Saturday, January 25, 2014

The First Immigrants to New France - Introduction

For the past several weeks, I've been delving into the topic of relationships to the first French settlers.   This is especially FUN because SO much emphasis is placed in America on who can trace their ancestors back to voyagers on the Mayflower.   As it turns out, while the Pilgrims might make an interesting TV Movie, their French cousins (who had already been in the New World for 15 years before the Pilgrims arrived) I think would make for an entire Dramatic Series!   (Anyone know anyone at HBO or Showtime?  Now's your chance!)

While the first excursions to Canada by the French go all the way back to John Cabot, who like Columbus was trying to find passage to the exotic Asian lands in order to set up trade routes that were (hopefully) faster than the ones established (and largely controlled by others: Spain, Venice, etc.).   His initial expedition in 1497 brought him to (probably) Cape Breton in Nova Scotia; from there he sailed down the coast all the way to Chesapeake Bay by 1498.   To this end it's Cabot who REALLY discovered America since Columbus' journeys took him into the Caribbean and not to the North American mainland!

The discovery of vast tracts of land and resources sparked widespread reconnaissance, not for colonization but for fishing.   It wasn't until the Jacques Cartier, who in 1534 on an official expedition sponsored by the French government, made the initial mapping of Newfoundland, with the subsequent discovery of the St. Lawrence River in 1535.   On that latter voyage, he traveled upriver as far as the location of modern Montréal.  

While there's lots of intervening history of additional discoveries in northern Canada, we can skip to the beginning of the 17th century and Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635) "The Father of New France".   While he's not on the family tree (as least not yet) he is absolutely integral to the lives of several people who are.  It was his settlement established in 1608 where the founding families of Québec lived for several years. 

The Quebec Settlement : A.—The Warehouse. B.—Pigeon-loft. C.—Detached Buildings where we keep our arms and for Lodging our Workmen. D.—Another Detached Building for the Workmen. E.—Sun-dial. F.—Another Detached Building where is the Smithy and where the Workmen are Lodged. G.—Galleries all around the Lodgings. H.—The Sieur de Champlain's Lodgings. I.—The door of the Settlement with a Draw-bridge. L. — Promenade around the Settlement ten feet in width to the edge of the Moat. M.—Moat the whole way around the Settlement. O.—The Sieur de Champlain's Garden. P.—The Kitchen. Q.—Space in front of the Settlement on the Shore of the River. R.—The great River St. Lawrence.

A model of the (second?) Champlain habitation.   The first building was
constructed in1608 and was replaced with a stone building in 1627.

Champlain set up the first habitation for 28 people staying through the winter, but in that first winter 20 of them died.   Actual colonization happened slowly;  most of the people coming to New France were in the fur trapping or cod fishing industries and weren't interested in putting down roots although a few primitive outposts (e.g., Tadoussac) had been established.   Four Recollect missionaries arrived in 1615 with the intent of converting the ingeneous population.   The first woman to come to New France from Europe, Marguerite Vienne, arrived with her husband, Michel Colin in 1616, but they both died within a year.

So, when the apocathery Louis Hébert[1], his wife, and their three children came to live in Québec in 1617 they were something of a novelty.   Unlike everyone else, Louis established a farm and built the first home in Québec outside the settlement.

A few other families soon followed:  Pierre Desportes[2] arrived with his wife in 1619, and Abraham Martin dit L'Ecossais[3] settled with his wife in 1620.   Both Martin and Hébert had been to New France on earlier voyages as a river pilot and apocathery, respectively.  At this time 60 people were living at the colony, but only six women.

The population reached 100 people in 1627 — almost 20 years later — forty-five of which were colonists (including four Jesuits) — including four families (Hébert, Martin, Desportes, and Couillard[4]).

Meager beginnings...

I'll go into detail about each of these people (and their families) in later posts.

  1. 11th great-grandfather and father-in-law of 10th great-grandmother Hélène Desportes - said to be the first child born of French settlers in Québec;
  2. 11th great-grandfather;
  3. 10th great-grandfather;
  4. As near as I can tell, these would be the four families mentioned in the records.  Guillaume Couillard is a husband to my 10th great-grand aunt (Marie-Guillemette Hébert, 1606–1684).

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