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d. 24 June 1794 in Montreal (Que.)


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DESPORTES, HÉLÈNE (Hébert; Morin), midwife, said to be the first child born to European parents in New France; daughter of Pierre Desportes and Françoise Langlois; m. Guillaume Hébert in October 1634; m. secondly Noël Morin 9 Jan. 1640 at Quebec; d. 24 June 1675.

The date of Hélène’s birth has not been definitely fixed. Narcisse-Eutrope Dionne* says that she came to Quebec with her parents in 1613, and Benjamin Sulte* that she was born in Quebec about 1622. Statistics from other sources indicate that she was 14 years old in 1634, 38 in 1659, 46 in 1666, and 48 in 1667. Anne Hébert, according to Samuel de Champlain, had died in childbirth prior to 1620; but since there is no further mention of her child, it was presumably still-born. Eustache Martin was born in October 1621. If, however, we assume Hélène’s birthdate was 1620, which seems most probable and corresponds to the year in which her godmother, Hélène Boullé, arrived in Quebec, this assumption would establish that she was the first child born alive to European parents in the St. Lawrence region. (Sulte, to be sure, claims for Guillemette Hébert the honour of being the first-born Canadienne, on the assumption that Louis Hébert had his wife, Marie Rolet, with him in Acadia in 1606, but Marc Lescarbot’s evidence refutes this (History (Grant).)

Pierre Desportes probably came to Quebec in 1614 with Abraham Martin: their wives were sisters, Françoise and Marguerite Langlois. Desportes’ occupation is not known, but he must have had some standing in the community and sufficient education to be able to write, for he signed on behalf of the inhabitants the document of 1621 appealing to the king. Nothing else is known of him. (He is not to be confused with Pierre Desportes de Lignières, to whom the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France ceded Île Royale (Cape Breton) in 1633.)

Neither of Hélène’s parents are metioned in her marriage contract with Guillaume Hébert. The wedding took place in the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec on 1 Oct. 1634. About this only son of Canada’s first settler little is recorded except an occasional instance of his helping priests in their relations with Indigenous people. Since he had inherited half his father’s land, which included some acres on the St. Charles as well as the original site above the cliff, it is to be assumed that his chief occupation during his short life was cultivating his fields. He was but a little boy when he came to Quebec with his parents in 1617, and therefore probably still in his twenties when he died on 23 Sept. 1639. Three children were born of his marriage to Hélène, one of whom died in infancy. The other two were a son, Joseph, and a daughter, Françoise (b. 1638), who married Guillaume Fournier in 1651.

Hélène, having been widowed, married on 9 Jan. 1640 in the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec Noël Morin (1616–80), a wheelwright who became one of the early pioneers of Montmagny. Their son Germain* was consecrated to the priesthood by Mgr François de Laval* in September 1665, the first Canadian-born priest. Another son, Jean-Baptiste (1645–94), was a member of the Conseil Souverain. A daughter, Marie*, was the first Canadian-born nun.

Beginning in the 1650s Hélène worked as a midwife in Quebec, as indicated by numerous mentions of her name in parish registers. She may have learned the basics of the profession from her aunt Marguerite, who delivered babies, and Hélène in turn passed them on to two of her daughters, Françoise and Louise, who also became midwives.

Ethel M. G. Bennett

For information about the Desportes family in Quebec see Léon Roy, “Pierre Desportes et sa descendance,” SGCF Mémoires, II (1946–47), 165–68. See also Azarie Couillard Després, Louis Hébert: premier colon canadien et sa famille (Lille, Paris, Bruges, 1913; Montréal, 1918); La première famille française au Canada. Dionne, Champlain, II, passim. Sulte, Hist. des Can.-fr., II, 37, 78.

Bibliography for the revised version:
Arch. de Notre-Dame de Québec, CM1/D4, 7 (registres des membres de la Confrérie de la Sainte-Famille), vol.1. Arch. Nationales (Paris, Fontainebleau et Pierrefitte-sur-Seine), MC/ET/LI/262, 12 août 1645. Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 1 oct. 1634, 9 janv. 1640; CN301-S226, 27 déc. 1639. [Samuel de Champlain], Les œuvres complètes de Champlain, Éric Thierry, édit. (2v., Québec, [2019]), 2. Susan McNelley, Hélène's world: Hélène Desportes of seventeenth-century Quebec (Charleston, S.C., 2013).

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Cite This Article

Ethel M. G. Bennett, “DESPORTES, HÉLÈNE (Hébert; Morin),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/desportes_helene_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/desportes_helene_1E.html
Author of Article:   Ethel M. G. Bennett
Title of Article:   DESPORTES, HÉLÈNE (Hébert; Morin)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1966
Year of revision:   2024
Access Date:   June 24, 2024