Goussé and Aman Bonnin originated from Poitou, France, near Poitiers. Aman was a shipbuilder and Goussé was a surgeon. It seems that Goussé acquired his unusual forename in honour of Jacques Gousset, an influential protestant pastor in Poitiers. The name of Bonnin was regarded as “une des plus anciennes maisons de Poitou”. (4)
Goussé’s brother Aman is believed to have been born around 1664, but that may be conjecture. Aman was made a denizen of Great Britain in 1687 and naturalized the following year. By 1689 he and Goussé had left England and travelled to America, where there are numerous records of him in the Registers of the French Church in New York. Aman married there in 1689 – to Suzanne Valleau – and they had several children: Aman (1690), Susanne Marie (1692), Elizabeth Madeline (1694), Estienne (1696), Isaiah (1699) and Elizabeth (1701). (3) Aman continues to be mentioned in the church registers until 1706. Suzanne subsequently died and Aman remarried on December 28th 1705 to “Mary Prudence” (b1682), daughter of Jean de Neufville, “Docteur en Medecine”. No further records of Aman have come to light, but the birth of his daughter Elisabeth’s first child is recorded in the church registers in 1719.
Goussé had also married, to Marie Pantin or Pontin. Their first child Simeon Pierre was born in Pennsylvania in January 1689 and baptised in New York the following October (3) (Goussé was not present for the baptism). No further records of Simeon Pierre have been found. Goussé’s wife Marie was godmother to Aman’s daughter Susanne Marie in New York in 1692. In 1693, Goussé himself witnessed a marriage there and in March and June 1694 was godfather again. His son Henry was born in New York in 1695. Goussé was also one of the signatories to the 1696 “Oath of Association” from New York County to King William III.
However, he then returned to England. He stood as godfather at the French Church of l’Eglise du Tabernacle in Westminster in 1697 (1) – the godmother on that occasion was Marthe Pantin – probably a relative of his wife’s. Goussé was naturalised as a British Citizen in 1698. Possibly the naturalisation was the reason for his visit to England: he was soon back in New York. On June 6th 1698, Goussé stood godfather again at the French Church there.
In 1701, Goussé Bonnin “of New York County” was one of the signatories to a petition to King William III. (2) The petition sought the King’s protection for “your Plantation of New York in America”. After that, Goussé disappears from the New York records.
It’s not clear where Goussé was over the next few years. There is one tantalising glimpse of him in the Papers of William Penn: “Quary had accused Gous Bonin (anglicised as “Gousey Bunyan”) and Samuel Peres of violating the Navigation Acts and presented the Board of Trade with a deposition from the mate of their ship, charging them with smuggling Dutch linen”. (5) Samuel Peres was a Philadelphia merchant. Elsewhere in Penn’s papers, Goussé is referred to as “Capt. Gous Bonin”. The date of this incident isn’t clear.
Goussé subsequently travelled to Antigua, where he makes his first appearance in the records as a witness to the will of Henry Pearne on 23rd January 1706. (6)
On the 7th December 1710, the Governor of the Leeward Islands (of which Antigua is one) was shot in the thigh during a riot in St. Johns, the capital of Antigua. His injury was tended by Goussé Bonnin and a nurse, Sarah Collings. The governor was moved to a nearby house, where Goussé “stuffed the wound with tow”, but Governor Parke died of loss of blood.
The riot had been the culmination of mounting unrest against the rule of the governor, who had refused to convene the Assembly and was not giving satisfaction to the populace. In March 1710, he had been ordered back to England, but had not gone: he prepared letters in defence of his actions and sent those to London instead. In September that year there had been an earlier assassination attempt, wounding him in the arm.
