Friday, December 13, 2013

Canada Needs Women: Love in the 17th Century II: The Filles du Roi

"The Arrival of the French Girls at Québec" (1667).  Watercolor painting by C.W. Jeffreys.
 By the mid-17th century, the colony of New France was established, albeit small with only a population in 1663 of 3,200 people.   In the previous 28 years, over 200 women - the "Filles à Marier" - had been sent from France to provide colonists with suitable brides.   Yet the ratio of single men to available women remained high (about 16 to 1; Jean Talon's estimate in the first census of New France was 719 single men and 45 single women, respectively).   This was in part because of an influx of soldiers sent to New France to fight the Iroquois; even after a peace treaty was signed in 1667 and the regiments returned to France, several hundred soldiers "went native" and now directly competed with the fur trappers and farmers for wives.

In 1663, just when the Filles à Marier immigration stopped, a new program - this time sponsored by Louis XIV - began:  the "Filles du Roi".   The aims were the same - promote colonization by providing suitable brides for New France immigrants with the expectation of promoting marriage and family formation.  Additionally, the success of other New World colonies - particularly those of the English - were a concern; basically France wanted to keep up lest they find themselves penned in from competing interests.

The program was suggested by Jean Talon, the Intendant of New France with the goal of sponsored passage of at least 500 women.   Women between the ages of 12 and 25 were recruited, in collaboration with the Church who would provide references.   At first, most were French "city girls" mostly from Paris - this would be problematic since they would not be well-prepared for frontier life, and as the program progressed, more girls from farming communities were recruited since they were fundamentally a better match for the lives they were to have.

Those in the program were rewarded handsomely by the government.   Not only was their passage paid for, but they also received a dowry (between 50 and 400 livres[1,2] or payment in-kind[3]) and a trousseau.   So, for many of these women, the incentives in terms of potentially improving their station in life definitely competed against the more somber hardships of life in New France, especially since many were orphans.    Nor were most of the recruits from well-to-do families; so like many of the Filles à Marier, their options were they to remain in France were limited: an arranged marriage or life in a convent.   If they weren't one of the eldest daughters, the prospects were likely even more restricted.   Thus, emigration sometimes might've been worth the risks.  

One particular risk was surviving the (approximately two month) journey itself.  In 1663 - the first year of emigration - sixty out of 300 women traveling from La Rochelle to New France died en route!

Some have argued that the Filles du Roi was a way of ridding France (and especially Paris) of "problem women" (read: prostitutes).   This is almost certainly not the case;  in fact, those chosen were held to extremely high moral standards as well as physical standards (life on a farm and more importantly the ability to successfully bear children).  In fact, a few were sent back to France because they were deemed to not meet the necessary standards.   A Madame Bourdon was responsible for overseeing ~150 girls across the Atlantic whose letters mention the difficulty of keeping some of the girls in line!   Only one girl - Catherine Gulchelin - was charged with prostitution in Canada in 1675.  She was found guilty, her two children were adopted by friends, and she was banished from Québec City.  Her husband, Nicolas Bateau, abandoned the family and returned to France.   Catherine apparently was guilty - she had many additional children out of wedlock (although she appears to have been married twice more and in addition cancelled two other marriage contracts).

So, over the next 10 years, approximately 800 women emigrated to New France, on average about 100-150 each year (except in 1666 and 1672 where there were apparently no arrivals).

In terms of marriage contracts, I find conflicting information.   The evidence for the Filles à Marier suggests that they entered marriage contracts before they left France.   However - at least for most of the Filles du Roi - they arrived in New France without prearranged marriages, because the church records show the marriage contracts being signed at the local parish.   (Or could it be that they had unsigned contracts when they left which were formalized upon arrival?)   In any case, it appears that "opting out" of the contract seems to have occurred with greater frequency later in the program (particularly between 1669 and 1671 - the three most active years of immigration).   This might be due to their "financial attractiveness" in terms of their dowry; they'd have considerable power and could decide after arrival and meeting their financé that they could "do better" with someone else.

