First Nun In North America Was Born At Our Doorstep
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, May 30, 1989
This was Antoinette de La Tour, daughter of Charles de La Tour and of an Indian woman, born at Port LaTour in 1627.
In last week's sketch, I told you that two of Biencourt's men were the fathers of children whose mothers were Indian women, one of them being Louis Lasnier; the other one was Charles de La Tour. We know of three of these children of Charles de LaTour, all girls and all born at Port LaTour. According to speculations, it could be that he had also some boys. All these children were born after Biencourt had died in 1623, when Charles de La Tour took charge of the men I was telling you about in that sketch; Chebogue was left definitely for Port LaTour. They were at the most 20 men in all.
His first daughter was Jeanne de La Tour, born in 1626. She married in what is now Castine, Maine, a rich merchant by the name of Martin d'Aprendestiguy, from the Basque country, southwest of France. She had five children. She is the ancestor of a number of Acadians, of all the Bourgeois' and of many Boudreaus, Dugas', LeBlanc, etc.
Was born the following year Antoinette de La Tour, the one that we are interested in. The birth of the third daughter, whose name we do not have, followed.
In 1632, Charles de La Tour brought his three daughters to France, at the time that Louis Lasnier took to France his own child, Andre Lasnier, whom I told you about last week.
Antoinette was placed by her father with a woman relative in La Rochelle, Madame de Saint-Hilaire. Some time after, Claude de Razilly, brother of Isaac who in 1632 had brought to La Have a group of settlers from France, wanted to put her with his sister, who was a nun at a Benedictine Abbey in Tourraine, located about half way in a straight line between Paris and La Rochelle. But Madame de Saint-Hilaire, who was a Protestant (Huguenot) "strong zealot in her religion" did not want to let her go, for fear that the child would be "perverted" by false doctrines. So Claude de Rasilly appealed to an uncle of Cardinal Richelieu, whom I mentioned in last week's column. And on June 13, 1634, Antoinette entered the Abbey in Tourraine.
Nine years later, in 1642, Antoinette asked to join the Order, which she did. Authors tell us that this is a proof that her parents were married. In fact, children born out of wedlock were forbidden to become nuns; or it was required that at least, at the time of their entrance to become nuns, their father and mother would be married. Thus Charles de La Tour and the Indian mother of those three girls got married; it could have been before they were born or after.
When Antoinette took the religious habit, a large number of people of rank and some of the principal dignitaries of the town attended, including the King's Attorney and Assessor with their wives, dukes and duchesses. Most of them had come to hear her most beautiful voice. In fact, after she arrived at the convent, it was not long before it was discovered that her singing was "out of this world". She was given music lessons for eight years. A certain Franciscan Friar, after hearing her once, came back three times to hear her sing. More than that, he gave to the Queen of France such an account of it that she also wanted to hear her sing and, for that purpose, she sent a stagecoach to take her to a convent in Paris, even "leaving all other seats unoccupied, so that there would not be anybody else on board." This was taking place in June of 1644.
The Queen was to gather all the high dignitaries of the Royal Court to hear Antoinette. After hearing her sing, the Queen wanted to keep her in Paris. But after three months, Antoinette begged very humbly to return to her former convent. So after singing a number of times for the Queen and her suite, she returned to the Benedictine Abbey in Tourraine.
This is where she was to pronounce her vows in 1646, in the presence of the Intendant of Tourraine, the Lieutenant-General, the King's Attorney, the President and the Assessor, plus a number of other persons of high rank.
And so, Sister Antoinette, this Port La Tour born child, this first child born in North America to become a nun, after having captivated the people of high rank with her beautiful young voice, preferred in her modesty, to the splendour of a convent that the queen had just built, the less dazzling cloister of the Benedictine nuns of Tourraine, where she, in its obscurity, shut herself up from the rest of the world so completely that she was not heard of afterward. The only time that she is mentioned is when she was godmother at the baptism of her niece, which took place March 14, 1660, at La Rochelle, daughter of Jeanne, to whom she gave her name Antoinette.
With regard to her youngest sister, whose name we do not have, as soon as she arrived in France with the rest of the family, her father asked Claude de Rasilly to take care of her. He took her to his sister at the Benedictine Abbey in Tourraine, who would have liked to keep her but Claude told her that he had promised the Ursuline Sisters of the place to commit her to them. That is when it was agreed that Claude's sister would take Antoinette. We do not know much about this third child, only that she died a few years later at the Ursulines' convent.
And this concludes the story of those children born not far from here, granting a couple of firsts to our neighbours of Port LaTour, one of whom was probably the only "star" ever born in their midst.