Marie Angélique Memmie LeBlanc, the Maid of Châlons
Memmie LeBlanc, the Wild Girl of Champagne
Marie-Angélique Memmie LeBlanc (sometimes referred to as The Maid of Châlons, or Chalons;
or, the Wild Girl of Songy) was found in the woods of Songy,
in the Champagne region of France, in 1731.
It appears Memmie LeBlanc was originally sighted in the company of a second wild girl.
However, prior to her capture, Memmie accidentally killed her companion. Julian Offray de la Mettrie,
writing his L'Homme Machine in 1748, repeats a rumour that she ate her "sister".
Read the story of Memmie LeBlanc
Memmie LeBlanc learnt to speak French, gave herself her name and became a nun.
Her story is reproduced below, from Chamber's Edinburgh Journal,
Number 528, 12 March 1842.
You can read another version of her story online here in
Memmie LeBlanc, the Savage Girl of Champagne,
an extract from the chapter about Memmie in
Savage Girls and Wild Boys by Michael Newton.
Who was Memmie and where did she come from?
Nearly 300 years later, many mysteries still surround Memmie. Where did she come from? Was she Inuit?
Was she lost from a shipwreck? Who was her companion?
For more on these enigmas and their possible answers,
see the extensive chapter on Memmie in Savage Girls and Wild Boys by Michael Newton.
For an extraordinarily well-researched complete documented theory covering her birth to her death,
see the Volume 2 of Les Enfants-Loups (1344-1954),
titled Marie-Angelique. Haut Mississippi, 1712 — Paris, 1775.
Survie et résurrection d'une enfant perdue dix années en forêt.
Memmie LeBlanc's story in French
I would like to thank Jean-Paul Denise, directeur du
Centre Généalogique de la Marne,
for permission to reproduce his article L'Enfant Sauvage de Songy,
which appeared in issue 77 of Champagne Généalogie.
Denise, a local historian, has diligently researched the story of Memmie, and quotes
original documents and local administrative records in his article.
The Extraordinary Fictions of Memmie LeBlanc
My grateful thanks to Dr Julia Douthwaite (author of
The Wild Girl, Natural Man and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment)
for permission to reproduce her essay
Rewriting the Savage: The Extraordinary Fictions of the "Wild Girl of Champagne".
In Douthwaite's own words:
"This essay retraces the taming of the wild girl of Champagne and assembles a
composite story of her life as told by literary, scientific, and philosophical writers.
I emphasize the authors' work of shaping the events of the wild girl's life into a coherent, believable narrative."
There's also quite a lot about Memmie in Douthwaite's other article on this site,
Homo ferus: Between Monster and Model.
Further sources for Memmie LeBlanc
Our information abut today comes primarily from Histoire d'une Jeune Fille Sauvage Trouvée dans les Bois à l'âge de Dix Ans,
published in Paris in 1755 by Madame Hecquet, but possibly written by Charles-Marie La Condamine.
Other sources include Epitre II, sur l'Homme, Poésies Nouvelles by Racine, published in Paris in 1747,
with a longer treatment in Oeuvres de Louis Racine of 1808.
From Chambers' Edinburgh Journal
The story of the Wild Girl of Champagne is detailed by a trustworthy French writer, M de la Condamine. One evening, in September 1731, the people of the village of Songi were alarmed by the entrance into the street of a girl, seemingly nine or ten years old, covered with rags and skins, and having a face and hands black as those of a negro. She had also a gourd leaf on her heard, and was armed with a short baton. So strange was her aspect, that those who observed her took to their heels, and ran in-doors, exclaiming, "The devil! the devil!" Bolts were drawn in on all quarters, and one man thought to ensure safety by letting loose a large bull-dog. The little savage flinched not as the animal advanced in a fury, grasping her club with both hands, she discharged a blow at the head of the dog, as it came nigh her, with such force and celerity as to kill it on the spot. Elated with her victory, she jumped several times on the carcass; after which she tried in vain to enter a house, and then ran back to the wood, where she mounted a tree and fell asleep. Thirst, it was supposed, had led her to the village. [That year, the region had suffered the worst drought for 50 years. Ed]
The Viscount D'Epinoy, then in the country, was quickly told of this apparition, and a search being made early next morning, the little wanderer was observed at the top of a lofty tree. Supposing that she was thirsty, they brought a pitcher of water, and set it below the tree. The wild girl, after cautiously looking all around, came down and drank; but being startled, she reascended the tree before she could be approached. In the hope of startling her less, a woman and child were then directed to offer food to her, and entice her down. This plan was successful, and the savage was caught. She struggled violently, but was carried to the house of M D'Epinoy. In the kitchen, fowls were being dressed at the moment, and she instantly flew on one of them, tore it to pieces, and ate it. An unskinned rabbit was placed before he, which, with amazing rapidity and voracity, she also skinned and devoured.
