In this episode, Marissa and Averill uncover the harrowing real story behind a wave of forced migration from early 18th century Paris to the struggling French territories along the Gulf Coast. Driven by underpopulation woes and a charlatan’s get-rich-quick scheme, over 100 women were quite literally rounded up from prisons and poorhouses under dubious accusations of “debauchery” and “prostitution.” Their journey into this cruel human trafficking operation is laid bare through the meticulous research of historian Joan DeJean. You’ll hear how an ambitious and ruthless warden conspired with corrupt officials to clear Paris’ streets by falsifying charges against poor servant girls, foreigners, and even women simply deemed “inconvenient” by their own families. Branded as criminals but guilty of little more than poverty, these so-called “corrections girls” were then abandoned in hellish conditions at the Crown’s fledgling outposts with no provisions. Yet many survived through grit and resilience, going on to become founders of New Orleans’ aristocracy.

Transcript for “La Mutine: Gender and France’s Forced Migration Schemes”

Written and Researched by Marissa Rhodes, PhD

Produced by Averill Earls PhD and Marissa Rhodes, PhD

Marissa: It’s common knowledge that Australia was populated in large part by British convicts who had been sentenced to transportation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Perhaps less popular. but still known by many history lovers, is the story of the Filles du Roi – young French women who were shipped off from France to populate the desolate villages of French Canada in the 17th century. Even slightly more obscure is the story of the casket girls, French women who arrived in New Orleans in the mid-1700s, gums bleeding from scurvy, hauling trunks behind them in the Gulf sands up to New Orleans’s Ursuline convent to be reformed into suitable wives for French colonists. Spoiler: Most historians agree that the casket girls did not even exist and that it’s a misinterpretation of French law which allowed for free passage and a complimentary trousseau for women who wished to accompany their husbands overseas. But the mostly apocryphal casket girls tale serve as the grain of truth from which most New Orleans vampire lore derived.

But there’s another, verified wave of forced migration that took place between early 18c Paris and the French colonial Gulf coast – and it’s been virtually ignored until Joan DeJean’s 2022 book Mutinous Women. Though we’ll use additional sources as well, we are particularly indebted to DeJean’s monograph and the meticulous research that she undertook to uncover this story.

Marissa: I’m Marissa

Averill: and I’m Averill

Marissa: and we are your historians for this episode of Dig

Averill: We want to thank all of our Patreon supporters, and especially our fabulous Auger and Excavator level patrons: Lisa, Karl, Karen, Hanna, Jessica, Maria, Denise, Edward, Lauren, Colin, and Susan! We can’t thank you enough. Listener, if you’re not yet a patron of this show, it’s easy: just go to patreon.com/digpodcast to learn more

Marissa: Elizabeth’s new book, The Sentimental State, is in some ways, a story of women who found agency in times of harrowing vulnerability and loss. As the podcast’s early modernist, I wanted to back up a bit and do this episode on women who did something similar but in entirely different circumstances. Also, we four just spent a weekend in New Orleans together and I wanted to fit some NOLA history in here. You should know that while this episode plays off themes I love about Elizabeth’s book, the content and research that this episode is based on is all the work of historian Joan DeJean. We are indebted to DeJean’s meticulous research and passionate prose for most of the episode. Run (don’t walk) to get her book, Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast, now!

Averill: Early modern women were a little more vulnerable than earlier generations of women. Poor, single women were faced with the nearly impossible task of earning their own livings. Many ended up begging for alms or facing accusations of prostitution or witchcraft for daring to go it alone. Middling and elite women did little better. They were often married off at a much younger age than their poorer counterparts, traded like a commodity by their fathers and husbands. Stories of coerced or forced migration of French women, often under the guise of sponsored migration schemes, in the early modern period illustrate these precarities in lurid detail. These circumstances fall all over the spectrum between penal transportations to an early modern version of mail-order brides. But the women who experienced them had much in common. We’ll tell some of their stories today. But first… let’s set the scene.

