Saturday, November 30, 2013

Canada Needs Women! Love in 17th Cenury New France I: The Filles à Marier

The attraction to New France for most of the initial immigrants was the possibility to obtain great wealth.   At first, many of the people who came to Québec hadn't planned to stay; in particular, the fur traders were migrants and the companies that hired them actually strongly discouraged setting up farms (instead they would get goods from the companies).   As such, the population of Québec only numbered in the hundreds for quite some time.

While some settlers came from France with their entire families, intending to put down roots, most were single men seeking adventure with some sort of potential "career track".   This created a wee problem:  who were they to marry?   Intermarrying with the native tribes (although it did happen) was frowned upon by both sides.   The sex ratio of men to women was about 4:1.

Enter the "Filles à Marier" and the "Filles du Roi"; two programs of what essentially were the 17th century equivalent of "mail-order brides".  In most cases, contracts of marriage would be drawn up, and the women would be shipped to their prospective husbands.

The Filles à Marier

This was the first, smaller (only 262 women), and less-well-known program.  (In my research, I've found that most of the Filles à Marier in my family tree have been mistakenly tagged as "Filles du Roi".)   They emigrated, a few at a time, from France to Québec between 1635 and 1663.   They were in VERY high demand; while the population of Québec was still small, the rate of immigration of Filles à Marier averaged under 10 women per year!

The girls had to be of marriageable age (12 to 45), and not yet married (i.e., they couldn't be traveling to join a husband who had previously emigrated).   Their passage was usually paid by religious groups, merchants with an interest in New France, or private individuals who had to ensure their good conduct.   Other than passage, they received nothing for their enrollment.  (The long-standing rumor has been that they were prostitutes exiled from France; this really wasn't the case.  Most were from farming families, a few were daughters of minor nobles, some had relatives that were already in Québec).

It's not surprising that there wasn't a rush to the docks to go to New France.   At best conditions were harsh: there was little community support - most of the families in New France were subsistence farmers, attacks from the Iroquois were not uncommon, and the climate in winter was harsh.   Outbreaks of smallpox and other diseases occurred, and of course mortality from childbirth was frequent - frightening considering that increasing the local population to support the farming communities was the chief reason for the need of female immigrants!   Add to that, that even the crossing itself was perilous; as many as 10% of the passengers died on trans-Atlantic voyages, where passengers were lumped in with cargo, in particular, livestock destined for New France or to be eaten en route.   Considering that the transit time was on the order of two months, this would NOT have been a pleasant journey!

Why did they come?  Despite the grim circumstances that awaited them in New France, plus the hardship of just getting there, for these girls it was generally a preferred option to the alternatives; being shipped off to a convent, or marrying below their class.     Even in 17th-century France, arranged marriages were still common; here, although they were under contract to be married upon arrival (and not having met their husband-to-be), it wasn't absolutely binding, so if things didn't work out (and sometimes they didn't) they could shop themselves around for a different husband or even make the return trip to France.

Most where success stories:  they married, raised families, and formed the roots of many French-Canadians familes.

In my family tree, I have (so far) identified ten Filles à Marier, eight of whom are blood relatives:
  1. Jeanne Roy (1626-1674, 9th great-grand aunt) - married to Jean Milloir in 1651;
  2. Madeleine Duteau (1649-1704, 8th great-grand aunt) - younger sister of Marie-Michelle Duteau (also a Fille à Marier), married to Nicolas Leblanc in 1664;
  3. Marie-Michelle Duteau (1639-1705, 8th great grandmother) - older sister of Madeleine Duteau, married Michel Lemay (both an 8th and 9th great grandfather, whose second wife was Michelle Ouinville, herself a Filles du Roi, and the widow of Nicolas Barabé also an 8th great grandfather!);
  4. Geneviève Gamache (1635-1709, 9th great grandmother) - married to Julien Fortin II in 1652 who was a butcher;
  5. Jeanne Bitouset (1636-1707, 9th great grandmother) - married Louis Guimond in 1653, who started the cult of miracles at Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré, and was murdered by the Iroquois;
  6. Jacquette Tourault  (1612-1670, 10th great grandmother) - who was the widow of Pierre Jaroussel in France, and was a Fille à Marier along with her daughter, Suzanne.   In New France she married Jacques Previrault in 1653, but was widowed again a month later.  She then married Maurice Arrive;
  7. Suzanne Jaroussel (1641-1694, 9th great grandmother) - daughter of Jacquette Jaroussel née Tourault (also a Fille à Marier), she married Pierre Joinault in 1654.   Like her mother's first New France husband, he died shortly after the wedding, and like her mother, remarried, this time to Simon Lereau in 1655;
  8. Catherine Méliot  (1645-1699, "non"-wife of 8th great grandfather) - she's not a direct ancestor but has an interesting connection to the family tree.   Upon arrival in New France, she was contracted to marry Jean Routhier, and did in 1662.  He later died in 1677, leaving her with six children.  She then married 21-year old François Fréchet (an 8th great grandfather), but in the space of a month, had the marriage annulled and had married Pierre Bouvier.   (More on the annulment in a later post!)
  9. Anne Émard (1627-1700, 9th great grand aunt).  Her sister Madeleine was the wife of Zacharie Cloutier, whose brother Jean is my 9th great grandfather.   (Her sister isn't a Fille à Marier because her marriage took place in France and they emigrated to New France as a couple.)   Her case is interesting because of her husband, Guillaume Cousture who she married in 1649.   Prior to this, Guillaume had been a Jesuit priest for nine years and a carpenter at the Mission of Saint-Marie.   In 1642, he, two other priests and 19 men from the Huron Mission were attacked by the Iroquois.  Cousture shot and killed an Iroquois chief, and was subsequently tortured.

