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Episode 19: Murderous Filles au Marier?

I really like a cold open to each episode, but I can’t do that this time because I need to warn you that today’s episode contains graphic violence.

And on that note, Welcome to the Maple Family Treehouse.

Almost 400 years ago, Montreal, Quebec was a struggling fort called Ville Marie. In the effort to colonize the area for France in the 1600s, settlers had to defend the fort during one of the most tumultuous times – The Beaver Wars. In the 17th century, the Haudenosaunee economy became interdependent with the European fur trade. They began trading with British and Dutch merchants early that century, providing animal pelts in return for iron tools, firearms, blankets and other items.

Their traditional enemies, including the Huron-Wendat and Algonquin, established trading relationships and alliances with French merchants and colonists. The fur trade was intensely competitive and led to increased hostility between First Nations.

By the middle of the 17th century, the Haudenosaunee had depleted the numbers of beaver in their homeland and began a campaign to increase their hunting and trapping grounds. [i]

From 1649-1670, the Iroquois attempted to establish themselves as middlemen in new territory, but when they were not successful, they turned to piracy of fur fleets coming to Montreal after 1656. The Beaver Wars grew out of this conflict—and established the Iroquois as the dominant power. During this time, they ambushed French ships, blockaded rivers and then seized the furs on board.

The Huron and Ottawa had successful trading relationships with the French, so they were the primary groups that the Iroquois attacked in their attempt to gain control of the trade.

The English, on the other hand had a rivalry with the French, and supplied the Iroquois and encouraged their efforts as it would help them defeat the French in colonizing North America.

During the beaver wars Fort Ville Marie struggled to maintain an adequate population in the face of constant battle. At the start of the 1650s, Ville-Marie (Montreal) was in danger. There were only a few dozen men left to defend the colony. Some of the first to arrive here became discouraged and returned to France. 1651 was a particularly difficult year. No one dared go out unarmed and no month went by without victims. Jeanne Mance had to abandon the Hôtel-Dieu and take refuge, like many others, in the Ville-Marie fort. The governor and founder of Montreal, Paul de Chomedy, Sieur de Maisonneuve, decided to look for help in France. He would return with at least 100 recruits, or not at all.[ii] Well, Chomedy did return with 100 recruits, and my 9th great grandfather, Simon Galbrun, was one of those 100 men.

Once a work contract was completed, it was the hope that the men would remain in the colony and settle down, but the low number of French speaking women was a deterrent to most workers. Simon decided to settle down in Ville Marie and he met Francoise Duverger soon after.

Francoise Duverger came to New France as a bride-to-be long before France began sending the Filles Du Roi whose contracts included everything needed to establish a homestead. Francoise and her sister were offered nothing more than the possibility of a better life. That offer was made to Francoise and Suzanne by none other than Jeanne Mance (founder of the first hospital in Montreal) and Marguerite Bourgeoys (founder of the religious order, Congregation de Notre-Dame de Montreal). Both women left Ville Marie for France to raise some financing and get new recruits. The Associates of Montreal had provided funds for a few soldiers, laborers and brides-to-be, to help bolster the small community, and among the latter group were two sisters from St. Sulpice; Suzanne and Francoise Du Verger, my 9th great grandmother.

The Saint-André left La Rochelle in July 1659. For 2 years, it had served as a hospital for the troops of the navy but had not been disinfected in any way. There will be around 18 deaths by illness during the voyage because of this. The trip lasted 2 months, with multiple storms slowing it down. It finally arrived before Québec city on 9 September 1659.

Simon and Francoise met shortly after her arrival and about a year later, they were married on 3 November 1659 in Notre-Dame de Montréal. Simon and Francoise had 4 children together one of whom was my 8th great grandmother, Catherine Galbrun. She was the youngest of the four children, Born on October 10, 1667.

Not long after her birth, a drama would begin to unfold that would leave her without both her parents. When Catherine was age 2, her father Simon was shot in the street during a military exercise when a fellow officer, by the name of Laliberte accidentally discharged his firearm, killing Simon instantly. Laliberte fled, leaving his military duties, and his land grant, to escape the horror he had caused.

Francoise and her children were left to cope the best way they could.

When Catherine was 4 years old, Francoise married Jean Boulin dit Levielle in 1671. The marriage ended before it could begin. Francoise had publicly concealed the fact that she was pregnant and gave birth one day after her second marriage. A witness saw Francoise burying the infant in the yard where she lived. When questioned, Francoise reported that the infant was stillborn, regardless, the court of popular opinion raised suspicions, not only about the death of her infant one day after her marriage, but also in relation to the deaths of two previous children, and pregnancies that did not go to term, as well as the death of her husband.

The official courts proved to function no better than the court of public opinion.

The behaviours of women were scrutinized harshly and laws reflected as much. Particularly for women whose virtue was in question.

Francoise was officially accused of conspiring to kill her husband, a crime that had already been dealt with in the courts and ruled an accident.

When that charge did not pan out, Francoise however, was charged with and found guilty of concealing her recent pregnancy, inducing 3 abortions, and killing her most recent child.

The only charge with any evidence behind it was the charge of concealing her pregnancy.

Not satisfied with the fact that Francoise could not be charged for the murder of her late husband, she was sentence to be tortured until she told the truth about Simon’s death.

After which, she was hanged, her body put on display at the gallows. To save her own life, or at least extend the time she had alive, Francoise claimed to be pregnant. A medical examination confirmed that she was not pregnant, her execution took place in Quebec City on November 17, 1671, Francoise was hanged until dead and eventually thrown in the local garbage dump like trash.

Her estate was charged for the court fees and lodging, her possessions were confiscated, 1 quarter going to the King of France, one quarter going to the Hotel Dieu de Montreal, and the remaining half seized by the Conseil Souverain to be distributed to her children. [iii]

Boulin, Francoise’s second husband left to find work as a woodsman elsewhere and start over again.

My 8th great grandmother, Catherine Galbrun, was left alone in the world by the age of 4.

Records show that by this time Francoise sister Suzanne had returned to France.

Without extended family, I am left wondering who cared for Catherine. I wonder how much Catherine knew? How she coped? What supports did she have? How did her community treat her afterward? These are some of the questions I have about Catherine Galbrun. I may never get answers to those questions, but what I do know, is that She married Jean Hayet dit St Malo in 1674 in Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec. They had five children during their marriage. They both lived long healthy lives into their 70s and 80s, in Varennes, Quebec, where they were both buried together. If anything else, we know Catherine is resilient and strong. A survivor. A person whose story is worth telling. A story I now can tell. I am your 8th great grand son, and I am proud of your strength and resilience.

I debated whether to tell this story, but after considering the reason why I started sharing these stories - To get past the guilt and shame about my colonial, settler past – I decided to share it. If I (and my family) could know the specifics of our colonial settler past, it would be easier to participate in the larger healing process in Canada – reconciliation. I mentioned in an early episode of the show, that there have also been feelings of shame around our family history. Getting past shame is tough, but necessary for personal healing, family healing, and social change. Brene Brown, a renowned expert in shame, says it best, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change…vulnerability [on the other hand] is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” I think that is why I hesitated to tell this story, I am so often averse to feeling vulnerable, so I am telling this story in the hope of making change, and peace with the past.

[i],other%20First%20Nations%2C%20and%20French [ii] [iii] Gagne, Peter J. (2002). Before the King’s Daughters: The Filles au Marier, 1634 – 1662. Quintin Publications: Boston, Mass, USA.

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