Jean Baptiste Choisser

of Kaskaskia and Gallatin County (1784-1860)

by Aubrey Starke


If the family of Jean and Françoise Amable Beurnonville Choisser moved to the Illinois Country, or if the two sons, Jean Baptiste and Jean made the journey without other relatives, we do not know. The family was in Montreal in 1761, when the last child was born, and Jean Baptiste was six years old. And then, abruptly, in 1779, we encounter the name of Jean Choissêre in the register of the church of Kaskaskia, in the Illinois Country, serving as a witness and also godfather at the baptism of Genevieve, daughter of Jean Louis and Genevieve, legally married slaves belonging to Le Sieur Charleville. Charleville, head since the death of his father the year before, of one of the most important families of Kaskaskia, had married Françoise Brazeau, who may have been a relative of Jean Choissêre, whose grandmother had been a Brazeau.

Jean Choisser 14 was only nineteen at this time, unless for Jean Choisser we should read the name of his brother Jean Baptiste Choisser, who would have been twenty-four. But the probabilities are that it was the younger brother who had come to Kaskaskia, not to be followed until later by the older brother. Probably only recently arrived at Kaskaskia in 1779, Jean Choisser was apparently accepted by members of the local gentry and other important people of the village as one with themselves. Though it was for a little slave that he served as godfather, in doing so Jean Choisser was assuming no humble role, but was fulfilling a recognized duty of the gentry. Louise Gibault, the wife of Joseph Migneau, who served as godmother, was the sister of Father Gibault, the officiating priest, whose name is preeminent in the annals of eighteenth century Illinois. It was Gibault who had answered Father Meurin's call for helpers in a deserted vineyard in 1768, who had been made vicar-general of the Illinois in 1769, and who had been George Rogers Clark's emissary to Vincennes only the year before the baptism of the little slave, and had opened that French settlement on the Wabash to American influence.

On January 4, 1780, Jean Choisser was one of six witnesses at another baptism performed by Father Gibault, the baptism of Jacques Lasource, born October 29 of the preceding year, son of the "ancien Marguiller et presentement magistrat de la cour des Kaskaskias, et de Dame Heleine St. Genevieve Beuvais, son epouse." A former marguiller (warden) of the church, and a dignitary of the court, whose wife was a member of the most prominent family of Kaskaskia, and of Ste. Genevieve, would surely have chosen with care the men invited to witness the baptism of his son and to sign the important, and even then ancient (it dates from 1692) Register of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame des Cascasquias. Lasource is an important figure whose name is encountered frequently in the annals of the court Colonel Clark tried to establish at Kaskaskia.

It was not Jean Choisser however but Jean Baptiste Choisser whose name was recorded as that of witness and godfather at the baptism of a son born January 15, 1781, to Le Sieur Antoine Morin and Pelagie Pelletier Antaya, his wife, and named Jean Baptiste, possibly for the godfather. The record proves that the older brother of Jean Choisser had appeared by this time in Kaskaskia, and had been accepted by the local gentry of that harassed community on the same terms Jean Choisser had. Antoine Morin, who was an important man in the village, his name frequently encountered in the published records of Kaskaskia, had been married May 16, 1768, to Therese Lachapelle. Pelagie Pelletier Antaya must therefore have been a second wife. She was of a family established in Canada before 1663 when the marriage of an ancestor with an Indian added the Indian patronymic Antaya to the family name. The family was in Cahokia as early as 1751, and was prominent in Kaskaskia. Choisser signed the register at the baptism of Pelagie Antaya's son in a clear, bold hand, but the godmother, Pelagie Doza, a cousin of the mother, asserted that she did not know how to sign, and put her mark. The officiating priest was again the able and venerable "P. Gibault."

