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? [⇒]
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. [⇒]
When Robert, Jeanne, and her three sons arrived in Rivière Ouelle, they must have received a warm welcome from Jean-Baptiste and his wife Catherine Gertrude, who were probably delighted to have Robert back with his new family. In addition to the work Jean-Baptiste had been doing to grow the seigneurie, his family was also growing. In early February, shortly before Jeanne and Robert arrived, Catherine Gertrude had given birth to a fourth son, Louis Henri, who would have been 6 months younger than Jeanne’s son Guillaume.
Jeanne’s family with Robert soon started to grow as well. [⇒]
Although relatively isolated from what was happening politically in the rest of New France, Rivière-Ouelle did not remain entirely untouched by the wars with the British colonies to the south. In apparent retaliation for incursions by the French into New England, a fleet of 32 British ships with two thousand soldiers, commanded by Sir William Phips, appeared in the eastern part of New France in 1690. They first wreaked havoc on Nova Scotia/Arcadia and then later, in early October 1690, showed up off the shores of Rivière Ouelle. Their presence produced a tale that has been told and retold, often with embellishments and not without confusing facts. (http://www.apointinhistory.net/Rivière-ouelle.php). I will just summarize the events here. [⇒]
While isolated in its location far to the northeast of Quebec along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence, Rivière Ouelle had not been immune from epidemics. In 1688, nine people had died, and in 1699 the epidemic that took the lives of Jeanne’s husband Robert Levesque and of her last Lecanteur son also took nine other lives.
Four years later yet another epidemic spread through New France. There were six deaths in Rivière Ouelle between April 1703 and the end of that year. [⇒]
The reasons why Jeanne decided to marry Jean Baptiste Francois Deschamps de la Bouteillerie and why he waited 20 years to marry again are lost to history. I’ve asked around for opinions and have come up with some explanations.
Possible reasons for Deschamps’ long celibacy range from [⇒]
Jeanne remained single for 18 months after Robert died. On April 5, 1701, she married Jean-Baptiste François Deschamps, Seigneur of la Bouteillerie. There was no contract of marriage. No documents have been found to explain why they decided to marry or why he had waited 20 years to marry again, longer than just about all the other men of his class. [⇒]
Another epidemic in New France in 1699 did not leave Rivière Ouelle untouched. By the end of the year eleven people had died. Among the dead was Robert Levesque, Jeanne’s husband of twenty years, on September 11, 1699 less than two weeks after his 57th birthday. Twenty five days later, Charles, Jeanne’s second son with Guillaume and the last to survive their father, died at the age of 24.
Jeanne was now a widow, for the second time. She was 56 years old. [⇒]