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.
When Robert died, Jeanne faced a very different future from the one she had faced 20 years earlier. Together she and Robert had built a farm that by 1699 included three homes with furniture and furnishings, a barn, stable, and much livestock. They also possessed 1404 acres of land, one of the largest properties in Rivière Ouelle. The property was valued at over 8,000 livres. At his death, Robert was a successful farmer and carpenter, a hero of the Phips Raid, as well as a leader in the community. Jeanne and Robert had managed to purchase land, with funds possibly from Robert’s carpenter trade and the work of their sons on the farm. When I asked Professor Cole Harris, the author of a signature book on the seigneurial system in 17th century, his thoughts on their situation, he confirmed their prosperity: “Your ancestors Jeanne Chevalier and Robert Levesque amassed an unusual quantity of land and even the small fraction of it that was cleared was, by the standards of the late 17th century, a very considerable farm.” He added, “It had probably been accumulated with the next Levesque generation in mind. In those early days it was still possible to establish progeny on lots close to the parental farm, and parents acquired land with this in mind.”
By law Jeanne received one-half of the property she and Robert had accumulated. She held the remaining half for her three surviving sons who had not yet reached the age of majority — 25 years at the time. In addition, Jeanne even had property of her own. The slice of land along the Saint Lawrence that Deschamps had granted in 1689 to Nicolas, her first born son with Guillaume, had passed to his brother Charles when Nicolas died. Upon the death of Charles, Jeanne, as his next of kin, had inherited that piece of land as well as the land that Jeanne and Robert had given to Charles.
As a widow, Jeanne had more independence than she had had as a married woman since widows enjoyed full rights according to the Law of Paris and were no longer under marital or paternal authority. Since legally widows could become active outside the home, Jeanne’s choices now, with grown children, were far more appealing than they had been twenty years earlier. I wonder how she felt, with more security and freedom than ever before? Did she consider leaving Rivière Ouelle and moving closer to Quebec City? Or perhaps the ties with her family and her friends, nurtured over the past 20 years, made leaving Rivière Ouelle difficult?
This time surely there was no need to marry again. But she did.