The Kings’ Daughters: They came to populate New France*

November 21, 2018

As she boarded the great ship Phoénix de Flessingue in May 1663, Catherine Barré knew she would never return to her hometown of La Rochelle, France.

Did she worry about the ship sinking? Would pirates attack during the six-week journey overseas? What kind of life did she imagine might be waiting for her in New France? How could she agree to marry a man, Maurice Rivet, sight unseen? Did she wonder what their life raising a family together might be like?

I am among Catherine’s 12th generation descendants from my father’s side. Thinking about her courage and resiliency gives me strength, even as I notice myself sharing her impulsive faith-led need to act, sometimes with less information than is desirable.

Despite that flaw, Catherine’s life seems to have worked out, with a few major hiccups.

Escape to New France

Her first hiccup made her choose to be a pawn in King Louis X1V’s scheme to populate New France. In exchange for her agreement to marry and raise a family, she received 10 pounds for her own use, 30 pounds for clothing and grooming paraphernalia and free passage overseas at a cost of 60 pounds.[1]

Today, she’s known as a “King’s Daughter.” More than 800 women travelled to New France during the decade beginning in 1663.

Catherine was among the first women who chose to travel to New France under the sponsorship of her king, but 262 other women made similar choices in the previous three decades. The private “Company of 100 Associates” sponsored them.

Why did these women choose to leave everything they knew in France? We don’t know.

In Catherine’s case, however, it seems likely that she faced persecution due to her religion. Abjuration records place her among thirteen Protestants sent to New France from La Rochelle.[2]

Huguenot Persecution

During this period, the practice of Protestantism by people called the Huguenots was discouraged in France, although not yet illegal. The peace set up by King Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes became eroded over time until his grandson King Louis XIV revoked it in 1685, removing religious freedom entirely. Bishops in New France begged French Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert to expel the Protestants from the colony as well, but he wouldn’t do it. Many Huguenots were literate craftsmen and business owners who were needed in New France. Also, sending Huguenots overseas eliminated their influence in France. There were no regulations against Huguenot worship in New France until 1676.

Whatever the reason for her departure from France, the daughter of Jean Barré and Marie Epy arrived in Quebec City on June 30, 1663, aboard the Phoénix.

How to Select a Suitor?

She may have had to take a boat ride down the St. Lawrence, stopping from town to town to meet eligible bachelors,[3] although since she was already betrothed, that may not have been necessary. It sounds like a bizarre 15th-century version of speed-dating.

In addition to eventually renouncing her religion, Catherine also renounced the initial man she chose to wed. Or perhaps he renounced her, although that is less likely. Whichever the case, Duquet annulled the contract between Catherine and Maurice Rivet on November 17, 1664.[4]

Vachon wrote a contract between Catherine and Mathurin Chaillé on December 30, 1664.[5]

Marriage Contracts Prior to the Wedding

During this period, all couples signed marriage contracts prior to their church weddings, as Suzanne Boivin Sommerville pointed out in her comment about this story here. She wrote:

“A marriage contract is a legal _promise_ to marry as soon as possible in the Holy, Roman, and Apostolic Catholic Church. It was not the sacrament and legal act of marriage. It could be, and often was, annulled before any religious rite took place. Some women annulled more than one contract before settling on a husband…prospective spouses were the ones to cancel the contract, even at the advice of witnesses or family, not the Church.”[6]

Catherin married Mathurin Chaillé on January 11, 1665 “as soon as could be allowed after the Seasons of Advent and Christmas” wrote Boivin Sommerville.

Boivin Sommerville has prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and several blog posts about the culture and norms in early New France on the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan website. Her work is well-worth-reading.

Catherine and Mathurin had their first child, a son nine months after their wedding.

Jean Barré Chaillé

My direct relative was their fourth child, Jean Barré Chaillé. He came along nine years later in 1674. By then the family lived in Sillery after being evicted from their farm on the seigneurie of Beauport.[7]

The couple had six children in total. One son died at 10 years old, but the rest married and had families of their own.

Three of the families lived in Portneuf near their parents, but my ancestor Jean and his brother Henri moved to Montreal. I like to imagine Catherine and her husband Mathurin visiting them on occasion, but haven’t yet found evidence of that.

Summer Deaths

Both Catherine and her husband Mathurin died within a week of each other in the summer of 1707. She was 63 years old. There were record-breaking heatwaves in England and France in July[8], when the couple died, so I wonder if something similar happened in Quebec to cause their deaths?

NOTE:

*I have updated this story based on comments by Suzanne Boivin Sommerville, who has prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and several blog posts about the culture and norms in early New France on the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan website. Boivin Sommerville made several points about my errors in her wonderfully-detailed comment about my story here. Yes, Suzanne, you’re right, the initial version of this story didn’t make the difference between a marriage contract and a legal marriage clear, even though I do understand that there was a difference and that women had the right to cancel contracts they made prior to meeting their intended betrothed. Also, there is no indication of why she chose not to marry Rivet. I apologize that it’s taken me so long to update the piece as you so rightly suggested.

Footnotes

[1] Gousse, S., & Wien, T. (n.d.). Filles du Roi. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/filles-du-roi/ on July 18, 2018.

[2] Dawson, Nelson-M. “The “Filles Du Roy” Sent to New France: Protestant, Prostitute or Both?” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 16, no. 1 (1989): 55-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41298906, p64.

[3] Most French Canadians are descended from these 800 women | CBC Canada 2017. (2017, March 30). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/2017/canadathestoryofus/most-french-canadians-are-descended-from-these-800-women-1.4029699 on July 18, 2018.

[4] Inventaire des contrats de mariage du Régime français conservés aux Archives judiciaires de Québec, Volume 1, Roy, Pierre-Georges, 1870-1953 Québec, 1937-1938, p85.

[5]Dee, E. (n.d.). The Families of Beauport – The Chailles. Retrieved from http://www.oocities.org/weallcamefromsomewhere/Beauport/chaille_family.html on July 18, 2018.

[6] Boivin Sommerville, Suzanne, comments about this story here. Boivin Sommerville has prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and several blog posts about the culture and norms in early New France on the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan website.

[7] Dee, ibid.

[8] Maruske, James. A Chronological Listing of Early Weather Events retrieved from https://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/weather1.pdf, on 2018.

 

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Tracey Arial

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