A History of Canadian Wealth/Chapter II

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Chapter II. The Ecclesiastical and Feudal Lords

Preface | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Chapter XIII | Chapter XIV | Chapter XV | Chapter XVI | Chapter XVII

Aiming to reproduce in Canada the feudal conditions prevailing in France, the Company of New France and successive governors lavishly bestowed on favorites or Roman Catholic orders vast tracts of territory, creating seigneuries and ecclesiastical endowments. Many large grants of land “ fit for a kingdom ” were made by the Company of New France, but some were annulled later for non-compliance with settlement conditions. The ecclesiastical grants, however, remained intact.

A Gift of Two Million Acres to the Church

The total area granted to the Roman Catholic Church prior to 1763, and mostly in the seventeenth century, was 2,096,754 acres.

Clearly understanding that a strong economic basis provided security and wealth, all of the ecclesiastical orders vied with one another in pleading and scheming for generous grants of land. At a stroke, as it were, many of the Roman Catholic orders were converted into powerful landlords, with immense and positive economic resources guaranteeing them temporal overlordship and progressively increasing wealth for generations. True, much of the land was wilderness, but it was rich in fur-bearing animals, timber, for which the demand in Europe was constantly increasing, and prolific in some other potential resources. The wilderness of that time was certain to be the agricultural domain then and of the future. The land grants to the Roman Catholic Church were :

Quebec Ursulines 164,615
Three River Ursulines 38,909
Recollets 945
Bishop and Seminary of Quebec 693,324
Jesuits 891,845
St. Sulpicians 250,191
General Hospital, Quebec 73
General Hospital, Montreal 404
Hotel Dieu, Quebec 14,112
Soeurs Grises 42,336
Total 2,096,7541

The importance of these great land holdings became more evident as settlement increased, and the wealth derived either from their forced sale, under subsequent Government pressure, or their retention, had a most pertinent and close connection with the later development of modern capitalism. Excepting the Jesuits, whose estates were later appropriated, the time came when the Roman Catholic clergy or orders were able by their ability in commanding money in rents, tithes, or by borrowing from their communicants at absurdly low rates of interest, to invest largely, as we shall see, in railroad and steamship lines and industrial stocks and bonds. The Seminary of St. Sulpice, the landed estate of which in Montreal is of enormous present value, reaching tens of millions of dollars, is now one of the largest holders of stocks and bonds in Canada. Possessing vast wealth, its income is admittedly great, yet no one not in the inner circles can state the precise amount ; the Sulpicians never, so far as can be learned, have made a public accounting.

Seminary of St. Sulpice’s Estate

According to Lindsay’s fanciful story, the Seminary of Montreal or St. Sulpice obtained a grant of the Island of Montreal (on which a city of 500,000 population now stands), thus :

The Island had been granted to Jean de Lauson, Intendant of Dauphine, on condition that he should plant a colony upon it, which condition he neglected. The Jesuit Dauversiere, assuring Lauson that he “ had a command from Heaven ” to establish an hospital on the Island, tried to get a cession, but Lauson had not received a duplicate of this heavenly command and demurred at giving away such a finely situated property for nothing. A second time Dauversiere, accompanied by de Faucamp and P. Charles Lallemant, the director of the Jesuits, interviewed Lauson, described how the apparition of the Holy Family had appeared to Dauversiere in the Church of Notre Dame, and how Jesus had put a ring upon his finger on which were engraved the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph.

However, whatever the actual considerations, Lauson was induced to cede his grant to the “ Associates for the Conversion of the Savages of New France” who conveyed it by deed of gift to the Seminary of St. Sulpice of Paris, in 1663. A year after the British conquest, the Seminary of St. Sulpice of Paris, in 1764, to escape probable confiscation, assigned the property to the Seminary of St. Sulpice, in Montreal.2 Of the subsequent agitation against this ecclesiastical holding — how official reports declared against the validity of the title, and how, nevertheless, the Sulpicians were empowered to retain it — these facts will be narrated in their appropriate place later in this work.