Marissa: During the 1600s, the French Empire was an unmitigated disaster. They held claim to French Canada, French Louisiana, several Caribbean islands, and the Gulf Coast, often called “The Mississippi.” French settlements were woefully underfunded, disorganized, and underpopulated. The Monarchy had deep financial troubles, and no capital to invest in overseas ventures. Unlike the British, the French failed to offer incentives like land grants and subsidies to ordinary Frenchmen and women. Adventurous swashbucklers, ambitious military men, clergy, and risk-tolerant elites occasionally made the risky crossing but more often than not, they were attracted to the Caribbean where profits were proven. But there were very few ordinary families migrating who could offer labor or needed trades. This lack of manpower and talent stagnated the colonies’ growth.

Averill: French migration restrictions also worked against them. After over three decades of religious warfare on French soil, the French monarchy struck a tenuous peace with the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which afforded French Protestants, called Huguenots, relative tolerance. But the edict was revoked in 1685, unleashing persecution against the Huguenots. One tenet of this persecution was migration restriction. Huguenots were barred from migrating to the new world. Think of how different this was from the English example. Six of their early colonies were founded by religious separatists seeking refuge from religious persecution in England. Barring Huguenots, who had a reason to want to escape France, from relocating to the colonies kept French colonial populations extremely low. (Although the English method also eventually led to the American revolution so….??)

To add insult to injury, the French colonies had public relations problems. The stories that filtered back to the metropole told of tropical pestilence (in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast), extreme weather (blizzards and hurricanes), and violent conflicts with the Indians such as the Beaver Wars (1609-1701), the Fox Wars (1712-1733), and the incredibly brutal Chickasaw Wars (1720s-1760s). One colonial governor wrote home:  “They are everywhere. They will stay hidden behind a stump for ten days, existing on nothing but a handful of corn, waiting to kill a man, or a woman… The Iroquois are not content to burn the houses, they also burn the prisoners they take, and give them death only after torturing them continually in the most cruel manner they can devise.”[1]

Marissa: The French had assumed that, since they were at a similar latitude as New France, that the weather would be similar.[2] One French missionary, Father Bressani, wrote that the winter of 1653 in New France was so brutal that “a wolf in the woods, licking a hatchet smeared

with fat (which is cut with these tools), and then frozen, had left there the skin of its tongue.”[3] A Dutchman named Le Page Du Pratz wrote about his travels to Louisiana country in 1718. He happened across an alligator and according to him: “I ran to my cabin to look for my gun, as I am a pretty good marksman: but what was my surprise, when I came out, and saw the girl [his native navigator] with a great stick in her hand attacking the monster!”[4] Thus, life in the French colonies did not seem like an attractive prospect to most French people. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the Crown made an effort to encourage migration by winning hearts and minds in France (more on this later).

This underpopulation problem created skewed sex ratios in colonial settlements that caused endless anxiety back at the metropole. French-Indian sexual relations were a double-edged sword for the empire and for the Catholic Church. Colonial authorities bemoaned the state of single, male sexuality of the French colonists. Governor of Louisiana, Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac, wrote:

“The Canadians and the soldiers who are not married have female Indian slaves and insist that they cannot dispense with having them to do their washing and to do their cooking or to make their sagamity and to keep their cabins….Indeed, my lord, I cannot refrain from representing to you that the glory of God and the service of the King demand a remedy for such disorder in which it will not be easy to attain the success except by lodging the troops in the fort from the governor to the lowest officers, permitting them to have only male slaves and not female. In regard to their washing we shall be able to find French women who will take charge of it for the whole garrison and instead of the Indian women, by deducting a fair salary from the pay of the officers and soldiers”[5]

Averill: They reasoned that if colonial Frenchmen remained unmarried, they would seek out sex with prostitutes or concubines or, more disturbingly, rape their Indian slave girls, and conceive children out of wedlock. So, for some, interracial marriage served as a protection against disorder and sin. French clergy even sought charitable donations to put toward dowries for Indian women to marry single French colonists. Jesuit missionary Paul LeJeune shared one example from 1639: “A worthy and pious person has given a hundred ecus for the wedding of a young Savage girl sought in marriage by a young Frenchman of very good character.”[6]

