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Chapter 2: Dr. Guignon




The story of my French ancestry is difficult to tell since it encompasses many branches, all starting in France but passing through such New World ports of call as Quebec, Louisiana, Saint Domingue and Philadelphia. By concentrating on the patronym "Guignon" (my mother's family name) helps narrow the field, but also offers a chance to comment on other French families as they contribute to the "Tree."


The sources of my research are many. First there are family sources, such as a memoir of Cousin Maude Guignon done in the 1960s, but reflecting her recollections from the 1880s. Cousin Joan Collins did a college paper in the 1940s which reflected then living relatives going well back into the 19th Century. My own research in the archives of many locations, especially Ste. Genevieve and Fredericktown, Missouri are used. Beyond those sources, I found much material through such professional institutions such as the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis and others. The internet has contributed lately to a much more developed genealogical tree, thanks especially to my son-in-law, Keith Kalemba of Oak Park, Illinois.


Sources aside, the story of the Guignons is compelling in its context and family drama. The Guignons in some ways are defined by wars: the French Revolution to begin with; then moving on to the Haitian Revolution; a near miss in the War of 1812; and finally the American Civil War. Each of these impinged on the Guignons, some more than others, but all to a degree. But ironically, the Guignons were not, as far as I know, combatants. In a way, the founding father, Dr. Guignon, represented the most central role in a military campaign as an army doctor, but also as a noncombatant, humanitarian figure. Of course many other macro-social factors, especially economics, impacted the progress of the Guignons through the years. But war seems to have provided some clear-cut markings for them.


My purpose is not to tell the whole story down to this very day. Rather, I propose to start the story in Bordeaux in the eighteenth century and end it at the beginning of the twentieth. Already I have the story of the Guignon's time in Haiti (click here), so I will skim over that portion more quickly. Otherwise, I hope to give as many confirmed details of the Guignons as I possess, and offering some conjecturesÑreasonable, to be sureÑon how I can connect the dots between known facts.



Bordeaux and the Rise of the Guignons


File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 4.0

Map of Bordeaux in 1789


All of my family sources place the Guignons as originating in Bordeaux, France, the great southern port on the Atlantic seaboard. I was able to confirm that Guignons had been documented in that city as early as 1532. Two things about the Guignon family we do know from records is that they were raised to the bourgeois status in 1637 and that there were Guignon mercantile traders (negocian) active in Bordeaux as Dr. Guignon left the city as a part of a military expedition to St. Domingue about 1801. This latter becomes significant when Simon Guignon is born in Philadelphia five years later. What I was not able to do was site a source for Louis Joseph Guignon in the records of Bordeaux. The best I could find in 1980 was a very probable baptismal date for Dr. Guignon's wife, Marie Adelaide Guignaire (variant spellings include, Guigue, Guigui, Guigne) July 19, 1776 at Ste. Croix parish. This matches what we know of Marie Adelaide from later documents. Making Dr. Guignon older suggests that he was born no later than about 1765 or so since he was trained as a surgeon (it could take up to ten years) and married before he left Bordeaux.


File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 4.0

Marie Adelaide Guigne 1776-1839


The French Revolution began in 1789 as Louis Guignon entered adulthood and Marie Adelaide became a teenagerÑthough that title wasn't used. Its impact on all of France was profound, no doubt, but Paris and Bordeaux were clearly flash points-- Bordeaux more so, I believe, since the split between revolutionary and conservative forces was profound. The Terror killed off many in Paris, but the numbers in Bordeaux in the 1790s were extremely high for its population. In any event, Louis Guignon was soon swept up in the ferment for he became part of the military as a surgeon.


At some point before say 1796, Dr. Guignon married Marie Adelaide Guignaire and started a family. When he sailed they had one or possibly two children. Dr. Guignon also had at least two sisters, Marguret (1789) and Rose Adelaide (1790), who accompany Mrs. Guignon and family to St. Domingue in 1802. Where they fit in the familyÑare they half-sisters? I have no way of knowing, but Maude Guignon (1960) and American death records confirmed their existence. 



St. Domingue Campaign and Lingering in the New Republic of Haiti


I have detailed this portion of the Guignon saga elsewhere (available on my Home Page), so I will summarize the few Guignon facts as I have them. The one documented fact is that Rosine Guignon was born in 1803 in Haiti. Family history tells why and how. Dr. Guignon was part of the doomed Leclerc Campaign sent by Napoleon to St. Domingue in 1801-02 to subdued the "Africans" (ex-slaves) who had been freed by a Revolutionary decree in 1793 and had organized militarily since by Toussaint Louveture. While gaining initially against the revolutionary black troops through October 1802, the French gave back all they had won and more by late Fall 1803. Two forces external to the combatants assisted this: Great Britain and yellow fever. Great Britain declared war against France and sent ships to blockade the colony's ports in 1803. Yellow fever killed off upwards of 40,000 troops. This caused the French to concede defeat and withdraw in November 1803. The Republic of Haiti was declared in January 1804, the second oldest (after the United States) in the Americas.


Dr. Guignon appears at some point in this warÑand a very savage war of extermination it was. I have suggested 1801 as his date of arrival, but clearly the birth of his daughter in 1803 suggests that the family joined him in St. Domingue, probably during the "peace" hiatus from April-October 1802. Where they stayed while there seems most likely Cap Franais in the North where French headquarters were. Two French hospitals, which required medical staff, were located there. But when the French military and civilians left in 1803, the Guignons were not among them. They stayed on for another two years. Why this was so has yet to be explained, but the medical needs of remaining French planters and wounded or sick military was cause enough. But the pressure was intense from the newly victorious Haitians. Dessalines as newly installed President initiated several pogroms against remaining French over the next two years. The Guignons may well have been spared execution because Dr. Guignon was one of those French who had "shown humanity" toward blacks during the war, according to a decree issued by the President on taking office. These humanitaires included priests and medical doctors.


The factor that seems to have propelled the Guignons out of an increasing unstable Haiti was Madame Guignon's new pregnancy. This would have occurred in mid April 1805. Getting out of the country was as problematic as staying there. Dessalines kept a closed border both to and from Haiti. Thus, to leave one had to have a permit, or resort to smuggling a popular profession because of the economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States. In any event, as described in family accounts, Madame Guignon, the two daughters and two sister-in-laws, plus servants were secreted in sugar cauldrons abroad an American ship sailing to Philadelphia, sometime in the Fall of 1805. Dr. Guignon sailed later, and, although there is no suggestion that he was smuggled on board, one doubts that he could explain the disappearance of his family to authorities and gain a permit to leaveÑafter all doctors were a vital necessity not easily replaced.


Jump To:   Introduction   Bordeaux   St. Domingue

Chapter 2: Dr. Guignon