On Tuesday, June 11, 1686, in the village of Saint Bernard Québec, the daughter and son of Pierre Coirier were returning home with bundles of branches (probably for kindling) that their father had sent them out to gather. It is a statement on the growth and development of the colony that children could be entrusted with such a task. The colony was not too many years removed from the days when farmers worked their fields with weapons nearby out of fear of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). This state of peace would not be maintained.
However, this is not a story of French and Indian hostilities, which likely were not on the minds of the Coirier children as they returned from gathering branches. Perhaps in an effort to save some time, the two children sought to return home through the fields of Jean Bernard (known as) Hanse and that is when the children and their bundles of branches kindled a fiery domestic conflict.
Seeing the children approach the field, the wife of Jean Bernard (known as) Hanse (hereafter referred to as Madame Anse) took exception to the children crossing the field and confronted them perhaps out of concern that the children would trample her growing grain. It is also plausible that there was some animus between the Coirier and Bernard families.
In some respects, there is a timelessness in this meeting between children and adults. I recall from my own childhood the trepidation with which I and my friends and siblings used to approach some of our neighbors’ yards as we sought to retrieve a wayward ball off a lawn, into a fenced yard, or the always dramatic fleeing after the broken window or contact with a parked car. I can imagine a similar dynamic as the children of Coirier encountered Madame Anse on the edge of her grain fields.
What resulted from this confrontation reveals a village that despite the lack of external threat was far from harmonious or idyllic, as the mother of the children learning of the standoff with Madame Anse, raced to the scene and assaulted Madame Anse with a shocking degree of violence.
The incident resulted in a trial whose documentation has been fortunately preserved in the Archives of Québec as the Procès de Claude-Philiberte Pahin (Pachin), femme de Pierre Coirier, accusée d’avoir battu (violence) la femme de Jean Bernard dit Hanse, et de sa fille et Marie Lamarre, femme de Guillaume Renaud (TL5, D185). This 33-page document is noteworthy to Renaud family history in part due to the participation of Marie De La Mare as well as her 14 year old daughter Marie Regnault in the affair. Underneath the bucolic sheen, the village of Saint-Bernard appears to have been marked by an undercurrent of distrust, discord and allegations of witchcraft.
Marie De La Mare’s actions reveal a remarkable desire to avoid getting involved but she ultimately took action out of concern for the potential loss of life. Her initial reluctance suggests that either such events were not uncommon, a lack of trust in authorities, or an annoyance at the possibility of being inconvenienced by the process. A wife and mother had much to do, anything that could keep her from her chores was best avoided.
On the day following the attack, Wednesday, June 12, 1686, Jean Bernard (Hanse) filed a complaint against Claude-Philiberte Pahin (Pachin), the wife of Pierre Coirier. The investigation and court proceedings were conducted by the authority of the King’s representative René-Louis Chartier, lieutenant general for civil and criminal affairs.
On Saturday, June 15th, witnesses provided their testimony to Chartier and his court clerk François Genaple. At 10 AM, Marie de la Mare appeared at the request of the complainant, Jean Bernard (Hanse). After taking her oath she identified herself as the 34-year-old wife of Guillaume Regnault, “habitant” of St. Bernard. As was customary, she declared her relationships to the parties involved specifying that she was neither a relative, related by marriage, servant or domestic, of either Jean Bernard or Pierre Coirier.
According to Marie, around 2 PM on the day of the incident, she saw the daughter of Pierre Coirier going through Anse’s fields. Marie observed Madame Anse come out to meet the girl and say something that Marie could not hear but clearly indicated that Anse wanted to prevent the girl from crossing her grain field. Next, Marie saw Madame Coirier approach Anse aggressively “avec un baston” (stick). Seeing this, Marie got scared and hid in her attic to avoid being obliged to be a witness to the event. However, curiosity got the best of her and looking through a hole she saw Madame Coirier attack Anse, throw her to the ground, and subsequently step on Madame Anse’s stomach with both feet after which she took Anse by the throat as if she wanted to strangle her. Marie claimed that the daughter of Coirier then hit Anse several times as well. Seeing that Anse was helpless, Marie left her hiding place and ran to find Jeanne Chalu, the wife of Joachin Girard, to go with her to intervene on Anse’s behalf.
