Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Journal of John Fontaine, covering the years between 1710-1719

The Journal of John Fontaine, 1710-1719
This is said to be a pencil drawing of John Fontaine.

Here are some excerpts and comments on the Journal of John Fontaine.
First, a little about the Journal and the man, John Fontaine. John's father, Jacques, known as James Fontaine, was born in 1658 in Jenouille in Saintonge, France. Jacques father was also named Jacques, and he was a well known Huguenot minister of the United Churches of Vaux and Royan. They came from a long line of Huguenots that dated back to about 1535. In the 1680s, the french government's persecution of the Huguenots expanded, an many migrated elsewhere, for fear of their lives. Churches were torn down, their meetings were disrupted, and members of their congregations were thrown into jail until they recanted their faith, and returned to the Roman Catholic faith. In October of 1685, the French government revoked the Edict of Nanrtes, that had promised the French government would tolerate the Huguenots.
James Fontaine fled first to England and then to Ireland. Twice the Irish, who remained fiercely Catholic, provided French Privateers (another word for 'pirate' in those times).the location of the Fontaine household, which they attacked, with the Fontaine family barely escaping with their lives. Although James remained in Europe, some of his children came to America. One son, John, came to America, obtained land grands and land parcels from Virginia's Governor Alexander Spotswood, whom he got to know pretty well. They traveled to Fort Christanna together, and John Fontaine wrote of this trip in his journal (1). John eventually went back to Europe and settled in Wales, where he spend the remainder of his days on earth.
The version of the Journal I have in my possession waspublished by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and distributed by the University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. It eas edited by Edward Porter Alexander, who also wrote the introduction.
More from Alexander's Introduction
Alexander's “Introduction” is lengthy, but he provides a lot of material about the Fontaine family that John Fontaine doesn't mention in is journal about his travels. Hen speaking about John's father, Jacques, referred to as James, he adds; “[James] bought a run down stone house on the St. Stephens green in Dublin and fixed it us as a combined home and grammar school.” Alexander continues; “His prospectus promised to take day students and to board 'Gentlement's sons', teaching them the French, Latin and Greek tongues; also history, geography and , . . . mathematics, especially Piety.' James was apparently offered to become the first professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Alexander states this offer came because of the friendship of James' son, our John Fontaine, and Governor Spotswood of Virginia. In 1721, James wife passed away, and in September of that year James closed his academy. He remained in Ireland, declining the opportunity to move to Virginia where several of his children decided to live. However his school had been so successful for James, that he was able to graduate three of his sons, Peter, Francis and Moses, from Trinity College in Dublin. So this French Huguenot family that barely escaped France, became a well known and connected family (2).
You might wonder why I am talking about this family so much. Well, I am getting to that. Please be patient. In December 1714, John Fontaine, son of James, left Dublin bound for America. Bad seas forced his ship to return to Ireland. He left a second time on February 28, 1715, and landed in Virginia May 26th of that year. John remained in Virginia for four years. While on a trip with Governor Spotswood, Fontaine and party went to Germanna Colony, where it was said, he met his first Indians.
In April 1716 John Fontaine made another journey with Governor Spotswood, this time they visited Fort Christanna. Alexander writes that “Fort Christanna [was] on the south side of the Meherrin River near the North Carolina River.” Alexander writes; “Fontaines account of this journey is especially important because of the description of the Indians at Christanna. They were remnants of several Siouan speaking tribes – the Saponi, Occoneechi, Stenkanocks, Meipontski, and Tutelo.” Alexander adds that in the initial publication of Fontaine's journal, part of it had been edited out. The missing part was a list of 46 phrases and words in the Souan language. He states hor he spent a considerable time trying to find the original documents including these words. Alexander then poses some questions. Some of the words are Algonquin, some Siouan, some both, and some are Algonquin and Iroquoian. I suspect he spoke with some Indians of the various tribes that lived near the Saponi at that time, as both Algonquin and Iroquoian peoples lived nearby (3).
Alexander speculates as to how Fontaine obtained his list of Indian words. He suggests that Fontaine might have spoken with many Indians, and spelled out the words phonetically as best he could. He then adds; “He well could have obtained the words from Charles Griffin, teacher of the Indian school at Christanna. The Reverend Hugh Jones accompanied Spotswood on a visit to the fort a year later in April 1717, and he attributed most of what he learned about the Indians to Mr. Griffin.” (4)
Here is a map from Alexander's book about John Fontaine's Journal.

