My mother was descended from a King’s Daughter.
OK, not actually a princess. Just someone who was paid by the French government to go to New France and marry a local farmer. But it still sounds cool to say we’re related to a King’s Daughter.
Who were the King’s Daughters?
Les Filles du Roi were unmarried women recruited in the late 1600s to, as the Canadian Encyclopedia puts it, “correct the gender imbalance” in New France. Basically, the French government had originally only been interested in raping the New World of its resources and suddenly realized that there were many, many more English settlers in the colonies to the south. Without a larger population of people who had a vested interest in actually staying in New France longer than their military or fur trapper contracts obliged, New France could easily be overrun.
In the end, of course, this is essentially what happened. Although the 800-odd King’s Daughters were successfully married to farmers as well as French army soldiers — whom they were able to choose, as it turns out — the population of New France never came close to that of the British Colonies. But nearly two-thirds of present-day Québécois can trace their ancestry directly to a Fille du Roi.
And so can many US families, particularly in New England and New York. In my family’s case, the King’s Daughter was Henriette Danielle Cartois.
Henriette Cartois: An uncommon “daughter”
Records of Henriette prior to her arrival in Québec City in 1671 are scarce, but there is some indication that she may have come from a Protestant family. If she were secretly a Huguenot, constantly under the threat of not just discrimination but open violence from the government, she may have been eager to escape France. This would be a very curious fact, if proven, considering that the despotic Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) refused to allow Huguenots to emigrate to New France.
Whatever her reasons for emigrating, it does seem that she was an independent-minded, strong-willed woman. Qualities necessary for survival in New France, where most had no reason to go.
Her first marriage was to Michel Autebout, who came from Le Mans, now famous for car racing. Evidently, Henriette had second thoughts after meeting her husband, as she annulled the marriage four days later, but then reconsidered and signed another marriage contract. The couple had two daughters, but Michel died after only a handful of years, leaving all his property to Henriette; little is known about Michel, but given his “dit” nickname (“Belhumeur,” or “The Good-natured one”), he was probably a former soldier in the French Army Carignan regiment, or perhaps the son of a soldier stationed in Québec City.
At the time her first husband died, Henriette had property valued at roughly 350 livres, to go along with the 50 livres given her as a Fille du Roi. In today’s money, that’s about $7000. Not too shabby.
It’s unknown why her first husband died, but fortunately (for my mother, and for me, and for a few thousand living Québécois) Henriette immediately got married again, this time to a farmer named André Patry (also spelled Patris or Patrie).
Enter husband No. 2: André Patry
André’s story was written up some time ago in a book that is now out of print. Suffice to say that he is basically the progenitor of anybody named Patry in Québec — and there are lots of people by that name.
Originally a servant from Airvault — a small village northeast of La Rochelle after which it is said François Marie Arouet took his pen name of Voltaire — André worked long enough to become a freeman and own his own farm just outside Québec City.
His marriage to Henriette lasted until his death nearly 25 years later. During their marriage, André seems to have been constantly lending and borrowing property and money, and Henriette was constantly going to court to sue for proper payment. Whereas André was quite obviously terrible at running his finances, Henriette gained a reputation as a hard bargainer and was clearly more outspoken than her husband. She insisted that their marriage be “joint,” meaning that all of the property be owned equally by both husband and wife, which gave her a fair amount of clout (if not respect) in the community.
When André died in 1697 at the young age of 48, Henriette again signed a “joint” marriage contract with another former soldier (Jean Coutelet dit La Rochelle), but he reneged on the agreement, leaving her destitute. With two young children still at home, Henriette begged a neighbor to give her charity. When he refused, she stole 32 livres from his playing card table and ran off. She was quickly arrested and brought to the Provost of Québec (the highest judge in New France).
The judge must have felt lenient, as Henriette got married for a third and final time shortly thereafter, at the age of 51, to the same person who had previously reneged the marriage contract. Nothing more is known of her until she died in Saint-Vallier, a small farming community across the St. Lawrence River from Québec City, in 1728. Records at the time reported her age as “100,” but she was probably 77 or 78. Still, an impressive age, considering her life and times.
So why did she come to North America?
I have to wonder about the fact that all three of her husbands were from the Loire Valley. Michel was from Le Mans, farther inland, but André was from Airvault and Jean came from La Rochelle itself. The medieval Knights Templar-related coastal city of La Rochelle was a hotspot of religious conflict in the 1600s; the background of The Three Musketeers is the siege of La Rochelle and environs, and New Rochelle, New York, was founded by Huguenots fleeing religious persecution and violence.
The ship that carried Henriette to New France along with hundreds of other King’s Daughters left from La Rochelle. But most records claim that Henriette was from l’Île de Paris (or at least baptized there), and that her parents were from Châlons-en-Champagne, Marne, in the Champagne-Ardenne region northeast of Paris. Her parents were still alive when she was sent to New France.
So why did she go? Was she indeed coerced? Do she go voluntarily? Most of the King’s Daughters were destitute orphans. Henriette clearly was not.
Regardless of her reasons for emigrating, Henriette Danielle Cartois was clearly not a woman to be trifled with. Nearly 150 years after her death, her descendant Sophie Patry married Ferdinand Lewis dit Clermont, a descendant of a soldier in the conquering British Army of 1760. And their child Joseph brought my French ancestral line down to Troy, New York.
Distant relations? Sure. Only one of many. But had I known about this as a teenager, it would have made high school history class a whole lot more interesting…
For more on the King’s Daughters / Les Filles du Rois, visit Canada’s sesquicentennial website Canada: The Story of Us or stop by Les Filles du Roi and the Virtual Museum of New France, among many, many other web sites about this ten-year window into North American history.