Louis Bolduc was born near Quebec City in the village of St. Joachim around 1739 (his baptismal record is not extant), son to Zacharie and Jeanne Meunier Bolduc. Young Louis fled the St. Lawrence River valley as the French and Indian War of 1756 to 1763 turned decisively against the French. His native village of St. Joachim was one of the many villages in the valley that British troops burned during their approach to Quebec in 1759.
Bolduc settled in Ste. Genevieve during the early 1760s and married Agathe Govreau, a native of Kaskaskia, on January 28, 1765. The newcomer to the region therefore married into a firmly rooted local family. Louis and Agathe had four children over a seven-year period, three of whom—Elizabeth, Louis Jr., and Etienne—survived into adulthood.
Bolduc immediately plunged into the various economic activities that occupied enterprising men of colonial Ste. Genevieve: agriculture, lead mining, salt making, and commerce. Although Bolduc was illiterate, he was energetic, ambitious, and successful. He was soon a respected and influential man, frequently elected as church warden, which was an office reserved for the leading citizens of the parish.
Bolduc was in New Orleans on business when Agathe died in Ste. Genevieve in August 1773. She, like many women at that time, died of complications from childbirth. Her last child lived long enough to be baptized Jean-Baptiste but also died in infancy, as about one-third of the children did in colonial Ste. Genevieve. The inventory of the Bolduc estate (total appraised value 17,459 livres) as a consequence of Agathe’s death reveals that in 1774 Louis was already well-to-do.
Within two years Bolduc remarried, once again to a local woman, Marie Courtois, who was some fourteen years his junior. The new Bolduc couple had two children, Henri and Jean-Baptiste, both of whom died in infancy. They had no more children.
Whatever the misfortunes of his personal life, Bolduc’s wealth continued to increase. His commercial activities expanded dramatically, as the American Revolution was a catalyst to commerce in the Mississippi River valley, and Bolduc shipped large amounts of foodstuffs out of Ste. Genevieve. Slavery was a revealing index of wealth in colonial Ste. Genevieve, and by 1791 Bolduc held twenty-one people enslaved.
Severe flooding during the 1780s (especially the major flood of 1785) persuaded the residents of Ste. Genevieve to move their community to higher ground. By 1793 Bolduc had decided to relocate to the New Town, or Petites Cotes as it was then known. He selected a choice residential plot at the southwest corner of La Grande Rue (Main Street) and Rue à l’Eglise (Church Street, now Market Street). His vertical-log residence, built in that year, still stands in the center of old Ste. Genevieve as one of the premier historic sites in the Midwest.
Bolduc had prospered mightily under the colonial regimes of both France and Spain, and he had little reason to welcome the coming of American sovereignty to Ste. Genevieve with the Louisiana Purchase. Yet Bolduc entered the American era of his life in 1804 with many assets: he belonged to the upper stratum of society in Ste. Genevieve, and he and his wife, at ages sixty-eight and fifty-four respectively, were in robust health even though they had both already lived beyond their projected life expectancy, given the time and place. Bolduc, like many of his francophone compatriots in Ste. Genevieve, clung stubbornly to his old habits; for example, he never learned English, despite having become a resident of the United States.
Between 1810 and 1815 Bolduc dictated several wills and codicils, systematically preparing for the eventual distribution of his possessions. He died a wealthy man in 1815, with taxable property, including his residence and twelve enslaved people, worth $3,030.00, in addition to $10,000 in cash. Three hundred piastres, or dollars, of this were to be deducted and distributed to the parish poor, after which widow Marie was to receive one-half of the total, in accordance with the Customary Law of Paris; the other half went to his one surviving child, Elizabeth, and various grandchildren, greatgrandchildren, and his nephew Pierre Bolduc, who had recently arrived in Ste. Genevieve from Canada.
Bolduc was interred in the Roman Catholic cemetery of Ste. Genevieve on March 4, 1815, with his soul committed to the “Holy Trinity, under the protection of the Glorious Virgin Mary, . . . and all the saints of paradise.” His widow, Marie, survived him by eleven years.
Ekberg, Carl J. Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier. Gerald, MO: Patrice Press, 1985.
Houck, Louis. The Spanish Regime in Missouri: A Collection of Papers and Documents Relating to Upper Louisiana. 2 vols. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley and Sons, 1909.
Papeles de Cuba, various legajos. Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain.
Ste. Genevieve Archives. Microfilm. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
Ste. Genevieve Parish Records. Microfilm. State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia.
Published July 12, 2023
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