Monday, November 2, 2015

French Canada and the Filles du Roi

Who were the Filles du Roi? Don't get excited like I did when I found that I had one in my genealogy, they are not really daughters of the King. Actually I have about 10 in my lines which should be the first clue that the King of France was not their father. 

Filles du Roi were the 17th century equivalent of a mail order bride. Unlike the British colonies to the south, Quebec was not primarily settled by families, it was mostly young single men. They were in a sort of indenture to the seigneurs who owned large tracts of land. In exchange for their passage to New France and a designated number of years of service they would be given land. For most of them, this was a dream come true and could never have happened in France. 

Among the families who did emigrate, there were not enough daughters to provide wives for all the settlers and the fear of the ever-growing British colonies to the south made it imperative that an alternative be found to provide young fertile brides. The solution was the Filles du Roi. 

Who were these woman who came to the colony? Most of them were orphans or widows. Did a few girls decide to leave their lives of sin and poverty behind to make a fresh start, yes but most were virtuous. Among the requirements to receive the 50 livres dowry from the King was that you were recommended by your parish priest and had a baptism certificate. 

When the girls arrived in Canada, they were taken under the care of nuns and local woman who keep them in dormitories until they had made their choice. It was the women who decided which man would be their husband. They were pretty picky too if the records are any indication. They often got engaged and several broke the engagements even multiple times before settling on their mate. 

Since the first stop was in Quebec it is a long-held belief, at least in Quebec, that all the good looking ones were chosen first and those who went to Montreal were not the pick of the crop. I am sure this is not actually true, what men were looking for beyond looks was a woman who understood farm work and had the look of a good breeder.

According to an article on on October 27, 1667, in a letter to Colbert, Jean Talon confirms the recent arrival of the first young ladies whose number was to remain small: “Instead of the 50 that your despatch had me hope for, 84 young girls were sent from Dieppe and 25 from La Rochelle. There are fifteen or twenty from quite good families; several are real young ladies and quite well brought up. If you continue in plans to send French young ladies here with a fine and noble education, six or eight will be sufficient according to me." 

The same article also quotes Mother Marie L'Incarnation a nun whose diary provides much information about the early French colony, "We no longer wish to ask for only country girls, as capable of working as men are. Experience has shown that those who have not been raised to it are not suitable here.”

Over a 10 year period, 1663 and 1673 between 800 and 1200 young woman came to Canada. Not all of their names are known and among the women who came during that period it is not always obvious which ones were Filles du Roi. While not all the women actually stayed and got married, more than 750 did and most people with French Canadian roots will find them among their ancestors.  

While the majority of the girls were from the lower classes, several of them were of noble or elevated birth. It is hard to imagine the courage it took to come to a savage land so far from home. These brave women helped to populate the country and in the process raised the population from 3,000 in the early 1660s  to 9,000 at the end of the 1670s. 

Here is a list that you can check to see the names of the Filles du Roi in your ancestry. 

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