Justin McCarthy de Courtenay

The mystery that surrounds the person who’s credited as the father of the Canadian wine industry seems to be accepted as un fait accompli. Apart from the fact that Justin McCarthy de Courtenay was born about 1820–1821, his origins have been either unknown or made-up. He has been repeatedly called a count, usually of French origin, or a French aristocrat. He may have been a recent descendant of some count and countess from somewhere, but if he had been a count himself we would know quite well of what place he was the count. He likely wasn’t a French aristocrat either, at least not until he married his wife, Blanche de Courtenay. While in France Justin McCarthy de Courtenay was referred to as M. de Courtenay and Blanche de Courtenay as Mme. de Courtenay, which is how I’ll often refer to them here.

Aside from the fact that Mme. de Courtenay was born in Périgueux, her parentage also appears to have been unknown. I have found that she was the niece of a man who would become a justice of the peace in Thiviers in 1870 and, more importantly for our story, was the director of the Society of Agriculture, Sciences, and Arts in Vallenciennes. For those unfamiliar with Justin de Courtenay, his pamphlet The Culture of Wine and Emigration, published in March of 1863, reads like an agricultural textbook when it isn’t reading like a strongly worded letter. M. de Courtenay was frustrated by his unsuccessful bid to win governmental support for his ambitions to create a wine industry in Canada. His agricultural interests included the cultivation of wine grapes, mulberry trees, walnuts, and the role of potatoes in famines. None of this is a coincidence.

At least one person, the late Professor Richard A. Jarrell, has recognized that M. de Courtenay was not a count. He suggested instead that M. de Courtenay was born and educated in England, probably due to his entry under “religion” in the 1861 Canada census. This is a much better guess, especially considering that M. de Courtenay died in Witchampton, Dorset. He was fluent in English. Due to his presumed affluence and education, it’s likely that he studied French early in life. While he may have been fluent in French, and most certainly could speak some French, he doesn’t have a written record in French, suggesting that English was his predominant language. I’m going to assume that English was his first language. But to assume that he was born in England would be to ignore the glaringly obvious. Much light can be shed on the origins of this person.

de Courtenay

The de Courtenay family essentially did not exist at the time that M. de Courtenay was born, suggesting that his surname didn’t include the prefix at birth. The French noble Courtenay family lost its issue in 1443. They repeatedly petitioned the kings of France to restore their nobility, doing so for the last time on 1 October 1715, when Louis-Charles de Courtenay and his son Charles-Roger wrote a letter of protest to Louis XV pleading their case. Charles-Roger died in 1730, and with him the de Courtenay claim to French nobility. For this reason there were hardly any people using the “de” prefix before the surname Courtenay in the 1800s. In fact, the few people using the name de Courtenay in the early 1800s were not only not de Courtenays; a good percentage of them weren’t even Courtenays. Here we’ll examine anyone with a similar surname during contemporary time periods.

  • The de Bauffremont-Courtenay family: a royal French family who never seemed to omit the “Bauffremont” part.
  • My third great-grandfather, Charles Francois Alexandre de Salivet de Fouchécourt, and his father, Jean Louis de Salivet de Fouchécourt, started using the de Courtenay surname sometime in the 1810s while living in England. They were not in any way germain relatives to a Courtenay or de Courtenay family. It appears that they took the name de Courtenay as an Anglicization and to fit in better with the English people they spent time with. His brother William and an otherwise unknown person named Othon de Courtenay, who might be their younger brother, both renounced their English citizenship in 1820 upon their return to France. It appears that Charles was the only member of the family to continue using the Courtenay surname after that, the rest going by de Salivet de Fouchécour.
  • The d’Evrard de Courtenay family of Optevoz, France who appear to be unrelated to any of the above families. Their surname was d’Evrard and they were the barons of Courtenay, France. Sometimes they would go by the surname de Courtenay, such as Hilaire Marie d’Evrard de Courtenay, widow of a music professor Charles de Cavailhès in Meurthe-et-Moselle, France in 1876. But their true surname was d’Evrard.
  • A person by the name of Ms. A. de Courtenay traveling through New York in 1824.
  • Alexandre de Courtenay (n. 1829) and Achille de Courtenay (n. 1837), who arrived in Montreal from France in 1858. Alexandre de Courtenay could be from the de Bauffremont-Courtenay family. He may have died in Bouches-du-Rhône in 1888. I’m also not certain about Achille de Courtenay, but we will soon meet another person with the same name.
  • Much earlier, but still worth noting, is that a man by the name of Gabriel Marie de Courtenay appears to have written a document along with Francois Angelique du Sausey in Grenoble, France on August 19, 1775. This de Courtenay is likely part of the d’Evrard de Courtenay family above, as Gabriel Marie was a common prenom for several generations of this family.
  • There was, of course, the Courtenay family of Devon, England. They may have used the de Courtenay surname at times, especially while traveling in France. One example is Hugues de Courtenay in Périgueux in 1846? He is listed in the census as a professor. Hugues de Courtenay, or Hugh, was likely related to the Courtenays of Devon.

