BESSE, Constant Theodore Jean Baptiste & Marie Marguerite (Macaine)

constant theodore_besse

Constant Theodore de Besse by W. H. Machen

The following passage is from “William Henry Machen: Pioneer Local Colorist of Northwestern Ohio” by Edwin A. Machen and Randolph C. Downes:

The Machens had long been wanderers in the land, fugitives from revolution and persecution, pilgrims in search of a new home. The upheavals of the French Revolution had first started them on their unwanted travels.

It was…Constant Jean Baptiste de Besse who was the first victim of this fate. As doctor and vice-mayor of Le Cateau, in northern France, he was ordered by the leaders of the Revolution to arrest certain Catholic priests in his town, and deliver them up for trial. Fearing that this would mean the execution of the clergymen, he permitted them to escape. Enraged by this, the Revolutionists placed him under arrest. He was brought to Paris and was thrown into the Conciergerie, the leading prison in the French capital after the fall of the Bastille. He was listed for decapitation at the guillotine on January 25, 1793, two days after that set for Louis XVI, king of France. However, so the story goes, with the aid of his brothers and a purse of gold to influence the jailer, Constant was allowed to escape, even as he had arranged for the flight of the priests of Le Cateau.

In the flight that followed, Constant found a new home and a new name. He disguised himself as a veterinary and, with his wife, made his way on foot toward Germany. Eventually they reached the city of Wesel on the Rhine about twenty miles from the border of Holland. Knowing that he could never return to his native France, he performed the tragic and final act of renunciation forced on so many emigres then and since: he changed his name. He took his wife’s maiden name Macaine and Germanized it into Machen.

After this bitter experience the trail grows faint. After 20 years in the colony of French emigres at Wesel, it is recorded that the family, in 1814, moved to Woudrichem in Holland near the mouth of the Rhine. Fourteen years later, on April 4, 1828, Constant died at the age of 66 years.

Additional Notes
A year after Constant’s death, his wife Marie Marguerite wrote and signed a letter giving permission for their son Augustine Ulysses Machen to marry Agatha Kuyk. Special permission was required because Agatha was apparently not of the Roman Catholic church. Curiously, Marie Marguerite signed with her maiden name, “M.M.Macaine”, but used “Machen” for her son.


Le Cateau-Cambresis today

The following is from notes recorded by Loretto A. Machen, probably at the dictation of Ferdinand W. Machen. [Notes in brackets are the author’s.]:

Grandfather [Constant deBesse] was a Girondist, that is a moderate revolutionist. Did not hold with the extremists, that is the party of Robespierre. They became suspects, especially Grandfather who made himself useful in protecting Catholic priests. Was mayor of the town (Le Cateau). In this office it was his duty to arrest the suspects. Instead of which he aided them to escape. Through a trusted maid he would send them the key (which was a token that they must flee). But he was betrayed by one of his men; was arrested and condemned to death, but bribed one of his jailers with a purse of gold which he had on his person. This was about 1792. His two brothers who were rampant revolutionists, helped him to escape by furnishing relays of horses; crossed the frontier into Germany.


Marie Marguerite (Macaine) Machen (by W. H. Machen)

Marie Marguerite Macaine was born in Andigny on the 6 September 1764, the daughter of Pierre Nicolas Macaine and Marie Marguerite Teneux. She and her husband raised nine children. She died on 8 January 1841 at Woudrichem, Holland.

Another unpublished genealogical manuscript, just called “Machen Family Notes” has been passed down through the Machen family for generations.  In it, we find the following:

CONSTANT THEODORE JEAN-BAPTISTE BESSE, born October 5, 1763 at La Pommereuil, Department Nord. He had been a doctor in the French Navy during the war in Spain. After the peace, the officers were let off and could go home on foot. Just imagine a march of about 500 hours. Grandpapa writes in his autobiography that they had put an egg with the shell in each boot to strengthen their feet. At last they reached Paris from Cadiz. The last day they marched 18 hours and then danced. Then he was Adjunct-Mayor of LeCateau in 1789 an. VI of the Republic. He married Marie Marguerite Macaine, daughter of Pierre Nicholas Macaine of Andigny and of Marie Marguerite Teneux.

