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In my family there were 18 women among the famous Filles du Roi, the "daughters of the king" who came to Canada in the 1600s as marriageable women when the French military began returning to France because there were no eligible girls with whom they could share their lives in the new world.

Michelle Ouinville was only one of our Filles ancestors with a remarkable life, but her story of resilience and strength would compensate for many. She was born about 1647 in Paris to a woman named Antoinette Bonnard and her husband Pierre Ouinville. When Michelle was 21 and after losing both parents, she was interviewed and accepted for passage to New France where she would be free to choose a husband if she found him desirable. And there would be many to choose from, she was undoubtedly told.

The ship La Nouvelle France, laden with cargo and 79 Filles du Roi, made a spring departure from Dieppe. Michelle brought her trousseau as her dowry with belongings which she stated to be worth about 400 livres. Compared to other trips made by French sailing vessels to Québec, this voyage was made in good time, spending just two months at sea and arriving in Québec City in early summer. However, unlike most Filles who remained there, Michelle decided to resume her passage to the ship’s next destination, Trois Rivières, where just 12 per cent of all Filles du Roi would venture to start their new lives. Here she would face her responsibility to accept the future without looking back. To do so would have been futile anyway.

Nicolas Barabé was also born about 1647. His place of birth is recorded as Quincampoix in Normandy, France. He was the son of Robert Barabé and Marie Tarou. Little more is known about his early life in the old country, but the official census of 1667 revealed his presence at Trois-Rivières where he was the servant-engagé of Étienne Seigneuret. He was just 20 years old at the time, but he might very well have been in Canada for several years. Or not.

Since most literature about the meetings that brought the Filles du Roi together with their spouses focuses on the large number who landed in Québec City — actually 70 per cent, we surmise that meetings with potential husbands were very similar at Trois-Rivières, the next port of call. How Michelle Ouinville vetted Nicolas Barabé and chose him for marriage will never be known, of course, but we do know that on October 21, 1668, notary Séverin Ameau drew up a marriage contract between them, both 21 years old, and neither could sign it. The couple consummated their marriage, received Michelle’s regal gift of 50 livres in kind, and settled in Trois-Rivières where they had five children. Four would survive their childhood years.

Until this point in her life, nothing was highly unusual for Michelle Ouinville, at least in the culture of early Québec. But in roughly May 1676, scarcely eight years after she had stepped off La Nouvelle France, Michelle became a widow when Nicolas Barabé drowned in a storm on the Saint-Laurent. She was just 29 years old.

Clearly women were a valuable commodity in New France, and as mentioned earlier, most widowed Filles appear to have remarried at record speed, often within weeks, sometimes within days. But the records reveal a contract drawn August 23, 1676 by notary Séverin Ameau in which Michelle, now widowed for several months, leased out three pigs, perhaps in an effort to raise money to feed her young children. Unlike others, she may have been far more discerning in whom she would choose after losing Nicolas.

Life was not over for Michelle Ouinville.

Somewhere among Trois Rivières’ 500 inhabitants was a man named Michel Lemay dit Le Poudrier. He was born about 1630 in Chêsnehutte-les-Tuffeau, in the French province of Anjou, the son of François Lemay and Marie Gaschet. He had been in Canada since about 1653 and in the Trois-Rivières area since 1654. Records divulge that on March 9, 1655, he was a party to a contract prepared by notary Séverin Ameau to clear an island near Trois-Rivières. Michel Lemay was a mature man and himself a widower. Eighteen years earlier, he’d married Marie-Madeleine Duteau in 1659 with whom he had nine children before her death.

Michelle Ouinville would become Michel Lemay’s new lifemate. On April 12, 1677, nearly a year after Nicolas Barabé’s death, notary Antoine Adhémar drew up a marriage contract between Michelle, now 30, and Michel Lemay, now 46, in the home of a friend at Batiscan. Neither spouse signed the contract, but Pierre Loiseau, future husband of an unrelated Fille du Roi, signed as a witness.

About a year after they married, Michelle and Michel moved with their large, extended family to Lotbinière where Michel Lemay owned a plot with six arpents of frontage (an arpent being about .8 of an acre) and worked as an eel fisherman. At that time a barrel of salted eels sold for 25 to 30 livres — a handsome sum in those days. Soon the couple had two more children, thus increasing the number of their shared progeny to a whopping 15.

While Michel Lemay had already named a daughter Marie-Madeleine Lemay from his first marriage, he and Michelle Ouinville gave their own firstborn the same name — unwittingly creating potential for serious confusion in future generations!

More tragedy befell Michelle. In November 1684, and still in the prime of her life, her husband Michel Lemay died at 54 years old and Michelle became a widow for the second time. Again, no cause of death is cited in the records. Still in her 30s, it was obvious that she found herself with little or no hope of providing for an abundance of 15 young lives that included a toddler, pre-adolescent children, and many teenagers.

On February 3, 1685, the courts of New France, known as the Prévôté de Québec elected guardians for all the minor children left in her care, most being from Michel Lemay’s first marriage. Michelle was to remain the legal guardian of all children for whom she was the natural mother. An inventory of the estate was prepared on February 28 by Jean Baudet and Jean Hamel who estimated its value at 444 livres, 5 sols. It would have been a paltry amount under such extenuating circumstances.