Knowing that de Courtenay was more of an acquired surname than an actual surname at the time, we can confidently say that de Courtenay was not M. de Courtenay’s given surname at birth. His most likely name was then Justin McCarthy Courtenay.

Further Investigation

M. de Courtenay was born in the United Kingdom, but not necessarily England. It’s apparent from his written works that he was well educated. All of them appear to have been written in English. He’s familiar with Lt. Edward David Ashe of the Royal Navy and has read the works of Arthur Young and the Count de Gasperin of France. The de Courtenays had their first child, Cécile de Courtenay, about 1854 in Turin, Italy. Her name while in Italy would have been Achille. Although the person with the same name traveling to Montreal in 1858 was supposedly born about 1837, that birth year could be an error. While in Italy, M. de Courtenay managed a fishery on the Lago Maggiore and was probably called Giustino di Courtenay or some variant. His second child, Charles McCarthy de Courtenay was born in Italy or Haute-Savoie, France in 1856. Charles de Courtenay is sometimes called Carlos, which is his name in Italian. At some point M. de Courtenay is said to have been in Switzerland. He may have gone through France, possibly including his wife’s birthplace of Périgueux, on the way to Canada. He can be found in the 1861 Québec census, although listed as a female, and nobody seems to mention that his father was in the same census, just 35 miles away.

I’ve seen no attempts made to guess at an exact birthplace for M. de Courtenay, but the name Justin McCarthy Courtenay without the “de” is unmistakably Irish. You might think “Courtenay” could be English, but it isn’t in the least bit unknown to Ireland. You might think “McCarthy” is Scottish, and its origins very well may be, but it’s a famously Irish name. Justin is probably the most Irish part of the name. Add the surname McCarthy and you have the name of a famous former Irish M.P. In addition to the obvious origins of all three of those names, we have his choice of entry in the 1861 Quebec census for his birthplace. If you’re from Scotland, but you don’t want to narrow down your place of origin to exclude England, you’d say you were from Great Britain. If you were from Ireland, but didn’t want to rule out Great Britain, you’d say you were from the United Kingdom. Many people did exactly that, especially with the stigma in North America against the Irish at the time. At this point I might not need to point out that M. de Courtenay chose “United Kingdom” as his answer to that census question in 1861.

Ireland should be the first place to look for the birth of M. de Courtenay. His father should also have the initials J. M. and should have be born around 1804. In the 1861 census the elder de Courtenay listed his religion as Episcopalian, while M. de Courtenay and the rest of the family chose “Church of England.”

Additional information about his birthplace may be inferred based on his writing. For example, in one of his pamphlets he uses the phrase “un fait accompli,” which first became widely used in the English language after being used by Richard Ford in his popular guide A Handbook for Travellers in Spain, in 1845. Other phrases used by M. de Courtenay include colloquialisms such as “pooh-poohed.”

Before 1860 Irish civil status records were recorded by churches. There’s a baptismal record for 30 March 1820 that fits our constraints quite well. His name is Justin Courtenay. There is no middle name given. I’m not sure what denomination the church was, but the names were in Latin, suggesting it may have been Roman Catholic. The parish is Lislee Abbeymahon and Donoughmore, Cork and Ross. The father’s name is Jacobus Courtenay and the mother’s name is Honora Connelly. Jacobus Courtenay was likely baptized on 9 May 1805, son of Joanes Courtenay and Honora Collins. Hopefully Jacobus was at least a few years old when he was baptized, otherwise he could have been less than 15 years old when this Justin Courtenay was born. There are several McCarthys listed on the same pages as and opposing pages of these parish records.