Monks Get the Right of “High Justice”

Once vested with the right of ownership of the Island of Montreal, the Seminary of St. Sulpice claimed the full feudal property right of administering “ high and low justice ” on their domain. When in March, 1693, an edict from the King appeared, accepting the surrender of this right, but granting the Seminary the right of high justice within the Seminary’s enclosure and the farm of St. Gabriel,3 and also the privilege of nominating the first Royal judge, the Seminary ecclesiastics remonstrated that they did not intend to surrender that right and prayed that their holding of such rights be expressly recognized.4 Pronson, Superior of the Seminary of St. Sulpice at Paris, promptly proceeded to nominate de Braussoc to be Royal judge on the Island of Montreal.

The domain of the Seminary of St. Sulpice was enlarged, on August 29, 1679, by a grant of islands in the vicinity of Montreal, and later by a grant of the seignory of the Lake of the Two Mountains, near Montreal — a property now of huge value and the title of which has been attacked in the Quebec courts. The conditions on which the Sulpicians were given this property were that at their own expense they should build a church and a fort of stone, the King reserving the right to take at pleasure all of the oak timber that he wanted on the grant.5

Clergy Place Themselves above Civil Law

Professing to be a law unto themselves, the clergy refused to acknowledge the supremacy of any secular tribunal. Summoned, in 1674, to appear in court, Abbe de Fenelon, Abbe de Francheville and Abbe Remy of the Seminary of Montreal, refused to take notice, on the ground that their priestly character protected them, and that the secular laws could not supplant the Holy Canons, and compel them to give evidence against an ecclesiastic in a criminal matter.6 The civil authorities refused to recognize the validity of this plea.

On every possible occasion the ecclesiastics attempted to assert their independence of the civil power, and make the Church dominant in civil as well as religious authority — a move which the King’s Government contested with cunning weapons. On one occasion, May 1, 1677, the King’s Minister wrote to Duchesenau that as he perceived “ that the Bishop was assuming an authority a little too independent, it would be perhaps well that he should not have a seat at the [Sovereign] Council. You must seek every opportunity, and on all occasions take every means practicable to wean him from the craving for attending the Council ; you must, however, act in this matter with great discretion, taking care that what I write be not divulged.”7

The exactions and growing wealth of the Church were described in a “ Memorial on Canada and the Clergy,” written in 1713 by de la March to Pontchartrain, Secretary of State.

De la March was a nephew of Boucher, formerly Governor of Three Rivers, and had been in the service of the Seminary of Quebec for nearly ten years. He described in detail the riches and great revenue of that institution, accruing from its seignories, farms, mills, houses, lands, cattle and vessels, and how it owned all the shore of the river from Montmorency as far as La Baie St. Paul, as well as the Isle of Condre and that of Jesus. “ They could do a great deal of good, but stop at no acts of injustice in striving to promote their own interests. They keep in great part for themselves the allowance His Majesty grants for the poorer curés and missionaries, and which is entrusted to them for distribution,” etc., etc.8 It was of the Roman Catholic College of Quebec that de Beauharnais reported later from Quebec to Maurepas that, “It is publicly stated by everybody in this country that the College of Quebec has been built out of the frauds committed in the [fur] trade with the English.”9

But lands and chattels were by no means the only source of wealth of the ecclesiastics. By a system of tithes every farmer was taxed on his produce, supplying a regular and never-failing income to the priests. An ordinance decreed in 1667 had promulgated a schedule of the amounts in tithes to be levied for the support of the clergy. Not satisfied with this legal rate of tithes, the clergy constantly sought to amplify their exactions.

System of Tithes

The Curés of Beauport and of l’Ange Gardieu exacted tithes not only of grains, but of all products of the soil, whether the land was under cultivation or not, and tithes on cattle, hay, fruits, flax, hemp, sheep and other possessions. “ The result has been,” the Sovereign Council declared, in 1705, “loud murmurs from the people when leaving the Church.” Prohibiting the cures from contravening the tithe ordinance, it ordered them to explain their conduct. Their defense was that they were “ reduced to living in a state of poverty which exposes them to the contempt of the people.” The protesting farmers replied that “ they are able to live in comfort and afford themselves the luxury of a barrel of wine every year.”10 The Royal decision was adverse to the priests.

