Update: New Melanson genealogy information was found by a fellow researcher in 2012 and may have cleared up this family mystery. I learned about it during December 2014 and the new information is detailed in the post “A breakthrough in the mysterious Melanson genealogy?”
If you’re using this research, be sure to use the information in both posts as the new discoveries negate or resolve some of the information and speculations in this post.
My family on my mother’s side originates with Pierre dit Laverdure and his wife Priscilla (Mellanson), who immigrated with their family to America by ship with a group under the leadership of the newly appointed Governor of Acadia, Thomas Temple in 1657. They landed first in Boston, Massachusetts and then travelled to Acadia to settle.
After some consideration of the scant documentary evidence available for this couple, weighed against the political and religious circumstances of the time, it is widely believed Pierre was a French Huguenot who emigrated to England to escape the persecution of the Huguenots. It is most likely he emigrated from La Rochelle, Poitou-Charentes, as his departure coincides with the capture of that protestant city by Papist forces.
There is a fair quantity of documentary evidence regarding Pierre, Priscilla and their three sons Pierre, Charles and Jean once they arrive in Acadia. What little we know of their original location and circumstances is gleaned from the documentation in Acadia and Boston, Massachusetts.
In one document found in the archives of Boston, Massachusetts, Priscilla states that she and her family had immigrated to Acadia in 1657 on the ship ‘Satisfaction’ with the newly appointed Governor and had settled in the region that is now St. John, New Brunswick.
A petition submitted by Priscilla Mellanson to the Governor of Massachusetts and his counsel was also found. In this petition, she requests that 100 pounds she had submitted for bail on behalf of her son Jean, who had skipped bail, be returned to her. She states that she was an English woman and her husband ‘Peter Laverdure’ was of French protestant origin.
Much of the documentation from the Acadian settlement refers to Pierre as Pierre dit Laverdure. A common practice in France at the time was to adopt nicknames or titles denoted by the word ‘dit’ before it. This title or nickname could have referred to any number of things including a descriptive term, location, family or property in France. I was unable to find any references to titles, locations or property in my research. However, I did locate a definition for the word ‘verdure’ in The Free Dictionary, and it indicates:
a. The lush greenness of flourishing vegetation.
b. Vigorous greenery.
2. A fresh or flourishing condition: the verdure of childhood.
My reasoning (and this is total speculation) is that, based on this definition, there are several possibilities, including:
- He was from a lush, green, fertile area of France.
- He was involved in forest management or forestry.
- He was in a profession concerned with vegetation such as farming.
- The ‘fresh or flourishing condition’ referred to in the definition above could allude to his being ‘young’, ‘youthful’, ‘vigorous’, or ‘junior’ to someone.
In most English documents, the ‘dit’ is dropped from Pierre’s name and he is referred to simply as Pierre Laverdure. In no written record does the patriarch Pierre have the surname Mellanson, despite the fact that his wife and sons are all known by that surname. Further support for the Laverdure portion of his surname being a title or nickname is the fact that his son Pierre is noted in documents as Pierre ‘dit la Verdure’ Mellanson and his brother as Charles ‘dit la Ramée’ Mellanson.
Although difficult to find, research into the ‘dit la Ramée’ nickname for Charles also indicates a definition surrounding vegetation and foliage.
Another document written in 1720 by John Adams actually provides quite a bit of evidence to support these conclusions. It refers to the son of Pierre Laverdure as ‘an aged English gentleman’. It also states that Priscilla’s husband had left to “escape the wrath of his countrymen Papists.” At the time of the Treaty of Breda, by which Acadia came under control of France, Pierre and Priscilla moved to Boston, Massachusetts, supposedly in fear of further persecution at the hands of the French. Their sons Pierre and Charles, having previously converted to the Catholic religion, remained in Acadia.
It is impossible to tell what Priscilla’s maiden name was. It is widely assumed it was Mellanson although there is little to support this in the documentation of the time. The belief that Mellanson had been her surname is supported by her mark on a document while in Boston, in which she simply uses the initials ‘PM’, and also by the fact that her sons Pierre and Charles adopted ‘Mellanson’ as their surname.
While conducting research into the circumstances of the Huguenot migration I learned that they emigrated to numerous locations including England, Wales and Ireland in the United Kingdom. The Huguenot immigrants to England arrived on the coastline of Kent. Although a small portion relocated to Ireland, the majority moved on to Canterbury; Sandwich, Faversham and Maidstone in Kent; Shoreditch, Spitalfields, and Wandsworth, London; Cranfield, Bedford and Luton in Bedfordshire; and Norwich in Norfolk.
One common thread between information we know from Acadian census records for Pierre and his sons and the Huguenots who migrated to Canterbury, is an involvement in the handling or creation of textiles. A large proportion of the Huguenot refugees in Canterbury were weavers, and there is at least one Acadian census indicating that Pierre, the son, was a tailor.
