A lot of what we do know of these Lejeune men and women comes from church records. The Mi'kmaq were converted to Christianity early on with the baptism of their Grand Chief Membertou in 1620. The Jesuits converted many and as is important in this case, kept records of their sacraments. I have to hand it to them, because throughout the generations, they were devoted to receiving the sacraments when they could. This is largely how we know their movements and it allows us to piece together their stories as much as possible centuries later. While the conversion to Christianity appears to have been fairly amicable and not quite as bloody as other native nation conversions, it still appears to have been a rocky road at times.
There are traces of these men far back. One writing, which was originally in French, speaks of Pierre Lejeune as a type of Courier de Bois and it refers to him as "an espace du sauvage." The exact meaning of this phrase is not known, but it is translated loosely as "a type of savage." He fled into the woods when he refused to bring his people "fire water" and disappeared from the men who were looking for him. A valuable skill that was due to his Mi'kmaq upbringing.
In the Bras d'Or area, there is one grandfather in particular that some of us feel close to our hearts. His name is Francois Lejeune. Many of the Lejeune descendants, including me, come through his line. I also come through his brother Gabriel's line as a granddaughter as well. I wonder if our attachment to Francois is because we have a little more of his story so to speak. He has left us with information that allows us to piece it together and in turn know him a little better than the others.
Francois was the son of Joseph Lejeune more affectionately known as "Old Joe." His family spent time abroad in exile, but he was born in 1772 in Cape Breton. He was a farmer and owned a large plot of land in what is now Little Bras d'Or but was then called French Village. A portion of this land remains in the possession of some of his descendants to this very day.
Last year, the Chief of the Bras d'Or Indian Village Band Association, Nancy Swan, was kind to give me a link to a magazine article which mentions our common grandfather by name. The article in its entire form comes from Cape Breton's Magazine and can be found at this link: http://capebretonsmagazine.com/modules/publisher/item.php?itemid=3694 It is an entry from the Journal of French Bishop Plessis' journey to Cape Breton in 1815, where he intended to visit the Mi'kmaq of the area. The portrait that the Bishop paints of the inhabitants of French Village is not flattering, in fact, he paints them to be lost heathens who engage in all types of debauchery. Knowing this history as I do now, there is always the Mi'kmaq version of events to be considered and that is definitely the case here. The article states,
"Francois Lejeune, the most prosperous inhabitant of the place, had prepared his house to lodge the bishop and the four ecclesiastics; a new small barn was to serve as a church and the portable chapel was set up immediately." pg. 54
The bishop goes on to speak of the people of the village and says "There is probably no place in the diocese of Quebec where the the catholic religion has fallen so low." page 54 The truth of the state of the Catholic flock of Mi'kmaq on the island is something else in fact and has more to do with the fact that these people were abandoned by the church for a long period of time. The Bishop mentions that the people of the French Village had not seen a priest in four years and then they only saw a priest once per year before that for a period of eight days. Later in the article, there is a statement that comes from the Mi'kmaq themselves in a neighboring village when they asked the Bishop for a missionary. The Bishop says "....we were obliged to listen to their request and their lamentations on their need for a missionary," page 58 This was the recorded request of the Mi'kmaq:
"We live like dogs, in danger of dying without the sacraments. Our children are ignorant of their religion. No priest speaks our language. Our elders have not heard a sermon in fifty years. What have we done to be abandoned in such a way? My father, will you do like the others and leave us without hope of bettering our future." page 58
The response was "These words were heart rendering. The bishop (he refers to himself here) understood them and promised to meet their request in a few years, provided they get used to paying their tithes more punctually than they did to Mr. Lejamtel who will, from now on, spend two weeks with them each year rather than just one, until further notice." page 58 Later in the article, it is noted that Mr. Lejamtel did not speak the Mi'kmaq language.
I have to admit that when I first read the article, I was not feeling fondness for the Bishop, especially as Francois Lejeune had apparently worked hard to get things ready for him, probably awaiting the day with much anticipation. This is perhaps more importantly a glimpse into the real and changing world of the Mi'kmaq in the early 19th century and the attitudes that prevailed at the time.
|Fur bag once owned by Francois Lejeune|
and containing the original land grant
Making this man Francois Lejeune all the more real to us is the fact that he had the foresight to place his original land grant in a fur bag so that his family would know that it was important. This fur bag has been handed down through the generations and recently was given to the Nova Scotia Museum by its owner Mr. John Brennick, a Lejeune descendant. He allowed descendants of the family to photograph this bag this year and one of the photos was passed on to me. Due to the fragile state of the bag, it was not allowed to be opened, so it is possible that as it is examined by the Nova Scotia Museum that additional important documents may be revealed inside.
In addition to the bag, there is also a record of a protest of a name change forced upon him by the fairly new British government. Francois wanted to retain the name of Lejeune but was forced to change it to the English equivalent of Young, the name still used by his descendants today.
|Last Will and Testament of Francois Lejeune|
There is a last will and testament and on it is my G3 grandfather's name, John. He was granted a dollar as were most of his brothers and sisters. He is mentioned again when Francois recommends him with his sister Rachel and brother Philip to his wife if she should choose to bequeath the estate to one of them at her death.
Earlier this summer, I visited Little Bras d'Or and as we walked the grounds of St Joseph's Church, where so many of our family's records were kept, I wondered where the original grant had been. It turns out that I was staring right at it, or at least a portion of it.
That day I also found the site of my great grandfather, John Robert Young's home where my grandmother lived for a time growing up. This is the house in which my mother was born. It was located on a small lane named Young Road on what was once known as the Gannon Road. This house still stands today and relatives that we questioned in the area told us that at one time there were wigwams in the woods behind the home. At John Robert's death, the home was passed on to John Charles Young ,or Baba, as he was spoken of that day. The house remains in the family today but stands boarded up as you can see in the picture below.
|John Robert Young's home on what was then Gannon Road|
Just today, as I finished this post, I stumbled upon two more documents that reveal more of my Lejeune grandfathers. They were there all along, I had just missed them in the piles of papers I am accumulating on this amazing clan of mine. A will of Joseph Lejeune, where he names Gabriel Lejeune his heir, and a marriage certificate from the Fortress of Louisbourg in 1754 naming Joseph Lejeune and his bride Martine Le Roy. Keep it coming ancestors. I know you are at work out there.