Marguerite Bourgeoys with Filles du Roi
in Montréal.
In New France, they disembarked at either Montréal, Trois-Rivieres, or Québec.   In Montréal (Ville-Marie) they were taken in by Marguerite Bourgeoys who purchased a large farmhouse in 1668 for lodging the arrivals until they found husbands and moved on.   By 1672, the population of New France had more than doubled to 6,700, and the program was ended, presumably since by this time the population was self-sustaining.   The last 60 immigrants arrived in September 1673.

There are seven Filles du Roi in the family tree:
  1. Jeanne Godequin (1649-1727, 8ggm) - arrived 1669 (age: 20), born in Amiens to Jacques Godequin and Jeanne Dupuis.   She entered a marriage contract with Vincent Croteau (1647-1709) on 22 Sep 1669 and married him the same day.   Her dowry was 350 livres (including 50 from the King).  They settled in Saint-Antoine-de-Tille and had 11 children (7 boys, 4 girls).   Vincent was a shoemaker from Dieppe who had arrived in New France in 1665.
  2. Marguerite Lamain (1656-1714, 8ggm) - arrived 1670 (age: 14), born in Rouen, Normandy. to Jacques Lamain and Marguerite des Haies.  She married 31 year-old Michel Rognon dit Laroche (1639-1684) in Québec on 14 Sep 1670.  They had 7 children starting in 1673 (by which time Marguerite was 17 years old!).  Michel died in 1684; two months later Marguerite remarried Pierre Mercier (1653-1712) who had arrived from the Loire region in France in 1679.  They also had 7 children although most (all?) died in infancy.  
  3. Marie-Jeanne Gilles (1644-1708) see footnote [4].

  4. Marie-Madeleine Phillippe (1651-1724, 8ggm) - was born in Paris to Nicolas Phillippe and Marie Cirier.   She arrived in Québec on 3 Jul 1668 (age: 17) and quickly married Pierre Tousignant dit Lapointe (1641-1714) a soldier turned farmer.   Over the next 40 years, they lived in various locations owning land, eventually settling in Lotbinière.   She was friends with Michelle Ouinville, also a Fille du Roi (they traveled together), and her eldest daughter Marguerite-Michelle married Ouinville's eldest son (Noël Barabé, a 7th great-grandfather) in Lotbinière in 1687.
  5. Michelle Ouinville (1640-1700, 8ggm) - born in Paris and arrived in Québec in July 1668 with Marie-Madeleine Phillippe.  She married Nicolas Barabé (1647-1676) on 21 Oct 1668, settled in Lotbinière, and had 6 children (two boys, four girls).  Nicolas died about 1676.  As with many of the Filles du Roi, she quickly remarried, to Michel Lemay dit Poudrier (1631-1685). 

    Here the family tree gets a little entangled:  Michel is ALSO a 9th great grandfather from his (first) marriage to Marie Dutost (who herself was a Fille à Marier).   Two of THEIR sons are also great grandparents:  5th son Charles (1669-1733) is an 8th great grandfather, but his older brother (3rd son Ignace) is a 7th great grandfather![5].  (So between the three marriages, there are seven great-grandparents.)
  6. Marie-Madeleine Normand (1651-1690) - arrived in 1669 (age: 18) and married Alphonse Morin dit Valours (10th great grand uncle), the son of Noél Morin and Hélène des Portes (the first child born in Canada to European settlers), in Feb 1670.   They had 10 children; it appears she died in childbirth (or from complications).
  7. Catherine de Belleau (1639-1706) - arrived in 1667 (age: 28) and married Jean-Baptiste Morin dit Rochebelle (brother of the husband to Marie-Madeleine Normand listed above).     The circumstances were fortunate - for Catherine.   Jean-Baptiste had been under a marriage contract with another Fille du Roi - Marie-Anne Fermin - but she backed out.  It's unlikely that she didn't think that Jean-Baptiste was a good match; he was - after all - one of the premier families in New France at the time.   More likely, she just didn't like Canada - according to a footnote on the contract dated 17 Nov 1667, she's listed as a passenger on the ship Le Prophète Hosée returning to France.   Catherine's cousin, Marie-Charlotte Depoitiers had arrived in Québec earlier (1659) as a "Fille à Marier" and had married Jean-Baptiste's half brother Joseph Hébert in 1660.