In urging upon the King, in 1730, measures to enforce regularity on the part of the ecclesiastics in Quebec, Beauharnais and Hocquart wrote that their effect will be “ that there will be found no longer in Quebec so many useless ecclesiastics, who, for want of employment, are beginning to engage in worldly amusement, play, feasting and dissipation. The effect of their idle life is that they think nothing of quarrelling amongst themselves and creating discord amongst themselves.”11

Five years later there was another uproar when, not content with the tithe of the 26th bushel on wheat and other grains, the Bishop of Quebec, in 1735, sought to exact the 13th bushel not only upon grain, but upon all vegetables, hemp, flax, tobacco, and other products. Upon being officially informed that “ the farmers would not willingly submit to such an increase,” he wisely decided not to change the schedules of exaction already long in force.12

Here, then, was the complete ecclesiastical mechanism for extorting a great part of the produce of labor. Some of the priests were sincerely intent upon missionary work, but there was much complaint that extortion was common. Setting themselves up as a privileged class, the ecclesiastics claimed distinct exemptions and immunities. Dire, however, was the punishment inflicted upon the man or woman of “ the lower orders “ committing the slightest infraction of the rule of the Church or its regulations translated into civil laws.

For blasphemy a mild punishment was a heavy fine, or imprisonment on bread and water. A Montreal ordinance of 1676 forbade the blasphemy of “ the holy name of God or to utter anything against the Blessed Virgin under pain of corporal punishment, and in case of a fourth offense to have the tongue cut off.”13

The area of 2,096,754 acres granted to the Roman Catholic Church, and constituting nearly one-fourth of the total area granted, was held by a mere handful of ecclesiastics. In 1720, long after most of these grants had been made, and when the population of Canada was said to be 24,434, there were but 24 Jesuits, 32 Recollets, 67 Parish priests and missionaries, 175 nuns, and also 31 priests in what were called foreign missions. Jesuits quarrelled with Sulpicians, and they with other orders, but all upheld the power of the Church, and leagued to prevent any interference with its theological and expanding economic hold.

Seigneurs Get More Than 7,000,000 Acres

Of the 7,985,470 acres, however, granted previous to the British conquest, in 1763, the Catholic Church’s share, large as it was — nearly one-fourth — was not nearly as large as that granted mainly to the seigneurs, or feudal landlords. A total of 5,888,716 acres, according to Lieutenant-Governor Milnes, was granted to the laity,14 comprising less than 400 seigneurs.

Either Milnes’ estimate was a moderate one, or the grants to the seigneurs were later irregularly extended. Reporting to the House of Assembly in 1845, the Commissioner of the Crown Lands and the Surveyor General stated that the lands surveyed in seignories in Lower Canada amounted to 9,027,880 acres, and that the lands granted to individuals in fief and seignory by the Crown of France amounted to 7,496,000 acres,15 of which about 4,300,000 acres were gradually “ conceded ” to tenants.

Up to the year 1763 the old Company of New France or the various governors had created 376 seignories. This process of creation went somewhat slowly until the years 1671 and 1672. Having attended to his own desires by contriving to have the Des Islets seignory granted to himself, and erected by the King into a barony,16 Intendant Talon was in a proper mood to begin the grand distribution of seignories.

In the single year of 1672 Intendant Talon industriously donated numerous seignorial grants, giving away immense estates, with full hereditary feudal rights, to favored individuals, some of whom were military officers.

De Martignon and Pottier Grants

On October 17, 1672, Talon granted to de Martignon a tract six leagues17 in front on the River St. John and the same area in depth. Martignon was vested with the right of holding the land in fief, with all the rights of jurisdiction and seignory assured to himself, his heirs and assigns. The grant was made on condition of homage ; he was required to preserve all of the oak timber on that part of his land which he should set apart for his principal manor house ; in making grants to his tenants he was to reserve all oak timber fit for ship-building ; and if mines were discovered, he was to give immediate notice to the King or the Royal West India Company. This extensive domain was considerately granted for no other reason than that Martignon was a creditor of the estate of the deceased Latour, his father-in-law, who had owned more than 50 leagues of land fronting the River St. John, which seignory was in danger of forfeiture to the King for non-settlement and non-cultivation. Talon’s opportune grant preserved much of this from threatened forfeiture.18

