the French Connection – Part 9 – the Women who Came to New France

There were two groups of women who came to New France early in the development of the colonies. The first group were the fille a marier or marriageable women. They came between 1643 and 1663. The second group were the Kings Daughters or Fille du Roi. They came later and had more benefits.

From the Many Roads website:

They (the marriage women) were promised nothing but the possibility of a better life. If they survived the perils of the crossing, they lived with the daily threat of death at the hands of the Iroquois. If they survived the Iroquois, they had to deal with the hard life of subsistence farming, harsh winters spent in a log cabin that they may have helped build, epidemics of smallpox and “fever” and difficult and often dangerous childbirth.

Cap Tourant - first farm in Quebec
Cap Tourant – first farm in Quebec

Crossing the Atlantic was a dangerous undertaking in the 1600s, and it is estimated that 10% of all passengers en route to New France died during the crossing. Sickness and disease were the main factors contributing to deaths at sea. Passengers were forced to share the hull with livestock that was either being shipped to the colony or served as meals during the crossing.  While the passengers may have been permitted on deck during good weather and calm seas, storms forced their confinement to the hull where they were shut in not only with the livestock, but also with the odor of latrine buckets, seasickness and the smoky lanterns used for lighting. The climate and close quarters fostered the rapid spread of diseases such as scurvy, fever and dysentery. Under such conditions, very little could be done for those who were suffering. The method for dealing with the dead was to sew them up in their blankets and throw them overboard during the night.

ships 1600s
ships 1600s

Most of the filles à marier belonged to the rural class and were the daughters of peasants and farmers. A small number were from urban families, the daughters of craftsmen, day laborers and servants, while an even smaller number were the daughters of businessmen, civil servants, military men and the petty nobility. Their average age was 22, and more than one-third had lost at least one parent. About 20% were related to someone who was already a colonist. Most were married within a year of their arrival in New France. While waiting to find a husband, many of the girls lodged with religious communities –either the Ursulines in Québec City or the Filles de la Congrégation Notre-Dame in Montréal– although about 100 filles à marier lodged with individuals.

Peter J. Gagné has defined the qualifications to be considered a fille à marier as follows:

  • Must have arrived before September 1663
  • Must have come over at marriageable age (12 thru 45)
  • Must have married or signed a marriage contract at least once in New France or have signed an enlistment contract
  • Must not have been accompanied by both parents
  • Must not have been accompanied by or joining a husband

[Source: Before the King’s Daughters: The Filles à Marier, 1634-1662 by Peter J. Gagné. Pawtucket, RI: Quinton Publications, 2002. pp 13-38]

the marriageable women
the marriageable women



Arrival of Les Filles du roi by C.W. Jeffreys
Arrival of Les Filles du roi by C.W. Jeffreys

In 1661, the population of New France consisted of about 2,500 souls, most of them men who were having a frightful time defending themselves against recurring attacks by Iroquois. French casualties were high and the settlers discouraged. A decision had to be made to support and defend New France with troops and emigrants or abandon the idea of colonization all together.

It was with the intervention of King Louis XIV, that beneficial change came about. In 1662, he sent out two ships with a hundred soldiers and nearly two hundred settlers to the colony. The following year, one hundred forty-nine more colonists arrived in Québec, of which thirty-eight were young women of marriagable age known as les Filles du Roi.  These women were the first of approximately 774 who would arrive within the next ten years.


Arrival of the brides by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale
Arrival of the brides by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

From Wikipedia

The King’s Daughters (French: filles du roi; filles du roy) is a term used to refer to the approximately 800 young French women who immigrated to New France between 1663 and 1673 as part of a program sponsored by Louis XIV. The program was designed to boost Canada’s population both by encouraging male immigrants to settle there, and by promoting marriage, family formation and the birth of children. While women and girls certainly immigrated to New France both before and after this time period, they were not considered to be filles du roi, as the term refers to women and girls who were actively recruited by the government and whose travel to the colony was paid for by the king.[1] They were also occasionally known as the King’s Wards, where “wards” meant those under the guardianship of another.

The title “King’s Daughters” was meant to imply state patronage, not royal or noble parentage. Most of these women were commoners of humble birth. As a fille du roi, a woman received the King’s support in several ways. The King paid one hundred livres to the East India Company for the woman’s crossing, as well as furnishing a trousseau.[7] The Crown paid a dowry for each woman; this was originally supposed to be four hundred livres, but as the Treasury could not spare such an expense, many were paid in kind.[8] As was the case for most emigrants who went from France to New France, 80% of the filles du roi were from the Paris, Normandy and Western regions.[9] The Hôpital-Général de Paris and the St-Sulpice parish were big contributors of women for the new colony.[10

Royal standard of King Louis XIV
Royal standard of King Louis XIV
Arrival of the brides by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale
Arrival of the brides by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale





15 thoughts on “the French Connection – Part 9 – the Women who Came to New France

    1. You sure did a lot of catching up. Thank you for looking at all of these blogs. I try to make them as simple as I can so people don’t have to get bogged down in the history. I know I don’t like to get too much information thrown at me at once. I’m enjoying getting to know my family tree better and a little of the history surrounding their lives.

      1. Yes, I think any old pictures related to family history are interesting to people who love genealogy. As you know some people’s blood goes cold and eyes roll to the back of their heads if they hear too much genealogy stuff! 😀
        Just kidding, most family is interested, but they can’t possibly understand it all, so it’s overwhelming to them. Anyway, good post Pierre!

      2. Pierre Lagacé

        Overwhelming indeed. Even for me.

        My wife told me so also…

        She can’t follow all those names I am throwing at her, and dates and the stories unfolding on my blogs…

        Do you know where I got this picture?

        Curious hey!

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Our Ancestors and commented:
    Great information of who were probably your ancestors if you have French-Canadian roots. Most of people living in the U.S. have some.

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    It’s a good thing to let the people know where they come from.
    So many people know almost nothing about the past and what their ancestors had to live up to.

  3. That’s right. It is mind boggling to think of all the people on the North American continent who have French-Canadian roots. Not to mention all of the New Englanders who went up into Quebec as well, even if for only a generation or two. Thanks for reblogging Pierre!

  4. Considering the difficult voyage, living conditions and dangers it’s a testament to the strength of those women, also the men they came to marry. We’ve lost something important in the intervening years.

    1. I agree. We’ve become pretty soft and flabby in character I think. It must’ve taken a lot of courage to make those voyages. I’m proud to be descended from them, but I hope I could rise to an occasion to prove my ‘sand’ too. Thanks for your comment Aquila!!

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