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The de Bédée, the Beede in France

 

          The origins of Eli Beede, who is supposed to have arrived in America about 1713, have remained a mystery for many years.  Although family tradition claims that he was born on the island of Jersey, no one has been able to find a record of his birth there. Family tradition says that he was French, however, and there is now evidence to suggest that he was of the House of Bédée in Brittany, one of the oldest families in France, who, as early as the fifteenth century, were granted the official status of “ancienne noblesse.”
 

          There is reason to believe that Beede is a changed spelling of the original Bédée. Firstly, Beede, as an English name, does not exist (unless it arrived in England from abroad, having been modified just as it was in the Americas). An oration delivered at Wilton, New Hampshire, July 4, 1809, called “In Commemoration of American Independence”,  by Thomas Beedé, grandson of Eli, was published showing the author’s name with the final e accented (a French-seeming spelling that is in no way truly French, as the double e in that position is not used)—the Beede were used to reworking their strange name. Thomas Beede clearly knew that his name was a variation in spelling of the French original; his adding the accent to the final e gave him a bit of style that he perhaps enjoyed, but at the same time he was acknowledging, in this way, his ancestry. There are many cases in public records where the original French spelling, with or without accents, re-appears. To name one, Valentine Beede and his wife Charlotte Pierce of Lynn, Massachusetts registered, in the early 19th century, the birth of their son Frank Pierce Beede under the name Bedee­­–without accents however, reviving, for whatever reasons, the old spelling which had remained in the collective family memory.

 

          Another example is that the Beede who removed to Quebec, Canada from New Hampshire before 1820, namely Abner Hoag Beede (the great great grandson of Eli the Emigrant) and his descendants, spelled their surname as Bedee, without the accents.
[SEE http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~nvjack/beede/bedees_in_quebec.htm]

 

          “Les Bédée et l’ascendance maternelle de Chateaubriand”, by Maurice du Boishamon, published by Editions Cristel of Saint Malo, France, in association with the Cultural Institute of Brittany, is a document that helps prove the Beede/ Bédée link, while supplying invaluable family history. Currently available as a 2002 reprint of the original edition of 1936, it can be purchased through Amazon.fr.
 

          “Les Bédée et l’ascendance maternelle de Chateaubriand” was published, primarily, as a research document regarding the family history of Francois-René de Chateaubriand, a Beede cousin. In the way of reminder, Chateaubriand was the celebrated 18th century author of “Memoirs from Beyond the Grave,” and one of the most important diplomatic and literary figures of his day.
 

          The book is comprised of an introduction about the preparation of this text and about Chateaubriand, followed by a lengthy note which begins: “This genealogy makes no claim to be complete; it requires extensive research still, but what it has set out to do is to simply provide an idea of the importance of ‘la maison de Bédée.’” The document follows the family’s various branches: the Bouetardaye, the Boibras, the Lescouet, the du Moulin-Tison, the Villeginglin, and the Kernois.
 

          Chapter I, entitled “Geneaology of the House of Bédée,” begins by stating that the name Bédée might have come from the Parish of de Bédée in the bishopric of Saint-Malo (35 miles from Jersey on the Brittany coast). Some refute this premise, apparently, but Bédée family tradition suggest otherwise. A document of 1794 affirms that the proof of the above, first mentioned theory, can be found in a pre-revolutionary document in the archives of Vetré (a town in Brittany), where proof can also be found that the house of Bédée is one of the oldest families of the province. In any event, one knows for certain that the Bédée were already established by 1424 in the bishopric of Saint-Brieuc and had been there since time immemorial. The house of Bédée appeared in the revision of the order of nobles of 1424, and again in 1668, and was conferred as “ancienne noblesse,” acknowledging it as one of the oldest aristocratic families of France. The papers authenticating their nobility can be found at the Abbayes de Remiremont and in other locations and in the family archives of the Chateaubriand.
 

          What follows is a list of all the various noble titles held by the family, too numerous to list here, but they were counts, marquis, barons and sires, etc.
 

