Robert Precourt Searches for Family Roots
taken from the May 19, 1992 Stevens Point Journal
By TRUDY STEWART
of the Journal
Frontiersmen, explorers and pioneers were the heroes of young Bob Precourt. He enjoyed reading about their exploits so much that when he enrolled in college, he pursued a major in history. But it wasn’t until years later that Precourt found out that he was actually a descendant of one these frontiersmen, a man who also happened to be among Portage County’s earliest settlers: Antoine Precourt - river pilot, sawmill operator and farmer.
“In reading about pioneers and frontiersmen and women, I always thought that it was other people, not my people,” said Precourt, who is a board member of the Portage County Historical Society. “You have a sense of where you are in the present when you know your past. You have a vision that reaches back and helps you establish a vision for the future, too. It gives you some direction and some pride.”
As with many frontier families, the struggle to survive in the wilderness pushed thoughts of the past away. There were stories, of course, about the family moving from a place near Three Rivers in Quebec. But the family history was dimmed by the mist of time.
Precourt’s brother, Ron, started the search for the family’s origins. In 1985, the two headed north to Canada to see what they could find. “It was a shot in the dark,” Precourt said. They drove up the road that follows the St. Lawrence River to a town on Lake St. Pierre. “We looked to the right and saw a wonderful French church.”
In that church cemetery, Precourt said, they found grave markers on all sides etched with the family name. In a fairly short time, they also found relatives living in the area. For three days they did research, also locating the area of Normandy from which the family migrated.
Precourt later took a bicycle trip through that section of Normandy with his wife, Joan, a teacher at Jackson Elementary School. They live in an area in the town of Almond near where Antoine farmed. He operates Media Management Services, near Bancroft.
Antoine (pronounced An-twine) Precourt helped to explore the area that’s now Portage County in the late 1830s. He lived in southern Wisconsin for a number of years and worked as a river pilot, earning $1 a day. Later he and another French-Canadian by the name of Shaurette established a sawmill on Mill Creek.
In 1846, Antoine was married to Lois Young and they settled in this area. In the mid-1850s, the couple moved to the Buena Vista area and began farming 160 acres. The home they built there still stands.
A story is told that Lois complained to Antoine that the chimney didn’t draw right and he told her he was busy, to do it herself. She did. But when she had laid the bricks fairly high, she discovered that they didn’t line up with the hole in the roof. To compensate, she curved the chimney to fit. Antoine always told everyone that they had “crooked smoke,” Precourt said.
Antoine staked many of his relatives to come settle in the area, including a young cousin, Joseph Precourt, who started a farm next to Antoine. He is said to have walked down the military road from Green Bay with everything he owned on his back. Joseph later married Lois and Antoine’s daughter, Rosina. They are Precourt’s great-grandparents.
Antoine served as town chairman of Buena Vista for many years. Lois was widely known as an herbalist or herb doctor and midwife. She kept a diary. The descendants of hundreds of babies she delivered still reside in Portage County, Precourt said.
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