On the next day, October 18, 1672, Intendant Talon presented to Jacques Pottier, Sieur de St. Denis, two leagues in fief and seignory “ with all of the hereditary rights of mean and inferior jurisdiction.” This grant was given upon the usual conditions of homage and the reserving of oak, and on the condition of cultivation, attending to the fisheries and promoting colonization.19 To Sieur Dupuy, Talon gave a grant of Heron Island and all adjacent islands in the St. Lawrence River, with the right of fishing ; he was to hold it in fief, subject to the duty of paying fealty and homage.20

More Generous Land Grants

October 20, 1672, found the high and mighty Intendant Talon in an extremely gracious mood ; on that day he made a gift to de Marson, commandant on the St. John “ in consideration of military services,” of a tract of land four leagues in front and one league deep on the east side of the St. John River, and to De Marson’s brother-in-law, Joihert, he gave an adjoining tract of a league square. Both of these beneficiaries were vested with hereditary feudal jurisdiction.21

But on October 29 following, Talon was even more expansively kind ; on that day he created ten more seignories. To the eager Governor Perrot of Montreal, — the same who at that very time was deriving large profits from his fraudulent fur trade with the Indians — Talon gave “for services” a whole cluster of valuable islands with all of the rights of seignory and jurisdiction.22 A gift of an hereditary fief and seignory of two leagues in front by one league in depth on the St. Lawrence River was made by Talon to Sieur de la Boutellerie.23

Talon must have stood extremely high in the estimation of the officers of the Carignan regiment (a valuable hold at a time when force swayed everything) after that day’s arduous work of signing deeds. To Contrecour, a captain in that regiment, he gave “ for military services ” an hereditary fief of two square leagues on the St. Lawrence ; to another captain in the same regiment he granted a similar large tract ; to the widow of still another captain in that regiment he gave a large seignorial estate on the same river ; to three other officers estates of large dimensions ; and to de Chambly, another captain in the Carignan regiment, a splendid seignorial domain of six leagues in front by one league in depth on the St. Louis River. All of these and other estates granted carried with them full feudal rights.24

Further Creation of Seignorial Lords

Officials of all varieties, as well as military officers and merchants, hastened to be transformed into seignorial lords. Not withstanding the King’s instructions in 1672 to make no more grants until those already granted should have been better settled, Governor Frontenac, May 6, 1675, gave to de Peyras, a councillor in the Sovereign Council, an extensive grant fronting two leagues and the same in depth on the St. Lawrence River, together with three islands.25 On the same day he handed over to Charles Denis de Vitre the deed for a seignory of the same dimensions on the St. Lawrence, measured from the Metis River.26 On May 11, 1687, a tract of two leagues frontage was given to Cardonniere and D’Artigny.

March 16, 1691, was a notable date in the chronicles of seignories. On that happy day a number of vast seignories were created. Gobin, a Quebec merchant, was thrown into felicity by the present of a grant of land twelve leagues by ten leagues at the Baie des Chaleurs. de Fronsac’s prize was even greater ; the gift to him was an immense seignorial fief of fifteen leagues frontage by fifteen leagues in depth at Mirimachi. de Bellefours, a Quebec notary, was transformed into a seignorial lord by the grant of a fief on the St. John River. To d’Iberville was given a seignorial estate of twelve leagues by ten leagues bordering upon the Baie des Chaleurs.27 Another batch of seignorial estates were given on May 15th following.28 Certain definite hereditary feudal rights accompanied these estates, too.

The Marquis de Vaudreuil, Governor of Montreal, did not suffer himself to be omitted ; his turn came when, in 1702, he was presented with a large seignorial estate at Cascades Rapids.29 These are some instances of the earlier grants. After this, most of the seignorial estates granted were in Labrador, and those given after 1731 were mostly in Lake Champlain or on the Detroit River. Some of the seignorial grants were so extensive that Jacques Hyacinthe Simon de Lorme (after whom the city of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, is named) a contractor for military supplies for the French army, bought a tract of 108 miles, constituting the estate of de Rigaud, later seigneur of Vaudreuil.

Feudal Tributes and Servitudes Established

As soon as they were possessed of the seignories, the seigneurs (contrary in many cases, to the “ Custom of Paris ” — as the French law which had been introduced into Canada was called—) established feudal exactions and servitudes of the most onerous nature.