And the next part brings me to much of the reason I am choosing to share excerpts and ideas from John Fontaine's Journal. As many know, I reject the notion that the Melungeons descend from 'a band of Portugues Gentlemen Adventurers. Maybe one or two Portuguese did father a family at most, of people that eventually became ancestors of a couple of the Melungeons. But it is absurd to claim more than this.
However since the word “Melangeon” is of French origin, I was hoping to find a 'French connection' to the Saponi Indians at Fort Christanna. The Fontaine family is one such connection. Alexander mentions off hand a conversation our Fontaine family members has about mixed race people. Peter Fontaine, brother to John, moved to Virginia and stayed there, whereas John, author of the Journal, went back to Europe and settled in Wales. Peter Jr., in one letter to his uncle John in Wales, speaks how his family settled in Halifax County. The American and Welsh descendents of this Huguenot family continued to write back and forth long after their were separated from one another by the vast Atlantic Ocean.They proceed to have a conversation about slavery, and part of that conversation concerns mixed race people (5).
Alexander continues; “Not often did the two groups of correspondents have a difference of opinion. Once however, John and Moses Fontaine asked the Reverend Peter (Sr.) two pointed questions – whether colonial breaches of Indian treaties had caused the Red Men to join the French in warring upon the frontiers and whether 'enslaving our fellow creatures was a practice agreeable to Christianity.' Peter replied to his brother, Moses, March 30, 1757, that the colonists had not broken their treaties, but he argued that they ought to have intermarried with the Indians so as to obtained their lands while converting them to Christiaity. He held the home authorities responsible for frowning on such unions and even threatening to half John Rolfe for marrying Pocahontas. How much better it would have been to have had Indian children as white at birth as White as Portuguese or Spaniards . . .” Reverend Peter Fontaine then makes some comments, that I wanted to leave out at first, but on second consideration, I will post. I don't want the last part of this sentence to negate the idea behind the first half. I need to continue on to the topic of slavery just a little, and so I need to include it. He continues from the last quote . . . “rather than the colonists pollute or smut their blood pollute their blood by copulating with Negroes and and producing a swarm of mulatto bastards.”
Alexander continues, “The economic facts of life in Virginia, Peter thought, required slave labor as long as that stinking and in itself useless weed – tobacco, continued the staple crop.” Alexander then quotes Reverend Peter Fontaine again. Rev. Fontaine then states the following about slavery, “It is a hard task to do our duty toward them [the slaves] as we ought, for we run the hazard of temporal ruin if they are not compelled to work hard on the one hand – and on the other, that of not being able to render an account of our stewardship in the other and better world, if we oppress and terrorize over them. (6)”
Rev. Peter Fontaine was typical for his day. They thought slavery was 'a necessary evil'. One way to justify ill treatment of others is to de-humanise them. 'They are NOT like us'. Even though he is a Christian Reverent, he tries to justify slavery, even though he knows it is wrong. There must have been many mulatto children or Rev. Peter would not have used such language. I believe the seeds of a small tri-racial group of families such as the Melungeons, can find its origins between the seventeen-teens, when as a young man John Fontaine befriended Gov. Spotswood, and the seventeen fifties when John, Moses, and Rev. Peter Fontaine are writing these letters back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean.
Having said that, and I don't want to understate his opinion in this, I still must also comment on the first half of that sentence, where Alexander quoted Rev Peter Fontaine, brother to John Fontaine, author of this journal, that quote being;
How much better it would have been to have had Indian children as white at birth as White as Portuguese or Spaniards . . .” Others have shown this DID happen! Mixed bloods DID EXIST! And some even later, out of fear of being counted as being mixed with Negro blood lood in a society where even Christian ministers consider mixing with Negroes as a 'pollution' of the gene pool, what could these people do? They could claim they were Portuguese. And that same minister who saw mixing with one race as 'pollution', had no problem with mixing with Indians as alright, because they would look like the Spanish or Portuguese. We have to understand why people said things to understand what they were saying. As each generation learns how to do things better, we must teach that which is better, and forsake that which is not.


