The origins of the Beausang surname I – French Revolution? Try East Cork

All of four months ago – seems about a quarter that long ago – I posted about my Cork Smiddy and Beausang roots. Judging from some of the search terms that direct to my blog, it seems there’s a good bit of demand out there for the Beausang part in particular.

So, I’ve decided to put up my thoughts on the roots of the Beausang surname (and of course its many many variants, including Boozan(e), Bouzan(e), Boosean(e), Beausan(e)… well, you get the point.) I guess the aim of this two-part post is twofold: firstly, can we shed any light on where most Beausang/Boozan families in Ireland & North America originate? And secondly, as a by-product, what is the connection or chronology of the name Beausang and its variants across France, Ireland and North America?

Assuming that Beausang, which is clearly not an indigenous Irish surname, ultimately comes from France, there are, as I see it, three options in relation to the roots of the Irish clan – and what I believe is its offshoot North American clan – of Beausang/Boozan/Bouzane:

  • Firstly, they could be descended from French Huguenot emigrants of the 1600s or 1700s.
  • Secondly, they could be descended from those fleeing France around the time of the French Revolution.
  • Thirdly, they could be neither – i.e. they could indeed be of French origin, but may have emigrated at a different point in time and for reasons other than religious persecution or the Revolution. As the Huguenot Society of Great Britain & Ireland states, “people have emigrated from France… for various reasons, not just religious, and at various times. French families moved… both before and after the Huguenots.”

The evidence for the second point – i.e. that the Beausang diaspora is as a result of fleeing the French Revolution – comes primarily from a series of posts by Tom McDonald, based in Newfoundland, on the Bouzane Family Genealogy Forum.  In particular, Tom writes:

Salmon Cove, Newfoundland - close to the home of many early North American Bouzanes

Salmon Cove, Newfoundland - close to the home of many early North American Bouzanes

During the French revolution Thomas (we believe his name was) De LaBouzan from Brittany France, a prominent Baron and land owner, feared for the lives of his family. He had three of his sons shipped of for fear of their lives. Each has money sown into their clothing to help secure their future, and each put on separate ships. One ship landed in Ireland, one in the south seas, and the third in Newfoundland.

This story is at first glance very appealing, for three reasons. Firstly, it gives the entire extended Beausang/Boozan family a nice and interesting story of origin. Secondly, it in some way helps explain how there are branches in North America and in Ireland. Lastly, it offers the hint of even more… ‘in the south seas’.  There is, unfortunately, very little evidence in favour of this version of events, apart from the oral history that Tom has inherited across two hundred years. The only other supporting evidence would seem to come from Stephen Beausang, who says:

It seems unlikely that the [Beausang] name is Huguenot. I have heard reports that two brothers were shipwrecked off the Coast of East Cork, probably around the time of the French revolution. There has been some suggestion that the original name was German, but the family first moved to France.

If Stephen’s and Tom’s stories come from entirely different branches of the clan, that at least is something. However, it is also very possible that two entirely separate families could easily develop stories to explain an unusual surname based on a seminal event in France, the French Revolution – this is particularly the case if the surname first appeared in a country (as is the case with Canada) in the early 1800s.

Ballycotton, East Cork, Ireland - close to the home of many 1800s Bouzans and Beausangs

Ballycotton, East Cork, Ireland - close to the home of many 1800s Bouzans and Beausangs

I’m a little skeptical, however, about the French Revolution story. For that, I’ll offer two lines of reasoning. Firstly, the earliest mentions of the Beausang surname in Ireland suggest that it was in County Cork before the Revolution. Graves in Dangandonovan in East Cork (Ireland), also transcribed here, point to a Boosean-Kenery marriage in the mid-1770s and the birth of Joanna Boosean in 1775/6. The fact that there are four Beausangs born before 1800 in that one graveyard alone works against the idea of one or two shipwrecked stragglers arriving in East Cork in the 1790s.

Secondly, and this may be more controversial (cue scenes of rioting and looting at the Bouzane family conference!), it looks very unlikely that any Beausangs/Bouzan(e)s went straight from France to North America, as per the revolution story. For the pro-North America direct from Newfoundland argument, take, for example, the following from Linda Bouzane, writing in 2001 on a forum no longer online (to show I’m not making it all up, Linda has posted a very similar version here):

The Beausanes of Newfoundland came originally from France and apparently before that from the Basque provinces of Spain and the name was apparantly spelled Beausani. The first Beausan/e/ys in Newfoundland were Maragret and presumably her brother (not proven yet) Thomas. It is believed others of this family may have gone to Ireland, but this also is not proven. Margaret Beausane married William Walsh ca 1815, supposedly in Newfoundland and raised their family there. I am still working on the descendants.

