Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Crusaders of New France by William Bennett Munro

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

followed the fleur-de-lis into the recesses of the new continent, was
of Norman birth and lineage. Rouen was the town of his nativity; the
year 1643 probably the date of his birth. How the days of his youth
were spent we do not know except that he received a good education,
presumably in a Jesuit seminary. While still in the early twenties
he came to Montreal where he had an older brother, a priest of the
Seminary of St. Sulpice. This was in 1666. Through, the influence of
his brother, no doubt, he received from the Seminary a grant of the
seigneury at Lachine on the river above the town, and at once began
the work of developing this property.

If La Salle intended to become a yeoman of New France, his choice of a
site was not of the best. The seigneury which he acquired was one of
the most dangerous spots in the whole colony, being right in the path
of Iroquois attack. He was able to gather a few settlers around him,
it is true, but their homes had to be enclosed by palisades, and they
hardly dared venture into the fields unarmed. Though the Iroquois and
the French were just now at peace, the danger of treachery was never
absent. On the other hand no situation could be more favorable for
one desiring to try his hand at the fur trade. It was inevitable,
therefore, that a young man of La Salle's adventurous temperament
and commercial ancestry should soon forsake the irksome drudgery of
clearing land for the more exciting and apparently more profitable
pursuit of forest trade. That was what happened. In the winter
of 1668-1669 he heard from the Indians their story of a great
southwestern river which made its way to the "Vermilion Sea." The
recital quickened the restless strain in his Norman blood. Here, he
thought, was the long-sought passage to the shores of the Orient, and
he determined to follow the river.

Having no other means of obtaining funds with which to equip an
expedition, La Salle sold his seigneury and at once began his
preparations. In July, 1669, he set off with a party of about twenty
men, some of whom were missionaries sent by the Seminary of St.
Sulpice to carry the tidings of the faith into the heart of the
continent. Up the St. Lawrence and along the south shore of Lake
Ontario they went, halting at Irondequoit Bay while La Salle and a few
of his followers went overland to the Seneca villages in search of
guides. Continuing to Niagara, the party divided and the Sulpicians
made their way to the Sault Ste. Marie, while La Salle with the
remainder of the expedition struck out south of Lake Erie and in all
probability reached the Ohio by descending one of its branches. But,
as no journal or contemporary record of the venture after they had
left Niagara has come down to us, the details of the journey are
unknown. It is believed that desertions among his followers prevented
further progress and that, in the winter of 1669-1670, La Salle
retraced his steps to the lakes. In its main object the expedition had
been a failure.

Having exhausted his funds, La Salle had no opportunity, for the
present at least, of making another trial. He accordingly asked
Frontenac for trading privileges at Cataraqui, the site of modern
Kingston, where stood the fortified post named after the governor.
Upon Frontenac's recommendation La Salle received in 1674 not only the
exclusive right to trade but also a grant of land at Fort Frontenac on
condition that he would rebuild the defenses with stone and supply a
garrison. The conditions being acceptable, the explorer hastened to
his new post and was soon engaged in the fur trade upon a considerable
scale. La Salle, however, needed more capital than he himself could
supply, and in 1677 he made a second trip to France with letters from
Frontenac to the King and Colbert. He also had the further design in
view of obtaining authority and funds for another trip of exploration
to the West. Since his previous expedition in 1669 two of his
compatriots, Pere Marquette and Louis Joliet, had reached the Great
River and had found every reason for believing that its course ran
south to the Gulf of Mexico, and not southwestward to the Gulf of
California, as had previously been supposed. But they had not followed
the Mississippi to its outlet, and this was what La Salle was now
determined to do.

In Paris he found attentive listeners to his plans, and even the
King's ministers were interested, so that when La Salle sailed back to
Quebec in 1678 he brought a royal decree authorizing him to proceed
with his project. With him came a daring spirit who was to be chief
lieutenant and faithful companion in the ensuing years, Henri de
Tonty. This adventurous soldier was later known among the Indians
as "Tonty of the Iron Hand," for in his youth he had lost a hand in
battle, and in its stead now wore an artificial one of iron, which he
used from time to time with wholesome effect. He was a man of great
physical strength, and commensurate courage, loyal to his chief and
almost La Salle's equal in perseverance.

La Salle's party lost no time in proceeding to Fort Frontenac. Even
though the winter was at hand, Hennepin was at once sent forward
to Niagara with instructions to build a post and to begin the
construction of a vessel so that the journey westward might be begun
with the opening of spring. Later in the winter La Salle and Tonty
joined the party at Niagara where the fort was completed. Before
spring arrived, a vessel of about forty-five tons, the largest yet
built for service on the lakes, had been constructed. On its prow
stood a carved griffin, from the armorial bearings of Frontenac, and
out of its portholes frowned several small cannon. With the advent of
summer La Salle and his followers went aboard; the sails were spread,
and in due course the expedition readied Michilimackinac, where the
Jesuits had already established their most westerly mission.

The arrival of the _Griffin_ brought Indians by the hundred to marvel
at the "floating fort" and to barter their furs for the trinkets with
which La Salle had provided himself. The little vessel then sailed
westward into Lake Michigan and finally dropped anchor in Green Bay
where an additional load of beaver skins was put on deck. With the
approach of autumn the return trip began. La Salle, however, did not
accompany his valuable cargo, having a mind to spend the winter in.
explorations along the Illinois. In September, with many misgivings,
he watched the _Griffin_ set sail in charge of a pilot. Then, with the
rest of his followers he started southward along the Wisconsin shore.
Reaching the mouth of the St. Joseph, he struck into the interior to
the upper Kankakee. This stream the voyageurs, who numbered about
forty in all, descended until they reached the Illinois, which they
followed to the point where Peoria now stands.

Here La Salle's troubles began in abundance. The Indians endeavored
to dissuade him from leading the expedition farther, and even the
explorer's own followers began to desert. Chagrinned at these untoward
circumstances and on his guard lest the Indians prove openly hostile,
La Salle proceeded to secure his position by the erection of a fort
to which he gave the name Crevecoeur. Here he left Tonty with the
majority of the party, while he himself started with five men back to
Niagara. His object was in part to get supplies for building a vessel
at Fort Crevecoeur, and in part to learn what had become of the
_Griffin_, for since that vessel had sailed homeward he had heard no
word from her crew. Proceeding across what is now southern Michigan,
La Salle emerged on the shores of the Detroit River. From this point
he pushed across the neck of land to Lake Erie, where he built a canoe
which brought him to Niagara at Eastertide, 1680. His fears for the
fate of the _Griffin_ were now confirmed: the vessel had been lost,
and with her a fortune in furs. Nothing daunted, however, La Salle
hurried on to Fort Frontenac and thence with such speed to Montreal
that he accomplished the trip from the Illinois to the Ottawa in
less than three months--a feat hitherto unsurpassed in the annals of
American exploration.

At Montreal the explorer, who once more sought the favor of Frontenac,
was provided with equipment at the King's expense. Within a few
months he was again at Fort Frontenac and ready to rejoin Tonty at
Crevecoeur. Just as he was about to depart, however, word came that
the Crevecoeur garrison had mutinied and had destroyed the post. La
Salle's one hope now was that his faithful lieutenant had held on
doggedly and had saved the vessel he had been building. But Tonty in
the meantime had made his way with a few followers to Green Bay,
so that when La Salle reached the Illinois he found everyone gone.
Undismayed by this climax to his misfortunes, La Salle nevertheless
pushed on down the Illinois, and early in December reached its
confluence with the Mississippi.

To follow the course of this great stream with the small party which
accompanied him seemed, however, too hazardous an undertaking. La
Salle, therefore, retraced his steps once more and spent the next
winter at Fort Miami on the St. Joseph to the southeast of Lake
Michigan. In the spring word came to him that Tonty was at
Michilimackinac, and thither he hastened, to hear from Tonty's own
lips the long tale of disaster. "Any one else," wrote an eye-witness
of the meeting, "would have thrown up his hands and abandoned the
enterprise; but far from this, with, a firmness and constancy that
never had its equal, I saw him more resolved than ever to continue his
work and push forward his discovery."

Now that he had caught his first glimpse of the Mississippi, La Salle
was determined to persist until he had followed its course to the
outlet. Returning with Tonty to Fort Frontenac, he replenished his
supplies. In this same autumn of 1681, with a larger number of
followers, the explorer was again on his way to the Illinois. By
February the party had reached the Mississippi. Passing the Missouri
and the Ohio, La Salle and his followers kept steadily on their
way and early in April reached the spot where the Father of Waters
debouches through three channels into the Gulf. Here at the outlet
they set up a column with the insignia of France, and, as they took
possession of the land in the name of their King, they chanted in
solemn tones the _Exaudiat_, and in the name of God they set up their

But the French were short of supplies and could not stay long after
the symbols of sovereignty had been raised aloft. Paddling slowly
against the current. La Salle and his party reached the Illinois only
in August. Here La Salle and Tonty built their Fort St. Louis and here
they spent the winter. During the next summer (1683) the indefatigable
explorer journeyed down to Quebec, and on the last ship of the year
took passage for France. In the meantime, Frontenac, always his
firm friend and supporter, had been recalled, and La Barre, the new
governor, was unfriendly. A direct appeal to the home authorities
for backing seemed the only way of securing funds for further

Accordingly, early in 1684 La Salle appeared at the French court with
elaborate plans for founding a colony in the valley of the lower
Mississippi. This time the expedition was to proceed by sea. To this
project the King gave his assent, and commanded the royal officers to
furnish the supplies. By midsummer four ships were ready to set sail
for the Gulf. Once more, however, troubles beset La Salle on every
hand. Disease broke out on the vessels; the officers quarreled among
themselves; the expedition was attacked by the Spaniards, and one ship
was lost. Not until the end of December was a landing made, and then
not at the Mississippi's mouth but at a spot far to the west of it, on
the sands of Matagorda Bay.

Finding that he had missed his reckonings, La Salle directed a part of
his company to follow the shore. After many days of fruitless search,
they established a permanent camp and sent the largest vessel back to
France. Their repeated efforts to reach the Mississippi overland were
in vain. Finally, in the winter of 1687, La Salle with a score of his
strongest followers struck out northward, determined to make their way
to the Lakes, where they might find succor. To follow the detail of
their dreary march would be tedious. The hardships of the journey,
without adequate equipment or provisions, and the incessant danger of
attack by the Indians increased petty jealousies into open mutiny. On
the 19th of March, 1687, the courageous and indefatigable La Salle
was treacherously assassinated by one of his own party. Here in the
fastnesses of the Southwest died at the age of forty-four the
intrepid explorer of New France, whom Tonty called--perhaps not
untruthfully--"one of the greatest men of this age."

"Thus," writes a later historian with all the perspective of
the intervening years, "was cut short the career of a man whose
personality is impressed in some respects more strongly than that
of any other upon the history of New France. His schemes were too
far-reaching to succeed. They required the strength and resources of
a half-dozen nations like the France of Louis XIV. Nevertheless the
lines upon which New France continued to develop were substantially
those which La Salle had in mind, and the fabric of a wilderness
empire, of which he laid the foundations, grew with the general growth
of colonization, and in the next century became truly formidable. It
was not until Wolfe climbed the Heights of Abraham that the great
ideal of La Salle was finally overthrown."

It would be difficult, indeed, to find among the whole array of
explorers which history can offer in all ages a perseverance more
dogged in the face of abounding difficulties. Phoenix-like, he rose
time after time from the ashes of adversity. Neither fatigue nor
famine, disappointment nor even disaster, availed to swerve him from
his purpose. To him, more than to any one else of his time, the French
could justly attribute their early hold upon the great regions of the
West. Other explorers and voyageurs of his generation there were in
plenty, and their service was not inconsiderable. But in courage and
persistence, as well as in the scope of his achievements, La Salle,
the pathfinder of Rouen, towered above them all. He had, what so many
of the others lacked, a clear vision of what the great plains and
valleys of the Middle West could yield towards the enrichment of a
nation in years to come. "America," as Parkman has aptly said, "owes
him an enduring memory; for in this masculine figure she sees the
pioneer who guided her to the possession of her richest heritage."



