On April 22, 1679, 36 year-old Robert married 35-year-old, newly widowed Jeanne Chevalier in L’Ange Gardien, a village located just northeast of Quebec City. How he met Jeanne is another mystery. I speculate that he used his community of friends and colleagues in those days before the Internet and the telephone to spread the word. At the time the number of people living in or around Quebec and on the north and south shores of the Eastern St. Lawrence River was still relatively small. With trading trips, work projects, and baptisms and weddings taking him to Quebec City, a young man from Riviere-Ouelle could have solidified friendships, particularly with compatriots from Normandy who spoke his native dialect. So the word could have gone out: “Hard-working single French male from Normandy, well positioned and respected carpenter, with home and good prospects, seeks wife. French-speaking young widows with young children will be considered.”
To help him in his search, Robert could have asked friends, like Nicolas Paquin, to keep their eyes and ears out for available women. Paquin, another artisan from Normandy who had been engaged and brought over by Deschamps, had worked with Robert in Riviere Ouelle. He’d left Riviere Ouelle in 1674 to marry a woman in Chateau Richer, the village just next to L’Ange Gardien where Jeanne was living with her first husband, Guillaume Lecanteur. In April, 1677 Robert was in Quebec City for a baptism of the child of a young couple from Riviere Ouelle. It’s quite possible that one of the couple’s relatives in attendance might have been from L’Ange Gardien and would have commented on the attractive bachelor’s presence to her friends, including Jeanne, back home. Or perhaps other friends in common, for example the LeTartes as historian Ulric Levesque suggests, might have played a role.
It’s plausible that their paths could have crossed in Quebec City, or they might have both been passengers on the same ship coming over to Quebec in 1671 and somehow managed to stay in touch. Lord Deschamps could even have helped Robert in his search. His wife’s family owned land in L’Ange Gardien. Although they resided in Quebec City, they could have stayed connected with the settlers on their land and heard about Jeanne’s tragedy. The possible connections were many.
Once Jeanne became “eligible” in late 1678 or early 1679 with Lecanteur’s disappearance and word got out, she probably had quite a few suitors — given the scarcity of women of marrying age by then. I can imagine that Robert, somehow getting word about Jeanne, visited with friends in L’Ange Gardien and must have won out over any competition. For Jeanne, left impoverished by Lecanteur, Robert with his more secure prospects must have seemed a godsend. Her three young boys, ages 6 ½, 3 ½, and just a few months old, while initially a burden on any new husband, would soon be able to help Robert in the fields and in future clearing of more land on the farm. If Robert was as smart as I think he was (he did after all end up as one of the largest landowners in the region!), that fact could not have been lost on him!
What does this story reveal about Quebec and Jeanne in 1679? First, young women, even widows, were still in great demand, even at the age of 35. The story also begins to paint a picture of a community that managed to stay connected despite the lack of formal communication lines. And finally, once again as in Jeanne’s first courtship, she was quick to act. I wonder how long she took to get to know Robert. It’s tempting to think that it could have been love at first sight, although most historians describe marriage in those early years of New France as an economic arrangement. How much of a role did pragmatism play in her choice?