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.
I want to know why she agreed to marry Guillaume after such a short courtship? How well did she really know him? In their marriage contract, dated October 11, 1671, he was said to be from “La Durantaye,” land located southeast of Quebec City. Yet, he had just sold some land and leased a farm from his friend Adrien Michelon in Charlesbourg, just slightly northwest of Quebec City. I’m curious about the discrepancy. Was Jeanne?
Did she pepper him with all those questions about his home, his farm, and his habits when they met? What did he tell her about the home he had found for them? The lease on the land in Charlesbourg must have provided satisfactory answers to any questions she might have asked. The promise of a home, no matter how lowly, closer to Quebec City might have seemed safe, more similar to the somewhat urban environment she was used to in Coutances or Dieppe. They wouldn’t be moving out into the wilderness, but instead would be staying closer to Quebec City on land that was already somewhat developed and held the promise of neighbors.
I also want to know why she was attracted to Guillaume? Was it because they shared a common dialect, both coming from Normandy, although that connection wasn’t necessarily all that critical to other women. Or perhaps she was just eager to get her life settled. Or was the choice possibly because he didn’t seem to be a typical habitant – with his fancy signature? Did the hint of a higher class from his name attract her? Did he have a dashing demeanor to match the flourish in his signature?
Whatever the reasons behind her choice, she married Guillaume in Notre Dame church, on October 19, 1671, less than three months after she arrived in Quebec. I want to picture what the ceremony must have been like. Several other couples were married that day, as well. Were there separate ceremonies or just one large one for all those marrying that day? There were certainly no long trailing white dresses and veils and organ music. Were there flowers or just solemn oaths, “until death do us part” and then separate recordings in the parish book?