A few sparse acres were granted to the tenant ; to this day the small rectangular plots into which the seigneurs divided their farming lands for “ concession ” to tenants may still be seen — miles upon miles of these diminutive peasant farms. The seigneurs demanded corvee or forced statute labor. They exacted a ground rent for the use of the common used as pasture ground. To themselves they reserved the privilege of recovering possession of lands granted by them, whenever they had been sold, on refunding to the purchaser the amount of the purchase money. The seigneurs further reserved the right of taking from the lands sold by them all of the wood they wanted. They arrogated to themselves the preference in buying whatever produce the farmers had for sale. They reserved as their own property all the pine and oak trees on all land whether held or sold by them. They extorted the eleventh part of the fish caught in the waters adjacent to or in their lands. The tenants were forced to use the seigneur’s grist mill ; to bake their bread in his oven, and were required to perform many other duties and servitudes and to pay still other plebeian tributes, at the arbitrary will of the seigneur.30

Importing Peasantry and Proletariat

Three-fourths of the colonists settled on the seignories had been soldiers.31 But steps had early been taken by the French Government to ensure a proletariat.

A decree issued in Paris, April 3 and 12, 1669, had, as a means of stimulating large families, ordered a pension of 300 livres a year to all inhabitants of Canada “not being priest, monks or nuns” having as many as 10 lawful children, and directed a pension of 400 livres a year to be paid to those having 12 children.32 A state fund was later established for the promotion of marriages. In 1671 the King gave orders to ship to Canada thirty bachelors, 20 to 30 years of age, and as many girls of the corresponding age .33 In 1671 another Royal decree ordered the shipment of “ 100 recruits, 150 young women and some cattle.”34 “ His Majesty,” wrote the Minister from Versailles in announcing the fact to Talon, “ has heard with pleasure that of the 165 girls sent to Canada last year only 15 remained unmarried.” Talon was commended for having ordered that the volunteers should be deprived of the privilege of trading and hunting if not married within two weeks after the arrival of the girls.

Orders had been given that the girls sent to Canada “ shall be strong and healthy, and in every way suitable.”35 This assurance had reference to a complaint made to the Archbishop of Rouen that a batch of girls taken from the General Hospital there and shipped off to Canada in 1669 “ were found not to be strong enough for the work of farming.”36 The Archbishop was called upon to induce the priests to find about 60 village maids who would consent to go to Canada.37 In 1671 a hundred hired men were shipped over.38 Most of the skilled workers were carpenters, ship builders, farmers, shoe makers, iron workers and of some other trades.39 But the cost of commodities in Canada was so high that skilled workmen could not be induced, without difficulty, to leave France unless assured higher wages and the liberty of returning ; instructions came from Versailles, in 1687, that these conditions should be granted.40

Such were some of the measures to secure a native white working class, which was supplemented by Negro and also Indian41 slaves. From the outset the workers and peasants found themselves under the domination of the Church, the feudal seigneurs and the merchants. All three exacted their tribute relentlessly : the Church, its elaborate system of tithes and other exactions ; the merchants both in Canada and abroad, their schedule of usurious prices, often for worthless goods ;42 and the seigneurs their crushing multiple of feudal dues and servilities.

Seigneurs Seek Titles of Nobility

Having assured proprietorship of vast areas of land, the seigneurs sought hard to get titles of nobility. They wanted the hereditary name as well as the substance of an established aristocracy, consistent with the traditions of ancient feudalism.

A patent of nobility was granted to Dupont de la Nouvelle in 1669 ; Talon received the title of Count to his farm of d’Orsainville ; Berthelot, LeMoyne and others were vested with titles,— Le Moyne as Baron Longueuil, named after is seignory ; but the greater number of seigneurs petitioned in vain for titles of nobility, although a decree of the Council of State, in 1684, forbade any inhabitant of Canada, other than gentlemen, to assume the title of Esquire, under a penalty of a fine of 500 livres.43 The King sent word, in 1686, that he did not approve of the proposal to give new titles of nobility in Canada ; “there are already too many.”44 A Royal memorial from Versailles, March 30, 1687, declared that, “The poverty of certain noble families [in Canada] is partly the result of their wanting to live like people of rank, without working. I am convinced that letters of nobility must never be granted to any residents of Canada.”45

