The first Acadians began arriving on the island of Nova Scotia in eastern maritime Canada in 1604, settling in 1605 near to what is today Annapolis Royal.
Today, the original location of Port Royal is a national historic site known as the Habitation at Port-Royal. After it’s destruction in 1613, Port Royal was re-established about 6 miles away as Annapolis Royal (Fort Anne), shown below, but was still called Port Royal at that time.
This drawing shows Port Royal in 1753. Even half a century after Radegonde Lambert’s death, this village is still very small.
The first decade in “New France” was difficult, at best, with many false starts. Most of the men that settled in this region were interested in fishing and fur trading, not farming. Politically, the land in Canada was subject to the political winds in Europe, so the “ownership” of the region was not only disputed, but changed hands, being ruled by the French, the Scots and the British.
Ships came and went. Many settlers died. Those settlers that lived, male or mostly male, intermarried with the Micmac Indians.
Beginning in about 1610, some French women may have arrived with their husbands, but the dates are uncertain, as are the number of woman.
Because of this, most of the early births are presumed to be a result of a marriage, “legal,” meaning Catholic and blessed by the church, or not. I’m guessing that young men with no available European women, not to mention no priests for many years, didn’t much care about the sacraments nearly as much as they cared about female company.
Radegonde Lambert was probably born between 1621 and 1629.
It’s believed by some that she was born in Cap-du-Sable, according to the compiled records of professional genealogist, Karen Theroit Reader, assuming Radegonde is the daughter of Jean Lambert, which may not be a safe assumption at all.
However, Jean Lambert is the only Lambert male in Acadia at that time, so if Radegonde was born in Acadia, it would have been to Jean.
Cap-du-Sable, meaning Sandy Cape, is an island off the far southern tip of Nova Scotia that was settled by Acadians who migrated from Port Royal in 1620. The men who lived on this island specialized in the fur trade.
Radegonde in the Records
The first actual peek we get of Radegonde Lambert is in the 1671 Census, in Port Royal. Thankfully, the women are listed by their birth surnames. Thank you, Acadians! Without this information, we would surely be lost.
You can see the original script of the entire 1671 census at this link.
In case you can’t read the entry for Radegonde’s husband, Jean Blanchard, it says that he is a laborer, living in Port Royal, Acadia, age 60. His name is spelled Jehan and his wife is Radegonde Lambert, age 42. They have 6 children and 3 are married. They have 5 arpens of land under cultivation, 12 cattle and 9 sheep. An arpent of land is about .84 acres.
From this census, we see that Radegonde is born in 1629.
However, and in genealogy, it seems like there is always a “however,” in the 1686 census, Radegonde’s age is given as 65, which would put her birth year as 1621.
In the 1693 census, she no longer appears, so she died sometime between 1686 and 1693, between the ages of 57 and 72, depending on what year she was actually born and in which year she died.
Many of researchers believe that Radegonde Lambert’s mother was Micmak (Mi’kmaq). Why?
Primarily because if she was the daughter of Jean Lambert, one of the earliest settlers, it was believed that his wife had to be Indian because there were no French women in Acadia at that time.
Several researchers have reported variations on the story for many years, causing significant controversy.
Adding fuel to the fire for Radegonde to be Native, genealogist Alexandre Alemann, the ex-director of the Drouin Institut, assembled a list of those he believed to be Native – and Radegonde was on that list.
A second story about the origins of Radegonde Lambert claims that she was French, and came to Acadia with her husband, Jean Blanchard.
The following excerpt is from “The Origins of the Pioneers of Acadia” by Stephen A. White in relation to depositions taken in France after the deportment of the Acadians from Canada in 1755:
It is well known that there is very little original documentation that provides data regarding the places of origin of the earliest settlers of the French colony of Acadia. None of the colony’s parish registers for the seventeenth century survive, except one slim record book containing the sacramental entries for Beaubassin from 1679 to 1686. Additionally, there are but a couple of extant notarial records from the same period. And, unfortunately, the various Acadian censuses, beginning in 1671, make no mention of places of origin, unlike the detailed enumeration made in the small neighbouring colony of Plaisance in Newfoundland in 1698. (For more information about the early records of Acadia and Plaisance, see the bibliography of the present writer’s Dictionnaire généalogique des familles acadiennes, Première partie, 1636 à 1714 [hereinafter DGFA-1] [Moncton: Centre d’études acadiennes, 1999], Vol. I, pp. xvii-xxv, xxxix-xl, xlv-l.)
