Family Secrets Revealed
Every family has secrets. Most of these secrets are harmless and as the generations pass they are often forgotten. For some French families before the Revolution there was a secret that would be very important to keep hidden because of the social consequences. Some French noble families were really of bourgeois ancestry and had never been granted noble status by the king. If this was revealed, this information could threaten their status. In France, to be a noble not only meant more prestige, but was also a very effective way to avoid paying many taxes. To be caught pretending to be a noble could have devastating financial and social consequences. Bourgeois ancestry had to be kept secret.
Due to the thorough research of Roland-Yves Gagné in surviving tabillion and other French records the secrets of the Le Neuf family have been exposed. He has found that the family covered up their bourgeois origins and pretended to be nobles. This charade is true of Le Neufs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Previous research had exposed that the Canadian Le Neufs were Huguenots, which was an additional family secret they had to hide in New France. Protestants were not allowed to remain in New France. Those who did settle in the colony had to hide their religious persuasion.
Through the research of Gagné—as well as that which he conducted along with René Jetté, Paul LePortier, and John P. DuLong—we know that the maternal lineage of the Canadian Le Neufs leads back to French royalty. Gagné has gone further and revealed many details about the Le Neufs in France. He has established the exact relationship between the Canadian Le Neufs and their cousins who remained in France. He has documented the relationship between the Le Neufs and the Le Gardeurs back in France. Lastly, he traces these families back several generations in France.
This website is dedicated to reporting on the progress that has been made in researching the Le Neuf family and to point readers to the necessary published findings that must be consulted.
The Le Neuf siblings--Michel Le Neuf, sieur du Hérisson; Jacques Le Neuf, sieur de la Poterie; and Marie Le Neuf (who was married Jean Godefroy de Lintot)--came with their mother Jeanne Le Marchand, children, and Le Gardeur kinsman to New France in 1636. They were the regarded as the first French nobles to settle permanently in Canada. The Le Neufs and Le Gardeurs became an influential kinship group in colonial New France.
The Le Neuf brothers played an important role in colonial New France and their lives are documented in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Michel Le Neuf du Hérisson and Jacques Le Neuf de la Poterie. Despite holding prominent official positions, the Le Neuf brothers were not always well behaved towards their fellow colonists and could be difficult in their relationship with the church and the colonial administration. Their behavior was not that of nobles groomed to practice noblesse oblige, but that of bourgeois businessmen determined to make a fortune in the fur trade.
Jacques Le Neuf left a mystery behind when he registered his proof of nobility with the Soverign Council of New France. He provides a rich family tree of Le Neufs extending back to Richard Le Neuf in the fourteenth century. However, Jacques does not indicate how he fits into this lineage. Rather, he has two Le Neufs back in France (one of them was a Catholic priest) write a deposition stating that Jacques is part of the Le Neuf family. These two French Le Neufs are clearly identified in the Le Neuf family tree, but neither their exact relationship to Jacques, nor Jacques' place in the family tree are established by the evidence presented to the Soverign Council.
Although the Le Neufs were an important family in the history of New France, nobody now carries the surname Le Neuf in North America. They did leave behind descendants in Canada and the United States through female Le Neuf ancestresses. Also, after the fall of New France, some of the male Canadian Le Neufs returned to France and presumably have descendants there.
Despite all the knowledge historians and biographers have provided to us regarding the Le Neufs in Canada, the mystery remained as to how they were related to the French Le Neufs. These scholars failed to detect their bourgeois origins and Huguenot background. Due to the diligence and genealogical research of Gagné—who carefully examined the original documents—the Le Neufs origins in France and their relationship to the Le Neufs in France is no longer a mystery. Much that has been written about the Le Neufs in the past by historians will have to be updated.
To date the research conducted on the Le Neufs has resulted in several important findings:
In addition to the Le Neuf findings, Gagné has collected data on the Le Gardeur family that has not been previously published.
