Pat Weeks Story

Jean Olivèr

An Early Kaskaskia Habitant

By Patricia Weeks

Printed in Le Journal, Center for French Colonial Studies, Winter 1994, Vol 10, #3 - 4

To me the era of early Kaskaskia, 1700 to 1750, has always been a time that was teeming with excitement, speculation and romance. This period grew by the courage and self sufficiency of a small group of men. Those who chose to battle the wilderness and face this foreign land were really very ordinary men, seeking survival rather than promises of fame or fortune. One such man was Jean Olivier. Many researchers have attempted to discover his origins. E. M. McCormick stated that Jean Olivier was roaming around the Mississippi Valley with LaSalle and Tonti, but to date, I have seen no proof of this.

The earliest documentation of Jean Olivier is the baptismal record of Marie, daughter of Petronilla Mausakine and Jean Olivier, on 4 August 1715. The mother, Petronilla, was Native American; her tribe is not known, but is assumed to be Illinois. This child Marie became the wife of another early habitant, Etienne Guevremont, and resided at St Philippe, a small village some six miles north of Fort de Chartres.

Jean Olivier's second wife was Martha Accica (Ariga, Axiga) of the Illinois tribe, widow of Etienne François LaBoissière. She and LaBoissière were the parents of Marie, baptised in 1708 and later married to Joseph Baron, and François, baptised in 1712, still living in 1748.

Jean Olivier and second wife Marthe Accica had five known children: François, baptised 30 November 1717; Jean Baptiste, baptised 17 March 1720, married to Dorothée LaSonde at Kaskaskia on 15 February 1759, died by 1771; Françoise, baptised 22 June 1721; Dorothée, no baptismal record, married 1748 to Nicolas Boyer, progenitor of so many of the Old Mines population; and Joseph, no baptismal record, but present at sister Dorothée's wedding in 1748.

In September 1723, Father Beaubois, the parish priest at Kaskaskia, conducted an inventory of Jean Olivier's estate. At his property in Kaskaskia they found a house of poteaux en terre measuring 25 by 18 feet, two small wooden chests, two candlesticks, one slave, some pickaxes, a complete plow, a cart with wheels, a horse and mare, a cow, three heifers, four large pigs, four poultry, an old gun in poor condition, land in the town of Kaskaskia and two lots on the road outside of Kaskaskia, fifteen minots of wheat and twenty four minots of hay. In total, Jean's estate amounted to 6166 livres. This inventory was probably needed to establish the joint estate of Jean Olivier and Marthe, because a few weeks earlier Father Beaubois had questioned four habitants concerning the inheritance left by LaBoissière to Marthe, now the wife of Jean Olivier. From this inventory Jean Olivier appears to have settled into the role of habitant and farmer. He was also mentioned as Sergeant of the local militia in that year, denoting a position of some status in the community.

In 1728 Jean bought a small house and lot in Kaskaskia from J. B. Bequet where he lived for many years. Other property that Olivier owned was land at Bayou St Jean, which he sold to Louis Turpin in 1731.

The will of Jean de Tharade dit La Rigeur was drawn up on 11 December 1739 on the eve of his departure for New Orleans, to "seek treatment for a languishing sickness from which he has long suffered." In this document he named his god-daughter, Dorothée Olivier, as principal heir and also made bequests to the Society of Jesuits and to charity. Dorothée received one thousand livres as her share of La Rigeur's estate.

Jean Olivier's first child, Marie, daughter of Petronilla, had died in 1736, leaving one son, young Etienne Guevremont. He had remained with his father, Etienne Guevremont Sr., and second wife Marie Louise Cardinal. When Etienne Sr. died on 19 October 1744, the succession of his estate was made. Jean Olivier was present, acting on behalf of his grandson, Etienne Guevremont, then age fourteen.17

Dorothée, the daughter of Jean Olivier and Marthe Accica, was married at Kaskaskia on 14 May 1748 to Nicolas Boyer, widower of Marie Rose Texier. At the signing of the marriage contract, Dorothée was accompanied by both her parents and also her half sister Marie, wife of Joseph Baron, her half brother François LaBossière and her brother Joseph Olivier.18 The bride's parents donated to the couple a one year old heifer and a milk cow of three years of age.

