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Nashville's monument to Jacques Timothe Boucher de Montbrun (Timothy Demonbreun) was sculpted by Alan Lequire. During his lifetime, the French Canadian Demonbreun (1747 - 1826) was a fur trader, explorer, and merchant; an officer in the American Revolution; lieutenant governor of the Illinois Territory; and the first white settler in what would become Nashville, Tennessee.

  • Statue honoring Timothy Demonbreun (image from WPLN News)
  • Demonbreun Cave entrance (image from Atlas Obscura)
  • Demonbreun Cave
  • Demonbreun Cave
  • Demonbreun Cave

Timothy Demonbreun

Jacques-Timothée Boucher, Sieur de Montbrun, who would later anglicize his name as Timothy Demonbreun, was born on March 23, 1747 to Catholic parents of the French nobility living in Quebec. Descended from the American Indian interpreter Pierre Boucher on his father's side, Timothy became a fur trader in his teens. After marrying noblewoman Therese Archange Gibault in 1766, Timothy set out for the village of Kaskaskia (in present-day southern Illinois) along with his wife; her cousin, Father Pierre Gibault; Colonel George Rogers Clark; and, by their arrival in the village two years later, a newborn daughter, Therese "Agnes" Archange.

Exploring the Cumberland River and French Lick on a 1769 fur trapping expedition, Timothy Demonbreun bartered for hides with Cherokee hunters who found plenty of game at the salt lick, in the area where present-day Nashville stands. Demonbreun's Cave, about one mile north of the monument, was used as a base of operations during expeditions, as well as a refuge from at least one Indian attack, and is purported to be the site of the birth of the Demonbreuns' second child, the first Caucasian born in Middle Tennessee. Almost every autumn to winter for the next twenty years, Demonbreun spent at his trading post at the lick, returning to Kaskaskia for the rest of the year, as well as traveling back and forth from New Orleans along the Mississippi River, trading furs. He built his first storage cabin at what would become Nashville in 1774, by which time he had eight boats and seventeen employees. When others, namely the James Robertson company, arrived on Christmas Eve of 1780 in order to begin the settlement we now refer to as Nashville, Timothy Demonbreun greeted them. 

Meanwhile, in Kaskaskia, Timothy served as an Escuyer (Justice of the Peace) when he was only 22. In 1772, his wife disappeared from the village records for eight to ten years, leading to speculation that she was captured by Indians, later effecting an escape to return to her husband. Aside from his business endeavors, during this time period, Demonbreun was engaged in the Revolutionary War, taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States when George Roger Clark claimed Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778. As part of the French militia, Timothy captured British supply boats, was captured by British General Henry Hamilton. There is evidence from contemporary records and journals that Demonbreun took the opportunity to spy for the American forces, reporting back to Clark on the plans of the British. He later received land grants for his contributions in the American Revolution.

After the war, Theresa Demonbreun once again appeared in records from Kaskaskia, and Timothy was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Illinois Territory from 1783-1786. During his tenure, two Spanish-territory refugees were illegally seized in Kaskaskia on the orders of Spanish Governor Cruzat, at St. Louis; thanks to Timothy's diplomacy, the matter was settled without a military incident. Cruzat must have been impressed with Demonbreun, as he offered to make him an officer in the Spanish army. Timothy declined, and resigned both his political office and military position, with plans to settle in Nashville, where he owned a tavern by that time. Though one 1848 newspaper claimed Timothy had fled for Nashville following a duel, the explanation seems unlikely given the four-year span between Demonbreun's resignation and his permanent move to Tennessee, as well as land exchanges which seem to show he was planning for the transition. On the other hand, his permanent settlement in Nashville coincides with the death of his wife and their last child, Marie Louise. No official record exists for either of their deaths; however, neither has been found in any records subsequent to Marie's baptism in 1790. 

In Nashville, Timothy's mistress, Elizabeth Bennett, had faced court charges for bearing a "bastard child" in 1787; the couple had at least three children together, but never married. Timothy and Joseph Derrat, a French-Indian, had served in the French militia during the Revolution, and both had settled in Tennessee by 1792, when a group of Native Americans attacked Buchanan's Station. Demonbreun, Derrat, and Elizabeth weathered the raid together, Elizabeth making bullets for the men as they fought. The following March, Derrat and Elizabeth were married, and Elizabeth went on to become the owner and madam of a Germantown bordello, as well as the mother of three more children by Derrat. Apparently, Timothy did not resent the marriage of his mistress to his friend, as records reflect that they exchanged land throughout the rest of their lives.

Demonbreun rose to prominence in the community, entertaining the Duke of Orleans (later King of France) when he visited Nashville in 1798, offering his home as the setting for Tennessee's first Catholic Mass in 1821, and receiving a toast from the Marquis de Lafayette as the "grand old man of Tennessee" in 1825, just a year before his death. Timothy also owned a stone tavern and a general store carrying everything from window glass to buffalo tongues. Though a stone honoring Timothy stands in the Demonbreun Family Cemetery, there is no record of where he is buried.

1. Casteel, Britt. "Demonbreun's Cave." National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. November 1979. Accessed May 5, 2017.

 2. George, Bradley. "Timothy Demonbreun: Nashville’s Man of Mystery." Nashville Public Radio WPLN News Archive. November 5, 2012. Accessed May 8, 2017.

3. Simmons, Bunny. 

4. Walker, Kathy. "Demonbreun's Cave." Historical Marker Database. November 7, 2009. Accessed May 8, 2017.

5. ---. "Jacques Timothe Boucher de Montbrun (Timothy Demonbreun)." Historical Marker Database. November 11, 2009. Accessed May 8, 2017.