Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

   June 2, 2003

Waverly's (formerly Marysville) history provides interesting heritage

Dear Readers,

Waverly used to be Marysville before the settlement was moved alongside the main line of the Great Northern Railway and renamed.

Marysville townsite was projected in 1856 by Edward Ploudre and Peter Lebeau, French Canadians, so Marysville was settled by French Canadian people for the most part, although the pioneers in the west part of Marysville were German.

The Catholic church, still standing in Waverly, was the heritage those early settlers left us, along with many other great things about Waverly.

It was my privilege to grow up among the Gagnons, Le Pages, Dalbecs, Jolicoeurs, Poiriers, Chevaliers, Jandros, Des Marais' (with a variety of spellings), Perras, Barbeaus, and Daigles.

They made us O'Leary Irish feel completely welcome when we arrived from South Dakota, even though we murdered their beautiful French names.

For example, Chevalier became "Shavallyer," "Jolicouer" became "Jelly-cur," and "Poirier" became "Po-yer."

Some of the Belgian families, such as the Deckers' and the Claessens', were also French speaking. Only when I got to Cajun ("Acadian") country in southern Louisiana did I feel at home again, when I saw the same names repeated all along Interstate 10. At the time I was headed to New Orleans.

Mrs. Napoleon Le Page (Mary) tried to teach me French when I was a small boy, and I can still count to 10 in that language.

For years it was the custom of the graduating classes from St. Mary's High School to visit her home at the edge of the town to have their fortunes told. She was amazing!

It was strong, wonderful ladies such as herself whom I thought of when I ran across this most interesting article from "Heritage Quest" magazine. I knew some of those Filles du Roi!

Jim O'Leary

Corpus Christi, Texas


This article first appeared in Heritage Quest, issue #22 May/June 1989.

Filles du Roi

Rare indeed is the French-Canadian who does not have a Fille du Roi, or daughter of the king, in his ancestry.

This was a title given to the women who came to New France under the protection of King Louis XIV to seek a husband. They came armed with a dowry from the King, hence his daughters.

A dowry was most important to a girl seeking a secure future in the France of the XVII century. In a period when positions were bought and sold, the size of a girl's dowry often determined her future status.

It mattered not if she sought marriage or convent life, without a dowry, a widow or orphan had little to look forward to other than a life of drudgery or worse.

So then, put yourself in the shoes of one of those unfortunates. Given the alternatives, would you brave a long and arduous sea voyage under the most inhuman conditions, especially for a woman, the lack of amenities in the wilderness of New France, marriage to a stranger with the prospect of death in childbirth or by a blow from an Iroquois tomahawk?

Armed with a dowry, over 800 of them did just that, and thereon hangs the tale we are about to tell.

Before 1663, the first girls who came to Canada looking for a husband were known as Filles des marier or "marriageable daughters."

In general, these girls paid for their own passage or indentured themselves as servants for a stated period of time in return for their passage, shelter, and keep.

There was always employment available because the most difficult person to find in the colony was a female servant, which was considered necessary for large well-to-do families or for the nuns who were busy teaching or nursing.

These women were encouraged to come to Canada, but few did. Some other way had to be found.

The average French man, penniless and without a family, faced with military conscription and living in unsettled times when to be poor was to be outcast, was more susceptible to recruitment for a life in the New World than were the women.

Soon, Canadian life consisted of men without women. True, there were always the Indian girls, and many a Frenchman resorted to consortium out of necessity, aided by the amoral (by Catholic European standards) folkways of the natives.

Some even married Indian girls. Pierre Boucher, an early colonial leader himself, married to one, envisaged a "new race being formed" by this propagation.

However, the squaws did not have many children, or at least very many who lived to adulthood. The Frenchmen wanted French girls and let their desires be known to the Intendant of those times, colonial administrator, Jean Talon.

It was Talon, beseeching the King's minister Colbert, who started the ball rolling. Seeing that French women were sorely needed to establish a viable French civilization, Talon wrote "send us strong, intelligent, and beautiful girls of robust health, habituated to farm work."

Indeed, the bachelor farmers wanted strong partners who could do their share of the work. Keep in mind that the first horse did not reach New France until 1647.

Yes, there were oxen and horses for those who could afford them, but the average farmer cleared his land with the help of his wife and sometimes a hired hand, if he could find one.

A not uncommon sight in those days before draft animals had been bred in sufficient numbers, was that of the wife pulling the plow and her husband pushing with one hand and holding a musket at the ready with the other.

It is no coincidence, then, that most of the girls came from the farm country of Normandy and the Ile-de-France.

Historian Gustave Lanctot tells us that out of 852 King's Daughters, 314 came from the Ile and 153 from Normandy.

Other provinces contributed as follows: Aunis, 86; Champagne, 43; Poitou, 36; Anjou, 22; Beauce, 22; Maine, 19; Orleanais, 19; and 32 from nine other provinces. We are speaking of the Provinces of France under the Old Regime.

Why this preponderance of girls from these two provinces? A likely reason is that most of the men who emigrated to Canada came from these places.

That is not to say that the girls knew the men who went ahead of them, although that is a possibility in some cases. It is more than likely that communications provided the key.

Letters home from officials and churchmen were widely circulated. Keep in mind that the average person could neither read nor write, and most could not even sign their own names. These communications usually were in the form of mission reports from the Jesuits, known as the Jesuit Relations among others.

Widely read in France by other religious persons, they were extensively disseminated among the faithful. Is it any wonder then, that under the urging of the Sisters who ran an orphanage, a girl could be influenced to go to New France where she would be needed?

Was there any other characteristic that we may select to account for these two provinces sending the majority of girls to Canada?