A genealogical table using the most recent data that Gagné has published summarizing the relationship between the Canadian and French branches of the Le Neuf family may be found here:
A careful review of this table will show how the Le Neufs metamorphosed from bourgeois to nobles over several generations with one of them ultimately becoming a Count. Unfortunately, just as Count Louis Bernadin Le Neuf reaches the level of the titled nobility the French Revolution came along and he was one of the Reign of Terror victims to lose his head on the guillotine.
The Le Neuf story was even highlighted on Canadian television on the show Qui êtes-vous? (session 1, episode 5) broadcast on 7 décembre 2013. Guy A Lepage, a Québec comedian and director, was spotlighted and his ancestry leads back to the Le Neufs. In the image below Gagné is on the right reviewing some Le Neuf information with Lepage on the left.
A chart showing Lepage's ancestry back to Henry I, King of England, and his relationship to Prince George can be found at Radio Canada.
The following published works are listed in chronological order:
Hozier, Louis Pierre d'. Armorial général de la France, ou Registre de la Noblesse de France. 13 vols. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1738-1908, Le Neuf chapter, vol. 9, part 2, 5th registry. pp. 861-868 plus leading genealogical table.
Sulte, Benjamin, "La famille Godefroy," Mélangues historiques, vol. 11, Montréal: G; Ducharme, 1923, 7-38.
______, "La famlle Pouterel," Trois-Rivières d'autrefois, Mélanges historiques, 2nd series, vo.l 19, Montréal: Éditions Édouard Garand, 1932, 64-69.
Godbout, Archange, Les pionniers de la région trifluvienne, (1st series 1634 to 1645), Trois-Rivières: Les Éditions du bien public, 1934, see 19-20, 29,52-53, and 71-72 for Le Neuf related entries.
Douville, Raymond, "Le dictature de la famille Le Neuf," Cahiers des dix XX (1955):61–89.
______, "LENEUF DU HÉRISSON, MICHEL," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/leneuf_du_herisson_michel_1E.html.
Lamontagne, Léopold, "LENEUF DE LA POTERIE, JACQUES," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/leneuf_de_la_poterie_jacques_1E.html.
Barry, Mary J., trans., and John P. DuLong, ed. "The Le Neuf Family Nobility Evidence." Michigan's Habitant Heritage 12:3 (July 1991):73-80.
DuLong, John P. "The Family Secrets of the Le Neuf Origins in France." Lost in Canada? 17:2 (Spring 1993):58-71.
Langlois, Michel. Dictionnaire biographique des ancêtres québécois (1608-1700), 4 vols., Sillery: La Maison des ancêtres inc., 1998-2001, see 3:227-228 for Jeanne Le Marchant, 3:246-250 for her children and grandchildren, 2:89 for Anne Le Neuf, the wife of Antoine Desrosiers, and 2:369-370 for Marie Le Neuf, the wife of Jean Godefroy.
Jetté, René, Roland-Yves Gagné, John Patrick DuLong, and Paul Leportier. "Les Le Neuf: état des connaissances." Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française 51 (Autumn 2000): 209-227.
Jetté, René, "Du neuf sur les Le Neuf," Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française 53:2 (Summer 2002): 143-144.
Jetté, René, Roland-Yves Gagné, John Patrick DuLong, and Paul LePortier. "The Le Neuf Family: State of Knowledge." Michigan's Habitant Heritage, 3 part series:
Vaillancourt, Marie, "Michel Le Neuf, Sieur du Hérisson," http://histoiresdancetres.com/vaillancourt/michel-le-neuf-sieur-du-herisson-un-ancetre-issu-de-la-vieille-noblesse-francaise/#comment-97339, 2011 (accessed 8 April 2016).
Gagné, Roland-Yves, "Les origines des familles Le Neuf et Le Gardeur," Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française:
All previous research published on the Le Neufs, with the possible exception of the maternal lineage back to royalty, were small steps, Gagné's solo research in the original records of Normandie makes giant steps towards uncovering the facts regarding both the Le Neufs and the Le Gardeurs.
