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.
Jeanne was left with only her dowry of 50 livres and with a few pots, pans and other household items, five shirts and Guillaume’s Justaucorps locked in a coffre, that all together were valued at 36 livres. In accordance with French law, she was able to avoid bringing debts into the marriage. However, she did of course did bring her three young sons whom Robert adopted and promised to take care for their future. Now Robert had an instant family. While the boys were extra mouths to feed, Nicolas at 6 ½ and Charles at 4 ½ years were fast approaching the age when they would be able to help Robert on his farm.
How she met Robert is a subject for speculation. Through friends is the most likely answer. Of course, it is possible that she could have met Robert on the ship coming to Quebec, if they had been on the same ship. Even if some sort of romantic spark had been ignited between them, Robert would not have been to marry in 1671 because he first had to complete his three-year contract with Deschamps. And Jeanne would not have been able to wait that long since as a Fille du Roi she was obliged to marry as soon as possible.
The trip to Rivière Ouelle
Somehow they did manage to meet! Since Jeanne no longer had a home in L’Ange Gardien, it’s highly probable they moved her family quite soon after the wedding to a home that Robert would have built in Rivière Ouelle during his eight years there. By late April, the ice on the St. Lawrence would have been breaking up because of the spring thaw that was actually mentioned in the wedding contract. Since the roads were too muddy for travel, the trip to Rivière Ouelle would have been by boat. They probably sailed from L’Ange Gardien down to the tip of Ile d’Orleans and then over across the St. Lawrence to the south shore of the river, where docks and stopping points were plentiful in those days. I can hear the water lapping at the boat’s sides and hope that there was not a lot of wind to make the ride choppy!
I try to imagine them all in one boat, a nine-month old baby and two other sons under the age of seven. They didn’t have a lot to move, presumably, but there must have been some clothes and belongings and of course the few pots and other household items left from Jeanne’s marriage to Guillaume. Did she bring the five shirts from the inventory and the coffre with Guillaume’s coat inside? She actually might have since used clothes were as valuable as new ones! Was there anything else in that locked coffre that she might have brought with her to remind her of her life in France?
What were the two older boys thinking as the boat finally reached the mouth of the Rivière Ouelle, turned south away from the St. Lawrence, and made its way around the curves of the smaller river? How were they dealing with the change? In fathers? In homes?
Setting down roots
Jeanne must have been facing significant adaptation as well, moving from the fairly well populated Beaupre coast with neighbors nearby to the “wild frontier” that was Rivière Ouelle. Within two years there would be eleven families in Rivière Ouelle. But when Robert brought Jeanne and her boys to their new home, the population would have been limited to Jean Baptiste Deschamps and his family, three or four families, and a small number of single men who were in various stages of settlement and finding wives. Homes and farm buildings would have been few and fairly spread out. There was no church, although presumably by 1679 the Deschamps manor house would have been built.
Eventually, as more settlers and families arrived, Jeanne had a community. In fact, just a few months after Jeanne’s arrival in Rivière Ouelle, Damien Berube arrived with his wife and her six children to join the other families. Damien’s wife was another Fille du Roi who had arrived in 1670 and had also lost her husband the year before.
For Jeanne and her family, Rivière Ouelle probably meant a one-room rustic home with a dirt floor that was surely quite cramped, especially over the next few years with the addition of their own children. At some point, Robert did build a second, more substantial home for his family. But at the time, it could have been a jarring experience for them all. Or was Jeanne just relieved to have found some security through her marriage with Robert after what must have been unsettling years with Guillaume?
Similar to most women at the time, Jeanne would have been busy, getting her children settled, establishing new routines, preparing their food, making or mending clothes, tending to the kitchen garden, curing the meat Robert brought home, and helping out with the clearing and planting of the fields when she could. She might have been lonely at first, missing her friends in L’Ange Gardien, if she had time to consider them. As it turned out, she must have kept in touch with some of those folks over the decades to come. But for now, Jeanne had no choice except to set down new roots in Rivière Ouelle. And she did, I am assuming, because she would live there for another 37 years.