The Story of Marie-Henriette LeJeune

When I first read about Granny Ross, I was completely unaware that we might be related.

After many years of research, I can now say with a high degree of confidence that we are related.

Granny Ross was Marie Henriette LeJeune (1762-1860), who was the sister of my 4th great-grandfather Charles “Joseph” LeJeune (1729 – aft 1811).

1752

In 1752, a Frenchman named Joseph de la Roque made a voyage to Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island). His orders were to carry out a census of the island. The results would be referred to as the “Inspection Voyage of Sieur de la Roque – Ilse Royale of 1752”.

According to the “Inspection Voyage of Sieur de la Roque – Ilse Royale of 1752”, Joseph LeJeune is 22 years old and living in Baye Des Espagnols (Sydney Harbour) on Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island), with his family. Joseph is the son of  Germain LeJeune and Marie Trahan.

Also included in the “Inspection Voyage of Sieur de la Roque – Ilse Royale of 1752” is 14 year old Martine Le Roy, daughter of  Charles Le Roy and Charlotte Chavet.

Before 1750, the LeJeunes and the Le Roys lived in the village of Pisiquid (present day Windsor, Nova Scotia) together with other French families who had been living in Acadia for more than a hundred years. During that time, the fighting between the English and the French for control of the territory has only been interrupted by the signing of treaties, which produced only short periods of uneasy peace.

The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, gave control of Acadia and Newfoundland to the English, while the French retained control of Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Isle St. Jean (Prince Edward Island). The French would retain the right to fish off the west coast of Newfoundland, which became known as “the French Shore“. During the period between 1713 and the 1740’s, the residents of Pisiquid lived in relative peace.

By the late 1740s, there is an increased English presence in the Halifax area. In 1750, the English established a military presence in Pisiquid with the construction of Fort Edward. It is easy to understand how the arrival of the English military might have impacted  this peaceful community. It was no coincidence that, in 1750, many of the residents of Pisiquid, including the family of Germain LeJeune and the family of Charles Le Roy would relocate to Isle Royale (Cape Breton). At the time, it was reasonable to assume that immigrating to Isle Royale would provide some security. Both Isle Royale and Isle St. Jean were according to the treaty, safe havens from the English.

Five years later, in 1755, the Acadian residents who remained at Pisiquid would be rounded up, placed on ships and deported to the American colonies and other parts of the world. Their homes are burned. The Acadian families now living at Baye Des Espagnols on Isle Royale have escaped this first assault. The area would eventually become known as Petit Bras d’Or and known locally as “the French Village”. The French Fortress of Louisbourg is located approximately 50 kilometres southeast of Petit Bras d’Or.

Joseph LeJeune and Martine Le Roy were married at Louisbourg on 5 November 1754;

JOSEPH LE JEUNE, originaire de LAcadie Eveche de Quebec et actuellement habitant de l’Espanole fils legitime de germain et de Marie Trahan d ‘une part et MARTINE LE ROY aussi originaire de L’acadie fille de Charles Le Roy et de Marie Chauvet d’autre part”

Publication de trois bans.

Signatures:

Louis Gautier

[chovemein]

Clement Rosselin cure

chap. ray. de St. L.

marque Tues

A.F.O., G1, 409,1 registre: 37v.

Acte de Mariage Louisbourg, Ie 5 novembre 1754.

 

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

Joseph LeJeune, native of lacadie, diocese of Quebec and currently a resident of Baye Des Espagnols, legitimate son of Germain (LeJeune) and Marie Trahan on the one part and Martine Le Roy also native of lacadie, daughter of Charles Le Roy and Marie Chauvet on the other part.”

Publication of three banns.

Signatures:

Louis Gautier

[chovemein]

Clement Rosselin cure

chap. ray. de St. L.

marque Tues

A.F.O., G1, 409,1 registre: 37v.

Acte de Mariage Louisbourg, Ie 5

 

1745

In 1745, the fortress of Louisbourg was attacked by the English, who were joined by forces from the American colonies. In the short term, the French retained control by negotiating a treaty in 1748.

 

1758

The English again attacked Louisbourg in 1758. This time, they not only defeated the French, but they completely destroyed the fortress. The English now have control of Isle Royale and Isle St. Jean.

Subsequently, Acadians living along the coast of Isle Royale were rounded up, placed on ships and deported. Their homes were burned. All French residents, including Joseph and Martine are deported to La Rochelle, France. Martine’s mother died shortly after arriving in France. One can only imagine the trauma and turmoil of such an upheaval. By this time, the Lejeune family had been living in Acadia for more than four generations. These Acadian families became refugees in their mother country, which in many respects was quite foreign.

