Did French Canadians get married younger than other folks? After my post that made a big deal of Barbe Nepveu’s age at marriage (13!), chmjr2 took the time to comment anecdotally that the French Canadians married younger than the British in his family. Well, I can’t quite speak directly to this observation – but I did find some numbers that helped me put Barbe’s marriage age in context.
Thanks to Cangenealogy.com I found the 1666 census and a number of statistical charts transcribed and posted by Hugh Armstrong. I was particularly curious about Table III – Age in Relation to Conjugal Relations. And it dawned on me that I could recreate that table specifically for Sillery where Barbe, then 12, lived with her family.
Now numbers are not my strong suit, but this is what I came up with….
And this is what I learned….
1. Barbe’s community was very small. There were about 135 people at Sillery in 1666. Barbe was the only 12 year-old girl living there. Two 12 year-old boys, three 11 year-old girls, and one 13 year-old girl were the closest age peers she had in her entire community. By contrast, I graduated high school in a class of 600.
2. Children under 10 made up over 1/3 of the population in 1666. My 12-year-old self is jealous of Barbe’s babysitting opportunities.
3. Very few old people lived in Sillery. There was only one man older than 50. He was 65. The oldest woman in Sillery was in her mid-forties. She was, um, my age.
4. Despite Sillery’s low numbers of people over 50, older folks made up about 5% of the New France population. The 50+ crowd clustered in the largest communities of the colony such as Quebec, Beaupre, Trois-Rivieres, and Montreal. So it wasn’t that women didn’t survive their 40s in 1666 New France, they just didn’t do it in Sillery.
5. Men outnumbered women 2:1 in New France. And these numbers don’t even include the Jesuits or royal troops!
6. Marriage rates for women were higher in Sillery than in the Province of Quebec in general. Every woman over the age of 20 in Sillery was married. 100%. Even the three widows who stayed on in Sillery after their spouses died had married new partners. This has me imagining Sillery’s women as a band of pirates cheerfully chanting, “har, har, har, a married life is the life for me!” as they set out the next meal with a passel of kids at their feet.
7. Women married younger than men. The legal age of marriage was 12 for girls and 14 for boys (thanks Patricia!) – but only the girls got married before they turned 20. Different era, different marriage strategies. And even though my pre-tween daughter is unlikely to follow in her 10G grandmother’s footsteps and marry at thirteen, the question remains: was Barbe’s choice typical for Sillery in the seventeenth century?
8. Yes. Thirteen was a common age for marriage in Sillery. The numbers in the chart above actually overstate the single status of the young women. Three of the 11-15 year olds were 11 and too young to marry. Only the 12, 13, and 15 year-olds had any choice to make.
The numbers in the chart above also understate the prevalence of early marriage. Looking at the age of the young women and the age of their (oldest) child in the census returns, we find that half of these 16-20 year old women married in their late teens.
- Marie Anne De la Porte, 20; no child
- Jeanne Ripoche, 20; infant
- Genevieve Gandin, 19; no child
But the remainder (plus one older woman) married at about 13.
- Jacqueline Pain, 15; son, 1 year
- Jeanne Masse, 17; daughter, 2 years
- Genevieve Mezeray, 17; son, 2 years
- Francoise Le Pelletier, 23; son, 8 years
I didn’t even consider marriage until I was in my late 20s. It took me that long to find my love. In Barbe’s day and age, I would have been very atypical, or male. And given the marriage rates for 21-30 year-old men in 1666, I would have been a rather lucky man at that.