Michel de Forest, age 33, wife Marie Hebert, 20, with children Michel 4, Pierre 2, René 1, 12 cattle, two sheep, and two arpents of cultivated land
Brides were a very limited commodity in Acadia, and women tended to be swooped up and married as soon as they became eligible.
Michel de Forest may have had somewhat of an unfair advantage, though, because he was farming the land next door to the Hebert family, as shown on this 1733 map. Or maybe he began farming the land next door as a result of marrying Marie. It’s fun to speculate, but we’ll probably never know for sure.
What we do know is that Marie married quite young.
In the 1671 census, she was 20 and already had three children, the oldest of which had been born four years earlier, so she probably married in the Catholic church at age 15, in 1666. Unfortunately, no records survived until the early 1700s.
The census entry beside Michel De Forest and Marie Hebert is Marie Gaudet, Marie’s mother, as follows:
Marie Gaudet, widow of Etienne Hebert, 38. She has 10 children, two married children: Marie 20, Marguerite 19; Emmanuel 18, not yet married, Etienne 17, Jean 13, Francoise 10, Catherine 9, Martine 6, Michel 5, Antoine 1, 4 cattle, 5 sheep and 3 arpents of cultivated land
This census is unique because it listed the married children by name, even if they weren’t living in the household. Marie was the eldest child, born about 1651. The census also listed the married child in the household where they lived. In Marie’s case, with her husband, Michel de Forest.
Marie’s mother, also named Marie, married by age 17, if not earlier and became a grandmother at 34. I know the math works, but just the thought makes me reel. Four years later, Marie’s mother was a widow.
Marie Hebert’s father had already died, in either 1670 or 1671, given that her mother, Marie Gaudet, had a 1-year-old son.
Marie and Michael de Forest, with their two eldest children, would have accompanied her mother to the church for her father’s funeral, and then to the cemetery for his burial. Marie’s nine siblings would have been there too, as would her own two young children – too young to remember their grandfather. Either Marie and her mother were both pregnant for another child, or they both had babes in arms according to the census. What a heartwrenching day that would have been.
Marie, wife of Michel de Forest married young, and she also died young.
In the next census, taken seven years later in 1678, Michel is shown as a widower with 4 acres, 3 cows, 2 calves, 1 gun, four boys, ages 12, 10, 8, 3, and two girls, ages 6 and 4. His age is not given, but he was 40 or 41 and very clearly had his hands full.
Based on the children listed in both censuses, we know that Marie had six children in the nine years or so that she was married, before her death. She had such a short life. Given that her youngest was 3 in 1678, I wonder if she died from complications of her child’s birth in 1677 or perhaps in childbirth in 1678. How I wish we had those church records.
She was only 26 if she died in 1677.
Marie’s still youthful body would have been carefully washed, probably by her mother and sisters, dressed in her best clothes, and placed lovingly in a hand-hewn coffin, then taken by wagon or perhaps by batteau to the Catholic Church one last time for her funeral.
Her funeral hymns would rise in the church where she had been baptized, married, and her children baptized.
After her service, Marie would have been buried in consecrated ground in the graveyard beside the church in Port Royal, probably someplace near her father and maybe her babies. Eternal sentries, their graves overlooked the marshlands of the Rivière du Dauphin, today the Annapolis River. Just upriver a dozen or so miles was the farm where Marie had been born, grew up, courted, and come home as a bride – on the banks of that tidal river.
Her entire life had been lived in just twenty-some years.
I can close my eyes and see her children, beginning with the eldest, Michel, just 10 years old, holding hands as they filed out of the church into the cemetery to bury their mother. The youngest was just a baby.
If the season was right, her children could have picked some Queen Anne’s Lace or maybe some Yarrow along the way and placed their flowers gently on their mother’s casket before it was lowered into her final resting place, perhaps along with a newborn baby.
That would be their last loving act for their mother. Oh, how they must have cried, hot, sorrowful tears sliding down their faces.
The local men would have dug Marie’s grave the day before while the family was preparing her body. What a grief-filled day that surely was – not only for Michel, and Marie’s children, but for her poor mother who outlived her daughter and was herself only 45 years old in 1678, and a recent widow.
Life, or more specifically, death was cruel and oh-so-indiscriminate in who it randomly claimed.
