If my sisters and I have strength, persistence and a refusal to be victimized, we get it from our ancestor Marie-Madelaine Michel Gasnier DeRainville.
Over her 72-year lifetime, Marie left her family and friends three times, married twice, bore nine children, and raised eight of them to adulthood, marriage and their own children. She also lost her first husband to the Beaver Wars that lasted throughout her lifetime.
Jacques and Claire from Genealogy Ensemble also share Marie as an ancestor. If you have roots in North America, chances are, she’s one of your ancestors too.
Like many women, most of the records in which Marie appears focus on the men she accompanied. Many contain estimates about her data. The circumstances they show, however, hint at both suffering and forbearance. She never learned to write, but the strong ‘x’ she used as a signature indicates a woman who knew her worth.
My favourite resource for Marie’s life is a website created by Reverend John F. Gasnier in 2012.1 Gasnier excels at research. His detailed work provided me Marie’s parents’ names, the birth of her children and many of the dates in their lives.
I have begun to collect the original sources he used to compile this data, but so far, his work seems accurate except possibly her birth date. He estimates her birth date at 1620; another good site estimates 1619. Fichier Origine puts her birth at 1615, the date I’m using. Two of the three sites indicate that her birth took place in the village of St-Martin du Vieux Bellême, which Jacques tells me now sits within the modern-day Département de l’Orne. Both her birth town and Igé, the birthplace of her husband Louis, still exist in the now township of Bellême.
From the rest of the data, Marie’s life looks so sad. How did she live through so much suffering?
Her trauma began with the death of her first child sometime between his birth in 1639 and the family voyage from Igé, France to New France in 1644.
Two years before they left, the couple’s daughter Louise was born. By that time, Marie had reached her 27th year; her husband Louis his 30th. Perhaps her birth was the family’s chance for a new life.
It’s not clear why Marie and her husband decided to leave France, but emigration from the region started 10 years earlier, due to the recruitment by apothecary Robert Giffard and the Company of New France.
Giffard recruited many Percherons to New France until his death in 1669, except during the years when the Kirk Brothers occupied Quebec on behalf of England (1629-1631). By then, the colony of New France had 3,000 settlers, including Marie, her husband and their daughter.
In about forty years, 194 adults who had various jobs, often related to construction (mason, carpenter, brick-maker, etc), undertook the great voyage. Some returned to live and work in their native country but the great majority, despite the Iroquois threat, chose to settle on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River in order to clear and thrive the new territories. Their descendants are estimated today at 1.500.000 people in Canada and much more if we include the United States.2
When they undertook the voyage with their two-year-old daughter in July 1644, Marie was pregnant with their second daughter. Her namesake Marie became their first child born in the colony the following September.
Life couldn’t have been easy for the couple once they arrived in New France. It took them more than two years to lease a farm for their fast-growing family from the Saint-Joachim Seminary.
At that period of time, colonists to New France integrated into one of many manors set up under the seigneurial land management system brought to New France in 1627. New France then extended from the Arctic to Florida.
Under the manor system, the Compagnie de Cent Associés (Company of 100 associates) granted important people and groups, including religious ones like the Seminaire de St. Joachim, one by three league (5 by 15 km) land masses along major rivers, including the Saint Lawrence. The land was divided into 3 x 30 arpent sections perpendicular to the river so that everyone had access to boat transportation. (Note that each arpent measured 190 feet (58m).
Marie and her family rented La Ferme Saint-Charles in Cap Tourmente near the town of Saint Joachim for four years. They had two sons—Pierre and Olivier—during this period.
The family then moved back to Quebec while Marie’s husband built a new house in what is now St. Anne de Beaupré. While they waited, Marie had two more children, Louis and Anne.
Just after Anne’s birth, the family moved into a new house on a lot in the Seignerie de Beaupré (Beaupré Manor).
