Josephine “Joseph” Legard

Mademoiselle Josephine Legard, Herbalist & Engagé
(or for ye English speaking lot) Indentured Servant
Born just outside of the town of Cancale, in the coastal countryside of Bretagne, France in April of 1686.

“I was born just outside of the town of Cancale, in the coastal countryside of Bretagne, France in April of 1686. Two years later, my brother, Henri, was born, completing our family. Our home was a small stone cottage which was nearly a 2 day journey from the larger port city of St. Malo. My father, Corentin, worked on the coast and in town as a fisherman and oyster farmer while my mother, Gwenaelle, took care of the house, garden and tended the few sheep that we had on our small plot of land. The fish and oysters that my father brought home were sold at the market in Cancale while the sheep provided wool for the warm clothes that were necessary during the cold winter months in Northern France. We also would sell excess wool at the market.

From a very young age, my brother and I learned the French language in addition to the Breton language, which most people in the town were speaking. French was mostly spoken by nobility, which we were not; however, my father insisted that we learn the French language so that we could better ourselves as we grew older. Over time and with much use, our ability to use the French language was far superior to our use of the Breton language.

In 1691, when I was 5 years of age and my brother 3, my mother became terribly ill with a cough and a fever. For nearly a week I did what work my little hands could do to keep the house in order and running so that my father could go to work and my mother could rest. Nothing could be done to help my mother. I remember the night that she died, my father, my brother, and I huddled around her with the lantern, telling her how much we loved her. I remember it was a cold, damp night. I remember the last moment that I saw her eyes open. I remember seeing a tear on my father’s face when she was gone.

Much of my life during those next few years without my mother was a blur. My father would work during the day either out on the boat or at the market, and would teach my brother and me various skills in the evenings. Not only did we learn to cook and clean, care for the animals, and tend the garden, we also learned how to fish, how to fire a weapon, and how to use a sword. When I was old enough, I was taught how to sell goods at the market, and my brother learned this activity a couple years later. Once my brother took over the task of going to market, I remained at home to tend the house and sheep. We did not have many visitors, save for one woman. She used to stop and visit with my mother, and after my mother died, she began to stop and visit with me. I knew her only as Madam Garllouet, and on her visits to our home, she would often help me with the herb garden and would teach me about some of the uses of the herbs we were growing, and others I might someday find. Aside from her occasional visits, I was often alone in the house during the day. Life went on this way until I was nearing the age of 16.

On January 3, 1702, the day that my life changed forever, my father had gone to the coast to work as usual, and my brother had gone to the market to sell our goods. In what seemed like an instant, a storm began to batter the coast. As quickly as I could, and not before a drenching rain had begun to fall, I moved the sheep into their barn area, closed the shutters on the windows and stoked the fire in the fireplace to keep the house warm and the dampness out. The storm lasted no more than an hour, but the damage that it caused was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Trees were pulled out of the ground, fences were destroyed, and the barn had collapsed, killing our sheep. I did my best to clean up what I could before the sun set, then I went inside, prepared dinner, and waited what seemed like an eternity, for my brother and father to return home.

When my brother walked through the door, it was in the middle of the night, and he was soaked to the bone, carrying a lantern in one hand and what appeared to be my father’s hat in his other hand. He set the hat down on the table, sat down heavily in the chair, and then looked at me. He didn’t have to say a word, I knew what had happened. My father had been lost at sea in the storm. I later learned the detailed events from my brother. When he noticed the storm coming in as quickly as it did, he ran to the dock from which our father departs. Neither our father nor the boat was at the dock. The fishermen who were on shore refused to let my brother into the water until the stormed had passed. Once it was over, they all went to sea, looking for my father. All they could find were pieces of a boat and his hat.

After sitting up nearly 2 hours in silence, I finally told my brother the damage done to our land and the death of our sheep. After some discussion, we decided that it would be best to pack up what could, and make the trip to St. Malo to find work in the port city in order to survive, now that the livelihood we had been accustomed to had been destroyed by one single act of nature. So, after a brief period of rest, we began to pack what we could carry on our backs. I took a lantern to the garden behind our house and salvaged what I could of the herbs into several small baskets. I figured once we were settled, that I could dry and bottle them and perhaps find a box in which to keep them. I also packed a small, decorative box which had been a gift from my father to my mother many years ago. We headed out on our way that next morning for what was a 2 day trip to St. Malo. The journey was somewhat perilous due to the water covered paths which were only slightly familiar to us, as we had only been to St. Malo once in our lives, and it had been many years before when we were but children. On the second day, we were able to see the walls of the city. I had not even the slightest idea that my adventure had just begun…