Many people left Ireland some time during the potato famine from 1845 to 1849. Given M. de Courtenay’s interest in agriculture, he may have even left with the intention of finding a solution to the famine. But it’s also possible that M. de Courtenay was already out of Ireland by 1845, as his family wouldn’t have been unaccustomed to traveling. He may have even been educated in Englad, as Professor Jarrell has suggested. It’s also possible that he’s the same person as Justin Thadeus Courtenay McCarthy, who was a first lieutenant in the Royal Marines, commissioned on 13 January 1838. In 1839, he was placed on reserved half-pay, which continued until at least 1855. The only problem is that the surnames were reversed. It’s possible, however, that M. de Courtenay changed the order of the surnames while living in France, or afterwards, which may be more likely than you’d think considering the fact that he added the “de” to his surname.

The guess that M. de Courtenay was an Englishman might not be a stretch, especially if you fall into the trap of giving extra weight to a person’s paternal heritage. It’s likely that the Courtenay family came from England at some point.


Charles McCarthy de Courtenay’s death record in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais in 1903 has his mother’s name as something like “Fentau” and says that no further information is known about her. After finding that I checked the tables décennales for births in Périgueux in the early 1820s under surnames beginning in “F,” trying to scan for the name Blanche, which isn’t very common. It only took a few minutes before the name Marie Desirée Blanche Feytaud stood out, the daughter of Victor Feytaud, medical doctor, and Marguerite Josephine Tavel. Everybody thought that Mme. de Courtenay was born in 1825, but the birth record I found for her was in 1822. Dr. Feytaud was the brother of Urbain-Raymond Feytaud, whose only child Gabrielle-Marie was the mother of the author Rachilde. I was sure I had found Mme. de Courtenay. Just a guess, you say? Just wait.

There were already Courtenay and McCarthy ties to the Dordogne region. I would like to think that M. de Courtenay made a trip from there to Italy along the 40th parallel in the early 1850s, studying that southernmost boundary of wine growing that he later wrote about. His ancestors eventually had ties to Montpellier and other areas in southern France, so he may have, too. It’s possible, or even more probable, however, that M. de Courtenay met his wife in Paris.

The Feytaud family wasn’t living in Dordogne at the time that M. de Courtenay and Blanche Feytaud met. Blanche sang in a musical in Paris in 1845 at the behest of her mother. She was referred to at the time as mademoiselle Feytaud, revealing that she was still single. If the couple was married in Paris, the marriage record could be lost forever. Most civil status records from Paris before 1860 were destroyed in a fire in 1871. Some records have been reconstituted, but the Courtenay-Feytaud marriage doesn’t appear in that set. Marriages usually occurred in the bride’s home parish, and Mlle. Feytaud was likely living with her father up until her marriage.

In 1827, Dr. Feytaud was living in Bordeaux, just west of Périgueux. His brother Urbain-Raymond Feytaud moved to Vallenciennes by 1847, where he was the director of the agricultural society, as previously noted. Urbain Feytaud’s family moved back to the Périgord region in 1858, settling in Le Cros. It is unknown if Dr. Feytaud lived near Urbain Feytaud at any point after childhood, however it appears that the de Courtenay-Feytaud marriage did not occur in Vallenciennes, nor in Périgueux or many other Périgord communes, nor in Bordeaux. Dr. Feytaud was at rue de la Coutellerie, 10, Paris in 1847 and rue Montmartre, 18, Paris in 1862. That, combined with the fact that Mlle. Feytaud was in Paris in 1845, makes it highly likely that the de Courtenay-Feytaud marriage occurred in Paris. Other, less likely, alternatives are that Dr. Feytaud or Mlle. Feytaud had moved back to Périgord or Bordeaux at some point or even that she was living in Italy before meeting M. de Courtenay.

Untimely End

M. de Courtenay died 22 March 1871 in Witchampton, Dorset. An inquest was performed two days later. The cause of death was ruled a “Visitation of God.” Now that we know the name of Mme. de Courtenay’s father, something stands out conspicuously in the death records for Dorset. Amazingly, Dr. Victor Feytaud died in the same quarter of the same year in the same parish as M. de Courtenay. However, the timing appears to have been pure coincidence. Dr. Feytaud died a couple of months earlier, on 7 January, at Hern Down Cottage. The combined toll of both her father’s and husband’s deaths less than three months apart must have been a lot to bear for Mme. de Courtenay.

Blanche de Courtenay moved with her children back to Turin, Italy sometime before 1881. She died there sometime between 1887 and 1890. Cécile, who was eighteen years-old in the 1871 census, died just before her mother. She would have been about 34 years old in 1887.

Blanche Feytaud, born in Périgueux in 1822 and married to Justin McCarthy de Courtenay. She died between 1887 and 1889 in Turin, Italy.
Cécile de Courtenay (1853 — about 1887), painted by her mother Blanche de Courtenay probably in Turin, Italy before 1861.