Dutch genealogist Marius Bakker has posted the following online about Constant Besse, translated from Dutch:

Medical officer in the French Navy. During his life, he was a pharmacist in Cateau at Cambray. Surgeon and Vice-Mayor of Le Cateau Cambrésis, fled during the reign of Robespierre, because he was declared an outlaw. Settled in Germany near Wesel and eventually came to the Netherlands where he settled in Giessen and later Woudrichem. In the Netherlands, he calls himself and he is registered in the civil registry as Jean Baptiste Machen.

Pommereuil to Woudrichem

Approximate Migration Route of Constant Besse Machen & Family


Children of Constant Theodore & Marie Marguerite (Macaine) BESSE

CONSTANT THEODORE JEAN BAPTISTE DE BESSE was born 5 October 1763 in Pommereuil, France, and died 4 April 1828 in Woudrichem, Holland.  He married MARIE MARGUERITE MACAINE 3 February 1789, daughter of PIERRE MACAINE and MARIE TENEUX.  She was born 6 September 1764 in Andigny, France, and died 8 January 1841 in Woudrichem, Netherlands. Children of CONSTANT DE BESSE and MARIE MACAINE are:

i.    LOUIS CONSTANT DE BESSE, b. 19 February 1791, Le Cateau, France; d. 1851, Heumen.
ii.   CHARLEMAGNE EDOUARD DE BESSE, b. 9 July 1792, Le Cateau, France; d. 16 September 1793.
iii.   CHARLEMAGNE CHRISTOPHE EDOUARD DE BESSE, b. January 1795, under a tree near Hautteville, France; m. CATHERINA TUKKER, 17 April 1823, Woudrichem, Netherlands; b. 12 March 1797, Schipluiden, Netherlands; d. 23 December 1860.
iv.   FERDINAND FELIX JOSEPH DE BESSE, b. 13 December 1796, castle of Gross-Isselt, near Brunen, Germany; d. 6 December 1873, Woudrichem, Holland.
v.   MARIE MARGUERITE JOSEPHINE AGLAE DE BESSE, b. 19 December 1798, Gross-Isselt, near Brunen, Germany; d. 8 April 1887, Woudrichem, Holland; m. RUDOLPH JOHANNES HEYLIGERS.
vi.   ALPHONSE HENRI JOSEPH AUGUSTIN DE BESSE, b. Abt. 1800, LeCateau, France [?]; d. 19 November 1804.
viii.   AUGUSTINE ULYSSES SULPICE IRENEUS MACHEN, b. 28 December 1804, Wesel, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany; d. 10 August 1854, Toledo, Lucas Co., OH; m. AAGJE “AGATHA” KUIJK, 1829; b. 7 December 1806, Werkendam, Netherlands; d. 17 December 1855, Toledo, OH.
ix.   HENRY PHILIPPE LOUIS MACHEN, b. 23 May 1807, Lackhausen, Prussia [now Germany]; d. 7 September 1887, Lucas Co., OH; m. WILHELMINA ADRIANA VAN DER SANDEN; b. Abt. 1815, Holland.



  • Machen, Edwin A. and Randolph C. Downes, “William Henry Machen: Pioneer Local Colorist of Northwestern Ohio”, Northwest Ohio Quarterly, April 1948. The authors cite the following sources: “Memoranda in notebook of Loretto A. Machen, niece of William H. Machen; copy of questionnaire containing life data filled out on December 7, 1839 by Augustine Machen in connection with his employment as surveyor and overseer of the railroad between Arnhem and Amsterdam; letter of appointment and instructions to report at the above employment signed by B.H. Goudriaan of the Dutch Ministry of Interior; letter dated June 18, 1847 accepting the resignation and approving the discharge of Augustine Machen as Surveyor, First Class, of the city of Arnhem, signed by Van Hoyleirna, Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance.
  • “Documents Concerning the Dispensation of Marriage between A. U. and Agatha Machen, 1828 & 1829,” original documents owned by James Machen of Toledo, Ohio; copy in possession of author.
  • Notes of Edwin A. Machen, 1935, in possession of James Machen of Toledo, Ohio; photocopy in possession of the author.
  • Correspondence of Henrietta Bosch-Heijke,  (e-mail to author, dated 6 October 2002).

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