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The Origin of the Fontenot (Fonteneau)
Family in North America

By Merrick ("Sonny") Fontenot


Throughout most of the eighteenth century, France, England and Spain were engaged in a mighty struggle to determine who would possess and control the land west of the Appalachians. England had already established several colonies along the east coast as far south as the Carolinas. Spain had gained a foothold in the Florida peninsula and France had laid claim to all land drained by the Mississippi River. This latter claim was hotly disputed by the English. In order to bolster their presence and to deter the English from migrating westward, France built a large number of military forts along the boundaries of their claims and manned these forts with Colonial Marines. Fort Toulouse, located near the present town of Wetumpka, Alabama at the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers was the easternmost post in this chain of forts.  Many of these soldiers were given the opportunity to also settle the lands and establish homesteads in the vicinity of the forts. French girls were also given passage to the colonies to provide wives for the soldiers. This was the setting and times that gave rise to the beginning of the Fonteneau family in North America.
Baptême de Louis Fonteneau 1686
Le dix huict decembre mil Six cent quatre vingt Six est né et baptisé Louis fils de jouachain fonteneau et de marie peraudeau ses pere et mere et a este parain louis benoist et maraine Renée rousseau 

le pere a déclare ne scavoir Signer, fait par moy, Vicaire soubsigné le jour et an que dessus.

s. rene rousseau                       s. Louis benoist
s. Garnier, vicaire
 

Baptism of Louis Fonteneau 1686
On the 18th day of December 1686 was born and baptized Louis, son of Jouachain Fonteneau and of Marie Peraudeau his parents, and the godfather was Louis Benoist, and the godmother Renée Rousseau

The father declared not to know how to sign, Done by me the undersigned vicar, the day and year as above.

s. rene rousseau                       s. Louis benoist
s. Garnier, vicar
 

- Montierneuf Parish Vol. 7 F 24
Bibliothéque Municipale de Poitiers, France
Our ancestor, Sergeant Jean-Louis Fonteneau, left home (Poitiers, France) in 1720 on the ship "Drommadaire" for assignment in the colonies. He came through Mobile, the French military headquarters and the seat of government for the Louisiana territory, and was initially assigned to Fort Conde near Mobile. In 1726 he met and married a young widow named Marie Louise Henrique in Mobile. She was about 27 years old and Jean-Louis was 40. Shortly afterward, he and Marie moved to Fort Toulouse, some 300 or so miles up river from Mobile and remained there for many years afterward; enough time to have and raise 12 children (8 boys, 4 girls). Jean-Louis died at the fort in October 1755 and Marie and the rest of the family remained there until it was surrendered to the English in 1763. Rather than submit to English rule, the family and many of their Indian friends moved west and resettled on land grants in Spanish controlled Louisiana. It is from this family that all of us descended. The spelling of our last name was probably changed to its current spelling by the Spanish census authorities when the family settled in Louisiana. Our progenitor's (Jean-Louis) remains lie in an unmarked grave at the cemetery at Fort Toulouse.
Fort Toulouse, Alabama
Reconstruction of Fort Toulouse
For more pictures of Fort Toulouse, click here
In September of 1997, for the first time since 1763, over 400 of Jean-Louis and Marie Louise's descendants returned to Fort Toulouse to honor their memory and to learn more about our Alabama roots. It was an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all.  By unanimous request, this gathering is to be an annual event. The next gathering was held in October 1998 at Fort Toulouse. That event was highlighted by the unveiling and dedication of a granite memorial to our ancestor, emplaced near the cemetery where his remains lie. The memorial was the culmination of a fund raising drive during 1998.

All Fontenot's in the United States are descendants of Sergeant Jean Louis Fontenot (Fonteneau). Jean Louis was one of six children born to Joachim Fonteneau and Joane Prado from the St. Germain Parish in Monturneuf, city of Poitiers, France.  He was born on December 18, 1686. Jean Louis joined the French Colonial Marines as a young man and left France in 1720, at the age of 34, for assignment in the Mobile (Alabama) military district. Six years later (February 8, 1726) he married a widow from New Orleans (Marie Louise Henrique) and was assigned to the Poste aux Alabama (Fort Toulouse) shortly afterwards. Based on "roll call" records at the fort in the mid 1700s, it appears that Jean Louis was the only sergeant at the garrison of about 40 soldiers. He and Marie Louise had twelve children, 8 sons and 4 daughters, all born at the post. When these children became of age (teenagers), the boys joined the marines and married daughters of other marines and the girls married sons of other marines at the fort. Family names for the spouses were Doucet, Brignac, LaGrange, Lobell and Berthelot.
French Marines
French Colonial Marines Reenactors at Fort Toulouse
Jean Louis died in September 1755 at the age of sixty-nine and is buried in the cemetery at the fort; however, the exact location of his remains are not known.