The de Courtenay family didn’t stay in England long enough to be in the next census in 1881, but they may have just missed it. Charles McCarthy de Courtenay was married in Windsor, Berkshire in the first quarter of 1880. Perhaps his mother was there as a witness. The bride was Euphemia Murray Ganson of Leith, Scotland. Within a year they would be in Turin, Italy. There they had their daughter, Bianca Margherita de Courtenay in February of 1881. Bianca is Italian for Blanche — she was named after her grandmother.

Charles McCarthy de Courtenay (1856–1903), the son of Justin McCarthy de Courtenay, and Charles’ wife Euphemia Murray Ganson (1858–1925)

There are probably many descendants of Charles McCarthy de Courtenay and Euphemia Ganson alive today. In addition to Bianca de Courtenay mentioned above, they had six other children. All of the records I’ve found involving Charles McCarthy de Courtenay in France took place in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais and list him as Charles McBarthy de Courtenay. I don’t know if this variation in middle name is due to misinterpretation or if he thought that was actually his middle name. It’s possible that he had been misled about his father’s origins or at least his father’s middle name, if it was due to the person keeping the records in Boulogne-sur-Mer, or if the name was simply adapted for life in France, where McBarthy is a more common surname than McCarthy. Charles McCarthy de Courtenay was listed as an interpreter in his death record in 1903. His communication skills regarding his name should have been able to prevent errors, so it’s likely that “McBarthy” was how he wanted it. Before becoming an interpreter, Charles was an accredited “commissionnaire en douane,” likely performing import and export customs formalities from at least 1882 to 1889, while living in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Euphémie Cécile de Courtenay (1882, Boulogne-sur-Mer — 1985, Berck-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais). She married Pierre Auguste Ducarme in 1908. They had at least one child from whom there are living descendants today. It amazes me that Euphémie de Courtenay, granddaughter of Justin McCarthy de Courtenay, lived to be 103 years old. Any of the people who were trying to research him could have simply asked her any questions right up until 1985.

Jeanne de Courtenay (from 1882 to 1892, Boulogne-sur-Mer — after 1920). She was a bookseller in Paris. She married Edouard Bouchez and had a daughter named Suzette around 1920. The whole family lived in the bookstore. Euphémie visited them often from Pas-de-Calais. Suzette is said to have had a son.

Rose Louise de Courtenay (1884, Boulogne-sur-Mer — after 1909, Boulogne-sur-Mer). She married Louis Joseph Maréchal in 1909. She was a milliner.

Edouard Charles de Courtenay (1887, Boulogne-sur-Mer — 1968, Montpellier). He joined the army as a telegrapher in 1908. His initial enlistment was for a three-year period, but he re-enlisted and moved through the ranks of Corporal, Sargent, Warrant Officer, and eventually was commissioned. Edouard married Aline Jeanne Cazier in Paris in 1912. It isn’t known if they had any children. Edouard appears to have stayed in the army at least until 1934. His last station was Montpellier, where he stayed until his death in 1968.

Laure Justine de Courtenay (1889, Boulogne-sur-Mer — about 1962, New Zealand). She married a Mr. Selby from England and had three children: Olive, Nancy, and Peter. Peter Selby was a pilot and visited Euphémie in France around 1953.

Justin Robert de Courtenay (1890, Boulognie-sur-Mer — 1918, Mortemer et Cuvilly, Oise). He was in the army and died in combat during WWI.

Future Research

It would be interesting to find the Italian records for Blanche de Courtenay after her husband and father died, as well as her daughter Cécile de Courtenay. I don’t believe my Courtenay ancestors were related to the family of M. de Courtenay, but there are some interesting similarities. Not only were they living in Britain or Ireland at the same time, then France at the same time, but both my family and the Feytaud family had ties to the occult. Victor Feytaud was involved in table turning and supernatural demonstrations by somnambulists as early as 1867 and his brother, Urbain, was famous for his séances in Périgord. My fourth great-grandmother, Charlotte Anne Agathe de Salivet de Fouchécourt (née Grant de Vaux), threw a large party with le comte Muraire in celebration with her Egyptian Rite of Misraim free-masons in 1819, probably less than a year before her husband was released from debtors prison in England. The only other document concerning their involvement with the masons suggests that they didn’t want their names included on future lists. It may be that the connections between these Courtenays went back further than the families discussed here.

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