There are some things we know about Michel (de) Forest, and a lot that we don’t. Furthermore, there are myths that, with repeated telling, have become widely accepted and ingrained into genealogy, but now seem to have been disproven. Thankfully, the lives of our ancestors continue to come into clearer focus.
Let’s start with the facts we have, beginning with the trusty census records.
The French Acadians settled in what is now Nova Scotia beginning in 1632, moving to Port Royal in 1635 on the Bay of Fundy.
It’s estimated that by 1653, there were 45-50 households in Port Royal and about 60 single men. Of course, those men would have been very interested in finding wives.
A prisoner in 1654 estimated that there were about 270 residents.
From about 1653 to 1667, Acadia was under English rule, not French. This is actually important for Michel de Forest’s history, because as a French man, he would probably have arrived prior to 1653. We know he was married in 1666, so he would already have been in Acadia before 1667.
The Acadians took periodic censuses beginning in 1671. While there are millions of Acadian descendants today, the founding population was small. Given the challenges they faced, it’s actually amazing that they survived at all and that their descendants thrived, even after the Acadian Removal, known as Le Grande Derangement.
The first record we find for Michel de Forest is the 1671 census in Port Royal, Acadia, transcribed here by Lucie LeBlanc Consentino, where he is listed as Michel de Forest, age 33, wife Marie Hebert, 20, with children Michel 4, Pierre 2, René 1, 12 cattle and two sheep.
This tells us that he has been in Acadia for at least five years, in order to have married and have a 4-year-old child. He would have been about 27 when he married.
This also provides a birth year for him of about 1638.
The next census, taken in 1678, shows Michel as a widower with 4 acres, 3 cows, 2 calves, 1 gun, four boys, ages 12, 10, 8, and 3, plus two girls, ages 6 and 4. His age is not given.
Assuming that all of Michel’s children were born to the same mother, this suggests that Marie Hebert died sometime in or after 1675, when the last child would have been born.
Marie and Michel were only married for between 9 and 12 years. I wonder if she died about 1677 in childbirth. Of course, there’s no evidence for that. If she died giving birth to that child, or shortly thereafter, the child is deceased too.
In 1684, a new governor was appointed to Acadia who described the Acadians as living simply and pastorally. He claimed they lived better than Canadians, never lacking meat or bread, but weren’t as industrious. He said they never put anything away for a bad year, and their dowries were small – a few francs and a cow in calf, a ewe, and a sow.
Maybe that explains at least one of Michel’s cows and sheep in 1671.
In 1686, Michel is once again enumerated in the census, age 47, now married to Jacqueline Benoit whose age is given as 13, but is very likely erroneously recorded. Census takers then were probably much the same as census takers decades later in the US. However, accuracy was probably not deemed to be as important in Acadia. After all, everyone knew everyone else. The entire census consisted of 392 people, but scholars estimate that it was probably closer to 500.
Based on Jacqueline’s earlier family records, I believe she was 17. Michel’s children with Marie Hebert are listed as Michel 19, Pierre 18, René 16, Gabriel 13, Marie 11, and Jean-Baptiste 9. Michel had one gun, 8 sheep, and 4 hogs and was cultivating 5 arpents of land.
Age 47 puts Michel’s birth year at 1639. He was either newly married, or his wife was pregnant, because their only child was born about 1687.
In 1686, Jean-Baptiste, at age 9, fits the same pattern as the child who was 3 in 1678, but the math is slightly off. Age 9 in 1686 would put Jean-Baptiste’s birth year in 1677. Perhaps 1676 is the actual birth year, which puts Marie Hebert’s death sometime between 1676 and the 1678 census.
A 1688 report from the governor states that there was a labor shortage, a shortage of manure necessary for developing the uplands and also a shortage of tidelands that would be easy to dyke. As a result, 25-30 (mostly) younger people had moved to Minas in the last 6 years.
By sometime in 1691, Michel’s second wife, Jacqueline Benoit had remarried to Guillaume Trahan. In the 1693 census, she was listed with him as age 20. Michel Forest’s daughter Marguerite, age 6, is shown with the family, but without a surname, as is Angelique, age 1. Angelique would have been born to Jacqueline and Guillaume.
In May of 1690, Michel’s son, René signed the required loyalty oath, but Michel did not, which tells us that he had died by then.