          The first notable de Bédée was Guillaume, a squire, who fought in Avranche in 1380 against the English (presumably in the Channel Islands). However, the founder of the family, as it is now known, was Jean de Bédée, of Saint-Brieuc (or Jean I), 1370 -1424.
 

          His son was Jean II, who held the title of “seigneur de Malaunay.” He had two children, Robert, alias Jean, and Bertrand. Here the text takes a genealogical form naming many of the descendants of these people, too numerous to transcribe here.
 

          There are many references to Jersey in the text, which establish the family link to the island. Jersey was a habitual refuge for the de Bédée in times of trouble, but it was also a travel destination for many of them for various reasons, among which might have been that there were family members already settled there. The children of Hilaire, who was born in 1667, and descended from Jean, had a son of an unknown name who immigrated to Jersey in the mid-eighteenth century. A daughter, Jeanne-Francoise-Hyacinthe died in Jersey in 1793 and is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Hélier. The sixth son of Claude-Charles, called Toussaint-Francois-Claude-Charles emigrated to Jersey, etc. There are many de Bédée listed here who also emigrated, during the revolution, facing confiscation of their lands, persecution and even death, but it could be suggested that the Huguenot branch of the family also emigrated there in the 17th century.
 

          This book, however, is primarily concerned with the grand era of the de Bédée, the 18th century, after Eli had already left for America. There are many references to various family members who were Huguenot, and as we know, many Huguenots fled France in 1668 after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes. Some of the de Bédée might have been among these. One could, in fact, infer that the reason Eli is called “the Emigrant” is not because he fled to Jersey for America, but because he and his parents had fled France for Jersey. The count de Bédée, the uncle of Chateaubriand, lived in Jersey, and he was called “l’emigré.”
 

          The second chapter, “l’ascendance maternelle de Chateaubriand,” talks about the background of the celebrated author’s mother, Appoline be Bédée. It is stated that her ancestors were for the most part from Brittany, but there was also Norman blood in her family, Flemish, Milanese, and even Angevin (referring to the Plantagenet house that reigned in England from 1154 to 1485). Her family line follows, taking things up from the 16th century, and one assumes that those listed were all descended from Jean I. There are many aristocratic Huguenots among them, and in 1611, some members of the de Bédée family participated in an important conference of the Huguenots as representatives of Brittany.
 

          An appendix follows, offering additional information about the family and a list of its illustrious members, who include Jean II, king of France, and Henry I of England (these coming in through maternal lines). The coat of arms (Blazon) featuring three deer heads with ten point antlers is verified as that of the de Bédée. There are apparently very few de Bédée left in France.
 

          There is no Eli listed among the early de Bédée, but there is an Eloi (not to suggest that this is Eli Beede)–often names were repeatedly reused; could he have removed the o to simplify matters in America? The French spelling of Eli, in any case, is Elie. Perhaps he simply removed the e.
 

          Chateau de Monchoix was the family home of the de Bédée, and it still exists and houses the archives, curated by the son of Maurice du Boishamon, current owner of the estate [2007].

 


          This house was built in the 18th century on land which had been in the family for several hundred years.  This was the home of the Count de Bédée, who lived there in the 2nd half of the  19th century until he immigrated to Jersey during the Revolution.  The estate was originally called Mettrie-Martin, and a modest house once stood there until it burned down in the mid 18th century.  The estate is located about 10 miles from the Brittany coast and can be found at Rue de Chateaubriand, 22140 Pluduno, France.
 

          Dr. Joshua William Beede, in his 1890 poem about Eli Beede, calls the Beede progenitor “this son of sires,” and later states that he was “of blood the bluest blue.” Perhaps there is much that the poet knew; in time, one can hope, we’ll know far more.

 

Paul Gervais [BEEDE]

Lucca, Italy

February 2007

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Copyright © 2007 by Jack W. Ralph -- All Rights Reserved -- Last Update: Sunday July 20, 2008