Marianne Billeron Vallé’s signature on a baptismal record in 1768. She signed as the godmother to Marie-Louise, the daughter of an enslaved Native American woman. [State Historical Society of Missouri, Ste. Genevieve Parish Records, C3040]

Marianne Billeron Vallé was born in Kaskaskia around 1729, the daughter of Marie-Claire Catoire and Léonard Billeron dit La Fatigue. Her mother was French, an orphan from Paris, while her father was French Canadian. Léonard was a sometime royal notary in Kaskaskia, and therefore a person of some status in the community. Marianne grew up in a well-off household during the heyday of French Kaskaskia, the 1730s and 1740s. She received at least a rudimentary education, learning to write in French with an attractive, clear hand. This education was conducted either by her parents or by the French Jesuit fathers who dominated the religious and cultural life of the community. The only dark spot in Marianne’s early life was the death of her father in 1738. This left Marianne’s mother, known as Widow La Fatigue, to raise five children, Marianne and her four brothers. Marianne’s mother was clearly a formidable person, who after the death of her husband took in lodgers and even made business trips to New Orleans.

On January 7, 1748, Marianne married François Vallé I, who, despite his illiteracy, was one of the most eligible bachelors in Kaskaskia. Their civil marriage contract, which was drafted according to the Customary Law of Paris, had been signed the day before. This traditional French law ensured that wives had much financial security and were in general the economic equals of their husbands. When important family business was conducted—such as the sale or purchase of real estate or enslaved people—husband and wife were considered co-owners, and both signed the contract of exchange.

The 1752 census of Kaskaskia shows Marianne Billeron Vallé’s young family as already prosperous; they held five Africans enslaved, which was a precious possession in the Illinois Country. By 1753 they owned real estate in the fledgling community of Ste. Genevieve on the west side of the Mississippi, and a year later they sold their house in Kaskaskia. It seems likely therefore that Missouri acquired in 1754 what would become one of the most prominent families in the early history of the region. Vallé’s husband soon became Ste. Genevieve’s leading citizen, holding two important offices: captain of the militia and civil judge.

Marianne and François Vallé had six children over a twenty-five-year period: Marie-Louise was born around 1750, married Louis Dubreuil de Villars, the Spanish commandant of Ste. Genevieve, in 1771, and was killed by lightning in Ste. Genevieve in 1801. Charles was born around 1751, married Pelagie Carpentier in 1769, but became an abusive husband, which led his wife to sue for separation of bed and board. Joseph was born around 1754, was killed by Native Americans at Mine la Motte in 1774, and he had not yet married. François II was born in 1758, married Marie Carpentier in 1777, and went on to become commandant of Ste. Genevieve in the 1790s. Jean­-Baptiste was born in 1760, married Marie-Jeanne Barbeau in Prairie du Rocher in 1783, and lived to an advanced age, dying in Ste. Genevieve in 1849. Marianne was born around 1774 and died three years later. Infant and childhood mortality was high in the eighteenth-century Mississippi River valley.

In addition to these six children there was a seventh child, Marguerite, whom Vallé raised in her household. Marguerite was the illegitimate daughter of François Vallé, but the evidence suggests that Marianne accepted her into the family as one of her own. Marguerite was perhaps the product of a passing liaison between François and a Native woman, but in any case Marianne’s acceptance shows a wonderful generosity of spirit.

Marianne Billeron Vallé died and was interred in Ste. Genevieve in October 1781 at around the age of fifty-two, which was a normal life span for a woman in the eighteenth-century Illinois Country. She was much mourned in Upper Louisiana, for she had been popular in both Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis, where she had socialized with the lieutenant governor, Pedro Joseph Piernas. During Vallé’s lifetime her family became the leading family in Ste. Genevieve and one of the most important in all of Upper Louisiana.

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.

———. François Vallé and His World: Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

———. Stealing Indian Women: Native Slavery in the Illinois Country. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

Ste. Genevieve Civil Records. Microfilm. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

Ste. Genevieve Parish Records (C3040). Microfilm. State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia.

Published December 13, 2023

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