The Le Neuf arms are De gueules à trois coussinets d'or, les houppes posées en sautoir [On a red field three small cushions of gold, the tassels laying saltire crosswise]. A colored depiction of the arms can be found in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Titres, Armorial général, Normandie mss. vol. 20, Caen part 2, p. 626, ca. 1696. These were the arms recorded for Gabriel Le Neuf, sieur de Montenay, écuyer, seigneur de Sourdeval. His exact relationship to the Canadian Le Neufs has now been established by Gagné. They were second cousins, once removed. A drawing of the arms in black and white is found in d'Hozier, Armorial général de la France, vol. 9, part 2, p. 861.
Pierre Le Neuf, priest, sieur de Courtonne, and François Le Neuf, esquire, sieur de Montenay, brothers dwelling at Caen, Normandie, attested before Ollivier and Bougon, royal scriveners, on 5 May 1673, that Jacques Le Neuf, sieur de la Poterie, formerly of Caen, was of the same family and carried the same name and arms. (Roy, Lettres de noblesse, vol. I, pp. 57-65).
While Jacques Le Neuf was acknowledged to be of the same family and carry the same arms, Gagné warns us that there is no evidence that he or his brother every used these arms, or for that matter any arms, while in New France. However, I know that Alexandre Le Neuf de Beaubassin, the eldest son of Michel Le Neuf de Beaubassin, governer of Acadia, and Marie Denys, and the grandson of Jacques Le Neuf de la Poterie, used these arms. In a letter mentioning his will from around 1713 he seals the envelop with two red wax impressions of the Le Neuf arms (ANQ, P1000,S3,D1252). So we know that this captian of the Marines, knight in the order of St-Louis, and heir of Jacques Le Neuf de la Poterie had a seal bearing the Le Neuf arms. Whether or not his father and grandfather used the same seal I do not know.
Furthermore, Gagné points out the erroneous assignment of different arms to Michel Le Neuf, sieur du Hérisson, the brother of Jacques Le Neuf. According to Édouard-Zotique Massicotte and Régis Roy's Armorial du Canada français (2 vols., Montréal: Beauchemin, 1915-1918 vol. 2, pp. 24 and 113), Michel Le Neuf used D'argent, à trois hérissons de sable [On a white field, three black hedgehogs]. The first impression is that these arms are an obvious pun on his alias and might refer to property his family may have once owned in Normandie. However, Gagné points out that these are actually the arms of a family surnamed Hérisson from Bretagne and has no relationship at all the the Michel Le Neuf or any other members of the Le Neuf family (Henri Jougla de Morenas, Grand armorial de France, 7 vols., Paris: Les Editions Héraldiques, 1934-1952; reprint ed., Paris: Frankelve, 1975, vol. 4, p. 297).
If either Jacques or Michel Le Neuf used the family arms, then they did so by presumption, even with the permission of their cousins. They were commoners posing as nobles in New France. Had they remained in France and had lived long enough, then they might have had arms assigned to them for the purposes of taxation in 1696. The following generic arms were found for a Jean Le Neuf, merchant, bourgeois of Caen. He might be Jean Le Neuf, the son of Jean Le Neuf, sieur de Vaux, and a cousin of the Canadian Le Neufs. These arms are registered in the Armorial général de France (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des Titres, Armorial général, Normandie mss. vol. 20, Caen part 2, p. 261, ca. 1696):
The blazon would be D'or parti de sinople à trois barres d l'un en l'autre. Scanning pages before and after this illustration there are several similarly blazoned arms. The clerks assigned to collect the 1696 tax on arms would simply make up bogus arms and assign them to anyone they thought could afford the tax including merchants and well off peasant. It appears that this Jean Le Neuf was the victim of this tax scheme and was assigned rather plain and unimaginative arms.
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1995 by John P. DuLong and associates, Berkley, MI. Created 23 November 1995. Modified 12 May 2016. The heraldry art work on this web page was accomplished using Adobe Illustrator CS and Armorial Gold Heraldry Clipart ver. 15.4.