Gabriel Bernon (1644-1736) was a French Huguenot and prominent merchant in La Rochelle, who fled religious persecution and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the ancestor to many of Rhode Island's oldest families, including Allens, Crawfords, Dorrs, Coddingtons, and Whipples.

Life and Death Edit

Born in 1644, Bernon was a member of an ancient family in La Rochelle, France. In October 1685, the King of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted French Protestants substantial rights. The revocation drove an exodus of Protestants to America. He fled France and arrived in Amsterdam and then London, devising a plan with other refugees to establish a settlement at Oxford, Massachusetts. In June 1688, he arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. Bernon's financial support made the settlement a reality for other French Huguenot families who sailed to America with him, but he chose to settle in Boston.

Once he was in the area, he looked to manufacture rosin and various other naval stores. In 1693, he voyaged to England to obtain a patent for the manufacture of stores for the navy. A contract with the government for a specified term of years was granted. He took a second trip to England in 1696. It was encouraged that he be appointed as a superintendent of manufacture of naval stores, but English jealousy over colonial action never solidified any plans. Moreover, the Oxford settlement was abandoned that same year after an Indian attack killed four colonists..

Settlement in Rhode Island Edit

After the breakup of the settlement, Bernon relocated permanently to Rhode Island. He became interested in shipbuilding and the manufacture of such items as nails, salt, and pine rosin. His business attracted the attention of prominent persons in the colonies and in England, who attempted to assist him in establishing contracts with the English government for naval supplies. He also made use of some of the Oxford property by setting up a wash-leather manufactory there, and supplying glovers and hatters in Boston and Newport with that product. Bernon's lasting mark on the history of Rhode Island was in the area of religion though, as he became a fervent and zealous member of the Church of England. He stayed in Newport until about 1706, when he moved to Providence. He was active in establishing churches in each of the Rhode Island towns in which he lived at different times during his nearly forty years of residency: Trinity Church in Newport, St. Paul's Church in Kingston, and St. John's Church in Providence. These were Rhode Island's earliest Episcopal churches.

In 1710, his first wife, Esther Le Roy, died. He remarried to Mary Harris in 1712. That same year, Bernon left Providence for Kingston and lived there until 1718, then returned to Providence, where he stayed until his death in 1736. Each marriage produced one son in addition to several daughters; neither son survived to have children, so all of Bernon's descendants are through his female children. Bernon died in 1736 at the age of 92, and is buried beneath St. John's Church in Providence.

Children Edit

  • Esther Bernon (1678 - 1746) - m. Adam Powell (1674 - 1725)
  • Sarah Whipple (1690 - 1732) - m. Benjamin Whipple (1688-1788)
  • Marie Bernon (1675 - 1750) - m. Abraham Tourtellotte, Sr. (1655 - 1701)
  • Susanna Bernon (1716 - 1802) - m. Joseph Crawford, Sr. (1712 - 1796)
  • Gabriel Bernon, Jr. (1624 - 1701) - unmarried, lost at sea in the West Indies
  • Mary Bernon (1719 - 1789) - m. Gideon Crawford, Sr. (1708 - 1792)
  • Eve Bernon (1721 - 1775) - unmarried.