Nearly all that was distinctive in the life of old Canada links itself
in one way or another with the Catholic religion. From first to last
in the history of New France the most pervading trait was the loyalty
of its people to the church of their fathers. Intendants might come
and go; governors abode their destined hour and went their way; but
the apostles of the ancient faith never for one moment released their
grip upon the hearts and minds of the Canadians. During two centuries
the political life of the colony ran its varied rounds; the habits of
the people were transformed with the coming of material prosperity:
but the Church went on unchanged, unchanging. One may praise the
steadfastness with which the Church fought for what its bishops
believed to be right, or one may, on the other hand, decry the
arrogance of its pretensions to civil power and its hampering
conservatism; but as the great central fact in the history of New
France, the hegemony of Catholicism cannot be ignored.

When Frenchmen began the work of founding a dominion in the New World,
their own land was convulsed with religious troubles. Not only were
the Huguenots breaking from the trammels of the old religion, but
within the Catholic Church, itself in France there were two great
contending factions. One group strove for the preservation of the
Galilean liberties, the special rights of the French King and the
French bishops in the ecclesiastical government of the land, while
the other claimed for the Pope a supremacy over all earthly rulers in
matters of spiritual concern. It was not a difference on points of
doctrine, for the Galileans did not question the headship of the
Papacy in things of the spirit. What they insisted upon was the
circumscribed nature of the papal power in temporal matters within the
realm of France, particularly with regard to the right of appointment
to ecclesiastical positions with endowed revenues. Bishops, priests,
and religious orders ranged themselves on one side or the other, for
it was a conflict in which there could be no neutrality. As the royal
authorities were heart and soul with the Galileans, it was natural
enough that priests of this group should gain the first religious
foothold in the colony. The earliest priests brought to the colony
were members of the Recollet Order. They came with Champlain in 1615,
and made their headquarters in Quebec at the suggestion of the King's
secretary. For ten years they labored in the colony, striving bravely
to clear the way for a great missionary crusade.

But the day of the Recollets in New France was not long. In 1625 came
the advance guard of another religious order, the militant Jesuits,
bringing with them their traditions of unwavering loyalty to the
Ultramontane cause. The work of the Recollets had, on the whole, been
disappointing, for their numbers and their resources proved too small
for effective progress. During ten years of devoted labor they had
scarcely been able to make any impression upon the great wilderness of
heathenism that lay on all sides. In view of the apparent futility of
their efforts, the coming of the Jesuits--suggested, it may be, by
Champlain--was probably not unwelcome to them. Richelieu, moreover,
had now brought his Ultramontane sympathies close to the seat of royal
power, so that the King no longer was in a position to oppose the
project. At any rate the Jesuits sailed for Canada, and their arrival
forms a notable landmark in the history of the colony. Their dogged
zeal and iron persistence carried them to points which missionaries
of no other religious order would have reached. For the Jesuits were,
above all things else, the harbingers of a militant faith. Their
organization and their methods admirably fitted them to be the
pioneers of the Cross in new lands. They were men of action, seeking
to win their crown of glory and their reward through intense physical
and spiritual exertions, not through long seasons of prayer and
meditation in cloistered seclusion. Loyola, the founder of the Order,
gave to the world the nucleus of a crusading host, disciplined as no
army ever was. If the Jesuits could not achieve the spiritual conquest
of the New World, it was certain that no others could. And this
conquest they did achieve. The whole course of Catholic missionary
effort throughout the Western Hemisphere was shaped by members of the
Jesuit Order.

Only four of these priests came to Quebec in 1625. Although it was
intended that others should follow at once, their number was not
substantially increased until seven years later, when the troubles
with England were brought to an end and the colony was once more
securely in the hands of the French. Then the Jesuits came steadily,
a few arriving with almost every ship, and either singly or together
they were sent off to the Indian settlements--to the Hurons around
the Georgian Bay, to the Algonquins north of the Ottawa, and to the
Iroquois south of the Lakes. The physical vigor, the moral heroism,
and the unquenchable religious zeal of these missionaries were
qualities exemplified in a measure and to a degree which are beyond
the power of any pen to describe. Historians of all creeds have
tendered homage to their self-sacrifice and zeal, and never has work
of human hand or spirit been more worthy of tribute. The Jesuit went,
often alone, where no others dared to go, and he faced unknown dangers
which had all the possibilities of torture and martyrdom. Nor did this
energy waste itself in flashes of isolated triumph. The Jesuit was a
member of an efficient organization, skillfully guided by inspired
leaders and carrying its extensive work of Christianization with
machine-like thoroughness through the vastness of five continents.
We are too apt to think only of the individual missionary's glowing
spirit and rugged faith, his picturesque strivings against great odds,
and to regard him as a guerilla warrior against the hosts of darkness.
Had he been this, and nothing more, his efforts must have been
altogether in vain. The great services which the Jesuit missionary
rendered in the New World, both to his country and to his creed, were
due not less to the matchless organization of the Order to which he
belonged than to qualities of courage, patience, and fortitude which
he himself showed as a missionary.

During the first few years of Jesuit effort among the Indians of New
France the results were pitifully small. The Hurons, among whom the
missionaries put forth their initial labors, were poor stock, even as
red men went. The minds of these half-nomadic and dull-witted savages
were filled with gross superstitions, and their senses had been
brutalized by the incessant torments of their Iroquois enemies. Amid
the toils and hazards and discomforts of so insecure and wandering a
life the Jesuits found little opportunity for soundly instructing the
Hurons in the faith. Hence there were but few neophytes in these early
years. By 1640 the missionaries could count only a hundred converts in
a population of many thousands, and even this little quota included
many infants who had died soon after receiving the rites of baptism.
More missionaries kept coming, however; the work steadily broadened;
and the posts of service were multiplied. In due time the footprints
of the Jesuits were everywhere, from the St. Lawrence to the
Mississippi, from the tributaries of the Hudson to the regions north
of the Ottawa. Le Jeune, Masse, Brebeuf, Lalemant, Ragueneau, Le
Dablon, Jogues, Gamier, Raymbault, Peron, Moyne, Allouez, Druilletes,
Chaumonot, Menard, Bressani, Daniel, Chabanel, and a hundred
others,--they soon formed that legion whose works of courage and
devotion stand forth so prominently in the early annals of New France.

Once at their stations in the upper country, the missionaries
regularly sent down to the Superior of the Order at Quebec their
full reports of progress, difficulties, and hopes, all mingled with
interesting descriptions of Indian customs, folklore, and life. It is
no wonder that these narratives, "jotted down hastily," as Le Jeune
tells us, "now in one place, now in another, sometimes on water,
sometimes on land," were often crude, or that they required careful
editing before being sent home to France for publication. In their
printed form, however, these _Relations des Jesuites_ gained a wide
circle of European readers; they inspired more missionaries to come,
and they drew from well-to-do laymen large donations of money for
carrying on the crusade.

The royal authorities also gave their earnest support, for they saw
in the Jesuit missionary not merely a torchbearer of his faith or a
servant of the Church. They appreciated his loyalty and remembered
that he never forgot his King, nor shirked his duty to the cause of
France among the tribes. Every mission post thus became an embassy,
and every Jesuit an ambassador of his race, striving to strengthen the
bonds of friendship between the people to whom he went and the people
from whom he came. The French authorities at Quebec were not slow to
recognize what an ever-present help the Jesuit could be in times of
Indian trouble. One governor expressed the situation with fidelity
when he wrote to the home authorities that, "although the interests of
the Gospel do not require us to keep missionaries in all the Indian
villages, the interests of the civil government for the advantage of
trade must induce us to manage things so that we may always have at
least one of them there." It must therefore be admitted that, when the
civil authorities did encourage the missions, they did not always do
so with a purely spiritual motive in mind.

As the political and commercial agent of his people, the Jesuit had
great opportunities, and in this capacity he usually gave a full
measure of service. After he had gained the confidence of the tribes,
the missionary always succeeded in getting the first inkling of what
was going on in the way of inter-tribal intrigues. He learned to
fathom the Indian mind and to perceive the redskin's motives. He was
thus able to communicate to Quebec the information and advice which
so often helped the French to outwit their English rivals. As
interpreters in the conduct of negotiations and the making of treaties
the Jesuits were also invaluable. How much, indeed, these blackrobes
achieved for the purely secular interests of the French colony, for
its safety from sudden Indian attack, for the development of its
trade, and for its general upbuilding, will never be known. The
missionary did not put these things on paper, but he rendered services
which in all probability were far greater than posterity will ever

It was not, however, with the conversion of the Indians or with the
service of French secular interests among the savages that the work of
the Jesuits was wholly, or even chiefly, concerned. During the middle
years of the seventeenth century, these services at the outposts
of French territory may have been most significant, for the French
population along the shores of the St. Lawrence remained small, the
settlements were closely huddled together, and a few priests could
serve their spiritual needs. The popular impression of Jesuit
enterprises in the New World is connected almost wholly with work
among the Indians. This pioneer phase of the Jesuit's work was
picturesque, and historians have had a great deal to say about it. It
was likewise of this service in the depths of the interior that the
missionary himself wrote most frequently. But as the colony grew and
broadened its bounds until its settlements stretched all the way from
the Saguenay to Montreal and beyond, a far larger number of _cures_
was needed. Before the old regime came to a close there were far
more Frenchmen than Indians within the French sphere of influence
in America, and they required by far the greater share of Jesuit
ministration, and, long before the old dominion ended, the Indian
missions had to take a subordinate place in the general program of
Jesuit undertakings. The outposts in the Indian country were the chief
scene of Jesuit labors from 1615 to about 1700, when the emphasis
shifted to the St. Lawrence valley. Some of the mission fields held
their own to the end, but in general they failed to make much headway
during the last half-century of French rule. The Church in the settled
portions of the colony, however, kept on with its steady progress in
achievement and power.

New France was the child of missionary fervor. Even from the outset,
in the scattered settlements along the St. Lawrence, the interests
of religion were placed on a strictly missionary basis. There were
so-called parishes in the colony almost from its beginning, but
not until 1722 was the entire colony set off into recognized
ecclesiastical parishes, each with a fixed _cure_ in charge. Through
all the preceding years each village or _cote_ had been served by a
missionary, by a movable _cure_, or by a priest sent out from
the Seminary at Quebec. No priest was tied to any parish but was
absolutely at the immediate beck and call of the bishop. Some reason
for this unsettled arrangement might be found in the conditions
under which the colony developed in its early years; with its sparse
population ranging far and wide, with its lack of churches and
of _presbyteres_ in which the priest might reside. But the real
explanation of its long continuance lies in the fact that, if regular
_cures_ were appointed, the seigneurs would lay claim to various
rights of nomination or patronage, whereas the bishop could control
absolutely the selection of missionary priests and could thus more
easily carry through his policy of ecclesiastical centralization.

Not only in this particular, but in every other phase of religious
life and organization during these crusading days in Canada, one must
reckon not only with the logic of the situation, but also with the
dominating personality of the first and greatest Ultramontane, Bishop
Laval. Though not himself a Jesuit, for no member of the Order could
be a bishop, Laval was in tune with their ideals and saw eye to eye
with the Jesuits on every point of religious and civil policy.

Francois Xavier de Laval, Abbe de Montigny, was born in 1622, a scion
of the great house of Montmorency. He was therefore of high nobility,
the best-born of all the many thousands who came to New France
throughout its history. As a youth his had come into close association
with the Jesuits, and had spent four years in the famous Hermitage at
Caen, that Jesuit stronghold which served so long as the nursery for
the spiritual pioneers of early Canada. When he came to Quebec as
Vicar-Apostolic in 1659, he was only thirty-seven years of age.
His position in the colony at the time of his arrival was somewhat
unusual, for although he was to be in command of the colony's
spiritual forces. New France was not yet organized as a diocese and
could not be so organized until the Pope and the King should agree
upon the exact status of the Church in the French colonial dominions.
Laval was nevertheless given his titular rank from the ancient see of
Petraea in Arabia which had long since been _in partibus infidelium_
and hence had no bishop within its bounds. From his first arrival in
Canada his was Bishop Laval, but without a diocese over which he could
actually hold sway. His commission as Vicar-Apostolic gave him power
enough, however, and his responsibility was to the Pope alone.