The Choisser name, found hitherto only in the ecclesiastical records of the Illinois, begins to appear in the civil records, some of which have been published in the Collections of the Illinois Historical Society. On May 4, 1781, Jean Choisser was one of thirty-six inhabitants of Kaskaskia, including the older Charleville, Jean Baptiste Beauvais, Louis Brazeau, and other men and women of importance, who had welcomed Colonel Clark "with all possible zeal" and assisted him with provisions, but who felt justified now in addressing a "petition to the Governor of Virginia", asking him for protection against Colonel John Montgomery, and complaining against the wrong doings of Colonel John Rogers and John Dodge, and those Colonel Clark had left in charge of the French Villages 15. On May 5, Jean Choisser was one of twenty-eight inhabitants of Kaskaskia - including Louis Brazeau and Jean Baptiste Beauvais - who signed a contract with Richard M'Carty and Pierre Prevost to "carry the just complaints of the ... inhabitants before ... the Governor ... of Virginia", a petition that unfortunately never reached Governor Thomas Jefferson at Richmond 16.

Jean's signature on petition

Jean Baptiste Choisser was careful, in other records, to sign his full name, and he wrote with a clear, trained hand that indicated the possession of intelligence, education, and determination. There is no reason for supposing that Jean Choisser, who signed these petitions, was Jean Baptiste Choisser, and not the younger brother. On September 25, 1783, Jean Choisser received a grant for a tract of land, three arpents wide on the Kaskaskia River, and forty arpents deep 17. Jean Choisser, an inhabitant of Kaskaskia, and the possessor of a desirable tract of land on the east bank of the Kaskaskia River, we may identify as a land owner and a farmer. Jean Baptiste Choisser, his older brother, was, as we shall see later, a merchant, and not always a resident of the Illinois.

Jean Baptiste Choisser was in the upper Mississippi Valley in 1781, however, for in that year, age twenty-six, he was married to a young girl, ten years his junior. But Marianne La Buxiere at sixteen was, by standards of her times, no child; and she was the daughter of a man of considerable distinction, Joseph La Buxiere, the notary, a figure of importance in the history of both Illinois and Missouri. Jean Baptiste Choisser by his marriage to her only six months after his first recorded appearance in the Illinois improved surely his own prospects for advancement, for his father-in-law was a man of influence under four regimes; and by his marriage he proved his own eligibility as a husband, - his sobriety, his integrity, his ability. It is hardly likely that Joseph La Buxiere would have permitted his daughter to marry a man of twenty-six who had not already made a place for himself, even in their circumscribed world.

The marriage took place in the church, not yet a cathedral, of St. Louis of France, in the Spanish-French village to which Joseph La Buxiere had retreated, finally, before the approach of the British. It took place on July 8, 1781. [The French says it was on the 9th. - ed.] The record from the Register of the Church reads:

L'an mil sept cents quatre vingt un le neuf du mois de juillet, après avoir publié trois banes, trois dimanches consecutifs entre Jean B. Choiser, fils légitime de Jean Choiser et d'Amable Bournonville, ses père et mère, de la ville de Montréal, eveché de Québec d'une part et de Marianne Labussiere, fille légitime de Joseph Labussière au lieu notaire des Illinois; et d'Anne Catherine Vivarenne, ses père et mère d'autre part, et n'avant trouvé aucun empêchement a l'effet du dit mariage, je prêtre signé miss. apôt. curé de St. Louis aux Illinois, après avoir recu leur consentement mutuel; seurai ? donné ensuite la Bénediction nuptiale; en présence des tenires ? cy dessous signés - savoir ? Eugêne Pourrée, Antoine Roussel, Joseph Brazeau, Joseph Labussière.


Pourèe       Brazeau      Labuxière

marque    +   d'Antoine Roussel

P. Bernard

[Click on above image for 299k full size copy]

Married, Jean Baptiste Choisser probably continued to live at Kaskaskia, and to make business trips to Montreal. Mme. Choisser might well have remained in St. Louis with her parents, during her husband's extended absences. Her brother-in-law Jean Choisser remained, of course, in Kaskaskia. He was one of twenty-two inhabitants of that village who addressed a "Memorial of the Principal Inhabitants of Illinois to the Honorable Commissioners of Virginia" 18 about March, 1783. Like the other memorial which Jean Choisser has signed, this memorial was a plea for relief from the abuse and tyranny of those Colonel Clark had left in authority, but it was also a violent attack on Winston. It was signed by only a few of the French, but some of these, including Jean Baptiste Beauvais, Louis Brazeau, and Joseph Migneau were, as Professor Alvord, the editor of the Kaskaskia Records, remarked, "among the most prominent." 19