It was soon found that if the little savage possessed any speech whatever, it was merely a word or two in some foreign or instinctive tongue. The usual sound uttered by her was a wild scream, not articulated, but formed entirely in the throat. If any one approached to touch her, she grew wild, and shrieked violently. She had blue eyes, and, strange to say, it was speedily discovered that her skin was really white, or nearly so, a black paint having been apparently laid on her face and hands. It was noticed that her thumbs were very large, and this was afterwards explained by her as arising from her habit of springing like a squirrel from tree to tree, by resting upon them. Being placed by M D'Epinoy under the care of a shepherd, she at first gave much trouble by scraping holes in her place of confinement, and flying to the tops of trees or the house-roof, where she was as much at home as on the level ground. She could run with immense speed, and, some time after she was taken, frequently showed her powers by catching rabbits and hares at the request of her patrons. Her food had been raw flesh, fish, roots, fruits, branches, and leaves; and she never chewed her meat, but swallowed it whole. It was found extremely difficult to wean her stomach from the taste for raw food. When first taken, she was allowed by M D'Epinoy to cater for herself about his ponds and ditches. She swam like a duck, and was extremely dexterous in diving for and catching fish, which she brought ashore in her teeth, and then gutted and ate. Frogs were a peculiar dainty to her. One day, when presented to a dimmer-company at M D'Epinoy's, she looked around at the table, and seeing none of her own good things, she suddenly ran out to the nearest ditch, where she speedily gathered an apronful of frogs. These she brought into the dining-room, and, before the guests knew her drift, she had spread her collection over the whole of their plates. It may be guessed what consternation was caused by the leap-frog game which then took place.
When she had learned to express her ideas in speech, she informed her friends that she had had a companion, a girl somewhat older than herself, and black, or painted black. They had quarrelled about a chaplet, dropped by some one. The elder girl struck the younger one on the arm, and the younger one returned the blow by a violent stroke of the baton on the brow, which felled the other to the ground, and "made her red", that is, drew blood. Sorry for her companion afterwards, the younger took the skin of a frog and spread it over the wound. They parted, however, each taking separate directions. Before this happened, the pair had crossed a river, which must have been the Marne, three leagues from Songi. It had been their custom to sleep all day in trees, which they could do with perfect safety. The elder girl alluded to was sought for, but was never found. A rumour went that a black girl had been found dead not many leagues from the spot where the other was taken; but as it was long ere the latter could tell the story, the affair could not be unravelled at that distance of time.
Le Blanc, as the little savage was named, had a distinct recollection of being twice at sea, and of latterly escaping with her companion from a ship by swimming. From her statement, it was conjectured that Le Blanc, at least, was from the coast of Labrador, and had been kidnapped and carried to the West Indies. Failing to sell her by the trick of colouring her as a negro, the kidnapper seems to have brought her to some coast near to France. The hazy recollections of Le Blanc, which had reference partly to canoes and seals, and partly to sugar-canes, confirm this conjecture. How long the wanderers had been in Europe it is impossible to say, but it is evident that Le Blanc had long been familiar to solitary as well as savage habits. The attempts made to accustom her to cooked food nearly cost her her life, and acquired voracity could not be overcome. At the hospital of Chalons, and subsequently in a convent, where she spent much of her after-life, she was civilised, however, in every respect. The Duke of Orleans, and many great people, were kind to her. She was, of course, an object of great curiousity to all. The period of her death is unknown to us, but in 1765 she was still living in Paris. Some peculiarities marked her through her whole life, and particularly a certain rolling motion of the eyes, acquired when she wandered in the woods, and had to guard agains surprise. She knew then no fear, however, and hesitated not to front the wolf or wild-cat. Besides the bludgeon mentioned, which she said she brought from her own country, she had for defence a stick pointed with iron, which she brought, she said, from the hot country.
The connexion she had had with society in early life may be supposed to have in some measure cultivated the intellect of this extraordinary creature.