Sometimes, the French thought that Frenchmen’s marriage to Indian woman could be an advantage to the empire. Missionaries pontificated proudly about the Frenchmen bringing “savagesses” into the Christian fold, teaching them civilized French ways, language, custom, etc. But the French put zero resources into spreading French culture and social structures in the colonies. So it quickly became clear that the very few Frenchmen in the colonies were not enough of a force to establish French hegemony over the Indians. Given this reality, mixed marriages came to mean something different. Jean-Baptiste Du Bois Duclos, Commissary General of Louisiana, wrote: “And although there are several examples of Indian women who have contracted such marriages especially at the Illinois it is not because they have become Frenchified, if one may use that term, but it is because those who have married them have themselves become almost Indians, residing among them and living in their manner, so that these Indian women have changed nothing or at least very little in their manner of living.”

Marissa: The French invented the term “ensauvagement” or (ensavagement) to describe this phenomenon. Reports from the colony declared that nearly 800 Frenchmen had abandoned the colony for Indian villages by 1680.[7] There were only about 8,000 males in all of New France at  at that point so 800 deserters was 10% of the male population. Some French authorities worried about the biological impact of interracial relationships, claiming that miscegenation (the mixing of races), in French referred to as métissage, was itself a threat to the empire. Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, Governor General of New France, was especially hostile to métissage. In 1709 he wrote, “One should never mingle a bad blood with a good one. Our experience in this country shows that the French who married savage women have become dissolute, idle, and have an unbearable independence. And their children are as lazy as the savages themselves. This must prevent us from permitting such marriages … Every child from these unions seems to try constantly to do a lot of harm to the French.”[8]

Given the underpopulation problems and the anxieties among French authorities about what this skewed sex ratio meant for the empire, there were several schemes to import French wives for male colonists over the years. It’s crucial to recognize that it’s BECAUSE OF women’s inherent vulnerability in early modern French society that these schemes were possible. The most well-known scheme of this kind occurred from 1663 to 1673 and it involved the transportation of 800 French women, called the Filles du Roi (King’s Daughters) to French Canada. The filles du roi were so-named because their transport and their dowries were paid for by the King, Louis XIV.

Western New France, 1688

Averill: In a practical sense, the filles du roi were believed to be the solution to New France’s underpopulation and desertion problems. But Louis XIV and his Chief Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert spun this scheme as not only good imperial policy but also an act of charity. Indeed, the vast majority of filles du roi were recruited from convents, orphanages, and slums. They were incredibly vulnerable people. The Crown reasoned that without this program, these women may have descended into poverty, turning from pious women with unrealized potential to hopeless wretches leading dissolute lives.

While these were not women of means, there were some stringent standards for recruitment. The Royal Intendant Jean Talon was tasked with choosing women who were beautiful, healthy, and of peak child-bearing age. During the later years of the scheme, Talon began demanding that clergy attest to the women’s marriageability. Apparently, several married women had posed as maidens in order to get free transportation and a new start in the colonies, a clue that some women viewed the scheme as a way to escape unhappy marriages. Unfortunately for some of them, their earlier marriages were discovered. Talon also preferred women who came from the countryside (most people believed country life was healthier for the body) but he was never able to recruit country women into the project.

Marissa: But the insincerity of this charity is quite apparent to historians. During the 1660s, colonial governors begged the Crown to ramp up its migration incentives for all people, not just potential wives. Colbert responded adversely: “it would not be prudent [for the king] to depopulate his Kingdom as would be necessary in order to populate Canada.”[9] The Crown was happy to target undesirables that they did not mind losing for France, primarily women, but they worried about the brain drain that might occur if they encouraged larger-scale migration. Undoubtedly, they prioritized sexual pairings because they planned to grow New France’s population through natural increase (baby-making). Colbert wrote: “[New France] will become populated gradually, and, with the passing of a reasonable amount of time, will become quite considerable.”[10] One might argue that the filles du roi were valued for their wombs above anything else, and that their absence from the metropole was perceived as preferable, given their lack of prospects.

