Timothy Demonbreun

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Timothy Demonbreun
Born 23 Mar 1747
Montreal, New France
Died Oct 1826
Nashville, Tennessee
Nationality French
Occupation fur trader
Known for first citizen of Nashville

Jacques-Timothée Boucher, Sieur de Montbrun, anglicized as Timothy Demonbreun (/dəˈmʌmbriən/; 23 Mar 1747, Montreal, Québec, Canada – Oct 1826 Nashville, Tennessee, USA) was a French-Canadian fur trader, an officer of the American Revolution, Lieutenant-Governor of the Illinois Territory and is known as the "first citizen" of Nashville, Tennessee.

Statue of De MontBrun located down the road from the recreation of Fort Nashborough

Hunter and Entrepreneur[edit]

Described as "tall, athletic, and dark-skinned, with a large head and an eagle eye," Demonbreun was a striking figure who wore a foxskin cap with a tail down the back. Demonbreun's great-grandfather, Pierre Boucher, was the first Canadian to be raised to the rank of nobility. His father, Etienne, served in the French army in Canada during the French and Indian War. After his country was soundly beaten in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, he migrated south to what is now the United States and got into the fur trade. Demonbreun preferred the simple life of a hunter and disposed of the noble title, running it together as his new last name. Demonbreun began coming to the Middle Tennessee area in the 1760s while still in his teens.

In 1766, while hunting near the muddy water at the mouth of a small creek entering the Cumberland River in the region called French Lick, Demonbreun noticed a large number of buffalo and deer using a salt lick. The spring is a natural source of sulfurated water, and eventually became known as Sulphur Dell. He lived in a cave there for several months until he was able to build a cabin on the river to use as his home base for fur trapping. Demonbreun made frequent trips to the early Nashville settlement to engage in fur trading with the Native Americans. When James Robertson and the Watauga settlers came to establish Fort Nashborough in 1778, they were surprised and relieved to find that Demonbreun, a white man, was thriving there.

Military service[edit]

Demonbreun joined the George Rogers Clark expedition and received an appointment as lieutenant governor in command of the Northwest Territory. He settled at Fort Kaskaskia in the Illinois Territory where he served as lieutenant governor from 1783-1786. In 1786 he resigned from military service and soon thereafter moved permanently to Nashville.

Family[edit]

Demonbreun traveled extensively, and managed two careers and two families. He fulfilled his duties as lieutenant governor of the Illinois Territory and maintained a family in Kaskaskia. During his time in Nashville, he took a mistress and began to raise a family there. Demonbreun had five children by his wife in Illinois and four [Felix Theodore; Polly (Cagle); William; and John Baptiste] by his mistress in Nashville.[citation needed] In his will, he mentions his children by name, Agnes Doza, Julia Johnson,and Timothy DeMonbreun. He specifically lists children William, John, and Polly as illegitimate. He does not mention the mother of either family of children nor his son Felix. [1] Felix Demonbreun is well documented through census and other records.

Later life[edit]

Eventually, Demonbreun developed a thriving mercantile and fur trading business with seventeen employees in the Nashville area. By 1800 his mercantile business on Nashville's Public Square advertised such items as window glass, paper, cured deer hides, and buffalo tongues. An 1809 newspaper advertisement announced that he was opening a tavern, also on the Public Square.[1]

The Marquis de Lafayette visited Nashville on May 4, 1825, and Andrew Jackson presided over a banquet in his honor at the Nashville Inn. Timothy Demonbreun, now very elderly, conversed with the Marquis in their native French. When he died in 1826, Demonbreun divided his substantial fortune among his children

Historical Records and Memorials[edit]

No record of the burial site of Nashville's "First Citizen" survived. A historical marker at the northwest corner of Third Avenue North, and Broadway in the city marks the site of his home. In 1996 a monument sculpted by Alan LeQuire to honor Demonbreun was erected near Fort Nashborough overlooking the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville. He was most likely buried at Nashville City Cemetery but early records no longer exist. A monunument has been erected in honor of Timothy Demonbreun at Carney Cemetery in Ashland City, TN. It is not probable that he is buried there. At the time of his death this was the farm of his past mistress Elizabeth Bennett and her husband Joseph Duratt.

Name[edit]

Because French orthography was so fluid at the time, and because of widespread variations in English orthography, Demonbreun's name is of some debate. The preferred use today is Timothy Demonbreun, though the first name is sometimes rendered in the French as Timothé, Timothée or Timothe. As for the last name, it derives from the French words, de (of) mont (mount) bruen (brown) for of mount brown, and is also rendered variously as Demontbrun, de Montbrun, Demontbreun, de Montbreun, De Mont-Breun, De Monbrun, and others. Descendants of Demonbreun (it is a very common surname in Middle Tennessee) spell the name with and without the middle "T," as one word or two, with a "U" in place of the "O," with and without the "E," and with an "N" or an "M" at the end. In addition, other variations such as Demumbrine and "Demombrum" also exist. Demonbreun Street in Nashville shows the preferred spelling. A popular local pronunciation is /dəˈmʌmbriən/, and rhymes with "Northumbrian."

Local colloquial pronunciation, "Duh - MUM - Bree-Un"

OR a better pronunciation based upon the street name:

"Day - mon - broon"

Notes[edit]

Demonbreun = "of the brown mountain"

  1. ^ Wood, E.Thomas (2007-05-25). "Nashville now and then: Large and in charge". NashvillePost.com. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 

See also http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/breun

Norman

    Adjective: breun m (f breune, m plural breuns, f plural breunes)
    Translated in English as: brown

Scottish Gaelic:

    Etymology: From Old Irish brén (“putrid, stinking, rotten”), from Proto-Celtic *bragno-, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰreHg.
    Adjective:  breun (comparative nas/na b' brèine, superlative as/a b' brèine)
    Translated in English as: rotten, foul, loathsome, rancid, nasty, corrupt, rank

References[edit]

  • Godbout, Archange. Vieilles Familles de France en Nouvelle-France (Montréal: Bellarmin, 1996).
  • Tennessee Historical Society. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Knoxville, TN: U of TN P, 1998).