Thomas Beausane (b. ca 1795-1798) married Ellen Walsh ( b. ca 1800) ( possible sister or cousin of the the above William Walsh) on Jan. 16, 1824 in Newfoundland (possibly Carbonear). They first lived in Carbonear then moved to Western Bay, Nfld. We do not know the parents of Thomas or his place of birth and the same goes for Ellen. Their children were: Margaret, Richard, Michael, James, William, Thomas, John, Ellen and Mary.

Aside from the fact that I would argue that the children’s names are entirely Irish, another alarm bell rings when you look at who Margaret and Thomas married. First-generation immigrants almost exclusively marry someone their own nationality. Bearing that very important fact in mind, let’s continue with some other scattered pieces of evidence from across the internet.

Small sample bias, perhaps? After all, a French and Irish family may have just hit it off in Newfoundland! Well, based on a broader set of evidence, again in Newfoundland, the mother’s surname from Boozan births from the 1860s suggest that these are descendants of Irish immigrants, not French:
F/Surname   F/Given  M/Surname  M/Given  Child  Year
Boozaney      Michael      English      Clare      Mary      1862
Boozaney      Thomas      English      Martha      William      1862
Boozaney      Richard      Dwyer      Ellen      Richard      1863
Boozaney      William      Ryan      Catherine      Honora      1863
Boozaney      Thomas      English      Martha      Margaret      1864
Boozaney      Michael      English      Clare      John      1864
Fitzgerald      James      Boozan      Mary      Bridget      1864
Boozane      Richard      Dwyer      Ellen      Ellen      1869
Boozane      Richard      Dwyer      Ellen      Elizabeth      1869
Boozane      Thomas      English      Martha      Jane      1869

Similarly with a Boozan who married a Dooley, another Irish surname. In the USA, a John Boozane in San Francisco born in the 1820s was also Irish. The evidence mounts…

In my next post, I’ll talk about the Huguenot possibility and stick my next out on the line as to where I think the Beausang and Bouzan clans more than likely originated.

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3 Responses

  1. Great Job Ronan,

    The exact origins of the Beausangs of East Cork is definitely a mistery. I can’t be sure if the Beausangs (Booseans) came as a result of the French Revolution, as you correctly pointed out, but it appears that the family arrived in Ireland around that time. The Daingendonovan inscription 1799 is the earliest that I have found, which certainly does not proclude that the family arrived in the previous decade.It would be very unusual for a Boosean to marry an Irish catholic in this period, but not impossible. Your assertion that there are four Booseans in the cemetary born before the revolution, does tend to blow a hole in the theory. My family lived in the Shanagarry area, but the story went that the family originated around Daingeandonovan, and my direct ancestors moved to Shanagarry (Kilmahon and later Cloyne Parishes) around 1829. As you point out Smiddy remains a popular surname in both of these parishes.

    There is also a Thomas Bouderan listed in the Youghal Census of 1766. Could this be another corruption of the name?

    The Hugenot origin of the name is a popular theory, but one I tend to dismiss for a number of reasons. First most of the Hugenots came to Ireland in the 17th and early 18th century. There are no records of the name, that I know of going back to that time. Second, the Hugenots were Protestant. It is hard to imagine somebody willingly converting to Catholicism in Ireland, prior to Catholic emancipation. All the Beausangs, that I know of are Catholic. Thirdly, the Hugenots tended to be artisans and crafts people, and urban oriented. The Beausangs in East Cork were almost exclusively small farmers. One might expect some of the Hugenot traditions to survive. If you have any further information on the Hugenot connection, I will be happy to stand corrected.
    As to the Newfoundland Bouzane/Boozanes. I think you are hinting in you article that this family originated in Ireland, and not France. I tend to agree. Many of the Catholic Irish who ended in Newfoundland came from the East Cork area, leaving through the Port of Youghal. I think it is very likely the original owners of the surname came from East Cork. The prominance of Richard, Thomas and Michael, see too much of a coincidence.

    Thank you for publishing this information on your blog.

    Stephen

  2. Welcome to Geneabloggers!
    This is an interesting post. I specialize in French-Canadian and Acadian genealogy of eastern Canada (the mainland). Beausang exists as a French surname in Quebec but I didn’t realize it was such a widespread name and had possibly been used by the Irish.
    The exchange of opinions was very informative.
    Evelyn in Montreal

  3. Hi there,

    I was just wondering if you have ever come across the Beausang crest/coat of arms. Its something I’ve tried to find a long time but have had no luck.

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