Published in the September 2006 issue of the SGES Quarterly

ALMOST A MINORCAN
J. G. Braddock Sr.

I got into this crazy business of digging up dead people by being invited by my wife, Valerie, to help her research her Humbert ancestors. She had been researching them for over a decade and had accumulated an extensive pile of notes. Now, she had run into not one, but two brick walls, one between Godfrey Humbert and her great-grandfather William Charles Humbert, the other between Godfrey and the Humberts of Purysburg.

Godfrey seemingly dropped from the sky into a brief wedding announcement in a 1792 issue of the Charleston Gazette. He proceeded to make his presence known in Charleston for the next 28 years through an abundance of public records. Not one, however, documented his presence in Charleston —or any other place—prior to the announcement. Public records show no other Humbert entering Charleston from another locale before Godfrey’s appearance, nor any since for at least the next hundred years. It takes little stretch of the imagination from that fact alone to conclude that Valerie and her many Humbert relatives in Charleston and the surrounding area descend from Godfrey. However, the imagination’s stretch is reduced even further by the fact that Godfrey was a carpenter, at least three of his sons were carpenters, Valerie’s aforementioned great-grandfather was a carpenter, her grandfather was a carpenter, her father was a carpenter, and all her uncles were carpenters.

The 1800 census shows Godfrey had four sons and two daughters. Early in her research Valerie was able to trace several generations of descendants of the two daughters. Not so with the sons. She was able to find names for only three of the four. Only one record each was found for two of them, John in the 1822 city directory and James on the 1850 census. Both were listed as carpenters. Numerous records show the third son, William Godfrey, who was the oldest, was also a carpenter. Genealogies of two local families list the name of his wife, but no children.

So there is every reason—except documented proof—to believe William Charles Humbert is son of one of Godfrey’s sons. Because of the first name William, William Godfrey is the most likely candidate.

So much for the brick wall between Godfrey Humbert and Valerie’s great-grandfather. The one between Godfrey and his ancestors is every bit as thick, but attempts to crack it have been far more interesting. Besides Godfrey, only one other Humbert family existed in South Carolina close to his time frame, David Pierre Humbert of Purrysburg and his descendants. Purrysburg, now a dead town, was a Swiss settlement thirty-five miles up the Savannah River on the South Carolina side. It was founded in mid-November 1732 when Colonel Jean Pierre de Pury arrived in South Carolina from Neufchatel , Switzerland with the first boatload of German and French-speaking Protestant Swiss immigrants. Records list the Humberts among the German speaking immigrants. Several more boatloads followed. David Pierre arrived in one of them. At some point he married Ursula Melchoir and historical records document several of their children. But no Godfrey. Well documented genealogies of these several children include no Godfrey. These genealogies were based on reliable source documents that made it through the ravages of the years to modern times. Many records did not make it. If all the documents that existed in David Pierre’s day had made it, I strongly suspect that David Pierre’s list of children would include a Godfrey, and perhaps other children whose records of having existed were lost through fire, disintegration, or were just plain old lost.

Our suspicion of David Pierre having a son named Godfrey was not born of wishful thinking or of our being too eager to knock down a brick wall. It was based on existing source records showing a Godfrey Humbert contemporary to David Pierre within a very few miles of Purrysburg. He was much too old to have been the Charleston Godfrey who, according to the 1800 census, was in age between 26 and 45. However, his name, time-frame, and locale made him an attractive candidate for being father of the Godfrey of Charleston.

First appearance of this earlier Godfrey’s name in public records is as a witness to the will of Sigismund Biltz, tailor, of Savannah , Georgia , July 18, 1765. A map of the settlement of Bethany made around that time by John G. William DeBrahm, Surveyor General of South Carolina and Georgia , shows Biltz having property in the township of Bethany . Bethany was in near vicinity of Purrysburg. In the October 13, 1765 issue of the Georgia Gazette in Savannah , Godfrey advertised: “The subscriber, intending soon to leave this province, desires all persons indebted to him, and those having demands against him to send in their account.” Valerie speculated that he may have come to Charleston , possibly bringing a family, including a son named Godfrey, the one who married in 1792. Many Purrysburg families migrated to Charleston as the settlement gradually dwindled into a dead town. No documents to support her speculation could be found.

