Signatures of Some Notable Ancestors

by Miff Crommelin

Thanks to the efforts of researchers like Maryse Trannois of St. Quentin, France and Jay Robbins in Massachusetts, USA we now know about the existence of old letters and documents that show the handwriting and signatures of some of our oldest known ancestors.

Maryse took the trouble to photograph pages from the church registers of the Protestant church at Lehaucourt, France which date back to 1592. Lehaucourt is a small village in Picardy on the outskirts of St. Quentin where a Protestant church was permitted to exist under the Edict of Nantes. One marvels at the remarkable quality of the paper, ink and legibility of the old Lehaucourt church registers, and the pristine quality of their preservation considering all the turmoil and wars that were fought in this region over the years.

Title page of the 1676 church registry of Lehautcourt, France,
the church that served the Protestants at St. Quentin

These fragile records survive today despite wars such as the Catholic-Protestant conflict, Spanish-French wars, French Revolution, Napoleonic wars, Franco-Prussian war, World War I and World War II. For example, in 1636 when Picardy, France was invaded by the brother of the King of Spain and his savage mercenaries, the village of Lehaucourt and its Protestant temple were sacked and burned. The church was rebuilt but fifty years later, in 1685, the church was finally destroyed when the Edict of Nantes was revoked under King Louis XIV. Indeed, when one sees photos of St. Quentin reduced to rubble in W.W.I, it seems miraculous that these church registers could have been spared so many times. Yet they did survive and today they are housed at the Archives of the Departement of Aisne at Laon, France.

Place Crommelin in St. Quentin, reduced to rubble during the First World War

These records show who were in attendance at weddings, baptisms and funerals of our early ancestors, and Maryse also photographed a trove of correspondence between Catherine Crommelin (1632-1694) and her son, Frederic de Coninck (1660-1722). These letters, found at the Bibliotheque du Protestantisme Francais in Paris, date between 1682-1694 and thus span the period of great anxiety when the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685.

Meanwhile, Jay Robbins, a mining historian in the USA uncovered many documents pertaining to Daniel Crommelin and his son, Charles, because of their involvement with an unsuccessful copper mining venture in Connecticut. Charles' eventual insolvency led to the sale of Daniel's immense landholdings in New York in order to satisfy his creditors. Thus our ancestors' signatures appear on numerous documents involving mining leases, land sales, lawsuits, mortgages, etc., all at a time when this part of America was still under British rule.

One signature I find most interesting is that of Rachel Tacquelet who, at the age of fourteen, became the wife of Jean Crommelin who stands near the top of the family tree. Jean and his brother, Pierre, inherited the immense linen works at St. Quentin founded by their grandfather, Armand. This establishment generated much of the prosperity in northern France in the 16th and 17th century. Jean and Pierre were the children of Jehan Crommelin and Marie de Semery.

Jean Crommelin (1603-1659), husband of Rachel Tacquelet (1609-1686)

Rachel bore 15 children including Catherine Crommelin [her 5th child, mentioned above, wife of Francois de Coninck] whose voluminous correspondence with her son, Frederic, was photographed by Maryse Trannois. Born in 1625, Rachel's first child was Louis Crommelin whose son, Samuel Louis Crommelin, became famous as the 'Louis of Lisburn' having founded the notable linen industry in Lisburn, Ireland, at the behest of William of Orange, the king of England. This senior Louis' signature is to be found many times in the Lehaucourt church registers where he served as one of the 6 elders of the church along with Pierre Testart, the husband of Catherine Bossu whose children were Elizabeth Testart (wife of Jacob Crommelin) and Anne Testart (wife of Daniel Crommelin). Pierre Testart's second wife was Rachel Crommelin, the 6th child of Rachel Tacquelet who died while giving birth to their 8th child. Thus Pierre Testart married a third time to Anne Baullier.

1668 Entry Recording the Death of Lehaucourt Pastor Jean Mettayer signed by the six elders (anciens) of the church.
Samuel Mettayer, son of the deceased, became the new pastor.

Samuel Crommelin (1629-1694) [above signature] was a child of Pierre Crommelin [Jean's brother] and Marie des Ormeaux. He married Madeleine Testart and they had 23 children one of whom, Anne Crommelin, married her cousin Samuel Louis Crommelin, the 'Louis of Lisburn'.

