In 1704, 23 girls and women walked off a
ship called the Pelican onto Dauphin Island, their destination Fort Louis of Mobile.
These girls forever would be known as the Pelican Girls and would shape the
history of Mobile Alabama.
Some as young as fourteen, these 'volunteers' were found in orphanages and convents in
the French countryside. The French Government, viewed these girls as the perfect
candidates to be the progenitators of the new French Colony of Mobile.
Having failed miserably with the colony of Martinique, France wanted to insure that
the mothers of this new colony were above reproach.
Young with not much hope of a future elsewhere, the Pelican Girls were the ideal choice.
The Martinique mothers had been open volunteers some coming from questionable society.
After their journey to Martinique, some women refused to marry and the ones who did,
did not live up to their contracts with France to the satisfaction of the crown.
The King of France decided the Martinique women were not pious enough or submssive
enough and choice a different route in this new colony. He refused to repeat his
actions in Mobile.
Advertising these marriage opportunities as a type of contest or "Lottery" each
girl had to endure a battery of examinations to insure they were of the highest moral value.
Letters of recommendation were also required to apply for the Lottery. Winners would
be given the opportunity to marry French Patriots who needed wives and families to
care for in the new colony of Mobile.
The ship, the Pelican did indeed set sail after issues of availability during a time
of war and arrived in the harbor of Dauphin Island in 1704. Many suffered seasickness
nearly the entire time.
The Captain and the clergy that accompanied the girls were quite happy to see them land
as their job had been to protect the girls' virginity whilst on their journey. It must
have been a challenge as noted by the clergyman La Vente. In a letter he writes,
"I had always envisaged the responsibility of the young girls as a very onerous work,
not only because it was contrary to my inclinations and dangerous to my health but even
more so because it was a question of reconciling two very different things-to wit- on
the one hand the will of God, and on the other, the affection and the esteem of the
officers. Here I must render glory to God, confessing that on these occasions
Providence gave us good favor well beyond our hopes. We succeeded in the first and if
we do not dare presume thus for the second, our consciences reproached us for many failings."
Sickness was also on board beyond the general seasickness. After a brief stop in Havana Cuba,
one unfortunate girl, Louise Francoise LeFevre, died the day after arriving in Mobile
from Yellow Fever. She had contracted the dread disease from the many mosquitos bites
she had acquired during her brief time off ship. Several others on board also grew sick
Even upon arrival life in Mobile was a challenge. Hardly Paris or Versailles, what the
girls must have thought being greeted by their ragged suitors in the outpost on
Many girls did make good matches and went on to marry men that presumably loved and
cared for them as the birth records show. However, tragedy did not escape all the girls
as proven in the case of the young beautiful Gabrielle Bonet. She did indeed marry one
of the French Canadian pioneers who so eagerly greeted them on the beach that day but
after the honeymoon he deserted her, taking her virginity and riding out in the morning
returning to the wilds of Canada. Gabrielle went mad often going about in her petticoat
only and wearing her ebony hair unbound much to the chagrin of local officials who
encouraged a higher level of decorum. Gabrielle finally disappeared one day probably
getting lost in the think forest around the forts as she 'skulked' around as was her
custom to do.
The Pelican Girls should be remembered for their bravery and courage.
Francoise Marianne De Boirenaud,
Jean Catherine de Berenhard,
Jeanne Elizabeth le Pinteux,
Marie Noel du Mesnil,
Marie Thereze Brochon,
Catherine Touissant (won her spot on ship but never showed up),
Louise Margauerite Housseau,
Marie Madeline Ouanet,
Louise Francois Le Fevre (died of yellow fever upon arrival),
Marie Jeanne Marle...
This is just some of the amazing story of Mobile Alabama.