IT BEGINS LONG AGO
Emerging from Europe’s Dark Ages, Charlemagne’s death marked the emergence of the French and German nations. Here, at first, petty principalities for self-defense against marauding Norsemen, Huns, Tartars and other barbarous hordes, were headed by Duke, count, Bishop or Baron.
One such was an ancestor, Jean Guyon, created Baron in 1289, who from his big stone castle erected on top of Roche-Guyon, still overlooks the surrounding country through which the stately Seine winds its way northwest of Paris to the sea.
From this vantage point these early overlords kept a watchful eye over their subjects, protecting them from armed robber bands and acting as chief of police, judge, patron of church and monastery, and generally maintaining peace and order throughout their small domain.
As the centuries rolled by there gradually developed in Western Europe and ever growing battle between Church and State with the “common people” in between, exploited by both.
In France, a bitter feud between the Catholic and Protestant (Huguenot) made matters worse. There were endless massacres, torturing’s and burnings at the stake. The Huguenots were a powerful minority and had their share of rich nobles. One, Henry of Navarre, King of France, strove for peace but in the late 1600’s things became so unbearable that groups of Huguenots from time to time were forced to seek refuge in other countries.
Long a thorn in the side of the Church of Rome, this city had for some years been the home of the Guion family. Lewis, our ancestor, had been born and brought up there. He was evidently a man of some means; his title, Ecuyer, (Squire) denotes land ownership.
Acting on a tip that government agents were after him, he and his family hastily sailed from La Rochelle to seek refuge first in England and later in the New World.
It was a near thing. As old Lewis told it, “they left the fire burning on the stove and the pot boiling on the fire.”
THE GUION PLACE
Huguenot Street, New Rochelle
It was around New Years Day, 1687, that a shipload of Huguenots reached New York. In the spring of that year, they bought land from the Dutch and founded “New Rochelle”. The son, Lewis Guion, built the family house there in 1696 – – a “one and a half storey cottage with dormer windows, made of hand-axed oak beams and stone-filled walls”, still standing, I am told.
famous old hostelry once standing in Eastchester, N. Y.
Charles Guion operated the in during the Revolutionary period. The famous election of 1733, known in history as “The Great Election”, marks a highlight in the life of Guion’s Tavern, for the debates and discussions held there did much to solidify the spirit of the people to resist all forms of tyranny and oppression.
Tradition has it that George Washington spent three days at the Inn when he was ill, and upon leaving, he rewarded the wife of the proprietor with a kiss for the excellent care she had given him. And legend further says that the wife of the proprietor never after washed the spot which his lips had touched.
SINCE REVOLUTIONARY DAYS
In 1776, John (fourth of the American Guions) now 52 years old, was living quietly on his Westchester County farm with his wife and 11 children. His 10th son, Elijah, my great grandfather, was aged five.
The homestead lay between the British and colonial lines. One day the redcoats raided. They caught the elderly man in his farmhouse, beat him severely while wife and children stood helplessly by, stripped the farm and left him for dead. He never fully recovered. In 1798, at the age of 28, Elijah married 19-year-old Elizabeth Marshall and in 1802 the family moved to New York City. Here in 1809 my grandfather was born. He studied for the ministry, and visiting New Orleans, fell in love and married the talented Cuban-born Clara Maria de los Dolores de Beck. His original pastorate was at Glenville, Conn., and during the Civil War at New Orleans.
Here in 1853 my father was born. Coming north in his youth he married and settled in Mount Vernon where I was brought up, only a short distance from the spot the first Guion had chosen for his home 200 years before.
For the rest of the week, I’l be posting more of Grandpa’s unique Christmas Cards, sent to family and friends, near and far.