The Road to La Rochelle

The Doyons moved around a bit. They first showed up in Saint Marcellin, Isére in what was once called the Dauphiny region of France.  Eventually at least some of them ended up in La Rochelle.  If you were to drive that trip today it would take you about seven hours and cover approximately 735 km (about 450 miles). Overland travel in the 16th century was long, slow and treacherous. The best way to travel was by boat, which was marginally safer, and probably faster in the long run. However they did it, it was a long and difficult journey. So how did they get to Dauphiny and why did they end up in La Rochelle?

If you believe in the story of creation, and want to take our family history all the way back to the beginning, one could assume that our ancestors were part of the group that was saved by God after the flood that prompted Noah to build his ark. That would make all of us descendants of the prophet Japheth [1]. History tells us that the Celts descended from a son of Japheth named Gomer who helped establish the Celts in an area near the Black Sea in Asia Minor. About 2500 years ago, at the beginning of the Bronze Age, some of this group started moving West, following the Danube toward the center of Europe soon appearing in what would become Germany and Bavaria.

About 2000 to 1700 years B.C.E. there was another westward migration toward the British Isles where people dispersed and took on different names. Then in 390 C.E., for reasons we can only guess, there was a migration back to France to territory ruled by the Gauls which at that time included what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland and part of Germany. That territory was occupied by a belligerent people, lead by Vercingetorix the Gaul. The Gauls put up a pretty determined fight against the invading Romans, but lost the battle in 40 C.E.

Roman leadership under Caesar proved to be good for Gaul. Trade prospered during this time as the Romans built roads connecting all parts of their empire. This time in history would coincide with the emergence of that small hamlet in Belgium named “Doyon” and the first mention of my family name in that region.  According to research done by Pére Dominique Doyon [2], “1319 is the oldest mention of the place (hamlet) of Doyon (or Oyon or Dyon)” [my translation].  In 1422, the Hamlet of Doyon (or Dyon or Doyonaz) is mentioned in the archives for the province of Namur, Belgium [3].

In 1451, there is mention of a Doyon as a fish breeder [4]. Under the reign of Charles VIII of France (1470-1498) “it is mentioned that he had a Grand Master of his artillery and excellent climber named Doyac, according to Rabelais in his Pantagruel ( L. 4, ch . LV11 ) [5]” [my translation].

The next 125 years are fairly quiet regarding the whereabouts of the Doyons and what they might be up to.  But in 1579, the wedding contract of Jacques Doyon and Antoinette Charland is recorded in St. Marcellin on 3 February, placing our family firmly in that area.

Somewhere between the wedding in 1579 and the birth of their son, Jacques in 1594 [6], the family moved to La Rochelle. We have no way of knowing why they moved, but their migration might well have been predicated on the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) when many people migrated to find more religious freedom and perhaps better living conditions. There was a great deal of population movement in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries most caused by political, social and economic tension made worse by religious division. France, in particular, was suffering from rapid inflation and falling wages brought on by the influx of New World gold. Taxes were rising because the government was only getting about 25% of the taxes collected (much of the money collected was lining the pockets of the local tax collectors). The middle class was unhappy because they had no political say and the nobles were unhappy because they were losing their power and authority. It was a contentious couple of centuries with civil clashes breaking out everywhere giving people motivation to look for new places to put down roots. Whatever the reason, at some point before 1594, Jacques Doyon (1550-1622) and his wife Antoinette Charland (1550-1620) found their way to the largely Protestant city of La Rochelle in the province of Aunis, where their son Jacques was born in 1594.

It is there, in 1615, that the twenty-one-year-old Jacques, would marry Francoise Couturier. Four years later, in 1619, they would have a son, Jean, who you may remember from the last chapter, was the first member of our family to emigrate to North America.


1 –  In Biblical as well as Quranic tradition, Japheth is considered to be the progenitor of European, and some Asian, peoples. In medieval Europe various nations and ethnicities were given genealogies tracing back to Japheth and his descendants. (
2 – 
Histoire et généalogie de la famille Doyon, p 8. Based on information obtained from the Belgium archiver M. Courtoy research on behalf of Pére Dominique.
3 –  Letters from René-Louis Doyon, of Paris, dated 20 Aug 1951 and January 1952 to  Pére Dominique. Citation taken from Histoire et généalogie de la famille Doyon.
4 –  Histoire et généalogie de la famille Doyon, p 8.
5 –  Gargantua and Pantagruel (
6 –  Jacques would serve as a soldier for the seat of La Rochelle and, once the war ended, would establish himself in or near Aunis.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s