The family name originated from the village of Forest in the canton of Landrecies near Avesnes, France. The first record of the de Forest family was published in 1660 by Jean le Carpentier in his history of Cambresis in which he mentions Hubert de Forest, a Chevalier of the First Crusade in 1096. Between 1111 and 1120, Gerard de Forest witnessed a gift made by the Countess of Flanders and the Durchess of Lorraine in St. Amanden-Pevele. In 1171, Hugues de Forest and his brother Gilles made a gift of land to the Abbey of Marchiennes. A little later, in 1180, the Chevalier Ansel de Forest of Cambresis is mentioned as having sold “church tenths”. Records of 1221 mention Gautier de Forest as Provost of Quesnoy and Bailli of Ghent. Seven years later, in 1228, Walter de Forest was Bailli of the Counties of Flanders and Hainaut, and a Pierre de Forest is mentioned in records of 1233. In 1383 to 1384 the records of the Count of Hainaut speak of purchasing two pigs from Jehan de Forest at a feast held in honor of St. Jehan in Quesnoy. There are other references to Jehan de Forest during this same period. In 1408, Thomas de Forest was taxed in the domain of Forest, and in 1436 there is mention of a freehold held by the Abbey and acquired from Thomas de Forest. In 1466, Pierre de Forest is mentioned in connection with several houses, fields and lands. In 1491, there is mention of Gilles, Gaspard and Melchoir de Forest.
Melchoir de Forest I, son of Gaspard de Forest b. 1450, Mother unknown, was born 1472, was a Jure d’Avesnes in 1517. He was a Sheriff or Alderman in Avesnes, Hainaut County in 1517 and in 1519. He was considered a wealthy man, and a large land holder.
Melchoir de Forest II, son of Melchoir de Forest I, was born 1497. He was Jure d’Avesnes in 1526 to 1527. He married Jacquelin Bronchin. He was a brother of “Maistre Jehan de Forest, pretre” and “notaire apostalique (acte du 18 Mai, 1541), Chaplain de St. Pierre de Louvain en 1562”. Considered a wealthy man, he owned land and a house on the Marche (border) which he gave to his daughter, Marguerite de Forest Levacq; a house at Guersignies, sold on October 3, 1545, and at Avesnalles-St. Denis, a small field of land, as well as annuities and other property. He lived in the Sottiere, a land bordering on the Brotherhood of St. Jean.
Melchoir de Forest III, son of Melchoir de Forest II, was born 1521. He married in 1541, Catherine du Fosset. He was a member of the brotherhood of St. Nicholas in 1543, and in 1562 was Sheriff of Avesne.
Jean de Forest, son of Melchoir de Forest III, was born 1543. He married Anne Maillard. Jean’s brother Gilles was a prominent Canon of the Catholic Church. Jean left Avesnes around 1598, at the time of the Edict of Nantes, and moved to Sedan. Jean de Forest is my 10th Great Grandfather*.
Jesse de Forest, son of Jean de Forest, was born in 1576. On Sunday, September 23, 1601, he married Marie du Cloux. After living in Sedan briefly, Jesse moved to Montcornet in 1609, and later moved to Leyden, Holland where he made his home on the Breedestraet. Jesse served with Prince Maurice of Nassau, as a Lieutenant and Captain. Jesse de Forest is my 9th Great Grandfather*.
In 1621, the Walloons and Huguenots of Leyden, Holland planned to follow the Puritans to America (then called the West Indies). Jesse de Forest was acclaimed the leader and spokesman for the band when the exiles approached the British Ambassador at The Hague regarding their settling in Virginia. The English turned down his petition to establish a colony in Virginia. It was Jesse’s desire to establish a Colony in the New World, so that the Walloons could practice their Reformed Religion without persecution. He then sought permission from the Dutch to establish a colony in what is now New York City. He was granted permission. He assembled approximately 60 families of French Speaking Walloons and Dutch for the settlement in New Amsterdam, New Netherland. The first permanent settlers arrived in New Amsterdam May 1624. Today, there is a Monument in Battery Park, New York City called the Walloon Settlers Memorial. That monument was given to the City of New York by the Belgian Province of Hainaut in honor of Jesse’s inspiration in founding New York City. Baron de Cartier de Marchienne, representing the Belgian King and Government, presented the monument to Mayor John F. Hylan, for the City of New York May 18, 1924. There is also a monument in Jesse’s honor in Avesnes, France, the College Jesse de Forest and Jesse de Forest Avenue.
