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Marie Olivier Sylvestre was born in 1632 near the French settlement of Montreal. She was baptized sometime before she was 12 years old. She was named “Marie” for the Virgin Mary, “Olivier” in honor of her Godfather, Olivier Le Tardif, a friend of her father’s and French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s personal interpreter, and “Sylvestre”, a French name meaning “from the forest”. She received an education – something incredibly rare at the time – at a girl’s school run by Ursuline nuns and in the home of French settlers Marie Rollet and Guillaume Hubou. On November 3, 1644 at age 12, she was married to 33-year-old Martin Prevost in Quebec. This union is historically significant in that it is the first (recorded) of it’s kind – a French man marrying someone like Marie in a Catholic church.
Marie was a Native Canadian. There are conflicting reports as to exactly which tribe she was from, although her father’s name is derived from an Algonquian word meaning “Great Spirit”, so that is one hint. Her parents were named Manitouabeouich and Outchibahabanoukoueou, and her father had become friends with interpreter Olivier Le Tardif years earlier and acted as his guide, accompanying him on fur trading missions and exploratory voyages. Manitouabeouich is thought to have been an early convert to Christianity, as he was given the name of a French saint – Roch.
Marie and Martin had eight recorded children, five of whom survived to adulthood. In 1661, they lost 3 children in just a few months – a 12 year old, 6 year old and 4 year old. Marie herself died in 1665, at the young age of 37, just a short while after giving birth to her last daughter Therese. The French settlers brought with them European diseases which were devastating to the Native population who had never seen such before. Smallpox was the worst of these, and it’s very possible that’s what killed Marie and her children.
Martin remarried to a fellow widow Marie D’Abancourt mere months after Marie Olivier’s death. While this may sound heartless, the reality is that Martin had five children to care for including one infant, and Marie, as a widow, needed help too.
Marie is my 9x great grandmother. That is, there are 10 generations between us. The lineage connecting us goes through her granddaughter Anne Prevost, who was an early resident of the original Detroit settlement, to Anne’s granddaughter Genevieve Deshetres, the daughter of another Native interpreter for the French, to Genevieve’s great grandson – my great, great grandfather Edmond Langlois.
It is speculated that several other ladies in my French Canadian lineage could have been of Native descent, since there is no record of them arriving on any ships and European women didn’t just pop up out of nowhere to marry French men in Canada. Many people are excited at the prospect of having Native roots and are therefore quick to assume, but most of these ladies’ origins are speculations at best. Marie is set apart from these others in my family tree because she is a well documented Native American woman.