On the level of racial origins, there is a source that provides a considerable amount of information. This is the series of fifty-eight depositions of the heads of the Acadian families that were taken down on Belle-Île-en-Mer between February 15th and March 12th, 1767, pursuant to an order from the parliament of Brittany at Vannes. The deponents were required to provide under oath, in the presence of witnesses including other Acadians, the local parish priests, and the Abbé Jean-Louis LeLoutre, former Vicar General of the diocese of Québec and “director” of the Acadian families settled on Belle-Île, all the details they could regarding their own civil status and that of their immediate families, plus their direct-line genealogies back to their first ancestors who came from Europe, “with indication of the places and dates as much as they can remember.” The depositions were intended to take the place of the registers of the parishes in Acadia that had been lost “during the persecution by the British.” In practical terms, they would also furnish the French authorities a means of identifying those who, as refugees from said persecution, were entitled to the King’s bounty and protection.
Two sets of the depositions were made up in 1767. One set of copies was left on Belle-Île, and the other was sent to the district court at Auray. Both sets have been carefully preserved, the latter of the two being now housed in the departmental archives at Rennes.
LAMBERT, Radegonde, came from France with her husband Jean Blanchard, according to Jean LeBlanc, husband of her great-granddaughter Françoise Blanchard (Doc. inéd., Vol. III, p. 43). The deposition of Françoise’s nephews Joseph and Simon-Pierre Trahan is to the same effect (ibid., p. 123). Both depositions mistakenly give Guillaume as the ancestor’s given name. Jean LeBlanc’s makes an additional error regarding the name of Jean Blanchard’s wife, calling her Huguette Poirier. The censuses of 1671 and 1686 meanwhile clearly show that she was named Radegonde Lambert (see DGFA-1, pp. 143-144). The source of these errors is probably a simple confusion arising from the fact that Jean LeBlanc’s wife’s grandfather Martin Blanchard had a brother Guillaume who was married to a woman named Huguette, as this writer explained in an article published in 1984 (SHA, Vol. XV, pp. 116-117). This Huguette was not named Poirier, however, but Gougeon, although her mother, Jeanne Chebrat, had married a man named Jean Poirier before she wed Huguette’s father Antoine Gougeon, and all her male-line descendants in Acadia were Poiriers. Unfortunately, we do not know just what questions Jean LeBlanc asked in trying to establish the Blanchard lineage, but he might certainly have had the impression that Huguette was a Poirier from the fact that so many of her relatives were Poiriers, including her grandnephew Joseph, who was also on Belle-Île in 1767 (see Doc. inéd., Vol. III, pp. 13-15).
It’s not surprising that the husband and nephews of Radegonde Lambert’s great-granddaughter were confused, three generations by marriage (the husband) and 4 generations by birth (nephews) later. Most people today who aren’t genealogists can’t tell you their grandmothers’ maiden names. Did they perhaps have at least part of that story correct? Did Radegonde come to Acadia with her husband instead of being born there to Jean Lambert and his wife, either Micmac or European?
The quick answer is that we don’t know the exact circumstances of when or how Radegonde arrived, and probably never will. But we do have a very important clue about where she was born.
Several descendants of Radegonde Lambert through all females have had their mitochondrial DNA tested. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from the mother to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on.
In Radegonde’s case, her DNA, for several years, also proved as puzzling as the records regarding her birth and mother’s ethnicity. No one but Radegonde’s descendants seems to match her DNA. It’s like Radegonde wanted to play a joke on all of her descendants. And a fine job she did too!
Fortunately, that question has now been resolved, and Radegonde’s DNA, haplogroup X2b4, which is exceedingly rare – as in chicken’s teeth rare – is found only in Europeans, to date, and not in any Native people.
Haplogroup X2b4 was born sometime around 5,500 years ago, in Europe, and given that the Native people migrated to the Americas sometime between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago across the land bridge from Asia into what is now Alaska, it would be impossible for X2b4, born in Europe, to be found among the Micmac women in 1621-1629. There were no European women in Canada in the early 1600s, early enough to be considered Micmac and be bearing children with French men by 1621.