Born in 1642, Rachel Tacquelet's tenth child was Jacob Crommelin, the one who completed a genealogical account of the Crommelin family on his 70th birthday in 1712. This account was later published by J.H. Scheffer and also appears translated into English in an expanded/illustrated format on the Crommelin Family website.

1674 Baptism of Jacob's Daughter, Madeleine, showing the signatures of
Jacob and Daniel Crommelin and Marie Boileau, the wife of another brother, Abraham, who died a year earlier

Jacob and his sister, Catherine, were at the bedside of Rachel Tacquelet in Paris when she died on August 10, 1686 during the persecution. She was buried at the cemetery of St. Sulpice church in Paris. Amongst the letters photographed by Maryse we also have the correspondence between Catherine and her son during the visit she made to Paris to care for her ailing mother during her last days. In fact, we also have two letters written by Rachel Tacquelet herself to Frederic de Coninck, the last one being written a year before she died at the age of 77 years!

Letter by Rachel Tacquelet to her grandson, Frederic de Coninck, May 5, 1685

A Huguenot Baptism

Another sample of Rachel Tacquelet's signature which I find intriguing appears during the baptism and death [on the same day] of Elizabeth Crommelin, born to Jacob Crommelin and Elizabeth Testart in 1668. Usually the 'maraine' or 'godmother' of a baptized child is a young person because she is expected to become the surrogate mother should anything drastic happen to the real mother while the child is still young. Therefore, a 'maraine' is rarely an older lady. Since Elizabeth died on the day of her birth, her baptism was duly recorded on the same day as her burial. And since it didn't matter how young (or old) the 'godmother' was, they opted to name the elderly Rachel Tacquelet [aged 59] as the 'maraine' of Elizabeth so that her signature would appear on the baptismal registry and thus be recorded for posterity! This is the only incidence of her signature in the Lehaucourt church registers.

Since Rachel Tacquelet was born in 1609, she was 11 years old when the Mayflower set sail for America. Three years later she was married to Jean Crommelin. Therefore, I don't believe we have the signature or handwriting of an ancestor older than Rachel Tacquelet. Fortunately we have two letters written by her, plus her signature as 'maraine' of Elizabeth Crommelin!

"Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," by William Halsall, 1882 at Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA

A point of interest is that the letters and church registers reveal that a woman's maiden name didn't change after she was married. In other words, Rachel Tacquelet didn't become 'Rachel Crommelin' after she married Jean Crommelin, however if she were alive today she would likely be known as Rachel Crommelin-Tacquelet.

Born in 1647, the thirteenth child of Rachel Tacquelet was Daniel whose ambitious exploits led him away from St. Quentin to Paris, then to England, then to Jamaica, and finally to America where he arrived in 1694. He was also the grandfather of Daniel Crommelin who was born in America but who, at the age of 17, emigrated to Holland where he founded the prominent banking and trading company, Daniel Crommelin and Sons which lasted for several generations.

Daniel Crommelin's marriage to Anne Testart at St. Quentin, October 28, 1674

We have his marriage to Anne Testart faithfully recorded in the Lehaucourt church registry of 1674 with such familiar names as Louis Crommelin and Pierre Testart (Anne's father) in attendance. Adrian (1643-1706) was a son of Adrian Crommelin and Susanne Doublet. This Adrian became the husband of Marguerite Richard in 1688.

Isaac Crommelin's baptism March 15, 1682, son of Daniel Crommelin and Anne Testart

Eight years later in 1682 the Lehaucourt register records the baptism of Daniel's second son, Isaac, while Daniel was absent. This is understandable because Daniel was involved in an abortive business venture with the notorious pirate, Nicolas Van Hoorn when Isaac was born in St. Quentin, France. Godparents were Isaac Testart, a merchant in London, and his wife, Marie Madelaine Crommelin, a daughter of Louis Crommelin and Marie Mettayer, and thus a sister of 'Louis of Lisburn'. Curiously, the wedding of Isaac Testart and Marie Madelaine Crommelin took place on the very same day as the baptism of Isaac Crommelin [above]! After the death of Isaac Testart, Marie Madelaine married her second husband, Major Nicholas de la Cherois in 1693.