But this opposition was not, it is needless to say, intended to introduce a more democratic air ; it was intended solely to promote the development of resources and trade by preventing too formidable and exclusive an idle class. Already classes in Canada were rigidly fixed in law ; in the “ great meetings ” the population was divided into four classes. First came the clergy, then the nobility, after them the judiciary, and finally the commonalty.46 The King’s Minister, in 1673, informed Governor Frontenac that he must never establish the Estates General for the inhabitants of the country or a body, and that “the syndicate of the settlers must also be quietly suppressed.”47

Seigneurs’ Authority to Punish

Although holding the exclusive rights of trading with the Indians, and also of hunting and fishing, some of the seigneurs looked down loftily upon trade with aristocratic contempt. The extortions of the seigneurs increased with the comparative prodigality of their expenditures, and varied according to personal disposition and extent of rapacity.

The seigneur’s right of high jurisdiction (haute justice) gave him power to deal with all criminal cases, including those punishable by death, mutilation or other such extreme corporal penalty. Only such crimes as treason, counterfeiting, and the like, as were considered perpetrated against the royal person or property, were excepted from the seigneur’s jurisdiction. In civil cases the authority of the seigneur gave him power to fine or imprison, to award damages and to pass other penal judgments. He could banish obnoxious persons from his seignory, put them in stocks and brand them ; and in the case of offenses legally entailing confiscation of property, real or personal, he had the right to appropriate it, excepting in the case of offenses committed against the Crown.”48

Outside the chateau the seigneur had his hall for the trying and sentencing of his accused vassals, and he had his prison on the ground floor. For even trivial offenses, according to the answers given later by De Lanaudiere to the Committee of the Council, these were the long-prevailing customary punishments : — “ Expressions of resentment, contradiction, ingratitude and scandal, be it by the vassal or subfeudatory, are severely punished by the laws. Besides a confiscation of their lands, there are examples of being obliged to appear in court during its sitting, bareheaded, kneeling, fettered, asking pardon of their offended seigneurs ; even imprisonment, put to the galleys, and other unheard-of punishments, at the mercy of the judge. . . .”49

Squeezing of the Vassals

Judge Randot, Sr., writing November 16, 1707, to the French Government, at Paris, on the administration of justice in Canada, complained of the spirit of “ chicane and cunning,” and described how the poor inhabitants were daily obliged to leave the cultivation of their lands in order to defend unjust law suits. “Many inhabitants have worked on the word of the seigneurs, others on simple tickets which did not express the charges of the grant. Hence a great abuse has arisen, which is, that the inhabitants who had worked without a safe title have been subjected to very heavy rents and dues, the seigneurs refusing to grant them deeds except on these conditions which they were obliged to accept, because otherwise they would have lost their labor . . .” The seigneurs demanded cash payments, which the inhabitants “find very inconvenient, as they frequently have none, for although 30 sous appear but a trifle, it is a great deal in this country where money is scarce.” Judge Randot enumerated a long list of other abuses.50

The cash payments for rent of lands granted was the direct form of taxation exacted by the seigneurs. The indirect form comprised the obligation of maintaining the necessary roads by compulsory labor ; the tenant had to yield to the seigneur a pound of flour on every fourteen pounds ground in the mill, of which the seigneur had the exclusive ownership and the monopoly. In a number of other ways the tenant was mercilessly compelled to pay tribute in the form of produce, taxes and fines.

If the tenant or inhabitant failed or refused to fulfill even the slightest of these crushing exactions, the seigneur at once sat, as a judge, inexorably upon him. Exercising certain sovereign powers within the limits of their seignories, and holding the power of high, low and middle jurisdiction, the seigneurs, as we have seen, could hold courts of justice, could confiscate or forfeit property and possess themselves of it, and had the right to all escheated property. Even the act of doing these self-beneficial things was another profitable source, since the holding of courts of justice yielded the seigneurs certain emoluments.51

Judge Randot urged in 1707 that statute labor was a cause of trouble — in fact, it had occasioned a riot of workers in Montreal — and suggested other reforms. Ten years later a Royal decree was issued declaring void many of the seignorial exactions and servitudes,52 but certain odious feudal features remained in force until after the middle of the nineteenth century, causing a series of popular ferments and agitations, finally, when settlement was made after 1867, costing the public treasury, directly and indirectly, at least $10,000,000 to get rid of them.

