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CHRONICLES OF CANADA Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton In thirty-two volumes
THE SEIGNEURS OF OLD CANADA A Chronicle of New-World Feudalism
By WILLIAM BENNETT MUNRO TORONTO, 1915
AN OUTPOST OF EMPIRE
What would history be without the picturesque annals of the Gallic race? This is a question which the serious student may well ask himself as he works his way through the chronicles of a dozen centuries. From the age of Charlemagne to the last of the Bonapartes is a long stride down the ages; but there was never a time in all these years when men might make reckonings in the arithmetic of European politics without taking into account the prestige, the power, and even the primacy of France. There were times without number when France among her neighbours made herself hated with an undying hate; there were times, again, when she rallied them to her side in friendship and admiration. There were epochs in which her hegemony passed unquestioned among men of other lands, and there were times when a sudden shift in fortune seemed to lay the nation prostrate, with none so poor to do her reverence.
It was France that first brought an orderly nationalism out of feudal chaos; it was her royal house of Capet that rallied Europe to the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre and led the greatest of the crusades to Palestine. Yet the France of the last crusades was within a century the France of Crecy, just as the France of Austerlitz was more speedily the France of Waterloo; and men who followed the tricolour at Solferino lived to see it furled in humiliation at Sedan. No other country has had a history as prolific in triumph and reverse, in epochs of peaceful progress and periods of civil commotion, in pageant and tragedy, in all that gives fascination to historical narrative. Happy the land whose annals are tiresome! Not such has been the fortune of poor old France.
The sage Tocqueville has somewhere remarked that whether France was loved or hated by the outside world she could not be ignored. That is very true. The Gaul has at all stages of his national history defied an attitude of indifference in others. His country has been at many times the head and at all times the heart of Europe. His hysteria has made Europe hysterical, while his sober national sense at critical moments has held the whole continent to good behaviour. For a half-dozen centuries there was never a squabble at any remote part of Europe in which France did not stand ready and willing to take a hand on the slightest opportunity. That policy, as pursued particularly by Louis XIV and the Bonapartes, made a heavy drain in brawn and brain on the vitality of the race; but despite it all, the peaceful achievements of France within her own borders continued to astonish mankind. It is this astounding vigour, this inexhaustible stamina, this unexampled recuperative power that has at all times made France a nation which, whether men admire or condemn her policy, can never be treated with indifference. It was these qualities which enabled her, throughout exhausting foreign troubles, to retain her leadership in European scholarship, in philosophy, art, and architecture; this is what has enabled France to be the grim warrior of Europe without ceasing ever to be the idealist of the nations.
It was during one of her proud and prosperous eras that France began her task of creating an empire beyond the Atlantic. At no time, indeed, was she better equipped for the work. No power of Western Europe since the days of Roman glory had possessed such facilities for conquering and governing new lands. If ever there was a land able and ready to take up the white man's burden it was the France of the seventeenth century. The nation had become the first military power of Europe. Spain and Italy had ceased to be serious rivals. Even England, under the Stuart dynasty, tacitly admitted the military primacy of France. Nor was this superiority of the French confined to the science of war. It passed unquestioned in the arts of peace. Even Rome at the height of her power could not dominate every field of human activity. She could rule the people with authority and overcome the proud; but even her own poets rendered homage to Greece in the realms of art, sculpture, and eloquence. But France was the aesthetic as well as the military dictator of seventeenth- century Europe. Her authority was supreme, as Macaulay says, on all matters from orthodoxy in architecture to the proper cut of a courtier's clothes. Her monarchs were the first gentlemen of Europe. Her nobility set the social standards of the day. The rank and file of her people—and there were at least twenty million of them in the days of Louis Quatorze—were making a fertile land yield its full increase. The country was powerful, rich, prosperous, and, for the time being, outwardly contented.
