By dr. Mark Joseph O’Connell,
My recent post from the Seneca Canadian Fashion Diversity Project:
This is Charlene Chasse she has worked as a historical re-enactor with Parks Canada for the past nineteen years. She states of herself:…”I knit, I sew, I cook and I do hot yoga.” She also brings to life the fascinating historical figure of one Marie Marguerite Rose…
Fig. 1, “Charlene Chasse portraying Marie Marguerite Rose”, https://www.facebook.com/CanadaC3/photos/i-portray-marie-marguerite-rose-shes-a-freed-slave-she-gets-her-freedom-in-1755-/388351961562977/
The legacy of the fashion artifacts left behind in what is now Cape Breton by one Marie Marguerite Rose, add an alternative story and contribute to a deeper interpretation of the history of early Black Canadian fashion history. Her legacy might have been lost, but Graham Reynolds in Viola Desmond’s Canada, A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land (2016) pieced together her story from disparate bits of ephemera that recorded various aspects of her life, and when viewed ensemble, a truly inspiring story emerged. Born in 1717, Marie Marguerite Rose was originally from Western Africa in what is now Guinea. Kidnapped as a child into the African Slave trade, she was later taken to Louisbourg on Île Royale (which we now know as Cape Breton Island) in 1736, at the age of 19. The man who purchased her, Jean Chrysostome Loppinot, was a French naval officer and tasked her with raising his twelve children and keeping the family home. She herself had one child, a son, who as result of the laws at the time became enslaved property of the household. His story was not end happily, after fleeing with his mother and the Loppinot family to France during the fall of Louisburg, he returned to Île Royale four years later with the household, whereupon he died at the age of thirteen.
Rose however had a happier story; in 1755 she became a free woman, and subesquently married a Miꞌkmaq man who had taken the name Jean-Baptist Laurent when he was converted to Roman Catholicism. She also opened up a successful restaurant and inn; an establishment that was known all over the island because of the reputation of Rose’s cuisine, as well as the high-quality French brandy she and her husband served (Jonah 2016; Donovan 2004). Although she was illiterate, Rose was respected for her business acumen, and conducted some of her business transactions independent of her husband, which was unorthodox at the time and also ran counter to French law (Reynolds 2016). Upon her untimely death in 1757, the inventory of her personal possessions, and the record of what they were sold for, revealed that she owned a wardrobe of dresses, jackets and skirts, that although they showed wear, they were all made from imported fabrics, or the garments themselves could have come directly from France. The textiles were mostly cottons, variously embroidered and striped, and the record of these indicate she was fond of vibrant colours and dyed her clothing to achieve this. She also owned a red satin skirt, and silk stockings; they must have indeed brightened up the long gloomy Cape Breton winters. Only her cloaks were heavy woolens of a more reserved brown colour.
Of particular significance however was her jewelry: a necklace of pearls and one of garnets. As Reynolds says “Jewelry was not a common adornment among most of the women of Louisbourg, and it was usually reserved for women of upper class or bourgeoisie status (Reynolds 2016, 94). She also owned a “light flintlock musket” (198). Taken as a whole—her possessions, her obvious sense of style—all disrupt the many narratives of race, fashion, and also flouts the “rules” of who could possess what, and who could engage in “fashion” and possession of luxuries at this time in Canadian history. One wonders how many other lives were lived that completely break apart the “narrative” of Canadian fashion history. Hopefully more scholars will piece together the unconnected peripheral data that record the life of a citizen to bring more stories like this to light. Her story also focuses perhaps unwanted attention on the fact that Canada has a history of domestic slavery. This actually should come as a shock to no one, our national origins derive from the global ambitions of two Imperialist economic powers, both of whom were generating huge revenues from the colonial slave trade.
This teacup belonged to the Loppinot family who enslaved Marie Marguerite Rose:
Fig. 2, “Teacup” Canadian Museum of History. https://www.historymuseum.ca/teachers-zone/women-of-new-france/marie-marguerite-rose/teacup
The Canadian Museum of History states of this artifact: “This teacup from the 1700s was found in a well on the property of Marie Marguerite Rose’s master, Chrysostome Loppinot. As a household servant, Rose probably used this teacup in her daily tasks. The Loppinots had 12 children, and her days would have been filled with serving, mending, cooking and cleaning. In the 1700s, there were over 1,330 enslaved people, like Marie Marguerite Rose, across Canada.
