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Marie-Josephte Corriveau

            The city of Québec is one of the oldest cities established in Canada by colonizers. Québec City was founded in 1608 by the French and since that time, it has played a significant role in the formation of Canada as it stands today. For a city that sits at over four hundred years old, it is not a wonder that it holds a great deal of history and tales of hauntings. One haunting in particular has captured the minds of citizens and visitors alike. It is the story of Marie-Josephte Corriveau, or La Corriveau. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was a young woman who was found guilty of the murder of her second husband and was sentenced to death in 1763. While her story has become inflated with magic, witches and dozens of murdered husbands, the tale of her life and execution seems like a normal story of the law doing its job – right or wrong. That does not mean her story lacks anything interesting but it is the idea that she lives on after her execution that makes it just that more eerie.

            Marie-Josephte Corriveau was born in Saint Vallier, Québec in 1733 to Marie-Françoise Bolduc and Joseph Corriveau. Out of the ten children birthed, Marie-Josephte was the only one to survive to adulthood. Not much is known about her childhood, except that her father had enough wealth for his child to live comfortably. Her story really began at age sixteen when she married her first husband Charles Bouchard, a farmer from Saint Vallier. Together they had three children, two daughters and a son. Most people agree that they had an average marriage with some arguments but generally a happy one. So when Bouchard passed away in 1760 no one really thought much of it. Although it was a bit of a surprise that fifteen months later she got remarried to Louis Etienne Dodier, another farmer from Saint Vallier. At this time in history a woman relied heavily on a man to provide for her, so Marie-Josephte was desperate to remarry for the sake of her children. However, her choice of suitor proved to be a poor one.

            Dodier and Marie-Jospehte had a very problematic relationship, Dodier was said to be extremely abusive towards his wife. Marie-Josephte had even begged to be allowed to separate from her husband to no avail. Two of her three children even went to live with their grandparents, who also disliked their daughter’s new husband. Joseph Corriveau is especially noted for his immense disapproval and dislike of Dodier. Joseph and Dodier had many altercations and people of Saint Vallier considered them to both be very violent men. The British officer, James Abercrombie, in command of the occupying British troops often took the side of Dodier, the Corriveaux had become a thorn in Abercrombie’s side. They always seemed to be making trouble, not that Dodier was much better.  

            In early 1763 things came to a climax and Dodier was found dead in his stable. His head was caved in and he had lacerations all over his face. While rumours immediately spread that Marie-Josephte and Joseph were somehow involved, it was swiftly ruled an accident. Dodier was said to have had his head kicked in by one of his horses. Captain Jaques Corriveau, nephew of Joseph and peacekeeper for the area, wrote a report to give to Abercrombie, who immediately disbelieved it, it was all too suspicious for Abercrombie. Also Dodier was buried hastily on 28 January 1763, only a day after he was found dead, this added on another layer of suspicion. Abercrombie did not let the issue lay and investigated further into Dodier’s death. It was ruled foul play when Abercrombie talked to a regimental surgeon who stated that the wounds could not have been made by horse hooves, especially ones who did not have horse shoes like Dodier’s. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Marie-Josephte and Joseph Corriveau were the ones involved. The two of them were arrested and sent to a jail in Québec, where they would await an English military trial.

Old Quebec – Original Photo by Piercing Moon Creations

            1763 marked the year when New France was handed to Britain at the conclusion of the Seven-Years-War and citizens were now tried by a court structured similarly to English law. Since British military occupation began in Québec around 1760 citizens were tried in martial courts by the British army. It was not until 1764 when news that New France was officially under English rule that civil courts, modelled after English civil courts, were established. Due to this, Marie-Josephte and Joseph were tried in a military court in front of thirteen officers.

           It took eleven days to come to the conclusion that the two of them were guilty. According to both Captain Corriveau and Claude Dion, a labouror for Dodier, Joseph had told them ‘some kind of misfortune would befall Dodier soon.’ Dion also stated Marie-Josphete had said something similar, to which, Dodier had responded by slapping her several times in the face. A cousin of Marie-Josephte, Isabelle Sylvain, was also asked to be a witness but committed perjury and was subject to thirty lashes and branded with a P on her hand. All the evidences and witnesses pointed to Joseph being the murderer and Marie-Jospehte being an accomplice solely due to gossip about her offering to pay soldiers to beat up her husband, telling Dodier she preferred Bouchard and being a drunkard. Although neither one could be placed at the scene of the murder. Joseph was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. Marie-Josephte was found guilty of being an accomplice and sentenced to sixty lashes with a cat of nine tails and branded with the letter M on her hand. It seemed as if everything was wrapping up with a neat little bow on top.

