I am quite proud that I have “completed” Part 1 or Book 1 of my Family History book. It’s complete in the sense that I feel happy with the information I have included, but I know I’ll likely need to make some changes and edits.
Part 1 of my book covers just the Roy side of my family, starting with Nicolas Le Roy and Jeanne Lelièvre and ending with my grandfather’s marriage to my grandmother in 1906.
Here is what I’ve learned of the Roys, summarized:
The pioneer Nicolas Le Roy came to Canada (then the French colony of New France) from Dieppe, Normandy in 1661, with his two infant sons, his wife and with his mother (who may have actually come two years later as a “fille du roy”). He could read and write and may have been involved with the fishing trade. Jeanne Lelièvre, his wife, was from Honfleur. His mother Anne Lemaître, was a widow and married Adrien Blanquet after she arrived in the colony. Jeanne’s widowed father, Guillaume Lelièvre was living in New France since at least 1656 and was working on a farm in Saint-Denis, just outside of Québec.
Through a friend of the family, Jean Gloria, Nicolas had his ocean crossing paid for and likely received a contract from this friend to work in the colony for three years. Jean Gloria was a former citizen of Dieppe who was now living in New France, and while visiting Dieppe, he stood in as godfather for Nicolas and Jeanne’s son Nicolas Junior, in March of 1661. The family embarked from Dieppe on the ship of captain Laurent Poulet in June 1661, arriving in the colony in August.
After his work contract was almost done, in 1664 Nicolas was granted land by the widow of Guillaume Couillard, who was one of the first landowners in the colony. The widow, Guillemette Hébert, was daughter of the very first farmer of the colony, Louis Hébert. The land was located in L’Ange-Gardien, a small parish outside of Québec on the northern side of the St. Lawrence River. His land was about 2 acres by 126 acres. The area was already settled and a small chapel was built for the parish around that time. Thomas Morel, the missionary assigned to the parish, had come on the same boat with Nicolas and his family in 1661.
Besides the two children born in Dieppe, seven more children were born in L’Ange-Gardien and a tenth and final child was born in La Durantaye. Nicolas worked the land to raise crops and was also fish warden for the seigneurs (feudal landlords) of this area of Beaupré, who granted fishing (and hunting) rights to their tenants. Several tragic and traumatic events could possibly have led Nicolas and Jeanne to seek another location for the family. In 1669, the couple sought justice for the rape of their five-year-old daughter Marie-Jeanne by a neighbor named Jacques Nourry. The accused was found guilty and hung from the gallows, after which his head was severed and displayed on a pike. The harsh punishment was to prevent other single men in the colony from considering bachelorhood or doing violence against innocent girls and women. The second tragic event was that in 1670 a house fire killed two of their children, Anne and Jean, who were both infants.
The couple sold their land to their two neighbors on either side of them in 1679 after having moved to the seigneury of La Durantaye, where Nicolas worked for the seigneur Olivier Morel, a soldier in the Carignan-Salières regiment who was also a merchant in the fur trade and lived in Québec City when he wasn’t traveling. Nicolas was granted land in La Durantaye in 1677 which was 3 acres wide on the river’s edge.
Nicolas died between 1686 and 1688 at around the age of forty-seven. Because no burial record exists, it’s possible Nicolas died from drowning and that his body was not found. Drowning was a common death around the St. Lawrence River, whose tides and currents could be treacherous and deadly. Several of his children were already married and living out of the home by the time he died.
My direct male ancestor was the second son, Nicolas Junior, who married Madeleine Leblond in 1686. They had ten children and the family lived in the part of La Durantaye that became known as the seigneury of Saint-Vallier around 1700. La Durantaye was split up eventually into the seigneuries of Beaumont, Saint-Michel, and Saint-Vallier. Nicolas Junior was lieutenant of the militia and also the first church warden of Saint-Michel, the parish that was established in La Durantaye around the end of the 1600s. He was likely not paid for these positions, but the fact that he filled them shows admirable qualities of energy, responsibility and leadership because he also had to farm his own land and raise a large family. Church wardens were the peacekeepers of a parish, like a sheriff would be for a town, and they also intervened in ecclesiastical affairs between the parish and other members of the clergy. Nicolas’s military duties were likely in service to the seigneur to provide defense against any attacks from hostile Iroquois. In any case, he possessed a gun, according to census records. After his wife died, he married a second time, and had an eleventh child. Nicolas Junior died in 1727 at the age of sixty-six, five months after his youngest child was born.
