It is almost two years since the Paris cab ride during which I speculated with brothers John and Donny and friend Supon why my ancestors might have left Paris in the 1600s and early 1700s. The usual suspects – a better life, escape from religious persecution, a desire for adventure – only seemed to tangentially fit. Something else, I knew in my bones, would better answer this question.
Here I sit on another snowy New England morning, reading Naomi Elizabeth Saundaus Griffiths’ book From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People 1604-1755 (Montreal:McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005) and, voilà! she suggests at least one of the somethings:
From the opening of the seventeenth century, the English had considered colonial settlement a means of coping with what the authorities considered undesirable elements, in particular religious and political dissidents. As a result, English transatlantic migration in the seventeenth century was an allowable path for those seeking better circumstances, whether this meant greater religious freedom, economic advancement, or social mobility. The French government, on the other hand, considered that there was a pressing need for men in both the army and navy. Migration outside the country, as opposed to within it, was only sporadically encouraged. Such migration as did take place to North America, officials believed, should consist of those who would build a society reflecting the best characteristics of contemporary France. This desire to make France’s North American settlements a different kind of society, one free of the elements that disrupted the harmony of France itself, slowed migration. (p. 197)
Aah…this would mean the ancestors were recruited because they had something to contribute to a group effort, to the creating of a sort of utopian 17th century French society.
Even if that meant to function as a brood mare, as my niece Melissa interprets the recruitment of the filles du roi.
I love finding these tidbits and signposts from other writers and researchers, these places where our journey-roads intersect. When I come across a cousin-story who, though distant in heredity, seems a kindred soul I am especially excited. What has this cousin uncovered? What piece has she or he fitted to the picture? What can we share? I so want to tell everyone I know that one of us has written a story that we descendants need to read.
It is especially disappointing then, when, even as historical fiction, this story can only track as one from an alternate universe. When someone is writing about an ancestor or story and suggests that only French Catholics arrived with Champlain in 1608 because the Edict of Nantes was revoked, I feel a sinking in the pit of my stomach. The Edict was in place from April 30, 1598 (Henri IV) to Oct. 1685 (Louis XIV). It allowed some measure of protection for French Huguenots.
Not that expulsions didn’t happen. In Nov. 1661, when Louis XIV really came into his own, 300 Protestants were expelled from La Rochelle. That may be one religious-persecution reason why some ancestors got out of Dodge. I don’t know where these folks ended up, and when I find a Calvinist in the tree circa 1661, I’m going to suspect a connection.
Then, when, in the same cousin’s story, Helene Eustache de Bouille, aka Mrs. Samuel Champlain, is portrayed to have pondered, in the early 1600s, the differences between her life in New France and the glory of Versailles, I cringe.
The first building campaign for Versailles began in 1664, and Louis XIV wasn’t even born until 1638, three years after Mr. Champlain died. Louis’ mom, Anne of Austria, was his regent from 1643 to 1651. Louis was settling into the Louvre in 1652 following his escape to the outskirts of Paris in the wake of Le Fronde. There was no “glory of Versailles” for Helene to experience.
These descriptions happening one after the other leave me wondering whether what comes next could have happened. I will, for the rest of this story, suspect the historical facts this cousin weaves into our shared tale. It is a most disheartening feeling. I so wanted to cheer on this publication. All I am asking of an ancestor story is that it could have happened in the universe I inhabit.
Which is why I’ve become so nitpicky with details and “whys.”
In 2013, before that cab ride with my brothers, I wandered Rue Mouffetard and tried to imagine what it looked like in the 17th century. In a nook along the rise of this hill-street, is a spot reputed to have served wine since the late 1500s. I am careful not to call it a restaurant because there weren’t restaurants as we know them now in Paris-then.
An image pops in – people are begging on a country street while other people are either helping out or not. This Left Bank is peppered with vineyards, gardens, and windmills. I imagine this is village-like and without streetlights. It is a place where the glow of moonlight or candles cast white or yellow hues on evening travelers. The King is in his Louvre home, Parisians are enamored of things Italian, and New France is in her youth.
This place, though, is where ordinary people live. Sound pollution doesn’t exist yet, so the chants from evening services, a babble of family voices, and the gurgle of a nearby but now-buried river fill the darkening dusk. I wonder, could this have happened?
Then comes a question: How would these people – the ones in Paris proper, the villagers, and the beggars – behave towards each other now if they knew that in 400 years they would share descendants?
As I head out again to Paris, a Paris recently beset with bombings, satire, and stress, I am carrying this question with me. I am asking it in the now: If I knew that in 400 years we would share descendants, how now would I treat you? How would you treat me?