For the tasks which, he was sent to perform, Laval had eminent
qualifications. A haughty spirit went with the ultra-blue blood in his
veins; he had a temperament that loved to lead and to govern, and that
could not endure to yield or to lag behind. His intellectual talents
were high beyond question, and to them he added the blessing of a
rugged physical frame. No one ever came to a new land with more
definite ideas of what he wanted to do or with a more unswerving
determination to do it in his own way.

It was not long before the stamp of Laval's firm hand was laid upon
the life of the colony. In due course, too, he found himself at odds
with the governor. The dissensions smouldered at first, and then broke
out into a blaze that warmed the passions of all elements in the
colony. The exact origin of the feud is somewhat obscure, and it is
not necessary to put down here the details of its development to the
war _a outrance_ which soon engaged the civil and ecclesiastical
authorities in the colony. In the background was the question of the
_coureurs-de-bois_ and the liquor traffic which now became a definite
issue and which remained the storm centre of colonial politics for
many generations. The merchants insisted that if this traffic were
extinguished it would involve the ruin of the French hold upon the
Indian trade. The bishop and the priests, on the other hand, were
ready to fight the liquor traffic to the end and to exorcise it as the
greatest blight upon the New World. Quebec soon became a cockpit where
the battle of these two factions raged. Each had its ups and downs,
until in the end the traffic remained, but under a makeshift system of

To portray Laval and his associates as always in bitter conflict with
the civil power, nevertheless, would be to paint a false picture.
Church and state were not normally at variance in their views and
aims. They clashed fiercely on many occasions, it is true, but after
their duels they shook hands and went to work with a will at the
task of making the colony stand upon its own feet. Historians have
magnified these bickerings out of all proportion. Squabbles over
matters of precedence at ceremonies, over the rate of the tithes, and
over the curbing of the _coureurs-de-bois_ did not take the major
share of the Church's attention. For the greater part of two whole
centuries it loyally aided the civil power in all things wherein the
two could work together for good.

And these ways of assistance were many. For example the Church,
through its various institutions and orders, rendered a great service
to colonial agriculture. As the greatest landowner in New France,
it set before the seigneurs and the habitants an example of what
intelligent methods of farming and hard labor could accomplish in
making the land yield its increase. The King was lavish in his grants
of territory to the Church: the Jesuits received nearly a million
_arpents_ as their share of the royal bounty; the bishop and the
Quebec Seminary, the Sulpicians, and the Ursulines, about as much
more. Of the entire granted acreage of New France the Church
controlled about one-quarter, so that its position as a great
landowner was even stronger in the colony than at home. Nor did it
fold its talents in a napkin. Colonists were brought from France,
farms were prepared for them in the church seigneuries, and the new
settlers were guided and encouraged through, the troublous years of
pioneering. With both money and brains at its command, the Church was
able to keep its own lands in the front line of agricultural progress.

When in 1722 the whole colony was marked off into definite
ecclesiastical divisions, seventy-two parishes were established, and
nearly one hundred _cures_ were assigned to them. As time went on,
both parishes and _cures_ increased in number, so that every locality
had its spiritual leader who was also a philosopher and guide in all
secular matters. The priest thus became a part of the community and
never lost touch with his people. The habitant of New France for his
part never neglected his Church on week-days. The priest and the
Church were with him at work and at play, the spirit and the life of
every community. Though paid a meager stipend, the _cure_ worked hard
and always proved a laborer far more than worthy of his hire. The
clergy of New France never became a caste, a privileged order; they
did not live on the fruits of other men's labor, but gave to the
colony far more than the colony ever gave to them.

As for the Church revenues, these came from several sources. The
royal treasury contributed large sums, but, as it was not full to
overflowing, the King preferred to give his benefactions in generous
grants of land. Yet the royal subsidies amounted to many thousand
livres each year. The diocese of Quebec was endowed with the revenues
of three French abbeys. Wealthy laymen in France followed the royal
example and sent contributions from time to time, frequently of large
amount. While the Company of One Hundred Associates controlled the
trade of the colony, it made from its treasury some provisions for
the support of the missionaries. After 1663, a substantial source of
ecclesiastical income was the tithe, an ecclesiastical tax levied
annually upon all produce of the land, and fixed in 1663 at
one-thirteenth. Four years later it was reduced to one-twenty-sixth,
and Bishop Laval's strenuous efforts to have the old rate restored
were never successful.

In education, yet another field of colonial life, the Church rendered
some service. Here the civil authorities did nothing at all, and had
it not been for the Church the whole colony would have grown up in
absolute illiteracy. A school for boys was established at Quebec in
Champlain's day, and during the next hundred and fifty years it was
followed by about thirty others. More than a dozen elementary schools
for girls were also established under ecclesiastical auspices. Yet
the amount of secular education imparted by all these seminaries was
astoundingly small, and they did but little to leaven the general
illiteracy of the population. Only the children of the towns attended
the schools, and the program of study was of the most elementary
character. Religious instruction was given the first place and
received so much attention that there was little time in school hours
for anything else. The girls fared better than the boys on the whole,
for the nuns taught them to sew and to knit as well as to read and to

So far as secular education was concerned, therefore, the English
conquest found the colony in almost utter stagnation. Not one in five
hundred among the habitants, it was said, could read or write. Outside
the immediate circle of clergy, officials, and notaries, ignorance of
even the rudiments of education was almost universal. There were no
newspapers in the colony and very few books save those used in the
services of worship. Greysolon Du Lhut, the king of the voyageurs, for
example, was a man of means and education, but his entire library,
as disclosed by his will, consisted of a world atlas and a set of
Josephus. The priests did not encourage the reading of secular books,
and La Hontan recounts the troubles which he had in keeping one
militant _cure_ from tearing his precious volumes to pieces. New
France was at that period not a land where freedom dwelt with

Intellectually, the people of New France comprised on the one hand a
small elite and on the other a great unlettered mass. There was
no middle class between. Yet the population of the colony always
contained, especially among its officials and clergy, a sprinkling of
educated and scholarly men. These have given us a literature of travel
and description which is extensive and of high, quality. No other
American colony of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries put so
much, of its annals into print; the _Relations_ of the Jesuits alone
were sufficient to fill forty-one volumes, and they form but a small
part of the entire literary output.



From the beginning of the colony there ran in the minds of French
officialdom the idea that the social order should rest upon a
seigneurial basis. Historians have commonly attributed to Richelieu
the genesis of New World feudalism, but without good reason, for its
beginnings antedated the time of the great minister. The charter
issued to the ill-starred La Roche in 1598 empowered him "to grant
lands to gentlemen in the forms of fiefs and seigneuries," and the
different viceroys who had titular charge of the colony before the
Company of One Hundred Associates took charge in 1627 had similar
powers. Several seigneurial grants in the region of Quebec had, in
fact, been made before Richelieu first turned his attention to the

Nor was the adoption of this policy at all unnatural. Despite its
increasing obsolescence, the seigneurial system was still strong in
France and dominated the greater part of the kingdom. The nobility and
even the throne rested upon it. The Church, as suzerain of enormous
landed estates, sanctioned and supported it. The masses of the French
people were familiar with no other system of landholding. No prolonged
quest need accordingly be made to explain why France transplanted
feudalism to the shores of the great Canadian waterway; in fact,
an explanation would have been demanded had any other policy been
considered. No one asks why the Puritans took to Massachusetts Bay the
English system of freehold tenure. They took the common law of England
and the tenure that went with it. Along with the fleur-de-lis,
likewise, went the Custom of Paris and the whole network of social
relations based upon a hierarchy of seigneurs and dependents.

The seigneurial system of land tenure, as all students of history
know, was feudalism in a somewhat modernized form. During the chaos
which came upon Western Europe in the centuries following the collapse
of Roman imperial supremacy, every local magnate found himself forced
to depend for existence upon the strength of his own castle, under
whose walls he gathered as many vassals as he could induce to come.
To these he gave the surrounding lands free from all rents, but on
condition of aid in time of war. The lord gave the land and promised
to protect his vassals, who, on their part, took the land and promised
to pay for it not in money or in kind, but in loyalty and service.
Thus there was created a close personal relation, a bond of mutual
wardship and fidelity which bound liegeman and lord with hoops of
steel. The whole social order rested upon this bond and upon the
gradations in privilege which it involved in a sequence which became
stereotyped. In its day feudalism was a great institution and one
which shared with the Christian Church the glory of having made
mediaeval life at all worth living. It helped to keep civilization
from perishing utterly in a whirl of anarchy, and it enabled Europe to
recover inch by inch its former state of order, stability, and law.

But, having done its service to humanity, feudalism did not quietly
make way for some other system more suited to the new conditions. It
hung on grimly long after the forces which had brought it into being
ceased to exist, long after the growth of a strong monarchy in France
with a powerful standing army had removed the necessity of mutual
guardianship and service. To meet the new conditions the system merely
changed its incidents, never its general form. The ancient obligation
of military service, no longer needed, gave place to dues and
payments. The old personal bond relaxed; the feudal lord became the
seigneur, a mere landlord. The vassal became the _censitaire_, a mere
tenant, paying heavy dues each year in return for protection which,
he no longer received nor required. In a word, before 1600 the feudal
system had become the seigneurial system, and it was the latter which
was established in the French colony of Canada.

In the new land there was reason to hope, however, that this system of
social relations based upon landholding would soon work its way back
to the vigor which it had displayed in mediaeval days. Here in the
midst of an unfathomed wilderness was a small European settlement with
hostile tribes on every hand. The royal arm, so strong in affording
protection at home, could not strike hard and promptly in behalf
of subjects a thousand leagues away. New France, accordingly must
organize itself for defense and repel her enemies just as the earldoms
and duchies of the crusading centuries had done. And that is just
what the colony did, with the seigneurial system as the groundwork of
defensive strength. Under stress of the new environment, which was not
wholly unlike that of the former feudal days, the military aspects of
the system revived and the personal bond regained much of its
ancient vigor. The sordid phases of seigneurialism dropped into the
background. It was this restored vitality that helped, more than
all else, to turn New France into a huge armed camp which hordes of
invaders, both white and red, strove vainly to pierce time after time
during more than a full century.

The first grant of a seigneury in the territory of New France was made
in 1623 to Louis Hebert, a Paris apothecary who had come to Quebec
with Champlain some years before this date. His land consisted of a
tract upon the height above the settlement, and here he had cleared
the fields and built a home for himself. By this indenture feudalism
cast its first anchor in New France, and Hebert became the colony's
first patron of husbandry. Other grants soon followed, particularly
during the years when the Company of One Hundred Associates was
in control of the land, for, by the terms of its charter, this
organization was empowered to grant large tracts as seigneuries and
also to issue patents of nobility. It was doubtless assumed by the
King that such grants would be made only to persons who would actually
emigrate to New France and who would thus help in the upbuilding of
the colony, but the Company did not live up to this policy. Instead,
it made lavish donations, some of them containing a hundred square
miles or more, to directors and friends of the Company in France who
neither came to the colony themselves nor sent representatives to
undertake the clearing of these large estates. One director took the
entire Island of Orleans; others secured generous slices of the best
lands on both shores of the St. Lawrence; but not one of them lifted a
finger in the way of redeeming these huge concessions from a state of
wilderness primeval. The tracts were merely held in the hope that some
day they would become valuable. Out of sixty seigneuries which were
granted by the Company during the years from 1632 to 1663 not more
than a half-dozen grants were made to _bona fide_ colonists. At the
latter date the total area of cleared land was scarcely four thousand

[Footnote 1: An _arpent_ was about five-sixths of an acre.]