 

1761

In 1761, while living near La Rochelle, France, Joseph and Martine had their first child, Paul, who died shortly afterwards. The next year on August 13, 1762, a daughter, Marie-Henriette was born at La Rochelle.

 

 

1763

In 1763, the Seven Years War ended with the Treaty of Paris. England takes over all French possessions in Acadia and France is left with the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland. Exiled Acadians, longing to return to Acadia, are attracted to St. Pierre and Miquelon. Joseph and Martine decide to return to the new world. This time, they arrive on the Island of Miquelon. In 1764, daughter Marthe is born  and in 1766, a son, Charles “Joseph” is baptised on the Island of Miquelon.

 

1766

By 1766, the French are becoming concerned about the numbers of French immigrants arriving on the islands. Apparently, it was a question of how many families these small islands could sustain. While many were sent back to France, permission was granted to a limited number of families to return to Acadia.

 

1767

In the summer of 1767, three sailing vessels and five small open boats (chaloupes) departed St. Pierre for various destinations in Acadia. Some were destined for places like Cheezecook (near Halifax), Îles de la Madeleine, Bonaventure and Baie des Chaleurs in Gaspé and Prince Edward Island. Joseph, Martine and their three children returned to “the French Village” of Petit Bras d’Or near Sydney on Cape Breton Island. They are accompanied by Martine’s father, Charles Le Roy, her brother Alexis Le Roy and their niece Marianne Fournier. This time, the family would live in Petit Bras d’Or for almost ten years. While there, a daughter, Radegonde (Barbara) was born in 1770.

 

1778

For some unknown reason, around 1777, the family decides to relocate to St. Pierre and Miquelon. The 1778 census for St. Pierre includes Joseph LeJeune, his wife and seven children. It is assumed that one of the children is Marianne Fournier. Unfortunately, the family had no idea what was about to happen. The English, led by the governor of Newfoundland, invaded the islands, burned the houses and expelled the population.

Somehow, the English were again feeling threatened by the French. Joseph and Martine are once again crossing the ocean to La Rochelle, France, where they would spend the next five years. While living in France, a daughter Anne Marie is born and the oldest daughter Marie-Henrietta would marry Joseph Comeau, a widower with six children.

 

1783

The islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon are returned to France with the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, which ended the War of the American Revolution. Soon afterwards, Joseph LeJeune and his family return to the island of Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland. The family was accompanied by their daughter Marie-Henriette with her husband Joseph Comeau.

Shortly after their arrival in Miquelon, Henriette’s husband, Joseph Comeau drowns and the family again relocates to Petit Bras d’Or on Cape Breton Island. It had been more than 25 years since they were first deported from Cape Breton Island. In that time, the family had crossed the Atlantic 4 times. Back in Petit Bras d’Or, Joseph’s family is reacquainted with the family of his half brother Christophe (Chrisostime) LeJeune who is also living in Petit Bras d’Or. It would appear that Christophe LeJeune and his family had somehow missed the deportation.

Joseph was the son of Germain LeJeune and Marie Anne Trahan, while Christophe LeJeune was the son of Germain LeJeune and Marie Guedry. In other words, Joseph and Christophe were half-brothers. Within the next few years, four of the children of Joseph and Martine would marry four of the children of Christophe LeJeune (their cousins).

  • Francois Paul LeJeune married Margaret Lejeune (17 Sep 1793)

  • Martha LeJeune married Francois LeJeune (about 1790)

  • Radegonde LeJeune married Joseph Christophe LeJeune (21 Jul 1793)

  • Marie-Henriette LeJeune married Bernard LeJeune

Following the death of Bernard, Marie-Henriette married James Ross. Ultimately, Marie Henriette would become known and  remembered as “Granny Ross”.

The following are excerpts from “The True Story of the Legendary Granny Ross”

by Elva E. Jackson

Marie-Henriette, legitimate daughter of Joseph Lejeune, mariner, and of Martine Le Roi, born last evening has been baptised by me, the undersigned priest in the parish church of Saint-Louis of Rochefort. The godfather was Jacques Cabot, sergeant-major in the colonial troops, and the godmother Osite Le Roi. The first has signed with me, the godmother has declared not being able to sign. The father, present, has also declared not able to sign. The baptism has been conferred this fourteenth day of the month of August in the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty-two (August 14,1762).
(signed) Jacques Cabot Bossens, priest3

3Photostatic copy of entry provided by Abby Pierre Je’gou, Church of Saint Louis, Rochefort, France, 1985.