[1] - There's no direct equivalent between French livres and US dollars.   A very rough estimate would be about $5-10 to the livre.

[2] - Those from more upper-class backgrounds (about 40 women, also called the Filles de Qualité) received larger dowries from their familes - closer to 2,000 livres).

[3] - Usually, the women didn't receive cash and instead got merchandise intended to help them establish themselves in their new household.   One typical example reads as follows:
  1. 1 chest
  2. 1 taffeta kerchief
  3. 1 ribbon for shoes
  4. 100 needles
  5. 1 comb
  6. 1 spool of white thread
  7. 1 pair of stockings
  8. 1 pair of gloves
  9. 1 pair of scissors
  10. 2 knives
  11. approximately 1000 pins
  12. 1 bonnet
  13. 4 laces
  14. 2 silver livres.
In addition some might receive livestock (chickens, pigs, etc.).

[4] has her calculated as my 10th ggm through her daughter Anne Fleury (born 1630) which is obviously impossible.   Marie-Jeanne DOES have a daughter Anne (1683-1719) but there's no descendant tree established.   The Anne Fluery born in 1630 is Marie-Jeanne's sister-in-law and is a 9th great grandmother but lived and died in France.   So at best Marie-Jeanne is the wife of a 9th great grand-uncle.

[5] How is that possible?  Basically, the different lines between the two Lemay brothers differ in the number of generations to "get to" me.   If in one line people marry earlier, have children earlier, etc. then over time you can have extra generations within the same time frame compared to a different line who tends to marry later and have children later.   Specifically:

we end up with the common ancestor Alexandre Guimond at one end (a great-great-great grandfather), but in the case of Charles Lemay we take a detour through the Sévigny and Choret family to get to the Lemays back to the common ancestor of Michel Lemay (father to Charles and Ignace).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Poor François Fréchet (1655-1722, 8th great grandfather)

One of the problems of being an early colonist in New France is that the dating pool was rather meager.  In the mid-1600s, the ratio of men to women in the Québec colony was about 4:1 and almost none of them were eligible bachelorettes;  they were usually already married having immigrated with their husbands and families from France, or were scooped up almost as soon as they stepped off the boat.

Fortunately, there was a "mail-order bride" service in the Filles à Marier - the "marriageable girls" who were enticed to come to New France mostly because their families couldn't provide a decent dowry to attract French husbands in (usually) arranged marriages.  (One can imagine that even some of these pairings were probably ghastly since the girls weren't given a choice on their mate.)   So, for many, the options were either to marry below their station or to someone they weren't attracted to, or to become a nun.  So, despite the horrors of a two-month trans-Atlantic journey, and the dangers of living in the wilderness on another continent (complete with disease and wars with the native tribes), about 250 girls bravely made their way to New Canada.

One of the other challenges of being a Fille à Marier was that of course you left France under a pre-arranged marriage contract, never having met your intended spouse.   The bright side of this is that once you did arrive, you weren't completely bound to that contract and if you weren't happy with your prospective husband, you could opt out of the marriage and pick from one of many other colonists.

In 1662, one of the last Filles à Marier to arrive in Québec was Catherine Méliot (1645-1699).  She was under contract to marry Jean Routhier (1642-1677) who had arrived in Québec a few years earlier.   They were married on 20 Nov 1662 in Sillery, and together had six children, two boys and four girls.  Alas, Jean did on 26 Sep 1677 leaving Catherine a widow of 32 with children from 11 years old down to an infant, in a strange country.

But even widows with dependent children were still in demand as wives.   The children had labor potential for the family, and the widow might - if she were still young enough - be able to produce more children.   So, less than two weeks after burying her husband, Catherine is married to the 21-year old François Fréchet, a farmer and ship's carpenter who had also arrived in 1677 from Ile de Ré (the same region from which Catherine came).

For reasons unknown, the marriage is immediately annulled.

But wait - it gets better.

One month later, Catherine marries AGAIN, this time to an edge-tool maker and farmer named Pierre Bouvier, himself a a 47-year old widower with five children (aged two to nine).   At least this time it stuck - they were married for 21 years and had three boys together.   (And that's the way they call became the Bouvier bunch!   Sorry I couldn't resist.)

