The contract signed by the first French colonists on January the 13th of 1627 at Le Havre de Grâce in Normandie (for more information, read my post in French), is in the departmental archives of the Seine Maritime, and, as Barrey warns us in his book published in 1918 (for which he consulted the original) it is in very poor state. The pages were whittled away by time and humidity and as a result, some names have completely disappeared and are forever lost in time. To complicate matters further, one will have to decipher the 17thcentury writing to begin the reading of this document, which I can attest is a somewhat daunting task.
The act was transcribed by Philippe Barrey in his book » Les origines de la colonisation Française aux Antilles : la Compagnie des Indes Occidentales » published in 1918. However, as I will demonstrate below, there is still room for mixed interpretations for certain names. I spent many hours looking carefully at these pictures and magnifying the names as much as the available technology would allow me and quickly, one name in particular drew my attention:
On the second page, right at the beginning of line 25, and although the writing is slightly different, we can read the name BRIAULT (preceded with the name Jacques at the end of line 24). For me, there is absolutely no doubt that this is in fact referring to Jacques GRÉAUX, the ancestor of the GRÉAUX of Saint-Barths.
GRÉAUX/GREAULT/GRUAULT/GRUAU/BRIAULT/BREAULT: When one takes into account the fact that in this era, surnames were not set in stones so to speak, and that it was a recurrent practice to see surnames change in spellings overtime, this claim appears to be more than plausible.
Hence, if indeed this is referring to Jacques GRÉAUX/BRIAULT, this implies that the latter was part of the very first settlers that ever set foot on Saint-Christophe. The contract clearly stipulates that he was Poitevin, and this perfectly fits with Deveau’s intuition. However, there is no detail concerning the place.
We can easily imagine that young Jacques must have been about 20 years old (experts determined the average age of the typical settlers at this time was 23 years old– however we find a few exceptions ranging as young as 14 years old). He must have some education as he can sign his name. Briault is engaged for an initial period of three years during which he mainly cultivates tobacco (petun) and food (various fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, bananas, and cassava). The so-called “hired”, on top of the mandatory taxes they owe the company and captains, must also actively participate in the construction, maintenance, and military defence of the fortifications and the surrounding pathways. There are no women then on Saint-Christophe, they will only arrive later. One may think that he had to stay single for a while, and this would explain his rather old age at the estimated time he had children. Unfortunately, this is, at present, all that we know for certain about Mr Jacques Briault.
The link below will bring you to the genealogy tree of the first four generations of the GRÉAUX as I believe it exists following my study of these archives (Beware – this is only an hypothesis as of now, which I hope to confirm with further documents).
As you will see, I surmise that our young Jacques BRIAULT / GRÉAUX had at least two sons. The first one, Jacques, was probably born in Saint-Christophe in the years 1645. He is the ancestor of all of the GRÉAUX of Saint-Barthelemy. The second son, whose name unfortunately remains a mystery, was probably also born in Saint-Christophe around the same years. This second son will have at least one son, Jacques GRÉAUX (named after his grand-father), who is the ancestor of all of the GRÉAUX of Martinique. This Jacques GRÉAUX marries a misses MENAGER, a name which we can also find in Saint-Christophe in this era. DEVEAU had supposed that this Jacques GRÉAUX came from Saint-Barthelemy. I argue that they were in fact cousins.
The GRÉAUX of Saint-Barthelemy can be divided into three branches:
- Jacques GRÉAUX (commander of the island) marries misses Marguerite or Marie Magdelaine MASSON. Together, they would have at least four children.
- Gilles GRÉAUX marries Catherine MAGRAS (born in St-Martin). I surmise that she is in fact the sister of Jean Baptiste MAGRAS, the original ancestor of all of the MAGRAS of Saint-Barthelemy). Together they will have at least seven children.
- Catherine GRÉAUX marries Jean Rene LÉDÉE, ancestor of all of the LÉDÉE of Saint-Barthelemy.
Depending on the reading of the document, one might also find another important name to the genealogy of Saint-Barthelemy appears. Deveau also mentioned this possible second reading, however, he hadn’t seen the original document.
Philippe Barrey indicates a Jacques AUBIN from Octeville as well as a Jean AUBERY of L’Eure (Lheure).
August Joyau indicates a Jacques AUBERY of Octoville as well as a Jean AUBERY of L’Eure (Lheure).
Perhaps these debates belong to experts in palaeography but I believe that since we have the original documents we may also draw our own analyses for the time being. Hence, below I present to you the original names and signatures as per they appear in the document. One important thing to keep in mind is that during this era the N appears very similar to a Y (for instance, take a look at the last N of Poitevin after Briault in the image just below). Thus, one can easily read one or the other… I must confess that I myself remain dubious as to which it is – AUBIN or AUBRY.
Of the 231 names that Barrey transcribed from the contract of 1627, we find 36 on the Terrier of Saint Christophe dating to 1671. Furthermore, if we take AUBIN and BRIAULT into account, we find 5 of them in the 1681 census of Saint Barthelemy. Beware, this does not assert for certain that they are ancestors – perhaps these are only homonyms.
The five names are :
AUBIN / AUBERY
GRÉAUX / BRIAULT
RODRIGUE(S) (whom, if he is indeed of the descent of 1627, would actually be of Portuguese ancestry !)
Below is a PDF of the transcript in alphabetical order (after Barrey) of the Settlers of Saint Christophe 1627
In sum, 392 years ago today, May 8th 2019, French settlers were stepping foot for the first time on the island of Saint-Christophe. We have determined that the majority of settlers that later moved to populate the shores of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Granada, St-Martin, and Saint-Barthelemy originally came from that first settlement in Saint-Christophe.
So, did Jacques GRÉAUX arrive in the Caribbean on May 8th of 1627 ?
I certainly believe this is an interesting and highly plausible hypothesis that is worth investigating further!