A Napoleonic Soldier

My next posts will be about my Girardin ancestors. I’m starting with the fascinating story of Jean Baptiste Bernardin. He was born to Francois Bernardin and Anne Marguerite d’Autel on January 23, 1784, in the village of Ruaux, in the department of Vosges, in the region of Lorraine, which is in the northeast part of France.

Here’s his baptism record, as shown on the Fichier Origine website.

Baptism of Jean Baptiste Bernardin

Baptism of Jean Baptiste Bernardin

One of his descendants, Professor Charles W. Bernardin of Pennsylvania has written several books about him:

Jean-Baptist and his Hundred Acres, Malvern,
Pennsylvania, 1995, 262 pages, ill.

The Military Career of Jean-Baptist Bernardin,
Malvern, Pennsylvania, 1995, 201 pages, XII pages, ill.

The Vôge: Homeland of Jean-Baptist Bernardin,
Malvern, Pennsylvania, 1995, 236 pages, ill.

I have not been able to track down copies of these books, but only summaries of them. According to the professor’s research, by 1806 Jean Baptiste was a soldier in the 9th Regiment Light Infantry of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. You’ve heard of Napoleon (if not, read about him here ). And for an entertaining look at the Napoleonic wars, track down the old Sharpe TV series starring Sean Bean!.

Jean Baptiste would probably have been conscripted into the French army, as that was the norm at the time. In 1808 he was transferred to the 33rd Light Infantry Regiment. This regiment fought in Spain and lost at the Battle of Bailen, in July 1808. Almost 18,000 soldiers were taken prisoner, Jean Baptiste among them. Although the Spanish had promised to repatriate them to France, they did not keep their word. Instead, the prisoners were held in “prison hulks”, decommissioned ships anchored in the harbour at Cadiz. According to a notation in the book The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World by Michael Howard et al, only one in ten of the prisoners survived!

After 9 months as a prisoner, Jean Baptiste was offered the opportunity to join the Swiss Regiment de Meuron. This Regiment was originally created to serve under the Dutch in India. They were later transferred to the service of the British (something to do with the Dutch not being able to pay them). The Meurons were fighting for the British in the Peninsular War in Spain. It was not uncommon for prisoners to be recruited for another country’s army. I’m certain that decision was easily made, considering the appalling conditions of the prisoners! Thus, despite the “Swiss” moniker, the Regiment de Meuron was a multi-national unit and included Germans, Italians and many other nationalities.

As a soldier in the Meuron Regiment, Jean Baptiste was sent first to Sicily, and then to Canada to fight for the British against the Americans in the War of 1812 – 1814, arriving in Canada in June of 1814. Interestingly, he fought in the Battle of Plattsburg, where my great-great grandfather Amable Hogue also saw action and was wounded.

Jean Baptiste survived, and must have found Lower Canada, as Quebec was known, amenable, because on February 12, 1816, he married Marie Charlotte Taillefer. Here’s his signature on their marriage record.

signature of Jean Baptiste Bernardin

signature of Jean Baptiste Bernardin


When reviewing the marriage, which took place in Montreal at Notre Dame, I realized that two other soldiers from the Meuron Regiment were married that same day, in the same church. They were Francois Sabolle and Pierre Carre, both originally from France. Perhaps they had also been prisoners in Spain.

After the war, the soldiers were given 100 acre land grants if they opted to become citizens. Jean Baptiste settled at Grantham in Quebec. Settlers were required to clear their land, build a cabin and live there for 3 years before they could apply for a patent. Besides farming his land Jean Baptiste was also a tailor. Thus, in 1819 he moved to Nicolet intending to make money as a tailor before returning to Grantham. Unfortunately, by 1822 he was to discover that the British officers in charge of the settlement had decided he had abandoned his property and gave it to someone else! Jean Baptiste petitioned for redress, but it took until 1844 before he was awarded a small amount of money as compensation.

Meanwhile, harsh economic conditions led to the family moving to William-Henry (now known as Sorel) in 1841, and finally settling in Saint-Felix de Kingsey in 1844. Here’s a Google map that shows the places mentioned above. The red blob is Kingsey.