So far as her form and spirit of government went, France by the middle of the seventeenth century was a despotism both in theory and in fact. Men were still living who could recall the day when France had a real parliament, the Estates-General as it was called. This body had at one time all the essentials of a representative assembly. It might have become, as the English House of Commons became, the grand inquest of the nation. But it did not do so. The waxing personal strength of the monarchy curbed its influence, its authority weakened, and throughout the great century of French colonial expansion from 1650 to 1750 the Estates-General was never convoked. The centralization of political power was complete. 'The State! I am the State.' These famous words imputed to Louis XIV expressed no vain boast of royal power. Speaking politically, France was a pyramid. At the apex was the Bourbon sovereign. In him all lines of authority converged. Subordinate to him in authority, and dominated by him when he willed it, were various appointive councils, among them the Council of State and the so-called Parliament of Paris, which was not a parliament at all, but a semi- judicial body entrusted with the function of registering the royal decrees. Below these in the hierarchy of officialdom came the intendants of the various provinces —forty or more of them. Loyal agents of the crown were these intendants. They saw to it that no royal mandate ever went unheeded in any part of the king's domain. These forty intendants were the men who really bridged the great administrative gulf which lay between the royal court and the people. They were the most conspicuous, the most important, and the most characteristic officials of the old regime. Without them the royal authority would have tumbled over by its own sheer top-heaviness. They were the eyes and ears of the monarchy; they provided the monarch with fourscore eager hands to work his sovereign will. The intendants, in turn, had their underlings, known as the sub-delegates, who held the peasantry in leash. Thus it was that the administration, like a pyramid, broadened towards its base, and the whole structure rested upon the third estate, or rank and file of the people. Such was the position, the power, and administrative framework of France when her kings and people turned their eyes westward across the seas. From the rugged old Norman and Breton seaports courageous mariners had been for a long time lengthening their voyages to new coasts. As early as 1534 Jacques Cartier of St Malo had made the first of his pilgrimages to the St Lawrence, and in 1542 his associate Roberval had attempted to plant a colony there. They had found the shores of the great river to be inhospitable; the winters were rigorous; no stores of mineral wealth had appeared; nor did the land seem to possess great agricultural possibilities. From Mexico the Spanish galleons were bearing home their rich cargoes of silver bullion. In Virginia the English navigators had found a land of fair skies and fertile soil. But the hills and valleys of the northland had shouted no such greeting to the voyageurs of Brittany. Cartier had failed to make his landfall at Utopia, and the balance-sheet of his achievements, when cast up in 1544, had offered a princely dividend of disappointment.
For a half-century following the abortive efforts of Cartier and Roberval, the French authorities had made no serious or successful attempt to plant a colony in the New World. That is not surprising, for there were troubles in plenty at home. Huguenots and Catholics were at each other's throats; the wars of the Fronde convulsed the land; and it was not till the very end of the sixteenth century that the country settled down to peace within its own borders. Some facetious chronicler has remarked that the three chief causes of early warfare were Christianity, herrings, and cloves. There is much golden truth in that nugget. For if one could take from human history all the strife that has been due either to bigotry or to commercial avarice, a fair portion of the bloodstreaks would be washed from its pages. For the time being, at any rate, France had so much fighting at home that she was unable, like her Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English neighbours, to gain strategic points for future fighting abroad. Those were days when, if a people would possess the gates of their enemies, it behoved them to begin early. France made a late start, and she was forced to take, in consequence, what other nations had shown no eagerness to seize.
It was Samuel Champlain, a seaman of Brouage, who first secured for France and for Frenchmen a sure foothold in North America, and thus became the herald of Bourbon imperialism. After a youth spent at sea, Champlain engaged for some years in the armed conflicts with the Huguenots; then he returned to his old marine life once more. He sailed to the Spanish main and elsewhere, thereby gaining skill as a navigator and ambition to be an explorer of new coasts. In 1603 came an opportunity to join an expedition to the St Lawrence, and from this time to the end of his days the Brouage mariner gave his whole interest and energies to the work of planting an outpost of empire in the New World. Champlain was scarcely thirty-six when he made his first voyage to Canada; he died at Quebec on Christmas Day, 1635. His service to the king and nation extended over three decades.