From the lives of Nicolas Junior and his siblings, it’s clear that the Roy family was well-respected and played important roles in the southern seigneuries (those on the south side of the St. Lawrence and which extended from Berthier to Lauzon). His siblings’ families had descendants who became seigneurs themselves, as well as bishops, priests, nuns, notaries and lawyers. Some became politicians after the Conquest of 1759. My family can claim blood relation to the novelist Gabrielle Roy, the historian and writer Joseph-Edmond Roy (who wrote his own book on the Roy family), the lawyer and politician Etienne-Férreol Roy, the curator of the archives of Québec Pierre-Georges Roy, and many others.
The descendants of Nicolas Junior tended towards farming as a profession. They were tied to the land and remained in Saint-Vallier well into the late 1700s, forming strong alliances with families in that region. His son Etienne inherited his lands and married Marie-Françoise Lacasse, a daughter from one of the other families that had deep roots in the land. Their son Etienne Junior married Marthe Morissette, who descended from Zacharie Cloutier, one of the first pioneers to settle in the colony and a friend of Robert Giffard, who promoted immigration from the Poitou area of France.
Marriages connected the Roy family with many of the original settlers of the colony, including the Hébert family, and those of Couillard, Couture, Turgeon, Gosselin, and Cloutier. Friends and relatives were important in those days to ensure support and protection during times when relations with the Iroquois natives and Protestant English were hostile. It was also a time of scarcity and natural danger, including cold winters, spoiled harvests, a lack of supplies to meet basic needs, sometimes a lack of food, and dependency on the generosity of the French king and fairness of the governors and ruling class. Many sought comfort within religion and family circles. It was often all these people had.
These early French-Canadians were described as living simple and sparse lives and in homes that barely had glass windows and often consisted of one or two main rooms. But they were a hardy people, whose wives bore more than ten children and were giving birth well into their forties, if they lived that long. They usually lost some of their infant children to premature death. They sometimes had to remarry when a spouse died, for economic but also for familial reasons, to have support for raising young children and working their land. They endured their hardships by engaging in a lot of family and church-related festivities with food, music and dancing. They were known to share stories, tell jokes, and sing to pass the time, especially during the brutal winter months.
The structure of society was feudal, with the highest paid positions going to friends and family members of already prosperous families, keeping the wealth and power in the hands of the few. Most of the population had to make do with a servile existence that nonetheless provided them with a freedom that they didn’t have back in France. Taxes and rents were extremely low and didn’t burden the peasants or working class. As I noticed in some instances, a “low-born” person could work himself up the social ladder through hard work and smart alliances. Godparents, parents-in-law and other such connections could benefit him or her greatly. They were often close friends with—if not related through marriage to—their own seigneurs. Some adventurous young men became fur traders, or ‘coureurs de bois‘ (wood-runners), requiring skills to navigate the wilderness, hunt, adapt to frontier life, get along with and learn to negotiate with First Nations tribes, and fight off hostiles.
Etienne Junior’s son Nicolas was born a few years before the 1759 Conquest, when the British army seized Québec after a defining battle on the Plains of Abraham, just outside the city. This Nicolas, who later married Thérèse Leclerc, lived through three different attempts by the English to capture Canada. The first was the 1759 siege, resulting in the colony being turned over to the British in 1763. The second was in 1775, when colonial troops from the Thirteen Colonies tried to convince the Canadians to join them and turn against their British rulers. The British army in Québec resisted, turning Benedict Arnold and his rebels away, and killing one of the other leaders, Richard Montgomery. The third attempt was in 1812, but that fighting mostly took place around the Great Lakes area and didn’t impact Québec.
