My Ninth Great-Grandmother
Note: The following facts have been translated from Jean Serreau Saint-Aubin’s testimony when he petitioned the French Court for a “letter of grace” also known as a “letter of remission” (similar to a presidential pardon in the United States) from the King of France for killing Jean Terme. He will be referred to as Jean Serreau or Serreau throughout this article. The facts in the testimony are those Jean Serreau alone provided. His wife’s (Marguerite Boileau) version of the events is not recorded. There is no testimony from witnesses to the event or events leading up to the actions of Serreau. Serreau had to present his version of the events in such a way that he would gain the benevolence of the King. Keep that in mind when the events that took place are presented; and, most importantly, all that is “known” of the case, all the “facts,” are as reported in the letter of grace, the conclusions of the Court which, once again, was based solely on the testimony of Serreau himself to them.
A letter of grace is a legal instrument that was used in France since the 1300s. Natalie Zemon Davis, author of Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France described the steps in order to obtain a letter of grace from the King of France. When a crime is committed, such as a homicide, usually the suspected person flees to a place far away from the incident for a period of time to let things cool down. When the person returns to the location of the crime, a royal notary is engaged to prepare a letter of remission. The letter is read before the chancellor and sometimes before the King. The formal letter of remission is then prepared and sealed with green wax and silken thread and signed in the King’s name. A fee is paid and “gifts” may also be given. The supplicant next has to return to the jurisdiction of the crime and present the letter of grace for ratification “..humbly to the judges, bare-headed, on one’s knees and with imploring hands.”
Zemon Davis further explains the formula of a the letter of grace for homicide. The supplicant claims the death was not premeditated or intentional. The supplicant does not have to repent. The victim can be negatively portrayed. The supplicant should tell the story so that he is justified for becoming angry or fearing for his life. To lend credibility, the supplicant’s story should include names, places, actions and gestures. Since duels were illegal, if a duel was fought, then the actions must be described so that the event was not a duel. After the supplicant tells his story to the clerk, the clerk can embellish the story further to ensure the king’s mercy.
With that introduction, Jean Serreau’s explanation of events will be presented here.
Jean Serreau was granted the land “Argentenay” on the Île-d’Orléans from Madame d’Ailleboust, widow of the lord of Argentenay. He and Marguerite made their home there for about five years. Living nearby was a Swiss soldier, Jean Terme, who was about the same age as Marguerite; and this is where the trouble began. Over time, Jean Serreau observed Jean Terme paying special attention to Marguerite in a way he obviously did not approve of. Some historians blame Marguerite for enticing Jean Terme. After all “men can’t control themselves when a woman is involved” and “it’s the woman’s fault if he can’t control himself” was a common excuse. Jean Serreau blamed Jean Terme and warned him several times to avert his eyes from Marguerite.
Jean Terme ignored Serreau’s requests and continued to visit Marguerite and was too familiar with her and at one point Serreau claimed Marguerite was the subject of public scandal. Jean Terme and Marguerite promised to not to meet again; but eight to ten days later, Serreau found them together once again in an “improper situation.” Serreau was so angry he would have left his wife, but a priest intervened. Marguerite was sent to a neighbor’s home some distance away, but Jean Terme continued his visits to Marguerite. When Serreau confronted his wife about the visits, she asked to be sent further away, closer to Québec. After the birth of their child, Pierre, it was agreed that Marguerite would return to France to ask for assistance from her family for her maintenance and the maintenance of their children. Permission had been granted from Sieur de Tracy, the lieutenant-général of New France, for her departure.
Serreau’s account continues…While waiting to return to France, about six weeks after Marguerite gave birth to Pierre, Jean Terme came calling and stayed two days with Marguerite. Jean Serreau found them walking along the shore. In anger, Serreau slapped Marguerite several times which prompted Jean Terme to put his hand to his sword and threatened several times to kill Serreau. Serreau claimed that he ran away as he had no weapon to defend himself. Jean Terme followed. Once Jean Terme caught up with Serreau and with a sword in his hand, he again threatened to kill Serreau. Serreau grabbed a baton (a stick, staff, club, cudgel or sword) and struck Terme who died there and then. Marguerite may have witnessed the altercation or came upon it soon after.
