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LONGLEY, LYDIA (later baptized Lydia-Madeleine), dite Sainte-Madeleine, English captive, sister of the Congregation of Notre-Dame; b. 12 April 1674 at Groton, Massachusetts, daughter of William Longley; baptized according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church on 24 April 1696 at Montreal; d. 20 July 1758 in Montreal.

Lydia’s grandfather, William Longley, came to America from England around 1650 with a group of Puritans who settled at Groton, near Boston. Her father was also called William Longley, but her mother’s name is not known. Lydia was 11 in 1685 when her father remarried with the widow Delivrance Crisp.

At the age of 20 Lydia was unexpectedly separated from her family when Abenakis, allies of the French in the war against the English colonies, attacked Groton on 27 July 1694. After killing the Longleys and five of their children, they carried off Lydia, John, and Betty into captivity in New France. Betty died during the difficult journey, which was done on foot; John was kept a prisoner in the Abenaki village of Saint-François-de-Sales (Odanak), on the Rivière Saint-François. Lydia was taken to Ville-Marie, where the French immediately bought her and placed her in the charge of Jacques Le Ber*, the father of Jeanne* and Pierre*. In her new family the young captive discovered a way of life which ran counter to her Puritan faith and upbringing. But she was surrounded with so much affection that she refused to return to Groton when exchanges of prisoners were arranged.

Influences that were discreet but decisive led Lydia Longley from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, then to the religious life: on 5 Aug. 1695 Jeanne Le Ber became a voluntary recluse in the Congregation of Notre-Dame, and Lydia was struck by the young woman’s generosity and by the ceremony of retirement; Pierre Le Ber was preparing to join the Brothers Hospitallers of the Cross and of St Joseph, of which he had been a cofounder, along with François Charon* de La Barre and Jean Fredin; in addition Mary Sayward*, another English captive with whom Lydia had struck up a friendship, had already been converted to Catholicism on 8 Dec. 1693. When Lydia expressed her desire to become a Catholic, she was entrusted to Marguerite Bourgeoys* for her religious instruction. On 24 April 1696 the young girl solemnly abjured her religion in the chapel of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. On the same day she received baptism and was named Lydia-Madeleine after her godmother, Marie-Madeleine Dupont de Neuville, wife of Paul Le Moyne* de Maricourt and Jeanne Le Ber’s cousin.

Lydia-Madeleine joined the congregation in December 1696. She was the second English captive to be received by Mother Bourgeoys, since Mary Sayward, dite Marie des Anges, had preceded her by two years. But, it seems, she was the first to make her profession in the congregation. As her name in religion she received that of her baptism and pronounced her simple vows on 16 Sept. 1699.

Sister Sainte-Madeleine lived in the community for 62 years, mainly in Montreal, then at Sainte-Famille, Île d’Orléans, where she was the superior of the mission. She died on 20 July 1758 at 84 years of age and was buried the next day in the Enfant-Jésus chapel in the former church of Notre-Dame de Montréal. Lydia Longley had attained a place in history in accord with the title Helen A. McCarthy gave to her in a romantic biographical novel, “the first American nun.”

Andrée Désilets

ACND, La Congrégation de Notre-Dame: son personnel, 1653–1768; Fichier général des sœurs de la Congregation de Notre-Dame; Plans des lieux de sépulture depuis 1681–CND; Registre des sépultures de sœurs de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame; Registre général des sœurs de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal. Coleman, New England captives. Sister Saint Ignatius [Catherine Jane] Doyle, Marguerite Bourgeoys and her congregation (Gardenvale, Que., 1940). Lemire Marsolais et Lambert, Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame. H. A. McCarthy, Lydia Longley, the first American nun (New York, London, 1958).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Andrée Désilets, “LONGLEY, LYDIA, Sainte-Madeleine,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/longley_lydia_3E.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/longley_lydia_3E.html
Author of Article:   Andrée Désilets
Title of Article:   LONGLEY, LYDIA, Sainte-Madeleine
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   June 15, 2024