In 1703, twenty young girls, “reared in Virtue and Piety…” had been approved by Monseigneur Saint-Villier, Bishop of Quebec, as being of high moral character. They were chosen because the lack of that quality in female immigrants had recently created substantial unrest in Martinique and Saint-Domingue.
Most of the girls were between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Marie-Catherine Philippe, daughter of Charles Philippe, a prominent resident of Meaux-en-Brie, was sixteen. Marie-Marguerite Dufresne, age fourteen, was the daughter of Charles Dufresne, Sieur Dumotel. Others, like Therese Brochon and Angelique Drouin, were not as well-born, perhaps, but of no less piety. Three of the girls, Jeanne-Louise, Genevieve and Marguerite Burelle, were accompanied by their parents.
The first week of October, the girls and their guardians began their three hundred mile journey by horse-drawn cart from Paris to Rochefort where they learned that their ship was not ready for the voyage. The delays continued until late March 1704 when the first attempt to transport the women to the Pelican failed because of rough seas. In fact, it was the nineteenth of April before the Pelican weighed anchor and was barely able to outmaneuver an English fleet sent to capture it.
On the ninth of June, the Pelican finally made port at Cap-francis, but the women were not permitted to go ashore because of the vile reputation of the port. After seven days spent waiting for Governor Auger, the Pelican sailed and narrowly escaped being seized by two English warships, but made port at Baracoa on the eastern tip of Cuba.
Violent seas thrashed the ship for several days. However, on the seventh of July, they reached Havana. The girls were allowed to leave their cramped quarters for the first time since departing Rochefort three months earlier and were given guided tours of the many shrines, convents, and gardens in Havana.
The final leg of the voyage began under fair skies on the fourteenth of July, but the high spirits of the passengers quickly deteriorated as some of the soldiers came down with a fever and others began to complain of chills and headaches. The ship put in to shore on the twentieth of July near Pensacola to take on fresh water and then continued directly to Massacre Island, arriving on the twenty-second.
Nearly sixty soldiers and crewmen were already stricken, six of whom died immediately following the landing at Massacre Island. On August 4, the travelers finally reached the settlement at Fort Louis.
“The girls were obviously in a debilitated condition, their drawn, feverous cheeks barely able to form even the faintest of smiles. Bienville was there to greet them…If Mobile was not what the passengers of the Pelican had envisioned, they were surely too tired and sick to care at this point. They had reached their destination….”
[ed. note: Cassette girls were sent twice more to the Louisiana colony—to New Biloxi in 1721 and to New Orleans in 1728.]
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List of marriageable girls who arrived aboard the Pelican in 1704:
Burelle, Geneviève Paris and Canada
Burelle, Jeanne-Louise of Paris and Canada
Burelle, Marguerite Paris and Canada
de Berenhardt, Jeanne-Catherine
Des Hayes, Marie- Élisabeth
Duffresne, Marie-Marguerite, age fourteen of Saint-Germain
LeFevre, Louise-François died after arrival
Gilbert, Renée of Chantilly
Housseau, Louise-Marguerite of Tours, France
Le Pinteaux, Jeanne-Élisabeth
Philippe, Marie-Catherine age sixteen of Meaux-en-Brie
Savary, Gabrielle of Saint-Denis
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Higginbotham, Jay. Old Mobile: Fort Louis de la Louisiane 1702— 1711. Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1977.