cover of book

Dawn's Light Woman & Nicolas Franchomme: Marriage and Law in the Illinois Country
by Carl J. Ekberg and Sharon K. Person
Southern Illinois University Press, 2022
eISBN: 978-0-8093-3887-0 | Paper: 978-0-8093-3886-3
Library of Congress Classification F549.K3E33 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 977.392

Native women’s marital rights and roles in colonial Illinois society

Kaskaskia, Illinois, once the state’s capital, torn from the state by flood waters, and now largely forgotten, was once the home to a couple who helped transform the region in the 1720s from a frontier village to a civil society. In the heart of France’s North American empire, the village was a community of French-Canadian fur traders and Kaskaskia Indians who not only lived together but often intermarried. These Indigenous and French intermarriages were central to colonial Illinois society, and the coupling of Marguerite 8assecam8c8e (Dawn’s Light Woman) and Nicolas Franchomme, in particular, was critical to expanding the jurisdiction of French law.
While the story of Marguerite and Nicolas is unknown today, it is the story of how French customary law (Coutume de Paris) governed colonial marriage, how mixed Indian-French marriages stood at the very core of early colonial Illinois society, and how Illinois Indian women benefited, socially and legally, from being married to French men. All of this came about due to a lawsuit in which Nicolas successfully argued that his wife had legal claim to her first husband’s estate—a legal decision that created a precedent for society in the Illinois Country.
Within this narrative of a married couple and their legal fight—based on original French manuscripts and supported by the comprehensively annotated 1726 Illinois census—is also the story of the village of Kaskaskia during the 1720s, of the war between Fox Indians and French settlers, with their Indian allies, in Illinois, and of how the spread of plow agriculture dramatically transformed the Illinois Country’s economy from largely fur trade–based to expansively agricultural.
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