Do you know Marie Rouensa? No? Maybe she’s more familiar to you by her Native American name, Aramepinchone? You don’t recognize that name either?
Marie is a woman well worth knowing.
Marie Rouensa was born in 1677. Her father was the Kaskaskia Chief Mamenthouensa, also chief of the Illiniwek Confederation, a group of approximately 10,000 Native Americans that included the peaceful Kaskaskia Tribe among the twelve or thirteen tribes belonging to the confederation. An important guy!
They lived in a village across the Illinois River from what at that time was the French Fort St. Louis, but is now Starved Rock. Marquette and Joliet had stayed at the Grand Village of the Kaskaskia when returning from their exploration of the Mississippi River in 1673. Marquette returned in 1675 to found the Mission of the Immaculate Conception there. The village grew to as many as 6000 people, and included French missionaries and fur traders among the Kaskaskia population.
Marie was educated at the mission and became a devoted Catholic. She was a gifted storyteller, and soon realized that Christian stories had similarities to the trials of the Kaskaskia way of life. She became an assistant to Father Gravier, who ran the mission, instructing both children and adults using their native language, and made many conversions within her village.
Her story does not end there. In 1694, Maria, at seventeen years of age, decided to devote her life to Christ and to chastity, but her parents had other ideas. For political reasons, they chose a marriage for her, to a fifty-year-old coureur du bois (illegal fur trader) with a reputation for debauchery. Michel Accault (Aco) came west with La Salle and stayed to trade with the Illini. Such alliances were beneficial for both Native Americans and Frenchmen, providing trade advantages, protection, hospitality, and sustenance in times of famine. Marie did not want to marry, but her father was the Chief.
Catholicism and marriage to Frenchmen appealed to Illini women. Warfare with the Winnebago and Sioux had resulted in a decline in the number of Illini men, such that there were four women to every man. Polygamy was common, marriages were demanding, and involved brutal punishments. The arrival of Jesuit missionaries and French fur traders offered Illini women an opportunity to challenge abusive treatment and seek alternatives.
Marie was very unhappy, but what could she do? Marie refused the marriage. She was stripped, banished from her mother’s cabin, and driven away. She took refuge at the mission. Her father placed guards to keep other Kaskaskia away, leaving the chapel nearly empty. He threatened more harsh methods against Marie and the mission if she did not agree to the marriage.
Marie proposed a compromise. She would marry Accault if he and her parents would become Christians. The advantages of the union outweighed objections, and the marriage took place.
Marie had become in her own right an important person in her village, and with her parent’s conversion it was not long before three quarters of the Kaskaskia had converted. Even Accault became a reformed man.
In 1703, the village came under attack by the Iroquois and was forced to move south of St. Louis and Cahokia to a spot east of the Mississippi River. Also named Kaskaskia, the history was similar to the first Grand Village. Across a major river from a French fort, a fur trade and French settlement grew from a mission and a largely Native American population along a major transportation route. Everyone had access to trade goods, which encouraged the settlement to produce a food supply to feed the traders.
Accault died near the time of the move. He had remained a fur trader until his death, and Marie married another fur trader, Michel Philippe. Neither man ever stepped outside the role of trader. Marie had two children with her first husband and six more with the second, to whom she was married for twenty years.
But here’s what else she did. Agriculture was woman’s work, and in this time and place food surplus was very profitable. Marie produced grain and vegetable harvests and her family prospered. At the time of her death in 1725, two years after that of her second husband, she left an estate valued at 45,000 livres, (equivalent to approximately $5 million today) property including several tracts of agricultural land, two houses within the village of Kaskaskia, two barns filled with hay, oxen, thirteen cows, three horses, thirty-one pigs, and forty-eight chickens. There were oxcarts and horse carts, iron plows, and large quantities of cloth, a sign of wealth. She owned five slaves, four African American and one Indian woman. Although Illinois did not become a slave state when granted statehood in 1818, prior to that time a form of slavery was practiced by both Native Americans and early settlers.
Under French law, Marie was able to own property as a woman and she left a legally-enforceable written will spelling out how each of her children would inherit, linked to specific behaviors. She denied one son, until such time as he would leave his non-Christian wife.
