Descendant of Demopolis settlers pays a visit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2002

At least one of the members of the Rotary International Group Study Exchange from France visiting Demopolis this week anticipated the trip for personal reasons.

He came to find out more about his ancestry.

Bernard Dumont is the team leader for the group, composed of Stephane Mermet, Christine Donval, Isabelle Fourel and her sister Cecile Fourel.

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Dumont, a Rotarian since 1979, has traveled the globe since he earned degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration. He has worked for such firms as Shell Petroleum, the Swedish Match group and The Singer company, in addition to his own businesses, all of which took him to many countries and cultures.

But when he learned of the itinerary for the tour, he was especially pleased. It seems Dumont’s great-great — well several great &045; uncles was Gen. Count Charles Lefebrve Desnouettes, one of the leader of the Napoleonic loyalists who fled their homeland after the French Revolution and eventually settled in Demopolis.

Desnouettes drowned off the coast of Ireland on his return voyage home to France. His son, who stayed in France with the Countess Desnouettes, carried on the name, and it was one of his descendants who was the brother to Dumont’s great-grandmother.

In an e-mail to Bill Mackey, local coordinator of the Group Study Exchange, Dumont said his search to find out about his ancestor is uncommon.

“It is the reverse and quite unusual situation where a French looks at his ancestors in the United States, while most Americans are eager to learn about their ancestors in Europe,” he wrote. “I feel a little too much emotion.”

Desnouettes was one of Napoleon’s closest advisors. He is unique in that he is the only man in history to have his name inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France,

and emblazoned on a street sign in Demopolis, Ala.

For their first excursion in Demopolis Monday afternoon, the group took a tour along the Tombigbee River to the Lock and Dam and then up the Black Warrior to French Creek.

Their hosts, members of the Demopolis Rotary Club and local history buffs Gwyn Turner and Kirk Brooker, gave the French visitors a water-side view of the land the French settlers found when they first ventured to this area 200 years ago to begin the ill-fated colony.

Joining the group as a surprise guest was French historian Eric Saugera of Nantes, France. He is making his second trip to Demopolis to research a book on the Vine and Olive Colony. He had driven here from Memphis, home of his American research assistant Debbie Hunt.

On being introduced, Saugera immediately became surrounded by the French tourists, and he gave them a brief synopsis of what he has learned &045; in their native language. Dumont especially was interested in the information Saugera shared.

Several years ago Saugera came across some 200 letters written between 1817 and 1829 and sent by the exiles back to their families and friends. Today few people in France know of the colony that failed in the young America. Saugera hopes to change that with his book, which he plans to publish in about four years. Already he is giving lectures on the subject, including one last month at the Sorbonne.

In spite of the interest in his family history, Dumont was just as interested in finding out about the people now living in this area. His world travels have made him “passionate to know the rest of the world” and how different cultures make people with the same goals act differently.