GEORGE SCHIMMING for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
All wars cause tremendous dislocation and upheaval, and The War of 1812 was no exception. Tracing his family roots to Frenchtown and the disastrous events of the Battle of Frenchtown and the River Raisin Massacre, George Schimming provides a harrowing view of another time. The French Canadian residents of the area, and the Kentucky recruits, were burned out, forced to flee, or massacred. Yet through the loss, there are stories of survival that echo across cultures and continents from conflicts throughout history.
The search for my ancestors began some 40 years ago in an attempt to discover just where my roots were the deepest. My maternal grandfather’s name was Beaugrand. I knew this had to be French!
In 1984 I had the opportunity to work in a mission hospital in the bush of eastern Zaire. To facilitate this, we moved from Wheaton, Illinois to Sherbrooke, Quebec to study French before moving to (French-speaking) Africa in 1985 for the next six years. I loved the French language. As it turned out, French was of limited use among the people of Nyankunde. Instead, we needed to learn Kiswahili, which took much longer given our many other duties. But by learning French, I was ultimately better prepared to do research into my genealogy where I found this story.
Jean Baptiste Beaugrand was born at Trois Rivieres, Quebec in 1768. He was a trader and interpreter who maintained trading posts at Maumee, Ohio and Frenchtown on the River Raisin. He is my third great-grandfather. His wife, Marguerite, my third great-grandmother, was a descendant of Louis Thomas Joncaire de Chabert who was born in Repentigny, Quebec and had much to do with establishing the first trading post at Niagara Falls. Marguerite herself was born in Detroit in 1781.
In 1802 Jean Baptiste Beaugrand and Marguerite Chabert married and they lived at Frenchtown on the River Raisin. Their family grew over the years and many changes took place in the lives of French speakers in the area. And it was during the war of 1812 when Marguerite was alone with her six children, ranging in age from one to nine, during a famous episode in local history. It was January 23, 1813 and her husband had been captured earlier (see Storykeepers Project #8) after the defeat of Gen. Winchester’s Army. On that fateful day Indian warriors attacked and massacred those still at Frenchtown, many of them sick and wounded soldiers. It was the Battle of Frenchtown and the River Raisin Massacre.
The story told is that Joseph Momoney (from the name ‘Montmesnil’), his wife, and three children loaded up a sleigh to flee across the ice. They took the Beaugrand family with them and had a total of 13 people in the sleigh. They rushed out over the ice of Lake Erie to make their escape. As they looked behind them they could see the Indians chasing after them as well as the sick and wounded who were on foot trying to follow them. As the British-allied Native Americans caught up to those on foot they tomahawked and scalped them in full view of the fleeing families.
The families continued across the ice to safety near Sandusky Bay.
Women like Marguerite Chabert have fought to protect their children in situations like this for centuries. I’m sure she thanked God and the Momoney family many times for their escape that day. We all have instances like these in our past, but many of them remain hidden to us. I was fortunate to uncover this story of my ancestors and am happy to share it with you. I too thank God and the Momoneys for without them I wouldn’t be telling you this story!