I suspect that Rochefort, France should read La Rochelle, France.

In the autumn of 1778, Marie-Henriette Lejeune, now a young woman of sixteen, returned to France, a country which she had left as an infant. She was now in a city on the Bay of Biscay, several miles south of Rochefort, where she had been born. At this time and in the same locale, Joseph Comeau, another displaced Acadian, son of Jean-Baptiste Comeau and Anne-Marie (Thibodeau) Comeau, lost his wife, the former Anne Doucet. Left with several children, he asked Marie-Henriette to marry him. Though he was 54, she accepted, and on 17 February 1780, they were married in the parish church of Saint-Nicholas at La Rochelle.4

4lnformation provided by Stephen White, extracted from records of I’Eglise Saint-NicoIas, now with the Departmental Archives, France.

At Little Bras d’Or, where practically everyone was related to each other, they were again a close family unit. Isolated from other French settlements, however, the young had no one to marry but their relatives. Marie-Henriette–now a young widow of 24–and one of her cousins desiring to wed, the couple went to Sydney to be married by the Reverend Ranna Cossit. The records of St. George’s Anglican Church for 26 August 1786 show her marriage to Lamuad Briard DeGong.5 Like Marie-Henriette’s first marriage, this union did not last long. As there was no church at French Village, and no vital statistics were kept, we do not know when her second husband died–except that by 1793 she was a widow again.5

5St. George’s Anglican Church records, Sydney. Lamuad was perhaps in error for L’Amand.

At Little Bras d’Or, James Ross, aged 36, saw a 31-year-old, twice-widowed Marie-Henriette with the compassion and capability he desired in a helpmate. On 18 March 1793, before spring could break up the harbour ice they travelled to Sydney, where they were married by the Reverend Cossit, who had officiated at the bride’s second marriage, six years before. Though James and Marie-Henriette stood by the faiths in which they had been brought up, it is said they had an understand that any male children they might have would be Protestant, while any female would be Roman Catholic. At Little Bras d’Or there was no priest, and only an occasional itinerant missionary. In the autumn of 1799, Father Francois Lejamtel, the missionary from Arichat, visited the community while in Sydney. He later reported that he had found there a great ignorance of religion and irregularities of conduct, noting especially that three married couples were first cousins.8 Two men and a woman of these were the brothers and sister of Marie-Henriette. Father Lejamtel also reported that two of the three couples had been married before a Protestant minister, thus referring to Marie-Henriette’s second marriage, and to that of her sister Barbara, who on 21 July 1793, at St. George’s in Sydney, had married Joseph Christophe Lejeune. 8

8Lejamtel to Plessis, 30 July 1799, Archives of the Archdiocese of Quebec, N.E., VI-28

The Legend of Granny Ross

Documenting the legend is much more challenging that the history. When someone becomes a folk hero, it is always difficult to separate fact from fiction. 

Merriam-Webster defines a legend as; “A story coming down from the past, especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable”. In other words, the undocumented story of Granny Ross that was transmitted orally from one generation to the next, sometimes referred to as “oral tradition”.

Although the legend seems to begin with Marie-Henriette’s marriage to James Ross, I feel that the legend of this extraordinary woman began much earlier, at least within the family. A review of her early years might help us appreciate her exceptional concern and care for her family and her community.

 

1758

Following the defeat of the French at Louisburg, Joseph LeJeune and Martine Le Roy were deported from Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) to La Rochelle, France.

1762

On August 13, 1762, Marie-Henriette LeJeune is born near La Rochelle, France.

1763

Marie-Henriette and her family decide to cross the Atlantic to the Island of Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland. 

1764

Marie-Henriette and her family are deported from the island of Miquelon to La Rochelle, France. It is her second crossing of the Atlantic ocean. Marie-Henriette is 2 years old.

1767

Marie-Henriette and family cross the Atlantic ocean for the third time. We can assume that the family was not happy living in France and welcomed the chance to return to the new world. This time they return to Isle Royale (Cape Breton island), where her family was deported from in 1758. She is now 5 years old.

1778

Marie-Henriette and family, for some unknown reason, relocate to Saint Pierre and Miquelon. She is 16 years old. Shortly afterwards, the family is again deported to La Rochelle, France.

1780

On February 17, 1780, Marie-Henriette, marries 54 year old Joseph Comeau at the church of Saint-Nicolas in La Rochelle, France. Marie-Henriette became the mother of Joseph’s 6 children. All of this at the tender age of 18.

