LaVelle Family History
Written by Doug LaVelle
Foreward by Matthew LaVelle
My Dad started LaVelle Vineyards back in the Spring of 1994, taking over the existing bonded winery license from Lee Smith (Forgeron Vineyards) which, coincidentally makes us the oldest bonded winery in the Southern Willamette Valley. He began making wine in 1995, the same year of which he started our hugely successful wine club, and in 1998 opened up the LaVelle Wine Bar & Bistro (now known as The Club Room at the Market) at the 5th Street Public Market in downtown Eugene, Oregon.
In the summer of 2005 I started working in the tasting room here at the winery on the weekends. In August of 2006 I joined the company full time and have learned the ins and outs of several key aspects of this business. Someday soon my Dad will retire and I will continue to run this business during my lifetime and hopefully get someone else in my family interested in running the business somewhere along the way.
That's pretty much the whole short history of LaVelle Vineyards. The LaVelle family name and historical path of the LaVelle's on the other hand has been highly sought after by my father. He's spent years working on our family history and below is the culmination of his hard work...enjoy!
The LaVelle Family History
It is believed that four Huguenot Leavell brothers fled France in the late 1600's, lived for a time in England, and that at least two of them, John (Jean) and Edward, reached the United States sometime around 1700. Although my genealogical research has yet to prove this conclusively, it is consistent with the oral traditions of our family related to me as a child. The timing makes sense, too, in that the persecution of Huguenots in France resumed in 1685 when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had given the Huguenots religious freedom in 1598.
Accounts of the brothers' arrival in the American colonies are contradictory, but they do support the general storyline. I found an interesting submission that discusses this subject, apparently written in 1923, so this oral family tradition is not a recent development. This source suggests that Jean LeaValle arrived on 20 Sep 1700 on the ship Peter and Anthony, under the command of a Captain Daniel Perreau with a group of French refugees. Other sources suggest that he was accompanied by his brother Edward and that they traveled with a group of English colonists who were resettling to the American colonies and arrived in Virginia about 1715. It's probably impossible to know the absolute truth, but it seems likely that the first Leavells in the United States were these two men, that they may have been Huguenots, and that they arrived in Virginia in the early 1700's.
For the next 100 years or so, our family lived in and around Culpeper County, VA. That included Jean b. abt. 1675, his son John b. 1720, and Johns' children. After serving in the Revolutionary War, two of those children, James (b. 1750) and John (b. 1745) Leavell, moved their families to Kentucky. To keep this part of our family history in perspective, one must put it in the context of the larger historical events taking place in the country at the time. Daniel Boone, who blazed the "Wilderness Trail" and founded the village of Boonesborough in 1775, was a contemporary of those early family members. My great-great-great grandfather was born in this same Kentucky wilderness in 1807, during the administration of Thomas Jefferson. The Lewis and Clark Expedition left St. Louis in 1803 and reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805. People who lived in the American wilderness at this time were mostly illiterate, there were constant clashes with Native American Indians and slavery was a hotly contested issue, especially in Border States like Kentucky. It was a hard, dangerous, and difficult life.
The next thee generations of our branch of the Leavell family were all born in Kentucky. This included James Levell (b. 1807), his son Andrew Anderson Levell (b. 1841), and his son Charles Edward Levell (b. 1862). All were born in Gallatin County in the far northern part of Kentucky on the border of Ohio. Again, it's interesting to place this part of the family history in historical context. My great-great-great grandfather, James Levell was born two years before Abraham Lincoln and not far from Lincoln's birthplace. During the administration of John Adams, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, making it a crime to criticize the federal government. One of these acts was specifically targeted French aliens living in the United States. We think the family may have changed the spelling of their last name about this time in order to sound less "French". These were also the years leading up to the Civil War, and the nation was consumed by the issue of slavery. In fact, for a time during the Civil War, Kentucky had two state governments, one loyal to the Union and one to the Confederacy.
Two of James Levell's sons served in the Union Army during the Civil War which may explain why some of the family, including my great-great grandfather, Andrew Anderson Levell, moved to Crawford County, Indiana about 1860. My grandfather, Irvin LaVelle, was born there in 1888 in the tiny town of English, IN but migrated to Iowa in 1914. My father, Donald LaVelle, was born in Iowa in 1918, as was my mother Evelyn Johnson in the same year. They were married in 1935.
I was born in Iowa in 1947, graduated from high school and college there and then moved to Chicago. After thirty years in the corporate world I bought a winery. My two children were born in the Chicago suburbs, and lived most of their childhood years in Grapevine, TX, just outside Dallas. My daughter Sarah still lives in Austin, TX; my son Matthew is our winemaker here in Oregon.
We like to point out that LaVelle Vineyards is locally focused and family owned. I trust this gives you a little better perspective on the LaVelle family. Most of our ancestors were farmers; not rich landowners, tenant farmers mostly. We don't have any famous or celebrated ancestors, but our family moved from England to America when it was still a British colony; and from Virginia to Kentucky when it was still a frontier. Our ancestors were not decorated soldiers, but they fought in every war from the Revolution through WWII. There were no heroes, but to the best of our knowledge, there were no criminals either. They were just good, hard-working, people who quietly went about their lives. Of course, I didn't know my ancestors, but I think I would have liked most of them, and I think they would have been proud of LaVelle Vineyards.