This post is especially written for today, International Women’s Day.
In New France (now Quebec), there was a severe population imbalance between single men and women during the mid-17th century. Officials were concerned. The Intendant of New France, Jean Talon, proposed a solution: that the king sponsor passage of at least 500 women from France. King Louis XIV agreed, and eventually nearly twice the numbers were recruited, between 1663 and 1673.
They were mostly between the ages of 12 and 25, and many had to supply a letter of reference from their parish priest before they were considered for emigration to New France. These girls and women were known as filles du roi or filles du roy (French for The King’s Daughters).
The King paid East India Company for their passage, and he also paid their dowry. Those who were chosen to be among the King’s Daughters and allowed to emigrate to New France were held to scrupulous standards. Among other considerations, they needed to be physically fit, to survive life as a colonist. In fact, several of the King’s Daughters were sent back to France because they did not satisfy the King’s standards. They were poor, and their level of literacy was relatively low. Some had been from an élite family that had lost its fortune, and some from a large family, Those women of higher birth status were usually matched with officers or gentlemen living in the colony, in the hopes that it would be incentive enough that they would not return to France.
The women disembarked in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal. When the women arrived, the amount of time it took them to find husbands varied greatly. For some, it was as short as a few months, while others took two or three years. Also, marriage contracts were written to protect the women, both for financial security and for having the freedom to call off the promise of marriage if they proved to be incompatible.
An early problem was the women’s adjustment to the new agricultural life. They were mostly urban girls, and only a few knew how to do farm work. In later years, more rural girls were recruited.
There were about 300 more recruits who did not marry. This was either because some had changed their minds before disembarking, or had died during the journey.
By 1672, the population of New France had risen to 6,700, from 3,200 in 1663. Out of 835 marriages of immigrants in the colony, 774 involved King’s Daughters.
There were rumours that the King’s Daughters were prostitutes ever since the inception of the program. Yet, out of nearly 800 King’s Daughters, only one, Catherine Guichelin, was charged with prostitution while living in Canada. She appeared before the Sovereign Council of New France and charged with “carrying out a scandalous life and prostitution” on August 19, 1675. She had two children who were “adopted” by friends, and she was banished from Quebec City. She was reported to have turned to prostitution after her husband, Nichols Buteau, abandoned the family and returned to France.
An interesting bit of trivia is that among other notable French-Canadian descendants, there are two that stand out for me: Hillary Clinton (descendant of King’s Daughter Jeanne Ducorpsdite Leduc), and Angelina Jolie (descendant of King’s Daughter Denise Colin).
To learn more about the King’s Daughters, I suggest Wikipedia; Ziplink.net (an archived page written by André Therriault); A Scattering of Seeds – the Creation of Canada (White Pine Pictures’ website, a Canadian film and television production company); The King’s Daughters (an article written by Thomas J. Laforest in Heritage Quest [Magazine], issue #22 May/June 1989; another place to look is at Canadiana.ca; and Acadian Home (Canadian and French-Canadian Ancestral Home). Lastly, there’s always Google.ca.