Nicolas and his wife Thérèse lived and died in Saint-Vallier. But his youngest son Eustache, born in 1789, found most of the land already taken and by the time he became an adult, Canada was beginning to fill with English-speaking immigrants, those who had left the United States because of their loyalty to the British crown as well as other immigrants from Europe.
In 1811, Eustache married Rosalie Cameron, whose grandfather Thomas had arrived in Canada in 1759 as a soldier in the Fraser’s Scottish Highlanders Regiment of Foot and fought on the Plains of Abraham against the French. Thomas Cameron was around twenty-two years old when, around 1761, he fell in love with Françoise Roy, at the time considered his enemy, because a peace treaty between France and Britain had not yet been signed. Françoise Roy was a descendant of Noël Le Roy, a brother to Nicolas Junior. My bloodlines run not only through the second son of Nicolas Le Roy and Jeanne Lelièvre, but also through the third son, who was married to Marguerite Rabouin. She was the half-sister of Madeline Leblond, wife of Nicolas Junior. The lines run through two of Noël’s sons, Joseph-Noël and Augustin who both married Fradet daughters. You could say that my Roy relations run via various pathways. I’m also proud to say that I have a bit of Scottish Highlander in my blood through Thomas Cameron, who was born in Inverness, Scotland.
Thomas and Françoise’s son Jean-Baptiste Cameron was born out of wedlock in August 1762 and the situation created a family scandal. They were finally granted permission to marry eleven years later. Their son Jean-Baptiste married his second cousin, Rosalie Roy, another descendant of Noël Le Roy. Their daughter, Rosalie Cameron married our Eustache Roy; they knew one another through the close proximity of the land of Thomas Cameron with that of Nicolas Roy, Eustache’s father in Saint-Vallier.
Eustache and Rosalie followed her parents to Saint-Gervais, located south of Beaumont and then to Saint-Anselme, which was located in the seigneury of Lauzon and they finally settled in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, where at least four of their children married. They had moved around quite a lot between 1812 and 1821 and Eustache was working as either farmer or day laborer for other farmers. This wasn’t uncommon for the period, when a lot of farming families could no longer subsist on the dwindling amount of farming land and either moved away to find land or find work in the cities.
Eustache’s son David did just that by moving to Québec City in 1865. David was born in 1819 and married his wife Angelique Zoé Lacroix in Beauce in 1840. He worked for a time as a farmer but finding it hard to make a living to support their eleven children, he moved to the Saint-Jean neighborhood of the city where he worked as a day laborer. Industrialization was booming. His two sons David and François Philippe both found work in the shoemaking industry of Saint-Roch. David’s wife Zoé died in 1870. He never remarried and stayed in Saint-Jean ward, living right next-door to his son David. Of David’s other children, not much is known.
David, who was illiterate and his sons, both of whom were also illiterate, must have had a very difficult life, raising their families in a densely populated and poor working-class neighborhood, and taking low-paying jobs. The smog and density of the neighborhood could not have been healthy. Utilities had not yet been put into place, including sewage or water lines. Fires were common and they experienced at least two large ones, including one in October 1866 that destroyed much of Saint-Roch and leaving about 25,000 people homeless, many of whom were already desperately poor.
That same year, a month after the Great Fire of 1866, the eldest son, François Philippe Roy, my great-grandfather who was born in 1842, married Delvina Gagnon in the Saint-Roch church. Delvina’s family had moved to the city from Kamouraska. The couple settled in Saint-Roch and had nine children, several of whom also worked in the shoemaking industry. By this time, education was available to all, and so the children of François Philippe attended school. Several of the children died young, but five of the children survived and lived well into the twentieth century. The youngest daughter, Henedine, appears to have died in 1977.
The youngest son, Oria Henri, my grandfather who was born in 1883, followed his father in the shoemaking industry, and being educated, it’s my suspicion (as yet unfounded) that he was a shoe salesman, for his later profession was involved with sales. Oria Henri married Eva Castonguay in 1906 in the Saint-Roch church. Eva’s family was originally from Kamouraska. Soon after marrying, Oria Henri followed four of his siblings to Montreal, where he and his wife spent the rest of their lives. His first child was Louis Antonio Henri Roy, my father, who was born in 1910. He had at least two other sons who died in infancy. Eva died in 1946 and Henri sometime in the 1950s (date as yet unknown).