No doubt Michelle Ouinville was a desirable woman and would not die a lonely soul. Just one year after Michel Lemay’s death, at Lotbinière she married a third time. On November 5, 1685 she entered into a marriage contract with Louis Montenu, drawn by notary Pierre Duquet. Now she was 38. Montenu was four years her junior, born about 1651 in La Rochelle in France. He and Michelle continued to live at Lotbinière but did not have more children. In 1696 Louis-François Lemay, her youngest child died at just 12 years old. Regrettably and predictably no information regarding the cause of death is stated in the archives.

Michelle Ouinville died at the hospital Hôtel-Dieu de Québec On November 20, 1700. At just 53 years old, she failed by an entire decade to meet the average longevity of her Filles du Roi peers. Louis Montenu died 24 years later at Lotbinière.

Artist concept of Michelle Ouinville

In 2000 a commemorative plaque was affixed to Chênehutte-Trèves-Cunault for Michel Lemay by the Canadian-French Genealogical Friendship (society). Ironically, nothing of the sort exists for Michelle Ouinville.

in The Tree House by Denis Thievin G2G Rookie (190 points)
edited by Ellen Smith
Michelle Ouinville came from Paris, like a lot of others.  Paris archives went up in smoke in 1870s so a lot of records are gone.  So no plaques.

1 Answer

+2 votes
Hello Denis

Nice work, is her page.

A couple of corrections are needed:  

Ships from France stopped at Québec city and went no further.  The various women who arrived were actually ''distributed'' to different main locations, although a majority got married in Québec city.  Some got sent to Trois-Rivières area, some to Montréal island, some to Sorel area, and some to île d'Orléans.  They traveled by small boats.  The French ships were too big to access most places up the St-Lawrence.

The Prévôté de Québec did not elect guardians, the officers there under the Sovereign Council would respond to requests by family/friends to have tutors (trustees) named for the minor children, and would direct the petitioner to get an assembly of family and friends done before the officer in charge of the area.  These friends/family would then elect the tutors, one main one and one subrogate.  This would be presented to the officer who would put the final seal on it and have these tutors sworn in.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (513k points)

Danielle, your answer may very well be correct.  But most of anything I've written on the Filles du Roi is not my research but rather that of Peter J. Gagné from his double-volume King's Daughters and Founding Mothers.  Without revisiting, I'll venture to say that your description of the distribution of FsDR is the first that I've heard of it.  Likewise for your detail on the Prévôté de Québec, which sounds quite plausible.  It would be helpful if you provide a source for these so that I feel justified in changing what I've already covered.

oh dear, as far as the Prévôté de Québec procedures, I have gone through I don't know how many original documents on the question of tutor assignation, and they all run 1) somebody petitions the Prévôté about the need for a tutor and sub, 2) the officer in charge orders an assembly of friends and family to be done before him, 3) the assembly is held and they elect the tutor and sub 4) the officer accepts the recommendations and swears them in (swearing to uphold the rights of the children etc).  I find them in BAnQ  : Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec/Québec National Library and Archives

As far as the ships and their arrival here, this site has a whole listing of them:

Ships landed either at Tadoussac or Québec city, not farther up the St-Lawrence.  This article gives a brief history of it and the perils of going up the St-Lawrence (in French)

It was not an easy navigation as it is today.  Some ships even foundered before reaching Québec city.  

As far as the distribution of the FdR to the various locations, I don't know how it was determined who went where, could have been catch-as-catch-can, but there are too many out of the 700 odd who came here who marry in other locations than Québec city for it to have been otherwise.
I'm a little surprised that you refer to as though there should be nothing questionable about records listed there.  Part of my agony in trying to nail down the precise ships that delivered my FDR ancestors was in discovering that there are several sites with similar details, yet among them all there is equivocation about vessel names and arrival dates. This frustrating fact was pointed out to me by an author who interest in the subject led to an inevitable conclusion:  If mistakes like this are so common in current sources, then how can we trust that numerous other mistakes don't also exist?

Gagné's work is very highly regarded, and clearly it would have been scrutinized by other thorough historians.  You make no mention of it.  Again, while the changes you suggest seem completely plausible, I remain careful until I've had time to explore.  I would love to hear what Lanctôt, Landry, and Trudel have stated on these topics, but unfortunately I speak and read only English.
There is a caveat on the naviresnouvellefrance web site at the beginning of the introduction, to the effect that these lists are ''best source available'', and rely on a variety of authors.  Ship rolls departing France mostly named crew and captain, and are found in Amirauté records there when they still exist.  Few of them contain passenger lists.  Some passengers are known to arrive by x ship from the Jesuit relations or other documents of the era.

I don't use Gagné's work, for one thing I don't have it to hand.  Trudel doesn't particularly go into detail on the Filles du roi, his interests were mostly for the earlier migrations, notably Percherons.  I have Landry's book, he doesn't give data on ships nor exact arrival dates, just a year of arrival.  Guy Perron is good on giving data on various ship voyages, he is fabulously thorough on his sourcing and includes ship charters and other documents available from the Amirauté, but his interest is mainly on those ships departing from La Rochelle.  There are other authors to consult, such as Gustave Lanctôt and Michel Langlois, but again the availability of their works is haphazard.

But all of these are in French, and since the original documents are all in that language, I would strongly suggest you take a course in the language.  I'm a great fan of looking at original records as much as possible myself.

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