Condition of the Peasants and Artisans

While ecclesiastics, seigneurs, officials and merchants were living in such various degrees of elegance as were possible in a newly-settled country, and exercising a differing sway of power, the lot of the working class and its social state were manifestly of the lowliest.

The peasant houses in the rural districts generally consisted of only a single room, lighted by three windows ; in this one room the whole family ate, lived and slept.

During the long winters, the rural workers hewed timber, sawed planks or split shingles. “ A poor man,” wrote Mother Mary, “will have eight children or more, who run about in winter with bare heads and bare feet and a little jacket on their backs, live on nothing but bread and eels, and on that grow fat and stout,” which alleged salutary results applied to the stronger constituted only ; the weaker died off.53 The contemptuous manner in which the worker was looked down upon may be judged from this sentence in De la Chesnaye’s Memoir : “ M. de Lauzon was not liked, because of the little care he took in maintaining his dignity, living as he did without a servant, and eating only pork and pease, like a mechanic or peasant.”54

Such manufactories as existed were often conducted by the monks55 thus placing the Church in the double capacity of theological and employing master. Mendicants and vagrants were already in evidence. As early as 1674 a decree of the Sovereign Council prohibited all begging by able-bodied persons in Montreal ;56 vagrants of either sex were, in 1676, prohibited from living in Montreal without special permission ; 57 an ordinance of May 11, 1676, prohibited all poor and needy persons from begging in Montreal without a certificate from the parish priest.58 On May 12, 1686, an ordinance was issued against vagrants at Port Royal.”59

Cruel and Barbaric Punishments

Common soldiers were brutally lashed and put to the torture.60 It was ordered, in 1687, that deporting women of “bad character” to France was not a sufficient punishment ; they were to be compelled to do heavy physical work such as drawing water, sawing wood and attendance on masons.61 For contravening certain ordinances, offenders were condemned to kneel with a rope around their necks, holding a lighted torch, begging pardon of God, the King, and the tribunals of justice — and then be hung.62 A soldier of the Montreal garrison and some shoemakers were accused of “ having profaned the sacred words of the New Testament,” and of misbehaving to a crucifix ; the soldier was sentenced to be beaten, scourged and to spend three years in the galleys, and the shoemakers were also punished, though with a lighter sentence.63 A Negress slave found guilty of “ setting fire to, and causing the burning down of the town of Montreal” was hanged and burned .64 For some slight resistance, law-breaking and violence, one Mathurin Martin was condemned to stand at the main door of his parish church one hour, bareheaded, with irons on his feet, and a placard around his neck inscribed, “ A Rebel to the Law ! ”65

Obedience to constituted authority was maintained by branding, lashing, shackling, mutilation and by prisons, the galleys, burning and hanging.


1. Report of Lieut.-Gov. Milnes to the Duke of Portland, Nov. 1, 1800. Canadian Archives, — Series Q, Vol. 85, p. 228.

2. Lindsay’s Rome in Canada (Edit. of 1877), pp. 351-352, citing Faillon’s Vie de Mlle Mance et histoire de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Ville-Marie dans l’Île de Montréal, en Canada.

3. A large stretch of land later in the heart of Montreal that in modern times became of immense value.

4. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., pp. 74 and 193-194. At times, the ecclesiastics sold a small part of their land, not long after their acquisition of it. Thus, in 1676, the Bishop of Quebec ceded to Sieur Berthelot the Island of Orleans in exchange for Isle Jesus and 25,000 livres. Berthelot had acquired Isle Jesus from the Jesuit Fathers in 1672.— Ibid., p. 69.

5. Ibid., p. 194.

6. Ibid., pp. 62, 65-66.

7. Ibid., p. 70.

8. Ibid., p. 197.

9. Paris Docs., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. IX, p. 1071.

10. Report on Canadian Archives, 1900 Vol., p. 198.

11. Ibid., 1887 Vol., p. ccxxvi.

12. Ibid., 1900 Vol., p. 198.

13. Montreal Archives, Sessional Paper, No. 6, Vol. 25, Que. Sess. Papers, 1891.

14. Report of Lieut.-Gov. Milnes to the Duke of Portland, Nov. 1, 1800, (Canadian Archives, Series Q, Vol. 85, p. 228:) Rep. on Cat. Archives, 1892 Vol., p. 14.

15. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, 1849, Appendix B., Vol. III, p. 7. In his report to Lord Durham in 1838, Commissioner Buller’s estimate of seignorial estates subject to obligation to “concede” lands to tenants was 8,300,000 acres, and of this area about 4,300,000 acres had been “conceded.”

16. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 252.

17. A league equalled about 4,428 acres.

18. Titles and Documents Relating to the Seignorial Tenure in return to an address of the Legislative Assembly, 1851, Quebec, pp. 5-6.

19. Ibid., pp. 7-8.

20. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

21. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

22. Ibid., pp. 11-12.

23. Ibid,., pp. 13-14.

24. Ibid., pp. 14-25. These rights, however, did not include titles of nobility which, under ancient feudalism in Europe, accompanied ownership of the land.

25. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 67.

26. Ibid.

27. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 289. But there were even larger seignorial estates. A Royal memorial of June 14, 1695, complained, for instance, of the Sieurs D’Amours, etc., who, although “owning 30 leagues of rich land in a most favorable climate” on the St. John River, had done nothing to improve their grants but had devoted themselves to trading with the Indians.—Ibid., p. 310.

28. Ibid., p. 316.

29. Ibid., p. 233. Vaudreuil, it appears, carried on a large fur trade with the Iroquois Indians ; his annual trade, it was reported, reached 1,000 peltries — M. de Clerambault to Ponchartrain, April 27, 1709, Paris Docs., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. IX, p. 823.

30. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., pp. 122-123.

31. Randot’s Memorial on Affairs in Canada at the Present Time [1707] and the Settlement of Cape Breton, Ibid., p. 228.

32. Report on Canadian Archives, 1887 Vol., p. ccxxxvii.

33. Ibid. 1899 Vol., p. 57.

34. Ibid., p, 251.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid., p. 249.

37. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 249.

38. Ibid., p. 252.

39. Report on Work of the Archives Branch, Dom. Arch. 1910, p. 63, etc.

40. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 279.

41. The right to hold Indians in slavery, and to sell them was decided by judge Hocquart, May 29, 1733, in the case of an Indian belonging to Decouverte, and hired by him to Radisson. Judge Hocquart decided that this right existed by virtue of an ordinance of April 13, 1709. —Report on Can. Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 142.

42. Thus, June 30, 1707, an order from Versailles forbad Gitton, a merchant of La Rochelle, to trade in Canada “ in order to punish him for sending worthless goods to the Colony.”—Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 203.

43. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 80.

44. Ibid., p. 83.

45. Ibid., p. 277. This seems to have been an irritating subject. Two years previously the King’s Minister wrote to De Meulles that be “must curb the audacity of those assuming the status of nobility without being entitled to it.” —Ibid., p. 270.

46. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 59.

47. Ibid.

48. Munro’s The Seignorial System in Canada, pp. 148-149. “ This rule,” says Munro, “was in full accord with the feudal maxim that ‘he who condemns the person confiscates the property.’”

49. Seignorial Tenure, Titles and Documents, etc., Legislative Assembly, Quebec, 1851, pp. 37-39.

50. Ibid., pp. 10-11. Italics in the original.

51. Ibid., p. 47. Also, Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire Into the State of the Laws and other Circumstances Connected with the Seignorial Tenure, etc., Laid before the Legislative Assembly, Quebec, October, 1843.

52. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 122.

53. Parkman’s Old Regime in Canada, Vol. II, p. 39.

54. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Supplement.

55. Thus the Hospital Monks of Montreal were given, in 1698, authority to establish manufactories for arts and trades on their premises.—Ibid., p. 97.

56. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 69.

57. Montreal Archives, Sess. Paper No. 6, p. 94, Vol. 25, Quebec Sess. Papers, 1891.

58. Ibid.

59. Report on Canadian Archives, 1899 Vol., p. 83.

60. Report on Canadian Archives, 1887 Vol., pp. ccxlviii and cclix.

61. Ibid., 1899 Vol., p. 84.

62. Ibid., p. 61.

63. Ibid., p. 151.

64. Ibid., p. 143.

65. Montreal Archives, etc., p. 207.

Preface | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Chapter XIII | Chapter XIV | Chapter XV | Chapter XVI | Chapter XVII

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