A detail from Thomas Hutchins’s 1778 map of the Illinois Country showing Ste. Genevieve, Kaskaskia, and Fort de Chartres. [Courtesy of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, Image 5045002]

During the first half of the eighteenth century, marriages between Native Americans and Europeans were common throughout French Louisiana, including the Illinois Country. In 1721 an observer at Kaskaskia remarked, “The French habitants, even the substantial ones, marry Indian women, and they get along very well together.” Although by midcentury there were progressively fewer marriages between white Creole men and Indigenous women with no white ancestry, there was enough Native American ancestry among Ste. Genevieve’s citizens to make the very issue meaningless. Marie-Joseph (sometimes Josette) Deguire, whose birth date is unknown, was the natural daughter of Jean-Baptiste Deguire Larose, a master tailor from Kaskaskia, and a Native American woman enslaved by Joseph Buchet, a longtime notary at Fort de Chartres. In the autumn of 1747, Deguire paid Buchet one thousand livres to “redeem” two natural children borne by one of the women enslaved by Buchet. Deguire may have had to accept this arrangement, as the Jesuit priests and government officials sometimes insisted that the fathers of natural children took responsibility for them. It was likely that the children’s mother had died, and Buchet had no satisfactory way to maintain the children.

In 1759 Marie-Joseph married Louis Tirat (also known as Louis St. Jean) in Kaskaskia, and shortly thereafter the couple moved to Ste. Genevieve. In the prenuptial contract, Marie-Joseph was called the daughter of Deguire, and her father made a gift to the couple of an agricultural plot in Ste. Genevieve. By 1774 Tirat had died, but Marie-­Joseph, now Widow Tirat, vouched for her daughter and namesake when the latter married Joseph Joubert. Three years later Joubert returned the favor by witnessing his wife’s mother’s marriage to Pierre Verrau of Ste. Genevieve.

When Jean Baptiste Deguire died in Ste. Genevieve in 1781, Marie-Joseph petitioned, as his natural daughter, for his estate. Since Deguire had no other living children, Marie-Joseph received the remainder of his estate after creditors were satisfied. There is some question, however, of what would have happened if Deguire had had legitimate children. Marie-Joseph, as a child of a woman to whom Deguire was not married, would have been entirely excluded from the distribution of his property. In 1786 Marie-Joseph’s second husband, Pierre Verrau, died in Ste. Genevieve, leaving her as his sole heiress. Thus, she outlived her father and two husbands, and inherited the small estates of all three. Still seeking financial security, she then went on to a third marriage in 1787, with François Bernier, before she died the next year, having done well for herself and for her children in colonial Ste. Genevieve society.

This article has been revised from a version previously published in Lawrence O. Christensen, William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds., Dictionary of Missouri Biography (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).

Further Reading

Belting, Natalia M. Kaskaskia under the French Regime. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1948.

Ekberg, Carl J. Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier. Gerald, MO: Patrice Press, 1985.

Ekberg, Carl J., and Sharon K. Person. Dawn’s Light Woman and Nicolas Franchomme: Marriage and Law in the Illinois Country. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2022.

Published July 28, 2023

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