With the crew of his little vessel, the Don de Dieu, Champlain cast anchor on July 9, 1608, beneath the frowning natural ramparts of Cape Diamond, and became the founder of a city built upon a rock. The felling of trees and the hewing of wood began. Within a few weeks Champlain raised his rude fort, brought his provisions ashore, established relations with the Indians, and made ready with his twenty-eight followers to spend the winter in the new settlement. It was a painful experience. The winter was long and bitter; scurvy raided the Frenchmen's cramped quarters, and in the spring only eight followers were alive to greet the ship which came with new colonists and supplies. It took a soul of iron to continue the project of nation-planting after such a tragic beginning; but Champlain was not the man to recoil from the task. More settlers were landed; women and children were brought along; land was broken for cultivation; and in due course a little village grew up about the fort. This was Quebec, the centre and soul of French hopes beyond the Atlantic.
For the first twenty years of its existence the little colony had a stormy time. Some of the settlers were unruly, and gave Champlain, who was both maker and enforcer of the laws, a hard task to hold them in control. During these years the king took little interest in his new domains; settlers came slowly, and those who came seemed to be far more interested in trading with the Indians than in carving out permanent homes for themselves. Few there were among them who thought of anything but a quick competence from the profits of the fur trade, and a return to France at the earliest opportunity thereafter.
Now it was the royal idea, in so far as the busy monarch of France had any fixed purpose in the matter, that the colony should be placed upon a feudal basis—that lands should be granted and sub-granted on feudal terms. In other words, the king or his representative stood ready to give large tracts or fiefs in New France to all immigrants whose station in life warranted the belief that they would maintain the dignity of seigneurs. These, in turn, were to sub-grant the land to ordinary settlers, who came without financial resources, sent across usually at the expense of His Majesty. In this way the French authorities hoped to create a powerful military colony with a feudal hierarchy as its outstanding feature.
Feudalism is a much-abused term. To the minds of most laymen it has a rather hazy association with things despotic, oppressive, and mediaeval. The mere mention of the term conjures up those days of the Dark Ages when armour-clad knights found their chief recreation in running lances through one another; when the overworked, underfed labourers of the field cringed and cowered before every lordly whim. Most readers seem to get their notions of chivalry from Scott's Talisman, and their ideas on feudalism from the same author's immortal Ivanhoe. While scholars keep up a merry disputation as to the historical origin of the feudal system, the public imagination goes steadily on with its own curious picture of how that system lived and moved and had its being. A prolix tale of origins would be out of place in this chronicle; but even the mind of the man in the street ought to be set right as regards what feudalism was designed to do, and what in fact it did, for mankind, while civilization battled its way down the ages.
Feudalism was a system of social relations based upon land. It grew out of the chaos which came upon Europe in the centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire. The fall of Roman power flattened the whole political structure of Western Europe, and nothing arose to take its place. Every lord or princeling was left to depend for defence upon the strength of his own arm; so he gathered around him as many vassals as he could. He gave them land; they gave him what he most wanted,—a promise to serve and aid in time of war. The lord gave and promised to guard; the vassal took and promised to serve. Thus there was created a personal relation, a bond of mutual loyalty, wardship, and service, which bound liegeman to lord with hoops of steel. No one can read Carlyle's trenchant Past and Present without bearing away some vivid and altogether wholesome impressions concerning the essential humanity of this great mediaeval institution. It shares with the Christian Church the honour of having made life worth living in days when all else combined to make it intolerable. It brought at least a semblance of social, economic, and political order out of helpless and hopeless disorganization. It helped Europe slowly to recover from the greatest catastrophe in all her history.