Therefore, we know that Michel died sometime between the birth of his last child, Marguerite, born about 1687 to his second wife, Jacqueline, and May of 1690.
Michel’s youngest child, Marguerite, married about 1705 to Etienne Comeau and had nine children. She is shown with her mother and step-father in 1693 in Les Mines.
Acadia Land Location
Based on later records and a reconstruction of the 1707 census which includes Michel’s son, René de Forest, we know the probable location of Michel’s land. Further confirming this, Karen Theriot Reader reports that Michel had obtained a considerable concession extending over a mile in depth, a dozen miles to the east of the fort in Port Royal.
The René Forest Village is a dozen miles east of the fort, exactly where we would expect based on the description of that concession. A mile in depth is a LOT of land, which would have begun with water frontage on the rivière Dauphin, now the Annapolis River.
Based on the legend, a mile in depth would extend across 201 and possibly to or across 101, Harvest Highway, as well.
The Hebert’s lived in close proximity to the de Forest family, maybe half a mile away, which would make courting easy! MapAnnapolis was kind enough to map these locations, here.
The Nova Scotia Archives shows the Hebert and Forest villages on this 1733 map.
This land remained in those families for a century. It’s no wonder that these families intermarried heavily.
There weren’t many marriageable-age young women to choose from among Acadian families, which explains why some men chose Native wives.
I did some analysis on the 1671 census, which proved quite interesting.
There were a total of 68 families in Port Royal in 1671. With that small number of families, it’s no wonder everyone is related to everyone else within just a few generations. The descendant population is highly endogamous today. WikiTree reports that Michel has more than 28,000 identified descendants.
The 1671 census is unique in that families with older children noted how many married children they had. Then, the married child was also enumerated with their own family.
For example, Marie Hebert’s mother was widowed, and her census entry reads thus:
“Marie Gaudet, widow of Etienne Hebert, 38. She has 10 children, two married children: Marie 20, Marguerite 19, Emmanuel 18, not yet married”…and so forth
Then, Marie Hebert is listed with her husband, Michel de Forest, along with their children.
This provides us with a rare opportunity. First, we can match children, particularly females, up with their parents so long as at least one parent is still living.
This dual listing methodology also provides an unexpected glimpse into something else. Missing married children. At least six married children females in the age bracket that I was studying were noted as “married,” but they are not listed with a spouse anyplace. This could be because they had left the area, but that exodus hadn’t really begun that early and wouldn’t for another 15 years or so. It’s also possible that they were simply missed, but that seems unlikely, given that everyone literally knew everyone else and where they lived. Furthermore, everyone lived along the river.
After matching the married daughters up with their husbands, two name-based matches remained questionable, given that the ages were significantly different. For example, one couple lists Marie Gautrot as their married daughter, age 35, but Claude Terriau’s listing shows Marie Gautrot, age 24, as his wife. Their oldest child is 9. This may or may not be the same person.
My goal was to see how many females were of marriage age and single in 1666 when Michel de Forest married. I calculated the probable marriage date for each female based on the oldest child’s age minus one year.
Based on the women living in 1671, 5 females other than Michel’s wife were married in 1666, so they may or may not have been available for marriage when Michel was looking.
I entered all the women between ages 18 and 35 in 1671 into a spreadsheet, meaning they were between 13 and 30 in 1666 when Michel was about 26 or 27. While 13 is extremely young to marry, it appears that young women began marrying at that age. I suspect they married as soon as they reached puberty or shortly thereafter.
After all, finding a “good” husband was important, and in Acadia, pickings were slim. Plus, you really wanted your daughter to settle nearby, so if her “intended” was a neighbor, so much the better. And if her “intended” also had a farm and a cow – that was the veritable jackpot!
The total number of females aged 18-35 in 1671 was only 41, one of which was a widow whose age I can’t reconcile accurately.
Of those people, only 12 were unquestionably unmarried in 1666, plus possibly the widow. If all of the women who married in 1666 were unspoken for in 1666 when Michael was courting, the absolute maximum number of available spouses in that age range was 18, including Michel’s wife. I did not calculate the number of marriage-age males, but there seemed to be more males than females.
Eighteen potential spouses are actually not many to choose from. “Here are 18 people – pick one to marry for the rest of your life.” Today, we hope and expect to be happy. I’d bet they simply hoped not to be miserable and to survive. The most important qualities were probably selecting someone kind and industrious, although young people might not have realized that.
