Catholic Match-maker

The wedding of a thirty-six-year-old widower and his nineteen-year-old orphaned cousin took place the day before the Feast of St. Jean in 1750. The marriage bolstered a resilient family community that remained in the Saguenay through local strife, high taxes, and the burning down of their farm by the British in 1759. Together, the couple produced six children, including our ancestor, Marie-Anne, who was born in 1761.

The match may also have been one of many successful unions organized by the bride’s godmother, an Ursuline nun named Félicité Poulin.

Poulin was an 18th century career woman and eventually became known in religious circles as the “Mère de L’Assomption” (Mother of Assumption). She served in the St. Anne de Beaupré Shrine when her god-daughter was baptised there but became leader of her order by the time of the wedding. Her influence over the bride, whose name was Félicité Simard, would presumably have increased as Simard’s mother died when she was only seven years old. When Simard’s father died in 1741, Poulin may have taken over the responsibility for her marital prospects.

The groom was a farmer named Joseph Dufour. His mother and Simard’s grandmother were sisters, so Poulin would have at least known his reputation, if not him personally. She must have acted quickly after Dufour’s first wife, Marie Anne Tremblay, died in September 1749. Dufour’s wedding to Simard occurred only seven months later.

Jesuit Father Claude-Godefroi Coquart likely played a role too. During the winter of 1749, Coquart inspected the farm Dufour and three of his children were running on Crown land in La Malbaie (Murray’s Bay) along the Saguenay for the King of France. In a report dated the day after Dufour and Simard’s wedding, Coquart urgently requested that the King of France lower Dufour’s taxes. The farmer could starve, wrote the Jesuit. The requirement that Dufour send the King half the wool produced by eight of his own sheep wasn’t fair, he explained. Dufour and his three grown daughters were working “even beyond the limits of their strength.” (See the story Joseph Dufour’s Farm for a description.)

Was Coquart’s plea to the King a wedding gift? Did Poulin have anything to do with it? We don’t know.

I haven’t even confirmed whether Coquart and Poulin knew one another, but the Ursulines and the Jesuits were close colleagues in New France, so they probably did. Coquart moved into an Ursuline mission after he retired, though that was after Poulin had died.

Did the King eventually lower Dufour’s taxes? Did the family rebuild their farm after it was burned down? It’s not clear. All we know for sure is that the couple stayed in Malbaie and continued raising children there until Dufour’s death on April 1774, at 61 years of age.

Our direct ancestor Marie-Anne would have been only thirteen years old when her father died. Fifteen months later—on July 20, 1775—her mother and nineteen-year-old brother, Dominique Benjamin, died too. Like her mother, she became an orphan.

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