Bree family history
A Short History of the Braye/Bree families in Jersey, by an unknown descendant
In the 16th century there appeared to be two spellings of the name. In the earliest Land Registry records, the spelling was Braye. The last entries for that century indicate that the spelling Brie was beginning to come into use. This may have been due to the influence of the French language amongst the clergy of the time, for they were all still being appointed by the Bishops of Coutances in Normandy.
By the middle of the 17th century, the old spelling, Braye, had almost entirely disappeared, except in one or two families. By the start of the 18th century, the spelling Braye was no longer evident. All living descendants in the Channel Islands today use Bree.
The meaning of the name is obscure. Various authorities have surmised that Brie indicated a Breton, ie from Brittany, and that Braye indicates a breach or gap that might exist in a range of rocks or other obstacle. It could also be derived from the old French braye, a marsh.
There is a small town, Brie, on mainland France between St Malo and Avranches. However, on the road between Le Mans and St Malo there appears to be a river Braye and a number of villages sur Braye.
In Jersey itself there is La Ville Bree, between Trinity and Rozel; this is a cluster of houses of some antiquity, but no one of our name has lived there since any of the present records started. If Bree is of the same origin as the other Villes in the island, it may be one of those built by the Normans between the 9th and 12th centuries, but we have no way to substantiate this, so it remains a mystery and an intriguing theory.
In Jersey the name first appears in the Roll of the Tresor in the Parish of Trinity in 1523, where Symon Braye was liable for quit rents for the upkeep of the church and rectory. In the latter half of the 16th century there are records of nine families, with little means of relating them.
It appears that Symon had three sons, Adam, Gelien and Richard. Another family is that of Edouard, who had sons George and Jean. Of the others, we have Philippe born c1555, date of death not known, and three women, Jeanne, who married in 1612, Francoise, who married c1596 and had a daughter, Marie, recorded as illegitimate, and Marie, who married in 1601.
We know that Richard, born c1558, died 1607 had a wife Jeanne, who died in 1596. He was, in 1579, a fouager - a fodder merchant - in St Martin. It is from this Richard that we are descended.
Richard Braye had three sons and a daughter. His third son Jean was said to be the ancestor of the St Saviour, St Clement and Grouville branches and this is now acknowledged, though it is through the female line, Marie, Jean's 4xgreat granddaughter. From Symon we can trace the line, without interruption to the present day, ie nearly 500 years and 15 generations.
Richard's 2xgreat grandson, Edouard (1663-1736) married Jeanne de Gruchy (1663-1718) whose ancestry has been traced back to c1300. It was this Edouard who was a signatory to the parish lists of the Oath of Association of 1696. He could only write his initials EB and it was the clerk who subscribed Edouard Bree for him.
Richard's youngest son, Jean, already mentioned, sold, on 15 October 1610, his paternal and maternal inheritance to Thomas, his nephew and firstborn son of his older brother Edouard, who died in 1608. Subsequently this nephew, Thomas (1590–1668), died without issue and the property passed to his nephew, Edouard (1629–1700), whose oldest surviving son, Edouard - who married Jeanne de Grouchy - was, in 1704 the Chef de Prevote on the Fief du Roi for the 32 vergees he possessed on that fief, so there was some land in the family at that time.
Two generations later, in 1738, the name Elie first came into this branch of the family from Elie de Quetteville, who, with his sister, were godparents to Elie, who married Marie le Ray; their second son, George (1774–1883) was a carpenter in St Martin, but it was his children who moved to St Helier; his second surviving son, Elie, set up in King Street as a maitre cordonnier, married three times, but only had one child, another Elie, by his second wife.
Elie senior seemed a man of some enterprise because he soon took in boarders and then moved away from the town centre to Stopford Street or Stopford Terrace, where he started in earnest and, together with his son, built up the Royal Bree Hotel; father, son and the son's widow, Ann Bree (nee Down), of the Livery Stable and coach business, ran the hotel for almost 60 years. The Royal Hotel, as it is known today in David Place, is one of the major Jersey hotels.
Of the other branches of the family, the largest is the Grouville branch. This branch can be traced back to Richard (1658–1715), who married Guillemine de Veulle in St Clement in 1693; his youngest son, Helier, born in St Helier, married Marie, daughter of Jean Bree and Susanne Pirouet and a direct descendant of Jean.
Helier had three children, from the eldest of which, Jean, is descended the Grouville branch as it is today. It is considered that the family spread from St Martin into St Saviour in the 17th century and thence to Grouville and St Clement. Given time, the connection between Richard and the St Martin branch will surely come to light.
The Grouville branch is now the largest branch of the family in Jersey and, most of the Bree families live in Grouville, St Clement, St Saviour and St Helier and are descended from Richard and Guillemine de Veulle.
There are branches now in France, Canada, Australia and Great Britain.