I wrote an article recently about the evidence supporting the fact that Radegonde was indeed European, based on her mitochondrial DNA.
However, the question of whether Jean Lambert is her father, or if she came to Acadia with her husband still remains.
Karen Theroit Reader provides Radegonde’s children, as shown below. In two census records, in both 1671 and 1678, Radegonde and her husband, Jean Blanchard, are living next door to their son, Guilliame Blanchard who was age 35 in 1686.
- Madeleine Blanchard born about 1643, probably in Port Royal, died 1678-1684 and married Michel Richard. She had 10 children.
- Anne Blanchard was born about 1645, probably in Port Royal, died after 1714 in Beaubassin and married first to Francois Guerin, having 5 children, then to Pierre l’aine Gaudet, having 9 children.
- Martin Blanchard was born about 1647, probably in Port Royal and died after July 4, 1718 in Cobeguit. He married first to Marie Francoise Le Blanc having 3 children, then to Marguerite Guilbeau having 8 children.
The three children, above, would have been the three that were married by 1671. The three below would have been the children still at home.
- Guillaume Blanchard, born about 1650, probably in Port Royal, died before October 18, 1717 and married Huguette Gougeon, having 12 children.
- Bernard Blanchard born about 1653, probably in Port Royal and died after the 1671 census but before the 1686 census.
- Marie Blanchard born about 1656, probably in Port Royal, died after 1701, married to Pierre le jeune Gaudet, having 10 children.
Sadly, at least one and probably two of Radegonde’s children died before her, but as adults. She probably stood in the Garrison Cemetery overlooking the bay and buried these adult children, just as she buried the babies that had probably died decades earlier.
The youngest child of Radegonde was born in 1656, according to the 1671 census, in which Radegonde was shown to be age 42. This certainly makes me wonder why Radegonde had no children in her last 15 years of fertility.
The most likely explanation is twofold. First, this suggests that perhaps she was born closer to the 1621 date, which would make her 50 in 1671. If that was the case, then that would only leave 7 or 8 years of infertility to explain, not 15.
Jean Blanchard was age 60 in 1671. It’s possible that Radegonde was actually 60 instead of 42, although that’s a stretch in terms of the census taker not realizing that her age was in error. There’s a pretty big difference between 42 and 60. After all, there were only 392 people in total in that census, in all locations, including children, so about 65 families. Clearly, the census taker knew Radegonde and was unlikely to make an 18 year error.
More likely Radegonde had several children that died, some of which were probably born after Marie.
If Radegonde’s first child actually was Madeleine, and her first child did not die, then Radegonde’s marriage date would have been roughly 1642 which would suggest her birth year was closer to the earlier 1621 as opposed to 1629.
If Radegonde lost any children before Madeleine’s birth, that would push her marriage year back further, and possibly her birth year as well.
The early burials in Port Royal took place in Fort Anne where an Acadian and English garrison cemetery are located. You can visit both on St. George Street at the Fort Anne National Historic Site, today.
Radegonde’s daughter-in-law, Huguete Gougeon Blanchard, wife of Guilliame Blanchard is shown at FindAGrave as being buried in this Garrison cemetery which was established in 1632. She died in 1717. Guilliame Blanchard is reportedly buried at Amherst, but this makes little sense since he and his wife died the same year and presumably lived together in the same place prior to death. Amherst is not close to Port Royal, located just south of Moncton on the connecting peninsula to the mainland. Therefore, it’s more likely that the family is buried in the Garrison Cemetery known then as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cemetery.
Before the cemetery in Port Royal became the British garrison graveyard in 1710, it was the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parish cemetery and was used by the Acadian community of Port Royal and by the French Garrison.
When the British took the fort in 1710, they destroyed all of the headstones, except for 2, which are still standing today. Unfortunately, neither is for Radegonde.
I hope to visit Radegonde in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Parish Cemetery, aka the Garrison cemetery, someday soon. I know she is there, even though her grave is no longer marked, and was probably originally only marked with a wooden cross.
I would like to thank cousin Paul LeBlanc for pointing me in the right direction with my Acadian research, for hosting the Acadian Rootsweb list, and for telling me that, “If you’re related to one Acadian, you’re related to all Acadians.”
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