At the point I reluctantly let Valerie drag me into her genealogical quest, the information summarized above, supported by reams of detail, was all she had on Godfrey Humbert. Taking me on her research forays was like carrying a gnat gun on an elephant hunt. I knew nothing about any of my ancestors beyond my grandparents and didn’t care to know. Nonetheless, for the next five years we visited practically every repository of historical and genealogical records in South Carolina and Georgia , all of which she had visited her first time around. We found not one scrap of new information. She had done her initial research well.

In the process of making me help her, she infected me with the same disease from which she suffers, an insatiable desire to learn about my ancestors. I began researching my Braddocks along with her Humberts. As one of my ancestors fought against the British ensconced in East Florida during the Revolution, and his family had later migrated from Georgia into East Florida , I found an article in a January 1764 issue of the Georgia Gazette of interest and made a copy of it. The article mentioned that a great many blacksmiths and home carpenters and 15 bakers from Savannah were being engaged to go to East Florida . Spain had ceded Florida to England the year before. Apparently, the British were enlisting tradesmen to help change the flavor of their new possession from Spanish to English. Some time later I ran into the book, DeBrahm’s Report of the General Survey in the Southern District of North America, edited by Louis Devorsey. After DeBrahm made the earlier mentioned map of Bethany , he became surveyor-general of the Southern District of colonies and moved his headquarters to the capital of East Florida, the old city of St. Augustine . The book contained a census DeBrahm made of East Florida . Godfrey is listed on the census as “Godfried” and shown as a house carpenter. So now we knew where Godfrey had gone after running the notice in the Savannah newspaper—not to Charleston but to St. Augustine . And better than that, we now knew he was a carpenter. Instantly, we became like two bloodhounds who had suddenly caught first whiff of a prime suspect.

A letter we found soon afterward in the Peter Force Collection of historical records increased the whiff to a bona fide scent. DeBrahm had a son-in-law, Frederick George Mulcaster, who was purported to be the brother of England 's King George III. In a letter dated September 29, 1775 from St. Augustine to Brig. Gen. James Grant, former governor of the province of East Florida and serving in the British army on the eve of the Revolution, Mulcaster wrote: “Humbert, the carpenter, the other day asked me if you were coming here.”

A mention we found in Wilbur H. Siebert’s, Loyalists in East Florida: “Mr. Humbert, carpenter, paid £300 for work done for Mr. Drayton.” also indicated Godfrey’s presence in the old city. I had learned by this time in my research of my ancestors that a large number of East Florida’s English population, most of them Loyalists, chose to make their homes elsewhere rather than live under Spanish rule after Florida was ceded back to Spain in 1783. Some returned to England . Many went to The Bahamas and other British possessions in the Western Hemisphere . Some few who had not been Loyalist returned to what had become the United States . We seized on the last category as a logical explanation of how Godfrey Humbert—or a namesake son—could have appeared seemly from out of nowhere in Charleston sometime before 1792. Having arrived in East Florida long before the Revolution, he did not bear the Loyalist taint. But our theory was one for which we could find no records to prove, at least not in South Carolina .

Having a couple of hours of free time on our next trip to Jacksonville to visit relatives, we zipped the few miles down I-95 to the St. Augustine Historical Society, hoping to quickly find records to substantiate our theory. We found only two involving the name Humbert in the very short time we had. One, a vital statistic card, said that Juana Perpal[l], widow, married Bernard Ambar (Spanish for Humbert) and they had a son named Bernardo Juan. The other mentioned the sale of a house on St. George St. to Juana Humbert for her son she had by her late first husband Juan Carlos Perpall. Entertaining the possibility that Bernard was Spanish for Godfrey or was his middle name, we left St. Augustine with a feeling of accomplishment, confident the two records would somehow tie into the Godfrey of Charleston.

