For Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight one of Sutro Library’s most popular titles: King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663 – 1673 by Peter J. Gagné. The book provides information on the French women sent to populate New France known as Les Filles du Roi (The King’s Daughters). The Filles du Roi were 768 women sponsored by King Louis XIV of France in an attempt to boost the amount of filles à marier (marriageable girls) in the fledgling colony. Although the term Filles du Roi did not originate until 25 years after the program ended, the legacy of the decade-long program is still felt today: at least two-thirds of French Canadians can trace their ancestry to one of these women. This includes well-known American figures with French Canadian roots like Hillary Clinton, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie.
About new France and the Daughters
French colonists claimed land that belonged to the Inuit, Iroquois, and Algonquin peoples, initially forming New France along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, Newfoundland, and Acadia (Nova Scotia). By 1663, the population of the New France colony was only at 2,500 and there were up to 14 times as many marriageable men as there were women. Not to mention their English neighbors’ total population outnumbered the French 18 to 1. Many factors contributed to the low rate of females in the colony: cost of sea passage, harsh weather conditions, and limited infrastructure. Wishing to secure the colony’s continued growth, the King paid for the passage of nearly 800 marriageable women and girls to travel from France to the colony with the purpose of increasing the population through marriage and procreation. The influx of women would hopefully encourage men to stay in New France rather than leave once their three-year term of service expired. King Louis XIV was not the first to adopt this solution: the English sent women to Virginia, and Spain did the same with their colonies in the West Indies.
The choice to become a Fille du Roi was voluntary. Women went willingly and sought to better their lives through marriage. Many lacked familial connections in France, but not all Filles du Roi were orphans nor were they prostitutes, which is a common misconception. Women went through a screening process providing a birth certificate and recommendation from their parish priest or local magistrate confirming she was free to marry. Their passage was paid for by the King, and they were given a case which included clothing, needles, 2 livres of cash as well as a dowry from the Royal Treasury. It was about a two-month journey from France, and most departed from the port of Dieppe and arrived in Quebec City. Getting fever, dysentery and other illnesses during a voyage was not uncommon, and it’s estimated at least 60 would-be Filles du Roi perished on their way to New France.
The first 36 women arrived on September 22, 1663. Since they were still unmarried, the women lived in dormitory-style housing and learned practical skills like sewing, cooking, and washing. Dating for the Filles du Roi was slightly like our modern-day speed dating: the women went on supervised dates with potential candidates until the women determined who they would marry and when the marriage would take place. Many of the women would not have this type of agency or freedom had they stayed in France.
After a match was made, a contract was drawn up. In many of the biographies, these initial matches were often annulled and new contracts created with new suitors. The ceremony usually followed a month later. The average age difference between husband and wife was 4.5 years, and the youngest Filles du Roi to marry was age 13. To encourage procreation, the French government provided monetary incentives to couples to have large families. Once a family reached 10 children they received a 300 livre annual pension. Even with this incentive, the average number of children was 6. And 47 Filles du Roi had twins. In fact, Anne Girard had two sets of twins back to back! There are even examples of Filles du Roi who adopted like Gabrielle Danneville.
The last ship carrying Filles du Roi arrived in September of 1673.The program lasted over 10 years ending after being deemed too costly. France declared war on the Dutch in 1672 so it’s likely they needed funds to be redirected to this effort. The population of New France had increased to 6,700, more than doubling after only a decade. To put it in context, this baby boom was much bigger than that of World War II. The last living Daughter, Anne Rabady died on September 4, 1747 at the age of 93.
about the Book
Copies of Peter J. Gagné’s book in California are hard to find: only one other library in the Bay Area holds the title, and two more in Southern California. While most sources on this subject focus on social and demographic aspects, this 2-volume set presents comprehensive biographies as well as: photographs and reproductions of artwork relating to the Filles du Roi; biographies of the 36 women falsely identified as Filles du Roi; a table of all the King’s Daughters by year of arrival; an appendix with supporting documentation; a glossary; a thematic index; and an index of husbands. Gagné defines Filles du Roi as women who immigrated to Canada under the King’s expense even if the women ended up returning to France. He does not consider those who arrived before or after the program or those who were married in France.
