Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Fillies of Roy

A few days ago, Dick Eastman wrote briefly about the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, a troop of about 1200 soldiers sent to Quebec from France by King Louis XIV to push the Indians back and help ensure the colony's survival. Once the situation stabilized, the soldiers were told they could go back to France if they wished, or they could remain in Quebec and live there. About 1/3 of the soldiers elected to remain in Quebec and settle there. Because the colony apparently didn't have enough women to offset this sudden increase in the male population, France organized the Filles du Roi (pronounced Fee du Wah, not fillies do Roy), or Daughters of the King. This group of between 700-1000 women, not actually daughters of the king but ordinary women (sometimes even orphans) basically agreed to help colonize Quebec by marrying the soldiers and other settlers and having big families. This was a big deal, because Quebec only had about 2600 people, compared to the 80,000 or so in the British colonies to the south. Dick includes several links to some very interesting articles in his post, so I recommend going through them all.

While reading Dick's article on the subject, a few things caught my eye. First was the illustration of how the soldiers dressed. To me, they look like traditional depictions of Davy Crockett but with a French hat instead of a coon-skin cap.

Carignan Soldier, courtesy of Dick Eastman's blog

The other thing was the fact that there were apparently no restrictions on who could join the regiment, except for one - they had to be at least 5'3" tall. Interesting requirement.

I wanted to see if I had any ancestors among this group, so I went through my file and looked for anyone far back enough to have qualified, and I found one! Jean Bessette, born about 1642 is the most distant paternal ancestor of Eleanor Bessette (who I have written about before), and he just happens to be one of these soldiers.

According to Sandra Goodwin of the Maple Stars and Stripes podcast, when the ladies of the Filles du Roi were brought to Quebec, they lived in convents under the care of nuns. The nuns would organize socials where the local men would come and meet the ladies. The ladies would ask them about their occupations, whether they had a house built, if it was ready to live in, etc. Sometimes there would be an offer of marriage on the spot. The ladies were not under pressure to accept, and could decline if they wanted to. If they declined, they could move on to the next town and attend the social there. They could keep doing this all the way to the end of the settlement, which was Montreal at the time (which actually led the men at Montreal to complain that all the pretty girls were getting married back east). But the end result of all these socials was that most of the Filles du Roi were married very soon after arriving in Quebec.

That seems to have been the case in my lineage. Anne Seigneur, daughter of Guillaume and Madeleine Seigneur, arrived in Quebec on the ship La Nouvelle France on March 7, 1668. She was married to Jean Bessette on July 3 that same year. Just enough time for her to get situated, meet Jean, confirm that he was a suitable match, and go and get hitched.

There's a lot more written about the Filles du Roi and the Carignan soldiers than I've had time to read so far, and it sounds like a fascinating story and time. I wonder if any other of my French lines lead back to the fillies of Roy?

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