On page 31 we hear Fontaine kept his journal and that it was written in French. Alexander says of Fontaine's trip to Spain that "He began his account (it was in French) on March 22, 1722" . . . (7) We know he was French Hugeunot and was raised in Ireland. But here we know he was well versed in French, which we suspected, but now we know. So his journal was in French at least in part, and we also know that the word "melangeon" in French means "we mix".

On page 33 we hear of parts of the original journal that have not survived to today. They are;
i.] Fontaine's military service in Spain (Aug 31, 1710- Jul7, 1713)
ii.] Unsuccessful voyage for Virginia (Dec. 7, to Jan 22, 1714-15)
iii.]Respite for Bideford and Barnstable (Jan 23, to Feb 26, 1714-1715
iv.] Successful Journey to Virginia, (Feb 28, 1714  to May 25, 1715
v.] Vocabulary of words used by Indians at Fort Christanna (April 15th, 1716) (8)

He speaks of taking a ship from Plymouth, England tp Portugal, He speaks of going "up the Tagus [River] before Lisbon." I only share this because of the persistence of some people who want to say the Melungeons were Portuguese hidiing out in the interior. Were they lost, they had no reason to "hide out." -- the Portuguese were European just like hte English. If any Portuguese sailors got left behind, he could easily have just taken the next ship home. While in Portugal, Fontaine mentions crops they rgew, saying, "They make abundance of wine, oil, wheat, barley, and INDIAN CORN." The time frame is 1711. In 1711 they were growing 'an abundance' of Indian Corn in Portugal. He Portuguese had first colonized Brazil by April 1500, so Portuguese ships had been passing to and from the Americas for at least 200 years. They had plenty of time to learn how to grow corn 'in abundance' in Portugal. Speaking of why there were few people living along the Portuguese coasts, Fontaine says, "Moors very often make descent and carry away with them all they cam meet, as also all the people they can which they make slaves of." (9) So there were Portuguese slaves living in the lands of the Moors, Morocco.

He tells of the first Indian cabin (dated November 12, 1715) he sees, saying "We see by the side of the road an Indian cabin, which was built with posts up into the ground, the one by the other, as close as they could lay and about seven feet high, all of an equal length. It was built four square [meaning four sides of equal length], and a sort of roof  upon it covered with the bark of trees. They say it keeps out the rain very well."

When speaking of Indian women, he states, "The Indian women were all naked. Only a girdle they had tied about their waiste, and they had about a yard of blanketing which they passed one end under the fore part of the girdle, and they pull this cloth so fashoned before between their thighs and they fashon the other end under the girdle behind, which covers their nakedness. Their beds were mats made of bullrushes. They lie upon them and had one blanket to cover them. All the household good they had was a pot . . . (10)

1.] The above is mentioned in the introduction to “The Journal of John Fontaine, 1710-1719”.
2.] Introduction, page 6
3.] Introduction, page 12
4.] Introduction, page 13
5.] Introduction, page 27
6.] Introduction, page 28
7.] Introduction, page 31
8.] Introduction, page 33
9.] Chapter 1, Military Service, pages 38-40
10.] Capter 5, Land Hunting to Germanna. page 85 

Addendum to the Article

While researching this information, I came across information that Peter Fontaine, John's brother, also wrote something about the family, and his writings mentioned mixed race people. Although Alexander quoted this in part, I wanted to find the original source if possible. Part of it is found online at That website does have a lot of good information on it. They cite their material as follows – Fontaine, Peter. "Letters of the Rev. Peter Fontaine of Westover, Virginia": p. 233-355. Maury, Ann. Memoirs of a Huguenot Family: Translated and compiled from the original autobiography of the Rev. James Fontaine, and other Family Manuscripts; Comprising an original Journal of Travels in Virginia, New York, Etc, in 1715 and 1716. New York. Geo. P. Putnam & Co. 1853. 512 pgs. 