Averill: While the filles du roi populated French Canada as desired, the underpopulation problems in France’s other territories was dire at the turn of the 18th century. The Louisiana colony was established in 1699. In the early years, there were approximately 300 colonists there, mostly men, living in makeshift military housing and always on the verge of death by starvation and exposure. The Crown did not prioritize the delivery of goods to the Gulf Coast. They often only sent one ship of supplies per year and even that ship was poorly stocked. The colonists hadn’t figured out how to cultivate their staple crops in the salty bogs of coastal Louisiana and their relative isolation from the metropole meant that they were forced to rely on Indian trading posts for their survival. The conditions were so bad that desertion was common. By 1706, more than 110 men had deserted to live with the Indians, with fewer than 200 colonists remaining in the Crown’s colony. Those who remained had to find refuge in Indian villages over the harsh winters. 

Marissa: This dire reality was, however, kept from the next batch of women who were brought to the colonies. Like the filles du roi, this small batch of girls, twenty in number, were regarded as pious and marriageable girls who would be good wives and mothers to the next generation of colonists. To them, Louisiana was described as “a flourishing colony, flowing with milk and honey, and teaming with well-established and successful men.They were promised that the colony was ‘well provisioned,’ and that they would be leaving Paris for a life of ease in Louisiana.”[11] With these expectations, 20 young women boarded Le Pelican headed for the Mobile settlement.

Averill: Three died from disease immediately upon arrival and the rest faced the reality of imminent starvation. The Pelican girls (as they have become known) staged a rebellion known as the “petticoat insurrection.” They angrily protested their circumstances and boarded boats to escape. The captain refused to transport them and the Crown, upon hearing word of the ruckus, found their complaints unserious and amusing. They were abandoned to their fates. The Pelican girls were supposed to consent to their migration and to their marriages, just like the filles du roi. But when Francoise Marie Anne Boisrenaud refused to marry after her arrival, Sieur de Bienville, New France’s colonial administrator, tried to force her to marry against her will. As scholar Maria A. Zug points out, the treatment of the Pelican girls “foreshadowed the ensuring change in the Louisiana bridal program from one of nominal consent to one of outright kidnapping.”[12]

Marissal: While there were whiffs of exploitation in the stories of the filles du roi, and some direct evidence of it for the Pelican girls,  later transportation schemes dropped all pretense at charity, leaning into the exploitative practices they flirted with in the 1660s and 17-naughts. Involuntary transportation was briefly banned after the miserable failure of the Pelican Girls scheme. And the next big scheme, less than a decade later, targeted women who were deemed even MORE “undesirable”. They were treated as criminals and prisoners, taken entirely against their will without due process, and some without ever having committed a crime. Nonetheless, they were branded as debauched harlots and dangerous criminals by unscrupulous authorities looking to make a buck.

The backstory is quite complicated but we will try to simplify it as much as possible. Remember, France’s economy was in dire straits. They had massive deficits from decades of expensive wars and their practice of exempting nobility and clergy from taxes. Enter Scotsman and charlatan, John Law. In 1717, Law convinced the French regent, Philippe II, Duke d’Orléans, to grant him a charter to establish the Banque Générale, a private bank allowing the issuance of paper money backed by crown revenues. This was followed in 1719 by the creation of the Mississippi Company, which was granted a trade monopoly over Louisiana and French territories in North America. (Remember the Gulf Coast was known as “the Mississippi” at this point.)

Averill: Law promoted fanciful stories about the riches and gold to be found in the Mississippi Valley in order to spark investment frenzies. Speculative trading in Mississippi Company shares reached a fever pitch, driving up prices to unsustainable levels in what became known as the Mississippi Bubble. Fueling this bubble was the prevalent myth that Louisiana was El Dorado, a land of untold mineral wealth. However, there had been no major gold or silver discoveries in the colony up to that point. Law’s public relations campaign distorted the truth for his own financial gain.

So what does this have to do with transportation of French women to the colonies? As a Scotsman, John Law was familiar with Britain’s penal transportation programs which had been in effect for 100 years. He was also eager to populate “the Mississippi” to fuel his con. Everyone was so swept up in Mississippi mania that any protests they might have had against penal transportation were suppressed in hopes that Law’s schemes would pay. In 1717, the ban on involuntary transportation was lifted. At the same time, the cruel warden of the Salpetriere women’s asylum was aware of Law’s plans and saw an opportunity to rid herself of her most troublesome prisoners.

