Jean Gregoire Bacon, my great-great-grandfather, was born 19 Dec 1850 in the town of Joliette, Québec, Canada. He was baptized the next day at Ste-Elizabeth. In French the record says:
“The 20th December, 1850, I the undersigned priest have baptized Gregoire born yesterday of the legitimate marriage of Jean Bacon, farmer, and of Marie Anne Gilbert of this parish. Godfather: Jean Baptiste Robillard, Godmother: Marguérite Champagne, who, with the father, did not know how to sign [their names].”
Jean G. Bacon was born into a catholic, French-speaking, farming family, the son of Jean Baptiste Bacon Sr (1804-1889) and Marie Anne “Marianne” Gilbert dite Comtois (1812-1867). He had three sisters and six brothers, as well as four half siblings from his father’s two previous marriages. [Interestingly, Jean had a half-brother named Jean-Baptiste Bacon Jr (1824-1864) who was in Company K of the 1st Cavalry Regiment from Vermont during the Civil War. He died on 8 Dec 1864 at Richmond, Virginia while a prisoner of war, only three months after he joined the Union Army.]
Jean’s was not an uncommonly large family for rural Québec at that time. In other branches of Jean’s family tree we often find ten, twelve, fourteen, or even more children. These were farming families. They had lots of kids, many of whom would not survive childhood. It was not uncommon for the women to die and for the men to remarry and continue having children with a second or third wife. And they were almost always illiterate. The French Canadian records between 1640 and 1860 are almost always terminated with the phrase seen above: “The participants did not know how to sign their names”.
Jean’s family had been in Québec, also called “New France” (Nouvelle France), since 1645 when his 4x great-grandfather Gilles Bacon came to Québec from St-Gilles in Normandy, France as a Jesuit Missionary.
Jean and his family are in the 1851 census for Joliette, Québec where his father is listed as a “Cultivateur” or farmer. Some of the sons are listed as “Journalier” or day-laborer. Jean is listed as “Gregoire” and is one year old.
He and his family are listed again in the 1861 census for Ste-Elizabeth, Berthier County, Québec when Jean was 11 years old.
Our first record of Jean in America comes in the 1870 census when he was 20 years old. There are no entries for him before this in the Burlington City Directory, so it’s fairly likely that this was about the time he came to America. Jean is listed as “John Bacon” in the census for Burlington, Vermont, where he is living with George Chase, a railroad engineer, and working as a “wheelwright” – a crafter of wooden wheels for wagons or carriages. He is listed as being able to read and write.
In 1871, he briefly went to work for C.B. Gray, a carriage and sleigh manufacturer who had his workshop at 183 S. Champlain Street in Burlington. This photo of the building was likely taken right around that time:
[Photo from “Burlington: Volume II” by Mary Ann DiSpirito]
That same year he seems to have gone back home to Québec to get married. On 27 Aug 1871 “Gregoire Bacon of Burlington” and “Cordélie Olivier of [Ste-Elizabeth]” signed as godparents of Cordelia’s niece Marie Emma Olivier. Oddly, Emma was also Jean’s niece since Emma’s mother was Valérie Bacon, Jean’s sister!
About a week later, Jean married Cordélie (Cordelia) Olivier on 4 Sept 1871 at Ste-Elizabeth in Joliette. Unlike the many generations which preceded them, both Jean Gregoire and Cordelia signed their marriage record, as did many of the witnesses present.
Cordélia Olivier was born only three months before her husband on 11 Sept 1850 in the same town of Ste-Elizabeth, Joliette, Québec, Canada. The daughter of Henri François Olivier (1812-1876) and Elizabeth Tellier (1815-1886), Cordélia was the thirteenth of sixteen children in the family of nine girls and seven boys. In fact, between 1836 and 1855 the Oliviers only missed having children in four of those 20 years! Just as impressive, only one of those children died in infancy, so Cordélia must have grown up in a very crowded house.
In 1872, Jean and his new wife moved back to Burlington to stay. He applied to be a US Citizen and was naturalized on 31 Aug 1872.
From 1875-1880 Jean worked as a wheelwright for Harmon A. Ray, who was a wagon-maker who had a shop at the corner of Front and North Streets in Burlington and from 1880-1885 he worked for the William Smith Carriage Company.