Part of the Beaupré Manor still exists today. Now run jointly by the l’organisme de bassins versants charlevoix-montmorency (obv-cm) and the séminaire de québec – seigneurie de beaupré, the territory covers a 20 by 95 km band north of the Saint Lawrence River. The territory spans 1,600 square kilometres west of Stoneham and east of St-Urbain in Charlevoix. Hunting, fishing and outdoors clubs share the space with loggers, Boralex and Gaz Métro/Valener.3
Back when my ancestors moved in, however, most of the action took place right next to the St. Lawrence River, where the village of Sainte Anne de Beaupré now stands. Marie’s husband Louis built a solid 22 by 20-foot home with 2-foot-thick walls on a cliff overlooking the river. There’s still a house built on the original foundations at 432 Cote Ste. Anne.
Things were good that year. Marie’s oldest daughter Louise got married and she and her husband established their home three lots away. Louis’s older brother Pierre arrived in New France from France with his pregnant wife and three sons. By 1655, he had established a property and house six lots away from his brother.
A year later, Marie gave birth to my six times great grandfather Ignace. The records indicate that Marie worried he wouldn’t live long. Jesuit Father Ragueneau rushed to the house on March 12, 1656 to baptize him. That could have been the first of three major tragedies, but he survived and married. (See my story What legacy stems from our Quebec pioneers?)
In May that same year, the second tragedy occurred. Louis’ older brother Pierre died of recurring fever.
The next three years went quickly, with all three families living in a small neighbourhood along the river. Marie’s namesake child married Andre Berthelot on January 26, 1659. Marie had her last child, son Joachim, a year later.
It would be the family’s last happy year.
In June the following year, 1660, the third tragedy occurred. Louis and seven other neighbourhood men got caught up in the politics of the era. They ended up being scapegoats in the Beaver War.
The Beaver War took place because the fur trade encouraged by British, French and Dutch colonialism pitted Algonquian and Wendat, who sided with the French, against the Haudenosaunee (called the Iroquois in Jesuit papers), who sided with the British and Dutch. Things became even worse after the British and Dutch decided to arm their First Nations allies with rifles. The French refused to supply weapons to theirs.
The weapons imbalance combined with over-hunting led to Haudenosaunee raids of the colonies. Marie’s husband became one of the victims. He probably died in Auriesville.
“Louis disappeared from the records, and it’s believed he was among a group of 8 people who were captured in a raid by some Iroquois on the morning of June 18, 1661. The settlers were forcibly taken to the tribe’s village near Lake Champlain in what is now New York. There the victims were tortured, then killed; one of them was known to have been beaten with “clubs and iron rods” before being scalped....4
Marie didn’t know for sure that her husband was dead until a notary arrived at her home a month later. At the time, she had two dairy cows, two heifers, an ox, two veal calves, nine pigs, a plow, a boat, two rifles, a pistol, an axe and household goods that included only three beds for Marie and six children.
Her son in law Claude guaranteed that she would take care of these goods for her children, her now dead husband’s heirs.
Yet still, Marie stayed strong. Five years after the tragic death of her husband, she remarried Paul DeRainville at 51 years old. Together, they raised my direct ancestor Ignace and his brothers, all of whom married and had Marie’s grandchildren.
By the time Marie died on November 12, 1687, peace still hadn’t arrived in New France. That wouldn’t occur until the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.
1Website accessed on February 21, http://www.gagnier.org/p0000353.htm, originally published by Reverend John F. Gasnier on February 8, 2012.
2Website accessed on February 23, https://www.perche-quebec.com/, originally published by Jean-François Loiseau, a board member of the Association Perche-Canada in Paris, France in May, 2019.
3Séminaire du Québec, http://www.seigneuriedebeaupre.ca/, https://charlevoixmontmorency.ca/portraits-seminaire-de-quebec/, accessed October 21, 2020.
4 Website accessed on February 22, 2021: http://ancestorbios.blogspot.com/2018/05/probably-killed-by-iroquois-louis.html originally published by Laura M., Portland, Oregon, May, 2018.
One thought on “The tribulations of New France colonist Marie Michel”
Lucy Anglin has educated and entertained many Genealogy Ensemble readers with biographies of her forebears, including the Lindsays. I just want to add another apparent link to the chain here. Grace Lindsay, my late father’s first cousin, and daughter of John (Jack) Sharples Lindsay, married Simon Pierre Rainville. They lived for many years in Beauport.