With the royal action of 1663 which took the colony from the Company
and reconstructed its government, the seigneurial system was
galvanized at once with new energy. The uncleared tracts which the
officials of the Company had carved out among themselves were declared
to be forfeited to the Crown and actual occupancy was held to be,
for the future, the essential of every seigneurial grant. A vigorous
effort was made to obtain settlers, and with considerable success, for
in the years 1665-1667 the population of the colony more than doubled.
Nothing was left undone by the royal authorities in securing and
transporting emigrants. Officials from Paris scoured the provinces,
offering free passage to Quebec and free grants of land upon arrival.
The campaign was successful, and many shiploads of excellent
colonists, most of them hardy peasants from Normandy, Brittany,
Perche, and Picardy, were sent during these banner years.

On their arrival at Quebec the incoming settlers were taken in hand by
officials and were turned over to the various seigneurs who were ready
to provide them with lands and to help them in getting well started.
If the newcomer happened to be a man of some account at home, and
particularly if he brought some money with him, he had the opportunity
to become a seigneur himself. He merely applied to the intendant,
who was quite willing to endow with a seigneury any one who appeared
likely to get it cleared and ready for future settlers. In this matter
the officials, following out the spirit of the royal orders, were
prone to err on the side of liberality. Too often they gave large
seigneurial grants to men who had neither the energy nor the funds to
do what was expected of a seigneur in the new land.

As for extent, the seigneuries varied greatly. Some were as large as
a European dukedom; others contained only a few thousand _arpents_.
There was no fixed rule; within reasonable limits each applicant
obtained what he asked for, but it was generally understood that men
who had been members of the French _noblesse_ before coming to the
colony were entitled to larger areas than those who were not. In any
case little attention was paid to exact boundaries, and no surveys
were made. In making his request for a seigneury each applicant set
forth what he wanted, and this he frequently did in such broad terms
as, "all lands between such-and-such a river and the seigneury of the
Sieur de So-and-So." These descriptions, rarely adequate or accurate,
were copied into the patent, causing often hopeless confusion of
boundaries and unneighborly squabbles. It was fortunate that most
seigneurs had more land than they could use; otherwise there would
have been as many lawsuits as seigneuries.

The obligations imposed upon the seigneurs were not burdensome. No
initial payment was asked, and there were no annual rentals to be paid
to the Crown. Each seigneur had to render the ceremony of fealty and
homage to the royal representative at Quebec. Each was liable for
military service, although that obligation was not written into the
grant. When a seigneury changed owners otherwise than by inheritance
in direct succession, a payment known as the _quint_ (being, as the
name connotes, one-fifth of the reported value) became payable to the
royal treasury, but this was rarely collected. The most important
obligation imposed upon the Canadian seigneur, and one which did not
exist at all in France, was that of getting settlers established upon
his lands. This obligation the authorities insisted upon above all
others. The Canadian seigneur was expected to live on his domain,
to gather dependents around him, to build a mill for grinding their
grain, to have them level the forest, clear the fields, and make
two blades of grass grow where one grew before. In other words,
the Canadian seigneur was to be a royal immigration and land agent
combined. He was not given his generous landed patrimony in order that
he should sit idly by and wait for the unearned increment to come.

Many of the seigneurs fulfilled this trust to the letter. Robert
Giffard, who received the seigneury of Beauport just below Quebec, was
one of these; Charles Le Moyne, Sieur de Longueuil, was another. Both
brought many settlers from France and saw them safely through the
years of pioneering. Others, however, did no more than flock to Quebec
when ships were expected, like so many real estate agents explaining
to the new arrivals what they had to offer in the way of lands fertile
and well situated. Still others did not even do so much, but merely
put forth one excuse after another to explain why their tracts
remained without settlements at all. From time to time the authorities
prodded these seigneurial drones and threatened them with the
forfeiture of their estates; but some of the laggards had friends
among the members of the Sovereign Council or possessed other means of
warding off action, so that final decrees of forefeiture were rarely
issued. Occasionally there were seigneurs whose estates were so
favorably situated that they could exact a bonus from intending
settlers, but the King very soon put a stop to this practice. By the
Arrets of Marly in 1711 he decreed that no bonus or _prix d'entree_
should be exacted by any seigneur, but that every settler was to have
land for the asking and at the rate of the annual dues customary in
the neighborhood.

At this date there were some ninety seigneuries in the colony, about
which we have considerable information owing to a careful survey which
was made in 1712 at the King's request. This work was entrusted to an
engineer, Gedeon de Catalogne, who had come to Quebec a quarter of a
century earlier to help with the fortifications. Catalogne spent two
years in his survey, during which time he visited practically all the
colonial estates. As a result he prepared and sent to France a full
report giving in each case the location and extent of the seigneury,
the name of its owner, the nature of the soil, and its suitability
for various uses, the products, the population, the condition of the
people, the provisions made for religious instruction, and various
other matters.[1] With the report he sent three maps, one of which has
disappeared. The others show the location of all seigneuries in the
regions of Quebec and Three Rivers.

[Footnote 1: This report was printed for the first time in the
author's _Documents relating to the Seigniorial Tenure in Canada_
(Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1908).]

From Catalogne's survey we know that before 1712 nearly all the
territory on both shores of the St. Lawrence from below Quebec to
above Montreal had been parceled into seigneuries. Likewise the
islands in the river and the land on both sides of the Richelieu
in the region toward Lake Champlain had been allotted. Many of the
seigneuries in this latter belt had been given to officers of the
Carignan-Salieres regiment which had come out with Tracy in 1665
to chastise the Mohawks. After the work of the regiment had been
finished, Talon suggested to the King that it be disbanded in Canada,
that the officers be persuaded to accept seigneuries, and that the
soldiers be given lands within the estates of their officers. The
Grand Monarque not only assented but promised a liberal money bonus to
all who would remain. Accordingly, more than twenty officers, chiefly
captains or lieutenants, and nearly four hundred men, agreed to stay
in New France under these arrangements.

Here was an experiment in the system of imperial Rome repeated in the
New World. When the empire of the Caesars was beginning to give way
before the oncoming Goths and Huns, the practice of disbanding the
legions on the frontier so that they might settle there and form an
iron ring against the invaders was adopted and served its purpose for
a time. It was from these _praedia militaria_ that Talon got the idea
which he now transmitted to the French King with the suggestion
that "the practice of these sagacious and warlike Romans might be
advantageously followed in a land which, being so far away from its
sovereign, must trust for existence to the strength, of its own
arms." In keeping with the same precedent, Talon located the military
seigneuries in that section of the colony where they would be most
useful as a barrier against the enemy; that is to say, he placed them
in the colony's most vulnerable region. This was the area along the
Richelieu from Lake Champlain to its confluence with the St. Lawrence
at Sorel. It was by this route that the Mohawks had already come more
than once on their errands of massacre, and it was by this portal
that the English were likely to come if they should ever attempt
to overwhelm New France by an overland assault. The region of the
Richelieu was therefore made as strong against incursion as this
colonizing measure could make it.

All who took lands in this region, whether seigneurs or habitants,
were to assemble in arms at the royal call. Their uniforms and muskets
they kept for service, and never during subsequent years was such a
call without response. These military settlers and their sons after
them were only too ready to rally around the royal _oriflamme_ at any
opportunity. It was from the armed seigneuries of the Richelieu that
Hertel de Rouville, St. Ours, and others quietly slipped forth and
leaped with all the advantage of surprise upon the lonely hamlets
of outlying Massachusetts or New York. How the English feared these
_gentilshommes_ let their own records tell, for there these French
colonials put many a streak of blood and fire.

But not all of the seigneuries were settled in this way, and it was
well for the best interests of the colony that they were not. Too
often the good soldier made only an indifferent yeoman. First in war,
he was last in peace. The task of hammering spears into ploughshares
and swords into pruning-hooks was not altogether to his liking. Most
of the officers gradually grew tired of their role as gentlemen of the
wilderness, and eventually sold or mortgaged their seigneuries and
made their way back to France. Many of the soldiers succumbed to the
lure of the western fur traffic and became _coureurs-de-bois_. But
many others stuck valiantly to the soil, and today their descendants
by the thousand possess this fertile land.

What were the obligations of the settler who took a grant of land
within a seigneury? On the whole they were neither numerous nor
burdensome, and in no sense were they comparable with those laid upon
the hapless peasantry in France during the days before the great
Revolution. Every habitant had a written title-deed from his seigneur
and the terms of this deed were explicit. The seigneur could exact
nothing that was not stipulated therein. These title-deeds were made
by the notaries, of whom there seem to have been plenty in New France;
the census of 1681 listed no fewer than twenty-four of them in a
population which had not yet reached ten thousand. When the deed had
been signed, the notary gave one copy to each of the parties; the
original he kept himself. These scribes were men of limited education
and did not always do their work with proper care, but on the whole
they rendered useful service.

The deed first set forth the situation and area of the habitant's
farm. The ordinary extent was from one hundred to four hundred
_arpents_, usually in the shape of a parallelogram with a narrow
frontage on the river, and extending inland to a much greater
distance. Every one wanted to be near the main road which ran along
the shore; it was only after all this land had been taken up that the
incoming settlers were willing to have farms in the "second range" on
the uplands away from the stream. At any rate, the habitant took his
land subject to yearly payments known as the _cens et rentes_. The
amount was small, a few sous together with a stated donation in
grain or poultry to be delivered each autumn. Reckoned in terms of
present-day rentals, the _cens et rentes_ amounted to half a dozen
chickens or a bushel of grain for each fifty or sixty acres of land.
Yet this was the only payment which the habitants of New France
regularly made in return for their lands. Each autumn at Michaelmas
they gathered at the seigneur's house, their carryalls filling his
yard. One by one they handed over their quota of grain or poultry
and counted out their _cens_ in copper coins. The occasion became a
neighborhood festival to which the women came with the men. There was
a general retailing of local gossip and a squaring-up of accounts
among the neighbors themselves.

But while this was the only regular payment made by the habitant,
it was not the only obligation imposed upon him. In New France the
seigneur had the exclusive right of grinding all grain, and the
habitants were bound by their title-deeds to bring their grist to his
mill and to pay the legal toll for milling. This _banalite_, as it was
called, did not bear heavily upon the people; most of the complaints
concerning it came rather from the seigneurs who claimed that the
legal toll, which amounted to one-fourteenth of the grain, did not
suffice to pay expenses. Some of the seigneurs did not build mills at
all, but the authorities eventually moved them to action by ordering
that those who did not provide mills at once would not be allowed
to enforce the obligation of toll at any future date. Most of the
seigneurial mills were crude, wind-driven affairs which made poor
flour and often kept the habitants waiting for days to get it. Usually
built in tower-like fashion, they were loopholed in order to afford
places of refuge and defense against Indian attack.

Another seigneurial obligation was that of giving to the seigneur
certain days of _corvee_, or forced labor, in each year. In France
this was a grievous burden; peasants were taken from their own lands
at inconvenient seasons and forced to work for weeks on the seigneur's
domain. But there was nothing of this sort in Canada. The amount of
_corvee_ was limited to six days at the most in any year, of which
only two days could be asked for at seed-time and two days at harvest.
The seigneur, for his part, did not usually exact even this amount,
because the neighborhood custom required that he should furnish both
food and tools to those whom he called upon to work for him.

Besides, there were various details of a minor sort incidental to the
seigneurial system. If the habitant caught fish in the river, one fish
in every eleven belonged to the seigneur. But seldom was any attention
paid to this stipulation. The seigneur was entitled to take firewood
and building materials from the lands of his habitants if he desired,
but he rarely availed himself of this right. On the morning of every
May Day the habitants were under strict injunction to plant a Maypole
before the seigneur's house, and this they never failed to do, because
the seigneur in return was expected to dispense hospitality to all who
came. Bright and early in the morning the whole community appeared and
greeted the seigneur with a salvo of blank musketry. With them they
carried a tall fir-tree, pulled bare to within a few feet of the top
where a tuft of green remained. Having planted this Maypole in the
ground, they joined in dancing and a _feu de joie_ in the seigneur's
honor, and then adjourned for cakes and wine at his table. There is no
doubt that such good things disappeared with celerity before appetites
whetted by an hour's exercise in the clear spring air. After drinking
to the seigneur's health and to the health of all his kin, the merry
company returned to their homes, leaving behind them the pole as a
souvenir of their homage. That the seigneur was more than a mere
landlord such an occasion testified.

