Work, Josette
b. 1809
d. 1896-01-30
Josette Work, née Legacé, was born in 1809 near Kettle Falls, Washington Territory. She was the daughter of French-Canadian fur trader Pierre Legacé and a Spokane (Nez Perce) woman known as “Emma.”1
Josette Legacé was only fifteen years old when she married Chief Factor John Work, a man of thirty, in 1826. Their marriage in 1826 was done according to the customs of the country, but formally recognized in the church on 6 November 1849. The Works lived at Fort Simpson for twelve years before settling at Fort Victoria in 1850.2 While at Fort Simpson, Legacé-Work created good relationships with the surrounding Indigenous groups, such as the Tsimshian Peoples, while raising her children.3
Like many Indigenous wives, Legacé-Work was an indispensable partner to her husband. For example, she often accompanied her husband on his trading expeditions, such as his journey into Snake River country in the 1830s. In 1850, the Works retired to Victoria with their family of eleven (eight girls and three boys). It was here that they lived on a property of over 1,000 acres, which Legacé-Work lived on for 35 years after the death of her husband, who died in 1861.4
In her later life, Josette Legacé-Work was described as the epitome of the Victorian matron and that at a glance, she could be taken for the Queen Victoria herself.5 Further, her home was always noted for its hospitality and warmth, as one guest described her kindness towards them. With Victoria's growth, Legacé-Work became known for her influence and assistance to the incoming pioneer women. She died on 30 January 1896 at the age of 87 as the oldest known resident of the province. Her eulogy stated her usefulness in pioneer work and many good deeds.6
Legacé-Work faced acculturation, assimilation, and racism in her role as one of the wives of the “five founding families.” She, like other Indigenous women, had to endure racial asides that would, according to historians Jean Barman and Bruce Watson, never have been made about a white woman.7 However, she showed great strength, kindness, and resilience in her assistance of the “pioneer movement” and further hospitalities to incoming settlers and was recognized by her contemporaries as a woman of outstanding character.8
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    Work, John

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    Snake River


    Washington Territory