When I started my research into my family history I did not expect to find much information directly referencing my ancestor and 8th Great Grandfather Guillaume Regnault. Without expecting much, I began a series of random Google searches and was astonished by the number of “hits” and to discover that many others were his descendants. Almost immediately I became anxious that my goal to write the definitive family history had already been done and others had written everything there was to say about Guillaume. I would discover that this anxiety was ill founded. While there seemed to be a wealth of internet “hits” a deeper look revealed the information was duplicative and some of these “facts” were incorrect or misinterpreted. While a lot of researchers seemed to know about him few knew very much about him.
One of the most repeated mistakes I have encountered pertains to Guillaume’s date of birth. What is generally shown as his date of birth is in actuality his date of baptism as recorded in the parish registers of Saint-Jouin-sur Mer. It is certainly possible that he was baptized the same day as his birth but that was not always the case in the 17th Century. The parish priest was not always close at hand and midwives were only authorized to baptize if the child was not likely to survive.
The story is further confused by the multiple dates given for his baptism. Many genealogical sites and reputable researchers show January 20, 1644, which is not accurate. These sources probably rely on the foundational research of Cyprien Tanguay and his 7 volume Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes françaises depuis les origines de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours or perhaps Emile Vaillancourt’s La Conquête du Canada par les Normands.
To be fair, there is a baptismal record for a Guillaume Regnault in Saint-Jouin whose parents were Guillaume Regnault and Susanne De LaHaye. The godfather was Guillaume De La Haye (either the grandfather or a similarly named uncle) and Francoyse [unreadable].
The problem is that Tanguay stopped too soon. This is not the last baptismal record for Guillaume Regnault as a mere 15 months later, on the 12 of April 1645, there is another record for a Guillaume Regnault. It is easy to understand how it could be missed if you did not know it was there. As is evident from the picture above, the parish registers are very old documents and in some cases unreadable. I was fortunate to have been given the information by the staff at Fichier Origine .
This record shows the same parentage and once again Guillaume De La Haye is the godfather. The godmother in this instance appears to be “Marie Lescolier.”
The best explanation for this apparent duplicate baptism is that the first Guillaume died relatively soon after birth. Whether the child was born with a life threatening condition or if it happened as a result of an epidemic or illness cannot be determined. There would be no death recorded in the parish register as the death of a child was not an unusual occurrence and according to the historian Pierre Goubert, “his loss was not deeply felt” and the “name was often given to the next child,” as was obviously the case in this instance.
The surviving Guillaume was the fourth child of seven known children and the eldest surviving male child. Despite my best efforts I was unable to determine what happened to any of the surviving siblings. I looked through all of the parish registers for Saint-Jouin available online and could not find any subsequent information on his siblings. It is possible that the daughters married and moved elsewhere.
We know next to nothing about Guillaume’s life. If he had not arrived in Québec, he would likely have lived his life out, perhaps like his siblings, without leaving much of a traceable legacy. We are fortunate he did but the reason why he did is not so clear.
It is nearly universally asserted that Guillaume Regnault came to Canada as a member of the Carignan-Salières regiment. However, the evidence for this is less than solid. Nevertheless, he is regularly identified as a member of La Colonelle Company. For example, the historian Jack Verney in his book on the Carignan Regiment, The Good Regiment, lists Guillaume Regnault as a member of La Colonelle Company. Verney relies on five sources for his list: “the original list of soldiers remaining in Canada, the Abbé Cyprien Tanguay’s genealogical dictionary, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, François-Joseph Audet’s presentation to the Royal Society of Canada in 1922, and the Leymarie Papers.” If this scenario is accurate Guillaume would have left the port of La Rochelle on board the royal ship La Paix with the rest of La Colonelle Company on May 13, 1665 and arrived in Quebec in August of that year.
However, these sources only indicate that he served with the regiment in North America not that he joined the regiment in France. There are at least two references to Guillaume Regnault that would suggest he was already in Canada before the arrival of the Carignan Regiment in 1665. According to the historian Michel Langlois, Guillaume was not on La Paix.
Also, in Marcel Trudel’s account, Le seigneurie de la Compagne des Indes occidentales, 1663-1674, he makes reference to“Guillaume Regnaud” and identifies him as one of twelve inhabitants who formally enlisted in 1665 in Canada. Trudel also estimates that there were up to 500 immigrants in addition to the arrival of the Carignan-Salières regiment. It is surprising that the extensive research by many historians and genealogists into those who immigrated to Canada has yet to uncover the ship on which Guillaume arrived.
If Guillaume did not arrive as a soldier, he most probably arrived as an indentured servant or engagé as Alan Greer has noted, “the majority of all seventeenth-century immigrants” were engagés. This would certainly explain why according to the Quebec census of 1667, Guillaume served as a “domestic” for Louis-Théandre Chartier de Lotbinière. It is certainly plausible that Guillaume was indentured to Lotbinière upon Guillaume’s arrival in 1664-1665 and then loaned to the Regiment only to have Guillaume return to Lotbinière’s service after his discharge from the military. Their relationship continued as both Lotbinière and his wife Elisabeth D’Amours were the legal witnesses for Guillaume’s subsequent marriage which might suggest that Guillaume had made no other significant personal relationships during his time in Canada.
It is reasonable to ask the question of the relevance of the manner in which he came to New France. If he came over as a soldier, it raises interesting questions as to whether or not he was a willing participant. Seventeenth Century army recruiters were not exactly known for their scruples. It was quite possible they would enter a town or village and offer the young single men a few intoxicating beverages in order to get the prospect to sign the enlistment papers. The use of the racolage was not unusual and outright abduction was not out of the question. However, many men did enlist, as Verney notes, given the "state of disarray" of French agriculture at the time. Verney suggests that being a soldier was a better option than entering into a life of crime to make ends meat.
Nevertheless, it was not an easy sell as even many of the officers did not want to make the difficult ocean voyage to serve the cause of the king in the Canadian hinterlands. They believed their career would be better served on the continent where their efforts would more likely be noticed and recognized leading to career advancement.
It's hard to imagine Guillaume's father and mother proudly supporting their son's decision to become a soldier as the army was not much loved by the populace. In fact, Verney details the antipathy the general populace had toward soldiers as many times they refused to provision the troops and on occasion trying to prevent them from entering the town or village.
I think it is much more plausible, given all the evidence, to suggest that the situation for the Regnault's in the early to mid-1660s had deteriorated to the point that Guillaume saw no viable future for himself. Like others before him, he had heard the stories of the New World and the opportunity for more options. Somehow, he made arrangements to board a ship and travel west across an ocean. I can certainly relate to this situation. Having grown up in a decaying steel town on the straits of Detroit in the 1970s and '80's, there were few options for me. Like Guillaume, I headed west (to California) in the hope of a better life.