Tag Archives: history

Translation Challenge: What does this say?

This 1663 Jesuit baptismal record shows Europeans acting as godparents to native children at the reserve at Sillery.  It is an unusual record in that most Jesuit baptismal records don’t record multiple baptisms in one entry.  I am having difficulty with it because of the thick ink, the old Latin, and the obscurity of the native names.  Anyone see this as a challenge and want to take a peek?

April 20th, 1663 baptism record at Sillery.  Source: familysearch.org

1663 baptism records at Sillery. Source: familysearch.org

I am primarily interested in the April 20 entry at the bottom, but have included three others for context and handwriting clues.  The first, second, and final (April 20) record are all in Father Bailloquet’s writing.  Entry 3 is in the very neat hand of Henri Nouvel.

If you don’t know Latin, googletranslate helps a lot!

April 20, 1663 baptism at Sillery.  Source: familysearch.org

April 20, 1663 baptism at Sillery. Source: familysearch.org

Line by line, this is what I think I see.  (Underlines mean word left out.  Parentheses mean my best guess at a native name.)

  1. I Father Bailloquet Society of Jesuits ______ baptize
  2. _____  ______  Sillery ______  ______ infant _____  ______  ______
  3. first child of mother Nicola (Nosnisaksa) and _____  of father (Piksachins)
  4. _____  ______  _____  (Nosnisaksa) born Gropius (Srxchelin)
  5. 3rd ______  born of mother Martina (Nigoty) and father ______ (Nikazhkasnt)
  6. ______  ______  Abenaki.  Stephen Brantigni ______ ______  ______  Stephen
  7. Godmother Trud 2nd & 3rd.  ______ Nicolas.

I believe that this is the baptismal record of three natives at Sillery.  Some believe it might be the baptism record of the founding Boisvert ancestor for whom no baptismal record has ever been found.  (Etienne Boisvert went by a dit name rather than his father’s name, not unusual in the era.)  In this understanding, the child in this record is later orphaned and raised by his godfather Etienne Denevers (called Brantigni here) as his own son.

What do you think?

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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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Sainte Marguerite Chapel

Sometimes a building is worth a thousand words.  Ste. Marguerite’s chapel is like that for me.  I bumped into it accidentally, while looking into the lives of Gilles Pinel and his father, Nicolas.  Ste. Marguerite is more than the place were Nicolas Pinel and Madeleine Maraud married on September 29th, 1630 and baptized their sons in 1631, 1635, and 1636, it is an icon of the power struggles of a changing Europe.

Ste. Marguerite Chapel. La Rochelle, France.

Ste. Marguerite Chapel. La Rochelle, France.

Ste. Marguerite started as a convent in La Rochelle in the twelfth century and its walls witnessed the complicated history of the Protestant Reformation, Catholic persistence, and political upheaval that came several centuries later.  During the 16th century, political and religious concerns combined to fracture the Christian tradition of Western Europe.  La Rochelle became an early stronghold of Protestant thought, often Calvinist, in the 1530s.

Unsurprisingly, the convent of Ste. Marguerite saw a decline in its population of sisters as the Protestant Reformation made inroads into La Rochelle’s social fabric.  In 1531, there were eleven sisters.  By 1557, there were only five remaining.  In 1560, La Rochelle saw religious riots.  In 1568, La Rochelle became a Huguenot (French Protestant) stronghold.  The White Sisters of Ste. Marguerite’s numbers shrunk even farther.  In 1572, two sisters remained.  In 1573, only one sister was left.

But despite the declining numbers (and maybe because of its location in the north central section of La Rochelle – away from waterfronts,) Ste. Marguerite became a center for both Protestant and Catholic life.  In 1568 Huguenot leaders demolished most of the Catholic parish churches, and then repurposed the church stones to fortify La Rochelle’s walls.  This decline in sacred space gave greater importance to Ste. Marguerite’s remaining chapel – which served members of both Catholic and Protestant faiths as a site for both baptisms and marriages from the late 1500s until 1630. The chapel returned to single faith use when Cardinal Richelieu made a play to consolidate royal power for Louis XIIIth and regained Catholic control over La Rochelle in 1627-28.

