Departure for the Islands
When Canada, also called New France, became a royal province in 1663, there were at least six male colonists of marriageable age for every European-born female. With a view to reducing this imbalance and to ensuring the settlement of the colony, King Louis XIV subsidized the cost of passage to New France for nearly 770 young women between 1663 and 1673. When finances permitted, he granted each a dowry of 50 livres intended to facilitate their marriage and settlement. Contrary to persistent legend, these girls were not prostitutes, but more often orphans who had been raised at the General Hospital of Paris. Within months of their arrival, marriage to one of the colony’s many suitors followed. In the early 1680s, Louis XIV sought to complete this policy of “feminization” by offering the “King’s Gift,” a dowry of 50 livres to every permanent settler to intermarry. In Louisiana, at the time of the Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West), there was also an appeal to filles du Roi, or filles à la cassette (King’s daughters, or casket girls) as they were called there; 120 women volunteers thus were transported to Louisiana in 1719–20. In addition, at the beginning of the 18th century, around 200 prostitutes (also called femmes de mauvaise vie, or women of questionable reputation) were sent to the Mississippi colony as a consequence of the Regency’s ban on prostitution. Most of them had been imprisoned at the Salpêtrière (a former arsenal renovated by Louis XIV to house the poor) for begging, loitering, prostitution, and other crimes. One of these women, Marie-Anne Lescaut, was the inspiration for the heroine of Abbé Prévost’s novel Manon Lescaut. This print, entitled “Départ pour les îles,” depicts the deportation to America of prostitutes, which is satirized in the images and in the accompanying verse. The print was engraved by Pierre Dupin (1690–1751) in the manner of the artist Antoine Watteau.
Margueritte Chéreau, Paris
Title in Original Language
Départ pour les îles
Type of Item
1 etching ; 27.9 x 36 centimeters
- Peter Gagné, King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663–1673 (Orange Park, Florida: Quintin Publications, 2001–8).
Last updated: January 8, 2018