Here to Stay: Developing Nationhood and Community in New France
Here to Stay: Developing Nationhood and Community in New France is excerpted from my historical memoir Here To Stay. Here I write about my maternal ancestors Bartélémy Verreault and Marthe Quittel.
As I recorded genealogical information—the births, marriages and deaths of my ancestors, I began to be fascinated with the question “What must their daily lives in New France have been like?” My mild interest in genealogy—to see how far back I could go in my Ledoux lineage—grew into a passion to reconstruct the French-speaking seventeenth-century culture that emerged on the shores of the Saint Lawrence between 1634 and 1710.
There surfaced dates and legal facts. Of course, I wanted more—and more came. It came in tidbits found in various texts where the author had no idea that s/he was speaking to me, providing me with the concrete information I needed to give some form to these amorphous men and women who were developing nationhood and community in the wilderness of New France.
Through the 1670s, because Marthe Quittel and her neighbors, Barbe Letardif and Marguerite Cloutier, were having babies. we can imagine these women being present at each other’s birthings and helping to care for each other’s toddlers. We can imagine them sharing in the monotony of the endless household tasks—perhaps carding wool together or preparing vegetables for drying.
Through the 1670s, documents reveal that Barthélémy and Marthe were present at many baptisms, weddings and burials in Chateau Richer (on the north shore of the St Lawrence about 10 miles east of Québec) where the two had commenced their married life in 1665. Sometimes, we read their names as witnesses to either a marriage contract or a wedding and then the next year they are godparents at the baptism of the same couple’s first born.
Barthélémy and Marthe were evidently forging a community. Years later, as the young Verreaults married into the families of Chateau-Richer, the immigrant couple would find itself with an extended family to replace the ones they had left behind in Dijon (Barthélémy) and Rouen (Marthe).
The people of Chateau-Richer as were those elsewhere in New France were become aware of a common experience. More and more, the inhabitants of New France were distinguishing between les Français who were merely in New France for a stint—whether noble or commoner, whether administrator or soldier—and les Canadiens who were there to stay and who, along with their children, were making a home for themselves as they endured the effects of misgovernment.
Frontenac was a Français who would return to France one day while Barthélémy and Marthe had become Canadiens whose fortunes were now on the Canadian side of the Atlantic—New France.