As Marie and Jeanne ran toward the embattled women, Marie shouted at Coirier, “Ah! meurtriere il ya dix ans que tu devrois estre penduë!” (Ah! murderess you should have been hanged ten years ago!”) Seeing the approaching women, Coirier let go of Anse and ran back to her home dragging the packet of branches through the field and apparently with a handful of Anse’s coiffure (bonnet) that she subsequently threw into the air as she fled. Marie claimed that she had not seen Anse fight back and Anse did not get up after the attack.
When questioned about why she had claimed that Madame Coirier had done something ten years ago for which she should have been hanged, Marie evaded the question and replied that it was merely the heat of the moment that made her say that as she was afraid Coirier would strangle Anse and that the husbands might kill each other if they got involved. There is no indication that Chartier pressed her on the issue but Marie’s response seems less than truthful and reveals a reluctance to invite the state to intervene in her daily life or to be inconvenienced any further than she already was.
Marie claimed she did not know how to sign her name to the statement though she agreed it was accurate. She also maintained that she required salary for her testimony and was allocated 25 sols.
The next witness, Anne Girard, 16-year-old daughter of Joachin Girard, repeated much of the same testimony as Marie De La Mare, clarifying that both the boy and girl had bundles of branches and had been passing through the field before being confronted by Anse. According to Girard, once confronted by Madame Anse, the girl told her brother to let their mother know of the situation, which he did. When Madame Coirier arrived on the scene, she unloaded several unanswered blows. Girard ran to alert Monsieur Anse of the attack but he was six or seven 7 arpents (about ¼ mile) away across a patch of uncultivated land. As a result, she claimed she did not know what happened after that point. Like Marie, Girard claimed she could not sign her name and was allocated 20 sols. She also indicated that her mother, Jeanne Chalu, could not come to give testimony as she sprained her foot.
The testimony of Marie Regnault, the 14-year-old daughter of Guillaume and Marie De La Mare corroborated the accounts given by the previous witnesses but indicated the event took place at around 2:30 PM. She also saw the two children dragging bundles of branches through the field but indicated that she heard Madame Anse tell the children that they should take the Chemin du Roy (the “King’s road”) rather than walking through her field but that the daughter of Coirier insisted on going through the field and said that she would do it again the next day. When Madame Anse stood in front of the children to prevent them, the girl told her brother “va t’en querir ma mère; elle nous fera bien passer Elle (go tell Mother, she will get us through).” This defiance by the Coirier’s daughter indicates no intimidation on the part of the young girl and also suggests that the child was aware that the relations between Madame Anse and her mother were strained.
Following his sister’s request, the young Coirier boy ran to get their mother, who arrived on the scene ready to fight. Marie then ran back to her house. When she looked back, she saw that Madame Coirier had thrown Anse to the ground. However, Marie reports that Anse was able to hit Madame Coirier two or three times. But Coirier had Anse by the collar and told her daughter to begin to strike Anse, which she did with the same fury as her mother. Then, according to Marie, her mother, Marie De La Mare arrived and separated the two combatants. Her testimony concluded, Marie, like the preceding witnesses, claimed she could not sign her name to the document and she was allocated 20 sols.
There seems to have been a problem getting the next witness, Marie Galerneau, to appear. Her failure to do so led to her husband, Michel Verret, being fined 3 livres (pounds). He was threatened with an even greater fine and possible imprisonment for her if she did not appear to give testimony. Finally, a week later on June 20, 1686, she showed up. The witness blamed her failure to appear on the illness of her 4-month-old child, Elizabeth, and the inability to find someone who could stay with the baby.
