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?

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