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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff
(July 16, 2009)
By Anne Marie Lane Jonah, Historian
In the 18th century French couples planning to get married saw the notary before
they saw the
priest. With family and close
friends present as witnesses, the notary wrote up their marriage contract
outlining the fiscal terms
of their relationship and the conditions
of distribution of future inheritance. Specifically, the contract stated who was
bringing what into
the marriage and who would keep what upon its end, usually meaning the death of one of the spouses. Normally the couple pooled all that they had in a “community of goods.” The wife was expected to bring to the community a dot, a sum of money or a value in goods, to help the young couple start out. The husband usually contributed all of his own property to the community,
but sometimes this was limited by the conditions of the contract. The community of goods was managed by the husband and was responsible for all debts owed at the time of his death.
The Custom of Paris, the body of civil law in force in Louisbourg, gave rules as to how an estate would be divided after the death of one spouse. The marriage contract guaranteed the widow payment of a certain amount prior to the settlement of the estate’s debts. The largest payment was her dowry, douaire, an amount named as either a share of the estate, a lump sum or an annual payment. The dowry limited a man’s access to credit and therefore had to be a realistic amount based on an estimate of his estate’s value. The surviving spouse also got
to keep his or her personal goods that were never shared in the community of goods, their propres. The widow or widower also was often promised a preferred share, a preciput, which would allow them to keep a value that traditionally represented the clothing, bedroom furniture and jewelry appropriate for their station in life. Once these amounts were subtracted, the estate’s debts would be paid and then what remained divided as inheritance. A widower would keep complete control of the estate whereas a widow normally retained the use value, usufruit, of one half of the estate for the rest of her life; upon her death it would pass as inheritance to the remaining heirs of that union. The other half of the estate was divided among the children of the marriage, to be managed by an appointed tuteur (in Louisbourg often their mother) if they were still minors.
These examples of the terms of marriage contracts are drawn from summaries in the research files at Louisbourg and translated by the author:
Marriage contract of Michel Dupont Duvivier de Gourville (parents Sr. Dupont Duvivier and Marie d’Entremont) 27 years old, Captain of a Company and Marie Josephe Gautier (parents Nicolas Gautier and Marie Allain Labadie) 18 years old of Port Royal.
Dot: Sr. Nicolas Gautier has promised and is obliged to deliver in the month of July 1738 the sum of ten thousand livres in silver, half of this sum will enter into the community of goods and 5 thousand livres will remain in the nature of propres to the wife and children who will be born of this future marriage and further he promises to give in this said month of July 1738 the dishes in silver and the furniture mentioned hereafter: 12 settings of silver, a large bed trimmed, 12 chairs, 1 table, 2 armchairs, 1 commode, 1 desk, 20 aunes of tapestry of verdure, 6 sets of sheets, 6 dozen napkins, 8 table cloths of worked toile and 8 tablecloths of whole toile.
Dowry: 4000 livres.
G3 2046-1/9 26/07/1737
Marriage contract of Nicolas Bottier dit Berichon (parents Nicolas Bottier dit Berichon and Marie Charlotte Broullier) to Jeanne Thesson (parents Elie Thesson dit la Flourie and Simone Million). All in Scatary.
Dot: Elie Thesson and Simone Million have in advance of their future successions given their daughter the sum of 5000 livres, in the form of 3 500 livres in furniture, linens and clothing for
the use of the future spouses, and in 2 chaloupes fitted for the fishery… For the remaining 1500 livres they have promised to give half in the ownership of a schooner named the Marie
Jeanne… One third of the stated 5000 livres will enter into the future community and the two other thirds will stay out in the nature of propres.
Dowry: the customary dowry or the sum of 3000 livres of prefixed dowry according to the choice of the future wife or her heirs.
Preciput: will be equal and reciprocal (for either spouse) to the sum of 500 livres.
Dot/Dowry: They give to each other equally in the case that at the time of the death of one of the spouses there is no child born or expected from their marriage.
G3 2039-1/72 10/10/1733
Marriage Contract of Bernard Cazenave, employed in the maintenance of beds of the troops (parents Jean Cazenave and Marie du Martin of the parish of Grenade in the bishopric of Aires in Gascony) and Renée Marie Claveau (parents Pierre Claveau and Marie Angibeaud of the parish of St. Saveur in La Rochelle)
Dot: She brings to the community in the form of silver, linens, clothing and furniture the sum of 850 livres, which will come out of the community in the form of propre.
Dowry: He brings to the community in the form of silver, clothing, linens and furniture the sum of 1000 livres, which will come out of the community in the form of propre. The future husband gives to his future wife the sum of 400 livres in prefixed dowry.
Dot/Dowry: They give to each other all of their goods in the case that there are no children born of their future marriage.
G3 2041-2/33 16/06/1753. By Anne Marie Lane Jonah
Questions? Ask an historian: Annemarie.email@example.com