Galerneau’s testimony indicates that she was returning from the ville when she saw Madame Anse speaking with the daughter of Coirier. The girl had a package of branches and had been walking through Anse’s field but Madame Anse would not let the Coirier children continue. She also saw Madame Coirier arrive on the scene ready for a fight and she landed several blows on Anse. Galerneau maintained that since she was not feeling well, she did not want to stop but she did look back several times to see Madame Coirier still fighting with Anse and Anse doing the best she could to defend herself but she did not have anything but her hands and feet while Madame Coirier attacked her with a stick. Galerneau also corroborated the previous witness accounts that Madame Coirier held Anse so that her daughter could land some blows as well. According to Galerneau, upon seeing Marie De La Mare and Madame Girard headed her way, Coirier grabbed Anse’s coiffure, and tossed it in the field. Coirier then grabbed the branches her daughter had been carrying and raced home.
Galerneau then corrected her previous statement that the girl had entered the fields and indicated that the girl had not yet entered the fields when confronted by Madame Anse. She also maintained that when Madame Anse saw Madame Coirier coming, she retreated but when Anse realized that Coirier continued to chase her, Anse turned and waited. Like all the other witnesses, Galerneau also maintained she could not sign the written testimony and begged that the fine charged for her lack of appearance on June 15th be forgiven and it was.
On June 23rd, Jeanne Chalu, wife of Joachim Girard, provided her testimony regarding the events of June 11th. She had sufficiently recovered from the sprained ankle her daughter Anne had reported to Chartier at the conclusion of her testimony a week earlier. Madame Chalu began by declaring that she was not related to or servant of either Coirier or Anse but had been at the baptism of a child for each of them. She verified the same events as the others in that the two children wanted to cross the field of Anse with their load of branches. However, according to Chalu, Anse took the branches from the girl and said they could not pass. The girl, seeing that Anse would not let her pass told her brother to get their mother. Again, Coirier is said to have arrived on the scene and attacked Anse. Chalu confirmed that Coirier held Anse while the girl also hit her. Chalu also maintained that Coirier yelled to her husband to bring an axe to cut off Anse’s arms.
The witness further testified that when Marie De La Mare arrived, she implored Coirier to stop strangling Anse because she might kill her. Coirier then disengaged from Anse, grabbed the two bundles of branches and dragged them across the field. Chalu maintains that she did not see Madame Anse do anything other than try to parry the blows from Madame Coirier.
The beating Madame Anse suffered must have been significant as the court documents record that her husband appeared before Chartier on July 2 to request 15 livres for a second supplement of provisions since his wife continued to suffer from the beating. Clearly Madame Anse’s condition prevented her from completing her daily activities which had a negative effect on the Anse family’s well-being.
On July 12, 1686, Madame Coirier (the defendant Claude-Philiberte Pahin) had her opportunity to address the court. She identified herself as the 40-year-old wife of Pierre Coirier, resident of St. Bernard and native of Chaalons [Chalon] sur Saûne [Saône]. In her testimony, she portrayed herself not as an initiator of actions but merely a victim of circumstances. She challenged the credibility of all her accusers noting their close relationships and the efforts of some to turn the community against her.
It should be noted that the defendant never questioned Chartier’s authority or impartiality despite the fact that the Chartier’s and the Regnault’s had a close association. Guillaume had worked for Chartier’s father, Louis-Théandre and he and his wife, Elisabeth D’Amours, were the witnesses for Guillaume and Marie’s marriage. René-Louis was also the godfather for Guillaume and Marie’s first born, Louis Regnault (Renaud). Given the fact that god parenthood and inter familial relations were identified throughout the trial as being germane to the potential veracity of witness testimony, it is notable that Chartier was not asked to recuse himself nor was his association with the Regnault’s even entered into the record. It is perhaps a sign that the character and authority of the nobility were not easily questioned or challenged.
In addition to her trying to raise doubts about the motives of the witnesses against her, Madame Coirier even attempted to shift some responsibility to her husband for the incident. Asked if she had sent her children out to collect branches on June 11th, she said that it was her husband who had sent the children out. As for the route the children took, she claimed that was the only route open for the children. She was unaware that Anse had asked the children not to cross the field and was only aware that her son had indicated that Anse was holding her daughter and had already hit her two times. She maintained that she asked her son if there were any witnesses, but the son indicated that there was no one around. While she admitted she hurried over to her daughter she denied attacking Anse straight away and claimed that she had a stomach ache and had trouble walking around. According to Madame Coirier, it was Anse who flung herself on the girl and had her knees on her daughter’s chest and that she merely hit Anse on the right shoulder and asked her why she was mistreating her daughter. In response Anse reportedly grabbed Coirier by the throat and tongue and said ‘Il faut que je t’estrangle sorciere!’ (I will strangle you witch!)