The seigneurs of New France had the right to hold courts for the
settlement of disputes among their tenantry, but they rarely availed
themselves of this privilege because, owing to the sparseness of the
population in most of the seigneuries, the fines and fees did not
produce enough income to make such a procedure worth while. In a few
populous districts there were seigneurial courts with regular judges
who held sessions once or twice each week. In some others the seigneur
himself sat in judgment behind the living-room table in his own home
and meted out justice after his own fashion. The Custom of Paris
was the common law of the land, and all were supposed to know its
provisions, though few save the royal judges had any such knowledge.
When the seigneur himself heard the suitors, his decision was
not always in keeping with the law but it usually satisfied the
disputants, so that appeals to the royal courts were not common. These
latter tribunals, each with a judge of its own, sat at Quebec, Three
Rivers, and Montreal. Their procedure, like that of the seigneurial
courts, was simple, free from chicane, and inexpensive. A lawsuit in
New France did not bring ruinous costs. "I will not say," remarks the
facetious La Hontan, "that the Goddess of Justice is more chaste here
than in France, but at any rate, if she is sold, she is sold more
cheaply. In Canada we do not pass through the clutches of advocates,
the talons of attorneys, and the claws of clerks. These vermin do
not as yet infest the land. Every one here pleads his own cause. Our
Themis is prompt, and she does not bristle with fees, costs, and

Throughout the French period there was no complaint from the habitants
concerning the burdens of the seigneurial tenure. Here and there
disputes arose as to the exact scope and nature of various
obligations, but these the intendant adjusted with a firm hand and
an eye to the general interest. On the whole, the system rendered a
highly useful service, by bringing the entire rural population into
close and neighborly contact, by affording a firm foundation for
the colony's social structure, and by contributing greatly to the
defensive unity of New France. So long as the land was weak and
depended for its very existence upon the solidarity of its people, so
long as the intendant was there to guide the system with a praetorian
hand and to prevent abuses, so long as strength was more to be desired
than opulence, the seigneurial system served New France better than
any other scheme of landholding would have done. It was only when
the administration of the country came into new and alien hands that
Canadian seigneurialism became a barrier to economic progress and an
obsolete system which had to be abolished.



The center and soul of the economic system in New France was the
traffic in furs. Even before the colony contained more than a handful
of settlers, the profit-making possibilities of this trade were
recognized. It grew rapidly even in the early days, and for more than
a hundred and fifty years furnished New France with its sinews of war
and peace. Beginning on the St. Lawrence, this trade moved westward
along the Great Lakes, until toward the end of the seventeenth century
it passed to the headwaters of the Mississippi. During the two
administrations of Frontenac the fur traffic grew to large
proportions, nor did it show much sign of shrinking for a generation
thereafter. With the ebb-tide of French military power, however, the
trader's hold on these western lands began to relax, and before the
final overthrow of New France it had become greatly weakened.

In establishing commercial relations with the Indians, the French
voyageur on the St. Lawrence had several marked advantages over his
English and Dutch neighbors. By temperament he was better adapted than
they to be a pioneer of trade. No race was more supple than his own in
conforming its ways to the varied demands of place and time. When he
was among the Indians, the Frenchman tried to act like one of them,
and he soon developed in all the arts of forest life a skill which
rivaled that of the Indian himself. The fascination of life in the
untamed wilderness with its hair-raising experiences, its romance, its
free abandon, appealed more strongly to the French temperament than to
that of any other European race. _Non licet omnibus adire Corinthum_.
And the French colonist of the seventeenth century had the qualities
of personal courage and hardihood which enabled him to enjoy this life
to the utmost.

Then there was the Jesuit missionary. He was the first to visit the
Indians in their own abodes, the first to make his home among them,
the first to master their language and to understand their habits of
mind. This sympathetic comprehension gave the Jesuit a great influence
in the councils of the savages. While first of all a soldier of the
Cross, the missionary never forgot, however, that he was also a
sentinel doing outpost duty for his own race. Apostle he was, but
patriot too. Besides, it was to the spiritual interest of the
missionary to keep his flock in contact with the French alone; for if
they became acquainted with the English they would soon come under
the smirch of heresy. To prevent the Indians from engaging in any
commercial dealings with Dutch or English heretics meant encouraging
them to trade exclusively with the French. In this way the Jesuit
became one of the most zealous of helpers in carrying out the French
program for diverting to Montreal the entire fur trade of the western
regions. He was thus not only a pioneer of the faith but at the same
time a pathfinder of commercial empire. It is true, no doubt,
that this service to the trading interests of the colony was but
ill-requited by those whom it benefited most. The trader too often
repaid the missionary in pretty poor coin by bringing the curse of the
liquor traffic to his doors, and by giving denial by shameless conduct
to all the good father's moral teachings. In spite of such inevitable
drawbacks, the Jesuit rendered a great service to the trading
interests of New France, far greater indeed than he ever claimed or
received credit for.

In the struggle for the control of the fur trade geographical
advantages lay with the French. They had two excellent routes from
Montreal directly into the richest beaver lands of the continent. One
of these, by way of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers, had the drawback
of an overland portage, but on the other hand the whole route was
reasonably safe from interruption by Iroquois or English attack. The
other route, by way of the upper St. Lawrence and the lakes, passed
Cataraqui, Niagara, and Detroit on the way to Michilimackinac or to
Green Bay. This was an all-water route, save for the short detour
around the falls at Niagara, but it had the disadvantage of passing,
for a long stretch, within easy reach of Iroquois interference. The
French soon realized, however, that this lake route was the main
artery of the colony's fur trade and must be kept open at any cost.
They accordingly entrenched themselves at all the strategic points
along the route. Fort Frontenac at Cataraqui was built in 1674; the
fortified post at Detroit, in 1686; the fort at Niagara, in 1678; and
the establishments at the Sault Ste. Marie and at Michilimackinac had
been constructed even earlier.

But these places only marked the main channels through which the trade
passed. The real sources of the fur supply were in the great regions
now covered by the states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. As
it became increasingly necessary that the French should gain a firm
footing in these territories as well, they proceeded to establish
their outposts without delay. The post at Baye des Puants (Green Bay)
was established before 1685; then in rapid succession came trading
stockades in the very heart of the beaver lands, Fort St. Antoine,
Fort St. Nicholas, Fort St. Croix, Fort Perrot, Port St. Louis, and
several others. No one can study the map of this western country as
it was in 1700 without realizing what a strangle-hold the French had
achieved upon all the vital arteries of its trade.

The English had no such geographical advantages as the French, nor
did they adequately appreciate the importance of being first upon the
ground. With the exception of the Hudson after 1664, they controlled
no great waterway leading to the interior. And the Hudson with its
tributaries tapped only the territories of the Iroquois which were
denuded of beaver at an early date. These Iroquois might have rendered
great service to the English at Albany by acting as middlemen in
gathering the furs from the West. They tried hard, indeed, to assume
this role, but, as they were practically always at enmity with the
western tribes, they never succeeded in turning this possibility to
their full emolument.

In only one respect were the French at a serious disadvantage. They
could not compete with the English in the matter of prices. The
English trader could give the Indian for his furs two or three times
as much merchandise as the French could offer him. To account for
this commercial discrepancy there were several reasons. The cost of
transportation to and from France was high--approximately twice that
of freighting from London to Boston or New York. Navigation on the St.
Lawrence was dangerous in those days before buoys and beacons came
to mark the shoal waters, and the risk of capture at sea during the
incessant wars with England was considerable. The staples most used in
the Indian trade--utensils, muskets, blankets, and strouds (a coarse
woolen cloth made into shirts)--could be bought more cheaply in
England than in France. Rum could be obtained from the British West
Indies more cheaply than brandy from across the ocean. Moreover, there
were duties on furs shipped from Quebec and on all goods which came
into that post. And, finally, a paternal government in New France set
the scale of prices in such a way as to ensure the merchants a large
profit. It is clear, then, that in fair and open competition for the
Indian trade the French would not have survived a single season.[1]
Their only hope was to keep the English away from the Indians
altogether, and particularly from the Indians of the fur-bearing
regions. This was no easy task, but in general they managed to do it
for nearly a century.

[Footnote 1: In the collection of _Documents Relating to the Colonial
History of New York_ (ix., 408-409) the following comparative table of
prices at Fort Orange (Albany) and at Montreal in 1689 is given:

_The Indian pays for at Albany at Montreal_

1 musket 2 beavers 5 beavers
8 pounds of powder 1 beaver 4 "
40 pounds of lead 1 " 3 "
1 blanket 1 " 2 "
4 shirts 1 " 2 "
6 pairs stockings 1 " 2 "]

The most active and at the same time the most picturesque figure
in the fur-trading system of New France was the _coureur-de-bois_.
Without him the trade could neither have been begun nor continued
successfully. Usually a man of good birth, of some military training,
and of more or less education, he was a rover of the forest by choice
and not as an outcast from civilization. Young men came from France
to serve as officers with the colonial garrison, to hold minor civil
posts, to become seigneurial landholders, or merely to seek adventure.
Very few came out with the fixed intention of engaging in the forest
trade; but hundreds fell victims to its magnetism after they had
arrived in New France. The young officer who grew tired of garrison
duty, the young seigneur who found yeomanry tedious, the young
habitant who disliked the daily toil of the farm--young men of all
social ranks, in fact, succumbed to this lure of the wilderness. "I
cannot tell you," wrote one governor, "how attractive this life is to
all our youth. It consists in doing nothing, caring nothing, following
every inclination, and getting out of the way of all restraint." In
any case the ranks of the voyageurs included those who had the best
and most virile blood in the colony.

Just how many Frenchmen, young and old, were engaged in the lawless
and fascinating life of the forest trader when the fur traffic was at
its height cannot be stated with exactness. But the number must have
been large. The intendant Duchesneau, in 1680, estimated that more
than eight hundred men, out of a colonial population numbering less
than ten thousand, were off in the woods. "There is not a family of
any account," he wrote to the King, "but has sons, brothers,
uncles, and nephews among these _coureurs-de-bois_." This may be an
exaggeration, but from references contained in the dispatches of
various royal officials one may fairly conclude that Duchesneau's
estimate of the number of traders was not far wide of the mark. And
there is other evidence as to the size of this exodus to the woods.
Nicholas Perrot, when he left Montreal for Green Bay in 1688, took
with him one hundred and forty-three voyageurs.[1] La Hontan found
"thirty or forty _coureurs-de-bois_ at every post in the Illinois

[Footnote 1: _Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York_,
ix., 470.]

[Footnote 2: _Voyages_ (ed. Thwaites), ii., 175.]

Among the leaders of the _coureurs-de-bois_ several names stand out
prominently. Francois Dauphine de la Foret, Nicholas Perrot, and Henri
de Tonty, the lieutenants of La Salle, Alphonse de Tonty, Antoine de
La Mothe-Cadillac, Greysolon Du Lhut and his brother Greysolon de la
Tourette, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart de Groseilliers,
Olivier Morel de la Durantaye, Jean-Paul Le Gardeur de Repentigny,
Louis de la Porte de Louvigny, Louis and Juchereau Joliet, Pierre
LeSueur, Boucher de la Perriere, Jean Pere, Pierre Jobin, Denis Masse,
Nicholas d'Ailleboust de Mantet, Francois Perthuis, Etienne Brule,
Charles Juchereau de St. Denis, Pierre Moreau _dit_ La Toupine, Jean
Nicolet--these are only the few who connected themselves with some
striking event which has transmitted their names to posterity. Many of
them have left their imprint upon the geographical nomenclature of the
Middle West. Hundreds of others, the rank and file of this picturesque
array, gained no place upon the written records, since they took part
in no striking achievement worthy of mention in the dispatches and
memoirs of their day. The _coureur-de-bois_ was rarely a chronicler.
If the Jesuits did not deign to pillory him in their _Relations_,
or if the royal officials did not single him out for praise in
the memorials which they sent home to France each year, the
_coureur-de-bois_ might spend his whole active life in the forest
without transmitting his name or fame to a future generation. And that
is what most of them did. A few of the voyageurs found that one trip
to the wilds was enough and never took to the trade permanently. But
the great majority, once the virus of the free life had entered their
veins, could not forsake the wild woods to the end of their days. The
dangers of the life were great, and the mortality among the traders
was high. _Coureurs de risques_ they ought to have been called, as
La Hontan remarks. But taken as a whole they were a vigorous,
adventurous, strong-limbed set of men. It was a genuine compliment
that they paid to the wilderness when they chose to spend year after
year in its embrace.

