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Founders in my Family: Hébert, Vincennes, Cowan, Elmore, & Thompson

When you research your family, it's always great to find someone who was "first," who was a founder. Not only do you get to feel a bit proud descending from someone who was important in some way, but you also may find a treasure trove of documents about your ancestor.

Look beyond the basic idea of "founder" and you will find, for example, that it took so many more people than the "Founding Fathers" to create our country. Today I thought I would highlight a few of the founders in my family tree.

Louis Hébert, my 10th great grandfather, is generally considered the first European colonist to farm in Canada. He was born around 1575 at 129 de la rue Saint-Honoré in Paris to Nicolas Hébert and Jacqueline Pajot. The building is still there, very near the Louvre. Like his father, he was an apothecary. He married Marie Rollet in Paris, and they had three children: Guillemette (my 9th great grandmother), Guillaume, and Anne. Louis travelled to Acadia at least twice before moving his family to the New World in 1617. They settled and farmed where Séminaire De Québec now sits.

There is a monument to this "founding" family in Québec. It's hard to get a good photograph of the entire thing, but I like how it honors the whole family because, of course, Louis did not come alone.

This is the statue of Louis, on the top of the monument:
He is depicted as a farmer, but he was really so much more, which is a subject for another post. His wife, Marie, is shown on the monument with their children:
On the other side of the monument is Guillaume Couillard, the husband of Guillemette Hébert. He is my 9th great grandfather:
Guillaume Couillard, like his father-in-law, was a farmer, but he did many other things in service to the colony. In 1654, he was given noble rank by Louis XIV, King of France (the Sun King). According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, "Couillard's coat of arms was azure," with a dove with its wings outstretched and an olive branch in its beak, with the words “Dieu aide au premier colon” which means "God helps the first colonist". Guillaume and Guillemette had 10 children and lots of descendants.

Another founding ancestor was my 6th great grandfather, François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes. He was a military man, and at the age of about 17, he left Montréal, where he was born, to join his father at Kekionga, a village of the Miami People in what is now Indiana. In 1733, he married Marie Dulongpré or Longpré, a Métis (European and Indigenous) woman living in Kaskaskia in the "Pays des Ilinois" or the Illinois Country. They had two daughters.

Vincennes, as he was called, was burned at the stake in 1736 by the Chickasaw during the Chickasaw Wars. The city of Vincennes, Indiana was named for him.

Photo from the Visit Indiana website.

There are plenty of other ways to be a founder. My 5th great grandfather, Capt. Thomas Cowan, was not one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, but he did fight and lead troops in several battles of the American Revolution. He lived in Rowan County, North Carolina in a settlement of people with Scottish or Scots-Irish heritage. His neighbor and father-in-law, Henry Barkley, my 6th great grandfather, had three sons who served with Cowan and fought against the British. Without people like my ancestors, we would have no "Founding Fathers."

This is the home of Thomas Cowan, called "Woodgrove". Some documents say his son built it, but his son actually lived a short distance away in Salisbury. I believe it was the home of Thomas and his family, and the land definitely belonged to Thomas.

James L. Thompson, the grandson of Thomas Cowan and my 3rd great grandfather, moved his family from North Carolina to Tennessee. In 1861, he donated part of his land to the Obion Chapel Methodist Church in Obion County, Tennessee (very near southeast Missouri). Killed by bushwhackers in 1864, he is buried in that church cemetery, but his land donation was instrumental in the success of the church.

Another ancestor, Anthony Jacob Henckel, immigrated from Germany in 1717 (invited by William Penn if you believe Wikipedia), and founded the first Lutheran church in North America in what is now part of Philadelphia. He is buried in the cemetery of this church, St. Michael's Lutheran Church, which closed in 2016. Wikipedia also says Benjamin Franklin, an actual Founding Father, donated 5 shillings to have the church built. I really hope that's true!

Photo from Library Company of Philadelphia Digital Collections

Quite a few of my other ancestors were among the original settlers of various towns including Montreal, Petersburg (IL), and especially St. Louis (MO), where I now live. I'm sure I'll come across more of these as time goes on. The most important thing I've discovered is how connected I am to this country, and how far back those connections go. I feel a sense of ownership. This is my place, my home, because the people who came before me provided that foundation. My biggest genealogy wish is that more people would learn about their families so they can feel the connections too.


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