Skeletons in our closet

I have been keeping a few seventeenth century skeletons in the closet.  Not because I think that the stories are shameful, but out of respect for other people’s toes.  This hasn’t been much of a problem until recently when I have found myself holding back newly discovered information because I am pretending that certain stories don’t exist.  So, even though only one story really calls for sharing, I have decided to spill all the family “secrets” now in one fell swoop.  Afterall, if I am having a moment of honesty …

First skeleton.  Anne Leodet and Gilles Pinel were not married when they conceived their first daughter, Catherine.  They married September 9, 1657.  Catherine was born seven months later on April 10, 1658.  Customs about birth and marriage have a tendency to shift with time, place, and politics – I know that this would not have been a big deal in 18th century Maine (thanks Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Martha Ballard,) but it does seem unusual among the records that I have found in my seventeenth century Sillery family tree.

Second skeleton.  Anne Leodet and Gilles Pinel’s second child, (Barbe Nepveu’s half-sister), Francoise, was disabled.  I don’t know disabled how but she was one of six individuals that Tanguay referred to in his genealogical dictionary as an idiot/e.  Two-thirds of these disabled people died before they turned 14 years old.  None of them went on to be parents.  Francoise was born in 1660 and lived for forty-three years.  Of all her disabled peers, she lived the longest.

This is not the skeleton.

The skeleton involves the fact that Francoise Pinel had a baby, a stillborn son.

Anonymous. Pinel.  17 May 1682.  Drouin Collection.  Note Francoise Pinel is labelled "innocent" and the father is "inconnu."

Anonymous. Pinel, burial. 17 May 1682. Drouin Collection. Note Francoise Pinel is labelled “innocent” and the father is “inconnu.”

The year before she buried her son, Francoise was listed as living with her parents and some of her younger siblings in the 1681 census.  She was never made a godmother and she never married.  This set of facts makes me worry that there was a scandal, and probably sadness, in her story — but in the end I don’t know enough to say anything more than my ancestors dealt with disability and pregnancy outside the confines of marriage back in the seventeenth century.

Third skeleton.  Gilles Pinel’s brother, Pierre, was a criminal.  Around the time of the crime, Pierre lived in Guardarville with his wife and three very young children.  Gilles and Pierre’s mother, Madeleine Maraud, lived a few parcels down, with her second husband Rene Andre.

Excerpt from Marcel Trudel's Le Terrier Du Saint-Laurent En 1663 Guardarville map.

Excerpt from Marcel Trudel’s Le Terrier Du Saint-Laurent En 1663 Guardarville map.

In neighboring Sillery, Gilles was raising five very young children and two step children, with his wife, Anne Leodet.  Also in Sillery, on the way to Gilles’ home for Pierre, were the homesteads of Mathurin Trut and Jean Hayot.  In Fall 1668, Pierre was charged and convicted of raping these habitants’ ten-year-old daughters.

The penalty was steep – and it was upheld in the face of appeal.  Pierre was charged a fine of 30 livres to be split equally between the victims and the poor at the Hotel Dieu.  Pierre’s head was shaved and he was whipped until blood ran in the public square.  He was also exiled for nine years.

The repercussions of Pierre’s actions seem to be wide ranging for his relatives.  His wife and children were made destitute.  Charlotte had to appeal to the Supreme Council to have some cooking pots and bedding returned to her.  She was last seen in the records in 1674 when she serves as a godmother to Jean Chasselin in Quebec and was never heard from again.  Pierre’s mother died by November 12, 1669.  And Gilles and Anne’s fertility pattern changed.  They had kids in 1658, 1660, 1662, 1664, 1666, 1669, 1971, 1673, 1675: basically they had a child every two years, but switched from even-numbered years to odd-numbered years during the time of Pierre’s crime and conviction.  (Though their eldest daughter also married during this period, so there could have been multiple stresses on the couple.)

But the reason I wanted to share this skeleton, was less to point out the crime and its repercussions than to point out the community.  The victims of the crime do not appear to have been stigmatized.  They went on to marry, following the customs of their era, at 13 and 15, within 5 years of the crime.  And it appears, that my Sillery ancestors reached out to help legitimate these young girls as they moved forward with life.

When I was following the godparents, I noticed a pattern.  Within a year or so of a girl’s marriage, she was often asked by a member of her community to serve as a godparent.  This pattern was replicated enough that it appears to me to be a rite of passage.  And in the story of this rape and its aftermath, the community glue of godparenting can be seen again.  In 1671, Anne Leodet and Gilles Pinel asked one of Pierre’s victims to serve as the godmother to Anne’s namesake baby.  A couple of years earlier, Barbe Nepveu and Nicolas Sylvestre reached out to the mother of the other victim (the victim who would not marry until 1673) to serve as godmother to their first child.  It seems to me, that my Sillery ancestors were using community conventions to rebuild relationships after a horrendous crime.


I have compiled this post mostly from the secondary sources listed below.  My guess is that the court records still exist.  I would love to read them some day.  If you happen to have a copy and are willing to share, I would be grateful for the opportunity to read about Pierre’s crime myself!


PRHD indexes

Genforum posting by Janet Manseau 3 Oct 2009

Nos Origines listings 

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4 thoughts on “Skeletons in our closet

  1. chmjr2 says:

    Every family has these stories. We must choose if we want to share them or not. However if we do not tell these stories our family history is incomplete and not completely accurate. With more and more records being made available and easier to find someone else will tell the story in due time.

    • Nothing will be secret for much longer! I feel for the generations that come after us that have little left to discover. And I do think that we are all better served by a more complete telling of our stories — otherwise we get too wound up in being the perfect people we should be and not the perfectly acceptable people we are.

  2. I agree, everyone has skeletons. Yours are pretty interesting.

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