Étiennette Alton: A Marriageable Woman

Business people, merchants and the church recruited 262 French woman who agreed to travel to New France and set up families with strangers before Louis IV decided to set up his “filles du Roi” (daughters of the King) project in 1663.

My ancestor Étiennette Alton was among these women, who are now collectively known as “les filles a marier” (marriageable daughters). Étiennette was a 20 year-old orphan[1] living in France’s Loire Valley when she was recruited by Claude Robutel, the 39-year-old Sieur de Saint Andre and one of 95 surviving members of the “Company of 100 Associates”. Three years earlier he had sailed to Quebec as part of the Grande Recrue and settled in Ville Marie to protect it from Iroquois attack. Robutel returned to France in February 1659 to marry Suzanne Gabriel and search for potential spouses for the other soldiers. Étiennette and others agreed to marry, have children, and ensure the future viability of the settlement of Ville Marie. In return, the company paid the cost of her journey and provided her with a small dowry to set up a household. Étiennette joined Robutel and his wife for an ocean voyage to New France. The Saint-André left La Rochelle on July 2, 1659 and arrived in Quebec on September 7. It took another 22 days to get to Ville Marie via a small boat known as a “chaloupe.” [2] Étiennette Alton wed Marin Hurtubese in Notre Dame Basilica on January 7, 1660. Claude and Suzanne were among their witnesses. Ten months later, their first son Pierre was born. Over the following twelve years, the couple had three more boys, including my direct ancestor Louis, and two girls. Marin died either on Valentine’s Day or on May 12, 1672. On June 13 that same year, she wed Berthelemy Vinet dit La Reinte and moved to the fief de Verdun outside of Ville Marie on the Île de Montréal. Vinet worked for Jean-Baptiste Migeon, an activist who went to jail for accusing the Governor of Montreal of breaking fur-trading laws and then was himself accused of breaking the same laws. Vinet died on November 18, 1687 and Étiennette was alone again, but only for a little longer than a year. She signed a contract to marry Claude Garigue, a man 13 years her junior on December 13, 1688. By the following April, she tried to enter a convent but ended up getting married anyway on October 18, 1689. The couple legally separated three years later after Étiennette testified in court about regular spousal abuse. “My husband hit me with sticks, his fists and his feet; he threw me to the ground, and wanted to butcher me by trampling me with his feet.”[3] She ran from this particular incident to the home of her children. Garigue died a year later, four days before Christmas 1693. Étiennette lived for another 29 years. She died just before Christmas in Notre Dame Hospital at 84 years old.

[1] Gagné, Peter J., Before the King’s Daughters: The Filles a Marier, 1634-1663 (Pawtucket, RI: Quintin Publications, 2002,) p 318 Includes a translation of the bride and groom’s marriage contract by Bénigne Basset a clerk in Ville-Marie. In it, Etiennette Alton’s parents, Francois Alton and Étiennette Barillay, are described as “late.”   *Note that a previous version of this story did not include this source.
[2] The dates of Étiennette Alton’s journey to Quebec and Montreal and the ship she sailed on come from a report prepared for my grandmother by genealogiste Paul-André Langelier in 1996. The report also says she was an employee of Claude Robutel. The report also includes the fact that Etiennette was baptised on Saturday November 13, 1638 at the Saint-Thomas a La Flèche church and that six other brothers and sisters were baptised in the same location. Two sisters are apparently buried there.
[3] A court case to consider their separation took place on January 14, 1692.

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