If you have French-Canadian ancestry, you probably have encountered the term "Filles du Roi" at some point in your genealogy research. Millions of today's Canadians and Americans can find one or more of the Filles du Roi in the family tree. I thought I would explain the term this week and also provide some historical background information.
The French term "Filles du Roi" translates literally as "the daughters of the King." Between 700 and perhaps 1,000 young, single women traveled to Quebec City, Trois Rivières, and Montréal from 1663 to 1673 as a part of a program managed by the Jesuits and funded by King Louis XIV.
These hardy immigrant women married and raised families. In fact, many of them raised large families in the tradition of the day. Many of their sons and daughters went on to also have large families, and so on and so forth for generations. As a result, millions of living people are descended from this group of pioneer women.
In the mid-1600s, most of the people arriving in what was then called New France were young French men intent on farming or fur trapping. Relatively few women traveled to the new land, which created a problem for these young men: there were very few women of marrying age.
As if the farmers and fur trappers didn't have enough competition finding wives, King Louis XIV sent almost 1,200 soldiers of the Carignan-Salières regiment to Québec in 1665 to fight the Iroquois Indians, who were aggressive and killed many settlers. The soldiers were deployed at strategic points of the territory to defend the colony and its residents. The regiment was successful, and a peace treaty with the Iroquois was signed on July 10, 1667. The Regiment then returned to France but left behind 400 soldiers and officers, aged between 19 and 30, who all agreed to remain in the country as settlers. With an additional 400 young men added to the colony, the marriage problems worsened. Jean Talon, intendant of New France, carried out the colony's first census. He recorded that the population was a bit more than 3,000, with 719 unmarried males and only 45 unmarried females living in the colony. This did not bode well for the future of the settlement.
In the custom of the day, the oldest daughter of a family in France received as large a dowry as possible from her parents to improve her chances of marriage. Dowries often included furniture, household articles, silver, land, or other inherited goods. Younger daughters of the same family typically received smaller dowries. Daughters of impoverished families often received no dowry at all, which reduced their chances of finding a suitable mate. These younger daughters were prime candidates for an opportunity in the New World.
Starting in 1663, the French government recruited eligible young French women who were willing to travel to New France to find husbands. The King of France offered to pay for transportation to New France of any eligible young woman. He also offered a dowry for each, to be awarded upon her marriage to a young Frenchman. Each woman's dowry typically consisted of 1 chest, 1 taffeta kerchief, 1 ribbon for shoes, 100 needles, 1 comb, 1 spool of white thread, 1 pair of stockings, 1 pair of gloves, 1 pair of scissors, 2 knives, about 1,000 pins, 1 bonnet, 4 laces, and 2 silver livres (French coins). Many also received chickens, pigs, and other livestock. Because the King of France paid the dowries instead of the parents, these women were referred to as the "Daughters of the King," or "Filles du Roi."
Their travels must have been difficult. In 1664, the Conseil Souverain reported to the French minister for the colonies, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, that sixty of the 300 people who embarked at La Rochelle the previous year had died at sea before reaching New France.
In France Madame Bourdon was made responsible for one hundred and fifty girls whom the king sent to New France in vessels from Normandy. She wrote that the young women in her charge gave her plenty of exercise during such a long voyage since they were of all kinds and conditions. Some were very badly brought up and very difficult to handle. Others were better bred and gave Mme. Bourdon more satisfaction.
There are many contradictory stories about the origins of these women. Some stories claim that they were mostly prostitutes who were forced onto ships in French harbors and sent to New France against their will. Other stories claim that these women were mostly recruited by Jesuits who insisted upon accepting only women of the finest moral character. The truth is probably somewhere between these two extremes. About 40 Daughters, called Daughters of Quality (filles de qualité), were from wealthy upper class families and had dowries of over 2000 French pounds. Several of the Daughters of Quality have provable descents from royalty.
On October 27, 1667, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Quebec intendant Jean Talon confirmed the recent arrival of the first young ladies. Jean Talon wrote:
Instead of the 50 that your despatch had me hope for, 84 young girls were sent from Dieppe and 25 from La Rochelle. There are fifteen or twenty from quite good families; several are real young ladies and quite well brought up…
The vast majority of the group was of French origin, although there were girls of other nationalities as well. According to the records of Marie de l' Incarnation, who knew many of these women, there were among them one Moor, one Portuguese, one German, and one Dutch woman.
Those who arrived safely usually found husbands within a few weeks. In fact, there are records of some of the young women marrying within days after their arrival in New France. Since many of them produced large families, hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of people in North America today can find one or more of these young women in their family tree.
An alphabetical listing of all the Filles du Roi and their husbands is available on the Encyclopedia of Genealogy at: http://www.fillesduroi.org/src/Filles_list.htm
You can find a lot more information about the Filles du Roi on the World Wide Web. Some of the better sites include the following list:
A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada: http://www.whitepinepictures.com/seeds/i/12/sidebar.html
An essay by Peter Gagné on Quintin Publications' Web site: http://www.quintinpublications.com/fdr.html
La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan at http://www.fillesduroi.org/
Les Filles du Roi at Mouvement estrien pour le français: http://www.mef.qc.ca/filles_du_roi.htm
Les Filles du Roi at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/alain.perron/fillesduroy.htm
Memoire de Sieur Jean Talon at: http://www.mcq.org/histoire/filles_du_roi/
A chart of the origins of the young women may be found at The Musée de la civilisation and the Musée de l'Amérique française: http://www.mcq.org/histoire/filles_du_roi/plan.html
If you do not read or speak French, the above sites can be translated into English by using the machine-generated translation services available at Google. The results will be grammatically incorrect and even humorous at times, but still quite readable.
There are many other Web sites devoted to the Filles du Roi. Use your favorite search engine to find them or click here for a search on Google.