A Brief History of Montécheroux

Here is an excerpt from Gathering Leaves, A Brief History of Montécheroux, France:

My French-speaking ancestors, who lived in eastern France and western Switzerland, were neither citizens of France nor of Switzerland until after the French Revolution. They came from the region that today is within the French department of Doubs and the modern Swiss Canton of Jura. The area is approximately midway between the French city of Besançon and the Swiss city of Basel. This history below is based on a translation of the information found at a French language website called Accueil Montecheroux. The site no longer exists but the contents are preserved at this link.

In Roman times, along the border of Germany, the region was occupied by a Gallic people known as the Sequani. Around 400 AD, the area was known as Provincia Maxima Sequanorum with its capital a Vesontio (Besançon). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was inhabited by Germanic tribes who were vassals of the Kingdom of the Burgundians. The 1st kingdom existed between the 6th and 7th centuries.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the area was part of the Kingdom of the Franks. It was part of the Frankish Kingdom of Arles in the tenth century. Following the decline of the Carolingian Empire, the area became known as Haute Bourgogne (Upper Burgundy). In the 11th century, the Kingdom of Burgundy was briefly restored. Still, by the 12th c., the 2nd kingdom of Burgundy was split into the Duchy of Burgundy (west), which eventually became part of the Kingdom of France, and the eastern portion was made into the Free County of Burgundy (Franche-Comté), which became the part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The village that my Gaume family called home before they left for America has a history that dates back to at least the 11th century AD. The first appearance of the village of Montécheroux is in a charter dated November 1040, which transfers the village’s Romanesque church constructed likely in the 11th century and partly remodeled towards the end of the Gothic era to the Abbess of Baumes-Les-Dames. The old name of Montécheroux was Monte Escherolo. In 1136 it became part of the seigneury of Clémont which included seven villages (Clémont, Montécheroux, Liebvillers, Poset, Dampjoux, Villars–sous-Dampjoux and Noirefontaine). In 1241 the Abbey of Lucelle sold the seigneury of Clémont to Thiebaut II of Neufchâtel-Bourgogne (Switzerland).

Neufchâtel-Bourgogne retained the seigneury in 1505. The castle of Clémont was probably built between 1242 and 1261. The fortress of Clémont was taken first in 1289 by the troops of the Bishop of Basel, and a second time was during the Hundred Years War in 1445 by knights of the future Louis XI, King of France. The village fell to the army of the Confederation of Helvetica in 1475 and was burned to the ground. In 1478, the Bishop of Basel returned to the lord of Neufchatel the lands of the seigneury of Clémont.

At the death of William de Neufchâtel in 1505, the seigneury passed into the hands of Guillaume de Furstenberg, a vassalate of the Holy Roman Empire. The castle was destroyed in 1519, and Montécheroux became the site of the seigneury’s administration. On May 4, 1506, Count Ulrich of Montbéliard bought all rights and claims to the sei-gneury of Clémont.

On March 19, 1562, the people of the seigneury assembled on a mound at Clémont to swear an oath of loyalty to the House of Württemberg. During winter 1587-1588, the seigneury was invaded by the Duke of Guise, a Catholic, an enemy of Count Frederick of Württemberg, a partisan Protestant. On January 14, 1588, Montécheroux was devastated by fires set by the army of Francoise de Lorraine, 2nd Duke of Guise. Montécheroux was the first protestant village to suffer persecution at the hands of Lorraine. In September 1595, French soldiers, in a fight against the invading Spanish, attacked Montécheroux on the orders of Captain Tremblecourt.

In 1611, a plague killed many inhabitants. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), Montécheroux underwent other setbacks. In 1629, the Imperial army arrived, followed by the French and the Spanish in 1633. Evil came at its peak between 1635 and 1640 when the Swedish invaded. On May 10, 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia permanently consigned the seigneury of Clémont to France.

In 1676 the seigneury was occupied by the French. In 1696 the seigneury was placed under the Taille – a direct land tax on the French peasantry and non-nobles in Ancien Régime France. The following year, the Peace of Ryswick 1697 restored possession of the seigneury to the Prince of Württemberg. However, Louis XIV did not cease his oppression of the land.

Following the revolution, Montécheroux was made part of the district of Saint-Hippolyte and the department of Doubs in 1790.

Over time the northeast corner of Franche-Comté became the County of Montbéliard, and by 1407 Montbéliard became the possession of the German House of Wurttemberg. What is now the Swiss Canton of Jura was then part of the Bishopric of Basel. After the War of Austrian Succession, in the 1740s, the County of Montbéliard, a German possession and the Bishopric of Basel, was surrounded by the Kingdom of France and the Confederation of Switzerland.

Following the French Revolution, the county of Montbéliard and the Bishopric of Basel ceased to exist after briefly becoming the Rauracian Republic (1792-93) and then became part of the new French Republic.

My fourth great-grandfather, Luc François Jeanin-Gaume served in Napoleon’s army from 1793-1802. The 20e Demi-Brigade received honors at the Vars River during the 2nd Italian Campaign and at the Battle of Wurzburg (September 1796).

The Bishopric of Basel became part of the Confederation of Switzerland following the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

My fifth great-grandfather, Jean Germain Voisard was mayor of Montécheroux from 1815 to 1826.

According to the English language Wikipedia article for Montecheroux, the population of the town in 2012 was 581.

The French language Wikipedia article has the following added piece of information: “Famous throughout the world for the quality of the pliers manufactured there, Montécheroux employed up to 200 workers in 15 workshops; it remains, today, a manufacturing workshop.”

My 3rd-great-grandfather, Jean Baptiste Francois Xavier Jeanin-Gaume was a blacksmith who who emigrated from Montecheroux to Ohio in 1833.


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