...Now, to answer your first query - whether by our breach of treaties we have not justly exasperated the bordering nations of Indians against us, and drawn upon ourselves the barbarous usage we meet with from them and the French? To answer this fully would take up much time. I shall only hint at some things which we ought to have done, and which we did not do at our first settlement amongst them, and which we might have learnt long since from the practice of our enemies the French. I am persuaded we were not deficient in the observation of treaties, but as we got the land by concession, and not by conquest, we ought to have intermarried with them, which would have incorporated us with them effectually, and made of them stanch friends, and, which is of still more consequence, made many of them good Christians; but this our wise politicians at home put an effectual stop to at the beginning of our settlement here, for when they heard that John Rolfe had married Pocahontas, it was deliberated in Council, whether he had not committed high treason by so doing, that is, marrying an Indian Princess; and had not some troubles intervened which put a stop to the inquiry, the poor man might have been hanged up for doing the most just, the most natural, the most generous and polite action that ever was done this side of the water. This put an effectual stop to all intermarriages afterwards. Our Indian traders have indeed their squaws, alias whores, at the Indian towns where they trade, but leave their offspring like bulls or boards to be provided for at random by their mothers. As might be expected, some of these bastards have been the leading men or war-captains that have done us so much mischief. This ill-treatment was sufficient to create jealousy in the natural man's breast, and made the Indians look upon us as false and deceitful friends, and cause all our endeavors to convert them to be ineffectual. But here methinks I can hear you observe, What! Englishmen intermarry with Indians? But I can convince you that they are guilty of much more heinous practices, more unjustifiable in the sight of God and man (if that, indeed, may be called a bad practice), for many base wretches amongst us take up with negro women, by which means the country swarms with mulatto bastards, and these mulattoes, if but three generations removed from the black father or mother, may by the indulgence of the laws of the country, intermarry with the white people, and actually do every day so marry. Now, if, instead of this abominable practice which hath polluted the blood of many amongst us, we had taken Indian wives in the first place, it would have made them some compensation for their lands. They are a free people, and the offspring would not be born in a state of slavery. We should become rightful heirs to their lands, and should not have smutted our blood, for the Indian children when born are as white as Spaniards or Portuguese, and were it not for the practice of going naked in the summer and besmearing themselves with bears' grease, &c., they would continue white; and had we thought fit to make them our wives, they would readily have complied with our fashion of wearing clothes all the year round; and by doing justice to these poor benighted heathen, we should have introduced Christianity amongst them. Your own reflections upon these hints will be a sufficient answer to your first query. I shall only add that General Johnson's success was owing, under God, to his fidelity to the Indians, and his generous conduct to his Indian wife, by whom he hath several hopeful sons, who are all war-captains, the bulwarks with him of the five nations, and loyal subjects to their mother country...
Interesting food for thought.


  1. I've often thought that Governor Alexander Spotswood and his involvement in slavery, needs to be better examined.

    This is from "Genealogy of the Spotswood family in Scotland and Virginia"

    " He reduced to submission the Indian tribes, and blend-
    ing humanity with vigor, taught them, that while
    he could chastise their insolence, he commiserated
    their fate. He recommended the intermarriage of
    the whites with that race. He took measures to
    extend the advantages of a Christian education
    to the Indian children. "

    Here is a interesting story about one of Spotswood Siouan slaves.

    The following story is about Katina, a Sioux Indian Princess slave passed on by Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia upon his death, to the Thornton family who had intermarried with the Spotswoods.

    There is also a "Catina" mentioned in "Genealogy of the Spotswood family in Scotland and Virginia" in Col. Augustine Moores Will 1743.

    "I give to my said Wife two hundred
    Pounds sterling & three slaves, to wit : Catina/
    Old Jenny & Dinah, my Coach & Chaise &
    Coach Horses & all my Boats."

    Great work Mr. Hawkins!

    1. Joe, I think you are 100 percent right about this. When people talk about the decline of the Eastern Siouan tribes, that is, Catawba, Cheraw/Saura, Saponi and all the others, them mention constant warfare, disease, and assimilation, but seldom give the slave trade its due. All the tribes constantly fought each other, and survived. Many tribes were severely weakened by small pox, and did not go extinct. Disease was a major factor in the decline of the Indian peoples, but I think it was slavery that was the final nail in the coffin. They could not overcome all these things at once. The Guale, Yamasse, and others couldn't overcome the lossess to the slave trade either. Please contact me at