In December of that same year Nicolas Boyer bought land from Jean Olivier, land which Olivier stated he had purchased in 1728 from Becquet.19 The following April, Jean Olivier and his wife made a donation to Nicolas Boyer and wife Dorothée in return for care in their old age.20 Jean and Marthe stated that "finding themselves in the decreptitude of age", and wishing to insure they be taken care of for their remaining years, "recognizing the docility, attention and sweetness that Nicolas Boyer, their son-in-law, and Dorothée, their daughter, have evinced for them since nearly one year they have dwelt together..." This donation consisted in part of arable land three arpents wide near Kaskaskia and a lot with a house, a barn, animals, farm implements, etc. in Kaskaskia. In return Jean and Marthe were yearly to receive thirty cords of wood, fifteen hundred pounds of flour, twenty-five pounds of good tobacco for smoking, two hundred livres for wearing apparel and linen, and also be furnished their bed covers of tanned buffalo robes, as well as general care and proper burial after death. One very curious provision stated "if they do their cooking together, the said female donor (meaning Marthe) shall manage the victuals at her discretion and as she shall consider to be good". Neither Jean nor Marthe were listed on the 1752 census of the Illinois Country.21 It is assumed that both had died by then for there is no further mention of them after the April 1749 donation. As to Jean, he remains a puzzle to us today of what he was really like. Was he tattooed Indian fashion like some of his contemporaries? Did he really enjoy his wife's pémican so much that he ordered it put into the donation? Did he ever miss his native society, be it Canada or France? I'll never know; I have only my imagination to answer those questions.

1.. E. M. McCormick, The Coleman Family History, (Old Mines Area Historical Society, 1979) p 22.

.2. Marthe Faribault-Beauregard, La Population des Forts Français d'Amerique, (Montreal: Editions Bergeron, 1984) Vol II, 95.

.3. Ibid., 137

. 4. Ibid., 144

.5. Ibid.

. 6. Ibid., 95

. 7. Inventory of estate of Jean Bte. Olivier, dated 21 April 1771, Ste Genevieve Archives.

8. Faribault-Beauregard, La Pop, Vol II, 144.

.9. Marriage Contract dated 12 May 1748, Kaskaskia Manuscripts, Springfield, Illinois Historical Survey, 48:5:12:1


.11. Inventory of Jean Olivier's Estate, Kaskaskia Manuscripts, Springfield, 23:9:26:1,translated by Lida Joice, Vincennes, IN.

12.Ibid., 23:9:16:1

.13, Natalie Belting, Kaskaskia Under the French Regime, (New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1975) 79.

14.Sale of House,Kaskaskia Manuscripts, 28:6:19:2

15.Ibid., 31:8:21:1. The location of this property is questionable. There was a Bayou St John outside colonial New Orleans. and another near present day Cape Girardeau MO. If this property was in fact the Bayou in Louisianna, it would present an important clue to where Jean Olivier had emigrated from.

16.Ibid., 39:11:12:1

17.Brown & Dean, Village of Chartres in Colonial Illinois, (New Orleans, Polyanthos 1977) 511

18.Marriage Contract, Kaskaskia Manuscripts, 48:5:12:1. This document conveniently identifies the relationships of the family members present.

19.Ibid., 48:12:4:1

20.Perrin Collection, Illinois State Archives, Donation dated 19 April 1749.

21.LO 426, Loudon Collection, Huntington Library, San Marino CA.

Printed in Le Journal, Center for French Colonial Studies, Winter 1994, Vol 10 #3 - 4

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