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François-Marie Bissot de Vincennes: Navigating the Bridge Between Legend and Fact

François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes was my 6th great grandfather. Born at Montréal in 1700 to Jean-Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, and Marie-Marguerite Forestier. At age 18, he was an officer in the French Marines tasked with establishing an outpost on the Ouabash (Wabash) River near what is now Vincennes, Indiana. The city was named for him. Although Vincennes was technically part of his inherited title and not his actual name, he was usually referred to as "Vincennes" in documents.

François married Marie Dulongpré or Longpré (daughter of Etienne Philippe dit Dulongpré (a voyaguer) and Marie Marouenceous, an indiginous woman, probably from an Illinois tribe). François and Marie had two daughters. In 1736, Bissot lost his life, killed by the Chickasaw Indians after being captured in battle. His widow and daughters resided in Kaskaskia, Illinois Country after his death.

The following story appears on the Indiana Catholic History website:

“Tis malediction I bring to you blessed ones, but I must tell it now and quickly. We went to Fort Prudhomme with the Major, and Vincennes joined us with twenty French and 100 Miamis. We waited long for Bienville; he came not; we waited longer for Moncheval, he was not there. Our maize and hog meat ran short; our Indians were clamorous to begin. We marched alone to the attack. We marched a weary twenty leagues and came to the towns of the Chickasaws; they were awaiting us, and we were forced to attack. We pass two lines of fortification. We are successful but we pay the price. At the third line D’Artaguette falls severely wounded. The Miamis betray us; the Illinois and Missouris run like sheep. They who were so eager to fight are cowards when we need them. We try to drag Father Senat and Vincennes away but they will not come and leave their wounded friend. These, with fifteen others are taken by the fiends. I hang around to try and help them. Bienville attacks from the other side and is defeated with great loss. D’Artaguette,’ Vincennes, Senat and the others remain in the hands of the Chickasaws. Then comes a day of feasting and noise and in the afternoon they bring out the French. They tie them by fours to saplings and (lance the death dance, while I watch from a near by tree. They build piles of hickory poles in circles around them and set fire to the poles, and when the fires burn down they rush in toward them in crowds; they stick them with the hot poles; they discharge their guns loaded only with powder into their bodies. Ali, Jesus. I hear their hateful screams and above all the din the song of Senat as he chanted his requiem mass. My ears ring with it. My eyes burn with the sight until I cannot eat or sleep. And then there was silence and they are all dead-all! all!”

"Death of Vincennes" (source unknown)

Wow. That's quite a story. The Indiana Catholic History website sourced this as "Excerpts from Transactions of the Illinois Historical Society." Unfortunately, when I found the original publication from 1905, the monologue was not sourced. It was attributed to someone who was actually at the battle with the Chickasaw, Alphonse de la Buissonnière. Did the author of the historical society article embellish the facts to create an interesting article, or did he have a primary source document by Buissonnière which I cannot find? As much as I want to believe my ancestor heroically stayed with his injured soldiers, I need to find the truth.

Primary source documents hopefully exist regarding this event, which must have been reported, at the very least, to the French government. For now, though, I am stuck on a bridge between legend and fact.


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