Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Middle Name or Clerical Error?: Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil and "Gaurhept"

I've noticed that many Acadian- and Cajun-related websites refer to Acadian frontiersman, guerrilla leader, and exile Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil as bearing the middle name "Gaurhept."  Even the self-policing online reference Wikipedia.org refers to Broussard as "Joseph Gaurhept Broussard" [accessed 3 April 2012].

No one knows what Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil looked like,
but I often imagine him looking somewhat like militant
abolitionist John Brown in this famous painting.
(Source: Wikimedia.org)

In my opinion, however, it's doubtful that Broussard actually used this name; in fact, as far as I know the name was used only once in reference to him and apparently in error.

The sole contemporary historical manuscript that refers to Broussard as "Gaurhept" is an official Louisiana colonial document dated April 8, 1765. In that document, acting provincial commandant Charles Philippe Aubry appointed Broussard "Capitaine de Milice et Commandant des Acadiens." (That is, captain of the militia and commandant of the some two-hundred Acadian exiles who settled with Broussard along the Teche.)

It is in this document that Broussard is referred to (and more than once) as "Gaurhept Broussard dit Beau Soleil."

Or maybe he looked like this?
(Source: Frederic Remington, 1880 [public domain])

But, rather than "Gaurhept" being an alternate or middle name for Joseph, the word appears to be a clerical error — a common enough occurrence in historical documents.

Evidence for this assertion is the absence of any other contemporary historical documents referring to Broussard as "Gaurhept."

Furthermore, the document in question does not even refer to Broussard as "Joseph." It calls him only "Gaurhept." The omission of Broussard's actual first name in itself suggests an error, and it is only through historical context that we know the document concerns Joseph at all and not, say, his brother Alexandre or some other, previously unknown Broussard.

I am not the only historian who regards "Gaurhept" as a mistake.

In his book Acadian Redemption: From Beausoleil Broussard to the Queen's Royal Proclamation (2004), Warren A. Perrin observes that "Beausoleil's first name was incorrectly listed [in the document] as 'Gaurhept.'" Elsewhere in the same book Perrin repeats, "In this document, Beausoleil's first name, Joseph, was improperly listed as 'Gaurhept'" (pp. 41, 147 n. 58).

Cover of Warren A. Perrin's Acadian Redemption,
showing Cajun artist Lucius Fontenot's
depiction of Broussard.

Likewise, historian Carl A. Brasseaux, author of The Founding of New Acadia, Acadian to Cajun, and "Scattered to the Wind" (among many other books), has referred to "Gaurhept" as "A clerical error — evidently an error in transcription." [Source: Carl A. Brasseaux, e-mail to the author, 2 April 2012.]

Pending any contemporary primary-source discoveries to the contrary, genealogists and others might do well to disassociate "Gaurhept" from the memory of Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil.

Addendum of 4 April 2012

Carl A. Brasseaux and genealogist Winston De Ville have both recently suggested to me that perhaps an error in transcription did not occur in 1765 (when Aubry appointed Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil a captain and commandant), but more recently.

This now seems a more likely explanation.

The original 1765 document is missing, so the next earliest known reference we have to this document is in the 1891 book Southwest Louisiana Biographical and Historical by historian William Henry Perrin (no relation to present-day historian Warren A. Perrin). In that book Perrin states that "The Broussard family traces its origin to Gaurhept Broussard dit Beausoleil." He explains the origin of the Broussard nickname "Beausoleil" ("This name was given [to] him . . . because of [his] cheerfulness. . . ."), but he does not discuss "Gaurhept" (despite the fact that it is an unusual name for an Acadian, or anyone else for that matter). Nor does Perrin associate the name "Joseph" with this "Gaurhept Broussard dit Beausoleil."

An excerpt from William Henry Perrin's
Southwest Louisiana Biographical and Historical,
with highlighted references to Gaurhept Broussard dit Beausoleil.
(Click to enlarge)

Nevertheless, Gaurhept Broussard dit Beausoleil clearly is Joseph dit Broussard dit Beausoleil, given Perrin's description of the former as a military officer, commandant, landowner, livestock breeder, and "the great ancestor from whom the whole Broussard family in Louisiana is descended."

