Good V. Bad Bigamy

Bigamy is always bad when found on Facebook.  But what about when you discover it on Ancestry?

There are two bigamists in my family tree.  The easily discovered, Pierre Pichet, and the shadowy, Jean Nepveu.

Poor Catherine descended from two bigamists: her paternal grandfather, Pierre Pichet, and her maternal great grandfather, Jean Nepveu.  Photo credit: screen shot of my Ancestry.com family tree.

Poor Catherine Pichet descended from two bigamists: her paternal grandfather, Pierre Pichet, and her maternal, maternal great grandfather, Jean Nepveu. Photo credit: my Ancestry.com family tree screen shot.

Pierre Pichet came to Canada in 1662 with the intention to settle in and send for Marie LaFebvre, the wife he left behind.  All was going according to plan until his brother Louis sent him a letter and revealed that his wife had died.  Thinking his first life over, Pierre moved to build a second one.  He arranged a marriage with fille du roi Catherine Durand in 1665.  Six years and three kids later, a newly arrived countryman insisted that Marie was not dead.

Pierre has a reputation as a “good bigamist” – and I believe that is because of what happened next.  He ran off to the local bishop to ask for advice.  The bishop said he was going to France soon and would check the story out for him.  In time, when Pierre learned that his first wife was indeed alive, he abandoned his second family, sailed for France, and brought Lefebvre back with him.

Less is known about Jean Nepveu.  The gist of his story goes like this:  In 1645, Jean arranged to go to Canada.  In 1653, he arranged to marry fille du marier, Anne Ledet.  They had two daughters before he was returned to France in 1656 or 1657. Jean’s crime is revealed by the fact that Anne was allowed to remarry after he left.  In a seventeenth century Catholic country, “until death do we part” was taken seriously.  There was no other way out of a legitimate marriage contract.  Jean was not dead, so the marriage contract must have been invalidated.

When I think of bigamy, I think of tv dramas and the betrayal of someone living multiple lives – perhaps a traveling salesman with families in two or three of the cities he frequents.   But in looking for bigamy on Facebook and Ancestry, the crime appears much more mundane.  In fact, bigamy seems like an act of hope for a better future committed by people who don’t end their previous relationships officially because they are either too broke or lazy (Facebook) or have no legitimate path to take (Ancestry.)

Except in the case of Pierre Pichet where misinformation set him up for a major oopsie-daisie.

Resources:

  • Rene Jette, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec, des origines à 1730. Montréal, Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1983.
  • Peter J. Gagne, King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: the Filles du Roi, 1663-1673, Quinton Publications, 2001.
  • Peter J. Gagne, Before the King’s Daughters: The Filles a Marrier, 1634-1662, Quinton Publications, 2002.
  • Time spent on Ancestry looking at other people’s family trees.
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3 thoughts on “Good V. Bad Bigamy

  1. I’m wondering how common bigamy was in the days when it was difficult to get caught because there was no internet or cell phones.

  2. leslie frank says:

    Good to hear from you! There was certainly a window of opportunity in 17th century for the aspiring bigamist — though I doubt few traveled to New France with that intention in mind. A couple of other cases are listed on the web: Michel Chauvin dit Saint-Suzanne and Pierre Bissonnet. But I think bigamy was tricky to pull off — even in the absence of our speedy technology — many French migrants to Quebec arrived from the same few places in France. You were bound to run into someone you knew, and who knew of you, sooner or later. 🙂

  3. jenorv says:

    Life is never as easy in reality as it is in fiction. Sometimes you find out things that on the surface appear cut and dried, but have layers and layers to them. He made the best decisions he could with what he thought was the truth.

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