ONffroy de Verez, An Historical Account


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Saint Christophe
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Saint Christophe, Return to Vérèt

Emigration to St. Christophe

In the early 1660’s, the French settlers in the West Indies petitioned King Louis XIV for aid. The French settlers were at war with the Spanish and English over the valuable territory on the islands of Hispaniola and Saint Christophe where rich sugar and coffee plantations were under cultivation. King Louis XIV dispatched troops to the islands to protect them.

MusketeersNicholas Onfroy was a young officer in the Regiment de Maison in the court of King Louis XIV. The senior guard units of the Regiment de Maison were closed to all but the most senior and wealthy French nobles. It's possible Nicholas belonged to the Grey Musketeers, trained and proficient in the use of the ungainly musket. A young French nobleman from a good family might be invited to join the Grey Musketeers as the first step to entering the elite Regiment de Maison, the King’s own guard. Jehan Onfroy also served in the French military.

Foregoing home, family and the luxuries of the courts of Versailles, Nicholas and Jehan Onfroy, undertook the perilous ocean voyage for the island of Saint Christophe (modern day St. Kitts) to protect the French colonists.

Almost two hundred years before Jehan Onffroy set sail for Hispaniola, Christopher Columbus made landfall on the Leucayan Islands on his first voyage to find a western trade route to India. He set sail again from the Leucayan Islands and, on the fifth of December, 1492, his lookouts espied Hayti. Believing this landfall to be a new continent, he named the island Espagnola (Hispaniola) or Little Spain. Dropping anchor, he put ashore a contingent of his crew to search for gold. Though he was unsuccessful in finding large quantities of the precious metal, his discovery of this new frontier excited great attention throughout Europe on his return to Spain. What followed was the emigration of Europeans fueled by the dreams of fabulous riches and great opportunity. The Reverend John Riley Beard, in his book, Toussaint L’Overture, published in 1863 provides the following characterizations of Hayti and early French colonization of the western part of the island of Hispaniola.

Though so mountainous, the surface is overspread with vegetation, the highest summits being crowned with forests, placed within the tropics, Hayti has a hot yet humid climate, with a temperature of very great variations; so that while in the deep valleys the sun is almost intolerable, on the loftiest mountains of the interior a fire is often necessary to comfort. The ardor of the sun is on the coast moderated by the sea and land breezes which blow in succession. Heavy rains fall in the months of May and June. Hurricanes are less frequent in Hayti than the rest of the Antilles. the climate, however, is liable to great and sudden changes, which, bringing storm, tempest, and sunshine, with the intensity of tropical lands, now alarm and now enervate the natives, and often prove very injurious to Europeans. On so rich a soil human life is easily supported and the inducements to the labors of industry are neither numerous nor strong.

Pirate ShipThe reputed riches of the New World, and the wide spaces of open sea which its discovery made known, invited thither maritime adventurers from the coasts of Europe. Men of degraded character and boundless daring, finding it difficult to procure a subsistence by piracy and contraband trade in their old eastern haunts, now, from the newly-awakened spirit of maritime enterprise, frequented, if not scoured, by the vessels of England, Holland and France, hurried away with fresh hopes into the western ocean and swarmed wherever plunder seemed likely to reward their reckless hardihood.

Of these, known as buccaneers, a party took possession (1630) of the isle of Tortuga, which lies off the northwest of Hayti. With this as a centre of operation, they carried on ceaseless depredations against Hayti, the coasts of which they disturbed and plundered, putting an end to its trade and occupying its capital. In time, however, these corsairs met with due punishment at the hands of civilized nations.

A remnant of the buccaneers, of the French extraction, effected a settlement on the southwestern shores of Hayti, the possession of which they successfully maintained against Spain. In their new possessions, they applied to the tillage of the land; but becoming aware of the difficulty of maintaining their hold without assistance, they applied to France. Their claim was heard. In 1661, Dageron was sent to Hayti, with authority to take its government into his hands and accordingly effected there in 1665, a regularly constituted settlement.

In 1691, a new governor, Governor Ducasse, and in the peace of Ryswick, Spain found itself obliged to cede to France the western half of Hayti. With characteristic enterprise and application, the French soon caused their colony to surpass the Spanish portion in the elements of social well-being; and in the long peace which followed the wars of the Spanish succession, Saint-Domingue (so the French called their part of the island) became the most important colony which France possessed in the West Indies.