After 1630, the Ste. Marguerite chapel served an exclusively Catholic clientele again. Nicolas Pinel and Madeleine Maraud’s marriage at the Ste. Marguerite chapel reminded me that the sixteenth and seventeen centuries were full of religious and political turmoil.

The Pinel family’s connection to the chapel marked the beginning of unique period in the convent chapel’s history. It had been 60 years since it served only one faith — and Ste. Marguerite’s role as a center for Catholic life celebrations would only last a short while.   By the 1660s, Catholic churches were rebuilt in LaRochelle.  The convent chapel at Ste. Marguerite no longer celebrated life events as the focus of Catholic religious life returned to parish churches  once again.

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Follow the Godparents!

Modern Sillery.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Modern Sillery. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few of us pay attention to the extra folks in the records we find of our ancestors — after all, we are out for blood and those people don’t have it.  But I started to keep track of the godparents for my seventeenth century Quebec relatives and now I know their world a little bit better for my efforts.

When my parents assigned me godparents, they drew from their own siblings.  This was not the dominant practice among my seventeenth century Canadian ancestors.* Sure, Barbe Nepveu called on her mother, step-father, and half-siblings to serve as godparents – but in 15 births and 30 godparents, she only drew on her family of origin 5 times.  She chose from her own children only twice.  The remainder of the time, she and her husband Nicolas Sylvestre drew godparents from their community.  This was the common practice of their times from what I can see.  Few called on blood relatives to serve as godparents.  Anne Leodet had a child serve as a godparent only once.  Anne Hayot and Catherine Durand never did.  The majority of godparents came from the community.

Paying attention to the godparents, I have learned a bit about who my ancestors knew and who they relied on.  Most often an individual showed up as a godparent just once, but some families showed up repeatedly in the records.  This can indicate a lifetime friendship.  For example, Barbe Nepveu turned to Elisabeth Cretel as a godmother in 1681 and to her son Etienne Langlois, as a godfather in 1699.  She turned to Jean Dubucq as a godfather in 1681; to his wife, Francoise Larchevesque, as a godmother in 1682; and to their son, Romain (who later married her half-sister, Anne), in 1690.  In one final example, Barbe turned to Marie Damois as a godmother in 1671, and later to her (Faucher) daughters: Marie Madeleine (1690), Elisabeth (1697), and Genevieve (1699.)  Marie Madeleine Faucher also married Barbe’s half-brother Guillaume in 1692.  Clearly, the Langlois, Dubucqs, and Faucher were long-term, close family friends.**

I also learned that my earliest ancestors had intermittent relationships with local elites.  Anne Leodet called upon the Legardeur De Repentigny family as godparents for her eldest daughters of both her marriages.  These godparents included Charles De Repentigny who counted Governor of Trois Rivieres, Communauté des Habitants membership, and St. Michel Cove (near Sillery) ownership amongst his accomplishments.  Anne also used his daughter and his niece Marie Madeleine (her father was a director of the Communauté des Habitants and an admiral of the fleet, her husband had been Champlain’s interpreter and was comptrollergeneral of the Communauté des Habitants – he was also famous enough to be known by one name like Madonna or Cher.)  Anne Leodet and Gilles Pinel also called on the young son of the seigneur of Sillery, Francois Ruette, to serve as godparent to the family.  Catherine Durand and Pierre Piche called upon the Robineau family to serve as godparents, they held the title to the Barony of Portneuf.  Finally, Anne Hayot and Etienne Denevers called upon Jaqueline Potel, the wife of the seigneur of Dombourg (soon to be Neuville), where most of these families would wind up living after 1680.