The priests would not sanction marriages to Native women unless the woman would convert and be baptized in the Catholic church, so the men who married Native women tended to live in the woods among the Native people, adopting their lifeways.
The female Acadian marriage age was quite young, ranging from 13-25. The average was 17 years and 10 months.
Calculated marriage ages of women in that age bracket based on the age of the oldest child, less one year, were:
- 13 years old – 2 people
- 14 – 3
- 15 – 5
- 16 – 2
- 17 – 5
- 18 – 2
- 19 – 6
- 20 – 3
- 21 – 1
- 22 – 1
- 23 – 1
- 24 – 1
- 25 – 1
It’s clear from these numbers that most people were married by 20, and by 21, few female marriage partners were left. The marriages of the women in their 20s could also be erroneous if their first child or children died before the census.
Church records before 1702 do not survive, so we can’t check further.
Michel probably climbed in his birchbark canoe, wearing his cleanest clothes, and paddled the short distance to visit Marie’s parents, asking permission to marry their daughter. Or, perhaps, he asked them in church. They would have seen each other there, at least weekly, so long as the colony had a priest in residence.
Or, maybe Michel became inspired when he was visiting Marie and just popped the question one fine day when she looked particularly beautiful as they strolled through the fields on their adjoining lands.
Because Michel had no parents in the settlement, he would have established himself as a farmer by that point, proving his ability to support a wife and children. This is probably one of the reasons he didn’t marry until he was 28. Regardless of when he arrived, or under what circumstances, he still needed time to build a foundation that would make him marriage-eligible. That would mean being either a farmer, with land, or a tradesman. Something with a dependable income – as dependable as anything could be in a region torn by conflict between the French and English.
If Michel were already farming when he married, which is likely, Marie’s parents would have been excited because their daughter would be living in very close proximity, literally within sight. Or, perhaps, this is how the de Forest family came to establish their home, then the village, next to the Heberts.
Life and Death in Acadia
Michel died young. If he perished in 1687, he would have been roughly 49 years old. If he died in 1690, he would have been 52. Certainly, he could have died of natural causes, but it’s more likely that something else was responsible for his death.
Of course, without modern medical care, any wound could fester and cause sepsis, or an accident with a horse could end a life in the blink of an eye. An appendicitis attack was a death sentence. Dysentery, typhoid, and other diseases of contamination wiped out entire families.
However, none of his children died, nor did his wife at the time, so something else caused Michel’s death.
One likely candidate is the warfare with the English. Acadia had been settled by the French, but the English coveted the land, eventually taking permanent possession, in 1710. However, they had been trying for decades, and control of Acadia has passed back and forth more than once – and never peacefully.
However, 1690 was particularly heinous.
In 1690, Acadia was once again plundered and burned by the English out of Boston. The church in Port Royal and 28 homes were burned, but not the mills and upriver farms, which may have included the Forest homestead.
The French pirate, Pierre Baptiste attempted to defend Port Royal in 1690 but was unsuccessful. A year later, he was successfully recruiting men in Acadia to join him in capturing British ships.
The Acadians in Port Royal swore an oath of allegiance in May of 1690 hoping to de-escalate the situation. Instead, their priest was kidnapped and taken to Boston. Luckily for us, the priest took the loyalty oath document with him, which tells us which males were alive as of May 1690. I transcribed that list, here.
Michel is not on the list, and neither are his two oldest sons, Michel and Pierre. The eldest was probably married already, but Pierre was not. Michel’s third son, René de Forest, signed the oath and stayed in Acadia to work his father’s land. The older two brothers settled shortly thereafter, if they hadn’t already, in Grand Pre which had been founded in 1686 by the Melanson family.
The English were firmly in charge of Acadia after the 1690 attack.
Emboldened, 2 English pirates took advantage of the opportunity and burned more homes, killing people and livestock.
However, by this time, it appears that Michel was already gone. His children and widow would have been left to fight those battles.
Did Michel die defending his home and family in 1690, along with his son or sons? Was their homestead burned either in the initial attack or by the pirates?
Michel was the first Forest, de Forest or Foret settler in Acadia – the founder of the Acadian Forest family. He was clearly there before he married in either 1665 or 1666, based on the age of his eldest child.
If Michel was born about 1638 or 1639, he would have been roughly 28 years old when he married.