Side by side with the advance of agriculture, opulence spread on all sides and poured untold treasure into France. In a a similar proportion, the population expanded so that in 1790 there were in the western half of the island 555,825 inhabitants of whom only 27,717 were white men and 21,800 free men of color while the slaves amounted to 495,528.”

White Gold

In the early 1640’s, a partnership was formed and capital raised to begin a grand experiment. Englishman James Drax and his partner, William Hilliard began in secret to clear land on the island of Barbados to grow sugar cane as a crop. Sugar was a staple in the economy of the times and Drax believed the climate of the West Indies was ideal for its cultivation. The cultivation of sugar cane and subsequent refining into sugar was as much an art as a science and many a planter went bust before he got the process right.

The first requirement for sugar cane farming was to raise a significant amount of capital to clear the land, purchase the equipment and pay the fares to bring over indentured European laborers in the labor-intensive work. The sugar cane was difficult to plant and required painstaking care to weed the crops and protect it from pests during the growing phase. The cane could be harvested only in January and June, the driest months, and at the exact ripeness. Immediately after harvest, the juice had to be extracted which meant that the grinding mill had to be near at hand. Afterwards, it had to be processed immediately before fermentation began. The juice was then sent to the boiling house where it was passed through a series of rather complicated and time-sensitive steps to remove the liquid from the sugar, boiling it successively in 4 to 5 copper kettles beginning with the largest and progressively being moved to smaller kettles at higher heat. At the end, what was left was rather coarse crystallized brown sugar called muscovado and the by-product molasses. The sugar had to cure for a month or so in earthen pots and then was spread in the sun to dry. The final product was packed into large casks and shipped off to New England, Europe, Africa and elsewhere in the world. the molasses by-product was exported to be distilled into rum.

In the early 1600’s, Brazil was the largest producer of sugar. However, in 1645, a war broke out in Brazil when the Brazilians tried to free themselves from Dutch imperialism. The Brazilian revolution disrupted the market for sugar and sugar prices sky-rocketed. The early sugar planters in the English colony on the island of Barbados suddenly became fabulously wealthy. Over the next 50 years, Barbados became the most valuable colony in the British empire and the competition was on among England, France, Spain and the Netherlands to gain a foothold in this hugely profitable new industry. Sugar cane farming soon spread to Jamaica, Saint Christophe, Nevis and Antigua with constant warring going on among the English, French, Spanish and Dutch over arable land and export rights. The sugar was shipped to Europe, the American colonies in North America and elsewhere throughout the world.The North American colonies prospered greatly from providing wood, leather, and other goods to the the sugar plantations in the Antilles, and, in fact, the markets in the Antilles were instrumental in the growth and success of the fledgling North American colonies.

The growth in demand for sugar caused the sugar plantations to grow quickly. With growth came the increased need for labor to work in the fields, sugar mills and boiling houses. New colonists began arriving in Barbados and later Jamaica, St. Christophe, Nevis and Antigua. Many of the new colonists came as indentured servants, pledging seven or more years of hard labor in return for their fare to the new world. The work was extremely hard, toiling from dawn to dusk under a broiling sun or working in the stifling heat of the sugar mills and boiling houses. England also began sending convicts, revolutionaries and other unwanted citizens of the realm. A convict would be sentenced to "10 yeares in the colonie of Jamaica". Many Irish immigrants also came to the Antilles - by choice or by sentence. All these immigrants were “fresh meat” to grow the work force and replace the many white Europeans that had previously emigrated and died. Life was short and hard in the Antilles, the labor itself wore them down and, having never been exposed to the virulent viruses on the island, a large percentage of them died of yellow fever, small pox, and a variety of other sicknesses. It was rare for the laborers, or even the planters, to reach the age of 60 on the islands.

The French Sugar Planters of St. Christophe

Beginning in the mid-1600's there was what could be called a "white gold rush" as the French, English and Spanish vied to gain land rights and set up sugar cane plantations throughout the Antilles. On the island of St. Christophe (modern day St. Kitts), French and English planters shared the island and agreed to peacefully co-exist for mutual profitable benefit. The original inhabitants of the island, the Caribes, also inhabited the island and were employed as manual laborers.