Coirier maintained that she tried to cry for help from passersby, but the two women walking by (not named in the document but Galerneau’s testimony suggests she may have been one of them) had already passed and only laughed when they turned around and saw what was occurring. According to Coirier, the women could not see Madame Anse’s actions because Anse would hit her when the women were not looking and when they did look acted as if she was being struck by Coirier while she portrayed her attacks against Anse as defensive in nature.
The defendant also asserted that the arrival of Marie de La Mare and Jeanne Chalu did not help her in any way as they were friends of Anse and their arrival further emboldened Anse. She denied that she restrained Anse by the throat so that her daughter could hit Anse. She denied any responsibility for the head injuries Anse supposedly received and suggested they could have been caused by Anse hitting her head on the fence. She said she did not know if she threw the coiffure in the field though she did agree that she fled with the branches when Marie De La Mare and Jeanne Chalu arrived because they were threatening her yelling ‘attens, attans assassineuse Nous t’en allons donner’ (wait, wait, assassin. We are going to give it to you).
When questioned by Chartier as to why her story differed from the accounts of all the other witnesses, Madame Coirier blamed Madame Anse. According to Coirier, her reputation had suffered because Madame Anse had spread false stories about her ever since Anse moved to the village, suggesting that the other witnesses were motivated to characterize her as the aggressor because Anse’s alleged lies had turned the village women against her, but previously they had not been always been enemies. There may be some truth to this statement as Pierre Coirier was the godfather for Guillaume and Marie De La Mare’s child Pierre Regnault (b. October 2, 1679) and Jeanne Chalu stood as godmother. It is not clear when the Bernard’s moved to the village bit they 1681 census shows that they were living in St. Bernard’s in 1681.
A week later on the 20th of July at 10 AM, the proceedings continued with the witnesses and the defendant present. The witnesses, beginning with Marie De La Mare, were asked by Chartier if they wanted to make any alterations to their testimony. Marie only added the following “que seulement lorsque ladite Coirier tenoit la femme de Anse Icelle Coirier crioit tant qu’elle pouvoît ‘mon homme a moy au meurtre’’. This suggests and corroborates that Madame Coirier did call for her husband’s assistance in the fight though Marie does not mention that the request was for an axe to cut off Anse’s arms. The other witnesses, Anne Girard, Marie Regnault, Marie Galerneau and Jeanne Chalu made no additions or changes to their previous testimony.
When confronted with the testimony of the witnesses against her, Madame Coirier continued to deny the allegations by asserting that the witnesses had ulterior motives. She claimed that Marie De La Mare was a slanderer and a liar and that others felt the same way as even “Madame Jobin” had a dispute with Marie De La Mare a few years prior. The defendant also stated that she had not spoken with Marie De La Mare in four years perhaps to further illustrate the state of estrangement between the two women. However, Marie countered this suggestion of estrangement and reported to the court that she and Madame Coirier had spoken just last winter but they lived far enough away so that they rarely encountered one another. So, their lack of interaction and communication was one of circumstances and not indicative that Marie was ill disposed toward Coirier.
As for Madame Anse, Coirier accused her of being a witch claiming that Anse had told her just two years before that there were witches in the village and that members of her family were among them.
During the witness testimony of Anne Girard, an exchange took place over the treatment of a young boy who had worked and resided perhaps as an apprentice or farm hand in the Coirier household. Girard claimed that Madame Coirier had mistreated the boy so badly that the boy’s parents removed him from the household. Coirier countered that Girard’s statement was false and that the parents returned the boy to her care.