            Until the night before Joseph’s execution. He confessed that he did not murder Dodier, it was his daughter who had done it. In exchange for the truth he was to be set free with no punishment. So began a second trial where Marie-Josephte confessed to hitting her husband twice in the head with an axe while he slept. After, she begged her father to help her drag Dodier to the barn where it would look like an accident. Charges were dropped against Joseph and Marie-Josephte was sentenced to hang and then to be gibbeted as a warning. This was a sentence from English law, usually only reserved for males committing petty treason. Since Québec was under military law and during this time a woman was considered subservient to a man in both civil and criminal law, it seemed like a fitting punishment for her. Not only that but it seemed as though the British wanted the French to know that they were now in charge, crimes would not be tolerated. Marie-Josephte was executed around 18 April, 1763 on the Buttes-à-Nepveau beside the Plains of Abraham.

Streets of Old Quebec – Original Photo by Piercing Moon Creations

            After being hung, Marie-Josephte was gibbeted in a “cage” that she had to pay for, at Pointe-Lévy, present day Lévis. Her cage was more like a metal harness that measured about five feet in length and was used to hold her body straight. Her body hung at a crossroads in Lévis between Bienville and Lauzon, most likely present day Rue Saint Joseph and Rue de l’Entente, for about thirty-eight to forty days, less than what was sentenced. Her corpse was likely removed due to complaints about the sight of her blackened and peeling skin, her hair falling out, and animals picking at her. It was a grotesque sight mixed with an even worse smell, so her body was taken down. She was buried, cage and body, in the cemetery by Saint-Joseph-de-la-Pointe-Lévy Church. Her story seemed to lay forgotten, only ghost stories and rumours surrounded her until 1849 when work on the cemetery began. Her cage was unburied and put in the church’s cellar for storage. After, it was to be reburied but what happens next is a bit hazy and not at all intended.

            It is said that the cage was stolen by the P.T. Barnum who brought it to his New York Museum. It was later acquired by The Boston Museum with a place card that simply read “From Québec.” After, the cage ended up in yet another museum, this time it was in Salem Massachusetts. Société d’histoire de Lévis negotiated with the museum and brought the cage back home to Québec where is sits on display at the Musée de la Civilisation to this day. Thus, the conclusion of Marie-Josephte Corriveau and her cage is here, but her story lives on, inflated and intertwined with the supernatural.

            Marie-Josephte Corriveau, or La Corriveau as she is generally referred to, is said to not rest in peace. At the crossroad where her body was left to rot people are said to hear sounds of metal scrapping, bones clattering, and moans. Sometimes they even hear their name being spoken by a female voice, begging them to carry her across the Saint Lawrence River. Not only are there sounds but there are physical sensations such as cold spots, the smell of decay, feelings of being watched and being rushed at by someone with decaying hands. All of these combined with the rumours and elaborations of her story have made a sensational tale. People claim she has had more than just two husbands, who she killed and was only caught after Dodier. They claim she has done many more crimes and added more and more gruesome details to her stories. Some also consider her a sorceress or a witch, especially after her cage ended up in Salem, saying she killed her many husbands for magic. While her story happened a long time ago and accusing women of witchcraft is common, there is no denying that she is considered a charged murderess and possibly a restless spirit.

            The haunting of La Corriveau may be contentious but there is no arguing that she remains one of the most famous murderers and murder stories in the city of Québec. It is a tale that is told and retold again and again. Warnings of a ghost are whispered to each other when walking in Old Québec and Old Lévis. There may have been a time that Marie-Josephte Corriveau would not have been punished so harshly, she was subject to the laws of her time. Now her story and possibly her spirit live on to tell their tale in the streets of Québec and Lévis.

Bibliography

Conliffe, Ciaran. “Marie-Josephte Corriveau.” Headstuff: History (March 13, 2017). Accessed March 19, 2019. www.headstuff.org/culture/history/marie-josephte-corriveau/

Dickinson, John a. “La Corriveau.” The Canadian Encyclopedia (December 15, 2013). Accessed March 19, 2019. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/la-corriveau

Greenwood, F. Murray and Boissery, Beverly. “The Many Trials of Marie-Josephte Corriveau.” In Uncertain Justice: Canadian Women and Capital Punishment, 1754-1953, 39-59. Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn Press, 2000. Google Books version.

Hay, Douglas. “Legislation, Magistrates and Judges: High Law and Low Law in England and the Empire.” In The British and Their Laws in the Eighteenth Century. Edited by David Lemmings, 59-79. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2005. Google Books version.

“Marie-Josephte Corriveau.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 19, 2019. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Josephte_Corriveau

Marzannia. “La Corriveau.” Spooky Canada (June 15, 2018). Accessed March 19, 2019. spookycanada.wordpress.com/2018/06

Sutherland, Joel A. “Rotting in a Cage.” In Haunted Canada 4: More True Tales of Terror, 7-11. Toronto, Ontario: Scholastic Canada Ltd, 2014. Amazon Kindle ebook version.

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