On the 5th December the Assembly convened, but the Governor sent in a troop of grenadiers to intimidate them, so they adjourned and began summoning assistance from all over the island to seize the Governor and have him removed. The resulting mob sealed the Governor’s fate on the 7th. Parke had fortified his house and defied the requests of the “country party” to obey the royal command and return to England. The house was then stormed and taken, during which the Governor was fatally wounded. Goussé’s son-in-law Captain Beaulieu (or Boileau) was amongst the soldiers defending the house – he was also killed in the riot. Both Goussé and Henry Beaulieu (the husband of his daughter Margaret, whose birth record has not been found) had signed a petition to the Queen in July 1709, praising Parke and asking for action against his critics.(7)
The political situation in Antigua was then extremely precarious and Goussé found himself in the thick of it. Scapegoats were wanted for the murder and rumours abounded that the Governor had been beaten to death by the mob, but on March 10th 1711 both Goussé (who had carried out a post mortem) and nurse Collings (who had washed and laid out the body) swore depositions that the Governor bore only one wound, to his thigh.
On March 24th a new Governor, Walter Douglas, was appointed by the Queen, with instructions to send the ringleaders to England for trial.
In August 1711, Goussé made a further deposition (9), summarised here in the State Papers:-
“Deposition of Dr. Goussé Bonnin, Antigua, Aug. 25, 1711. Summoned before the Generall Council at St. Johns, about March last, deponent was asked by the Lt. Generall if he knew which way Generall Parke came by his death. Deponent desired to be excused, for that it was not safe for him to answer, having already suffered very much, and had been lately threatend by severall on that account. The Lt. Generall said he should only put a few questions to him wch. should be no way prejudiciall to him, which questions being put, deponent answered the same. Mr. John Willett, one of the Council, desired deponent’s answer to the first question should be minuted with his other answers, which was done after some debate. In the afternoon, deponent, being sent for again to answer something more fully, found the answer to the first question which was minuted to be quite raced out. When he returned his first answer, the Lt. Generall neither encouraged nor declared his protection to deponent…”
In July 1712, Goussé was summoned to London to give evidence. On Oct 29th 1712 he wrote to the Earl of Dartmouth (10):-
” I am sent here as an eye-witness and on(e) of the chief evidences of that unparalleled rebellion and murder of Antigoa by a special warrant of Col. Walter Douglas against Sam. Watkins and Dan. Makinen and others to come, as chief actors in that barbarous fact.” He prays for maintenance if he must wait long, etc.
Government, however, acts extremely slowly. In February 1713 he wrote the following to the Earl of Dartmouth (8):-
“Your Lordship being pleased some months ago to order me in the Gazette to waitte att the office, and haveing done it without any appearance of hopes, makes me believe that your Lordship was no wayes apprise of my misfortunes, it is very hard my Lord, that after the murther of my son in law in Antego, and most my own, and the obligation laid upon me to maintein his three young children with their poor desolate mother beside my own, ever since Dec. 7, 1710, when the rage of the people rebelled and murdered their General, and that the begining of July last I was commanded by the Chief Governour there to come to England for H.M. service under his hand and seall which order Mr. Lewis has had in his hand and told me for all comfort that I ought to [have] bargain’d with the General when I came away, tho’ not two hours of warning given before the ship sayled; etc. My charges in coming and my expences since have utterly ruined me and all by my inviolable loyalty… ” He prays for his lordship’s compassion, but there is no record of whether he received any recompense.
Whether he did or not, the strain seems to have proved to much for Goussé. He had made his will on 1st July 1712, just before embarking for England. He probably died while he was away: his will was proved in Antigua on 18th August 1713. He left:-
“To my wife Mary all my estate during her widowhood, if she remarry then only her thirds. To my daughter Margt. Beaulieu and after her death to her 3 daughters Henrietta, Margt. and Ann Beaulieu, my house adjoining east with Mr Weekes and west with my other houses fronting Broad Str. and 1/2 my female negros after my wife’s death. To my son Henry Bonnin the house and ground wheron I now live, all male and 1/2 the female negros after my wife’s death.”
His wife “Madm. Mary Bonnin”, was buried in Antigua 7th August 1727.
- (1) The Huguenot Society: registers of French Churches (1719)
- (2) Rootsweb: Colonial New York: Signers of petition to King William.
- (3) Huguenot Society of America: Registers of Eglise Francais, New York
- (4) Huguenot Emigration to America: Charles W. Baird.
- (5) The Papers of William Penn
- (6) History of the Island of Antigua: Charles Vere Oliver
- (7) Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 24
- (8) Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 27
- (9) Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 26
- (10) Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 27