The defendant then turned her attention to the teen aged Marie-Anne Regnault. Coirier had nothing nice to say about her, claiming that Marie-Anne was a sassy girl and that she and the daughter of Anse taunted her in song the previous fall further suggesting that the Anse and Regnault families were allied against the defendant.
When presented with the testimony of Marie Galerneau, Coirier said that she had nothing against the witness but claimed that the nuns of Saint Paul told her that Galerneau was a sower of dissension and that others in the village had told her the same thing. Madame Galerneau refused to engage with Coirier’s accusation and simply responded that her testimony was accurate, maintaining that she did not see Madame Anse hit the daughter of Coirier.
In answer to the testimony of Jeanne Chalu, the defendant blamed Marie De La Mare for turning Chalu against her claiming that Marie had spread lies about her. Also, in an effort to challenge the witness’ impartiality, the defendant reported that Chalu had been a godparent for one of Anse’s children and therefore was more favorably disposed to support Madame Anse. Furthermore, she disputed that Chalu could have heard any of the things she claimed because Madame Chalu was inside a house two arpents from the scene. Chalu countered that she was not in the house but in front of the house of Beaulieu.
Finally, Jean Bernard (Hanse) addressed the court requesting a decision in his favor and that Coirier be required to pay the court costs and the costs of the medical care his wife required as a result of the injuries from the beating. Unfortunately for Madame Coirier, she was found guilty and fined 20 livres to the crown and 15 livres for food. An additional 50 livres were required to be paid to Madame Anse for ‘interests civil’; and an unspecified sum for the doctor and the court costs. Finally, if the parties would act badly in the future, they would be subject to an additional 50 livres fine or a greater penalty.
I find it fascinating that a decision by two children to cross a field on an ordinary Tuesday over 330 years ago led to a documented incident that provides a window into the lives and even personalities of our ancestors. When I began my research many years ago, I never expected I would learn anything specific about Marie De La Mare or any distant ancestors. As far as I knew, none of them were famous leaders or significant historically. Yet, documents such as this allow us to draw some educated conclusions about Marie De La Mare based upon her testimony and the testimony of the other witnesses and the defendant. Her initial desire to avoid being a witness by running and hiding in her attic indicate that she wanted to avoid getting caught up in the affairs of others. However, overcome by her curiosity and the gravity of the situation, she acted and as a result inserted herself into the middle of the incident. That she acted after her initial hesitation suggests the level of violence was severe and that action needed to be taken to prevent the loss of life.
Yet Marie’s reluctance appears again in her refusal to explain her statement that Madame Coirier committed an act ten years prior for which she deserved to be hanged. This strikes a note of distrust in the machinations of the state, a peculiar position for the wife of Guillaume Regnault who seems to have been more than casually involved in the affairs of his community.
Aspects of Marie’s daughter’s personality come to life in the defendant’s characterization of the 14-year-old Marie Regnault as a “sassy girl” who amused herself with her friend by singing a song taunting Madame Coirier. While obviously the source of this characterization is biased, it may still have some truth to it.
It is also noteworthy, that all of the actors in the drama are women and children except for the representatives of the law. And while the testimony of a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old were considered germane to the trial, nothing is heard from the unnamed Coirier children, whose actions set the stage for the conflict.
The fact that none of the women could sign their names is indicative of the state of education of women in the colony. It is interesting that Guillaume Regnault, who was evidently literate, never took the time to teach either his wife or daughter to sign their names.
The importance of reputation and family alliances is evident throughout the document. Coirier’s defense is based principally on the premise that her accusers were all allied families who were ill disposed to her. The defendant did not bother to provide any factual evidence but merely sought to convince the court that Anse and her allies had it in for Coirier long before the events of Tuesday June 11, 1686.
Yet, despite the apparent violence and guilty verdict, the judgement merely fined the Coiriers and did not imprison or remove Madame Coirier from the community. While the fines may have represented a significant punishment, the final statement of the State was that both parties involved needed to behave perhaps to insure there were no future efforts at retribution against the defendant and her family. It was almost as if the State, like an annoyed parent, sought to chastise the members of the community for disturbing the peace.
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