Not Really Royalty: Les Filles de Roi (King’s Daughters)
The colony of New France never developed as quickly as the English colonies to the south. By the start of the 1660s, the population of the colony was only 2,500. In comparison, the population of just the New England colonies at the same time was 68,000. To add to the problems, the female population was exceedingly small.
It is one thing to convince men to move to a colony in the wilderness. With living conditions so deplorable in Europe, they had far better chances for improving their lot in the New World. And they were unafraid of working hard to build society in the wilderness. Women, on the other hand were far less eager to do so.
Thus, the Crown created a program to get more women to New France to support the colony. The “Filles de Roi” (King’s Daughters) initiative on the part of the French Crown was not the first time such a thing had been tried. The English and Spanish before them had conducted similar programs in Virginia and the West Indies respectively. The term was used to indicate that the girls had state support to emigrate, not that they had any royal or noble ancestry.
Under this program, the Crown paid for the transportation of the girls. They were also given supplies to help them in their new homes, including clothes, stockings, gloves, a bonnet, needles, thread, scissors, knives, two livres in cash. Upon their arrival they also were taught cooking, sewing, knitting, how to make medicines, etc. This helped to make them even more attractive as wives.
The men who immigrated to New France tended to come from rural areas. Not so the Filles de Roi. The girls who were recruited for the program tended to come from more urban settings, including Paris. Almost two thirds of the girls had lost one or both parents. Many came from hospitals and convents where they were places as orphans.
Once they arrived in New France, it was time to find a husband. In France, fathers found husbands for their daughters, who married the man they were told to marry. In the colony, however, the tables were turned. The government instituted many restrictions on the activities of single men, while providing many inducements to married couples, including financial rewards to families with many children. The nuns who watched over the girls after they arrived were eager to find good matches for their charges. And there were more single men than marriageable girls available. Single men eager to find a match sometimes spent a year or more creating a house and home for their new brides.
When it came time to select a wife, men were looking for an attractive woman, but even more, they were looking for sturdy women who could bear children, grow crops in the garden for the family’s food, and be an active participant in the family’s life in the wilderness. But in the end it was up to the potential wives to agree to the match.
Between 1663 and 1673, seven hundred sixty eight Filles de Roi went to New France. In Canada, being a descendant of one of the Filles is akin to being a Mayflower descendant in the U.S. This year marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first girls in New France. The American-French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, is celebrating by offering a chance for descendants to submit their pedigree for a book. Participants get a certificate and a lapel pin.