As I arrived in St. Malo on January 6, 1702 with my brother, I was unsure of what to expect. We had visited the city many years before, but the moment the city came into view, that memory seemed like ages ago. The walls around the city appeared tall and uninviting, almost ominous. As we entered the gate and started down the street toward the docks, the various noises and smells that are associated with the city came into contact with my senses. My head started to spin with panicked thoughts: “What are we doing here? Why did we come here? What made us think this was such a good idea? We don’t know our way around a city. It would have been better to stay in Cancale.” Just as I was about to voice my opinion to Henri, I heard his voice call to me from the other side of the street. “Come, Josephine, I found an inn!” I followed his voice to the door of an establishment with a sign above the door advertising the Demeure de Corsaire. I hesitated, but in an instant was pulled in the door by Henri who was eager to find us a place to stay. While Henri stood at the desk making arrangements for a room with a rather unpleasant inn-keep, I glanced about. Just inside the door past the clerk’s desk was a dining area with a large fireplace along one wall. Opposite the fireplace was the bar, and at the far end of the dining area was a staircase leading to, what I could only assume, were the rooms available. Although the place seemed to be decent enough, as we headed to our room, I could not overcome a sickening feeling, deep in my stomach, that something was amiss. I shared my fears with Henri, however he suggested that perhaps it was just the fear of being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and that I would feel better after a good night’s sleep. I was not entirely convinced, but I took his suggestion to heart and eventually fell into a dreamless sleep.

I awoke the next morning to find myself alone in the room. Henri had woken sometime earlier, allowing him to get a head start on a job search. He had begun by going downstairs and talking with the inn-keep. After washing and dressing for the day, I, too, went downstairs and found my brother excitedly discussing possibilities with Monsieur Pierre Bouillon, the inn-keep. When I entered the room, my brother called out to me to join them at the table. As I sat down, he began filling me in on the conversation that I had missed. He was so excited that it was difficult for me to keep up with him at times. Monsieur Bouillon was in need of help with his inn and tavern, and he stated that he would be happy to take me on as an indentured servant to provide that help. He would allow both my brother and I to keep our room, and he would make sure that I was fed and clothed properly. He also was able to give my brother the name and address of a man who was looking for workers and who frequented the tavern advertising his needs. My brother, rising from his chair, stated that he intended to visit the man immediately in order to begin work. I rose as well, excusing myself from the table with Monsieur Bouillon, and followed my brother up the stairs and into our room.

As I closed the door, I turned to my brother and tried to remain calm as I asked, “Henri, what is the hurry? I am sure, in a city as large as St. Malo, we could find work and have options. Why must we trust this man who is the first to so freely offer advice? How do we know what he says is entirely honest?” Henri, clearly in a hurry, responded, “Josephine, we do not have time to pass up opportunities that come our way. If you can work here with M. Bouillon for a few years, and I can work on the docks for a few years, we can be back on our feet…perhaps return to Cancale and rebuild our family home. We can do this. A few years is a short period of time in the long run. Trust me; this will be for the best. Come, let us go complete the agreement with M. Bouillon so that I may go to the docks and perhaps begin work today.” With that, he was out the door before I could even protest. It was not that I did not trust my brother, I just was not sure he was thinking with a clear mind and looking at the entire situation. As I descended the stairs, in my mind I kept repeating over and over “It’s just a few years, and then we can go home…” Something inside of me knew that this situation was going to end very differently. If only Henri would have listened!

Little more than an hour later, I was indentured to a man I did not know, and was attempting to learn what was expected of me. My brother had, soon after overseeing the indenture agreement, gone to the docks in search of work. Monsieur Bouillon, I soon discovered, was a hard man to read, but a man with rather high expectations of those working under him. My tasks for him would include readying the rooms for patrons, keeping the tavern tidy and swept, and eventually serving the food and drinks that were offered. The list of items he was rattling off throughout the afternoon seemed daunting to me, however I continued to tell myself that this would get me home. By keeping that in the back of my mind, I knew I could overcome anything and that I had already overcome quite a bit. Still, I could not wait for my brother to return with news regarding his possible employment. The hours seemed to drag by as I swept the floor, wiped the tables and the bar, tended the fire, and washed the mugs. When my brother returned, he flashed me a smile before heading to the room to wash up for dinner. I knew this meant that he had attained the work he was hoping for, and I could not wait until my work was done so that I could find out the details.