The letter of remission does not provide any evidence of Marguerite’s attendance to this horrific turn of events. It does not describe Marguerite’s reaction to a situation that had taken such a dreadful turn. There is no document to testify to Marguerite’s thoughts or feelings. We can only guess at her response when she learns that her husband killed a man, a man who had tender feelings for her. Did Marguerite experience depression after the death of Jean Terme? Was she ostracized by her neighbors? Maybe she took solace in the Catholic Church and confessed her supposed sins. We can only speculate as to Marguerite’s reactions to what had transpired.
As a writer, I want to propose Marguerite’s reaction and describe the emotions she must have felt—the fear, the anguish, the sorrow, the regrets, the loss, the incredulity. Perhaps she wished she could go back in time so that she could change the course of events. But as a research genealogist, I feel obligated not to lead readers to favor my opinion and bias but present only the facts and let readers ponder the events and form their own opinions.
Jean Serreau took control of the situation after realizing he had killed Jean Terme. He made his way to Québec and boarded a ship to France without the knowledge of the local authorities. Once in France, he made his way to the royal court. Undoubtedly, Jean Serreau knew people of influence but, more importantly, he knew the practice of the King granting letters of grace for crimes committed in “hot anger” and to his credit obtained his pardon in February 1666.
There is evidence that even though Marguerite’s role in the matter points to infidelity, Jean Serreau did not blame her for the attention Terme had paid her. First, Jean Serreau’s testimony to the French Court regarding his wife does not place blame on her. Second, after the episode was over and done with, rather than pull back on his trust of Marguerite, as one might expect, he showed his full faith in Marguerite by placing his business matters under Marguerite’s control in 1667 and 1668 when he was not in Québec. Third, Serreau does not seem to doubt the paternity of Pierre. Fourth, their marriage endured and two more children were born to the couple.
Almost a year from the date of receiving the King’s letter of grace, on bended knee (as required), Serreau presented his letter of grace to the Conseil Souverain in Québec in January 1667. The Conseil was not particularly happy with Serreau for petitioning the King for grace and felt that he had undermined their authority. Though the letter of grace had been granted, the Conseil Souverain was allowed to call witnesses to dispute the facts. It appears that no one disputed the facts. About a month later, as directed by the King, Serreau was cleared and released but required to pay for Masses to be said for the dead man.
When Jean Serreau had returned to Québec some time in 1666, the children were not living with him or Marguerite. The census of 1667 for Québec, Notre-Dame-des-Anges, places the two children, Marguerite, four years old, and Pierre, two years old, in the household of Jean Milouin (Milloir) and Jeanne le Roy. Where was Marguerite? Who was she staying with? Had she gone back to France to take care of the business she had planned to before Jean Terme had been killed?
A few months following the Conseil’s rule, Madame d’Ailleboust, widow of the lord of Argentenay, took it upon herself to evict Marguerite and Jean from the Argentenay though there was a contract between them. She held Serreau’s grant. Was this punishment that the government could not mete out? Jean Serreau appealed, but Madame d’Ailleboust won. Serreau insulted Madame d’Ailleboust and committed blasphemy in her presence. For that, he was fined five sols.
Genevieve, Marguerite’s third child was born in August in Québec and baptized 9 August 1667. Monsieur de Meulles, Intendant de la Nouvelle-France, took a census at the beginning of 1686. There, he recorded Serreau living in Pesmonquady (Passamaquody) or River de St. Croix (now St Andrews, New Brunswick) with his wife, sons and some servants. This record indicates that at least a fourth child, a second son, was born to Marguerite. But in 1693, when a census was taken again, Marguerite is not mentioned as living with Jean Serreau, who is recorded as seventy-two years old.