When I started looking at the godparents in my family’s records, I thought little of their importance.  I assumed that the repeating family names I saw amongst my ancestors were a homage to favored siblings — but as I paid attention I figured out that the fact that both the Pinel and Sylvestre families had Annes, Elisabeths, Francoises, Francoises, Jeans, and Marie Madeleines didn’t reflect sibling love as much as naming conventions. Look at the baptism charts for Anne Leodet and her daughter Barbe Nepveu below and you will see it was common to name a child after its godparent.



18 of 24 children were their godparent’s namesake.*** The majority of exceptions are explained either by the fact that they were their parent’s namesake or that they had siblings serving as godparents.  Only Barbe’s name appears unexplained – at least until you learn that her godmother, a social elite, had a daughter named Barbe.  At the time of the baptism, Anne had only been in New France for about a year.  She had arrived as a fille a marier (a precursor to the filles du roi, she came to the new world as a single woman willing to marry), not as a woman of status or means.  Perhaps Anne thought it would be impolite to name her daughter after an established member of the local elite, and chose to honor the godparent by using the name of her daughter instead. The Denevers and the Pichets, who also asked social superiors to serve as godparents at some point in time, didn’t give their children the godparent’s name when using elite families either.

Lastly, following the godparents sometimes provided a potential glimpse into how individuals felt about their world.  Take for example, the naming patterns of Anne Leodet and Catherine Durand.  You might remember that they both had the misfortune to marry bigamists.  Anne’s first husband was exiled from Canada; Catherine’s husband returned to her after his first wife died.  In looking at their naming practices two visions emerge.  Anne’s life seems to have picked up and continued without skipping a beat.  She continues to bear children and name them after their godparents with her second husband — hardly missing a year of fertility.  Perhaps it was the number of social elites she knew, perhaps it was the steadiness of her fertility — but her naming practices never shifted.  She always (except the year she named a daughter after herself), made her child the namesake of its godparent.

Catherine Durand’s life, however, took a different course.  After her marriage was reinstated, she continued her godparent namesake practices.  But it looks like her life after her marriage’s rehabilitation was unsteady.  There are years of missing births.

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 10.33.31 AM

Catherine has her original husband, but her luck has changed — and I wonder if her attitude soured with it.  Although her first 5 children follow the godparent naming practices, her last three do not.  I wonder if she began to feel cut off from her husband, her God, or her community.

Of course, I know nothing about the reality of this — but following the godparents helps me bring a little more fact into my imaginings of what seventeenth century life for these ancestors might have been like.


*  I am keeping track of records by the mother’s name since Anne Leodet had two husbands.  I was able to find records for the children of Anne Leodet and Jean Nepveu/Gilles Pinel, Barbe Nepveu and Nicolas Sylvestre, Anne Hayot and Etienne Denevers, and Catherine Durand and Pierre Pichet.

**In the Pinel family, they drew on Guillaume Constantineau as a godparent in 1669, later their children would marry in 1683, 1687, 1695, and 1699.

*** I removed the two children without an existing baptismal records from the count.

Below is the chart I was able to do for Anne Hayot and Etienne Denevers.


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Baby Naming

Barbe and Suzanne always stood apart in the Pinel family. They were children of another man, the one Anne had married before she married Gilles in 1657.

Barbe and Suzanne’s names have always been a bit of a mystery to me. From researching church records, I gained a sense that their names didn’t carry the same New France flavor as their half siblings’. And it turns out that my impression wasn’t unfounded. This site  (in French) offers a list of the most popular names in seventeenth century Canada.

Barbe and Suzanne’s names are not on the list but almost all of their Pinel siblings’ names do appear: Catherine (6th), Francoise (8th), Marie Madeleine (3rd), Francois Xavier (Francois was 4th), Anne (5th), Nicolas (9th), and Jean (2nd). Only two Pinel children, Elisabeth Ursale and Guillaume, were given names that were not among the top ten names in popularity for their time and location.

