Calhoun County

French Pioneer Settlers of Calhoun County

Happy Birthday Calhoun 1825 – 1975

By Elois G. Simon

Perhaps it’s because they were here first and have been around so long. . . . but the French who were the pioneer settlers of Calhoun County have received only scant mention in the various accounts that have been written concerning early Calhoun. They have more or less been lumped off with the Indians as people with unpronounceable names, large families and a tendency to hang on to the land cleared by their ancestors. Whatever the reason we have decided that now is the time to let Calhoun and all of our readers know about the “French Connection”.

The following information comes from our cousin, Attorney Anton J. Pregaldin of St. Louis, who has devoted much of his lifetime compiling the history of the French families. He is presently engaged in writing a history of the French families of St. Louis. His research has taken him to France, Belgium and Switzerland, and of course Canada. The following in his words, supplemented by us, is an account of:

“The DeGerlia Family –from Belgium to Canada—to Missouri—to Calhoun County.

The settlement of Calhoun County began soon after 1800, no doubt because it was so easily accessible, both by the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers. Some of the earliest settlers were French families from St. Louis, Florissant and St. Charles, Missouri, and among these were the DeGerlias, who were of French Canadian origin. Several members of this family came to the St. Louis area at different times in the late 18th century. Although we do no know specifically why the DeGerlias came here, we can assume that Antoine DeGerlia (our great-great-great-great-grandfather) his brother Paul, sister Marie Anne, and their two cousins, Charles and Eloi had no inviting prospects in Canada and came to this remote region in the hope of finding greater opportunities. Antoine DeGerlia was the great-grandson of Jean Jacques DeGerlias, born about 1643; died 1722; a native of Liege, Belgium and the younger son of a landowner there, Ferdinand DeGerlias, Seigneur des Hameteaux.

Jean Jacques DeGerlia, Sieur de-St. Amant, came to Canada in 1665 as a soldier of the Company de La Foville, a regiment of Carignan Sallieres. Subsequently the regiment disbanded in Canada, and many of its members married French Canadian girls and stayed in North America. Antoine found a wife in Jeanne Trudel, the Canadian-born daughter of a French father and a Belgian mother. They received a land grant at Riviere du Loup, near Trois Rivieres, where they spent the rest of their lives. (In the 19th century the town was renamed Louiseville, in honor of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Louise, whose husband was Govenor-General of Canada.) All DeGerlias, DeSherlias, living today are descended from the youngest child of this couple, who was the only one of their three sons to continue the name.

The wedding of Antoine and Jeanne Trudel took place in the parish of the Guardian Angel near Quebec. His bride was the daughter of Jean and Margurite Thomas Trudel. The bridegroom’s mother bore the maiden name of Dorothee Cona.

According to custom the practical French DeGerlias and Trudels made a marriage contract, in order to determine rights of inheritance, the bride’s dowry and similar property questions. This contract still exists in the Judicial Archives of Quebec, and from it we learn that the Trudels were generous to their eldest child. They promised to provide furniture of the value of 5,000 livres at the father’s death off the top of his estate.

Late in 1668 they young couple left the bride’s parental home to establish their own home near Louiseville. According to the bride’s receipt notes, her dowry consisted of: 2 cows, 2 calves, one of which was used to pay for their transportation by boat to Louiseville, 3 pigs, one large and two small, 24 minots of wheat which the Jesuits had given Antoine at Trois Rivieres and which the Trudels had brought back to Quebec for him.

1 mattress of coarse cloth, 1 quilt, 1 old quilt, 1 pair of sheets, 2 pewter dishes, 2 plates and a half dozen spoons, 2 saddle bags, 1 frying pan, 1 gridiron, an axe and a hoe, a hook, a trunk, table linen, tablecloths, embroidered napkins and ordinary napkins, a churn and a half dozen buckets.

2 cooking pots, one the gift of Monsieur Mores, a suit of clothes purchased for 35 livres from Corporal LaMarche, 2 fine shirts, a camisole, a pair of mittens, a pair of stockings, 2 pairs of French shoes, a set of underwear of fine cloth, some ribbon, a gold ring from the bride’s mother.