Forest family researchers are fortunate to have long-time researcher, John P. DeLong, as a family member. John is a descendant and has been studying this family for more than 35 years. He’s been providing his web page for more than a quarter century. Thank you, John!!
John has evaluated the various famous and infamous stories about Michel’s origins, piece by piece, including both a mysterious name and religious denominational change – all of which are without any scrap of evidence other than uncertain oral history. Sometimes facts are morphed or molded a bit to fit the narrative – and that seems to be what happened over the decades, and indeed, centuries, regarding Michel.
There are two long-standing myths, meaning oral history, surrounding Michel de Forest. John goes into great detail, documenting both exceedingly well on his site, “The Origins of the Acadian Michel Forest.”
I’m not going to repeat them herel, but I strongly encourage all Michel Forest researchers to read his extensive research, points, counterpoints, and citations. It’s an excellent piece of work.
Not only is John’s research exemplary, it’s backed up by Y-DNA evidence. Assuming the tester’s genealogy is accurate, our Michel de Forest is NOT a descendant of the French Huguenot family who sought refuge in the Netherlands. Their Y-DNA, documented in the Forest Y-DNA project, here, is entirely different.
One of the theories involves our immigrant Michel being born by another name in the Netherlands to Huguenot refugees, then changing both his name and religion when immigrating to Acadia.
He was also rumored to be related to the Forest family of New Netherlands, now New York. That family descends from the Dutch Huguenot family.
An older story involved being born to another couple from the same line, but that was debunked earlier.
I concur with John DeLong’s conclusion that Michel very likely arrived around 1650 with Governor d’Aulnay:
Governor d’Aulnay was recruiting young men to voyage to Acadia between 1645 and 1650. Furthermore, a marriage delay of sixteen years is understandable. He (Michel) had to mature to adulthood, perhaps wait for his period of servitude to end, maybe spend some time setting up his own farm to become independent, and then had to wait for an eligible bride to mature given the shortage of marriageable woman in the colony. This could take up sixteen years. Surely, the fact that his second marriage was to a girl of 14 or 15 indicates that there was a serious shortage of eligible women in the colony even as late as 1686.
Without any other evidence, this is the most reasonable hypothesis.
What we know for sure is that Michel arrived in Acadia without any known family. This makes me wonder if Michel was an orphan or perhaps an adventurous teenager who set out to see the world.
Michel must have been wide-eyed as he set eyes on Port Royal for the first time. He would spend the rest of his life here, and his bones would rest in this very location.
Thank goodness for the Forest DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA. Y-DNA for males is passed from father to son, unmixed with the DNA of the mother. Occasional small mutations occur, allowing descendants to be grouped into family lines, but overall, Michel’s direct male descendants will match each other. In other words, de Forest or Forest men will match other Forest men.
Several of Michel’s direct patrilineal descendants have tested, and, as expected, they match each other. They do NOT match the Huguenot/New Netherlands group – not even close. Assuming the genealogy of the New Netherlands descendant is accurate, and no undocumented adoptions have occurred, this dispels any remaining doubt that anyone might have.
Often, stories become so ingrained in families and culture that disproof is hard to accept, especially when the story defines part of the family or cultural identity. One might ask themselves – how could these family stories have been so wrong for so long?
In this case, we know that at least two different de Forest descendant lines dating from a common ancestor in about 1830 carried this oral history, independently. Of course, we have NO idea how that story began. Maybe someone “noticed” the similarities in names and assumed that they were connected. Maybe someone told someone else they were connected. Regardless, it happened.
Then, after 150+ years of being repeated, it was accepted as incontrovertible fact, and everyone believed it. Why wouldn’t they? Those stories had been in the family “forever” so they “had” to be true. In the early/mid 1900s, books were published, further cementing the stories into the family psyche. If it’s in print, it has to be accurate, right? Then, online trees began, and what was previously in print in libraries became easily accessible from home, and the age of click/copy/paste began and continues to this day.
Let me say this again – Acadian Michel Forest’s Y-DNA, meaning his direct paternal line, does not match with the paternal line of the Dutch family, meaning that Gereyt de Forest who was born in 1737 to the wealthy Protestant de Forest family in Leiden in the Netherlands was NOT the Catholic Michel de Forest of Acadia. There are no facts that add up, and neither does the Y-DNA.
What do we know about Michel Forest’s DNA results, aside from the fact that his descendants’ Y-DNA doesn’t match the Dutch line of the same or similar surname who settled in New Netherlands?