In 1660, Cromwell made a decision to attempt to create a monopoly of the valuable sugar trade in the Antilles. The cooperation between French and English in Saint Christophe ended. For the most part, the native Caribes sided with the French, probably because the French were kinder masters then the notorious English. From then on, the English and French were constantly skirmishing and many an Englishman disappeared when he left the security of his compound and fell ito the hands of the Caribes. To protect their lands, planters on both sides set up militias that could be called up on short notice to combat the enemy at hand.

Nicholas and Jehan Onfroy arrived in this cauldron in 1661 as members of the militia. It's likely they were given land grants or possibly purchased land with capital they had brought with then from France. We know that Jehan Onfroy built up a fine sugar plantation.

In 1689, William of Orange invaded England and became King, deposing James II. When this news reached the colonies in the Antilles, Irish serfs on the island of St. Christophe rose up and sacked English plantations on the English side of the island in support of the deposed King James. England declared war on France in May 1689 and France sent a fleet of warships to St. Christophe. The French, 3,000 strong, marched on Fort Charles which was the main English stronghold on the island and the English inside surrendered after holding out for three weeks.

In June of 1690, an English fleet of warships set sail for St. Christophe to take back control of the island and dropped anchor in Frigate Bay. The French were ready for them having prepared trenches on the beach. However, the English commander, Codrington, sent a contingent of English soldiers to land at another unguarded area of the coast and these soldiers flanked the French and fell on them from the rear. As the French retreated from the beach, Codrington landed another 600 troops from his ships in front of them and they were caught between “the hammer and the anvil”. The French were forced into a full retreat into the mountains where the remaining French defenders established a foothold inside a fort overlooked by a rise called Brimstone Hill. Codrington poured cannon shot into the fort from the ships at anchor and from cannons that were dragged into the mountains and finally, in July 1690, the French in the fort were forced to surrendered.

Jehan Onffroy and his father-in-law, Marin Le Tellier, were killed in the fighting most likely sometime during the events of 1690. In his memoirs written in the 1820’s, Comte Anne Marthe Rolland Onffroy wrote:

The Chevalier de Saint Laurent, governor of this island (St. Christophe), spoke highly of his (Nicholas’) zeal and bravery. He appointed him as an engineer. He mounted one of the first assaults on the fort of Tobago and was wounded in the arm.

Jehan Onffroy served also on the island of Saint Christophe. He was married to Anne Le Tellier, daughter of Marin Le Tellier, a major in the colony. He was very rich and owned a fine sugar plantation which he lost when the English seized Saint Christophe. My family thinks nothing of the loss of their fortune or blood that must be given in the service of the state. Jehan Onffroy and his father-in-law, Marin Le Tellier, were killed and in about 1690 his widow returned to France with a single young son named Jacques Charles Onfroy.

Jacques Charles Onffroy, born on the island of Saint Christophe, was named at the age of 22 years old. They had neglected to give him a first name before his baptism. He was given the name Jacques Charles on Oct. 22, 1705. Previously he was known as Anonymous Onffroy in any documents that concerned him. He was married to Jeanne Minfant, daughter of the late Jean Minfant, Esquire. His son, Rolland Pierre Onffroy, was born Aug. 28, 1720.”

Return to the Province of Véret

After the death of Jehan Onfroy, in about 1690, his widow Anne Le Tellier Onfroy and her family sailed back to France returning to the province of Véret, west of Bayeux to the northwest of the small town of Formigny. Their Onfroy ancestors had resided in Véret for several hundred years having first set up a homestead there during the crusades.

Onffroy Coat of ArmsOn Nov. 13, 1697, his widow, Anne, registered the family crest with L’Armorial General d’Hozier, the official French registry:

D’argent au chevron de gueules accompagné de trois trèfles de sinople. L’ecu timbré d’une couronne de marquis. Supports: deux lions regardant au naturel. Devise: Tot Insignis In Armis.

Jacques Charles Onffroy, the son of Jehan Onffroy, was born in 1683 on the island of St. Christophe and returned to France with his family as a young boy. Jacques grew up in Véret and at the age of 25, he married Jeanne de Minfant on the 28th of July, 1728 at Canchy near Bayeux France. They lived out their lives in Véret.

Their son, Rolland Pierre Onffroy, was born the 28th of April, 1720, in Véret.