The Women The King Of France Used To Populate His Colonies

The Women The King Of France Used To Populate His Colonies

By: Geovanni M -

History is full of contradictions. Each recorded moment has, at least, two versions of what actually happened, the reasons behind it, and the consequences.

In the late seventeenth century, early eighteenth, while the Spanish empire focused on dividing and conquering Caribbean and Mesoamerican communities, their French counterparts began colonizing a part of North America. They called it New France or Louisiane, in honor of King Louis XIV. This territory extended from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to the Rocky Mountains and bordering with the Gulf of Mexico.

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Canada was a focal point of French settlements, which led to several townships being founded, such as Montreal, which became the first city of these colonies. Then came Detroit, Mobile, New Orleans, and Saint Louis in what is now the United States. In the Caribbean there were two settlements in Haiti, Port Au Prince, and Le Cap.

But then, the colonizers faced a problem: how could they populate these colonies when there were more men than women? In an effort to discourage his countrymen from pursuing native women of this new land, a ship of orphan girls was sent to provide the men with “suitable” brides.  

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In 1704, amid rising discontent from the men tasked with protecting, exploring, and exploiting this new land in the name of their King, the Crown devises a plan: to select virginal young woman, with no family to ensure prospects for marriage or future, and send them to the other side of the Atlantic. The girls have no choice but to agree to these conditions.

Twenty-three women, between the ages of 14 and 19, board the ship named “Le Pelican” not knowing what will come of them when they arrive in the New World. In August of 1704 the ship reaches Dauphin Island to deliver them to Mobile. They receive many names, but the most common are Pelican Girls or Casket Girls because of the wooden boxes they carried with them called casquettes.

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They were placed in the care of nuns and lived in the convents while they were courted by the men. Unlike the fate of other women of the time, the Casket Girls did have some say to who they would marry. After Mobile, they were sent to Missouri, and then to New Orleans. To this day there are people who proudly trace or claim themselves as descendants of these women.

The French monarch tasked the clergy with selecting the young women. Jean-Baptiste de La Croix de Chevrieres de Saint-Vallier, the Bishop of Quebec, Father Henry La Vente, three other priests, and four nuns escorted the women on “Le Pelican”.

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What the Church and the Crown did not foresee was that some of the women would fall ill and perish during the journey. A stop in the island of Cuba took its toll on the travelers. By the time they reached land and their final destination, the ones that had survived had a pale and sickly complexion, which led to a legend about how the girls were actually vampires.

Only one of these women was able to outlive her husband. Marie Gabrielle took her time in selecting a suitable match. She chose to marry Jean-Baptiste Saucier until she was twenty years old. After her husband passed away in 1716, she remarried two more times, becoming thrice widowed. Her death marked the end of the Casket Girls and King Louis’s plan to populate his American colonies.

Translated by María Suárez