In their methods of trading the _coureurs-de-bois_ were unlike
anything that the world had ever known before. The Hanseatic merchants
of earlier fur-trading days in Northern Europe had established their
forts or factories at Novgorod, at Bergen, and elsewhere, great
_entrepots_ stored with merchandise for the neighboring territories.
The traders lived within, and the natives came to the posts to barter
their furs or other raw materials. The merchants of the East India
Company had established their posts in the Orient and traded with the
natives on the same basis. But the Norman voyageurs of the New World
did things quite differently. They established fortified posts
throughout the regions west of the Lakes, it is true, but they did not
make them storehouses, nor did they bring to them any considerable
stock of merchandise. The posts were for use as the headquarters of
the _coureurs-de-bois_, and usually sheltered a small garrison of
soldiers during the winter months; they likewise served as places
of defense in the event of attack and of rendezvous when a trading
expedition to Montreal was being organized. It was not the policy of
the French authorities, nor was it the plan of the _coureurs-de-bois_,
that any considerable amount of trading should take place at these
western stockades. They were only the outposts intended to keep the
trade running in its proper channels. In a word, it was the aim of
the French to bring the trade to the colony, not to send the colony
overland to the savages. That is the way Father Carheil phrased it,
and he was quite right.[1]

[Footnote 1: Carheil to Champigny (August 30, 1702), in R.G. Thwaites,
_Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents_, lxv., 219.]

Every spring, accordingly, if the great trade routes to Montreal were
reasonably free from the danger of an overwhelming Iroquois attack,
the _coureurs-de-bois_ rounded up the western Indians with their
stocks of furs from the winter's hunt. Then, proceeding to the grand
rendezvous at Michilimackinac or Green Bay, the canoes were joined
into one great flotilla, and the whole array set off down the lakes
or by way of the Ottawa to Montreal. This annual fur flotilla often
numbered hundreds of canoes, the _coureurs-de-bois_ acting as pilots,
assisting the Indians to ward off attacks, and adding their European
intelligence to the red man's native cunning.[1] About midsummer,
having covered the thousand miles of water, the canoes drew within
hail of the settlement of Montreal. Above the Lachine Rapids the
population came forth to meet it with a noisy welcome. Enterprising
_cabaretiers_, in defiance of the royal decrees, had usually set up
their booths along the shores for the sale of brandy, and there was
some brisk trading as well as a considerable display of aboriginal
boisterousness even before the canoes reached Montreal.

[Footnote 1: The flotilla of 1693 consisted of more than 400 canoes,
with about 200 _coureurs-de-bois_, 1200 Indians, and furs to the value
of over 800,000 _livres_.]

Once at the settlement, the Indians set up their tepees, boiled their
kettles, and unpacked their bundles of peltry. A day was then given
over to a great council which, the governor of the colony, in scarlet
cloak and plumed hat, often came from Quebec to attend. There were the
usual pledges of friendship; the peace-pipe went its round, and the
song of the calumet was sung. Then the trading really began. The
merchants of Montreal had their little shops along the shore where
they spread out for display the merchandise brought by the spring
ships from France. There were muskets, powder, and lead, blankets in
all colors, coarse cloth, knives, hatchets, kettles, awls, needles,
and other staples of the trade. But the Indian had a weakness for
trinkets of every sort, so that cheap and gaudy necklaces, bracelets,
tin looking-glasses, little bells, combs, vermilion, and a hundred
other things of the sort were there to tempt him. And last, but not
least in its purchasing power, was brandy. Many hogsheads of it were
disposed of at every annual fair, and while it lasted the Indians
turned bedlam loose in the town. The fair was Montreal's gala event
in every year, for its success meant everything to local prosperity.
Indeed, in the few years when, owing to the Iroquois dangers, the
flotilla failed to arrive, the whole settlement was on the verge of

What the Indian got for his furs at Montreal varied from time to
time, depending for the most part upon the state of the fur market
in France. And this, again, hinged to some extent upon the course of
fashions there. On one occasion the fashion of wearing low-crowned
hats cut the value of beaver skins in two. Beaver was the fur of furs,
and the mainstay of the trade. Whether for warmth, durability, or
attractiveness in appearance, there was none other to equal it. Not
all beaver skins were valued alike, however. Those taken from animals
killed during the winter were preferred to those taken at other
seasons, while new skins did not bring as high a price as those which
the Indian had worn for a time and had thus made soft. The trade,
in fact, developed a classification of beaver skins into soft and
half-soft, green and half-green, wet and dry, and so on. Skins of good
quality brought at Montreal from two to four _livres_ per pound, and
they averaged a little more than two pounds each. The normal cargo of
a large canoe was forty packs of skins, each pack weighing about fifty
pounds. Translated into the currency of today a beaver pelt of fair
quality was worth about a dollar. When we read in the official
dispatches that a half-million _livres_' worth of skins changed owners
at the Montreal fair, this statement means that at least a hundred
thousand animals must have been slaughtered to furnish a large
flotilla with its cargo.

The furs of other animals, otter, marten, and mink, were also in
demand but brought smaller prices. Moose hides sold well, and so
did bear skins. Some buffalo hides were brought to Montreal, but in
proportion to their value they were bulky and took up so much room in
the canoes that the Indians did not care to bring them. The heyday
of the buffalo trade came later, with the development of overland
transportation. At any rate the dependence of New France upon these
furs was complete. "I would have you know," asserts one chronicler,
"that Canada subsists only upon the trade of these skins and furs,
three-fourths of which come from the people who live around the Great
Lakes." The prosperity of the French colony hinged wholly upon two
things: whether the routes from the West were open, and whether the
market for furs in France was holding up. Upon the former depended the
quantity of furs brought to Montreal; upon the latter, the amount of
profit which the _coureurs-de-bois_ and the merchants of the colony
would obtain.

For ten days or a fortnight the great fair at Montreal continued. A
picturesque bazaar it must have been, this meeting of the two ends of
civilization, for trade has been, in all ages, a mighty magnet to draw
the ends of the earth together. When all the furs had been sold, the
_coureurs-de-bois_ took some goods along with them to be used partly
in trade on their own account at the western posts and partly as
presents from the King to the western chieftains. There is reason to
suspect, however, that much of what the royal bounty provided for this
latter purpose was diverted to private use. There were annual fairs at
Three Rivers for the Indians of the St. Maurice region; at Sorel,
for those of the Richelieu; and at Quebec and at Tadoussac, for
the redskins of the Lower St. Lawrence. But Montreal, owing to its
situation at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa trade
routes, was by far the greatest fur mart of all.

It has been mentioned that the colonial authorities tried to
discourage trading at the western posts. Their aim was to bring the
Indian with his furs to the colonial settlement. But this policy could
not be fully carried out. Despite the most rigid prohibitions and the
severest penalties, some of the _coureurs-de-bois_ would take goods
and brandy to sell in the wilderness. Finding that this practice could
not be exterminated, the authorities decided to permit a limited
amount of forest trading under strict regulation, and to this end the
King authorized the granting of twenty-five licenses each year.
These licenses permitted a trader to take three canoes with as much
merchandise as they would hold. As a rule the licenses were not issued
directly to the traders themselves, but were given to the religious
institutions or to dependent widows of former royal officers. These in
turn sold them to the traders, sometimes for a thousand _livres_ or
more. The system of granting twenty-five annual licenses did not
of itself throw the door wide open for trade at the western
establishments. But as time went on the plan was much abused by the
granting of private licenses to the friends of the officials at
Quebec, and "God knows how many of these were issued," as one writer
of the time puts it. Traders often went, moreover, without any license
at all, and especially in the matter of carrying brandy into the
forest they frequently set the official orders at defiance.

This brandy question was, in fact, the great troubler in Israel. It
bulks large in every chronicle, every memoir, every _Relation_, and
in almost every official dispatch during a period of more than fifty
years. It worried the King himself; it set the officers of the Church
and State against each other; and it provoked more friction throughout
the western dominions of France than all other issues put together.

As to the ethics of the liquor traffic in New France, there was
never any serious disagreement. Even the secular authorities readily
admitted that brandy did the Indians no good, and that it would be
better to sell them blankets and kettles. But that was not the point.
The traders believed that, if the western Indians could not secure
brandy from the French, they would get rum from the English. The
Indian would be no better off in that case, and the French would lose
their hold on him into the bargain. Time and again they reiterated the
argument that the prohibition of the brandy trade would make an end to
trade, to French influence, and even to the missionary's own labors.
For if the Indian went to the English for rum, he would get into touch
with heresy as well; he would have Protestant missionaries come to his
village, and the day of Jesuit propaganda would be at an end.

This, throughout the whole trading period, was the stock argument of
publicans and sinners. The Jesuit missionaries combated it with all
their power; yet they never fully convinced either the colonial or the
home authorities. Louis XIV, urged by his confessor to take one stand
and by his ministers to take the other, was sorely puzzled. He wanted
to do his duty as a Most Christian King, yet he did not want to have
on his hands a bankrupt colony. Bishop Laval pleaded with Colbert that
brandy would spell the ruin of all religion in the new world, but the
subtle minister calmly retorted that the _eau-de-vie_ had not yet
overcome the ancient church in older lands. To set his conscience
right, the King referred the whole question to the savants of the
Sorbonne, and they, like good churchmen, promptly gave their opinion
that to sell intoxicants to the heathen was a heinous sin. But that
counsel afforded the Grand Monarch scant guidance, for it was not
the relative sinfulness of the brandy trade that perplexed him. The
practical expediency of issuing a decree of prohibition was what lay
upon his mind. On that point Colbert gave him sensible advice, namely,
that a question of practical policy could be better settled by the
colonists themselves than by cloistered scholars. Guided by this
suggestion, the King asked for a limited plebiscite; the governor of
New France was requested to call together "the leading inhabitants of
the colony" and to obtain from each one his opinion in writing. Here
was an inkling of colonial self-government, and it is unfortunate that
the King did not resort more often to the same method of solving the
colony's problems.

On October 26, 1678, Frontenac gathered the "leading inhabitants" in
the Chateau at Quebec. Apart from the officials and military officers
on the one hand and the clergy on the other, most of the solid men of
New France were there. One after another their views were called for
and written down. Most of those present expressed the opinion that
the evils of the traffic had been exaggerated, and that if the French
should prohibit the sale of brandy to the savages they would soon lose
their hold upon the western trade. There were some dissenters, among
them a few who urged a more rigid regulation of the traffic. One
hard-headed seigneur, the Sieur Dombourg, raised the query whether the
colony was really so dependent for its existence upon the fur trade as
the others had assumed to be the case. If there were less attention to
trade, he urged, there would be more heed paid to agriculture, and in
the long run it would be better for the colony to ship wheat to France
instead of furs. "Let the western trade go to the English in exchange
for their rum; it would neither endure long nor profit them much."
This was sound sense, but it did not carry great weight with
Dombourg's hearers.

