LeJEUNE, MARIE-HENRIETTE (baptized Marie-Tharsile) (Comeau; Lejeune, dit Briard; Ross), midwife and nurse; baptized 13 Aug. 1762 in Rochefort, France, daughter of Joseph Lejeune and Martine Roy (LeRoy); m. first 17 Feb. 1780 Joseph Comeau in La Rochelle, France; m. secondly 26 Aug. 1786 at St George’s Church (Anglican) in Sydney, Cape Breton, her cousin Bernard Lejeune, dit Briard; m. thirdly 18 Dec. 1792 James Ross, a disbanded loyalist soldier, and they had four children, two of whom died in infancy; d. May 1860 in North East Margaree, N.S.
Marie-Henriette LeJeune, subsequently remembered as “Granny” Ross, the Cape Breton midwife, remains a popular folk figure about whom little can be substantiated. Her reputation as a nurse and midwife was first established in the Little Bras d’Or area during a community smallpox epidemic when she reputedly inoculated many local inhabitants. She also had a cabin built in the nearby woods and used it as an infirmary where she successfully treated a number of victims. She and her family moved from Sydney, Cape Breton, about 1802, becoming the first settlers in the Northeast Margaree River valley; her reputation travelled with her, and as settlement increased in the area so did the demand for her services. Travelling on foot, by horseback, or on snow-shoes, with a pine torch to light the way at night, Henriette Ross worked unendingly in a locality where professional medical aid was non-existent. She was revered in the community for her selfless dedication, and even in extreme old age continued to work as a midwife. She eventually went blind, but did not allow this to impede her work; in summer her family transported her in a type of wheelbarrow, and in winter she was taken on a sled.
Known for her courage, determination, boundless energy, and love of adventure, Henriette Ross was a true pioneer woman. She was small with blue eyes and a dark complexion, and in her middle years thought nothing of walking 60 miles to Bras d’Or with her husband. In later life, although wizened with age, she could still easily walk the six miles to her granddaughter’s home, a journey which included wading across a river. She displayed tact and ingenuity in dealing with local Indians, and boldness in killing two bears, one with a musket and one with a fire shovel.
The passage of time and countless retellings of the various versions of her tale have no doubt blurred the distinction between fact and fable; the strength of the surviving story in rural Cape Breton, however, suggests that “Granny” Ross, whatever her history, was a dynamic and devoted woman of the land.
Cape Breton Registry of Deeds (Sydney, N.S.), Deeds, vol.E: 162 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 20B, petitions, nos.650, 2065, 3119. St George’s Anglican Church (Sydney), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 26 Aug. 1786, 18 Dec. 1792, 10 Sept. 1799 (transcripts at PANS). Clara Dennis, Cape Breton over (Toronto, 1942). E. E. Jackson, Cape Breton and the Jackson kith and kin (Windsor, N.S., 1971). J. L. MacDougall, History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia ([Truro, N.S., 1922]). E. E. Jackson, ‘“The little woman’: Granny Ross, her life and times,” Weekly Cape Bretoner (Sydney), 29 Sept. 1956: 17. [Joseph] de La Roque, “Tour of inspection made by the Sieur de La Roque; census, 1752,” PAC Report, 1905, 2, pt.ii.