Marie Madelaine Crommelin's signature in 1677

In 1681 Nicolas Van Hoorn came to London from France. There he bought the Mary and Martha which was rechristened the St. Nicholas, an old vessel of the Royal Navy. Apparently Van Hoorn found in England two more investors and Daniel Crommelin, a businessman from Paris. These men were to accompany van Hoorn to the West Indies but his brutality soon became apparent which caused several seamen and Crommelin to flee for their lives. Therefore Daniel was somewhere between England and Spain, or perhaps trying to make his way back home after disembaking at Cadiz, Spain when this baptism was recorded. Hence his absence.

In 1685, the year the Edict of Nantes was revoked, we find Daniel residing at a rented farmhouse in Greenway Court (Kent), England with his wife and two children, Charles and Isaac, where he engaged in farming for about 10 years. For a time he accommodated his nephew, Frederic de Coninck, and thus we learn something about Daniel through Frederic's letters to his mother, Catherine, who lived at Le Havre and Rouen, France. Over a period of a year-and-a-half letters arrived from Catherine addressed to Frederic de Coninck at Greenway Court, England.

Letter from Catherine Crommelin addressed to her son,
Frederic de Coninck, living with his uncle, Daniel Crommelin, at Greenway Court, England, 1686.

Frederic was here when his fiancee, Marie Camin, was able to come over from France after having been captured with a number of other women when they attempted to sail a yacht over to England. The women were confined in a convent at Dieppe where attempts were made to convert them to Catholicism. After about one year Marie was released and crossed over to England in 1686 where her marriage to Frederic was attended by Daniel Crommelin and his family at Greenway Court.

Signature of Marie Camin, fiancee of Frederic de Coninck whom he married on Nov. 7, 1686

A few years later Daniel, in the company of his eldest son, Charles, and two nephews [one nephew being the grandson of Daniel's older sister, Marie, the second child of Rachel Tacquelet who married Daniel De La Chambre] and the second nephew being another son of Catherine Crommelin, Robert Oursel, [by her second marriage to Robert Oursel Sr.] left England for Jamaica in 1693 on another one of Daniel's grandiose business ventures. Presumeably he had grown tired of farming on rented property at Greenway Court, England and longed to recover in the 'New World' the large investment he had lost in his dealings with Nicolas Van Hoorn a decade earlier.

Upon their arrival at Jamaica in 1693, a yellow fever epidemic was ravaging this island nation which immediately claimed the lives of both nephews, Oursel and de la Chambre. Daniel and his son, Charles, hastily left for the British colony of New York where they established the Crommelin family in America. Anne Testart and their younger son, Isaac, then left England to join Daniel and Charles in New York. Records between 1696-1701 now show Daniel and Anne attending baptisms at the French Huguenot church in Petticoat Lane, New York until 1702 when yellow fever swept through this colony claiming the lives of some 10% of New York's 5000 inhabitants. Unfortunately Anne Testart and Isaac were amongst the victims and no doubt they were hastily buried in an unmarked common grave.

Charles Crommelin's signature on a 1721 Petition requesting
that a board of mining commissioners be struck to arbitrate a copper mining dispute.

Charles grew up to invest much of his time and money in a copper-mining venture which yielded little more than lawsuits, mounting debts and eventual heartache when his father's extensive landholdings had to be forfeited to satisfy his creditors. Such were the beginnings of the Crommelin family in America. A more detailed account of their biographies appears on the Crommelin family website.

Daniel Crommelin's signature on a 'sheepskin' parchment indenture or lien in 1720 that eventually resulted
in the transfer of all his landholdings over to his son's creditors

I am most grateful to Maryse Trannois and Jay Robbins for bringing to light so many letters, documents and signatures of notable ancestors. I am also indebted to Govert Deketh for graciously investing in the purchase of numerous books written by Isaac Crommelin, the last Crommelin in France. This gentleman wrote his Memoirs and a book entitled An Eyewitness to the French Revolution which give us a fascinating personal account on what it was like to live through another turbulent period in French history. Both books appear on the Crommelin family website.

Isaac Mathieu Crommelin

These dedicated researchers helped us put some 'life' into the dry facts and statistics that usually accompany a family's genealogical records. Family members who wish to receive a CD containing numerous documents, letters and signatures associated with our French ancestors can contact Miff Crommelin at Offers to help translate some of the old French correspondence into Dutch or English would also be most welcome.