Perrin himself, however, did not personally transcribe the source material on which he based his research and writing. Rather, it was J. O. Broussard, a Lafayette-area descendant of the original Broussard, who copied the document for Perrin, as Perrin himself notes.

Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil
as imagined by artist
Herb Roe (www.chromesun.com).
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If a transcription error occurred, resulting in "Joseph" becoming "Gaurhept" (a real possibility given the sometimes bizarre calligraphy of the French and Spanish colonial era), it therefore was J. O. Broussard who likely made the error. And if it was an error, it nonetheless inspired him to name his own son "Gaurhept" — an amazing irony if such a name never previously existed.

Indeed, another piece of evidence in this matter is the fact that "Gaurhept" does not appear to have existed as a name for anyone until J. O. Broussard gave it to his son in the late nineteenth century.

I say this because if one enters the word "Gaurhept" into Google.com and searches the entire Internet, one receives about 2,250 positive responses. But if one again enters "Gaurhept" and this time instructs Google to omit all websites that also refer to the words "Broussard," "Beausoleil," "Beau Soleil," and the misspellings "Beausoliel" and "Beau Soliel," one is left with only four positive responses — and all four of these websites contain nothing but alphanumerical gobbledygook. (A similar result happens if one uses the more discriminating Bing.com search engine: it returns zero positive responses.)

Another excerpt from William Henry Perrin's
Southwest Louisiana Biographical and Historical,
with highlighted references to Gaurhept Broussard dit Beausoleil.
(Click to enlarge)

In other words, in all of cyberspace (including, by the way, the massive scanned digital library known as Google Books) the word "Gaurhept" exists in a meaningful sense only in reference to the Broussard family.  Or to put it more succinctly, outside the Broussard family "Gaurhept" is not a real name; and it only became a real name inside the Broussard family when J. O. Broussard gave it to his son, based on his apparent misreading of "Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil."

Unfortunately, this theory (and that is what it is) cannot be tested at present because, as noted, the original 1765 document is missing. Unless that document — or a facsimile of it in French or Spanish colonial records — is found we may never know for certain if J. O. Broussard correctly transcribed it or mistook "Joseph" for "Gaurhept." Yet I believe we can say it's likely that the word in question was not "Gaurhept," but "Joseph," and that someone — either an eighteenth-century scribe or J. O. Broussard — made an error in writing or transcribing it.


  1. Hey Shane!
    I'm constantly enjoying your research via this blog and of course devoured and loved "Swamp Pop". Thank you for all your effort, time, and heart you pour into these projects! all the best from IL

  2. I am a descendan of Pierre Broussard, brother of Joseph, I think. Can anyone help me figure this out. My grandfather was Adonis Broussard of Acadia Parish LA. His wife was Marie Jeanne Bordes, also of Acadia Parish but not of Acadian Ancestry. My mother was Mae Naomi Broussard (1912-1983).
    I appreciate your help. Contact me at carolynothornton@bellsouth.net. Thank you.

    1. Hi, try asking Stanley LeBlanc, genealogist at http://www.thecajuns.com/host.htm . Otherwise, Father Donald Hebert's "Southwest Louisiana Records" (hardcover book series, now in digital format) may be a helpful starting point.

  3. If you look at examples of early American handwriting, you can see how someone could misread Joseph (maybe written as Jausepf or Gausepf) and they come up with Gaurhept. Early written capital J and capital G look very similar and can sound similar. Think George written as Jorge. Read au together as a long o sound. Small letter s could be seen as small r. Early writing had a letter that looks like a small capital E with a long curve up as a small letter h. Maybe That was to denote a combination letter (he) or the person who interpreted the letters could not decide if it was an early form of h or small letter e. The next letter is p. The last letter - early forms of small f look very close to a small t. Gausepf or Jausepf becomes Gaurhept. It looks simple when typed out but the writing itself on an old document, likely faded or blurred would be more difficult to understand. Anyway that's my unofficial opinion on the name Gaurhept.