But our little systems have their day, as the poet assures us. They have their day and cease to be. Feudalism had its day, from dawn to twilight a day of picturesque memory. But it did not cease to exist when its day of service was done. Long after the necessity for mutual service and protection had passed away; long after the growth of firm monarchies with powerful standing armies had established the reign of law, the feudal system kept its hold upon the social order in France and elsewhere. The obligation of military service, when no longer needed, was replaced by dues and payments. The modern cash nexus replaced the old personal bond between vassal and lord. The feudal system became the seigneurial system. The lord became the seigneur; the vassal became the censitaire or peasant cultivator whose chief function was to yield revenue for his seigneur's purse. These were great changes which sapped the spirit of the ancient institution. No longer bound to their dependants by any personal tie, the seigneurs usually turned affairs over to their bailiffs, men with hearts of adamant, who squeezed from the seigneuries every sou the hapless peasantry could yield. These publicans of the old regime have much to answer for. They and their work were not least among the causes which brought upon the crown and upon the privileged orders that terrible retribution of the Red Terror. Not with the mediaeval institution of feudalism, but with its emaciated descendant, the seigneurial system of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ought men to associate, if they must, their notions of grinding oppression and class hatred.
Out to his new colony on the St Lawrence the king sent this seigneurial system. A gross and gratuitous outrage, a characteristic manifestation of Bourbon stupidity—that is a common verdict upon the royal action. But it may well be asked: What else was there to do? The seigneurial system was still the basis of land tenure in France. The nobility and even the throne rested upon it. The Church sanctioned and supported it. The people in general, whatever their attitude towards seigneurialism, were familiar with no other system of landholding. It was not, like the encomienda system which Spain planted in Mexico, an arrangement cut out of new cloth for the more ruthless exploitation of a fruitful domain. The Puritan who went to Massachusetts Bay took his system of socage tenure along with him. The common law went with the flag of England. It was quite as natural that the Custom of Paris should follow the fleurs-de-lis.
There was every reason to expect, moreover, that in the New World the seigneurial system would soon free itself from those barnacles of privilege and oppression which were encrusted on its sides at home. Here was a small settlement of pioneers surrounded by hostile aborigines. The royal arm, strong as it was at home, could not well afford protection a thousand leagues away. The colony must organize and learn to protect itself. In other words, the colonial environment was very much like that in which the yeomen of the Dark Ages had found themselves. And might not its dangers be faced in the old feudal way? They were faced in this way. In the history of French Canada we find the seigneurial system forced back towards its old feudal plane. We see it gain in vitality; we see the old personal bond between lord and vassal restored to some of its pristine strength; we see the military aspects of the system revived, and its more sordid phases thrust aside. It turned New France into a huge armed camp; it gave the colony a closely knit military organization; and, in a day when Canada needed every ounce of her strength to ward off encircling enemies both white and red, it did for her what no other system could be expected to do.
But to return to the little cradle of empire at the foot of Cape Diamond. Champlain for a score of years worked himself to premature old age in overcoming those many obstacles which always meet the pioneer. More settlers were brought; a few seigneuries were granted; priests were summoned from France; a new fort was built; and by sheer perseverance a settlement of about three hundred souls had been established by 1627. But no single individual, however untiring in his efforts, could do all that needed to be done. It was consequently arranged, with the entire approval of Champlain, that the task of building up the colony should be entrusted to a great colonizing company formed for the purpose under royal auspices. In this project the moving spirit was no less a personage than Cardinal Richelieu, the great minister of Louis XIII. Official France was now really interested. Hitherto its interest, while profusely enough expressed, had been little more than perfunctory. With Richelieu as its sponsor a company was easily organized. Though by royal decree it was chartered as the Company of New France, it became more commonly known as the Company of One Hundred Associates; for it was a co-operative organization with one hundred members, some of them traders and merchants, but more of them courtiers. Colonizing companies were the fashion of Richelieu's day. Holland and England were exploiting new lands by the use of companies; there was no good reason why France should not do likewise.
