Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, May 30, 2015

An Amazing Bit of Famly History

Through the years - while moving from Branford, Connecticut, to Venice, Florida, to Orlando, and now to Longwood, I've managed to hang on to the family heirlooms. They were among the first things unpacked and turned the chaos of my move into some semblance of home.

As I cut off bubble wrap and found just the right place on the shelves for each one, I realized I couldn't recall the origin of one of the vases. Fortunately, my mother put little slips of paper inside each of her things - at least the ones she acquired before I was old enough to remember on my own. And, sure enough, inside the large vase with flowers was a note telling me that the vase had belonged to her great-grandmother Kelly, who was born a Demo. And suddenly all the amazing family history came tumbling back. My mother even wrote a children's book about her great-great-great grandfather Peter Demo. (Drummer Boy for Montcalm by Wilma Pitchford Hays, which was also published in French). So below the vase photo is a bit of history you may find interesting.

Peter Demo was a 12-year-old drummer boy for General the Marquis de Montcalm when he led the French troops against the British in the deciding battle that won Canada for the English. Both General Montcalm and the British General Wolfe were killed that day. Although our family history is decidedly circumspect - illegitimacy being a dire stain well before the Victorian period of my great-great grandmother Kelly, who was born a Demo - it is pretty certain that Peter was Montcalm's son. All Peter himself would ever say was that his name was a "short form" of his father's. (The women in our family were so careful about this that I was over forty before it finally occurred to me what wasn't being said!)

In any event, with the defeat of the French and the death of his mentor, Peter ran away into the forest and was taken in by the Abenake tribe, with whom he lived until he was grown. He became a courier de bois and eventually established himself in a cabin on the Isle la Motte in Lake Champlain. He kept a journal every day of his life, we're told, but when he was very old and his children persuaded him to abandon his cabin for the winter, someone broke in and used his journals for firewood. A heart-breaking loss, dramatic enough to reverberate down through all these years. 

The most amazing part is yet to come, however. Peter lived to be 112 - I've seen his grave in upper New York State (Peter Demo Aged 112) - and died in the year of the one hundredth anniversary of the battle on the Plains of Abraham. Which means he lived until 1859, and thus my great-great grandmother Kelly (owner of the above vase), actually remembered him as an old man. And since she lived to 100, she was able to describe him to successive generations. Frankly, I find it totally incredible that my mother heard these stories in an almost direct line from someone who was likely born around 1747! (My great-great grandmother Kelly, as I recall, did not pass away until about the time I entered high school. Which makes my mother, who lived to age 98, a direct link to someone who actually knew Peter Demo, so the facts recorded here are not distorted tales out of the dim past.) 

An interesting footnote: 

When we were on Cape Cod in the summer of 2013, we visited Plimouth Plantation. In addition to a replica of the Pilgrims' first settlement, they have a Native American village there, which members of the various northeastern tribes take turns staffing. We were talking to a gentleman in a wheelchair (as I recall, an attorney in his other life), when he mentioned that he was an Abenake. I think I actually screeched. So I told him how his tribe saved my 4-great-grandfather's life and we exchanged a hearty handshake. He agreed that Peter Demo was unlikely to have survived in the Canadian wilderness without the aid of the Abenakes.

On a final note: A few years ago I researched the Marquis de Montcalm and discovered his line died out rather abruptly in only a generation or two. The family home is now a hotel. I like to believe, however, that he is aware that descendants "on the other side of the blanket" (as well as the Atlantic) thrive, with Peter Demo's interest in writing manifesting in at least two of his descendants: Wilma Pitchford Hays and Grace Ann Kone, who writes as Blair Bancroft.

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I hope you've enjoyed this digression into a rather unusual immigrant story. Next week will likely be "The Moving Blues" or "Moving to the Beat of Murphy's Law."

Thanks for stopping by.

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.


1 comment:

  1. Quite fascinating. Thanks for sharing. I find it amazing that you have those stories and those vases and such.