The Sorsoleils of Jersey Cove

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JerseyCove.png


The Sorsoleils

of Jersey Cove


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An aerial view of Jersey Cove in 1927



By Emile Le Scelleur, translated from the French in Gaspesie, an Eastern Quebec Museum publication

As an amateur of genealogy and local history, Emile Le Scelleur relatesfor us the story of Jersey Cove, located between Anse-au-Griffon and Cap-des-Rosiers. Mr Le Scelleur set out on is research after a chance meeting with Carl Nelson, a descendant of John Sorsoleil, who once lived in Jersey Cove. With the assistance of Dorothy Philips and other local sources, Mr Le Scelleur presents us today with a portrait of families from that little-known Gaspesian locality.

"The traveller or newcomer driving along highway 132, from Anse-au-Griffon to Cap-des-Rosiers, might not even notice this small cove closed at the entry by an old wooden breakwater called La Commune, facing the Bernier store and at approximately 2,000 feet from the road. He would not know at all that that territory is known as Jersey Cove.
"As to the older residents who he might approach for some questions on the area, some might say:'My father already told me that a long time ago, people came from Jersey island to live here, but they are all gone.' Younger residents would shrug their shoulders; they know only little. Nevertheless, a very interesting story was lived here once which deserves to betold.
"One day, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, came a group of people from Jersey on a ship that had been built over there by a certain John Sorsoleil. It is said that they hadbrought with them a goat as a milk supply for the children. They settled at about one mile on either side of this small cove, which is still called La Commune because it is used by fishermen from both sides of the limitit that separates Anse-au-Griffon and Cap-des-Rosiers
"Their arrival in Gaspesian territory can be situated between 1830 and 1835. These Jerseyians all together left forever our shores almost fleeing westward, abandoning all their goods, their parish, their church and their communal structures which they had well organised for their stay. They just left without notice to anybody. This rather strange departure apparently left those who knew them with a somewhat bitter memory.
"I found out that one version of the event affirmed that they had built a schooner on the beach of Le Commune and that they went on board to leave the region. Some people today have doubts about the veracity of those facts. They know that a schooner was built at that place, but say that it was lost with all hands off Cap-de-Rosiers during a storm. This last version produces some confusion in our story.
"Personally I am inclined to believe the first version which is also upheld by one of their descendants, Carl Nelson, who stated:'John Sorsoleil loaded his family and possibly other families in his schooner in the middle of the night and sailed the St lawrence'.
"Had they not already built the ship on which they crossed the Atlantic? According to Mr Nelson they had also been navigators for generations. Moreover, as they were not very rich in 1870 the sea had to be for them the least expensive means of transportation in this voyage which the planned.
"Such is my conclusion to the problem. I cannot affirm nor invalidate whatever pertains to the means they chose to leave Jersey Cove and I cannot go as far as to deny the existence of another ship built by the Marins."

Footnote

It seems that the Sorsoleil family did not abandon Jersey Cove until several years after their arrival, because they were still there in the 1860s, led by a John Sorsoleil, owner of a mill and other properties and active in many trades. John was married to Marie Marin and they had eight children, born between 1837 and 1858. It appears that following some sort of disturbance in the Gaspe area, they left for Chicago in 1871, possibly to work in the reconstruction of the city, which had been laid waste by fire. They soon moved on. John Sorsoleil died in 1900 in St Hilaire, Minnesota, where he was one of the earliest settlers.
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