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.
While that may have been true for a large number of them, there are other reasons these women might have left France. Certainly they must have heard the rumors and stories from Quebec. Life in the new world would have seemed full of dangers, with its risks from a much harsher climate and possible attacks by native peoples. Yet, such a possibility could have been seen as a way out, an opportunity to improve their lot in life given their uncertain future in France. Compared to France, marriage in Canada was a virtual certainty for a woman who wanted to marry. There would certainly be more choices in husbands, in historian Leslie Choquette’s words, “from respectable farmers and tradesmen, perhaps even someone of a higher class.”
Whatever their reasons, the great majority of these women showed an incredible amount of courage. They were probably quite out of the ordinary since according to Choquette, migration even within France was rare, especially among single women.
That’s how I see my ancestor Jeanne Chevalier: A brave, courageous and adventurous woman of strong will, determined to take action and make a good life for herself and any future family in the new world.