Despite losing their mother, Marie’s known children all grew to adulthood.
|Child||1671 Census||1678 Census||1686 Census||Birth Year||Death Year||Spouse|
|Michel||4||12 male||19||1666-1667||By 1731 – Pisiguit, parish of Saint-Famile.||Abt 1689 to Marie Petitpas, then in 1708/1709 to Marie Celestin dit Bellemere|
|Pierre||2||10 male||18||1668||By Nov. 1730||Abt 1693 to Cecile Richard|
|René||1||8 male||16||1670||1751||Abt 1695 to Francoise Dugas|
|Gabrielle||6 female||13||1672-1673||Nov. 9, 1710||Abt 1691 to Pierre Brassaud|
|Marie||4 female||11||1674-1675||1704-1706||Abt 1695 to Pierre L’Aine Benoit|
|Jean-Baptiste||3 male||9||1675-1678||1776||Abt 1698 to Marie Elisabeth Labarre|
I suspect that Marie had another child, born between René and Gabrielle, who was born and died, probably about 1672. There is space for another child between Marie and Jean-Baptiste, or perhaps after Jean-Baptiste, a final child was born and died with Marie.
In 1678, Marie’s husband, Michel, was shown as a widower whose youngest child was 3.
Children’s names were not listed in 1678, although it’s possible to connect the dots with the children’s names from the 1686 census, eight years later.
No mother wants to die before her children, but mothers of younger children will fight every minute they can and with their very last breath to live. Leaving young children is every mother’s worst nightmare.
Baptismal records don’t remain for that time period, but it’s clear that Michel couldn’t farm and raise a passel of young children. Whoever their godmothers were may have been called upon after Marie’s death. After all, that was at least part of the purpose of godparents.
Life went on. It had to. There was no choice.
The Next Chapter
The older boys would have been old enough to help their father, but there’s nothing less helpful than a helpful 2 or 3-year-old. They needed more supervision than Michel would have been able to give.
Part of that problem was solved when Michel married Jacqueline Benoit sometime after the census in 1686, although she was quite young at 15 – younger than Michael and Marie’s oldest three sons.
The next year, in 1687, Jacqueline would present the de Forest children with a half-sibling, Marguerite. Their blended family must have been doing well, but then, disaster struck once again.
Sometime after Jacqueline became pregnant with Marguerite, and before May of 1690 when Michel’s name is absent from the loyalty oath, he died. He and Marie’s youngest child would have been about 13, and Jacqueline’s child was just a baby.
This family had suffered so much. Thankfully, the Acadian community was small and close-knit.
Marie’s de Forest children were now without both of their parents.
Jacqueline remarried in 1691. In the 1693 census, Marie’s children are not living with Jacqueline, their stepmother, and her new husband, although it appears that the oldest two children had relocated to Grand Pre where they lived, and two more would leave Port Royal a couple of years later.
The Children Fledge
With both parents gone, there was nothing to keep Michel and Marie’s children in the Port Royal area, so they began to move to the Grand Pre region – the next frontier. Fortunately for us, the Grand Pre church records (1707-1748) were taken along into exile in 1755 when the Acadians were expelled and today reside in Iberville, LA, providing researchers with valuable early information.
- Marie’s oldest son, also named Michel Forest, married in Port Royal about 1689. In the 1693 census, Michel de Forest was living in Les Mines at age 27. Michel Forets, resident of Pisiguit, widow of Marie Petitpas, married on October 29, 1709 to Marie Bellemere, living at Grand Pree. Michel and his wives had 12 children.
- About 1692, Pierre Forest married Cecile Richard. In the 1693 census, he is shown, age 25 in the home of Pierre Brassuad, his sister’s husband, also in Les Mines. He and Cecile had nine children.
- René de Forest is unaccounted for in the 1693 census, but he signed the loyalty oath in 1690 as an adult. He married about 1695 to Francoise Dugas and farmed his father’s land, remaining in the Port Royal region. They had at least 13 children.
- Gabrielle Forest married about 1691 to Pierre Brassaud. In the 1693 census, she is noted as Gabrielle Michel. Her burial is recorded in the register of St. Charles aux Mines in Grand Pre, so they had clearly joined her brothers in that area. They had nine children.
- Daughter Marie Forest married about 1695 in Port Royal to Pierre L’Aine Benoit, her stepmother’s brother, but died after the birth of their son in 1704. They had five children.
- Marie’s youngest child, Jean Baptiste, would not have remembered his mother. In 1693, he was listed as Jean Laforest, age 15 (so born in 1678), a domestic in the home of Daniel LeBlanc. He married about 1698 to Marie Elisabeth Labarre with whom he had 12 children. By 1714, they were living in Beaubassin.
Marie may have died quite young, but her six children produced at least 59 grandchildren to carry on her legacy.
Even though four of their six children moved on, and another died by 1704, the farm that Marie Gaudet and Michel Forest had carved out of the swamps and wilderness along the Rivière du Dauphin would not leave the family – at least not before the wholesale expulsion of the Acadians in 1755. Their third son, René, stayed to farm his parent’s homestead, establishing the René Forest Village on the banks of the Annapolis River.
In 1755, a century after her birth and nearly 80 years after Marie’s death, those grandchildren and their children’s children were scattered to the winds, but like seeds, planted themselves around the globe in fertile soil, peppering the Acadian diaspora with thousands of her descendants.
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