Marie stood out as an extraordinary woman because her accomplishments took place during the early arrival of the missionaries, the fur trade, and the first settlements in Illinois. She was able to use opportunities to establish her status and a sense of personal identity, carving out a new role not only for Native American women but for all women. She is recognized at Duke University, so influenced by her accomplishments that she was included in seminars naming women who shaped our nation, by Ohio University that offers a course on her life, and by the Illinois State Museum (now closed) that devoted a wing to her and her tribe.
And Kaskaskia? It grew to a population of 7000, and was the county seat of Illinois County until 1787 when it became part of the Northwest Territory. It was named capital of the U.S. Illinois Territory in 1809, and was the state’s first capital from 1818 to 1819, when the capital was moved to Vandalia.
Today Kaskaskia has a population of 13. After floods in 1881, the Mississippi River changed course, diverting around the east side of Kaskaskia. Today it is the only town in Illinois west of the Mississippi River, accessible only by a small bridge from Missouri. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was rebuilt after the floods near its original location. Marie was buried beneath the pew she once used in the original church.
- November 2017
- September 2017
- August 2017
- April 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- March 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- December 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- October 2014
- Extraordinary Native American Woman – Marie Rouensa – 1677-1725 November 8, 2017Do you know Marie Rouensa? No? Maybe she’s more familiar to you by her Native American name, Aramepinchone? You don’t recognize that name either? Marie is a woman well worth knowing. Marie Rouensa was born in 1677. Her … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- Three-year-old Elsie, 1893-1896 September 20, 2017Three-year-old Elsie, 1893-1896 The first permanent settlers came to Northern Illinois in the 1830s and by the mid-1800s many nearby towns had grown to be of significant size. On 127th Street in Lemont is St. Matthew’s Cemetery. Cemeteries like St. … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- America’s Love of Air Racing – 1930s – Rudy Kling, “Speed King” August 16, 2017With the Chicago Air and Water Show about to begin, I thought it a good time to tell the story of a giant of Air Racing and local boy made famous! In the late 1920s and the entire 1930s, America … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- Ghosts of the Quarries April 4, 2017Many ghost hunters describe something called the “limestone theory,” holding that paranormal activity is more frequent in areas where there are large amounts of limestone. One possible explanation is that the chemical makeup of limestone is similar to that of … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- Have Yourself an Early Illinois Christmas! December 14, 2016When I found out my writer friend, Diane Andersen, had written about historic Illinois Christmas traditions, I invited her to write something for my December blog, and she graciously accepted. By way of introduction, although exploration and fur … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- A Walk along the River November 30, 2016Yesterday afternoon my husband pulled me away from my computer to take a walk on what might turn out to be the last warm day before the onset of winter. I picked the place though. I had done a … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- THE BONAPARTES’ HONEYMOON AT NIAGARA FALLS: Guest Post, Ruth Hull Chatlien, author of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte October 25, 2016When I read The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte by Ruth Hull Chatlien, I was surprised to find that Niagara Falls was visited by tourists as early as 1804, by people such as Jerome Bonaparte and his wife, as well as Aaron … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- Upcoming Speaking Engagements: October 22, November 5, November 10 October 18, 2016Want to know more about what it takes to see your novel in print? Join me Saturday in Elgin! Free program but be sure to register: gailborden.info/register or call 847-429-4597 Saturday in Elgin doesn’t work for you? The same program … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- THE NIAGARA FALLS PORTAGE October 12, 2016Last month I wrote about the Chicago Portage, the route used by American Indians, explorers, and others to travel from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, and the reason Chicago became one of the greatest cities in the world. I … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- Join Me at my Book Release Party October 1 September 23, 2016I’d like to invite you to my Book Release Party at Smokey Row Antiques on Saturday, October 1 from 3 pm to 5 pm. Come and say hello, share some refreshments, and help me celebrate the publication of The Mystery At Black … Continue reading →Pat Camalliere
- Extraordinary Native American Woman – Marie Rouensa – 1677-1725 November 8, 2017