Madeleine La Framboise
Daughter of a French-Canadian Fur trader and an Ottawa mother, Madeleine was only 3 months old when her father died. She was raised in an Ottawa village on the Grand River among her mother's people. Here, she must have been a person of some status as her grand father was Chief Kewinoquot. She married Joseph LaFramboise and had her daughter Josette by the time she was 15 years old. Josette was baptised in 1799 at St. Anne's of Mackinac and was the first entry in the church's register. Madeleine was a great asset to her husband in the fur trade. In addition to all the languages she spoke, she knew the fur trade and assisted him in negotiations. In 1804, her husband was killed by an Indian while they were at their trading post near where Lowell is today. At this point Madeleine gathered up her winter furs and took her husband's body to Mackinac Island.
For the next 14 years, Madame LaFramboise, as she was known by, continued a difficult yet romantic existence. She wintered in the Grand River Valley cllecting her furs from trappers and then in the late spring she supervised the transportation of the furs to Mackinac Island. She amassed a great fortune and built a very fine home on Mackinac Island. She was able to provide a Montreal education for her children, Josette born 1795 and Joseph born 1804. She was so successful, that John Jacob Astor decided to quit competing with her, and, in 1818 he bought her out. She was able to live in great comfort for the rest of her life.
In 1816, her accomplished and educated daughter, Josette married Benjamin K. Pierce, commandant of the fort and brother to the future president of the United States. Their marriage was the event of the summer and took place at the home of Madame LaFramboise's dear friends, the Mitchells. The wedding guests wore their finest silks and satins while Madame LaFramboise, Therese Schindler, Josette's aunt, and Elizabeth Mitchell wore their best traditional regalia. Josette and Benjamin, however, were met with tragedy and their marrage was brief. Josette bore Benjamin 2 children, Josette Harriet and Benjamin. Only four years after their marriage, Josette and her infant son died. Benjamin left Harriet on the Island in the care of her grandmother.
After the death of her beloved daughter and grandson, Madeleine determined to teach herself to read and write. Her home was at times a school, used for religious purposes and at times a welcome haven for passing notables. In her parlor, Madeleine entertained historical figures such as Alexis de Tocqueville, John and Juliette Kinzie, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft as well as her own native family members.
She was fond of traveling, perhaps because of her years in the fur trade, and she frequently visited her son, who became successful in business, in Montreal. In 1827 she donated a large portion of her property for the building of a catholic church with the condition that she be buried under the altar.
Madeleine LaFramboise died on April 4, 1846 and was buried under the church alter along side her daughter Josette. Her will gave her granddaughter, Harriet, her stately home and provided amply for her son and her dear friend Agatha Biddle. During the last half of the 20th century, the tombs were moved from beneath the church to a garden on the grounds to make way for renovations. It is still there today. Her lovely home has been expanded and is now a gracious hotel for Island visitors, much as it was in her day.
Note: Portrait of Madame LaFramboise, painted from descriptions of her image.