Almost Forgotten: The Marriageable Girls

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.

All for the King

This great grandmother, Marie Jeanne Toussaint, blazed a new trail in the New World, and her name survived throughout the generations as one of the founding mothers of North America.

The last known member of her family line, this King’s Daughter, came to New France alone. Her origins, her parents, and even her exact age vanished from history. Still, this great grandmother, Marie Jeanne Toussaint, blazed a new trail in the New World, and her name survived throughout the generations as one of the founding mothers of North America.

While little information on this 9th great grandmother existed, her impact on North America could not be forgotten. My grandmother, along with around 800 “sisters,” traveled to the French colonies to help balance gender inequality. To enhance the population in New France, King Louis XIV sent the King’s Daughters, the Filles du Roi, to the wilderness frontier between 1663 and 1773.

Once they arrived, most married the French immigrants and helped settle the king’s lands. The king also gave the women a dowry and a trousseau to help them establish their homes. Once they landed, they were provided with housing until they married. During their stay at their temporary quarters, the nuns taught them the necessary skills required to face the challenges of this strange new world. Most were not prepared or suited for the demanding lifestyle that awaited them. Yet, they stayed, and boldly met the challenges set before them.

Many of the women married within a few months after a suitable marriage was arranged. Fulfilling the king’s hopes, a decade later, the French colonies doubled in size. These women helped populate North America, for their descendants spread across this continent, and currently, most French Canadians have descended from at least one of the King’s Daughters.

Historically, these voyages often took as long as two to three months, and the young women faced hardships while traveling across the Atlantic Ocean. Some perished on their journey, and others suffered from malnutrition and disease. Although some records were lost, Jeanne arrived in Quebec in 1670, and historians believed she was about eighteen years old. That year eighty-seven women immigrated to the continent.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Jeanne did not marry right away. Instead, she contracted for one year of service with a native of Quebec, Madeleine de Chavigny, at Cap-de-la-Madeleine.

Jeanne’s future husband, Noel Carpentier, arrived in 1665 and worked as a servant for a time. On 22 Jun 1669, Noel accepted about 35 acres of land from Nicholas Crevier dit Belleviue, and a few years later, he decided to settle down and start a family.

About 1672, Noel Carpentier and Jeanne Toussaint married in Cap-de-la-Madeleine. While her paper trail grew cold, Jeanne helped her family thrive in the new land. While living in this town, the couple had two children, Marie Madeleine (1673), and Marie Jeanne (25 Nov 1676). Around 1678, the family moved to Quebec. Their son, Etienne was born in 1678.

Sometime after the birth of their son, the family moved again to Champlain. The family settled in this town and remained in this settlement. The couple had seven more children, Medard (2 Aug 1681), Marie Marguerite (4 Mar 1684), Marie Antoinette (11 Jan 1686), Marie Therese (3 Jul 1689), Marie Celeste Anne (18 Jun 1691), Jacques (14 Apr 1694), and Noel (5 Nov 1703).

According to the 1681 Census, the family was listed twice, in Cap-de-la-Madeleine and Champlain. Most genealogists and historians believed the couple owned land in both places. The information stated the couple held nine head of cattle and about 30 acres of land.

Tragedy did strike the family, for the census did not list Jacques, and many believed he died as a child. Years later, on the 5 Nov 1703, Noel and Jeanne lost their oldest daughter, Marie Madeleine, in Champlain. 

Five years later, on 11 Dec 1708, Jeanne’s last will and testament were notarized by Normandin. Five days later, she died, and on the 17 Dec 1708, she was buried in Champlain. She was about fifty-two years old.

Noel lived until he was eighty-five years old. He died 26 Jan 1728, and he was buried next to Jeanne. Four of their children settled at Ile-Dupas; two children moved to Becancour, one daughter, Marie Jeanne, became a nun at Notre Dame in Montreal. She took the name Sister Sainte-Genevieve. The rest of their children stayed in their original parish.  

Life as a King’s Daughter required strength and courage to survive the rugged wilderness of the French Colonies. These women not only coped with frontier life but also raised children amidst all their duties. They conquered their surroundings and left a legacy for their children and grandchildren. What a revelation and an honor to know that the women in my family were resilient, valiant, and capable, even when faced with enormous obstacles and reservations.

Painting by The Arrival of the French Girls at Quebec, 1667. Watercolour by Charles William Jefferys.

Sources

  • Gagné Peter J. King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: the Filles Du Roi, 1663-1673. Quintin.
  • Gale Research. U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010, search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7486.
  • Genealogical Research Library, Ontario, Canada. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005, search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7920.
  • Laforest, Thomas John., and Jeffrey M. LaRochelle. Our French-Canadian Ancestors. LISI Press, 1989.
  • PRDH, Drouin Institute, http://www.prdh-igd.com.
  • “Quebec, Genealogical Dictionary of Canadian Families (Tanguay Collection), 1608-1890.” 1920 Census | 1920 US Federal Census Records | Ancestry.com, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011, search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2177.
  • Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968. Online Publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.Original Data – Gabriel Drouin, Comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.Original Data: Gabriel Drouin, Comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1091.