The couple’s first child was born in 1673, six years after the marriage. There were ten children in all, that we know of, of whom four died as children. The youngest of all, Jean Francois DeGerlias was born in 1699, 32 years after his parents’ marriage, and was the only one of their three sons to carry on the DeGerlias name, but he did so very adequately, with six daughters and eight sons, one of whom, Charles, was the father of Antoine DeGerlias, Sr., of Hardin. An older son, Jean Jacques DeGerlias, Antoine, who was born apparently in the 1680’s or early 1690’s is the first Antoine DeGerlia, but there has been one in each generation from that time until the death of Anton DeGerlia of Hardin in 1956 finally broke the chain.

Despite the harsh life they must have lived on the Canadian frontier, Jean Jacques DeGerlias and Jeanne Trudel DeGerlias were stalwart people indeed, both living unusually long lives for that period. He died December 1722 at the age of 79, his wife died 21 years later in December 1743 at the age of 87.

Antoine DeGerlia, who was born in Canada in 1769 and who died in Calhoun County in 1850, was living in Florissant, Mo., in the early 1790’s. In 1795 he married Therese Gagne in Florissant. She died the following year, after giving him a daughter, Therese, who married Michael Fortin in 1815, and was the ancestor of a member of South Calhoun people, including the late, Mrs. Sarah Arnold, the Navarre family, the Desrosiers family, and one branch of the Richeys.

In 1797, Antoine DeGerlia married a second wife at Florissant. She was Therese Pelletier, born of French Canadian parents at Vincennes, Ind., (In 1828, Antoine DeGerlia married a third wife, in Calhoun County, Angelique Calve (Calvey). She was apparently a widow with grown children. Antoine and his second wife Therese Pelletier apparently stayed around Florissant for the first years of their marriage, and then settled in Calhoun County. They had a total of 9 children, who grew up, plus at least one and probably more who died in childhood. Many descendents of this couple still live in Calhoun County, in Jersey County, in the Alton area and in St. Louis.

The children who grew up were: 1- (Celeste) (Mrs. Andre St. Germain) (b.1798; d.?) 2. - Victoire (Mrs. Pierre Lemay, later Mrs. Thomas Jourdan) (b. 1799; d. ?) 3. – Antoine.. (our great grandfather) who married Eugenie Lamar, the mother of his children and in later life after her death, Sophie Roussel; 4. – Albert (b. 1804; d. ?) who married three times. His wives were: Sophia St. Germain, Agnes Calve and Mrs. Rachel (Johnson) Carpentier (Carpunkey), 5. – Angelique (1807-1840) (Mrs. Ciprien (also Ziprien) Lamar, later Mrs. Simon Sel) 6. – Joseph (b. 1810; d. ?) (Kidnapped by Indians, more about him later) 7. – Cecile (b. 1813; d. 188?) (Mrs. Peter Calve) 8. – Charles (b. 1814; d. ?) who married first Mary Peeler, then Rhoda Dewey, and finally Elizabeth Lewis; and 9. – Helene (b. 1818; d. 1850-60) (Mrs. Valentina Senatz). Most of these people left descendents in Calhoun County.

Aunty “Betsy” Victoire Jourdain seems to have been a formidable woman and somewhat ahead of her time as a “women’s libber.” According to family tradition she went to the court house to get a license to marry the considerably younger Thomas Jourdain and was highly incensed when the clerk refused to sell her one, expressing willingness however, to sell Tom Jourdain a license to marry her.

Her brother, Joseph DeGerlia, was likewise ahead of his time, something of a drop-out. Various versions of the story exist. The more popular one that he was kidnapped by Indians as a child; the other that he left home as a teenager because of family objection to his interest in marriage with a step-sister, who later became the bride of his brother, Albert. Joe went West where he was captured by Indians and eventually adopted into the tribe. After about 24 years he returned to Calhoun briefly, but then took off again, marrying Louisa Ray in Kansas City in 1855 and settling in Kansas. During the Civil War he was hanged and very nearly killed by Quantrill’s raiders, who were trying, unsuccessfully to make him turn over the proceeds from the sale of a farm.

