The Danville Name is Not What it seems

By Stephen McDougall
DANVILLE – This year, the his­toric town of Danville cel­e­brates its 150th anniver­sary, but few res­i­dents know the ori­gin of the name for their town. Sure, a few know that it came from the town of Danville, Ver­mont because of  pio­neers who came north of the bor­der in the early 1800s at the invi­ta­tion of the Lower Canada gov­er­nor who offered them free land to settle.

But over the years, many res­i­dents assumed the name had to do with some­one named Dan. Few real­ized the name had a more com­pli­cated past and is not an Eng­lish name, but rather a deriv­a­tive of a famous geo­g­ra­pher and map maker from France.

In the 1790s, the found­ing father of Ver­mont, Col. Ethan Allen, was search­ing for names for some of towns he wanted to estab­lish in his new­found state, which had bro­ken away from the larger state of New York. Because the north­ern half of the state had once been the lower part of the for­mer New France up until the British con­quest in 1760, the French influ­ence on the state was still strong.

After the Amer­i­cans won their inde­pen­dence from the British in the early 1780s with the help of the French gov­ern­ment, Allen wanted to thank them by using French names for some towns. Under the advice of expa­tri­ate French author Michel Guil­laume Jean de Creve­coeur, Allen took the name Danville from Jean-Baptiste de Bourgignon d’Anville, a car­tog­ra­pher for the French king Louis the fifteenth.

D’Anville was famous in France for redraw­ing most of the world maps based only on reports from explor­ers he recieved at his office in Paris. He died in 1782 at the age of 85. The name was angli­cized by remov­ing the apos­tro­phe and leav­ing the D in place at the front of the name.
Despite his work­ing for the King of France, d’Anville did not have an aris­to­cratic title, unlike that of Duc d’Anville, the son of a for­mer Huguenot who became a vice-admiral in the French navy. Known as the Duke, this d’Anville tried to retake Aca­dia from the Eng­lish in 1746 using an amarda of ships and a reg­i­ment of sol­diers from France. But before he could attack the Eng­lish in what is now Nova Sco­tia, the hap­less aris­to­crat died of a mys­te­ri­ous poi­son­ing at Cape Bre­ton. The two d’Anvilles do not appear to have been related, given that the map maker was a Bour­guignon and the vice-admiral was from the Rochefourauld family.

The story would have ended there if not for the export­ing of the name to Que­bec via the first Ver­mont pio­neers to leave and form a sim­i­lar town in the East­ern Town­ships 150 years ago. But an exten­sive look at our neigh­bour south of the bor­der indi­cates there are also 17 Danvilles in as many states in the U.S. Most of the Danvilles are small com­mu­ni­ties sim­i­lar to those in Danville, Que­bec and Danville, Ver­mont. The next clos­est Danville is in New Hamp­shire, about an hour’s drive north of Boston.
Besides these two New Eng­land towns, there are Danvilles in the states of  Alabama, Arkansas, Cal­i­for­nia, Geor­gia, Illi­nois, Indi­ana, Iowa, Kansas, Ken­tucky, Mis­souri, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, Vir­ginia, Wash­ing­ton and West Virginia.

What is not known is why these other states chose the Danville title for their towns. Do they know the ori­gin of the name?  Past attempts to con­tact these towns via the inter­net have not been suc­cess­ful. The Record will ende­vor to find out for a future article.
EDS : Pics of the his­toric char­ac­ters are hard to find. Allen is on wikipedia, but Bour­guignon d’Anville is not.
Sen­a­tor Jane Kitchel, Paul Chouinard, Alice Hafner and Stephen McDougall in Danville, Q.C.
Note from Sharon Lakey, Direc­tor of Danville His­tor­i­cal Society :
This sum­mer, when our Danville, VT, tour went to Danville, QC, one of the events we enjoyed was a dis­play of his­tor­i­cal pho­tos set up in a room in the school. Sev­eral his­tor­i­cal arti­cles were on dis­play in the hall as well, and this one was pointed out sev­eral times as a new piece of infor­ma­tion about our town’s name. The author of the above arti­cle, who writes for the local paper in Danville, QC, was recently at Autumn on the Green with a con­tin­gent of cit­i­zens at a booth shar­ing infor­ma­tion about their town and it 150th anniver­sary. We hope you enjoy this arti­cle; McDougall says he has more!

This arti­cle was repub­lished in the Novem­ber, 2010, issue of The North Star Monthly.
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2 Responses to The Danville Name is Not What it seems

  1. I live in Danville, Cal­i­for­nia. Would you like me to find out from our town why they came up with the name Danville?

  2. Mark R. Moore says:

    I’ll get His­tor­i­cal Han­nah and Inves­ti­ga­tor Iris on the trail. The early issues of the “North Star” and other news­pa­pers as well as early his­to­ries may be a good place to start.The car­tog­ra­pher name is inter­est­ing but not nearly roman­tic enough given the rel­a­tively short life of Admi­ral D’Anville.
    Mark Moore

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