Google map

Google map


Marie Charlotte and Jean Baptiste had 13 children, at least three of whom died young.
Jean Baptiste died 16 April 1857 in Kingsey, Quebec. Here’s his burial record.

Burial of Jean Baptiste Bernardin 17 Apr 1857, St-Félix-de-Valois, Kingsey, Lower Canada

Burial of Jean Baptiste Bernardin 17 Apr 1857, St-Félix-de-Valois, Kingsey, Lower Canada

In the 1861 and 1871 censuses, the widowed Marie is living with her daughter Elyse and son-in-law Joseph Hamel. She died May 8, 1872 in Warwick, Quebec. Here’s her burial record.

Burial of Marie Charlotte Taillefer, 8 May 1872, St-Médard, Quebec

Love the fact that French-Canadian records use women’s maiden names!
And here’s our descent from Jean Baptiste to Mémère:

1-Jean Baptiste BERNARDIN (1784-1857)
+Marie Charlotte TAILLEFER (1797-1872)
2-Marie Louise BERNARDIN (1824-1912)
+Paul GIRARDIN (1804-1878)
3-Napoleon GIRARDIN (1851-1929)
+Onesime ALLARD (1852-1896)
4-Marie Emma GIRARDIN (1878-1979)

4 thoughts on “A Napoleonic Soldier

  1. zeechevalier@bcwireless.com

    very interesting, thank you!Zee

  2. Charles Pierre Bernardin

    Dear Ms. Jackie Corrigan,
    I am Charles Pierre Bernardin, son of Professor Charles W. Bernardin. In case you don’t know, I want to let you know that my Father’s books are available at the following Canadian Libraries (see below, the last 2 contacts are in Manitoba). The specific library contact names may have changed because I sent these copies 17 years ago. I have a number of Electronic items pertaining to Jean-Baptiste Bernardin that may be of interest to you. If you would like to contact me, I am available through Email. Also, I live in Richardson, Texas and my phone number can be found on the Internet.

    1) Daniel Olivier
    Montreal Library
    Salle Gagnon
    1210, rue Sherbrooke Est,
    Montreal, QC
    Canada H2L 1L9
    Tel: (514) 872-5923

    2) The Drummondville Historical Society
    a/s Brenda-Lee Leblanc
    545, rue Des Ecoles
    Drummondville, QC
    Canada J2B 1J6
    Tel: (819) 474-2318

    3) Renald Lessard
    Quebec National Archives
    Pavillon Louis-Jacques-Casault
    Cite universitaire, C.P. 10450
    1210, avenue du Seminaire
    Sainte-Foy, QC
    Canada G1V 4N1
    Tel: (418) 643-8904
    Fax: (418) 643-0868
    (the Quebec Genealogical Society is located in the same building)

    4) The Library at the Seminary of Nicholet
    Local Address:
    900, boul. Louis-Frechette
    Bureau 110, Nicolet (Quebec)
    J3T 1V5
    Mail Address:
    900, boul. Louis-Frechette, bureau 110
    Nicolet, QC J3T 1V5
    Contact Person:
    Marie Pelletier
    Phone Number:
    (819) 293-4838
    Fax Number:
    (819) 293-4161

    4) The American-Canadian Genealogical Library
    PO Box 6478 Manchester NH 03108-6478
    Tel. 603-622-1554 Fax 603-624-8843

    6) Barry Mc Pherson
    The Manitoba Living History Society
    52 Southmoor Road
    Winnipeg Manitoba
    Canada R2J 2P4

    7) Alfred Fortier, Executive Director
    The Heritage Centre
    s/o La Societe historique de Saint-Boniface
    340 Provencher Blvd., Saint-Boniface
    Manitoba R2H 0G7
    Tel: (204) 233-4888
    Fax: (204) 231-2562
    E-mail: shsb@ican.ca

  3. “They were later transferred to the service of the British (something to do with the Dutch not being able to pay them).” … What a groaner! Behind the backs of the Dutch, the British bribed de Meuron to have his soldiers defect and leave the Dutch defenseless when the British attacked. This “Colonel” de Meuron was nobody to be proud of. And the regiment better erase the word “fidelitas” from their battle flag.

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