On the French Frontier 1700-1800

Teachers Level Two

Learning Goals and Objectives--Grades 6 - 8

Voices and Choices--Nicholas Chassin
Note: It is a good idea to print Level Two for easy reference.

Voices and Choices--Nicholas Chassin

Nicholas Chassin is a successful government official who is eager to find a wife. Because of the scarcity of women in the colonies, Nicholas' choices are limited. He must decide whether to wait for the Company of the Indies to send women over from Paris, to find a widow who will marry him, or to marry Agnes, the daughter of an Indian chief and a French farmer.


These themes can be explored with either a social studies or language arts curriculum. Use these themes to tie in other resources to your class discussion, i.e., other books, other cultures, students' own lives.


What do you think?

These questions which come at the end of each story, minus "the answer", can be used to start class discussions or be assigned as homework.

In what ways did Nicholas Chassin represent royal authority in Illinois?

Nicholas Chassin worked for the Company of the Indies. The Company had been granted a monopoly over Illinois by the French royal government. Company men were representatives of the French royal government in the colonies. As royal storekeeper, Nicholas assisted with trade between the colonies and New Orleans, the capitol of French Louisiana and the Illinois country.

Why did Nicholas need a wife?

In a letter to his friend, Father Bobe, Nicholas wrote that he needed a wife in order to establish a home. Women were responsible for managing the household, raising the children, and sharing in the work of running the family farm (see information behind picture on page 3).

Why does Nicholas refer to his future wife as a "certain article of furniture"?

Although women were integral to the success of the frontier community, they were considered inferior to men. In Nicholas' mind, women were so synonomous with the running of a household that they were as essential as furniture. Ask your students to consider the tone of Nicholas' letter. Is he joking with Father Bobe? Does he feel awkward refering to such a personal decision as marriage? Is he afraid of the comittment of marriage?

How were women viewed in the 1700s?

Women were valuable to the survival of frontier communities. A man knew that his success depended upon having a wife who could share the work of running a household and farm. However, women were given no political power and were dependent on a husband to define their role in society (see information behind picture on page 3).

What kind of power did women hold in French colonial society? Do you think their position was affected by the scarcity of women in the colonies?

The French laws governing inheritance allowed a woman an equal share in her husband's estate. Because of the scarcity of women on the frontier and the wealth they could bring to a marriage, widows were in demand as brides. Remarriage brought a widow saftey and economic stability. Life was so difficult on the frontier that men and women married and died very young. A healthy woman could outlive two to three husbands in her lifetime (see information behind picture on page 5).

In what ways was marriage an economic agreement between a man and a woman?

At the time of marriage, men and women signed an official contract that set the economic terms of the marriage. The signing of the marriage contract took place before the religious ceremony, illustrating that marriage was considered an economic agreement first and foremost.

Agnes was Catholic, why do you think that was important to Nicholas Chassin?

Agnes' acceptance of the Catholic faith revealed to what extent she had become assimilated into the French community. As the wife of the royal storekeeper, she would have been expected to attend mass with him on Sundays and all church-related activities.



These are suggested classroom activities and student projects that you may want to use with your students or as models to create your own.

1. Social Studies Report

Write a report comparing the roles of men and women on the French frontier. How was power divided between them?

2. Writing A Dialogue

Imagine the dialogue that took place between Nicholas Chassin and Michel Philippe, father of Agnes, when Nicholas asked for her hand in marriage.

3. Preparing a Skit

In groups of four, develop a skit based on your dialogues between Agnes and her mother and between Philippe and Nicholas.

In preparation for presenting your skit to the class, you might want to paint a backdrop, such as an interior setting of a French colonial house.



© Illinois State Museum 31-Dec-96