1 - Mathurin Dubé, a son of La Chapelle-Thémer
Our ancestor Mathurin Dubé is identified on his marriage document as being “the son of Jean Dubay and Renée Suzanne, both deceased,” (1) who resided at La Chapelle-Thémer, a parish in the Diocese of Luçon and located in the Fontenay-le-Comte community, in the Poitou region (formerly called Vendée). La Chapelle-Thémer, the birthplace of our ancestor Mathurin, is now well known amongst a large number of Dubés. At that time, as it still is the case, this little village of a few hundred people was situated in a wooded area extending over the rolling hills that overlooked the coastal marsh Marais Poitevin. This marsh covered lower grounds stretching towards the Atlantic Ocean. The inhabitants of that place lived from agriculture, and it is most likely that very early in life our ancestor learned to till the land and gained minimal experience in forestry. The sea, even though not very far, was not easily accessible considering means of transportation available at the time. Travellers had to move by land because no important river gave access to the sea. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of the area most likely knew of the port of La Rochelle, situated about a hundred kilometres southwest.
Very little is known about socioeconomic life in the region at the time of Mathurin. However, upon being named bishop of Luçon in 1606, the future Cardinal de Richelieu gave a less than flattering description of his diocese as being “the dirtiest, the most hideous and the most unpleasant in France.” (2) It is obvious that this judgment was made by a prominent member of the Catholic clergy who knew he would have to deal with a population in large part converted to Protestantism. In the early 1600s, the seigniors of Sainte-Hermine, a community close to La Chapelle-Thémer, were Protestants. However, peasants did not necessarily share the faith of their seigniors. The perception expressed by the newly-appointed bishop remains an indication that his flock was far removed from prosperity. Religious quarrels and latent poverty might well have been part of the reasons why our ancestor decided to try his chance in the New World. Considering his future relations with the clergy in New France, it appears most unlikely that Mathurin could have been a Protestant looking for greater religious freedom. As well, tackling the dangers of the high seas in order to improve his socioeconomic status represented quite a challenge. It is obvious that Mathurin, the oldest child in his family, had a strong desire for change, but we cannot easily assess his exact motives.
2 - Descendants from Breton Seigniors – A Conclusion Fraught with Doubt
Our quest for the first Dubés had to proceed with archives kept by the Nobility because illiterate peasants could not keep records. In their search for clues proving the existence of persons named Dubé in the remote past, our predecessors gave paramount importance to a manor situated at Ménéac, in Brittany.
According to Paul Gilles, historian of Ménéac, there is indeed in this region a settlement called Le Bé as well as a forest called Bois du Bé. Long ago, there existed a seigniory, a castle and its dependencies: “Le Bé appears to be the oldest estate. We find the seigniors du Bé as early as 1200.” (3) Nowadays, the name Dubé is associated with Ménéac through the town’s official coat of arms, whose delivery is well documented. In Brittany, the General of Finance (or Généralité) of Laval issued a document stating that “the coat of arms presented by Jean Du Bé de la Garenne, seignior of Le Bé in Ménéac, of la Garenne, of Morelais, of la Colinaye, of la Lande, of St-Aubin des Cormiers and of other lands …, has been recorded by the General Recorder of Heraldry (in the French text Armorial Général) in the Registry marked Rennes.” (4) Proof of record was delivered in Paris in July 1698 pursuant to an “order made on the 5th of March, 1698, by the honourable General Commissioners of the Council.” (5) The first Dubé genealogists tried to establish a link between this Breton manor and our ancestor Mathurin. In Nice, on December 5, 1937, archivist Henri-Paul Noyer d’Orcinas de Comps wrote a historical and genealogical notice on the Dubé family (Notice historique et généalogique sur la famille Dubé) in which he stated that the elder branch of the family, who owned the Dubé seigniory at Ménéac, became extinct sometime around the fourtheen century. After mentioning the presence of descendants from these Dubés in several regions of France, he took the bold step of attributing this origin to our ancestor. It is known that estate laws in force at that time in Brittany could progressively impoverish the descendants of a seignior because his estate had to be shared amongst his descendants who, after a few generations, were often absorbed into the peasantry or the working classes. Even if the descendants of Dubé seigniors may have had such a fate and although we can definitely establish the existence of our family name in this particular region of Brittany, we have no genealogical proof that the Dubés from La Chapelle-Thémer were descendants of the seigniors of Ménéac.
Original French quotations
(1) « fils de deffuncts Jean Dubay et de Renée Suzanne ».
(2) « le plus vilain de France, le plus crotté et le plus désagréable».
(3) «Le Bé semble être le domaine le plus ancien. Nous y voyons les seigneurs du Bé dès 1200. »
(4) « les armoiries de Jean Du Bé de la Garenne, Sgr du Bé en Ménéac, de la Garenne, de Morelais, la Colinaye, la Lande, St-Aubin des Cormiers et autres lieux…, ont été enregistrées à l’armorial Général, dans le Régistre cotté Rennes.»
(5) « ordonnance rendue le 5ème du mois de mars de l’an 1698, par Mrs les Commissaires généraux du Conseil. »