|Duplessis History Section 1||Joseph Duplessis: Life in Kamouraska 1755-1793|
|Joseph Duplessis: New Beginnings in Madawaska 1793 - 1797?|
|Joseph Duplessis: French Village near Fredericton 1797?-1806|
Joseph Duplessis: Life in Kamouraska 1755-1793
Joseph Sirois dit Duplessis Jr was born about 1755 in St Louis de Kamouraska, Québec, the third of thirteen known children of Joseph Sirois dit Duplessis Sr and Marie Anne Louise Claire Levasseur who married in 1752.
Joseph's early childhood years were especially hard ones for his family. In 1756 a formal declaration of war between the French and English was issued. This did not bode well for the badly outnumbered French colonists of Quebec. In the summer of 1759 Wolfe sailed up the St Lawrence river to capture Quebec City and in September the British General set Kamouraska and other the villages along the south shore of the river on fire, destroying the buildings and small boats of the settlements. Joseph Duplessis Sr and his three brothers are listed in the census of 1762 as having lost property during the fire. It is very likely their homes had been destroyed, forcing them to rebuild. The 1762 census listing for Joseph Sr tells us he owned 10 acres, had planted nothing that year, and his livestock consisted of two cows, no bulls, two sheep, one horse and three pigs. Clearly this family's means were limited.
Farming and fishing, especially a porpoise fishery, were the main sources of provision for families in Kamouraska. In these circumstances Joseph Jr likely worked hard at one or both to help his family from a very young age, leaving little or no opportunity for schooling. Like most families in St Louis de Kamouraksa, we can assume his family were very faithful Roman Catholic parishioners.
On January 7, 1777 at the age of twenty one, Joseph Duplessis Jr, the eldest of 10 surviving children, married Marie Josèphe Chassé the daughter of Jean Chassé and Marie-Josèphe Mignault dit Châtillon. There are records for three children from this marriage, all born and baptized at Kamouraska.
In 1783 an all too common tragedy befell the young family, who had already buried 2 of their three children. Joseph's wife, Marie Josèphe Chassé, died at the age of 27 and was buried on the 3rd of February, leaving Joseph a widower and his young son Michel, then three and a half years of age, without his dear mother. Joseph needed someone to care for his son. Michel was likely cared for by someone other than his father for about four years, the length of time Joseph spent as a widower. There is indication that Michel may have gone to live with Joseph's cousin Maurice Zacharie Sirois dit Duplessis who had a young family of his own including a son Jean Baptiste, barely turned four, and a wife who could care for the young boy.
On June 18, 1787 thirty two year old Joseph remarried to Marie Francoise Chouinard,the nineteen year old daughter of Jean Francois Chouinard and Marie Marguerite Morin dit Valcourt. In the next five years three children were added to the family as follows
As the eighteenth century entered its last decade, 3rd generation descendants of Francois Sirois dit Duplessis had begun to spread out from the Kamouraska area. A growing population, with a fixed amount of aerable land along the rivers, necessitated settling elsewhere. Many moved up or down the St Lawrence. Joseph headed in a different direction.
Joseph Duplessis: New Beginnings in Madawaska 1793 - 1797?
The province of New Brunswick was split off from Nova Scotia in 1784 as Loyalist settlement greatly increased its population. Living in the lower St John river valley were communities of Acadians who had managed to regroup after their deportation in 1755. One collection of these most unfortunate people had settled near present day Fredericton and formed a prosperous colony at Springhill. Newly appointed Governor of the province of New Brunswick, Sir Thomas Carleton, confiscated their land and gave it over to loyalists. In 1785, some of these Acadians petitioned the officials of New Brunswick, and Quebec(Canada) to obtain land in the Upper St John river valley, in the Madawaska area. Various governments were petitioned as borders along the upper St John river valley were not finalized between the British provinces and with the United States. After receiving the promise of land, a number of families journeyed up the river by canoe and settled on an elevated flat, a short distance from the present-day St. David church in Madawaska, Maine. There, amidst Malecite Indian territory, the pioneers dug in and again began the process of settlement.
The colony made rapid progress in the clearing of land and crops were in abundance. Despite the colonists erring in building to close to the river, and being driven to higher ground by floods, the colony grew quickly, more people moved upriver from near Fredericton and settlers began to arrive from the Kamouraska area. The Kamouraska migrations arose primarily because it's geographic proximity led to at least two activities.
Out of these interactions word soon spread in Kamouraska about the marvelous settlement opportunities which lay across the hills in the fertile St John river valley. The growth of the Madawaska settlements necessitated the formation of local government. By 1790 four of the French speaking Catholic settlers held offices as Marshall, Agent for colonization, and military Captain and Lieutenant. Appointing magistrates though, would prove problematic.
The Oath of Office, a vestige from the time of Queen Elizabeth had been erased in the Statutes of Canada by the Quebec Act of 1774, but was still in force in the Maritime Provinces. A Justice of the Peace was required to take this oath -- to abjure the Catholic Faith and declare idolatrous Catholic dogmas and creed. Two Catholic appointees as magistrate refused to take the oath and the appointment fell in 1791 to Thomas Costin, a Scotch protestant, who had married a French girl, settled in the area, spoke and understood French and was well-liked in the vicinity.