The absence of the name of Jean Baptiste Choisser from the published Kaskaskia records is explained of course by the fact that he, a merchant, was never accepted as a "inhabitan des Illinois," and probably never owned land there. There is, in the B. or Haldimand Series of the Public Archives of Canada, at Ottawa, a record dated May 21, 1783, of the request of Baptiste Choisier, of Illinois, addressed to Commandant St. Léger, for a passport to rejoin his family in the Illinois 20. "The Illinois", here as elsewhere, may be an inclusive term, embracing St. Louis as well as Kaskaskia.

Jean Baptiste Choisser's name does appear in a civil record of the Illinois Country, and in this same year, 1783. This record is found in a manuscript volume in the office of the Circuit Clerk of Randolph County, at Chester, Illinois. The volume, to which has been given the title "Translations of French Records" was prepared at the direction of the Illinois legislature of 1855. The records were apparently chosen haphazardly, and were translated without system; where the originals now are, no one seems to know. A "Donation", "Done and executed" at Kaskaskia, October 10, 1783, records that Jean Choiser, "son of age" (he would have been twenty-three at the time) sells to "Mr. Baptiste Choiser, his brother, merchant, residing in Canada, here present ... all my share in the estate of my defunct mother to whatever amount it may ascend ... and further all my claims on what I may expect after the death of my father or what could fall to me by inheritance.... This present sale, cession and conveyance, is thus made for the sum of 4,000 livres in money, which said tender has declared to have received before hand, is satisfied and quits said acquirer." The "Donation" was witnessed by Louis Brazeau - at the time still one of the justices of the court at Kaskaskia - and Joseph Payé. The latter name probably represents the copyist's spelling of the patronymic of Louis Payet, the missionary priest. The notary was the well known Pierre Langlois. Both brothers signed the "Donation", Jean Choiser and Jean Baptiste Choisser. (Thus the names are spelled by the translator.)

    14.  The spelling is Choissêre throughout the ecclesiastical records, but for the sake of simplicity the American form, currently in use by his descendants, will be used throughout this article, except to indicate a variant spelling in a particular record.
    15.  The petition is published in the Kaskaskia Records 1778-1790. Vol. V of the Collections of the Illinois Historical Society (Springfield, 1909), pp. 232-240. The signatures are reproduced in facsimile opposite page 239. The clear, bold signature of Jean Choisser (apparently Choissêre here, as in the ecclesiastical records, but not so copied) is the fifth from the top, in the center column. For some strange reason the signatures in the printed text do not appear in the order of the original document. It is clear from the facsimile that Choisser, instead of being one of the last to sign, must have been among the first.
    16.  The spelling of Choisser's name as "Jean Choiseul" (op. cit., 243) is surely a copyist's error. I have not seen the original document, but the name Choiseul is not otherwise found in the printed records of Kaskaskia; moreover in the index to the Kaskaskia Records the identity of the names Choisser and Choiseul is suggested. Since Choisser's signature is always legible in the ecclesiastical records, and since the copyist was not too careful about transcribing the signatures on the petition of May 4, as indicated in Note 15, I am inclined to believe the copyist at fault here.
    17.  C.I.H.S. V, 351. See also American state papers, Public Lands, Vol. II. On December 31, 1809, the claim of one P. D Robert to this land was not allowed.
    18.  C.I.H.S. V, page 344. In the French text the surname is spelled "Choiser" but it is "Choisser" in the English text, as printed.
    19.  op. cit., p. 344, n. 2.
    20.  Cited by Monsieur Francis J. Audet. See note #62.

Table of Contents

Preface - An introduction by Bill Choisser
Introduction - Aubrey Starke's introduction to his work
Part I - A brief look backward
Part II - The ancestors in Montreal
Part III - The brothers Jean and Jean Baptiste Choisser
Part IV - Marianne La Buxiere and her ancestors
Part V - John Choisser and his family

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