One of the more interesting exercises in undertaking the study of family history in the United States is determining who was the very first, the “alpha” ancestor to arrive in North America for a specific family line. That individual may not be the most interesting of the family but their name can claim the unique position of being the one that brought the lineage to the New World. Jean Poirier (1626-1654) was that person for my family.
Jean Poirier was one of four children of Jehan Resolot Poirier and Jeanne Touzeau. He was born in 1626 in the small commune of Martaizé in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France. This region is well known for having provided many of the earliest settlers of Acadia, including Jean. There is no particular record of Jean’s, or his father’s, education or occupation prior to his departure for the New World.
French records indicate that Jean Poirier departed France aboard the ship St. François from the port of La Rochelle on 7 May 1641, destined to work in the Canadian fishery establishments of Nicolas Denys. Jean settled in the fortified town of Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal) on the northwest coast of modern Nova Scotia, an area found within the the area historically known as Acadia.
The period of Jean’s arrival and residence in Port-Royal was a turbulent one for the colony as it was then in the midst of the Acadian Civil War. Given that Jean Poirier was then a resident of Port Royal it is likely that he sided with Governor Charles de Menou d’Aulnay of the Port Royal Administration in his disagreement with competing Governor Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour of the St. John Administration. Regardless, Jean Poirier found himself a new resident in a region inflamed.
There is no record of whether Jean Poirier took up arms during the Acadian Civil War or simply toiled away in the fisheries of his employer during the period, but it is unlikely that, given the small population and his age, he would have been able to avoid military service. The victory of the Port Royal Administration at the Siege of St. John (1645) ended the conflict between the competing Acadian camps.
The brief calm that followed the end of the Acadian Civil War provided Jean the opportunity to begin a family and, in 1647 or 1648, he married twenty-year old Jeanne Chabrat. The couple started their family and had their first child, a girl named Marie Françoise, in 1649. A son named Michel, who would carry on the Poirier family name, followed in 1651.
The tension over access to the rich fishing waters of Nova Scotia, and her coastline for salting, between the French Acadians and the English colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the south was ever present. The English sent three hundred troops (100 New England volunteers and 200 professional soldiers) under the command of Colonel Robert Sedgwick in July 1654 to capture Port Royal. At the time, Port Royal was defended by only 130 men, with Jean Poirier as one of those defenders.
Colonel Sedgwick, according to one account, was approaching Port Royal with his troops aboard three ships and a small boat. Jean Poirier was among a number of Acadian defenders who attempted to ambush the small flotilla from their own vessels. Jean was killed in the effort and was buried in an unmarked grave in the garrison graveyard. He was 27 years old. Jean and Jeanne’s son Michel, who fathered over a dozen children, would pass the family name down to generations of Poiriers across North America.
A wonderful source for the earliest Poirier settlers in Canada is Jean Doris LeBlanc’s Genealogy of the Poirier Family in Cheticamp, Volume 1 – The Andre Line, 1985.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.