Many have heard the story of the King’s Daughters, filles du roi. Between 1663 and 1673, through a government-funded program, Louis XIV of France sent almost 800 single women to the colonies in North America. Since the new lands lacked female companionship, the male immigrants had difficulty finding a wife and starting a family. The purpose of this endeavor was to increase the population and to help establish the early settlements.
Still, while the King’s Daughters have maintained popularity, often their counterparts, the Marriageable Girls, filles a marier, have been overlooked. Nevertheless, these young women that came before the King’s Daughters bravely conquered their fears as they immigrated to an unknown world.
So, who were these ladies? The filles a marier were the girls and women that immigrated to New France between 1636-1662. Most of the women were poor, and organizations recruited them from rural areas, especially from La Rochelle and the northern territories of France. Some churches and companies sponsored the Marriageable Girls to migrate to the colonies. Most came to marry, and many signed a work contract that they had to fulfill before they could marry.
Often, life in France offered little hope for women. Arranged marriages prevailed, and most women did not have a say in the matter of matrimony, for parental consent was required for women under the age of twenty-five. For poor families that could not offer a dowry, marriage opportunities for the women were bleak. In New France, a lack of a dowry did not hinder women from marrying. Also, women could choose their husbands, and they had the choice to change their minds before they married if they did not feel comfortable with the match. Some even returned to France.
While the king sponsored the filles du roi, the Marriageable Girls did not participate in a large organized faction. Most of the women traveled alone, and a small percentage came to join other family members that had already settled in New France.
Most of the women that traveled to the new world were peasants and daughters of farmers. A few came from the French towns and were the daughters of craftsmen and servants; a smaller circle were the daughters of the businessman, civil servants, military personnel, and even minor nobility. Most of the women were in their early twenties, and many had lost at least one parent. Once they arrived, most stayed within the religious communities until marriage was arranged. A few lived with the colonists of New France.
Most came with the hope of a better life. However, their journey was not an easy one. Crossing the Atlantic was treacherous, and about ten percent of the crew and passengers died on these voyages. Passengers and crew faced sickness and disease, and within the close quarters, infections rapidly spread. Without proper medical care, treatment, and care was extremely limited.
Once they arrived, life in the colonies also proved to be complicated. The settlers faced the daily threats of the Iroquois. They had to deal with severe winters and the difficult life of farming. Smallpox epidemics found its way into the colonies, and the woman often faced difficult and dangerous complications with childbirth.
Despite the struggles, the women stayed and overcame the challenges. The remarkable courage of these women helped build the colonies. They faced hardship and endured unimaginable trials as they dominated the wilderness and cared for their homes and families. With quiet resolve, strength, and determination, the Marriageable Girls conquered these new lands, and they influenced generations of women to take charge of their own lives and to find hope even in times of misfortune and adversity.
Note: As I continue to research my family tree, I will add the name of my great grandmothers that were the early settlers and filles a marier.
- Chardin, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardi, and The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. “Woman Peeling Turnips.” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2019, Alte Pinakothek, Germany, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-Baptiste_Sim%C3%A9on_Chardin_017.jpg.
- “Founding of Ville-Marie.” Canada’s History – Canada’s History, Hudson Bay Company History Foundation, 17 May 2017, http://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/french-canada/founding-of-ville-marie.
- Gagné Peter J. Before the King’s Daughters: The Filles à Marier, 1634-1662. Quintin Publications, 2002.
- “New France.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, 2020, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/new-france.
- Sommerville, Suzanne Boivin, and Tricia Wright. “MSS-069-Filles à Marier Maple Stars and Stripes.” Maple Stars and Stripes, 1 Jan. 2018, maplestarsandstripes.com/shownotes/mss-069-filles-marier/.