The migration of Huguenots to England does not seem to have extended to Yorkshire. Therefore, I’m inclined to assume that since it’s unlikely for Pierre to have been in Yorkshire, it is possible Priscilla had lived – whether permanently or temporarily – and if indeed she came from Yorkshire, in one of the areas of Huguenot settlement listed above.
Recently, I decided to do a broad search for anything I can find of the names ‘Mellanson’ and ‘Laverdure’ in England, hopefully to find documentary evidence of their arrival, residency, marriage or birth of their sons. There is very little to be found. As others have stated in the past, the Mallinson surname and all of its variations appear most frequently in Yorkshire, England. However, it does appear in varying concentrations throughout the rest of England and I have been unable to find records of any Priscilla of that surname with any Peter or Pierre.
Due to the widespread belief of her origin being Yorkshire, based on the frequency of the ‘Mellanson’ and other variants of the surname in Yorkshire, I proceeded to search for references to ‘Pierre Laverdure’ or ‘Pierre dit Laverdure’ in combination with ‘Priscilla Mellanson’ or just ‘Priscilla’ on its own. I used soundex searches, hoping to find obscure references to the names or variants in spelling and combinations I may otherwise have missed. Nothing was found. I then searched for Priscilla with Pierre, or possibly Priscilla with Peter. Although there were some results, in none of them was the surname even close to that of Pierre Laverdure.
Not finding any close possibilities in Yorkshire, I decided to conduct the same search for all of England. The following were the results of my search, again using soundex for the broadest results:
- A marriage record for a Peter Mailes to a Presilla Browne on February 28, 1619 in Bottisham, Cambridge, England.
- A birth record for Prisella Mellen on March 30, 1605 in Hothfield, Kent, England.
Both of these are possibilities, but rather vague ones at best. Is it not possible that Prisella’s maiden name was Mellen and her sons Pierrre and Charles subsequently added the ‘son’ and went by Mellenson?
I was amazed to find a birth record for Peter Verdere on May 21, 1631 at Saint George Collegiate, Norwich, Norfolk, England. Could this be a misspelling or anglicized version of La Verdure? We already know from the documents found in Boston, Priscilla did refer to Pierre as ‘Peter’. This birth date is definitely at the right time, considering the Acadian censuses showing the first Pierre’s son with a birth date of 1631/32. The father’s name is also noted on the record as Peter Verdere. Cambridge is close enough to Kent where Prisella Mellen was born that it’s not unlikely that they could have met and married.
Other Verdere records I located include:
- James Verdere, married to Elisabeth on September 1, 1651 in Heigham, Norfolk, England.
- Anne Verdeer, baptised September 19, 1665 in St. John Timberhill, Norwich, Norfolk, England.
- Deborah Verdeere, baptised September 10, 1666 in St. John Timberhill, Norwich, Norfolk, England to Peter Verdeere and Jude.
- Judith Virdeer, baptised April 2, 1668 in St. Gregoryes, Norwich, Norfolk, England, showing parents to be Peter Virdeer and Judith.
- Peter Verdere, buried December 26, 1668 in St. Gregoryes, Norwich, Norfolk, England.
- Elizabeth Verdier, baptised March 5, 1672 in St. Gregory, Norwich, Norfolk, England, showing Peter and Judith as her parents.
- James Verdier, baptised March 19, 1676 in St. Gregory, Norwich, Norfolk, England.
- James Verdere, buried on February 16, 1681 in St. Johns of Maddermarket, Norwich, Norfok, England, showing his father as Peter Verdere.
The burial of Peter Verdere in 1668 could be that of his father, who was also named Peter. Or, less likely is the possibility that this was a brother or other relative. Although at first glance the burial of Peter Verdere in 1668 after the births of several children may seem to eliminate this Peter as our Pierre dit Laverdure, it is important to note that the common practice at the time among the French was to reuse given names several times – even among siblings. I could speculate that the Peter who immigrated to Amercica in 1657 with his father, also Peter, may have been a brother to another son with the name of Peter as a middle name. Upon the death or removal of one son by a given name like our Pierre, it was quite common to either name a second son (and brother to the deceased) born later with the same name, or for an existing son to adopt the name.
My own extensive French heritage through the Acadians on my mother’s side and the French Canadians in Quebec on my father’s side, provide numerous examples of this practice. If this were indeed the case, this Pierre Verdere having fathered the children after 1657 and his dying in 1668 would not necessarily preclude him from being a son to our Pierre Laverdure and a brother to the Pierre Laverdure who immigrated with his father in 1657. It is unfortunate that none of these records name the wife and/or mother.
Considering the distance from Norwich to Cambridge is only about 75 kilometers, and Cambridge having been a main center for the settlement of Huguenots, this appears to be a more likely place for Pierre Laverdure to have been than Yorkshire.
If anyone else has found anything that may be evidence of our Pierre Laverdure and Priscilla Mellanson and their family in England, please get in touch with me. I would greatly appreciate any help I can get to solve this family mystery.
photo credit: wikimedia.org
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