The First Generation: In the New World

The Primeaux family story begins not with a “Primeaux” at all. It begins with a Frenchman named Francois Primaut, a native of Normandy. He had been born there in 1667, and he set sail for the new world in 1683 or 84, when he was only 17 or 18 years old. We do not know whether his parents or any other family accompanied him. We do not know what motivated Francois to leave his native France for Canada, and we do not know how he made his passage or where he first made his home.

We do know that the winter of 1683-84 in France had been one of the coldest in history. The sea froze along the coast, and there was extensive loss of beasts and wildlife, especially birds. It may be that his family could no longer support him, given the severe conditions, and he set out on his own for a land where he could establish himself without privation.

Francois was married to Marguerite Madeleine Deneau, the daughter of Marin Deneau and Louise Therese Le Breuil, on October 19, 1687, in Notre Dame, Laprairie, Canada. Francois was recorded as a farmer in Laprairie on the Ile de St. Paul in 1694.

Francois and Marguerite had nine children. The first-born, and our forebear, was Claude Primeau. The other children were: Marie Jeanne Primot October 15, 1692 – September 11, 1768; Pierre Primeau, September 29, 1694 – September 29, 1694; Pierre Primeau, September 8, 1696 – January 25, 1767; Catherine Primeau, November 30, 1698 – December 17-1760; Marie Primeau, December 14, 1702 – 1731; Paul Primeau, January 6, 1705 – February 22, 1778; Jacques Primeau, February 22, 1707 – September 28, 1707; and Joachim Primeau, April 1, 1711 – April 1776.

It is curious that in one family the surname is spelled three different ways: Primaut, Primot, and Primeau. Which spelling is correct? The answer is that all three are correct, or, to put it another way, none of them is incorrect. The fact is that the uniformity of spelling that we have come to expect in the 21st century was simply non-existent in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Spelling often depended on the scrivener. Most people in those days, and in particular country people, were illiterate and could not correct a clerk’s spelling. They would sound out the name and the clerk would record it as best he could. All three spellings above produce the sound “preemo” in the French language. It may be that the recording clerk conformed the spelling to other similar names in the vicinity with which the clerk was familiar. That may explain why Marie Jeanne, who was born in Montreal proper, had her last name recorded differently from that of Claude, who was born in Chateauguay, outside of Montreal. Once the record-keeper recorded the name as “Primeau” instead of “Primaut,” that alteration would be carried forward and multiplied as local records increased in volume until the change became the new norm.

The birth locations of the children give an indefinite clue as to the various locations where the family may have lived. In 1692 and 1694, the birthplaces were Chateauguay. In 1694 and 1696, Montreal. In 1696, Inverness, Ecosses, Grand Bretagne. In 1702, Montreal. In 1705, Bout d’Ile, Montreal. in 1707, LaPrairie. And in 1711, Lachine. All of the locales are in the Montreal district of Quebec, and the references to Montreal may simply omit the town names.

Francois died October 18, 1725, around the age of 58, in Montreal, Canada. He is buried in the cemetery of Notre Dame, Ile de Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Marguerite, who survived Francois by 21 years, was buried March 13, 1746, at St. Joachim, Chateauguay, Quebec, Canada.