This system of company exploitation was particularly popular with the monarchs of all these European countries. It made no demands on the royal purse. If failure attended the company's ventures the king bore no financial loss. But if the company succeeded, if its profits were large and its achievements great, the king might easily step in and claim his share of it all as the price of royal protection and patronage. In both England and Holland the scheme worked out in that way. An English stock company began and developed the work which finally placed India in the possession of the British crown; a similar Dutch organization in due course handed over Java as a rich patrimony to the king of the Netherlands. France, however, was not so fortunate. True enough, the Company of One Hundred Associates made a brave start; its charter gave great privileges, and placed on the company large obligations; it seemed as though a new era in French colonization had begun. 'Having in view the establishment of a powerful military colony,' as this charter recites, the king gave to the associates the entire territory claimed by France in the western hemisphere, with power to govern, create trade, grant lands, and bestow titles of nobility. For its part the company was to send out settlers, at least two hundred of them a year; it was to provide them with free transportation, give them free lands and initial subsistence; it was to support priests and teachers—in fact, to do all things necessary for the creation of that 'powerful military colony' which His Majesty had in expectation.
It happened, however, that the first fleet the company dispatched in 1628 did not reach Canada. The ships were attacked and captured, and in the following year Quebec itself fell into English hands. After its restoration in 1632 the company, greatly crippled, resumed operations, but did very little for the upbuilding of the colony. Few settlers were sent out at all, and of these still fewer went at the company's expense. In only two ways did the company, after the first few years of its existence, show any interest in its new territories. In the first place, its officers readily grasped the opportunity to make some profits out of the fur trade. Each year ships were sent to Quebec; merchandise was there landed, and a cargo of furs taken in exchange. If the vessel ever reached home, despite the risks of wreck and capture, a handsome dividend for those interested was the outcome. But the risks were great, and, after a time, when the profits declined, the company showed scant interest in even the trading part of its business. The other matter in which the directors of the company showed some interest was in the giving of seigneuries —chiefly to themselves. About sixty of these seigneuries were granted, large tracts all of them. One director of the company secured the whole island of Orleans as his seigneurial estate; others took generous slices on both shores of the St Lawrence. But not one of these men lifted a finger in the way of redeeming his huge fief from the wilderness. Every one seems to have had great zeal in getting hold of these vast tracts with the hope that they would some day rise in value. As for the development of the lands, however, neither the company nor its officers showed any such fervour in serving the royal cause. Thirty years after the company had taken its charter there were only about two thousand inhabitants in the colony; not more than four thousand arpents of land were under cultivation; trade had failed to increase; and the colonists were openly demanding a change of policy.
When Louis XIV came to the throne and chose Colbert as his chief minister it was deemed wise to look into the colonial situation. [Footnote: See in this Series 'The Great Intendant', chap. I.] Both were surprised and angered by the showing. It appeared that not only had the company neglected its obligations, but that its officers had shrewdly concealed their shortcomings from the royal notice. The great Bourbon therefore acted promptly and with firmness. In a couple of notable royal decrees he read the directors a severe lecture upon their avarice and inaction, took away all the company's powers, confiscated to the crown all the seigneuries which the directors had granted to themselves, and ordered that the colony should thenceforth be administered as a royal province. By his later actions the king showed that he meant what his edicts implied. The colony passed under direct royal government in 1663, and virtually remained there until its surrender into English hands an even century later.
Louis XIV was greatly interested in Canada. From beginning to end of his long administration he showed this interest at every turn. His officials sent from Quebec their long dispatches; the patient monarch read them all, and sent by the next ship his budget of orders, advice, reprimand, and praise. As a royal province, New France had for its chief official a governor who represented the royal dignity and power. The governor was the chief military officer, and it was to him that the king looked for the proper care of all matters relating to the defence and peace of New France. Then there was the Sovereign Council, a body made up of the bishop, the intendant, and certain prominent citizens of the colony named by the king on the advice of his colonial representatives. This council was both a law-making and a judicial body. It registered and published the royal decrees, made local regulations, and acted as the supreme court of the colony. But the official who loomed largest in the purely civil affairs of New France was the intendant. He was the overseas apostle of Bourbon paternalism, and as his commission authorized him to 'order all things as he may think just and proper,' the intendant never found much opportunity for idleness.
