Some of Canada’s Best Families Descend From Quebec’s Early Coureurs des Bois

November 10, 2022

A coureur des bois in the painting La Vérendrye at the Lake of the Woods.

I have spoken of the colonists as living in a state of temporal and spiritual vassalage. To this there was one exception—a small class of men whose home was the forest, and their companions savages. They followed the Indians in their roamings, lived with them, grew familiar with their language, allied themselves with their women, and often became oracles in the camp and leaders on the warpath. Champlain’s bold interpreter, Étienne Brulé whose adventures I have recounted elsewhere, may be taken as a type of this class. Of the rest, the most conspicuous were Jean Nicollet, Jacques Hertel, François Marguerie, and Nicolas Marsolet.

Statue of Jean Nicolet in Wequiock Falls County Park in Wisconsin. Photo by Skibjm08.

Doubtless, when they returned from their rovings, they often had pressing need of penance and absolution; yet, for the most part, they were good Catholics, and some of them were zealous for the missions. Nicollet and others were at times settled as interpreters at Three Rivers and Quebec. Several of them were men of great intelligence and an invincible courage. From hatred of restraint and love of a wild and adventurous independence, they encountered privations and dangers scarcely less than those to which the Jesuit exposed himself from motives widely different—he from religious zeal, charity, and the hope of Paradise; they simply because they liked it. Some of the best families of Canada claim descent from this vigorous and hardy stock.

The mouth of the Trois-Rivières in Quebec, Canada. The Three Rivers trading post, an up-river settlement, was consecrated by the Jesuits to the Immaculate Conception in 1634.

Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1897, 1:257–58.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 854

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