François was completely distraught; accounts state that for the next three years, he became a hermit refusing to talk to anyone about the incident.   I can only imagine that this was quite the scandal at the time - the community in which they lived was so small there would be no hope of anonymity, everyone knew everyone (and quite a lot of them were related to one another in some way).   One can guess from the ages of those involved that there must have been some very interesting relationship dynamics:  Catherine is ten years older than François;  Pierre was 15 years older than Catherine.   I expect that she quickly realized that François was not able to meet the necessary responsibilities of being a father to her children (especially since he's only 5 years older than his oldest step-daughter), not to mention that she's only been a widow for less than a month.   Given that they all had to have known each other beforehand, one is tempted to imagine a sort of sexual intrigue that would befit an HBO Dramatic series!

But, in the end things work out.   François comes out of hiding and in 1680, marries the 14-year old Anne L'Heureux (L'Heros), the second-oldest surviving daughter of Simon Lereau (already deceased in 1670) and Suzanne Jaroussel - herself a Fille à Marier.  From there, he continues as a very successful ship-repairman (for a time) and farmer on L'Île-d'Orléans, and has 15 children.   He purchased land on the island bordering his brother-in-law Jean, and then went on an expedition to Hudson Bay to drive out English fur traders, who captured them and exiled them to an island off shore from Charleston, presuming that the elements and wolves would take care of them.   Instead, they made a canoe/raft out of birch bark, escaped and made their way back to Montréal.   At this point he ran into legal problems with the land he had purchased (the litigation lasted for 14 years), so the family moved to Québec City in the autumn of 1690.

From here, he appears to have had several unsuccessful business ventures first in cod fishing, where he and partners purchased a boat, but by October 1694 that had been abandoned.   The family left Québec at the beginning of 1696 (leaving behind two sons at the Seminary of Québec [1]) back to Saint-Nicolas to care for Anne's mother who died in 1700.   He rented and then purchased and sold land several times; in Matane in 1701-1702, in Québec in 1704, and then in 1708 embarked on a somewhat significant move.

The governor of Newfoundland (then a French colony), Philippe Pastour de Costebelle was looking for an ambitious family to administer a farm in Plaisance (then the chief town of Newfoundland, now Placentia).  In 1708, a contract was drawn up placing the Fréchet(te)'s under the governor's employ, and François, Anne and four children (Pierre-Victor aged 18, eight-year old Jean-Baptiste, six-year old Elisabeth-Agnès, and the three-year old Michel [2]) left Québec to sail downriver to Plaisance.   But this too didn't last long and the family packed up and returned to Québec a year later.

Anne died in 1715, three days after the youngest son Michel died at age 10.

In his final years, he marries Suzanne Métayer (1655?-1742), twice-widowed and the mother of seven children early in 1717.    They were together for 5 years;  François passed away May 2, 1722 in Lévis, across the river from Québec.

Locations in this post:
A) Québec City;  B) Lévis;  C) Saint Nicolas; D) L'Île d'Orléans


[1] - Presumably the sons were Simon (1691-1708) and Joseph (1693-1722) since Etienne (1684-1749) subsequently marries in 1710, and Pierre-Victor goes with the family to Newfoundland, but that would suggest that they were basically abandoned at 5 and 3, respectively.   There's no indication either married, it's possible they were (or training to be) priests, although neither lived long lives (dying at 17 and 28, respectively).  Simon is buried at Saint-Nicolas.  Joseph died in Verchéres.

[2] - There were other children born to Anne, but only those four listed are mentioned as having gone to Newfoundland.   Jacques (born 1705) probably died in infancy, but assuming that Simon and Joseph were at the Seminary du Québec, there's no accounting of where girls Geneviève (1696-1775), Marie-Marguerite (1695-1787) and Marie-Ursule (1703-1735) were.  Presumably they remained with family at Saint-Nicolas; Marie-Ursule is buried there, as is her older sister Geneviève, while there's no indication that the long-lived Marie-Marguerite (who was 92 at her death) ever married.  Perhaps she became a nun?