The Bigamist’s Daughter

My 8G grandmother, Barbe Nepveu, was an illegitimate child after the fact.  Her parents, Jean Nepveu and Anne Leodet, married in Quebec during January of 1653.  Barbe was born later that year in December, and her younger sister arrived in 1655.  But then, everything blew apart.  Jean Nepveu was convicted of bigamy and exiled from Canada.  Barbe was no longer a legitimate child.

Barbe’s mother seems to have landed on her feet.  Anne married another man, Gilles Pinel, in 1657 and they stayed together until his death in January 1700 (she died in December of the same year.)  They had nine children together.  The bigamy incident seems as though it was hardly a blip in Anne’s life.  But what did it mean for Barbe?

My first gleanings of Barbe’s life came through the entries in biographic dictionaries compiled by Cyprian Tanguay and Rene Jette.   In these works, Barbe’s story is one of early marriage and many kids.  Indeed, she was thirteen when she married Nicolas Sylvestre in 1667. Over the course of thirty-two years, they had fifteen children.  Two of their children died as infants.  Barbe and Nicolas stayed together until his death in March 1729 (she died in April of the same year.)

All of this information seemed well and good except for the troubling youth of Barbe’s age at marriage.  I needed a reason for her to marry so young.  I began to imagine her life as fraught – and this vision clouded my interpretation of resources.

Quebec held a census in 1666, the year before Barbe left her childhood home.

Name Age Relationship
Gilles Pinel 31 colonist
Anne Ledet 35 his wife and widow of Jean Nepveu
Catherine Pinel 8 daughter
Francoise Pinel 6 daughter
Marie Magdeleine Pinel 4 daughter
Francois Xavier Pinel 2 son
Barbe Nepveu 12 daughter of Nepveu & Ledet
Suzanne Nepveu 10 daughter of Nepveu & Ledet

I didn’t like that Barbe and her sister were listed after the Pinel children in the household even though they were older.  Perhaps she and Suzanne were never really full members of the family.  I wondered if Barbe got along with her mother’s second husband, Gilles.  And I wondered if she resented the responsibilities of being the oldest daughter in a house that produced kids every two years like clockwork.  Barbe had a sister and five half-siblings by time she left her childhood home.  (For those of you who only count 4 half-siblings, your eyes are not deceiving you!  Elisabeth Ursale doesn’t appear in the census because it was taken during the winter and she was born in June.)

But then I thought that maybe I am reading too much into this, maybe I am judging this by my modern standards — and I decided to see how old Barbe’s sisters were when they married.

Name (in birth order) Age at Marriage
Barbe Nepveu 13
Suzanne Nepveu 15
Catherine Pinel 13
Marie Madeleine Pinel 18
Elisabeth Ursale Pinel 17
Anne Pinel 22

While the youngest daughters married latest in life, Barbe was not the only daughter to marry at thirteen.  Her half-sister, Catherine, was technically even a couple months younger than Barbe was when she wed.  This diminished the likelihood in my imagination that Barbe was a resented burden, married off early, from an uncaring family.

Then I made other discoveries that made me think that my earlier suspicions that Barbe  was pushed or “escaped” into a family of her own were unfounded.

  • Barbe’s step-father, Gilles Pinel, was recorded as present at the baptism of two of her children.
  • Barbe’s mother, Anne Leodet, was recorded as present at the baptism of the child Barbe named after her.
  • Barbe’s husband, Nicolas Sylvestre, served as godfather to Barbe’s parents’ son who shared his name.
  • Barbe’s husband, Nicolas Sylvestre, was recorded as present at three of Barbe’s siblings’ weddings (including his namesake’s nuptials.)
  • Barbe’s half-sister Anne Pinel, served as godmother to Barbe’s son.

These events seem to indicate that Barbe’s life was intricately entwined with the family of her childhood, even if she was only a “half” relation.

And the fact that Barbe served as a godmother to two children outside of her families by birth and by marriage diminished my concern that she was held accountable by her community for the sins of her father.

I am sure that new information will continue to send me back and forth between the “she was scorned, she was not scorned” interpretation of events.  But for now, I believe that Barbe did not have a large price to pay for the accident of her birth.  And I really like that Anne and Gilles named a son after Barbe’s husband.

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4 thoughts on “The Bigamist’s Daughter

  1. chmjr2 says:

    Early marriages I believe were not unusual for French Canadians. They make a large part of my family on my mother’s side. They seem to marry younger than the British side of my family. This at least is what I observed in my family.

  2. leslie frank says:

    Cool — I wish I had two lines this deep to compare!

  3. You have to wonder how often this happened in those days! I can’t imagine the distress!

  4. leslie frank says:

    I know! I can’t imagine that this was ever no big deal. But I can imagine that these early habitants were very pragmatic and resourceful people. They seem to be turning lemons to lemonade. 🙂

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