you. The plat book for Buckingham also survived and has been interpreted and published, and we have gleaned some knowledge of Andrew's home place through that book.

The Virginia censuses for 1790 and 1800 were lost. Andrew does not appear on the Buckingham census of 1810, presumably taken the year after he moved his family to Tennessee, probably on the Southern St. Augustine-Apalachee Trail, the frontier road to Tennessee. We know that John L. Viser was married in Davidson County, Tennessee, in 1810. The 1810 census of Tennessee was lost.

Andrew made his home in Montgomery County, Tennessee. There, we have learned, he bought land to which there was no clear title. He stated that it was taken from him by the county court, apparently without remuneration. As stated, the 1810 census for Tennessee was lost. We are, indeed, fortunate that he was enumerated in the 1820 census of Montgomery County, giving us our first look at his family, albeit his second family.

From Montgomery County, Andrew followed his sons John L. and Peter to Lawrence County, Alabama, where he lived in the part of the county that later became Colbert County.

Back in the 1960s, many of the oldest records of Lawrence County were disposed of. Fortunately, some of the old records were later turned over to the Alabama Department of Archives and History. These have now been returned to Moulton and are in the local archives there. Among those records is Andrew’s estate inventory, which gives us a glimpse of his household belongings. We would much rather have had the will returned, which would at least have shown us the names of his wife and children. But beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes.

The librarians at the Lawrence County Archives are attempting to determine what type of book each record came from, and then compile them. As the books are completed, the records are microfilmed and the originals are retired from public access. I was most fortunate to be able to get copies of the actual estate records, and I hope share them with you on this site.

We think Andrew was buried in the Dillahunty Cemetery, which is in Township 4S-Range 9W. This is the cemetery in which his son, John L. Viser, was buried when he died in 1826.


...is that this site will be of interest and assistance to all of us.

You may be wondering why I am copyrighting my site. I do want each of you to use the material here in any way you see fit, it is your family. However, I am specifically asking you not to copy anything on this site for commercial purposes. I encourage you to properly give credit in any article or book you may write for publication. By doing this, you will enable other researchers to locate this site and to be aware of your source.

I welcome questions and comments. Thank you for your interest.

Karen McCann Hett


© Karen McCann Hett  All Rights Reserved 2004-2009

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Karen McCann Hett