Exciting as it was to get a new lead on the long elusive origin of Godfrey Humbert, equally exciting to us was another prospect. Valerie has an olive complexion and dark hair. She never sunburns but only turns a little tanner no matter how long she is in the sun. Several of her Humbert relatives have the same characteristics. The Civil War discharge of her great-grandfather, the one we suspect to be the grandson of the Godfrey of Charleston, describes him as “short, dark eyes, dark hair, dark complexion.” Because of this, I’ve always jokingly told her she had Spanish blood in her. Now, we began to seriously hope we would find her blood to be not only Spanish, but of the Minorcan variety. Researching my Braddocks had been more than a genealogical pursuit. It had also been a crash course in history, especially of Florida . Among the many important historical happenings in the state, I learned of the settling of New Smyrna and the severe hardships Minorcans went through, both in the hellhole of Andrew Turnbull’s plantation and after its disintegration, and of how, without government handouts, through hard work and determination, they made the word Minorcan synonymous with quality. Every American citizen who thinks he or she should be able to sit back and let the government supply all their needs should be required to read the history of the Minorcans. They would learn that the most effective entitlement is two eager hands attached to a grateful and self-reliant attitude.

With a new name, Perpall, to search for, we made the rounds locally and found a record that made our Minorcan theory appear to be even more plausible. We were ecstatic. The first paragraph of a lengthy marriage settlement on the “Charleston Marriage Settlements” microfilm read:

 “This indenture preparatite made on this seventh day of March in the year Eighteen Hundred and twenty six between Charles M. Furman of Charleston of the said state of the one part, Jessy Rosilie Perpall of East Florida of the second part and Gabriel W. Perpall and Richard Furman M.D. of the third part.”

The settlement went on to say that Jessy Rosalie Perpall’s father, Gabriel, owned “…certain real estate in East Florida known as the Island of Anastasia ...” As most people know, Anastasia Island is a large and valuable chunk of real-estate along the ocean southeast of St. Augustine.

Our ecstasy was triggered by the fact that Charles Manning Furman attended Charleston ’s First Baptist Church , the oldest Baptist church south of Kittery , Maine , at the same time Godfrey Humbert and his family attended the church. It was the church in which Godfrey married Elizabeth Gilbert in 1792. Furman’s father, Dr. Richard Furman, for whom Furman University is named, was the church’s pastor. To us this established a definite connection, not only between Charleston and St. Augustine , but better still, between some members of Godfrey’s church and Minorcans of St. Augustine.

The tearing down of many a brick wall has started out with supposing, and we immediately began supposing that Godfrey of Charleston really was the product of a Humbert/Perpall marriage and that Jessy Rosalie Perpall had come to Charleston to visit cousin Godfrey or, making a wild assumption, maybe even the elder Godfrey and Juana, and had met Charles Furman during the visit. Of no little influence to our supposing is the fact that there are, today, several families of Minorican descent in Charleston , five of whom I knew members at one time or another: Cercopely, Capo, Masters, Arnau, and Manucy. Their ancestors had arrived in the area from Florida many years ago. Travel between Charleston and Florida was done almost exclusively by boat in those days. It didn’t seem farfetched to us to imagine that Godfrey may have been on the same boat that brought some of those families.

A search of the Internet turned up numerous Perpalls in military draft records, militia muster rolls, slave schedules, and censuses. Several had the given name Charles, including one with the middle name Furman. None of them brought us an inch closer to making Valerie a Minorcan. Neither did the few Internet records we found of Charles Furman, including some that indicated he had held several important business and government positions. One record was of a lengthy court case in which his son brought suit against the governor of Florida and others in 1901 over the Anastasia grant. But we were confident all the pieces of the puzzle would fall into place with another trip to St. Augustine .

Instead of pieces falling into place from new information we learned on our second visit to the St. Augustine Historical Society, the puzzle fell apart. Closer examination of the Humbert/Perpall marriage record revealed they were married August 17, 1780, much too late for Godfrey of Charleston, who married in 1792, to be their son. If that one did not doom the dream of Valerie having Minorcan ancestors, the next one we found did. It showed that Bernard was a baker and was from Alsace , France , not Switzerland from where her Humberts had come.

Ten years have passed since the day of our big disappointment. In that time, we exhausted all possibilities without finding even the slightest clue of the origin of Godfrey Humbert, carpenter, with Spanish looking people among his descendants, who suddenly fell from the sky in Charleston in 1792. Maybe one day a record of the St. Augustine Godfrey marrying a Minorcan senorita will fall from the sky along with another showing their arrival in Charleston. Until then, Valerie will have to be content in being almost a Minorcan.

 

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