Marissa: The Salpetriere was a hospital and asylum but it was used more as a house of corrections for troublesome women (we need to do an episode just on the Salpetriere one day). The women deemed the most hopeless cases were imprisoned in La Force, which was, at the time, a decrepit, foul-smelling building swarming with vermin. Prisoners slept six to a bed, worked most of the day, and were fed very little. Some were beaten nearly to death. These brutal ministrations were overseen by a baillie or warden. During the early 18th century, the baillie was Marguerite Pancatelin. Pancatelin was admirably ambitious and cunning but also unspeakably cruel. She weaponized the patriarchy against women less fortunate than herself for her own benefit.

Averill: It started with a disturbance at La Force. We only have Pancatelin’s description of the event which DeJean believes is highly fictionalized (there’s good reason to believe this which we’ll get to soon.) Pancatelin wrote that on November 22, 1718, she was attacked by “three creatures armed with knives who had slashed fellow prisoners and guards alike” and were “swearing and screaming the kinds of blasphemies against God that make one’s hair stand on end.”[13] The warden sent for armed guards to put down the disturbance, threw the alleged instigators in solitary confinement, and fed them enough liquid just to keep them alive.

Marissa: When word of Law’s promise to transport 6,000 colonists to “the Mississippi” reached her, Pancatelin was fuming about the abortive insurrection. She reasoned that this might be her opportunity to rid herself of her troublesome charges once and for all. Pancatalin composed a list of women prisoners who were, in her words, “fit for the Islands” and she set to work building a migration chain of unwilling prisoners. Most of them were convicts. Each of their convictions were investigated by DeJean and nearly all of them were dubious. Pancatelin and the Parisian police conspired together to take advantage of an opportunity to “clean up the streets.”

Averill: Some of these women were only guilty of being poor foreigners newly arrived in Paris to find refuge. DeJean found that the five Irish women on Pancatelin’s list were arrested together and charged with prostitution. Knowing very little French, the Irish women were unable to mount a defense or even discern why they were arrested. It seems as if this prostitution charge was little more than speculation as to why foreign women might arrive in Paris in a group. The accusation of prostitution was used to incarcerate women who were simply unattached. DeJean found that these Irish women were Catholics who had escaped Protestant areas of Ireland in search of religious tolerance in a Catholic nation. Once they were brought to Pancatelin, she embellished their stories, declaring them guilty of “scandalous prostitution” and claiming that one of them “had been prostituted from the time she was six.” The assumptions and fabrications were used by Pancatelin to add the Irish women to the migration chain bound for Loiusiana.

Marissa: For example, Marie Paris and Jeanne Lefevre were couturières or dressmakers. Couturières were vulnerable to theft accusations because they typically came and went from elite households throughout the day. Paris and Lefevre were accused of stealing diamond-covered buttons in 1716. During their trial, it became clear that there was no evidence that they were involved in the theft. They were acquitted but banished from Paris. Having no other way to make a living other than in France’s largest city, they returned against those orders. One day they were spotted by their previously arresting officer and arrested for violating the banishment order. During their arraignment, the officer declared “I certify that these women are prostitutes.”

Paris and Lefevre were incarcerated and transported to Louisiana as a result of this arrest and the officer’s oath. Marie Paris married Antoine Jobelin and lived the rest of her live on Royal Street in New Orleans. Jeanne Lefevre, called Tonton by her friends, appears in the migration chain records but does not appear in any records in Louisiana, suggesting she died en route to the colonies.[14]

Averill: Marie Louise Brunet was also a victim of circumstance. From what we can tell, she was probably the illegitimate child of a woman who had been incarcerated for sorcery and being an abortionist. With nowhere else to go the child was incarcerated with her mother in 1712. She was twelve years old. Five years later, Pancatelin fabricated a backstory for her to justify her placement on the migration chain, labeling her as “debauched” but also “very pretty.”

