In spite of it all, however, there is a substantial body of information regarding the Roquemore family history, especially during those periods of major sociological events (some would say upheavals), including: the emigration to America, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
There are several other, less accurate, spellings that have worked their way into many of the old records. Given the fact that many of these were handwritten and subject to interpretation, it is not surprising to find variations: Rougemore, Roguemore, Roquemon, Roquimore, Rougemox, Rocmore, and Rougemon. Upon arrival in the Americas, the immigrants dropped the “de” and anglicized it into what we know it today: Roquemore. Later, in the mid-1800s, a branch of the family decided, for business reasons, to change it to Rockmore.
Furthermore, as anyone with the name of Roquemore can testify, it is a constant battle to keep the spelling correct, even in this day and time. And it is no wonder. Upon hearing the popular pronunciation “Rock more”, most Americans attempt to spell it phonetically. The reverse is true as well. When reading the name, most will attempt to pronounce it phonetically, resulting in some awful, three-syllable variations. Occasionally, a stranger will get it right; when queried, it is because they invariably have French in their backgrounds, either by birth or education.
To complicate matters even further, there are two distinct pronunciations of our name, depending upon what part of the country you’re in. The Southern pronunciation is typically “Rock-more”, while in the Plain states (Oklahoma, Kansas, etc.) you are likely to hear it pronounced “Roke-more”, rhyming with “broke”.
What follows is a rough timeline of the family history.
During the Middle Ages (1300s to 1700s), there was a gradual migration by the Roquemores westward toward the Bay of Biscay. Those family members who left France in 1763 for America have registered birth records in the village of Eymet, about 75 miles from the coast. From there, it is about a 50-mile journey to the nearest port town, Bordeaux, where it is assumed (but not verified) they departed France in 1763 for the final time.
Why some members (and not others) of a Roquemore family chose to leave France, and everything they had ever known, for the American colonies is not entirely clear. Or, for that matter, how urgent a matter it really was. What is known, however, is that they were part of the French Protestant movement, sparked by John Calvin in the early 1500s. The followers of this movement were derisively called Huguenots and underwent tremendous persecution from the Catholic Church, which at times turned extremely violent. This persecution caused a steady stream of refugees to leave France during the next 2 centuries for other countries that were more Protestant-leaning including, of course, the English colonies in America. France's loss was our gain.
In spite of the travel prohibition levied against the Huguenots, a part of the Roquemore families decided to leave France in 1763. As part of that decision, they somehow became associated with a group of Huguenots that is now known to be the second-to-last ones to leave France. In committing themselves to this decision, they trusted their future - no, their very lives - to the leadership of the Reverend Jean Louis Gibert, a well-known minister and teacher. Apparently, it was this man who planned and organized the expedition - from arranging passage aboard various ships, to thwarting Catholic watchdogs. According to Huguenot Society's records, he planned for the establishment of a whole new colony in the Americas, which would devote itself to the production of silk worms and grapevines. On July 6, 1763, he submitted his "business plan" to the English Lords of the Treasury. As a result, he and his group of Huguenots were granted a block of land in South Carolina where, it was thought, the climate would be more conducive to their intended agricultural pursuits.
After 47 days on the water, they sighted the American shoreline on April 10, 1764. Two days later, they dropped anchor in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina - our ancestors had arrived in the New World. By April 14, they were temporarily housed in the Barracks and on April 18, the entire group took the oath of allegiance to the King (of England). This was required of them before they could claim the land promised to them back in England. Of the reported 212 Huguenots that left France 8 months earlier, only 135 (about 64%) laid claim to that promise. Even so, a sizable group to start a new town.
The land itself, about 28,000 acres in size, was situated in southwestern South Carolina on the two main forks of the Long Cane Creek, about 3-1/2 miles from the Savannah River and 50 miles north/northwest of Augusta. It was a heavily forested area, with plenty of timber with which to build homes and other buildings. The colonists decided to call their new town New Bordeaux.