Tocqueville, shrewdest among historians of pre-revolutionary France, has somewhere pointed out that under the old regime the administration took the place of Providence. It sought to be as omniscient and as omnipotent; its ways were quite as inscrutable. In this policy the intendant was the royal man-of-all-work. The king spoke and the intendant transformed his words into action. As the sovereign's great interest in the colony moved him to speak often, the intendant's activity was prodigious. Ordinances, edicts, judgments and decrees fairly flew from his pen like sparks from an anvil. Nothing that needed setting aright was too inconsequential for a paternal order. An ordinance establishing a system of weights and measures for the colony rubs shoulders with another inhibiting the youngsters of Quebec from sleigh- riding down its hilly thoroughfares in icy weather. Printed in small type these decrees of the intendant's make up a bulky volume, the present-day interest of which is only to show how often the hand of authority thrust itself into the daily walk and conversation of Old Canada.
From first to last there were a dozen intendants of New France. Jean Talon, whose prudence and energy did much to set the colony on its feet, was the first; Fracois Bigot, the arch-plunderer of public funds, who did so much to bring the land to disaster, was the last. Between them came a line of sensible, hard-working, and loyal men who gave the best that was in them to the uphill task of making the colony what their royal master wanted it to be. Unfortunate it is that Bigot's astounding depravity has led too many readers and writers of Canadian history to look upon the intendancy of New France as a post held chiefly by rascals. As a class no men served the French crown more steadfastly or to better purpose.
Now it was to the intendant, in Talon's time, that the king committed the duty of granting seigneuries and of supervising the seigneurial system in operation. But, later, when Count Frontenac, the iron governor of the colony, came into conflict with the intendant on various other matters, he made complaint to the court at Versailles that the intendant was assuming too much authority. A royal decree therefore ordered that for the future these grants should he made by the governor and intendant jointly. Thenceforth they were usually so made, although in some cases the intendant disregarded the royal instructions and signed the title-deeds alone; and it appears that in all cases he was the main factor in determining who should get seigneuries and who should not. The intendant, moreover, made himself the chief guardian of the relations between the seigneurs and their seigneurial tenants. When the seigneurs tried to exact in the way of honours, dues, and services any more than the laws and customs of the land allowed, the watchful intendant promptly checkmated them with a restrictive decree. Or when some seigneurial claim, even though warranted by law or custom, seemed to be detrimental to the general wellbeing of the people, he regularly brought the matter to the attention of the home government and invoked its intervention. In all such matters he was praetor and tribune combined. Without the intendancy the seigneurial system would soon have become an agent of oppression, for some Canadian seigneurs were quite as avaricious as their friends at home.
The heyday of Canadian feudalism was the period from 1663 to about 1750. During this interval nearly three hundred fiefs were granted. Most of them went to officials of the civil administration, many to retired military officers, many others to the Church and its affiliated institutions, and some to merchants and other lay inhabitants of the colony. Certain seigneurs set to work with real zeal, bringing out settlers from France and steadily getting larger portions of their fiefs under cultivation. Others showed far less enterprise, and some no enterprise at all. From time to time the king and his ministers would make inquiry as to the progress being made. The intendant would reply with a memoire often of pitiless length, setting forth the facts and figures. Then His Majesty would respond with an edict ordering that all seigneurs who did not forthwith help the colony by putting settlers on their lands should have their grants revoked. But the seigneurs who were most at fault in this regard were usually the ones who had most influence in the little administrative circle at Quebec. Hence the king's orders were never enforced to the letter, and sometimes not enforced at all. Unlike the Parliament of Paris, the Sovereign Council at Quebec never refused to register a royal edict. What would have happened in the event of its doing so is a query that legal antiquarians might find difficult to answer. Even a sovereign decree bearing the Bourbon sign-manual could not gain the force of law in Canada except by being spread upon the council's records. In France the king could come clattering with his escort to the council hall and there, by his so termed 'bed of justice,' compel the registration of his decrees. But the Chateau of St Louis at Quebec was too far away for any such violent procedure.
