Everyone’s family tree is filled with women.
Yet, somehow we often focus on the men. I noticed that in my first seven posts, women don’t appear very much. In fact, the only post that centers on a woman calls her a black hole (see Black Holes).
One reason for the absence of women from much of genealogical research and writing is probably the dearth of information about them that remains. Women present a trickier genealogical subject because they’re often hidden behind their husband’s name. Census records didn’t preserve maiden names.
Nevertheless, some women make themselves known. Some jump out from the records and take on a life of their own.
When I first started doing family history, my uncle told me about Madame Ferree (as a somewhat naive twelve-year-old boy, I didn’t even know to titter when I heard the word madame although it sounds just like madam, as in “the madam of the brothel”). Madame Ferree is one of those ladies of history who stands out as three-dimensional, even though she lived in a time when not all women did.
“Madame” Marie Ferree was a Huguenot refugee. When Louis XIV made life difficult for Huguenots (French Protestants), many of them fled. Around the time the Edict of Nantes was revoked (1685), Marie and her husband Daniel left France to escape persecution.
The trouble Daniel and his family experienced as Protestant Christians may have been more intense because Daniel was a wealthy and successful silk merchant. His prominence in the community and his commitment to his beliefs probably drew special attention.
After leaving France, they moved around within Switzerland and Germany before ending up in Steinweiler, Billingheim, in the Palatinate. While there they had their sixth child. Then Daniel died.
It’s hard to imagine what life might have been like for Marie. She was in an unfamiliar land, presumably separated from most of her family and friends. She had six children to care for, one of them an infant. And now she was alone.
Huguenots were known for sticking together and surely some of her co-religionists helped her in this challenging time. But she didn’t stay in Germany long. Within a few months of Daniel’s death, she made plans to go to Holland and then England, where Queen Anne had offered safe haven to Huguenot refugees.
Upon arriving in England, Marie set out to find William Penn. His new colony in America was to be based on religious freedom and toleration–something Marie surely prized very highly.
Those who were willing to travel to Pennsylvania and help Penn colonize his new territory were given clothing, farm implements, tools and other necessities. They were also given passage to the new land. Sometime in 1710, Marie Ferree and her children (two of them with their spouses) arrived in America.
Before traveling to Pennsylvania–the wild frontier of the time–they stopped at a well-established Huguenot community in New Paltz, New York. Most likely, they were waiting for their tract of land in Pennsylvania to be surveyed and properly titled. Undoubtedly, they enjoyed the support of fellow Huguenots who were journeying together to find religious freedom.
After a couple of years in the thriving community of New Paltz, Marie and her family made their way into the wilderness of the frontier to stake out their new life. When they arrived in September 1712, they were greeted by Native Americans who were friendly and welcoming. Chief Tanawa assured them that he would help them in any way he could. Marie called her family’s new home “Paradise.” It still is (see Paradise, Pennsylvania on Wikipedia).
As Marie settled her new land, she almost immediately chose a piece of it for a cemetery. Just four years after coming to Paradise, Marie became one of the first to be buried in the Ferree Graveyard, later known as Carpenter’s Cemetery.
Madame Ferree probably didn’t look or act much like a French lady while she was establishing a new life on the wild frontier of early eighteenth-century America. The work was hard and life was uncertain. But she showed the character of a noble and many of her descendants became successful, influential people who made a meaningful contribution to American society.
Madame Marie Ferree was born around 1653 in France and died in 1716 in Pennsylvania. She is my eight-times-great grandmother.