The timing of the French Huguenot's arrival posed somewhat of a dilemma for the English Governor of South Carolina, Thomas Boone, and his governing Council. They had arrived in the spring - too late to prepare the land and plant the crops needed to sustain them during the coming winter. The solution offered by the Governor and Council was certainly magnanimous, especially as it had to draw upon the public treasury. Consider:
- Temporary "housing" (in the form of barracks-type buildings) was provided at Fort Lyttleton, a military facility that was large enough to accommodate the entire group. Fort Lyttleton was located near Port Royal, about 50 miles down the coast from Charleston.
- Supplies (foodstuffs and equipment) were provided, which was enough to sustain them for 4 months at Fort Lyttleton.
- A surveyor would be hired to prepare a plat and mark off the land for the new town, including the individual allotments.
During the first part of May, 1764, the colonists were transported to Fort Lyttleton by government boats. At this time, the Council also provided the group with guidelines for settling disputes, protecting themselves, and disbursing foodstuffs.
Mid-July 1764 saw an advance party of colonists set out by wagon train for New Bordeaux. Their immediate objective was to construct housing for the entire colony, which was accomplished, as the remainder of the group traveled the same route in October.
Once again displaying their generosity, the Lt. Governor of South Carolina dispatched a detachment of Rangers to provide protection and assistance during their early months in New Bordeaux.
As far as the Roquemores were concerned, they worked at the colony's stated purpose of agricultural production, especially of silk worms. But, they must have sensed the colony was doomed, for sometime between 1776 and 1781, several left New Bordeaux for Georgia - settling in an unknown location. What is known is that both Peter and James Roquemore fought in the Revolutionary War on the American side. How ironic that these two men went to war against their former benefactors.
Since Peter was older, he was commissioned as an officer. James, on the other hand, served as a private. Once the war was over in Georgia, both of these men received substantial land grants in 1784 and 1785 in Washington county (later to become Warren), Georgia, totaling over 1,100 acres. Although there are no complete records of the family's movements, it is safe to assume that only some of the other Roquemores went to Georgia, while others remained behind in New Bordeaux.
Of the two brothers, James and his descendents have the most complete records. Peter, on the other hand, has the least - just his Revolutionary War service and subsequent land grant. No records have been found, as yet, for his mother, Susan Lafon; or his wife, Jane Seguin; or two of his children - Marie and Peter (Pierre). His third child, Anne, is documented as she married Lazarus Covin in New Bordeaux.
James became a successful Georgia farmer. Perhaps his experiences with the agricultural endeavors at New Bordeaux helped him achieve this status. Then again, maybe it was something else. Maybe he just learned to adapt to what he was given, and to work hard at making it successful. The Huguenots were reputed to be industrious and lovers of the land.
In the 1840s, however, came rumors of cheap land in Texas. Land rush fever must have smitten many in the Roquemore clan because in 1847 they put together a 20-family wagon train and headed west from Georgia bound for Panola County, Texas. This county is located southwest of Shreveport, Louisiana.
According to stories handed down through the generations, the Great Roquemore Migration was truly an extraordinary event. Considering that entire households were pulling up stakes, putting everything they owned onto horse-drawn wagons, and heading for parts unknown (over 700 miles away) was a remarkable undertaking. Even more remarkable was the fact that Peter Roquemore (the eldest of the first American-born generation, son of James and Elizabeth) and his wife Catherine Katy Murphy, chose to accompany their children and grandchildren on that dangerous journey. He was 69 at the time of leaving and she was 63. In all likelihood, they knew they would never see again the children left behind in Georgia.
Perhaps she was in failing health, or perhaps the journey became too arduous for her, but Catherine died in Alabama in July, 1847 - not long after the journey had begun. She was buried in Russell County. Peter and the other families continued westward, arriving in Texas in the winter of 1849. What other events happened along the way, and why it took over 2 years to make the journey, remain a mystery.
Amazingly, Peter, who was 72 at the time, bought 1,280 acres (just inside the state line) in March, 1850 for $2,000 and began farming again. He continued until his death in February, 1852.
Like many other Southern families, the Roquemores were land and slave owners. After the South surrendered, many of our ancestors had to do for themselves what their slaves had done for them before 1865. Some of their children had to do physical labor for the first time in their lives.
Interestingly, too, is the historical fact that many of the freed slaves, not usually having last names of their own, adopted their former owners' last name. Thus, beginning at the end of the Civil War, the Roquemore name became bi-racial.
To be continued….