Once she arrived in Louisiana, Brunet reinvented herself, calling herself the daughter of Marie Francoise Brunet and Philippe de Montfrein, and then later just Marie de Montfrein. Brunettes and a lot to the married at least twice (which was common in a place where mortality was so high) and she had several children. She and her family lived on Royal street in New Orleans, neighbors to Marie Paris, the woman we just discussed. Brunet also founded a dynasty in colonial New Orleans, giving rise to families with the last names Charpentier, Duplantis, and Thibodeaux through the marriages and offspring of her children.[15]

Marissa: Most of these women were domestic servants, among the most vulnerable of women. They weren’t even tried or convicted but, rather, found to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Marie Moule was confined to La Force on the say-so of a jealous wife. According to Jacqueline Croiset, she had had “the misfortune of hiring Marie as a domestic.” But there had been a sexual relationship between Marie and her husband Charles Croiset so Marie was dismissed. According to Mrs. Croiset, Marie continued to “pursue” her husband and she wanted her incarcerated. Marie Moule was incarcerated in La Force based on Jacqueline Croiset’s complaint. DeJean discovered that it was Charles Croiset, the man of the house, who had pursued Marie (perhaps even raped her?) and he even abandoned his family and showed up at Salpetriere demanding to see her. Marie’s family petitioned for her release but their request was not considered until the migration chain had already left Paris. She lived the rest of her life on the Gulf coast and then in the Illinois country, even mounting a rebellion and desertion plot in the colony after a decade of mistreatment by colonial authorities.[16]

One of the earliest maps of the French Quarter in New Orleans, LA. Courtesy of Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Averill: Catherine Boyard’s story is similar. Boyard was added to the migration chain at the last minute, her legal case expedited to add her before the chain left Paris. Pancatelin claimed, on her list, that Boyard’s family had begged her to incarcerate the girl. But her police file says otherwise (one of the many ways DeJean discovered that Pancatelin made mistakes and fabrications often). Boyard was incarcerated on the request of Catherine LeFebvre, wife of a Parisian merchant and dyer named Jean Baptiste Digeon. Mrs. Digeon called Boyard merely “the daughter of a woman who sells tripe” and declared that she was “only after Digeon’s money” and had “complete control over her husband.” Mr. Digeon had apparently abandoned his family and left his wife and children destitute in Paris in his plans to be with his mistress. Mrs. Digeon begged the police to put Boyard behind bars. They obliged.

Marissa: Boyard’s mother, indeed a tripe seller named Marie Le Clerc, made a police report around the same time saying that it was Mr. Digeon who was pursuing (what we would not call stalking) her daughter. She provided proof that her daughter had left his employ and left Paris to get away from his advances (again, it’s possible she was being raped by him) but he left his family in Paris in pursuit of her and persuaded her to leave her new employment to come back with him. LeClerc had not seen or heard from her daughter since she left with Digeon and she was concerned for her safety. Little did she know, this was because her daughter had been incarcerated on the word of Mrs. Digeons.

Averill: The Paris police, and Warden Pancatelin, were anxious to fill up this next migration chain and they worked together to, as DeJean puts it, “make the complexities disappear.” Thus, Catherine Boyard joined the migration chain in the last moment, recorded as “a  loose woman who has corrupted Digeon, a married man.” Her two sons, whom Digeon had claimed as his own, were lost to her forever and left behind in Paris. Boyard lived the rest of her life in Biloxi and then Mobile, marrying at least twice and becoming one of the founding mothers of colonial Mobile.[17] While Boyard never saw her son’s again, one of the deported women who had been forced to leave her child behind, was able to send for them years later and reunite in New Orleans.

Marissa: Perhaps most sadly, some of these women just had the bad luck of being inconvenient for their families. The twenty-two year old Anne Francoise Rolland, born to a poor family who shared a single room in the rue Saint-Honore, was denounced to the police by her own father, a fresh fish merchant. Without permission, she attended a dance at a local establishment and returned home with a young man who was rude to her step-mother. He used this event as justification to demand his daughter be incarcerated in Salpetriere. He offered no specifics or proof, merely accused his own daughter of  leading a “shocking and scandalous life,” that she was prone to “debauchery and libertine behavior.” He promised them 100 livres for her upkeep. This sealed the deal.