    However, because of Iroquois tradition, he was sent to another village and offered to the widow of the warrior he had killed.  She adopted him into the tribe and nursed him back to health.  He used this opportunity to learn the language, culture and beliefs.   Three years later, he returned to Trois-Rivières to negotiate a peace (which lasted only a year), and Fr. Cousture asked to be relieved of his vows in order to marry an Iroquois woman (although it is not clear whether this actually occurred).   He continued - after his marriage to Anne - to work as a diplomat between the French-Canadians and the Iroquois.
  10. Marie-Charlotte de Poitiers (1640-1718, wife of 10th great-grand uncle) - she married Joseph Hébert in 1660 after arriving in 1659 (age 19).   Her marriage wasn't a happy one;  after giving birth to a son Joseph in 1661, her husband was killed in an Iroquois attack.   Her cousin Catherine de Belleau was a Fille du Roi and married Joseph's half-brother Alphonse Morin.
After 1663, a more-ambitious program of porting women to New France for the purposes of marriage began, this time with the direct support of the French government:  the Filles du Roi.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Louis Guimont (c 1625 - 1661, 9ggf)

Probably the most famous of my direct ancestors is Louis Guimont (c 1625-1661), son of François Guimont (c 1595-1630) and Jeanne Delauney (c 1595-1629).   He was born near Champs, in the Orne region of Lower Normandy in France, and according to some accounts worked as a domestic under the employ of Mathurin Mauduit at his estate (Mulotière) located a few miles from Tourouve.
Location of Champs in Lower Normandy.
Paris is about 100 km to the east.

He became interested in emigrating to New France after meeting recruiters for colonization, in particular, Nicolas Juchereau, the brother of Jean Juchereau who was the general clerk of the storehouse in New France, having settled there in 1634 with his wife and family.   On February 17, 1647, he signed a six-year contract to work as a laborer for Juchereau in New France.   The contract provided Guimont with passage to Québec City, a sum of 40 livres each year, a pair of shoes and a wool suit (for the entire term of the contract).

He left France from New Rochelle on June 6, 1647 for the 60-day journey to New France.   The ship also carried Jean Malefant (also under a 5-year contract with Juchereau) and Pierre Tremblay, himself the ancestor of what would become the largest French-Canadian family.  They arrived at Québec on August 6th of that year.

Shortly before his contract ended, he married Jeanne Bitouset (1636-1707) a "Filles à Marier" (not to be confused with the "Filles du Roi") who had arrived in Québec herself in 1652, at the chapel of Saint-Jean at the Coast of Sainte-Geneviève in Québec on Feb. 11, 1653.

There, for the next three years, he rents a plot of land from Martin Grouvel, clearing the land (for 120 livres for each acre cleared) and planting crops (shared with his landlord).    During this period, his first three children are born:  Jacques (born 26 Sep 1653, and dies a week later),  Joseph (born 19 Oct 1654), and Louise (born 28 Aug 1658).  His youngest son, Claude, was born in 1660 - and is my 8th great-grandfather.   In October 1657, he purchases five acres of nearby land from Louis Brouchard.

Wax figures showing the construction of the church at Beaupré.  Louis Guimont is the figure at right.

