Whenever I tell someone my ancestors were French Protestants, I always get the reply, “Oh, Huguenots”, but that is not the story. Francois Bruneau came to Quebec in 1659 from France and he was a Catholic. He married Marie Provost a Filles du Roi in 1669 and they began our French Catholic line. The family remained Catholic until Barnabe Bruneau had a bone to pick with the church and became a Baptist. The reasons why depend on who is telling the story.
Barnabé was the son of Antoine Bruneau and Josephte Robichaud. He and his second wife, Sophie Prudhomme, the daughter of Jeramie Prudhomme and Louise Decarie, lived in Sainte Constant Quebec. There they farmed, raised their children and attended the local Catholic Church. Barnabé owned a number of parcels of land, one of which was just inside the border of Sainte-Catherine in the parish of La Prairie.
In 1856 when the church was collecting the tithe due them from his land, both parishes wanted their tax. Barnabé refused to pay the Curé of Sainte-Catherine. He tried to stop his tithe obligation, by telling the Curé he was leaving the Catholic Church, but they still sued him. With his lawyer Joseph Doutse, who had the reputation of being a great adversary of the Catholic Church, Barnabé went to court and won. With that, he decided to attend the Baptist church, Eglise Baptiste de Saint Constant. He was the first person in the St Constant region to convert to the evangelical faith.
Barnabé’s parents had already died and were safely buried in the crypt of the St Constant Catholic Church, so they were not upset by his conversion. His brother Médard continued to attend the Catholic Church until one Sunday the priest preached that Protestants were devils with cloven hooves, who worshipped Satan and didn’t belong to the true church. Médard came home from church and demanded to see Barnabé’s feet. When they were not cloven, he denounced the priest as a liar and he too left the church and became a Baptist.
As there are notarial documents about the court case this is probably close to the truth but depending on which cousin you ask you will get other stories. One was that the Bruneau brothers learned that the local priest had been “fooling around” with some wives while the husbands were working in their fields and so they left the Catholic Church and became Baptists.
There was another version for those who didn’t want their family to have been involved in any scandals. The Catholics in the area saw that their tithes did not provide for any schooling while the Protestant church was very interested in educating their children and had begun setting up schools. The Catholics in the area tried to persuade the church to start a school but finally, in frustration, the whole congregation walked out of the Catholic Church and joined the Baptist Church.
They certainly did become Protestants. The family committed themselves to the Protestant church as Barnabé’s son Ismael, my great-grandfather had the calling and became a Presbyterian minister.
Bruneau, Ida. A Short History of the Bruneau – Girod Families. 1993.
Duclos, R.P. Histoire du Protestantisme Francais au Canada et aux Etas-Unis. Montreal, Canada: 1912.
Prévost, Robert. Mon Tour De Jardin. Sillery, Québec: Septentrion, 2002. Print.
Gagné, Jacques. Baptist Churches of Lower Canada & Québec Compiled and researched by: email@example.com
Photograph of Barnabe and Sophie Marie Prud’homme Bruneau taken by Ayers Photo-Portraits in Jersey City, New Jersey in the 1870s.