DeJean found that Anne Francoise’s family was sunken in a financial quagmire and that her father’s desire to be rid of her was one of convenience and thrift. She had a claim to a considerable inheritance from his late wife’s family and he was hellbent on keeping it for himself. He never paid the 100 livres he’d promised but Anne Francoise was convicted and transported nonetheless. Having arrived in the colonies, betrayed and with no resources, Anne Francoise managed to build a fortune and genetic legacy in Bordelonville, Louisiana where many of the residents are still her descendants.[18]

Averill: Marie Anne Boutin was also deported at the request of her parents. Boutin’s father, who identified himself as a “poor tailor” asked authorities that his “incorrigible” daughter be incarcerated and “sent to the islands.” While police investigated her lifestyle in search of something criminal, Marie Anne was defiant. When an investigator gave her an order for an interrogation, Marie Anne “tore up the order and said she had nothing to tell him.” Her non compliance was all the authorities needed to incarcerate her. The court claimed “You could not find a better place than Salpetriere for this kind of libertine.”

When Pancatelin added Anne Marie Boutin to her migration chain list, she added fabrications to beef up the claims against her, saying she was a “known public prostitute, who had committed adultery with a married man.” Evidence of this claim was nowhere to be found in Boutin’s legal proceedings. Anne Marie Boutin survived the journey to Louisiana but she died in a New Orleans hospital in 1727 during the city’s leanest and most pestilence-ridden years.[19]

Marissa: As a direct result of Pancatelin’s lies and the Parisian police’s corruption, these women have gone down in history as prostitutes, madwomen, and hardened criminals. For the most part, even historians have taken them at their word (Joan DeJean excepted). By historians, they have been called “teenaged debauchées,” “libertines of dubois moral fiber,” “thieves, prostitutes and assassins,” who “reverted to their only means of gainful employment” (prostitution). Historians also claimed that few of them survived long enough in Louisiana to be of any import, their contributions to the colony “limited.” One even claimed that their presence “seriously retarded” demographic growth. One called them “parasites accustomed to drawing sustenance from a reasonably thriving social body. Exhausted by long journeys and malnutritions, often in advanced stages of venereal disease, they died off rapidly.”[20]

(Side note: this is why it’s important for historians to go back to the primary sources and reinterpret historical events over and over because, sometimes, historians get it wrong. And their interpretations tell us more about them– like if they’re raging misogynists or just out-of-touch-mediocre-white-men– than they do about the historical actors they were writing about.) We also want to make sure that our listeners know that there is nothing wrong with sex work. In the early modern period, women’s means of generating income were limited. We have some evidence that casual prostitution was more common than historical peoples wanted to admit. So it’s entirely possible that some of these women were sex workers or had dabbled in sex work at some point. For us, that doesn’t have any impact on the injustice that was done to them.

Averill: These women’s reputations as worthless criminals was part of the Crown’s justification for severely underfunding the scheme. Unlike the filles du roi, on whom an estimated $1 billion in today’s money was spent, this batch of transported women was executed on a shoe-string budget. Many of them died as a result. When it became clear Louisiana did not contain the vast golden cities long rumored, the bubble burst in 1720. The Mississippi Company and Law’s banking schemes collapsed, triggering an economic crisis and near bankruptcy for France. Investor fortunes were wiped out.So while Law’s plans helped briefly promote interest and settlement in Louisiana through tales of its riches, they were fundamentally based on speculation and deception rather than any tangible gold rushes or mineral discoveries in France’s American colony. The aftermath left the French economy in ruins for years.

Marissa: So, there was no money to organize, populate, or provision the colonies for at least a decade upon the women’s arrival. Even when the women were detained on the coast of France, waiting for their ship to be made ready, no one made provisions for their food or shelter. Seeing their poor condition and that they were near starvation, one man took pity on them and donated meals for them to eat as they waited. Their ships were poorly provisioned so there wasn’t enough food for the crew, much less their prisoners. They weren’t given bedding or clothes and they were not allowed out of the ship’s hold on account of their status as prisoners. We don’t know how many of them died during the voyage

Averill: Their first taste of freedom was almost more scary than their incarceration because they were left on Ship Island, a small uninhabited island without any man-made shelters or food stores. They had not been given clothes or blankets and were wearing mere rags. DeJean comments that these events resembled an exile onto a deserted island, the women were essentially being left for dead, having to fend for themselves. We don’t know how they managed to survive but we do know that AFTER their stay on Ship Island, navigators came to the Island to map it and even they, on a planned expedition, were “reduced to eating wild cats and oysters.”

