In 2002, 5 years before the release of the movie “The Bucket List,” I composed a list of things I wanted to do before leaving this world. Near the top of the list were: Write a book about my ancestor Jeanne Chevalier, Fille du Roi; learn French; and live for at least six months in France. Well, 15 years later, [⇒]
The first time I heard the name of Jeanne Marguerite Chevalier was over twenty years ago. A book about her life started to take shape in my head roughly eight years later, in 2002. Preliminary research followed. The drive to learn more about Jeanne and write her story, however, only became an obsession one cold February day in 2011 when I stood in St. Nicolas church in Coutances where she was baptized on June 8, 1643. And now, finally, I am happy to announce the publication of this first version of the history of her life, just one day before the 300th anniversary of her death.
After months of silence, I am back writing for my blog and along the way, have run into some problems. I would like to apologize for any strange announcements that you might have received from my blog. I hope that we have resolved them and there won’t be any new “glitches.”
Silence has not meant absence of progress, rest assured. Continuing research in France and Quebec has solved a few mysteries and discovered more roadblocks. However, I am close to finishing the book on the history of Jeanne Chevalier. I promised Jeanne it would be published by the 300th anniversary of her death, November 24 2016, and so it will be! Please stay tuned for the announcement!
In the meantime, I have been busy with some other projects involving spreading the word about Jeanne as well as continuing to try to untangle some puzzles about her life in France and about her first and third husbands. In the effort to promote knowledge about Jeanne, I gave two talks in France about her story – one in Hautot-Saint-Sulpice, Robert Levesque’s birthplace, and one at the Château-Musée in Dieppe, France, the port she left in 1671 to travel to Quebec with a hundred other Filles du Roi.
Another project has been around trying to ensure appropriate recognition of Jeanne’s third husband, Jean-Baptiste-François Deschamps de la Bouteillerie. After a delightful meeting with the Mayor of Cliponville, the village where Deschamps was born, we agreed something needs to be done to honor his life and his entrepreneurial work in founding Rivière-Ouelle, Quebec. With that intent in mind, I have published a short history of his life. You can read it in the article posted on this blog on October 24, 2016. There are plans to establish some sort of memorial to Deschamps in Cliponville as well.
One other project I have been working on is an attempt to address the hypothesis proposed by Eric Mardoc, an historian in Rouen. Mardoc believes there is a possibility that Jeanne came from a noble family or at least from a family of the “petite noblesse.” My research and preliminary response on this topic will be published shortly on this blog.
As soon as the book on Jeanne’s life is sent to the publisher, my next project begins – that of translating the book into French. With the help of translators, I hope to complete that effort by the end of March, 2017. Until then, I hope to stay more timely with blog posts regarding the ever-intriguing story of the life of Jeanne Marguerite Chevalier and her three husbands.
In June, 1671, 28-year-old Jeanne Marguerite Chevalier boarded a ship in Dieppe harbor. She was leaving France forever and was headed for Quebec. Although single and orphaned, she was not alone on the ship since there were one hundred other women also bound for Quebec that year. In fact, over the course of ten years beginning in 1663, 770 women would have left France, most of them, like Jeanne, never to return. [⇒]
The question came up again over beers at the Tête des Allumettes brasserie and brewery, on the St. Lawrence River, just north of Kamouraska in eastern Quebec. I got into a conversation with my neighbors at the table next to me on the patio overlooking the river, and they asked, “Why are you doing this?” [⇒]
Three weeks after four-year-old Louis XIV was crowned King of France and 35 years after the founding of Quebec, Jeanne Marguerite Chevalier was baptized on June 8, 1643 in the small cathedral town of Coutances, 330 kilometers west of Paris and the new king and 75 kilometers northeast of Mont St. Michel. Other than a one-line entry registering her baptism and listing Guillemette LeBreton as her godmother, I know little else about Jeanne’s life in France. The actual facts about Jeanne’s life are not resumed until her name is found as a Fille du Roi on ships’ rosters that left Dieppe in June, 1671. And since the rosters are still being researched, there is nothing really official about Jeanne until her name appeared on a marriage contract in Quebec City on October 11, 1671. [⇒]
To fully understand Jeanne’s life and its challenges, it’s important to get a feel for the times in which she was born and spent the first 28 years of her life. So I have pulled out the world history books I saved from graduate school in the late 1960’s to provide a backdrop to Jeanne’s story. [⇒]
I frequently am asked why my ancestor decided to leave France and come to the new colony. Trying to understand the reasons why she chose as she did involves a great deal of speculation because the Filles du Roi left few records or diaries. For most, it must have been a voluntary decision, although it’s possible there was some strong encouragement by guardians, parents or officials at the charity hospitals or parish priests, or even recruiters. At a colloquium on the Filles du Roi in Quebec several years ago, famed historian Yves Landry proposed that, based on admittedly little evidence, many – particularly those in the charity houses in Paris — could have been coerced to join the program. [⇒]
My initial introduction to Jeanne’s first husband Guillaume Lecanteur was brief. It was a short reference to his birth and parents, his marriage to Jeanne, their children, and then to his disappearance in the Quebec region around 1678, leaving Jeanne with three children. Details were few. [⇒]
I sit in Notre Dame Cathedral on the upper cliff of Quebec City, on the site of the church where Jeanne married her first husband Guillaume Lecanteur on October 19, 1671. Since the original church has twice been destroyed by fire, the building I am sitting in is the third church on the site. Although it’s been rebuilt and she wouldn’t recognize it with the video screens, gilded statues, and elaborate wall coverings, I try to communicate with her. [⇒]