In 1763, the fort was abandoned by the French and came under the possession of the British. At that time, seven Fontenot sons (one son, Francoise, died several years earlier in Mobile), their families, the widow (Marie Louise), the daughters and their families migrated westward and resettled on land grants in the Louisiana territory. Some of the daughters and their families settled in what is now Edgard, Louisiana. All of the sons and their families (including the widow Louise) settled in the vicinities of Opelousas, Chataignier, Ville Platte and Church Point, after a short stint in the area of Pointe Coupee. All Fontenot's in this country are direct descendants of these early settlers.




Eulogy to Jean-Louis Fonteneau
Delivered at the Second Fontenot Gathering
at Fort Toulouse
by Merrick ("Sonny") Fontenot
[Fort Toulouse, Alabama. October 1998]
Jean-Louis, the third child of Joachim Fonteneau and Marie Jeanne Pradeau, was born in Poitiers, France in 1686. We don't know much about his life before he boarded the ship "Drommadaire" as a Colonial Marine in 1720 enroute to the New World at the age of 34. To our knowledge, he never returned to his native France to see his family again. He entered the Port of Mobile, the French military headquarters, and was probably assigned to the garrison at Fort Louis in Mobile. There, he met a young widow, Marie Louise Henrique, and married her in February 1726. She was 26 and he was 40 years old. This union would produce many thousands of descendants who would make countless contributions to their adopted country. They defended the country in every war since and became statesmen, soldiers, farmers, cattlemen, wealthy land owners, bankers, sailors, marines, engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, musicians, journalists, authors, artists, and many other occupations too numerous to list at this time. I'm sure that there were a few unsavory characters in there as well.

Jean-Louis, or "Colin" as he was called, died in October of 1755 and was laid to rest in this very cemetery. It is not hard to imagine his grieving family gathering here to pay their last respects on that day so many years ago. About 8 years later, his family was forced to leave Fort Toulouse to seek a new life in unfamiliar lands west of the Mississippi River; except for the widow Marie Louise, Fort Toulouse was the only home they had ever known. The family never returned to their origin -- until  last year [1997] when we held our first reunion.

Jean-Louis would be very proud to see so many of his "children" gathered here to honor his memory and to witness the unveiling of his memorial, donated by them. It bears testament to his existence and to the life that he lived in this rugged frontier. Because of your generous contributions, future generations of his descendants will be able to visit this spot and reflect on their heritage.

On behalf of Jean-Louis, I thank all of you and God bless.

Inscription on Jean Louis Memorial (front):

In Memory of
Jean Louis "Colin" Fonteneau
Sergeant in the French Colonial Marines 
Served at Fort Toulouse 1730-1755
Born: Dec.18, 1686 in Poitiers, France
Died: Oct. 29, 1755 at Fort Toulouse

Progenitor of all Fontenots in North America

Donated by his living descendants in 1998

Jean Louis Fonteneau Memorial

Inscription on Jean Louis Memorial (back):

En Memoire de
Jean Louis Fonteneau dit Collin
Sergent, Troupes de la Marine Francaise
Service Militaire: Fort Toulouse, 1730-1755
Ne a Poitiers, France, le 18 Decembre 1686
Mort a Fort Toulouse le 29 Octobre 1755

Fondateur de la Famille Fontenot en l'Amerique du Nord

Donne par ses Descendants Vivants, l’annee de Notre Seigneur 1998

For more information about Fort Toulouse, visit the Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Historic Site home page at http://alabamahistory.home.mindspring.com/index.html

Fontenot Monogram

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Copyright © 1999, 2000 by Harold Fontenot, e-mail: fontenotfamily@yahoo.com. All Rights Reserved.
Page Updated 25 January 2000.
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