Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sympathy Saturday: New France Epidemic of 1687

On 25 March 1687, Paul Daveluy dit Larose presented himself at St-Enfant-Jésus church in Pointe-aux-Trembles, east of Montreal. He and godparents Jean Roy and Anne Archambault were there on this late winter’s day for the baptism of his newborn son Jean Paul. [1]

Ile de Montreal in 1744
Plan de l’Île de Montréal, 1744. BM5-C-26-050 (extrait).

His wife Elisabeth (née Haguin), my 9x maternal great-grandmother, was home recovering from the birth of her seventh child. With her were her five surviving children, Jeanne, François, Marie Madeleine, Jean Baptiste, and Marguerite. [2] Elisabeth also had four older children, three daughters and one son (Antoine, my ancestor), by her late first husband Antoine Courtemanche dit Jolicoeur.

Within a few months, life changed dramatically for Elisabeth. A trio of illnesses – pleurisy, measles, and malignant fever – soon appeared in the colony. [3] In July, measles broke out among the day-students at the Ursuline convent in Quebec (city) and spread to the boarding students and the teaching nuns. [4] It reached epidemic proportions in Lachine, near Montreal, where deaths were recorded from August to late December. [5]

Rénald Lessard in his Au temps de la petite vérole was aware of the problem of correctly identifying the epidemic. He notes that it was also a concern for the colonial authorities like the Marquis de Denonville (Governor General of New France) and de Champigny (Intendant of New France), who wrote, “Ces maladies ont commencé par la rougeolle Il y a du pourpre et ensuite des fluctions Sur la poitrine”. (These illnesses began with measles, there is typhus and then [presumably dysentery].) [6]

Author and demographer Hubert Charbonneau wrote an article in the mid-1990s about the “grandes mortalités épidémiques” (great epidemic mortalities) in New France prior to 1760. He identified the 1687 epidemic as typhus. [7]

Four members of the Daveluy family succumbed to the epidemic in late 1687. In the span of twelve weeks, Elisabeth lost three children and her husband. [8] First, eldest daughter Jeanne (13) died on 3 October and was buried that day. Then, son François (11) died; he was buried on 9 November. Daughter Marie Madeleine (9) was buried on 25 November. Four weeks later, husband Paul was buried on 21 December. (The burial records of the last three do not indicate a date of death, but it’s likely that they were buried the day they died.) [9]

Elisabeth and her three youngest children were spared. She never remarried, and died in April 1718, thirty years after the fateful year of 1687. [10]

Image Credit:

“Vie montréalaise”, database and digital images, Archives Montreal ( : accessed 8 October 2015), Plan de l’Île de Montréal, 1744. BM5-C-26-050 (extrait).


1. St-Enfant-Jésus (Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec), parish register, 1674-1700, p. 78 recto, entry no. B.4 (1687), Jean Paul Daveluy baptism, 25 March 1687; St-Enfant-Jésus parish; digital images, “Le LAFRANCE”, Généalogie Québec ( : accessed 8 October 2015).

2. “Dictionnaire”, database, Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) ( : accessed 8 October 2015), Paul Daveluy Larose DePicardie – Elisabeth Aquin [sic], Famille no. 3965. The list of children in PRDH is different from the one in Jetté, which shows eight children. It appears that the eighth child (Jean Paul) is the same person as the fourth child (Jean). René Jetté, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec (Montréal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1983), 311. The same eight children also appear in Elisabeth’s entry in Peter J. Gagné, Before the King’s Daughters: The Filles à Marier; 1634-1662 (Orange Park, Florida: Quintin Publications, 2008), 167-168.

3. Rénald Lessard, Au temps de la petite vérole: La médecine au Canada aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (Québec: Septentrion, 2012), 44, note 138, citing Jeanne-Françoise Juchereau de Saint-Ignace et Marie-Andrée Duplessis de Saint-Hélène (éditées par Dom Albert Jamet), Les Annales de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec 1636-1716 (1939; reprint, Québec, L’Hôtel-dieu de Québec, 1984), 232.

4. Lessard, Au temps de la petite vérole, 44, citing Archives des Ursulines de Québec, 1/E9, 1, Vieux récits, 1687, 50.

5. Lessard, Au temps de la petite vérole, 44.

6. Lessard, Au temps de la petite vérole, 77, note 285, citing Lettre de Denonville et Champigny au ministre, 6 novembre 1687, ANOM, Fonds des Colonies, série C11A, vol. 9, f. 5r.

7. Hubert Charbonneau, “Les grandes mortalités épidémiques avant 1760”, Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française 46 (été 1995): 129.

8. Youngest child Jean Paul, who was baptised on 25 March 1687, died in 1761, not on 20 December 1687, as seen in Jetté, Dictionnaire, 311.

9. “Dictionnaire”, Paul Daveluy Larose DePicardie – Elisabeth Aquin [sic], Famille no. 3965.

10. Jetté, Dictionnaire, 311.

Copyright © 2015, Yvonne Demoskoff.


  1. Great article! A sad story but the history adds context to the genealogy. Our ancestors had so little chance against epidemics.

    1. It is indeed sad to realize how little could be done against illnesses and diseases in those days. Thanks for commenting, Barbara.


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