Tag Archives: sillery

Was Suzanne Nepveu a Meti child?

PH raised this question a while back. I still don’t have the definitive answer but think that Suzanne probably wasn’t the daughter of an European-native union because of the conventions I see used in the documents surrounding her birth.

During the 1650s when Suzanne was born, the Jesuits operated a native reserve at Sillery.  The reserve bordered the St. Lawrence River and consisted of a stone fort that surrounded the Jesuit residences, their oven, their brewery, and their chapel — and the Terres des Sauvages where Christian Indians lived.  Behind the native lands, the Ursaline nuns ran a school and medical clinic.  In the 1650s, Europeans were given permission to settle to the west of the mission as a buffer against Iroquois attack. Suzanne’s father, Jean Nepveu acquired his land there in November 1652.

Map of Sillery, 1663 from Marcel Trudel's Le Terrier Du Saint-Laurent En 1663.

Map of Sillery, 1663 from Marcel Trudel’s Le Terrier Du Saint-Laurent En 1663.

Sillery was definitely a crossroads of European and native life in the 1650s.  Father Bailloquet, of the thickly-inked, tight scrawl below, baptized many natives at Sillery.  At least 8 baptisms are captured in the screen shot below.

1655 native baptisms at Mission St. Joseph de Sillery.  Screenshot of familysearch.org record

1655 native baptisms at Mission St. Joseph de Sillery. Screenshot of familysearch.org record

In the Sillery records, the native and the European births were usually kept separate.  However, Suzanne Nepveu’s baptism record defies expectations because it is in an unusual mixed list.  Still, the way her baptism was handled makes it likely that she was European in origin.

Suzanne Nepveu and others' baptisms at Mission St. Joseph de Sillery. Screenshot of familysearch.org record

Suzanne Nepveu and others’ baptisms at Mission St. Joseph de Sillery. Screenshot of familysearch.org record

In the list above, both European and native baptisms are present — but the European baptisms (Suzanne Neveu, Hyancith Charland, Margarita Guillebout, and Ignace Denis) all have their names listed in the margins.  The native child is not extended that courtesy — just as in the native-only baptism list above.

Suzanne’s older sister, Barbe, was baptized at Notre Dame de Quebec a couple of years prior.

Babe Nepveu's 1653 baptism at Notre Dame de Quebec. Screenshot of familysearch.org record

Babe Nepveu’s 1653 baptism at Notre Dame de Quebec. Screenshot of familysearch.org record

She was also granted margin recognition for her record.

Understanding these documents isn’t easy.  The handwriting is often poor, the documents are often in Latin, and the information is utilitarian.  For now, I am confidant in my hunch about margin recognition as a signal of pure European heritage.  However if I had a Meti (mixed race) baptism record (or few) for comparison, I might be inspired to change my mind.  If you have one from the 1650s, please share!

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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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Greenwood: Gilles Pinel

When I first ran into Gilles Pinel in the family tree, I didn’t trust him.  I don’t share blood with him.  He was Anne Leodet’s second (and enduring) husband and Barbe Nepveu’s step-father.  Gilles and Anne’s first-born daughter, Catherine, married the boy next door, Denis Masse – even though Denis had been of marriageable age for years.  I thought maybe Gilles tried to save the “best” for his own blood, that maybe he didn’t accept my kin into his heart.

But it turns out that Denis Masse was not such a great catch.  He was dead within a few years of marriage to Catherine. Besides, Gilles did not abandon Barbe in her adult life.  Instead, he served as a godfather for her first child (1669) and he asked her husband, Nicolas Sylvestre, to serve as godfather to his son (1673.)  He couldn’t have been that bad of a guy.

So I came to wonder: how did Gilles come to Sillery where he met and married Anne Leodet?  Well, the answer is simple: he followed his father, Nicolas Pinel.

Nicolas Pinel was born around 1605 in Champagnoles, Normandy, France.  He married Madeleine Marault at Ste. Marguerite chapel, in La Rochelle, France on 29 September 1630.  Together they had five sons: Antoine (b. 1631), Gilles and Pierre (b. 1635, only Gilles survived), Pierre (b. 1636), and later, Isaac (b. 1645).**  In 1645, Nicolas signed a three-year contract to work at Port Royal in Acadia.  It is believed that Madeleine remained in France to raise their boys.  After Nicolas’ contract was completed, he settled outside Quebec.  On 16 September 1650 he acquired land and a home near the Cap Rouge River, next door to Sillery.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 2.32.50 PM

Nicolas Pinel’s original concession at Cap-Rouge (Gaudarville) of 3 arpents (acres) frontage was split into two plots by his widow in 1662.  The original concession included all of plot #11 and half of plot #10.  The map is from Marcel Trudel’s Le Terrier Du Saint-Laurent En 1663.

It is believed that Nicolas Pinel had his sons Gilles and Pierre join him and that they worked the land there together.

It is hard to figure out exactly how Gilles first met Anne Leodet, but it is easy to imagine that they would have come to know each other quickly in small neighboring communities.  Gilles was definitely in the community by 1651, Jean acquired his Sillery land in November 1652, Anne Leodet arrived in Quebec in December 1652, and Jean and Anne married in January of 1653.

I don’t know whether Gilles knew Jean well before he knew Anne (Jean was 10 years his senior) — but Gilles must have been, or become, close to the couple somehow.  On October 11th, 1655 Jean and Anne had Gilles stand as their second daughter Suzanne’s godfather.  But whether it was friendship — or a neighborly show of support for a man who had just lost his father– it is impossible to uncover. Gilles’ father, Nicolas, had died a few weeks earlier on September 18, 1655.

A couple of years later, everything would be different.  Jean would be exiled on bigamy charges and Gilles would marry Anne.***  Together Gilles and Anne raised a family that included Anne’s two children with Jean Nepveu and nine children of their own.  Anne and Gilles would remain in Sillery on Jean Nepveu’s land until about 1680, and then see the remainder of their days in nearby Neuville.  Anne and Gilles died within a year of each other: he passed in January, and she died in December, of 1700.


* Catherine Pinel went on to an enduring second marriage with Jean Prou after her first husband, Denis Masse, died.

** Disclaimer – this information on Nicolas Pinel is culled from the internet, and not fact-checked with primary sources – though I have sought multiple references and weighed credibility.

*** This timeline shows how much happened in two and a half short years.

  • September 18, 1655 — Gilles’ father, Nicolas Pinel, dies
  • October 11, 1655 — Gilles stands as godfather for Jean Nepveu and Anne Leodet’s daughter, Suzanne
  • November 1656 — Gilles buys land in Sillery, two plots away from Jean and Anne from Nicolas Patenostre for 80 pounds
  • July 28, 1657 — Gilles sells Sillery land for 120 pounds to Guillaume Routhier
  • September 2, 1657 — Gilles marries Anne Leodet
  • April 7, 1658 — Gilles and Anne’s first child, Catherine, is baptized.
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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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