The written testimony was put together and, with comments by the
governor, was sent to France for the information of the King and his
ministers. Apparently it had some effect, for, without altogether
prohibiting the use of brandy in the western trade, a royal decree of
1679 forbade the _coureurs-de-bois_ to carry it with them on their
trips up the lakes. The issue of this decree, however, made no
perceptible change in the situation, and brandy was taken to the
western posts as before. So far as one can determine from the actual
figures of the trade, however, the quantity of intoxicants used by
the French in the Indian trade has been greatly exaggerated by the
missionaries. Not more than fifty barrels (_barriques_) ever went to
the western regions in the course of a year. A barrel held about two
hundred and fifty pints, so that the total would be less than one
pint per capita for the adult Indians within the French sphere
of influence. That was a far smaller per capita consumption than
Frenchmen guzzled in a single day at a Breton fair, as La Salle once
pointed out. The trouble was, however, that thousands of Indians got
no brandy at all, while a relatively small number obtained too much
of it. What they got, moreover, was poor stuff, most of it, and well
diluted with water. The Indian drank to get drunk, and when brandy
constituted the other end of the bargain he would give for it the very
furs off his back.

But if the Jesuits exaggerated the amount of brandy used in the trade,
they did not exaggerate its demoralizing effect upon both the Indian
and the trader. They believed that brandy would wreck the Indian's
body and ruin his soul. They were right; it did both. It made of every
western post, in the words of Father Carheil, a den of "brutality and
violence, of injustice and impiety, of lewd and shameless conduct, of
contempt and insults." No sinister motives need be sought to explain
the bitterness with which the blackrobes cried out against the
iniquities of a system which swindled the redskin out of his furs and
debauched him into the bargain. Had the Jesuits done otherwise
than fight it from first to last they would have been false to the
traditions of their Church and their Order. They were, when all is
said and done, the truest friends that the North American Indian has
ever had.

The effects of the fur trade upon both Indians and French were
far-reaching. The trade changed the red man's order of life, took him
in a single generation from the stone to the iron age, demolished his
old notions of the world, carried him on long journeys, and made him a
different man. French brandy and English rum sapped his stamina, and
the _grand libertinage_ of the traders calloused whatever moral sense
he had. His folklore, his religion, and his institutions made no
progress after the trader had once entered his territories.

On the French the effects of tribal commerce were not so disastrous,
though pernicious enough. The trade drew off into the wilderness the
vigorous blood of the colony. It cast its spell over New France from
Lachine to the Saguenay. Men left their farms, their wives, and their
families, they mortgaged their property, and they borrowed from their
friends in order to join the annual hegira to the West. Yet very few
of these traders accumulated fortunes. It was not the trader but the
merchant at Montreal or Quebec who got the lion's share of the profit
and took none of the risks. Many of the _coureurs-de-bois_ entered the
trade with ample funds and emerged in poverty. Nicholas Perrot
and Greysolon Du Lhut were conspicuous examples. It was a highly
speculative game. At times large profits came easily and were spent
recklessly. The trade encouraged profligacy, bravado, and garishness;
it deadened the moral sense of the colony, and even schooled men in
trickery and peculation. It was a corrupting influence in the official
life of New France, and even governors could not keep from soiling
their hands in it. But most unfortunate of all, the colony was
impelled to put its economic energies into what was at best an
ephemeral and transitory source of national wealth and to neglect the
solid foundations of agriculture and industry which in the long run
would have profited its people much more.



It was the royal desire that New France should some day become a
powerful and prosperous agricultural colony, providing the motherland
with an acceptable addition to its food supply. To this end large
tracts of land were granted upon most liberal terms to incoming
settlers, and every effort was made to get these acres cultivated.
Encouragement and coercion were alike given a trial. Settlers who did
well were given official recognition, sometimes even to the extent of
rank in the _noblesse_. On the other hand those who left their lands
uncleared were repeatedly threatened with the revocation of their
land-titles, and in some cases their holdings were actually taken
away. From the days of the earliest settlement down to the eve of the
English conquest, the officials of both the Church and the State
never ceased to use their best endeavors in the interests of colonial

Yet with all this official interest and encouragement agricultural
development was slow. Much of the land on both the north and the south
shores of the St. Lawrence was heavily timbered, and the work of
clearing proved tedious. It was estimated that an industrious settler,
working by himself, could clear not more than one superficial _arpent_
in a whole season. So slowly did the work make progress, in fact, that
in 1712, after fifty years of royal paternalism, the cultivable area
of New France amounted to only 150,000 _arpents_, and at the close
of the French dominion in 1760 it was scarcely more than twice that
figure,--in other words, about five _arpents_ for each head of

While industry and trade, particularly the Indian trade, took the
attention and interest of a considerable portion in the population of
New France, agriculture was from first to last the vocation of the
great majority. The census of 1695 showed more than seventy-five per
cent of the people living on the farms of the colony and this ratio
was almost exactly maintained, nearly sixty years later, when the
census of 1754 was compiled. This population was scattered along both
banks of the St. Lawrence from a point well below Quebec to the region
surrounding Montreal. Most of the farms fronted on the river so that
every habitant had a few _arpents_ of marshy land for hay, a tract of
cleared upland for ploughing, and an area extending to the rear which
might be turned into meadow or left uncleared to supply him with

Wheat and maize were the great staples, although large quantities
of oats, barley, and peas were also grown. The wheat was invariably
spring-sown, and the yield averaged from eight to twelve
hundredweights per _arpent_, or from ten to fourteen bushels per acre.
Most of the wheat was made into flour at the seigneurial mills and
was consumed in the colony, but shipments were also made with
fair regularity to France, to the West Indies, and for a time to
Louisbourg. In 1736 the exports of wheat amounted to nearly 100,000
bushels, and in the year following the banner harvest of 1741 this
total was nearly doubled. The price which the habitant got for wheat
at Quebec ranged normally from two to four _livres_ per hundredweight
(about thirty to sixty cents per bushel) depending upon the harvests
in the colony and the safety with which wheat could be shipped to
France, which, again, hinged upon the fact whether France and England
were at peace or at war. Indian corn was not exported to any large
extent, but many cargoes of dried peas were sent abroad, and
occasionally there were small shipments of oats and beans.

There was also a considerable production of hemp, flax, and tobacco,
but not for export in any large quantity. The tobacco grown in the
colony was coarse and ill-flavored. It was smoked by both the habitant
and the Indian because it was cheap; but Brazilian tobacco was greatly
preferred by those who could afford to buy it, and large quantities
of this were brought in. The French Government frowned upon
tobacco-growing in New France, believing, as Colbert wrote to Talon in
1672, that any such policy would be prejudicial to the interests of
the French colonies in the tropical zones which were much better
adapted to this branch of cultivation.

Cattle raising made substantial progress, and the King urged the
Sovereign Council to prohibit the slaughter of cattle so that the
herds might keep on growing; but the stock was not of a high standard,
but undersized, of mongrel breed, and poorly cared for. Sheep raising,
despite the brisk demand for wool, made slow headway. Most of the wool
needed in the colony had to be brought from France, and the demand was
great because so much woolen clothing was required for winter use. The
keeping of poultry was, of course, another branch of husbandry. The
habitants were fond of horses; even the poorest managed to keep two or
three, which was a wasteful policy as there was no work for the horses
to do during nearly half the year. Fodder, however, was abundant and
cost nothing, as each habitant obtained from the flats along the
river all that he could cut and carry away. This marsh hay was not of
superior quality, but it at least served to carry the horses and stock
through the winter.

The methods of agriculture were beyond question slovenly and crude.
Catalogne, the engineer whom the authorities commissioned to make an
agricultural census of the colony, ventured the opinion that, if
the fields of France were cultivated as the farms of Canada were,
three-quarters of the French people would starve. Rotation of crops
was practically unknown, and fertilization of the land was rare,
although the habitant frequently burned the stubble before putting
the plough to his fields. From time to time a part of each farm was
allowed to lie fallow, but such fallow fields were left unploughed and
soon grew so rank with weeds that the soil really got no rest at all.
All the ploughing was done in the spring, and it was not very well
done at that, for the land was ploughed in ridges which left much
waste between the furrows. Too often the seed became poor, as a result
of the habitant using seed from his own crops year after year until
it became run out. Most of the cultivated land was high and dry and
needed no artificial drainage. Even where the water lay on the land
late in the spring, however, there was rarely an attempt, as Peter
Kalm in his _Travels_ remarks, to drain it off. The habitant had
patience in greater measure than industry, and he was always ready to
wait for nature to do his work. Everybody depended for his implements
largely upon his own workmanship, so that the tools of agriculture
were of poor construction. The cultivation of even a few _arpents_
required a great deal of manual drudgery. On the other hand, the land
of New France was fertile, and every one could have plenty of it
for the asking. Kalm thought it quite as good as the average in the
English colonies and far better than most arable land in his own

Why, then, did French-Canadian agriculture, despite the warm official
encouragement given to it, make such relatively meager progress? There
are several reasons for its backwardness. The long winters, which
developed in the habitant an inveterate disposition to idleness,
afford the clue to one of them. A general aversion to unremitting
manual toil was one of the colony's besetting sins. Notwithstanding
the small per capita acreage, accordingly, there was a continual
complaint that not enough labor could be had to work the farms. Women
and children were pressed into service in the busy seasons. Yet the
colony abounded in idle men, and mendicancy at one time assumed such
proportions as to require the enforcement of stringent penalties. The
authorities were partly to blame for the development of this trait,
for upon the slightest excuse they took the habitant from his daily
routine and set him to help with warlike expeditions against the
Indians and the English, or called him to build roads or to repair the
fortifications. And the lure of the fur trade, which drew the most
vigorous young men of the land off the farms into the forest, was
another obstacle to the growth of yeomanry. Moreover, the curious and
inconvenient shape of the farms, most of them mere ribbons of land,
with a narrow frontage and disproportionate depth, handicapped all
efforts to cultivate the fields in an intelligent way. Finally, there
was the general poverty of the people. With a large family to support,
for families of ten to fifteen children were not uncommon, it was hard
for the settler to make both ends meet from the annual yield of a few
_arpents_, however fertile. The habitant, therefore, took the shortest
cut to everything, getting what he could out of his land in the
quickest possible way with no reference to the ultimate improvement
of the farm itself. If he ever managed to get a little money, he was
likely to spend it at once and to become as impecunious as before.
Such a propensity did not make for progress, for poverty begets
slovenliness in all ages and among all races of men.

If anything like the industry and intelligence that was bestowed
upon agriculture in the English colonies had been applied to the St.
Lawrence valley, New France might have shipped far more wheat than
beaver skins each year to Europe. But in this respect the colony never
half realized the royal expectations. On the other hand, the attempt
to make the land a rich grain-growing colony was far from being a flat
failure. It was supporting its own population, and had a modest amount
of grain each year for export to France or to the French West Indies.
With peace it would soon have become a land of plenty, for the
traveler who passed along the great river from Quebec to Montreal in
the late autumn might see, as Kalm in his _Travels_ tells us he saw,
field upon field of waving grain extending from the shores inward as
far as the eye could reach, broken only here and there by tracts of
meadow and woodland. Here was at least the nucleus of a Golden West.

Of colonial industry, however, not as much can be said as of
agriculture. Down to about 1663 it had given scarcely a single token
of existence. The colony, until that date, manufactured nothing.
Everything in the way of furnishings, utensils, apparel, and ornament
was brought in the company's ships from France, and no one seemed to
look upon this procedure as at all unusual. On the coming of Talon in
1665, however, the idea of fostering home industries in the colony
took active shape. By persuasion and by promise of reward, the
"Colbert of New France" interested the prominent citizens of Quebec in
modest industrial enterprises of every sort.

But the outcome soon belied the intendant's airy hopes. It was easy
enough to make a brave start in these things, especially with the aid
of an initial subsidy from the treasury; but to keep the wheels of
industry moving year after year without a subvention was an altogether
different thing. A colony numbering less than ten thousand souls did
not furnish an adequate market for the products of varied industries,
and the high cost of transportation made it difficult to export
manufactured wares to France or to the West Indies with any hope
of profit. A change of tone, moreover, soon became noticeable in
Colbert's dispatches with reference to industrial development. In
1665, when giving his first instructions to Talon, the minister had
dilated upon his desire that Canada should become self-sustaining in
the matter of clothing, shoes, and the simpler house-furnishings.
But within a couple of years Colbert's mind seems to have taken a
different shift, and we find him advising Talon that, after all,
it might be better if the people of New France would devote their
energies to agriculture and thus to raise enough grain wherewith to
buy manufactured wares from France. So, for one reason or another,
the infant industries languished, and, after Talon was gone, they
gradually dropped out of existence.