Pictured below is a document of emancipation. Marie Marguerite Rose would likely have gained her freedom through a similar document:
Fig. 3, “Deed of Emancipation of a Black Slave, 1744” Canadian Museum of History. https://www.historymuseum.ca/teachers-zone/women-of-new-france/marie-marguerite-rose/deed-of-emancipation-of-a-black-slave-1744
The Canadian Museum of History states of this artifact: “This document emancipated, or freed, Dominique-François Mentor from enslavement upon the death of his master Dominique Nafréchoux. Marie Marguerite Rose likely had a similar document when she was freed. After being freed, Mentor became an apprentice silversmith. He worked as a silversmith until his death in 1773. Slavery of Black and Indigenous Peoples was legal in Canada until 1834. Some of those enslaved, such as Marie-Marguerite Rose and Dominique-François Mentor, were granted their freedom before this ruling. Many others lived their entire lives enslaved.”
Eighteenth Century Fashion in Canada
While we do not have any garments left from the stylish and altogether amazing Marie Marguerite Rose, we do have a particularly lovely gown that belonged to another Marie who you may be familar with. Here is an example of a gown from the 1700’s that is still extant and in a Canadian fashion collection: The Royal Ontario Museum. pictured below is a regal confection that belonged to the last queen of France, Marie-Antoinette Josèphe Jeanne de Habsbourg-Lorraine:
Fig. 4, “Robe en fourreau or robe à l’anglaise or grand habit (court dress)”, ROM Fashion Collection.
Fig. 5, “Robe en fourreau or robe à l’anglaise or grand habit (court dress)”, ROM Fashion Collection.
Fig. 6 “Robe en fourreau or robe à l’anglaise or grand habit (court dress)” detail, ROM Fashion Collection.
The official description of the gown via the Royal Ontario Museum accession notes describe it as a:
“Grand habit or court robe with train, en fourreau (a fitted back), and petticoat. Said to be made by Marie-Jeanne “Rose” Bertin for the wardrobe of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France. At Versailles, court dress was obligatory for balls and formal events. This dress was originally designed to be worn with the support of wide panniers (side hoops) under the garment, a style that conspicuously demonstrated the luxury of the splendid embroidery on the petticoat and the long court train. The lavish and beautifully-worked embroidery scheme was designed and produced by professionals. It was time-consuming and very costly, making the dress affordable to only a very wealthy client. The intellectual spirit of the Enlightenment, and particularly the writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) on humanity’s relationship to nature and science, are reflected in the careful and studied designs for the embroidery motifs on the gown. Various kinds of gold thread are used to create texture and shading. One of these, called clinquant plissé, consists of flat pleated metal strips. Another gold thread, called bouillon, consists of a silk thread wrapped in a thin metal coil. The dress was purchased in 1925 by the ROM’s founding director, Charles Trick Currelly, from a London antiques dealer who noted that it was made by “Mde Bertin, Court dressmaker to Marie-Antoinette and must have cost hundreds of pounds to make… it is truly wonderful….”
Indeed it is! Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Nora E. Vaughan Fashion Costume Senior Curator and Chair of the Veronika Gervers Research Fellowship in Textiles & Costume at the ROM describes the dress as follows:
Another gorgeous example of eighteenth century opulence can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:
Fig. 7, “Mantua”; Place of origin: England (probably, made); Date:1740-1745 (made); Artist/Maker: Unknown
Materials and Techniques: Embroidered silk with coloured silk and silver thread; Museum number: T.260&A-1969
Marie Marguerite Rose, Part 2:
The Seneca Canadian Fashion Diversity Project researchers have identified the lack of surviving garments as a challenge to ensuring the historical legacy of the remarkable Marie Marguerite Rose. To rectify this we are embarking on a historical remaking. This exciting new form of research involves creating a historically accurate reproduction of a fashionable garment.
The lack of material legacies of enslaved people is expolored in this SCFPD post ‘Sifting Through the Missing Pieces: A Look at Those Who Were Enslaved to Create Clothing”:
This process of historical recreation as a researcH method is outlined here in “Hanfu, an Embodied Exploration of Fashion History and Culture”:
Stay tuned for further developments of this exciting and important research project!
Lane-Jonah, Anne. 2016. “Everywoman’s Biography: The Stories of Marie Marguerite Rose and Jeanne Dugas at Louisbourg.” Acadiensis 45, no. 1: 143-162.
Marie Marguerite Rose: https://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/dfhd/page_nhs_eng.aspx?id=12005
Reynolds, Graham. 2016. Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land. Toronto, Fernwood Publishing.
Victoria & Albert Museum: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78803/mantua-unknown/
Seneca Canadian Fashion Diversity Project
The Seneca Canadian Fashion Diversity Project is made possible by a grant to fund the student researchers, as well as institutional support for dr. Mark Joseph O’Connell.