What’s remarkable about the set is the different ways to view the data. And one of those ways is a “Complete Table of Filles du Roi by Year of Arrival.” The last column on this table displays the number of descendants each Filles du Roi had by 1729. The women with the most descendants at this point were (not including those who had husbands with children from previous marriages):
- Nicole Philippeau who had 17 children leading to 185 descendants;
- Catherine Pillat who had 12 children in her 2nd marriage leading to 254 descendants;
- And Anne Lemaître who had 306 descendants due to her son from her first marriage who came to Canada before she did.
A selection of Stories
Only a few first-hand accounts exist on life as a Filles du Roi so the book’s biographical dictionary may be the closest researchers have to learning more about these women. The majority of the entries include information on the women’s parents, her estimated year of birth and arrival; amount of the dowry; names of annulled matches; husband’s name, birth year, and location and his parents’ names; children’s birth year, baptismal date; and date of death of the women, and also date of death of children or husband if they died before she did. If she died before her husband, information is also given if the husband remarried. Quite often they married another Fille du Roi.
Depending on what records exist, some entries have even more information and stories about these women which led to longer entries. If the woman came to Canada and returned to France (married or not) their entries will be significantly shorter than those who stayed in Canada. The longest entry is for Marie Rivière, and this is due to her husband Jean Ratier dit Dubuisson who was sentenced to execution after a quarrel he was involved in left a woman dead. The executioner died before carrying out Jean’s sentence so Jean was given a choice: to wait until an executioner was picked or become the next executioner. He chose the latter. In another interesting turn of events, years later his wife, Marie, was imprisoned for stealing. Jean had to deal out the punishment and placed his wife in the stocks. Later, their son was imprisoned for stealing tools. Like his father before him, he was given the choice to leave jail if he took up the office of executioner, and he did.
Another story of note is that of Marie-Claude Chamois, the youngest child of the secretary to the King and herald of the arms of France. After being rejected by her mother, she left for New France at the age of 14 to start a new life. A few years later, she married François Frigon dit L’Espagnol. When her brother died, she was left the sole heir of her father’s fortune. With the blessing of her husband, she returned to France to claim her inheritance leaving her 7 children behind with François. Her mother still refused to recognize Marie-Claude as her daughter. The court would take 8 years to reach a judgement, and Marie-Claude did not return to Canada and her family until a decision was made.
The last story I want to share is that of a woman of color. Espérance Durosaire was born in Brazil but may have been brought up by a French family. She and her husband did not stay long in the colony after their marriage. Considering that she was referred to as La Moresque (The Moor) and the notary wrote in her marriage contract that she was “a savage woman of the Brazilian nation of Gaul,” I wonder if the reason she returned to France so soon was due to ill-treatment in the colony.
While she is the only Fille du Roi who is identified as a person of color in Gagné’s books, other Filles du Roi had descendants of color, and this was due to their sons marrying indigenous women referred to in the book as “Amerindians.” One example is Marie Gravois whose sons, Joseph and Michel became engagés Ouest (fur traders) settling in Kaskaskia (the land commonly called Illinois). They both married indigenous women: Joseph married Marie Maouensaoua and Michel married Marie Ouacanteoua. They are just two examples mentioned in the book of Filles du Roi sons who became engagés Ouest and married native women.
The remarkable stories of these strong women told in this invaluable resource is available only on-site in our Reading Room. At our Library you will also find other resources related to French Canadian research, including our robust collection of one-of-kind family histories. While the Sutro Library still remains closed to the public, if you’d like us to perform a look-up from this work, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and your query will be added to our queue. Once staff are able to return to the Library, we will begin fulfilling reference requests.
Today’s post was written by Sutro Library’s Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.
For Further filles du roi research (list compiled by Andie Guanci)
- The King’s Daughters by Joy Reisinger & Elmer Courtreau (in English; not at Sutro Library)
- Les Filles du Roi en Nouvelle-France by Silvio Dumas (in French; not at Sutro Library)
- Les Filles du roi au XVIIe siècle by Yves Landry (in French; not at Sutro Library)
- Before the King’s Daughters : the Filles à Marier, 1634-1662 by Peter Gagné (in English; located at Sutro Library)
- La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan (The Society of the King’s Daughters and the Carignan Soldiers) — https://fillesduroi.org/
- American French-Canadian Genealogical Society — https://afgs.org/site/
- Migrations.fr — http://www.migrations.fr/page%20d’accueil.htm (Free)
- FrancoGene.com — Généalogie des Francais d’Amerique du Nord – Filles du roi — http://www.francogene.com/gfan/gfan/998/fdr.htm (Free)
- Fichier Origine — https://fichierorigine.com/(Free)