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Midwife and healer
17th-century pioneer, caregiver and herbalist
It's hard to imagine today what the life of a pioneer like Marie-Henriette LeJeune-Ross must have been like. In addition to facing the daily challenges of her time, she was a trail-blazer in the world of women's science in Canada, serving her fellow citizens as a midwife for over sixty years and developing her skills as a healer throughout her lifetime.
Women like Marie-Henriette LeJeune-Ross charted the course and provided inspiration for later generations of women drawn to the world of science, whatever the branch. Her life was one of adventure, courage and dedication.
LeJeune-Ross was admired by Acadians and Nova Scotians alike. Her medical skills were such that her reputation has been passed down through generations, making Granny Ross as she was known by her fellow Nova Scotians a memorable figure.
We can trace several details of her life. Born and baptized as Marie-Tharsile in 1762, a few years later she would be known by the Christian name of Marie-Henriette. Her baptismal certificate was found at Église St-Louis in Rochefort, France. Her Acadian parents, Joseph LeJeune and Martine LeRoy, were deported to France after the fall of Louisburg in 1748. In 1771, they decided to return to the colonies, but their stay in St-Pierre and Miquelon would be short: in 1778, they were once again deported to France, where they remained for five years. Marie-Henriette began her adult life in France by marrying at age seventeen. Joseph Comeau, her first husband, was thirty-seven years her senior. The Comeau and LeJeune families returned to St-Pierre and Miquelon in 1784. The following year, Joseph Comeau drowned. Marie-Henriette was 22 years old. The LeJeunes decided to migrate to Little Bras d'Or, in Nova Scotia. Marie-Henriette followed her family there and married her first cousin, Bernard LeJeune dit Briard. He also drowned soon after their wedding. Marie-Henriette was 26 when she met James Ross, a Protestant Scottish soldier. The couple settled in Little Bras d'Or before relocating to colonize East Margaree River some time later with James's three brothers. Marie-Henriette died in 1860.
During the learning years of her adult life, Marie-Henriette became aware of her gifts as a healer and midwife. The legend of Granny Ross began in Little Bras d'Or, where she cared for and saved the lives of many settlers during a smallpox epidemic. Since she had already contracted the disease, she was immune to its effects.
Marie-Henriette can be considered a pioneer. She did more than just birth children in her neighbourhood. Settlers called on her for miles around and she used her knowledge of plant medicine in the service of her fellow citizens until she reached an advanced age. It is easy to imagine how she became an accomplished herbalist, living in harmony with nature and spending much of her time in the forest. She likely knew all there was to know about medicinal plants. Her legend grew with the stories of her forest adventures and of the energy with which she defended her home against bears and other wild animals.
The first scientific discoveries are essentially the result of experimentation. That is why the quiet everyday work of strong women like Marie-Henriette LeJeune-Ross must be acknowledged. The story of this healer and herbalist provides ample justification for her inclusion among Canada's women scientists.
Jackson, Elva E. "The true story of the legendary Granny Ross". Nova Scotia historical review. Vol. 8, No. 1 (1988). P. 42-61.
Jackson, Elva E. "The true story of the legendary Granny Ross" [online]. Ross family of Margaree website. Lark Szick, c1998. [Revised October 12, 2000]. [Ref. April 30, 2001]. Access : http://members.nbci.com/Cap_Breton/GRLegend.html
Jackson, Elva E. Cape Breton and the Jackson kith & kin. Windsor, Nova Scotia : Lancelot Press. 264 p.
"Lejeune, Marie-Henriette." Dictionary of Canadian biography. [Toronto] : University of Toronto Press, 1966- . Vol. VIII, p. 498-499. Also published in French under the title: Dictionnaire biographique du Canada.
Macdougall, John L. History of Inverness County Nova Scotia. Belleville, Ontario : Mika Publishing. c 1972. 690 p.
Marie-Henriette LeJeune Ross [online]. Rocky view school division. [Ref. April 30, 2001]. Access : www.rockyview.ab.ca/public/frameset.cfm
"Nouvelles de l'Institut généalogique des provinces maritimes : Granny Ross". Contact Acadie : bulletin du Centre d'études acadiennes. No 5 (décembre 1984). P. 8-13