Drawing of Chapelle des Maleots
Meanwhile in Beaupré, construction of a log-cabin chapel, called Chapelle des Maleots (Seamen's Chapel)  dedicated to Saint Anne had begun.   The land was gifted by Etienne Lessart, himself a resident for seven years with the express purpose that a church be built.   On the 13th of March 1658, Monsieur Vignal blessed the site of the church and the local governor, d'Ailleboust, placed the first stone for the foundation.

Basilica of Saint Anne de Beaupré today.
The different accounts vary as to whether Louis Guimont was one of the construction workers of the chapel.   I suppose that given how small the community was, he must have played some role.  Shortly after construction begins, Louis Guimont is the recipient of the first miracle associated with Beaupré.   At this time, he is apparently afflicted with some crippling ailment;  different accounts have it being "a severe back ailment", "rheumatism", "an affliction of the kidneys".   Over time, this has been exaggerated to Guimont being described as a "poor invalid" and even the depiction of the miracle in the altar panel of the present Basilica shows Guimont leaning with crutches.    In any case, out of devotion to Saint Anne, he places three stones within the foundation of the chapel, and is instantly cured of his afflictions, commencing an over 350-year tradition of pilgrimage to the site.    The church was expanded or replaced on several occasions to accommodate the pilgrims.   In 1887 it was raised by Pope Leo XIII to the rank of a minor basilica.   Construction of the current basilica was begun in 1926 and completed in 1946.

However, the story of Louis Guimont doesn't end here.    On the morning of June 8, 1661, fourteen people from Beaupré and L'Île d'Orléans, including Louis Guimont, were captured by the Agniers tribe of the Iroquois, who had recently raided Tadoussac (about 100km down river).     From there,  they traveled 15 hours south to Lake Champlain where they were tortured and eventually killed.   One account (written on birch bark by François Hertel, signed by Fr. Jérôme Lallement that made its way back to his mother) says that Guimont was scalped after infuriating his captors by refusing to cease praying aloud.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Geolocation back from the four grandparents...

Where do you end up (geographically) if you follow the families of my four grandparents?

Carroll Bradish

He came from Buffalo, NY.    His father,  John Patrick Bradish, was born in India while his father (Joseph Bradish) was stationed there by the British.

So, the Bradish Line ends up in England, mid-19th century.

Anne Guimond

My maternal grandmother was born around Lotbinère (across and upriver from Québec).  The Guimonds were one of the premiere settling families of "New France" going back to the early 1600s.   Other relations in this line include Hélène des Portes - the first child born in Québec to European parents (so the Canadian equivalent to Virginia Dare).

Probably the most notable Guimond, Louis Guimond, was a builder of the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré and supposedly the first recipient of a miraculous cure (rheumatism).

From there, you go to Bretagne in France.

Mortimer Donahue

The Irish immigrant side of the family settled in Lawrence, owning taverns.   They hailed from Roscommon county in Ireland.

Ellen Fitzgerald

I think the Fitzgeralds came from County Clare.

Status: 11/25/2013

Number of people on the tree: 13,309

 I'd guess that probably 80% of them are accurate.  Some aren't actual relations (in-laws and their families).

Most ancient relation: Chrocus of the Almanni (59ggp or 60ggp, depending on how you tranverse the tree) - abt 240 AD to 319 AD.   He also has a page on Wikipedia.

These days I'm working on the Guimond line, down from Louis Guimond (11ggp, abt 1575 - abt 1630).  I've gone through the Tanguay entries, so I'm in the late 18th century. The family is still settled very close to Saint-Anne-de-Baupré at that time.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Just under eight months ago, I decided to check out for a lark.   I had long been interested in genealogy, going back to discovering names in the family Bible that I didn't recognize, but for the most part it ended there because I suppose I always assumed that we didn't know more.

I'd hear stories from my mom about her family, but never quite had a clear picture of who was who;  I knew there were "the Aunts" (who for me were really great aunts), but they all sort of blended together.  On my father's side it was largely the same, and I knew that his brother had done some research into the Irish side of the family.

So I dove in...   As it turns out, the "rabbit hole" went far deeper than I had expected.  

Not only is there copious information to be found on my Québecois ancestors, some of them were among the first French immigrants to "New France" – essentially the Canadian equivalent to the Pilgrims.   I've had worse luck on he Irish side (a key ancestor turned out to not be an ancestor after all, requiring one whole branch of the Family Tree to be severed – at least for now), but as I gain more experience I hope to crack that.

So, I've created this blog to document what I've found with the hopes of sharing it with the family, and other interested parties.