These were no crude wagons that Jean was helping to build; they were the equivalent of Cadillacs. These carriages were made of elegant polished woods with luxurious upholstery and finishes. Jean was a craftsman, helping to build the finest conveyances of his era:
“The open and top buggies on display were of superior craftsmanship and were sold for close to a thousand dollars. These ranged from yacht bodied, coal-box patterned open buggies to Germantown Rockaway’s. It is said that a Mr. Henry Loomis purchased an elegantly cushioned and upholstered Germantown Rockaway for 800 dollars. With this being known, it is understood that more than just carpentry and finishing went into this craft, but upholstery as well.”
Around this time four children were born to Jean and his wife Cordelia: Alexander Moses Bacon (11 Aug 1875 – 24 Sept 1947), Olive Ava “Eva” Bacon (1 Nov 1878 – 11 Dec 1938), a stillborn boy born on 15 Oct 1881, and their last child, my great-grandmother Delia Rosanna Bacon (17 Oct 1885 – 20 Oct 1918). There was another child who died in infancy whose records I have not yet found. [Cordelia is listed as the mother of 5 children, 3 living in the 1900 Census.]
This next photo shows the Joseph Cartier blacksmith and carriage shop in Burlington about 1885. It gives you an idea of the kind of places Jean was working during this period. (Jean went to work for Joseph some years later.)
[Photo courtesy of John Fisher: http://www.johnfishersr.net/cartier.html]
In 1881, Jean purchased a property at 45 Archibald Street that would be in his family for many years to come. In fact, his son Alexander lived there from 1902 until his death in 1947.
My great-great-grandfather briefly opened a wheelwright shop in the Summer of 1886 as part of the Patnaude blacksmith shop, according to this article in the local paper:
That same year he was also listed in the City Directory as working for carriage-maker Jerry Lee at 175 Pearl Street.
He must have yearned to go into business for himself, because in 1888 he temporarily retired from the Carriage-making business to open a grocery store, first at 148 N. Champlain Street – where he and his family lived above his store…
then from 1890 to 1901 at the location of the new Bacon family home: 24 Cedar Street.
Jean and his family would live at 24 Cedar Street for the next 66 years, but for those eleven years he also ran a business selling “groceries and provisions” out of the building.
From 1902-1905 Jean doesn’t have an occupation listed in the city directory, so he may have been “between jobs” for that period.
He then returned to carriage-making, working for two years (1906-1907) at the Joseph Cartier blacksmith and wagon shop on 128 North Street.
[Photo courtesy of John Fisher: http://www.johnfishersr.net/cartier.html]
In 1907 the family of Charles Perreault and his wife’s niece Cordelia Olivier were living with Jean’s son Alexander Bacon at 45 Archibald Street. In the 1910 census, however, two of the Perreault children were living with the Bacon family without their parents. I’ll write more about that story in an upcoming blog.
From 1911-1919 he returned to the William Smith Carriage Company as a wheelwright working out of the new Smith shop at 168 St. Paul. He may, in fact, have had his own shop there since he is listed as “Wheelwright in own shop” in the 1920 census.
Unfortunately, 1918 was a year of great tragedy for Jean. The Spanish Influenza, which would kill between 20 and 50 million people worldwide, swept through Burlington. Jean’s daughter Delia Bacon Thomas died from the illness on 20 Oct 1918, leaving behind her husband Fred Thomas and two young children. You can read that full story here:
Four days later, on 24 Oct 1918, Jean’s wife Cordelia Olivier also died from the same influenza. She was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Burlington.
The 1920 Census finds Jean living at 24 Cedar Street alone. His daughter Olive and her husband Jim Halloran had taken his grandson Fred Thomas Jr, and Anna Thomas, the sister of Fred Thomas Sr., had taken in his grand-daughter Grace Thomas.
For the last two years of his working life, 1921 and 1922, Jean worked for the Herberg Service shop at 137 S. Winooski Ave. He retired in 1923 at the age of 73. This photo shows the building about 16 years after Jean retired. It had transitioned completely from building and servicing carriages to servicing automobiles. The world was changing.
In the 1930 census he is living at home with his daughter Olive and her husband Jim Halloran. He is listed as widowed and no occupation is given.
In many ways Jean Gregoire Bacon was a remarkable man. He made the step into a new country, learned English, and built a life for himself by working hard. He stepped beyond the subsistence farming lifestyle his family had known for hundreds of years to learn a skilled trade. He learned to read and write when very few if any of his ancestors could. He endured many tragedies, and took care of, not just his own family, but the children of other families as well.
Jean Bacon died in his home at 24 Cedar Street on 23 Nov 1936 from acute bronchitis. He was buried with his wife in Mount Calvary Cemetery.