Another of Talon's ventures was to send prospectors in search of
minerals. The use of malleable copper by the Indians had been noted by
the French for many years and various rumors concerning the source
of supply had filtered through to Quebec. Some of Talon's agents,
including Jean Pere, went as far as the upper lakes, returning with
samples of copper ore. But the distance from Quebec was too great for
profitable transportation and, although Pere Dablon in 1670 sent
down an accurate description of the great masses of ore in the Lake
Superior region, many generations were to pass before any serious
attempt could be made to develop this source of wealth. Nearer at hand
some titaniferous iron ore was discovered, at Baie St. Paul below
Quebec, but it was not utilized, although on being tested it was
found to be good in quality. Then the intendant sent agents to verify
reports as to rich coal deposits in Isle Royale (Cape Breton), and
they returned with glowing accounts which, subsequent industrial
history has entirely justified. Shipments of this coal were brought
to Quebec for consumption. A little later the intendant reported to
Colbert that a vein of coal had been actually uncovered at the foot of
the great rock which frowns upon the Lower Town at Quebec, adding that
the vein could not be followed for fear of toppling over the Chateau
which stood above. No one has ever since found any trace of Talon's
coal deposit, and the geologists of today are quite certain that the
intendant had more imagination than accuracy of statement or even of
elementary mineralogical knowledge.

Above the settlement at Three Rivers some excellent deposits of bog
iron ore were found in 1668, but it was not until five decades later
that the first forges were established there. These were successfully
operated throughout the remainder of the Old Regime, and much of the
colony's iron came from them to supply the blacksmiths. From time
to time rumors of other mineral discoveries came to the ears of the
people. A find of lead was reported from the Gaspe peninsula, but an
investigation proved it to be a hoax. Copper was actually found in
a dozen places within the settled ranges of the colony, but not in
paying quantities. Every one was always on the _qui vive_ for a vein
of gold or silver, but no part of New France ever gave the slightest
hint of an El Dorado. Prospecting engaged the energies of many
colonists in every generation, but most of those who thus spent their
years at it got nothing but a princely dividend of chagrin.

Mention should also be made of the brewing industry which Talon set
upon its feet during his brief intendancy but which, like all the rest
of his schemes, did not long survive his departure. In establishing a
brewery at Quebec the paternal intendant had two ends in mind: first,
to reduce the large consumption of _eau-de-vie_ by providing a cheaper
and more wholesome substitute; and second, to furnish the farmers of
the colony with a profitable home market for their grain. In 1671
Talon reported to the French authorities that the Quebec brewery was
capable of turning out four thousand hogsheads of beer per annum, and
thus of creating a demand for many thousand bushels of malt. Hops were
also needed and were expensive when brought from France, so that the
people were encouraged to grow hop-vines in the colony. But even with
grain and hops at hand, the brewing industry did not thrive, and
before many years Talon's enterprise closed its doors. The building
was finally remodeled and became the headquarters of the later

Flour-making and lumbering were the two industries which made most
consistent progress in the colony. Flour-mills were established both
in and near Quebec at an early date, and in course of time there were
scores of them scattered throughout the colony, most of them built
and operated as _banal_ mills by the seigneurs. The majority were
windmills after the Dutch fashion, but some were water-driven. On
the whole, they were not very efficient and turned out flour of such
indifferent grade that the bakers of Quebec complained loudly on more
than one occasion. In response to a request from the intendant, the
King sent out some fanning-mills which were distributed to various
seigneuries, but even this benefaction did not seem to make any great
improvement in the quality of the product. Yet in some years the
colony had flour of sufficiently good quality for export, and sent
small cargoes both to France and to the French West Indies.

The sawing of lumber was carried on in various parts of the colony,
particularly at Malbaie and at Baie St. Paul. Beam-timbers, planks,
staves, and shingles were made in large quantities both for use in the
colony and for export to France, where the timbers and planks were
in demand at the royal shipyards. Wherever lands were granted by the
Crown, a provision was inserted in the title-deed reserving all oak
timber and all pine of various species suitable for mastings. Though
such timber was not to be cut without official permission, the people
did not always respect this reservation. Yet the quantity of timber
shipped to France was very large, and next to furs it formed the
leading item in the cargoes of outgoing ships. For staves there was a
good market at Quebec where barrels were being made for the packing of
salted fish and eels.

The various handicrafts or small industries, such as blacksmithing,
cabinet-making, pottery, brick-making, were regulated quite as
strictly in Canada as in France. The artisans of the towns were
organized into _jures_ or guilds, and elected a master for each trade.
These masters were responsible to the civil authorities for the proper
quality of the work done and for the observance of all the regulations
which were promulgated by the intendant or the council from time to

This relative proficiency in home industry accounts in part for
the tardy progress of the colony in the matter of large industrial
establishments. But there were other handicaps. For one thing,
the Paris authorities were not anxious to see the colony become
industrially self-sustaining. Colbert in his earliest instructions
to Talon wrote as though this were the royal policy, but no other
minister ever hinted at such a desire. Rather it was thought best that
the colony should confine itself to the production of raw materials,
leaving it to France to supply manufactured wares in return. The
mercantilist doctrine that a colony existed for the benefit of the
mother country was gospel at Fontainebleau. Even Montcalm, a man of
liberal inclinations, expressed this idea with undiminished vigor in
a day when its evil results must have been apparent to the naked
eye. "Let us beware," he wrote, "how we allow the establishment of
industries in Canada or she will become proud and mutinous like the
English colonies. So long as France is a nursery to Canada, let not
the Canadians be allowed to trade but kept to their laborious life and
military services."

The exclusion of the Huguenots from Canada was another industrial
misfortune. A few Huguenot artisans came to Quebec from Rochelle at an
early date, and had they been welcomed, more would soon have followed.
But they were promptly deported. From an economic standpoint this was
an unfortunate policy. The Huguenots were resourceful workmen, skilled
in many trades. They would have supplied the colony with a vigorous
and enterprising stock. But the interests of orthodoxy in religion
were paramount with the authorities, and they kept from Canada the
one class of settlers which most desired to come. Many of those same
Huguenots went to England, and every student of economic history knows
how greatly they contributed to the upbuilding of England's later
supremacy in the textile and related industries.

If we turn to the field of commerce, the spirit of restriction appears
as prominently as in the domain of industry. The Company of One
Hundred Associates, during its thirty years of control, allowed no one
to proceed to Quebec except on its own vessels, and nothing could be
imported except through its storehouses. Its successor, the Company of
the West Indies, which dominated colonial commerce from 1664 to
1669, was not a whit more liberal. Even under the system of royal
government, the consistent keynotes of commercial policy were
regulation, paternalism, and monopoly.

This is in no sense surprising. Spain had first given to the world
this policy of commercial constraint and the great enrichment of the
Spanish monarchy was everywhere held to be its outcome. France, by
reason of her similar political and administrative system, found it
easy to drift into the wake of the Spanish example. The official
classes in England and Holland would fain have had these countries do
likewise, but private initiative and enterprise proved too strong in
the end. As for New France, there were spells during which the grip of
the trading monopolies relaxed, but these lucid intervals were never
very long. When the Company of the West Indies became bankrupt in
1669, the trade between New France and Old was ostensibly thrown open
to the traders of both countries, and for the moment this freedom gave
Colbert and his Canadian apostle, Talon, an opportunity to carry out
their ideas of commercial upbuilding.

The great minister had as his ideal the creation of a huge fleet of
merchant vessels, built and operated by Frenchmen, which would ply to
all quarters of the globe, bringing raw products to France and taking
manufactured wares in return. It was under the inspiration of this
ideal that Talon built at Quebec a small vessel and, having freighted
it with lumber, fish, corn, and dried pease, sent it off to the French
West Indies. After taking on board a cargo of sugar, the vessel was
then to proceed to France and, exchanging the sugar for goods which
were needed in the regions of the St. Lawrence, it was to return to
Quebec. The intendant's plans for this triangular trade were well
conceived, and in a general way they aimed at just what the English
colonies along the Atlantic seaboard were beginning to do at the time.
The keels of other ships were being laid at Quebec and the officials
were dreaming of great maritime achievements. But as usual the
enterprise never got beyond the sailing of the first vessel, for its
voyage did not yield a profit.

The ostensible throwing-open of the colonial trade, moreover, did not
actually change to any great extent the old system of paternalism and
monopoly. Commercial companies no longer controlled the channels of
transportation, it is true, but the royal government was not minded
to let everything take its own course. So the trade was taxed for the
benefit of the royal treasury, and the privilege of collecting the
taxes, according to the custom of the old regime, was farmed out. All
the commerce of the colony, imports and exports, had to pass through
the hands of these farmers-of-the-revenue who levied ten per cent on
all goods coming and kept for the royal treasury one-quarter of
the price fixed for all skins exported. Traders as a rule were not
permitted to ship their furs directly to France. They turned them in
to farmers-of-the-revenue at Quebec, where they received the price as
fixed by ordinance, less one-quarter. This price they usually took in
bills of exchange on Paris which, they handed over to the colonial
merchants in payment for goods, and which the merchants in turn sent
home to France to pay for new stocks. Nor were the authorities content
with the mere fixing of prices. By ordinance they also set the rate of
profit which traders should have upon all imported wares brought into
the colony. This rate of profit was fixed at sixty-five per cent, but
the traders had no compunction in going above it whenever they saw
an opportunity which was not likely to be discovered. As far as the
forest trade was concerned, the regulation was, of course, absurd.

Every year, about the beginning of May, the first ships left France
for the St. Lawrence with general cargoes consisting of goods for the
colonists themselves and for the Indians, as well as large quantities
of brandy. When they arrived at Quebec, the vessels were met by the
merchants of the town and by those who had come from Three Rivers and
Montreal. For a fortnight lively trading took place. Then the goods
which had been bought by the merchants of Montreal and Three Rivers
were loaded upon small barques and brought to these towns to be in
readiness for the annual fairs when the _coureurs-de-bois_ and their
Indians came down to trade in the late summer. As for the vessels
which had come from France, these were either loaded with timber or
furs and set off directly home again, or else they departed light to
Cape Breton and took cargoes of coal for the French West Indies, where
the refining of sugar occasioned a demand for fuel. The last ships
left in November, and for seven months the colony was cut off from

Trade at Quebec, while technically open to any one who would pay the
duties and observe the regulations as to rates of profit, was actually
in the hands of a few merchants who had large warehouses and who took
the greater part of what the ships brought in. These men were, in
turn, affiliated more or less closely with the great trading houses
which sent goods from Rouen or Rochelle, so that the monopoly was
nearly as ironclad as when commercial companies were in control. When
an outsider broke into the charmed circle, as happened occasionally,
there was usually some way of hustling him out again by means either
fair or foul. The monopolists made large profits, and many of them,
after they had accumulated a fortune, went home to France. "I have
known twenty of these pedlars," quoth La Hontan, "that had not above
a thousand crowns stock when I arrived at Quebec in the year 1683 and
when I left that place had got to the tune of twelve thousand crowns."

Glancing over the whole course of agriculture, industry, and commerce
in New France from the time when Champlain built his little post at
the foot of Cape Diamond until the day when the fleur-de-lis fluttered
down from the heights above, the historian finds that there is one
word which sums up the chief cause of the colony's economic weakness.
That word is "paternalism." The Administration tried to take the place
of Providence. It was as omnipresent and its ways were as inscrutable.
Like as a father chasteneth his children, so the King and his
officials felt it their duty to chasten every show of private
initiative which did not direct itself along the grooves that they had
marked out for the colony to follow. By trying to order everything
they eventually succeeded in ordering nothing aright.



In New France there were no privileged orders. This, indeed, was the
most marked difference between the social organization of the home
land and that of the colony. There were social distinctions in Canada,
to be sure, but the boundaries between different elements of the

Book of the day: