I am sure that Jeanne’s spirit surrounded us that day, the 15th of September, 2017. We were not a large group but we filled the Canadian chapel of St. Jacques church in Dieppe, France, one of the parishes where Jeanne had lived.
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. [⇒]
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!) [⇒]
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. [⇒]
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. [⇒]