1783

In 1783, Marie-Henriette and her husband, Joseph Comeau cross the Atlantic again. They arrive in Saint Pierre and Miquelon with her parents Joseph LeJeune and Martine Le Roy. Henriette is now 21 years old and it is reasonable to assume that she still had children to care for.

Shortly after their arrival in Miquelon, Joseph Comeau drowns, leaving Marie-Henriette to care for the children.

1786

By 1786, Marie-Henriette and her family are back on Isle Royale (Cape Breton). She is soon reacquanted  with the members of the LeJeune family, who somehow escaped deportation. On August 17, 1786, Marie-Henriette marries her first cousin, Bernard LeJeune. She is now 24 years old. It is assumed that Bernard LeJeune passed sometime before 1793. 

1793

Marie-Henriette is now 31 years old. She has been deported twice. She has crossed the Atlantic ocean 5 times. She has been married twice. She has lost 2 husbands. During this time, she has cared for at least 6 children, likely many more.

If she is not already a legend, she should have been, at least within the LeJeune family.

On the March 18, 1793, James Ross becomes Marie-Henriette’s 3rd husband.

Following their marriage, James and Marie-Henriette lived on a 200 acre farm in Petit Bras d’Or. It was here, that the community became aware of Marie-Henriette, “Harriet”, as a mid-wife, a healer, a miracle worker and someone who cared deeply for community.

Life on Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) during the 18th and 19th century was very different from what it is today.

Medical practitioners and medical services was hard to come by. There were no drug stores. Most medicines were found in the wild plants of the forest. Plants were used to treat injuries and prepare cures. One example is the “Pitcher Plant”. The roots and the leaves of the “Pitcher Plant” have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

Around 1802, the Ross family relocated to a farm in the Margaree Valley, located  approximately 100 kilometers to the west of Petit Bras d’Or. By this point in time, Marie-Henriette is known locally as  “Harriet”.

Marie-Henriette was very much aware of empirical medicine, aka traditional medicine. Empirical medicine is medical treatment based on experiences, experiences based on observations made over time.

As a child growing up in Newfoundland, I often wondered why my mother would collect the sap from a Balsam fir tree to put on the bandage when I would cut myself. Later in life, I learned that Balsam resin is actually an antibiotic. Secondly, Balsam resin is a sticky substance that coats the cut or burn, which minimizes exposure to the air and further infection. This knowledge was learned over time, by observation, by trial and error and passed on from one generation to the next.

According to legend, Marie-Henriette returned from France with a sharp knife and a container of serum which she used to  treat victims of smallpox. Although this story is not verifiable, the oral history of Granny Ross includes stories of smallpox outbreaks. It has been suggested that Marie-Henriette somehow understood that smallox was a very contageous disease. In other words, if you are exposed to an infected person, you too could become infected. She may have also understood the concept of natural immunity, where exposure to a disease organism produces antibodies, which could in turn protect that person from a more serious infection. Some have suggested that Marie-Henriette may have been immune to smallox, as a result of a cowpox infection earlier in her life.

There are stories of Marie-Henriette organizing the community to provide isolation facilities (cabins in the woods) to protect the community from exposure to those infected with smallpox.

Marie-Henriette, now known as “Harriet” became Cape Breton’s most trusted medical practioner.

Marie-Heniette was an adventurer. She was comfortable in the forest, where she searched out and collected plants, which she used medicinally.  experienced wilderenessvery physically fit. She and James continued to travel back and forth the roughly 100 kilometers to Petit Bras d’Or to visit family and get supplies. This travel was by way of a path through the woods, which also required travellers to wade across streams and rivers.

There are also stories of her run-ins with bears. One where she defended herself with a shovel and another where she acrually shot a bear.

1825

James Ross died in 1825. Marie-Henriette is again a widow. She is now 63 years old and has become the folk hero known as “Granny Ross”. 

Granny Ross continued her work as a mid-wife, as a healer and as a comforter to the dying. As she aged , she became blind. Despite her loss of vision, she, with help of family and friends, continued to visit the sick.

1860

In 1860, Marie-Henrette LeJeune, “Harriet”, “Granny Ross” passed at the age of 98 years. She is buried on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in North East Margaree.

The following was cut and pasted from;

Lois Kathleen Kernaghan, “LeJEUNE, MARIE-HENRIETTE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography , vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lejeune_marie_henriette_8E.html.

“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 wiser 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.”

A special thank you to Lois Kathleen Kernaghan. I enjoyed your retelling.