There are many reasons to take note of the history of Foster, R.I. Home to one U.S. senator, Theodore Foster, and birthplace to another, Nelson Aldrich, it has had more than its share of fame for a town its size.
But perhaps its most famous resident goes largely unremarked in the history books. That would be Olivier (Levi) Brisson. Levi’s contribution to history? He was father to 43 children (give or take).
Around 1900, when Levi was in his 70s, newspapers began taking note of his prolificacy, reporting each new child (sometimes jumping the gun). Living near the border of Connecticut in an old schoolhouse, the Brissons were local celebrities, though not everyone sung their praises. Some apparently felt he should have drawn the line somewhere south of 40.
The good-natured, 110-pound Canadian import was generally willing to talk to reporters looking in to find out the current tally of children, though getting the exact count is difficult.
If you’re wondering about the math, Levi Brisson was apparently genetically disposed to fathering multiple-birth pregnancies. News accounts vary as to the specifics. Some reports say his first wife had triplets, three times, and quadruplets once. His second wife had five sets of twins and his third wife also gave birth to twins. And his daughter made headlines when she, too, gave birth to triplets.
One account notes that 15 of his children once had measles simultaneously. Most recently, Levi’s story has been told by author Annie Proulx, his great-great-granddaughter. She wrote of him in her book, Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place.
Her record of the children of Levi Brisson: “He was married three times. His first wife, Clemence Benjamin, bore him six children, including one pair of twins. His second spouse, Mary Cyr, was the mother of 21, including two pairs of twins, and his third and pregnant wife, Maggie LeBarge, has borne him 11, of which four are dead. If he had lived today he could have had his own television program.”
Proulx notes that he was of limited means by the later years in his life. The cost of raising three families had taken its toll. The town, however, welcomed him to live rent free in an old East Killingly, Conn., schoolhouse (next door to Foster) apparently because his children made it possible for the area to continue to justify maintaining a local school.
Levi Brisson died in November 1903, falling short of his goal of 50 children, but leaving a giant of a family tree nonetheless.
This story was updated in 2021.