Antoine DeGerlia, Jr., was one the first settlers of Hardin. He came to Calhoun with his father Antoine DeGerlia Sr., in the very early 1800’s. They were in the Deer Plain area very early. Almost as early as the first reported, first permanent settler O’Neal, the hermit also, despite his Irish sounding name, a Frenchman. The DeGerlias had for the most part, moved out the Deer Plain area to the French Hollow community North of Hardin as early as 1808. O’Neal, according to written accounts arrived and settled near the present site of the Golden Eagle ferry in 1801.

Antoine and his first wife, Eugenie Lamar are buried in the old French Cemetery near the Hardin bridge. The sills from their former home in French Hollow are incorporated in the house inhabited for many years by their grandson, and our father, the late John A. Godar. The original house, a palatial two story building provided shelter for all who needed it. It was here that Jesuits said the first Mass to be celebrated in Calhoun County. Marriages were performed and children were baptized on the rare occasions when one or more of the Jesuit fathers would stop for a day or so.

One of the early settlers was Ziprien Lamar who died as a young man in 1831, leaving his widow Angelique, 2 daughters, (the daughters became Eleonore Calve and Pelaqie Tavernier) and a son, Ziprien. Angelique was the sister of Antoine DeGerlia and her husband Ziprien was the brother of Antoine’s wife, Eugenie. Following the death of his father, the young Ziprien, father of Calhoun Herald Editor, Charles Lamar was brought up by Antoine and Eugenie.

Like his father, Antoine, Jr., speculated very much in real estate in St. Louis, Peoria and Calhoun. He apparently ran a store and trading post and supplied wood for the packet boats from timber cleared from the land. He acquired land in French Hollow and at one time owned south as far as the site of the old Hardin High School, including the land on which Calhoun High School now stands. In the 1850 federal census it is recorded that he ???? real worth $15,000, by far the largest amount reported by any resident of Calhoun at that time. Land in the French Hollow neighborhood was acquired gradually. Much of it is still owned by direct descendents of Antoine DeGerlia. Land grants signed by President James K. Polk dated 1844, 1847, and 1848, account for part of the land. In 1972 Centennial farm awards were made to these descendants of Antoine and Eugeine DeGerlia, Stephen Godar, Leslie Brenden, Ralph Godar, Peter W. Simon and myself – (Elois G. Simon). Antoine’s children who lived to adulthood were: Theodore and Frederick DeGerlia, Marie Godar and Judith Breden. . . who left numerous descendents in the Hardin area. Ten other children died young.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Dear Reader, we do not wish to burden you with the story of one family. On the other hand you must admit it rounds out the History of Calhoun and is a portion of that History until now left blank. As far as we are concerned it serves a two-fold purpose: That of documenting the story of the first settlers of Calhoun County while providing information and data for all the many relatives we’ve been promising it to year after year.

The following is more specific information concerning the origins of all, or most of the French families of Calhoun County.

NOTE: For researchers and those developing Family Trees, Information concerning the DeGerlia family is authentic and may be found in the following sources: P.E. Trudel, “Genealogic de la Famille Trudel” (Montreal; 1955) Marcel Trudel, “La Population du Canada en 1663 (Montreal: 1973). Germain Lesage, “Histore de Louiseville, 1665-1960 (Louiseville: 1961) Mme. L.J. Doucet, “Genealogic de Gerlaise – Desjarlais” la Memoires de la Societe Genealogique Canadienne – Francaise,” Vol. VII, No.2 (April 1956), Benjamin Sulte, “Melanges Historiques, “Vol. 10 (Montreal: 1922) (An essay prepared in 1888 and entitled “La Riviere du Loup en haut” is one of several in the book. Elois G. Simon.

Transcribed 03 Oct 2006 by Rhonda “Pressey” Miller
Source: The Calhoun Herald, page 16

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