But data on name popularity doesn’t end there. The PRDH offers a page explaining naming conventions in New France. Their data covers both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and therefore is not as precise. However, in addition to providing a list of the top 25 names for both sexes, they offer a widget in the section on frequent first names that will tell you the popularity of any name in old Quebec prior to 1800. Through the PRDH we can learn the rank of the less popular names Anne Ledet gave to her children: Elisabeth (30th), Guillaume (59th), Suzanne (66th), and Barbe (136th.) The Nepveu children lose again….

So why were Barbe and Suzanne given such rare names when their half-siblings got more ordinary ones.

Were Barbe and Suzanne French names that lost favor among parents the longer they stayed in the new world — like the Jennifers and Michelles of the 1980s we rarely see in the 2010s. Were Barbe and Suzanne evidence of a divide between Anne’s dreamy and reckless youth, when a girl could pack up and move to a new country and reinvent herself, and her matron years, cowed to convention after the conviction of her first husband for bigamy. Or does the switch simply indicate different choices made by one woman in compromise with the varied taste of two different men.

Definitive answers are going to be impossible to discover.  So, to make this easier for any descendent that might come along 10 generations from now who is curious about my naming preferences, my husband and I chose names that were purposely neither among the most popular nor the most obscure, had familial meaning, and a nice ring to them.

What naming strategies did you use for your children – and are your naming strategies common in your family tree?

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Numbers, Numbers, Numbers!

Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

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….

Ages in Relation to Conjugal Condition, 1666 Sillery. (Neither Jesuits or royal troops are included)

Ages in Relation to Conjugal Condition, 1666 Sillery. (Neither Jesuits or royal troops are included)

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.

Conjugal Condition of People over 50 in the Province of Quebec, 1666

Conjugal Condition of People over 50 in the Province of Quebec, 1666

       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.

Total number of men and women in Sillery and the Province of Quebec, 1666

Total number of men and women in Sillery and the Province of Quebec, 1666

        5. Men outnumbered women 2:1 in New France.  And these numbers don’t even include the Jesuits or royal troops!

Age and Conjugal Condition for Women of Sillery compared to the Province of Quebec, 1666

Age and Conjugal Condition for Women of Sillery compared to the Province of Quebec, 1666

       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.

Age of married people of Sillery and the Province of Quebec, 1666

Age of married people of Sillery and the Province of Quebec, 1666

       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?

Conjugal Condition of Young Women in Sillery, 1666

Conjugal Condition of Young Women in Sillery, 1666

       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.

Age and Conjugal Condition for Men of Sillery compared to the Province of Quebec, 1666

Age and Conjugal Condition for Men of Sillery compared to the Province of Quebec, 1666

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Tangled Root: Anne Leodet

"Veuve" or widow of Jean Nepveu, Anne Leodet's land in Sillery, 1663.  Source: excerpt from a map found in Marcel Trudel's Le Terrier du Saint-Laurent.

“Veuve” or widow of Jean Nepveu, Anne Leodet’s land in Sillery, 1663. Source: excerpt from a map found in Marcel Trudel’s Le Terrier du Saint-Laurent.

You might have noticed in the last post that Anne Leodet was listed as widow of Jean Nepveu in the 1666 census.  She was also listed as the widow of Jean Nepveu on the Sillery map of 1663 in Marcel Trudel’s Le Terrier du Saint-Laurent.   But Peter Gagne’s The Filles a Marier and the PRDH both note that Anne Leodet’s marriage to Jean Nepveu was annulled due to a bigamy conviction.  So was she part of a bigamist relationship or not?

My confusion rests on the use of the word “widow.”  Today, the word is reserved for women whose spouses have died.  Was the word “widow” used more broadly in the seventeenth century?  Or was it that they, like us, have no alternative that could be used to label a betrayed woman.  Maybe “widow” was all they had to explain Leodet’s situation (woman given title to her former husband’s land.)