Isaac DeForest, Jesse’s son, arived from Leyden, Holland, March 5, 1637. Isaac made the voyage aboard the ship, Rensselaerwyck. This ship was jointly owned by Isaac’s uncle, Gerard DeForest, and Killian Van Rensselaer. Also arriving in New Amsterdam with Isaac, was his brother Hendrick DeForest and his sister Rachel DeForest. Hendrick died shortly after his arrival, on July 26, 1637. Isaac DeForest is my 8th Great Grandfather*.
Philip DeForest, Isaac’s son was born July 28, 1652 in New Amsterdam. Philip eventually settled in Beverwyck, NY. Today, Beverwyck is now known as Albany, NY. Philip DeForest is the founder of the Albany branch of DeForests. Philip DeForest is my 8th Great Grandfather*.
Philip did have three brothers that carried on the DeForest name in Connecticut, New York City and Long Island, NY. Isaac DeForest was born April 25, 1655 in New Amsterdam and continued to live and raise his family in New Amsterdam. Hendrick DeForest was born September 9, 1657 in New Amsterdam and is the founder of the Long Island branch. The last born David DeForest, born September 7, 1669 in New York City was the founder of the Stratford, Connecticut branch.
It was in Greenbush, NY, across the Hudson River from Albany, that most of the DeFreest family had lived. On February 23, 1855, Greenbush was divided into North Greenbush and Clinton. On April 14, 1858 Clinton was renamed East Greenbush. DeFreestville is located in the southern portion of North Greenbush. This section of town was originally known as Blooming Grove, but because there was already a Blooming Grove, NY located in Orange County, to avoid confusion, this area was renamed DeFreestville around 1830. It is in honor of the DeFreest family that the Hamlet of DeFreestville received its name. The other Hamlet located within North Greenbush is Wynantskill. Wynantskill is located in the Northeastern section of North Greenbush.
Sometime around 1800 the name DeForest transformed to DeFreest in Rensselaer County, New York. For some reason, the vast majority of the DeForest family in Rennselaer County changed the spelling of the name to DeFreest. Did they intentionally change it, or was it just misspelled one day and just passed on that way, or, did they spell the name the way it was pronounced? Why did so many members of the DeForest family choose to change the spelling to DeFreest? Why the name transformed to DeFreest is a little bit of a mystery.
When you go to the local cemeteries you can see just how many DeFreests were in the area. I have been to just about all of them and it is amazing to see just how many DeFreests were in this small area. Blooming Grove Cemetery in DeFreestville is a small cemetery, but has about 169 DeFreests interred there. You can also find a few headstones that have the name spelled DeFriest and also a couple of DeForests. Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY is another Cemetery that has many many DeFreests interred. My 3rd. Great Grand parents, Rev. David R. DeFreest and his wife Mary W. Martin, are interred in Oakwood. Oakwood is a very large cemetery. The other very large cemetery that has many many DeFreests interred is Albany Rural Cemetery. There is a plot of DeFreests in Albany Rural Cemetery that is right next to the Grave of President Chester A. Arthur. Evergreen Cemetery next to the Wynantskill Reformed Church in North Greenbush is a very small cemetery, but has quite a few DeFreests interred there. East Greenbush Cemetery, next to the Greenbush Reformed Church in East Greenbush is small but contains many DeFreests as well. There is also several smaller cemeteries in the area that have DeFreests interred as well. For whatever the reason, DeFreest became the common spelling of the DeForest name in Rensselaer County New York.
*This page was originally authored by Kevin DeFreest and therefore accounts and relationships have maintained their original content.
The Monument was designed by Henry Bacon (1866 – 1924) Henry Bacon also designed Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial