A century after the Mayflower sailed from England to America, a group of young French women arrived in Biloxi aboard a ship called the LaBaleine. The coastal settlement in 1721 became the northern Gulf’s equivalent of Plymouth Rock for the French colony of Louisiana, says Randall Ladnier in his new book, “The Brides of La Baleine.”
These women, ages 12 to 30, went forth and multiplied, with 24 having what Ladnier describes as “enormous families” in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Illinois.
“These French women eventually formed the genetic foundation on which Gulf Coast societies have been built,” Ladnier writes in the book’s preface.
They were the start of the Gollott family, the Sauciers, Favres, Morans and many other names still well represented in South Mississippi today, he said.
A passenger list — lost for 266 years after being misfiled in French national archives — is the basis for the illustrated book. Ladnier, a retired psychotherapist who was born in Gulfport and now lives in Sarasota, Florida, spent two years researching every young lady on the list.
Most genealogical searches, said Jane Shambra, head of the Local History and Genealogy Department at Biloxi Public Library, start at the present and go back. This search began centuries ago and looked forward, she said, in hopes of finding those who may be related.
Tracing the genealogy of women is problematic, she said, because women marry and remarry, which historically has changed their surnames. There also were prominent misspellings on the passenger list.
“It’s good to see some new research,” Shambra said of Ladnier’s book. “I loved the enthusiasm.”
Ladnier kept a folder on each bride and dropped any snippet of information he found into the folders, she said. Each bride has a page in the book, even if he was able to find no information other than a name and the approximate date of her birth. For Genevieve Boyer, 25, and others whose story he wasn’t able to trace, Ladnier asks anyone who has knowledge of her to contact him “so we can preserve her rightful place in history.”
One reason he’s so interested in their stories is he is a direct descendant of one of the brides, Marie Angelique Girard.
She was 22 when she arrived in Biloxi with the other women. She married twice — to Zacharie Robar on June 27, 1721, at Old Biloxi (present-day Ocean Springs), and about four years later in Mobile to a soldier, Andre Miot dit Valenciennes. They had a son, Charles Miot, in 1730 and a daughter, Marie Catherine Miot, on April 5, 1731. Marie Angelique died in Mobile at age 37, just four years after her daughter was born, Ladnier found.
But her children married and had children, and among their many descendants’ surnames are Blackwell, Bond, Bosarge, Cuevas, Dedeaus, Dubuisson, Evans, Favre, Fayard, Fountain, Gill, Gollott, Greenwell, Guice, Krohn, La Fontaine, Ladner, Ladnier, Lizana, Moran, Necaise, Quave, Saucier, Seymour and Swetman.
This is the only ship that has ever brought girls to be married to Biloxi.
Because of these young women, desperate to escape social and moral persecution that had become rampant in France during that time, Ladnier said, “the arrival of the La Baleine represents the most consequential event which has ever occurred in south Mississippi.”
Information about what daily life was like for these women has never before been published, he said.
Shambra said the book’s cover is a very plausible representation of what the travelers must have looked like when they landed in Old Biloxi, with each woman carrying a small casket, or case.
“That’s it. That’s all they came with,” she said.
The women had been living at the Hôpital General de La Salpetriere in Paris, some of them orphans who were educated there. Historians have dismissed them as probably prostitutes, Ladnier said, though he wasn’t able to find a single piece of evidence to indicate that. The age of consent was 25 in France at the time, he said, and it was more likely they were sent to the l’Hôpital because they had been disobedient, rebellious or anti-religions.
According to his research, Ladnier said, “this is the only ship that has ever brought girls to be married to Biloxi.”
He hopes the women of the Gulf Coast can be inspired by their predecessors’ stories to make a memorial or museum in their honor. He also envisions an annual convention in South Mississippi for descendants of the brides; a computer database to track the family genealogies; and a short film to tell their history.
Impact of the La Baleine brides
▪ 23 married and founded large families — 2 in Mississippi, 2 in Alabama, 3 in Illinois, 16 in Louisiana
▪ 39 married but left no known descendents surviving today
▪ 16 left no trace in America and probably were buried at sea or died in the 1721 epidemic in Biloxi
The Brides of La Baleine