If Jeanne and Guillaume were typical of many other Filles du Roi couples, upon their marriage they would have had to collect Jeanne’s promised dowry of 50 livres, along with a pig, chickens, barrels of salted meat, and other staples. They then had to transport themselves and their provisions to the farm in the La Petite Auvergne section of Charlesbourg that Guilllaume had leased the day before their wedding. The farm, if the maps at La Société d’Histoire de Charlesbourg are correct, would have had a lovely view of Quebec City. Its perch on a hill at the northeast corner of that neighborhood might have generated a spirit of hope in Jeanne for her life ahead? [⇒]
By the end of 1678, Jeanne was alone, left with a newborn son, two other sons under the age of 7, possibly three pieces of land, and debts. No death certificate has been found for her husband Guillaume, despite attempts to locate it. Since the evidence is mixed on whether he attended his son’s baptism in July, his death is surrounded in mystery. When? Where? And how did he die? Had he perhaps hired himself out as an explorer or fur trader in those last years to earn money to pay off his debts or to escape from them and then suffered a fatal accident? Was he buried where he died, too far from a church so no record was made? Were the records lost? In fact, the death records for L’Ange Gardien are missing in the microfilm files. When I asked at the archives in nearby Chateau Richer, where records would have been kept, I was told, “They are not here. And in fact, no one has ever asked about them before.” (At least I believe that’s what I heard, since my French didn’t get me very far in communicating with the gentleman there!) [⇒]
Robert Levesque, my eighth great grandfather, was over 36 years old when he made his official entrance into Jeanne’s life in late 1678 or early 1679. The books and chapters that have been written about him tell his story so I only need to briefly note the highlights here. Robert’s baptism took place on September 3, 1642 in Hautot St. Sulpice, a small village in upper Normandy, 45 kilometers northwest of Rouen. He was the son of Pierre Levesque and Marie Caumont, who had married on October 27, 1641. His father died in May 1648, and his mother in September 1660, leaving Robert an orphan at 18 years old. When Robert sailed from France in 1671, he left behind a brother, Francois, baptized on April 5, 1644, and possibly other siblings. [⇒]
On April 22, 1679, 36 year-old Robert married 35-year-old, newly widowed Jeanne Chevalier in L’Ange Gardien, a village located just northeast of Quebec City. How he met Jeanne is another mystery. I speculate that he used his community of friends and colleagues in those days before the Internet and the telephone to spread the word. At the time the number of people living in or around Quebec and on the north and south shores of the Eastern St. Lawrence River was still relatively small. With trading trips, work projects, and baptisms and weddings taking him to Quebec City, a young man from Riviere-Ouelle could have solidified friendships, particularly with compatriots from Normandy who spoke his native dialect. So the word could have gone out: “Hard-working single French male from Normandy, well positioned and respected carpenter, with home and good prospects, seeks wife. French-speaking young widows with young children will be considered.” [⇒]
In early April of this year, I went off to France to try to answer three pages of questions that I still had after many years of research on the lives of my ancestor Jeanne and her three husbands and about the history of her times in France and New France. That list included the following questions:
- What did Jeanne do in the first 28 years of her life in France? When was she orphaned? How and why did she move from Coutances to Dieppe? Why did she leave France?
- Why, how, and when did her first husband Guillaume Lecanteur come to Quebec? And what was his life like before coming to Quebec and marrying Jeanne?
- Who was Jean-Baptiste Deschamps de la Bouteillerie, her third husband, and what sort of family did he have in France?
- If documents are lacking, what are some possible answers or hypotheses that could resolve my questions?
After three weeks in Rouen, studying French and researching in the archives there, and after four weeks in Dieppe with side trips to the birthplaces of her three husbands and to the archives in Saint Lo, what do I know? [⇒]
Unlike most other grants made at the time with access to the St. Lawrence, the seigneurie Jean Baptiste Deschamps received was not long and narrow, but wide and deep instead. It was still rectangular in shape, however, measuring six miles wide along the St. Lawrence and 4 ½ miles deep into the valley. The grant included land on both banks of a river that snaked its way through the property, a river that would also take on the name “Rivière Ouelle.”
If you could walk the perimeter of the grant and manage to cross the many twists and turns of the river along the way, [⇒]
In late June, 1671, the 300-ton ship “Le Saint Jean-Baptiste” left Dieppe harbor headed for Quebec. On board was a young “gentleman,” “le sieur de la Bouteillerie,” from the Pays Caux. He brought with him two carpenters, two masons, and four laborers to settle the land which the King had given him. This land, up to the size of 1000 arpents, or about 1.32 square miles, was reported to be located between the towns of Three Rivers and Montreal. Also on board were one hundred men, 26 young women from Paris, ten mules, 50 male sheep, dry goods, blankets, and many other items that would be useful to those living in New France or for the voyage. Six months later, the ship brought back to Dieppe 10,000 livres of beaver skins, 400 moose skins, stones, wood, pitch, and many other rare items, among them a live moose of about 6 months old, a fox, and a dozen large birds to be given to the King. [⇒]
Little is actually known about what Jean-Baptiste François Deschamps de la Bouteillerie did during the year after his arrival. He appears to have been busy. He wrote a letter to his father shortly after arriving in Quebec and asked for an additional woodworker. On October 29, 1671, he hired Gabriel Lambert to also help out on the estate. Both actions suggest that he had already investigated and decided on a preferred grant site and was scoping out the work involved. The actual grant did indeed mention that he had already started working on it.
Despite Father Asseline’s reference to a promised land grant between Trois Rivières and Montreal, which I have not been able to substantiate, the land Deschamps was officially granted by Intendant Talon on October 29, 1672, lay 148 kilometers northeast of Quebec City. [⇒]
In the fall of 1674, two years after Jean Baptiste had received his grant, he began to make concessions of land to the men who had served out the terms of their three-year contracts with him and had demonstrated their commitment to settle in Quebec. Many of these men were countrymen from the same area in Normandy who came with him in 1671. My ancestor, Robert Levesque, was one of the first to receive a grant, on November 10, 1674. His land, on the southern bank of the Ouelle River, was right across from Deschamps’ estate.
At the time of their grants, most of these men, Robert included, were still single. I suspect that once they had their land secured, [⇒]
On April 21, 1679, nine months after the birth of her son and sometime after the mysterious disappearance of her first husband Guillaume Lecanteur, the newly widowed Jeanne Chevalier married Robert Levesque in her village of L’Ange Gardien. Although no death certificate for Lecanteur has been found, the church must have been convinced of his death since bans of marriage were published and the marriage was blessed by a priest. Jeanne renounced Lecanteur’s debts the next day, as a widow was allowed to do. The three pieces of land that Guillaume had acquired was either returned to their owners or sold off by the court. [⇒]