Well, yes, if you remember that the primate city of France was, and still is Paris, the center of the Ile-de-France. It would have more than a normal share of orphans, foundlings, and girls without a family or future.

In fact, most of the early arrivals were from Paris and the farms of the Beauce, the area around Paris.

Inevitably, someone would seek to cast a shadow of doubt on the girls' morals by suggesting that they were the sweepings from the streets of the cities. A certain Baron La Hontan did just that, and was vigorously refuted by others who conducted extensive research on the subject.

If the Ile-de-France contributed the greater share of girls because the population was in the cities, then why so many from Normandy? Because this is where the hard-working farm girls were located, those who heard about Canada and were influenced to emigrate to find a husband and a new life.

I don't know if there is any such thing as a "typical" Frenchman, but if there is, he is not a Norman. The word itself suggests "Northman" and, indeed, it is so.

The Vikings of Scandinavia invaded and settled that area of France known as Normandy during the period from 800 to 1050 AD. Their variation of French language, customs, architecture, and government set the pattern for the occupation of New France which was to follow.

Now that we have set the stage, why not take a look at the players in the drama, the girls themselves.

A few, very few, were women of quality ­ the so-called noblewomen. Let us skip these and look at what the vast majority had in common: the fact of poverty.

This is why the largess from the King was so necessary. They were promised 50 livres if they married a soldier or farmer, and 100 livres if an officer. There were very few of the latter, simply because there were very few officers who needed help in finding a girl of their own choice.

The girl was usually selected by her parish priest on recommendation from the Sisters in charge of an orphanage, where she had learned to read and write.

It is notable that many of the girls were literate, whereas the men they would marry were not. Now she had to be outfitted for the voyage and to begin her future life. Historian Douville and Casanova may be quoted as follows:

"To this statutory grant (the dowry) other essential expenses were added. The first disbursement was set at 100 livres: 10 for personal and moving expenses, 30 for clothing, and 60 for passage.

"In addition to the clothing allowance, the following were furnished: a small hope chest in which to put one head dress, one taffeta handkerchief, one pair of shoe ribbons, 100 sewing needles, one comb, one spool of white thread, one pair of stockings, one pair of gloves, one pair of scissors, two knives, 1,000 pins, one bonnet, four lace braids, and two livres in silver money.

"On arrival in Canada, the Sovereign Council of New France provided the girls with some clothing suitable to the climate and some provisions drawn from the King's warehouse."

The men eagerly awaited the arrival of the girls and the selection process was usually concluded in a fortnight. Nevertheless, the girl could pick and choose, often to the point of exercising her prerogative a few times over.

When the match had been made, the newly married couple was given 50 livres to buy provisions, plus an ox and a cow, two pigs, a pair of chickens, two barrels of salted meat, and 11 crowns in cash. All this was supposed to give them a start in their new life.

Any event such as this is bound to have a few misfires, and there were some to be sure. A few of the girls just did not get married. Some of these became nuns, some domestic servants, and some returned to France.

However, a greater category were those who simply could not make up their mind about which man to marry. The custom of the time provided that a civil contract of marriage be made before a notary and witnesses and signed by the couple themselves.

Then came the official religious ceremony, after which the marriage was to have taken place. Those of you who read into this in greater detail will hear the word "annulment."

It refers to a cancellation of the contract, not the marriage itself.

The large number of girls who formally contracted before a notary, then had the contract annulled, new partners obtained, another annulment, the earlier partner back again, and finally the church ceremony.

Typical of these annulments is one taken from J. and V. Durand's Jean Durand et sa Posterit, as quoted in Reisinger and Courteau's The King's Daughters:

Jean Durand signed a contract as a recruit for New France 3 March 1657. By 1660, Durand had completed his three years of service and obtained a land concession at Cap Rouge.

On 3 October 1661, before witnesses, which included Squire Pierre Boucher, Sieur de Grosbois, and Governor of Trois-Rivieres, he contracted to marry Marie Fayette, a File du Roi who had arrived that year.

Durand returned to Cap Rouge and Mile. Fayette remained in Trois-Rivieres with the nuns until Durand would return for the church ceremony. However, on 12 January 1662, Mlle. Fayette appeared before a civil notary and had the first agreement annulled.

She then contracted to marry Charles Pouliot, but had that agreement annulled as well.

Finally, on 26 July 1662, she married Nicolas Huot. What happened to Jean Durand? Did he die of a broken heart? Not likely!

On 23 September 1662 in Quebec, he contracted to wed an orphan Huron girl who had been raised in the Ursuline convent at Quebec since 1654.

She was probably 14 when they married, and while we do not know if they lived happily ever after, we do know that their descendants in Canada and the United States now number in the tens of thousands.

The total number of King's Daughters, like the total number of immigrants into New France, during the period from 1663 to 1673, vary according to the historian cited. Estimates vary from a low of 774 (Silvio Dumas) to a high of 961 (Gustave Lanctot).

The average for six historians is 805 or 16.45 percent of the total population, estimated at less than 5,000 souls during the same time frame. Dollier de Casbon wrote from Montreal, "Though the cold is very wholesome to both sexes, it is incomparably more so to the female, who is almost immortal here."

The scheme of Talon to populate New France by the importation of officially sponsored girls was successful beyond his dreams.

This Intendant reported that in 1670, most of the girls who had arrived in 1669 were already pregnant, and that in 1671, nearly 700 children were born by them. Without exaggeration it can be said that these women created a nation, from which millions of us have peopled both Canada and the United States.


Back to Waverly Star menu

Herald Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries | Classifieds
Guides | Sitemap | Search | Home Page