Marguerite was married to a man almost twenty years older than she. The man she married confessed to slapping her in the face and killing another man. He also blasphemed in front of Madame d’Aillebous when he asked her to rescind his removal from Argentenay. He was also accused of selling liquor to the Native Americans in 1670 but no action was taken against him. His character seemed to be less than stellar.
Life was difficult in the 1660s in Nouvelle-France. Most of the women had left their families in France to begin a new life without their family for support. Marguerite and the other women who went to Nouvelle-France faced obstacles that the women in France did not have to face. They were sent to an untamed country without the conveniences of the day. They had to learn a new culture, adjust to different weather, learn to prepare and eat different foods, and learn to be independent yet conform to the social norms. Many married men they had just met or did not know for very long. Fear of attack from Native Americans was constant. Men left their families for days and months while working to clear land, trade in furs, and protect the forts, all to improve their lives. Our ancestors endured hard lives in exchange for giving their descendants life.
 Evan Wilson, transcriber and translator, “Louis XIV, Letter of Grace for Jean Serreau dit St. Aubin, February 1666,” 24 March 2023, privately held by Sindi Broussard Terrien, Seekonk, Massachusetts. Lettres de rémission et pardon accordées par le Roi à Jean Serreau, sieur de Saint-Aubin, résidant en l’île d’Orléans, pour avoir tué d’un coup de bâton Jean Terme, Suisse de nation, aussi résidant en l’île d’Orléans, lequel hantait et visitait trop familièrement Marguerite Boileau, femme dudit Jean Serreau, sieur de Saint-Aubin, 1er février 1666 – 28 février 1666, BAnQ Québec, Fonds Conseil souverain, Call Number, 03Q,TP1,S36,P60 (https://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/archives/52327/3372176?docref=cjz57vYAx3Dnw2FgDrbCIg : viewed 31 May 2023).
 A compare en sa personne Jean Serreau Sieur de Saint Abuin, Jugements et Deliberations du Consul Souverain de la Nourvelle-France (Québec: Imprimerie A. Cote, 1885) 1:371-372
 Du dict jour quotorziesmez Feburier 1667, Jugements et Deliberations du Consul Souverain de la Nourvelle-France (Québec: Imprimerie A. Cote, 1885) 1:379-381.
 Recensement du Canada. Nominatif: religieux, familles (noms, prénoms, surnoms), âges…, Archives / Collections and Fonds, MG1-G1, Volume number: 460/1–460/2, Microfilm reel number: C-2474, F-765, image 58 of 179 (https://recherche-collection-search.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/home/record?app=fonandcol&IdNumber=2318857 : viewed 13 June 2023).
 Guy Perron, Prévôté de Québec (Longueuil Québec: Les Éditions historiques et généalogiques Pepin, 2002) 1:72-73.
 Guy Perron, Prévôté de Québec (Longueuil Québec: Les Éditions historiques et généalogiques Pepin, 2002) 1:72-73.
 Québec Basilique Notre-Dame PQ, Registres Baptisms 1621-1667, p. 406; ancestry.com, B. 1050, Genevieve Serreau dit St. Aubin; Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Québec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, Comp., image 799 of 808 (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1091/images/d13p_2560a1569?pId=30972661: viewed 12 June 2023).
 Dépôt des papiers publics des colonies; état civil et recensements : Série G 1 : Recensements et documents divers: C-2572, Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada (https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c2572/50 : viewed 12 June 2023). Jean Serreau’s name is recorded as Sr. (Sieur) St. Aubin. Use of the term “Sr.” (Sieur) indicates that Serreau is a landowner.
 Dépôt des papiers publics des colonies; état civil et recensements : Série G 1 2572, Recensements et documents divers, Canadiana Heritage, image 100 of 312 (https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c2572/100 : viewed 17 June 2023).
 Jugements et Deliberations du Consul Souverain de la Nourvelle-France (Québec: Imprimerie A. Cote, 1885) 1:373. See the third paragraph.