Later that evening, when the tavern was closed, I had cleaned the entire dining hall along with the mugs and plates that had been used that evening, I retired to the room and began questioning my brother about the work he would be doing. He informed me that the man he met up with was incredibly friendly, especially when Henri told him that M. Bouillon had sent him. The work would require him to be at the docks well before sunrise, as he would be storing cargo aboard vessels bound for New France. Although the work may be tiring at first, Henri felt that he would have no problem becoming accustomed to it, and he said that within 3-4 years he would have enough money saved to buy me out of the indenture contract and to allow us to return home to Cancale. I began to think that perhaps Henri was right and I had just been uncomfortable about being in an unfamiliar place. Although I was still slightly nervous, the idea of being released from the indenture early and of returning to our homestead allowed me to sleep that night.
Very early the next morning, Henri arose to begin work. He dressed and packed a small lunch of fruit and bread from what we had salvaged in Cancale. I kissed his cheek and wished him luck on his first day of work as I saw him out the front door of the inn. I watched him walk down the street toward the docks until I could no longer see him. At that, I turned back inside and returned to my room. I could not shake the feeling that something was happening, and I was unable to fall back asleep. I tried to keep reminding myself that this entire situation was temporary and that before we knew it, we would be back home. Around 7 a.m. I heard Monsieur Bouillon awake and I went downstairs to prepare breakfast for him. He did not speak, except to ask if Henri had left for work, to which I responded only “Oui.”

Throughout the day, I noticed him watching me in an odd way as I went about my work. It made me rather uncomfortable and I planned to mention this to Henri that evening. My mind wandered briefly here and there, wondering how the work at the docks was progressing and what time I could expect Henri to arrive. This wandering mind, however, did not last long, as the tavern filled with patrons and I was kept busy all evening. It was not until closing time that I realized I had not seen Henri return. Monsieur Bouillon did not say anything regarding my brother before he retired, and when I returned to my room, Henri was not there. Nor did he return the following day. For three days I could find no information regarding my brother’s whereabouts.

Every evening I watched out the window and down the street toward the docks for my brother’s return, and every morning I woke, still sitting at the window. I was nearly beside myself with concern. On the fourth day, around midday, a boy arrived who asked for me. When I stepped forward, he offered me a letter, stating it was brought in on a vessel just returned from New France. I stood for a moment, staring at the piece of paper. I could feel Monsieur Bouillon’s gaze from the bar. I opened the letter to find one of my worst fears confirmed. The letter was from Henri, and it had been written on the day he first started work. He had been tricked by Monsieur Bouillon’s friend and therefore by Monsieur Bouillon, and was forced to travel onboard a vessel bound for New France. He was not sure when he would return, but he vowed he would find me and save me from the man who now held my indenture papers. He promised to write when he arrived so that I knew he was safe, and he asked me not to worry and not to count the days. He closed the letter stating that the next time we see one another, we will immediately be returning to Cancale and our homestead. I folded up the letter, calmly turned to Monsieur Bouillon, and asked to be excused from work for the rest of the day. He agreed, but stated it was only for today. At that, I went to my room, bolted my door, curled up in my bed, and allowed myself to cry for the first time since my father had died.

My life at the tavern and inn run by Monsieur Bouillon was routine, but it was anything but happy. Every morning, I was expected to rise before dawn and start the fire. I made breakfast for him every morning, most often being informed of how it was “not quite right.” After breakfast, I would tend to rooms that had been used, cleaning the room itself and washing and replacing the bedding. Usually, by this time, it was around noon and the tavern was open for business. I greeted the patrons, took their orders and brought their drinks, replenished any fruit or other small foods that were eaten, collected their payment, cleaned up the tables and the floor, kept a fire in the fireplace going strong, made arrangements for guests in the rooms, and all the while dealt with the mistreatment by the guests who were intoxicated and from Monsieur Bouillon, whom it seemed I could never please. It was during this time that I honed the ability to take care of myself, not backing down from either the patrons or Monsieur Bouillon, and not giving in and allowing them to hurt me. Every evening, when Monsieur Bouillon had closed the tavern and retired to his room, I cleaned the tavern, swept the floor, washed the dishes, and ascended the stairs to my room. I bolted the door and would usually fall into bed. I did, on occasion, allow myself to read a book I had noticed in a shelf behind the bar pertaining to herbs and spices to use when cooking. I had taken it to my room, knowing full well by the dust on the cover that it had not been used in ages, and had begun studying it and taking notes from it. Even this activity was only for a short period, and I would frequently fall asleep reading from the book. My life went on this way, with no word from my brother except a letter informing me of his safe arrival in New France, for nearly two long, lonely years.

It was December when the Archangel limped into a remote harbor for repairs after the Great Storm of 1703. When her captain sat down for a game of Piquet with M. Bouillon and then the master gunner joined in, I found my luck would change with the turn of a card and a simple disguise… ”

“Joseph” Legard

J. Otte copyrighted 2011


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