It’s unclear how long they were marooned on Ship Island but eventually the women were relocated to the failing colony of Biloxi (soon to be called Old Biloxi because the settlement had to be moved). From there, most of the women deserted and found their way to New Orleans which was a newer settlement, still under-provisioned and remote, but with better potential. Some went to New Biloxi, some to Mobile, one or two to Indian villages, and some to extremely remote encampments along the Mississippi. The women who relocated to New Orleans tended to do the best, many of them remaining close and their families intermarrying and standing in as godparents for each other. Some, like Marie Catherine La Roche, built vast real estate empires.

Marissa: While many have called them “corrections girls,” these were the 100-some-odd women who sailed on the aptly named La Mutine (The Mutinous Woman) in 1719. Joan DeJean was the first historian to bother tracing each of these women’s lives in France, to investigate their legal troubles, and to trace which of them arrived in Louisiana alive, and what became of them. She found that not only were almost none of them prostitutes and criminals, but that most of them survived (despite the Crown’s unconscionable neglect) and went on to build lives, families, and fortunes in colonial New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile.

With their success unacknowledged, the maligned reputations of the “corrections girls,” a direct result of Parisian police corruption and Pancatelin’s cruel indifference, went down in history books. The same Paris authorities who botched the corrections girls’ cases were investigated and prosecuted for misconduct and corruption in the years following the transportation. But still, historians repeated Pancatelin’s and the police’s lies without question for decades. This is why women’s history matters. Without a persistent focus on historical women, without the refusal to repeat the lies of historical people who had clear motivations for lying, without an internal motivation to painstakingly connect the dots of historical records created by people who thought them worthless, we’re missing half of history.

Averill: Thanks for joining us today! We invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, tiktok, and Instagram at dig_history, or join our Facebook group – Dig History Pod Squad – for all kinds of memes and historian hijinks. If you have a comment or question or want to share some kind words with us, you can always email us at hello@digpodcast.org – we love listener mail! If you’re an educator, we’ve got a compendium of episodes you can use in the classroom – and free teaching resources, including full lesson plans! – on our website, digpodcast.org. You’ll also find full bibliographies, the scripts for all of our episodes, resources, and a link to our swag store at digpodcast.org.

SHOW NOTES

DeJean, Joan. “John Law’s Capitalist Violence and the Invention of Modern Prostitution, 1719–1720.” Yale French Studies, no. 120 (2011): 19-40.

DeJean, Joan. Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

Eccles, W.J. The French in North America, 1500-1783. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.

Reis, Elizabeth. American Sexual Histories. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

Daughters of the king and founders of a nation: Les filles du roi in New France

Runyan, Aimie Kathleen

Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791. 73 vols. Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1896-1901.

Zug, Marcia A. Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches. New York: New York University Press, 2016.


[1] Vaudreuil quoterd in Eccles, French in North America p. 41

[2] https://scholarworks.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5614&context=etd, p. 11

[3] https://scholarworks.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5614&context=etd p. 18

[4] Du Pratz, history of louisiana, p. 19

[5] Quoted in Lizzie Reis, American Sexualities, p. 78

[6] Quoted in Thwaites, Jesuit Relations, 10: 27

[7] Marcia A. Zug. 2016. Buying a Bride : An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches. New York: NYU Press, p. 32

[8] Governor Vaudreuil and Intendant Jacques Raudot to Minister, November 14, 1709,Rapport de

l’archivste de la province de Quebec pour 1942-43, 420

[9] Quoted in Buying a Bride, p. 34

[10] Quoted in Buying a Bride, p. 34

[11] Zug, p. 52

[12] Zug, p. 53

[13] Quoted in DeJean, 28

[14] DeJean, 69, 254

[15] DeJean, 71-73, 258

[16] DeJean, p. 105-106, 267, 293

[17] DeJean, 133, 205-206

[18] DeJean, pp, 115-120, 348-349

[19] DeJean, 48-49, 262

[20] DeJean, p391n26.


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