Standing on the deck of the ship, the wind tugged at her hair, pulling it free from the combs and pins that tried to keep rebellious strands in place. As she viewed the harbor and the lands before her, the beating of her heart quickened as she thought about the strange new life that waited for her. She could hardly imagine what secrets this new land presented; where would she live? What would her new life offer? But mostly she wondered about her future husband and her bewilderment consumed her.
As French colonists settled in the New World, the need arose to populate and expand those colonies. Since few women lived in the frontier, landowners and private recruiters sent for unmarried woman from France in order to bring them to the colonies and marry the settlers who lived in the new frontier. Still it was not enough to help populate this new land.
With the increasing threat of the English Colonists and the danger of war over new lands, King Louis XIV listened to his advisors when they suggested that he send young, unmarried women to New France, so they could marry the French colonists and populate his new territory. Those closest to the king advised him that if he wanted New France to survive, then he must send women to the men who lived, worked, and served their king in this foreign land.
Between 1663-1673, the French Government and the Church recruited suitable women to inhabit these lands. The women had to be single or widowed, and they had to be strong and of child-bearing age. The leaders of France selected and sponsored about 800 women from France and requested they move to a new continent to serve their king by colonizing his piece of the New World. The king and his regime began the task of choosing women for this job. Most of the women were carefully selected. Family background and birth records were carefully inspected. Priests were called upon to provide testimony of their worth and substance. The king wanted only the best for his new lands.
The woman came from different walks of life. Some were educated and came from good families who fell on hard times. Others were orphans trained for the life of a housekeeper. Some were poor; others came from the country. Some wanted a new life. All were unmarried; and all had a common task: find a husband, establish homes, procreate, and settle into this new land. The king sent them on their voyage with settlement expenses and a dowry to set up their homes in New France.
Across the Atlantic they courageously sailed. They left behind their homes, their families, and their country to begin a new adventure in a great wilderness. While the women sailed to this new land, the men eagerly awaited their arrival. Once they arrived, they were shuttled to temporary living quarters. The young women could talk to the men, ask questions, and even change their minds until a suitable match was found. Once a woman picked their mate, most were married within two weeks of accepting a proposal. Then a new life of rugged uncertainty began for these adventurous young women.
After marriage, all of the women were expected to care for their homes. Some women had to help manage their husbands’ businesses. Still, most had farms to maintain; life was anything but easy for the King’s daughters, yet they adapted
In many ways, life in the colonies gave woman more freedom. They could seek an education. If their husband died, they inherited half of his lands and businesses. Moving to this new land could also improve their social position since men greatly outnumbered the women. Although some returned to France, the majority stayed in the colonies.
These young, unmarried women were asked by their king to sail to a new land to domesticate the wild, marry frontiersmen, bare their children, and work to pave the way for settlements in a foreign land. These women, known as the Filles du Roi, or the King’s Daughters bravely stepped forward to tame not only the hearts of the men waiting for them but also the very wilderness that surrounded them.
For my grandmeres: Madeleine Chrétien, Claude Damise, Marie Deshays, Jeanne, Fressel, Jeanne Faucheaux, Marie-Anne Lagou, Francoise Moisan, Marguerite Peuvrier, Catherine Pillard, Claud Prat, and Jeanne Toussaint