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. In early 1680, Jeanne gave birth to François Robert. Since there was no church in Rivière Ouelle at the time, Jeanne’s newborn son was baptized in the home of his godparents, Seigneur Deschamps and his wife. We know that François Robert joined Jeanne’s two older sons from her first marriage. What is a mystery is the disappearance of the youngest Lecanteur boy. He presumably died sometime between Jeanne’s marriage to Robert in April, 1679, where he was mentioned, and late 1681. No death certificate has been found, possibly because Rivière Ouelle did not have a permanent priest at the time. In the 1681 census, Jeanne’s and Robert’s family included only three sons: Nicolas and Charles Lecanteur and now François Robert.
That situation soon changed. In January, 1682 Pierre Joachim was born. Not quite three years later, another son, Joseph, was born. Joseph’s baptism, held in January, 1685, was the one of the first baptisms to be registered in the parish records in the newly erected church of Rivière-Ouelle.
The epidemic of 1687-1688 that brought death to so many in Quebec also brought double tragedy to Jeanne and Robert. In December 1687, the epidemic claimed their fourth son, Jean-Baptiste, who had been born in October 1686. Another son, also named Jean-Baptiste, was born in February 1688 but only survived for a month.
Finally Jeanne had a daughter, Marie-Anne, born October 3, 1690. Sadly, she died 10 days later. Thus in the span of almost five years from January 1686 until October 1690 Jeanne was pregnant, and for the last four years of that period, she was delivering and then burying three infants. I wonder how she dealt with those losses – a grief experience that was shared by many other families in those early days in New France.
Growth of the Family Farm
Meanwhile, their family farm was growing, benefited by those sons who survived. Once the boys turned eight or nine, they would have been old enough to help Robert in the fields and in building their new home to house the growing family. By late 1690, the two Lecanteur sons along with Jeanne’s two older sons with Robert would have working with their father on the farm, leaving only Joseph who was not quite six at home with Jeanne. With that sort of help, the clearing work on the farm would have proceeded quite rapidly. In addition, in 1689 Deschamps had granted Nicolas Lecanteur, Jeanne’s oldest son, a narrow strip of uncleared land on the shores of the St. Lawrence. The reasons for this gift remain unclear, but the gift certainly added to the Levesque/Chevalier property.
Along with the increased land acreage, the family fortunes appeared to have been improving significantly. On August 11, 1692 Robert and Jeanne were able to purchase three parcels of cleared and uncleared land from their neighbor Joseph Renaud. The purchase included a house. Perhaps Robert was continuing his carpenter work because they were able to pay off the purchase price of 2200 livres within two years.
The purchase of this large grant of land was made apparently to provide property for their sons. Shortly after the purchase, on September 25, Jeanne and Robert made the first gift of land to Nicolas. Unfortunately, he died, of unknown causes, just over a month later. Charles, Jeanne’s remaining Lecanteur son, received a grant of land from Jeanne and Robert in October 1698. The land that Deschamps had given to Nicolas in 1689 remained in the family.
Jeanne and Robert as the century ends
By 1699 only one of Jeanne’s sons with Guillaume was alive along with her three surviving children with Robert. Despite the grief from the loss of five children and the toll that hard work must have taken on them, Jeanne and Robert could have been ready to face a new century with a sense of satisfaction.
They now had a large farm that was thriving. In fact, they were one of the most prosperous families in the area. They had land for their sons and now owned three houses, a stable, a barn and several farm animals. Robert was a leader in the village of Rivière Ouelle, having played a major role in fighting off the English in 1690 and having helped in the construction of the new church. Based on the inventory of their possessions that would be made three years later, they had a comfortable home, with beds, linen, chairs and other furniture, dishes, bowls, pewter kitchenware, and other household and personal items. Including the land they owned, their property was valued at more than 8,000 livres.
Jeanne must have played a large role in their success, although her contributions may not have been recognized by historians. Like all the women in rural New France at the time, she would have helped her husband in his work in the fields, tended to the family garden, kept her family fed and clothed, and watched over their children when Robert was otherwise occupied with his carpenter work. She might even have helped him keep the books for the farm and his carpentry business!
But life would take some unexpected turns. Another epidemic hit Rivière Ouelle in 1699 and took its toll on the Levesque family and Rivière Ouelle.