The next is part of the third book that I haven’t yet written fully, but I intend to include some of these details. I’m hoping to learn more about my father’s life between 1910 and 1965 as well as my grandfather’s life:
My grandfather wanted my father, who was known as Tony, to have life’s best opportunities and so sent him to attend Loyola College (now Loyola High School) when he was fourteen. Loyola is a Jesuit-run school for boys in Montreal, where Tony learned to speak English. His own father had also learned to speak English, which helped him in his profession as a traveling salesman and real estate agent. Tony was quite unhappy at Loyola College and his grades were not stellar. He didn’t even finish the last year.
Tony became a commercial artist and worked for a time for La Revue Moderne, a French-Canadian magazine. He married Florence Kirby at the age of 26, the daughter of British immigrants. During the war he was working in a paint factory outside the city of Montreal. In 1944 he applied for a visa to attend school in New York City at the Art Students League and to study with Fernand Léger and with Stuart Davis who taught Mark Rothko, among others.
This student-run art school associates itself with a modern point of view and my father, himself a modern artist, fit in well there. In any case, he decided to stay in New York and as a result, his Canadian wife sued for divorce based on desertion. Luckily, they’d had no children. I can understand why he chose to stay. It was an exciting time to be in New York. In the 1940s, and especially at the Art Students League, young student artists like Jackson Pollack and others of the avant-garde movement rose to prominence. Pop art, abstract art, and other innovative art movements came out of the school and New York City at this time.
His student visa allowed Tony to stay for a limited time in the United States and seeing no other way to remain, he married a friend, a lovely woman by the name of Susan Augusta Felzo, who was an American theater actress and daughter of Austrian-Hungarian parents. Several months later he fell in love with Jacqueline Dury, a French-Canadian like himself, who was also attending the Art Students League. They married and had three sons, Michel, Serge and Christian, born between 1947 and 1950. Some of the work Tony was doing for income involved doing artwork for the publishing industry, designing book covers and other kinds of graphic art.
By the early 1960s, the marriage of Tony and Jacqueline was falling apart and Tony moved into a studio in Greenwich Village. He met a Dutch woman named Anne de Jong, who was looking for a place to rent. After deciding to share his studio, they fell in love and had a son, Peter, born in 1965. When Tony received his divorce from Jacqui in 1966, he and Anne, my mother, married. They then moved to Grandview, NY in Rockland county. I was their second child (born 1967) and two years later they had my sister Jocelyn. But that marriage didn’t last very long, either.
Around 1973 or 1974, my parents separated and Tony moved into his upstate artist studio and gallery in Brewster, NY. He lived there until the mid-1980s. He made quite a lot of art but was frustrated by the lack of recognition in his talent. He had a few exhibits but none that propelled him into success. He was an inventor and very good at making things with his hands, but for all his talent, he found it difficult to gain notice. He was mostly known for making signs for businesses, which he hand-painted. The few paintings of his that remain in the family are modern pieces of art, based on ideas he had about using color and shapes to create optical illusions. They’re quite clever.
Anne, who was living on a very small secretary’s salary, was struggling to raise three children on her own and in 1979 decided to move back to The Netherlands to be near her parents and other relatives. Her three children went with her and so I was raised in The Netherlands after age eleven. My parents officially divorced in 1979 but stayed very good friends. In fact, Tony would refer to Anne as his wife, even after their divorce was final. I had a feeling they were even still in love with each other. After leaving Brewster, Tony moved back to Rockland county where my siblings and I had been raised before our move to Europe.
I returned to the States in late 1988 to attend college and for a time lived with my father in upstate NY, near New Paltz. Tony turned 80 in 1990 and his health was not good, due to diabetes and problems with sciatica. He was no longer making art and was likely suffering from depression. In 1999, my brother Serge rescued my father from his risky and limited existence in Rosendale, NY and moved him to a nursing home in Rhinebeck, where his health began to improve. He even began to do some artwork again. In 2001, on October 5th, my father died in Rhinebeck, at 91 years old.