Curiously, Anne Leodet was not the only one in her community to have marriage troubles.  The lord of the manor, Denis-Joseph Ruette D’Auteuil, also had a complicated married life.  He married Claire-Françoise Clément Du Vuault who ran off with Charles Cadieu while he was away in France in 1650.  Some say that she eloped with Cadieu, elsewhere it is suggested that Cadieu kidnapped her.  Either way, in 1657, Du Vuault managed to obtain a separation of property, left for France, and never returned.  The 1666 census is silent on the matter.  D’Auteuil is listed as head of household with his son and six servants, but not a peep is made about his wife or what her absence meant for his social identity.

This second situation confirms the existence of language issues in formal documents for me (what label do you use for an abandoned husband?)  And it also makes me think that the historical record is difficult to decipher for other reasons too.  There was probably some level of damage control going on.  People had reputations and livelihoods at stake.  Those that persisted (or maybe their descendants) might have worked hard to spin the story into a more favorable light.

Does anybody have any idea of how to figure out if the bigamy incident is real or not?


For more on D’Auteuil and Du Vuault, look here for the elopement story, and here for the kidnapping story (the dates are off by a decade here but I think that is a typo.)  Neither story provides much detail but together they go to show that multiple interpretations exist for the same bits of fact.

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Primary Resource: Canada in the 1660s

In 1664, Pierre Boucher published (in French) A True and Genuine Description of New France, Commonly Called Canada, and of the Manners and Customs and Productions of that Country. Boucher’s history of Canada was translated into English and re-published by Edward Louis Montizambert in 1883 for all of us non-French speakers to read.

Pierre Boucher.  Photocredit: Wikipedia

Pierre Boucher. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Pierre Boucher emigrated to Canada with his father as a teenager in the 1630s and rose to become a prominent public figure.  His 1664 history, which he published while Governor of Trois-Rivieres, described European settlements in New France — and the land, trees, animals, birds, fish, grains, and natives — around them.  His book intended to further encourage the settlement of New France but he did admit to four inconveniences in the new world: Iroquois aggression, mosquitos, long winters, and rattlesnakes.

As you read through Boucher’s history you can pick up a lot about what life must have been like for seventeenth century habitants.  For example:

Having mentioned the winters, I shall say a few words of the seasons. Properly speaking, there are only two to be reckoned here, for we pass suddenly from great heat to great cold; therefore, we speak only of Winter and Summer.  Winter begins immediately after All Saints Day [November 1]; that is to say, frosts begin then, and some time after comes the snow, which lies on the ground until about the fifteenth of April, in ordinary years, and later than that in others; but usually it is about the sixteenth that the ground becomes free from snow, and in a state to put forth plants and to be ploughed.

While much of this information might be unsurprising to a modern Canadian, I am intrigued by how his words speak to the priorities of his world.  From the passage I quoted above, I love the way both faith and pragmatism informed Boucher’s knowledge of local farming.

For those of you who are curious to read more descriptions of early Canada, you can gain access to the translated version of Boucher’s history for free through Google books.

For those of you tracing the lives of early Canadian ancestors, it is important to note that Boucher (though well-traveled) spent most of his life about 80 miles west of Quebec.  Still, Boucher was sensitive to the variations of Canadian experience so there is much to glean in his book about what it was like to live in 1660s New France.

And for those of you who share ancestors with me, it is also curious to note that Pierre is probably a relative.  His father, Gaspard, is thought to be the brother or cousin of another famous founding settler, Marin Boucher.  And Marin Boucher was the brother of Jeanne Boucher who married Thomas Hayot, and whose daughter, Anne, married the first Canadian Boisvert, Etienne.  From my generation looking back, Pierre Boucher is reputed to be a first or second cousin 10x removed.


Greg Rogers’ academic paper, “Eden with Iroquois,” puts Boucher’s history into its context (and therefore might help you distinquish fact from seventeenth century bias when reading Boucher.) Roger’s paper can be found here.

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