Several of Michel de Forest’s descendants have tested, which you can see here.
I wish very much that every tester would enter their earliest known ancestor.
The volunteer project administrators have grouped Michel Forest’s known descendants together, above. You’ll notice that their haplogroups are estimated to be R-M269 based on STR tests, or the much more refined haplogroup R-FT146490 based on a Big Y test taken by kit number N36241.
On the other hand, kit number 939910 is reported to be a descendant of Melchoir de Forest III who was born about 1521 and died about 1571 or 1572. This is the Huguenot branch that immigrated to the Netherlands, then to New Netherlands. This is the line rumored to be Michel’s ancestors. Specifically, Gerryt (Geryt, Geryte, Gerryte) de Foreest/Forest born in 1637 was said to have gone to Acadia where he changed his name to Michel and became Catholic again. The birth year aligns approximately, but that’s all. Nothing more is known of Gerryte, so he was the perfect candidate to morph into Michel. A similar birth year, a continent apart, with no additional evidence, does not the same person make.
Assuming the tester’s genealogy is accurate, the Melchior haplogroup is I-FT413656, and the test can be found in the Ungrouped section.
I would very much like to see another confirmed test from any paternally descended male Melchior Forest descendant, preferably through another son. This would confirm the difference.
The base haplogroup of the Acadian Michel de Forest group is haplogroup R and the haplogroup of the Huguenot group is I. This alone disproves this theory, as those haplogroups aren’t related in thousands of years.
There are several testers in the project’s Ungrouped section. I can tell that the project administrators were actively trying to test all lines with a similar surname to see if any match. So far, they don’t.
The Group Time Tree, available under the project menu, shows all of the testers from both groups, together on one tree by time, across the top.
It’s easy to see that Acadian Michel De Forest’s group doesn’t match any other group of men with the same or similar surnames. I love this tool, because you can view all project members who have taken the Big-Y test, together, with time.
Additional information is available exclusively to members of the Forest Association, which can be found here. I’m not a member, so I don’t know what additional information might be there.
FamilyTreeDNA has provided the free Discover tool. One of the Forest men has taken the Big Y test and has been assigned the detailed haplogroup of R-FT146490. Haplogroup R-M269 is about 6350 years old, while the mutation responsible for R-FT146490 occurred about 200 years ago.
This fine, granular information, combined with other men who have taken the Big Y test and have either the same or nearby haplogroups, provides us with significant information about our de Forest family.
It confirms who we are and tells us who we’re not.
The Discover tool provides us with information about the age of Michel’s haplogroup, R-FT146490.
The haplogroup of Michel’s direct male paternal-line descendants is estimated to have been born about the year 1800, which suggests that if more descendants of Michel through different sons were to test, we might well identify another haplogroup someplace between 1800 and the parent haplogroup born about 800 CE. That’s a thousand years. Where were our ancestors?
These dates represent ranges, though, so the 1800 date could potentially be earlier.
Perhaps additional Forest men would be willing to upgrade.
Aside from Michel’s descendants upgrading, it would be very useful to see how closely we match other men from France. But that’s a problem.
A huge challenge for Acadian DNA testing is that DNA testing in France is illegal, so most of the French tests we have are from lines that left for the New World or elsewhere.
Perhaps in time, Michel’s origins before Acadia will be revealed. Where were his ancestors between 800 CE and when we find Michel in Acadia by 1666? That’s a BIG gap. We need more of Michel’s descendants to test, preferably at least one person from each son.
Michael’s life was short, and while we know who he married and the names of his children, thanks to the census, so much has been lost as a result of the destruction of the early Catholic church records.
That Catholic church that was burned by the British in 1690 assuredly held the records we need. However, the Acadians had much more than church registers to worry about after that attack. They had to bury their dead and provide for the living, somehow.
Under normal circumstances, Michael’s funeral would have been held inside the church near the fort in Annapolis Royal, and he would have been laid to rest in the cemetery beside the church. That may or may not be what happened, depending on when and how he died. The original Fort and historic area, including the church location and cemetery, is shown between St. George Street, Prince Albert, and the Bay, above.
The church no longer exists, and Acadian graves are unmarked today, but we know they were buried in what is now called the Garrison Cemetery, overlooking the Bay that welcomed Michel about 40 years earlier.
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