About this time it is likely Joseph Duplessis heard about Madawaska.
Probably early in 1793 he began to make preparations to make his move away from
the St Lawrence valley. On August 19, 1793 he set in motion a chain of
events which would legally allow him to sell land on behalf of, and to benefit,
his son Michel. Michel had inherited the land in question upon the
death of his mother, Joseph's first wife Marie Chassé. There are a number of documents associated
with this which are transcribed and annotated on the page linked below. Additionally these
documents indicate that Joseph was a farmer and also sold a parcel of his own land, adjoining to
that of Michel.
It appears that Joseph moved his young family to Madawaska in about October 1793. At this point Joseph had married twice and fathered six children. The family members who had survived consisted of:
In the Madawaska settlements on the eleventh of November 1793, likely near where the Green River empties into the St John, Marie Francoise gave birth to her fourth son, Charles (Charlemagne) Duplessis, my great great great grandfather. Joseph and 14 yr old Michel were likely working extremely hard, preparing their land to plant crops the next spring. On the 3rd of December of that year, the Scotch magistrate Thomas Costin petitioned for land on behalf of Joseph and Michel. The petition is below:
His Excellency Thomas
Governor and Comman -der in Chief of the Province of New Brunswick etc.
The Memorial of Joseph Sirois & Michell Sirois Humbly Sheweth:
That it May Please Your Excellency to Grant unto Joseph Sirois, a Lot of Land Situated Lying & bearing on the South West Side of the River St. John in front of Green River Joining and Running below Lot Number One And Unto Michell Sirois, A Lot of Land Joining to the Said Joseph Sirois Running Downwards, the Said Two Lots Laying in the County of York and District of Madowoiska And in Duty bound will for ever Pray for your Excellency's Long Life & Prosperity.
The map below shows the migration of Joseph in 1793. Also outlined are the general area of the Madawaska settlements, the Acadian settlements near Fredericton and the current day political boundaries of New Brunswick, Maine and Quebec.
MIGRATION OF JOSEPH DUPLESSIS ~ OCT 1793
Over the next three and a half years two more children were born into the family as they lived in Madawaska. Baptismal records from the Parish of St Basile de Madawaska, founded in 1792, provide the details for Charles and the two new additions, Genevieve and Thomas.
It is not clear how long Joseph stayed in Madawaska. The colonists experienced crop failures in both 1795 and 1796 due to floods and frosts. After a killing frost in September of 1796 an early snowfall buried the remainder of that years crop. Many colonists went to the St Lawrence valley or down the St John river to Fredericton seeking food and shelter for the winter. It appears from Thomas' baptism record that Joseph's family stayed in the colony. The following is borrowed from
The year 1797 is known in the
'Annals of Madawaska', as the year of 'Black Famine'....
Those who stayed in the colony, lived on game and herbs. After a long period of waiting and anxiety, when the men had gone hunting and snow had been falling for eight days, the food supply was exhausted. The last portion of boiled barley had been eaten, the last cow had been killed, and the hunters had not returned. At last, one evening, the men came back with a companion who had died of cold and hunger, and another who was dying...but they also brought food; the colony was saved!
It must have been exceptionally difficult for the pregnant Marie Francoise
during that long, cold, hungry winter!
Joseph Duplessis: French Village near Fredericton 1797?-1806
There is a gap in located baptismal records for the children born to the family between 1798 and 1805. My best estimates of the additions to the family during this time period are:
We know the family was living in the Ste Anne Mission near Fredericton in 1806 when the next addition arrived...
Her baptism is the first act recorded in a special register of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of the Ste Anne Mission of Fredericton. The gap in baptism records for this family suggest they had left Madawaska and were living remotely from a Catholic Parish by the time of Pascal's birth. Given the crop failures and famine, my current assumption is that the family left Madawaska shortly after Thomas' birth and baptism in March 1797 and relocated to the lower St John river valley at Ste Anne's Mission. Joseph's petition for land in 1807 indicates that he had previously resided at French Village.
We do not know if Michel, then almost
18, went with the family to the Fredericton area. It seems likely to me that he
would have, at least for a few years as the next eldest son was only nine and
would not yet have been able to offer much help to the family as they resettled.
We do know that by 1800 he had established or reestablished himself at St Basile.
Shortly after his twenty first birthday, having reached the age of majority he
returned to Kamouraska and with his father Joseph obtained full payment for
the land which had been sold on his behalf seven years earlier but for which the
net proceeds had been held, generating interest.
The document which records this also throws a little curve into our history of Joseph... For in that document, dated August 25, 1800 he is listed as living in St Louis de Kamouraska. Other documents seem to indicate that he lived only in New Brunswick after 1793. For now I cannot resolve the discrepancy. Possibilities include:
Michel returned with his money to Madawaska and began to establish his own family, at the age of 23 marrying 17 year old Victoire Cormier on July 4,1802. More on his life can be found at: UNDER CONSTRUCTION
I hope to continue to assemble and
improve upon the accuracy of the information in this site.