The colonial council never sought to find out what would follow an open defiance of the royal wishes. It had a safer plan. Decrees were always promptly registered; but when they did not suit the councillors they were just as promptly pigeon-holed, and the people of the colony were thus left in complete ignorance of the new regulations. On one occasion the intendant Raudot, in looking over the council records for legal light on a case before him, found a royal decree which had been registered by the council some twenty years before, but not an inkling of which had ever reached the people to whom it had conveyed new rights against their seigneurs. 'It was the interest of the attorney-general as a seigneur, as it was also the interest of other councillors who are seigneurs, that the provisions of this decree should never be made public,' is the frank way in which the intendant explained the matter in one of his dispatches to the king. The fact is that the royal arm, supremely powerful at home, lost a good deal of its strength when stretched across a thousand leagues of ocean. If anything happened amiss after the ships left Quebec in the late summer, there was no regular means of making report to the king for a full twelvemonth. The royal reply could not be had at the earliest until the ensuing spring; if the king's advisers desired to look into matters fully it sometimes happened that another year passed before the royal decision reached Quebec. By that time matters had often righted themselves, or the issue had been forgotten. At any rate the direct influence of the crown was much less effective than it would have been had the colony been within easy reach. The governor and intendant were accordingly endowed by the force of circumstances with large discretionary powers. When they agreed it was possible to order things about as they chose. When they disagreed on any project the matter went off to the king for decision, which often meant that it was shelved indefinitely.
The administration of New France was not efficient. There were too many officials for the size and needs of the colony. Their respective spheres of authority were too loosely defined. Nor did the crown desire to have every one working in harmony. A moderate amount of friction— provided it did not wholly clog the wheels of administration —was not deemed an unmixed evil. It served to make each official a tale-bearer against his colleague, so that the home authorities might count on getting all sides to every story. The financial situation, moreover, was always precarious. At no time could New France pay its own way; every second dispatch from the governor and intendant asked the king for money or for things that cost money. Louis XIV was astonishingly generous in the face of so many of these demands upon his exchequer, but the more he gave the more he was asked to give. When the stress of European wars curtailed the king's bounty the colonial authorities began to issue paper money; the issues were gradually increased; the paper soon depreciated, and in its closing years the colony fairly wallowed in the slough of almost worthless fiat currency.
In addition to meeting the annual deficit of the colony the royal authorities encouraged and assisted emigration to New France. Whole shiploads of settlers were at times gathered and sent to Quebec. The seigneurs, by the terms of their grants, should have been active in this work; but very few of them took any share in it. Nearly the entire task of applying a stimulus to emigration was thrust on the king and his officials at home. Year after gear the governor and intendant grew increasingly urgent in repeated requests for more settlers, until a rebuke arrived in a suggestion that the king was not minded to depopulate France in order to people his colonies. The influx of settlers was relatively large during the years 1663-72. Then it dwindled perceptibly, although immigrants kept coming year by year so long as war did not completely cut off communication with France. The colony gained bravely, moreover, through its own natural increase, for the colonial birth-rate was high, large families being everywhere the rule. In 1673 the population of New France was figured at about seven thousand; in 1760 it had reached nearly fifty thousand.
The development of agriculture on the seigneurial lands did not, however, keep pace with growth in population. It was hard to keep settlers to the prosaic task of tilling the soil. There were too many distractions, chief among them the lure of the Indian trade. The traffic in furs offered large profits and equally large risks; but it always yielded a full dividend of adventure and hair-raising experience. The fascination of the forest life gripped the young men of the colony, and they left for the wilderness by the hundred. There is a roving strain in Norman blood. It brought the Norseman to France and Sicily; it took his descendants from the plough and sent them over the waters of the New World, from the St Lawrence to the Lakes and from the Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Church and state joined hands in attempt to keep them at home. Royal decrees of outlawry and ecclesiastical edicts of excommunication were issued against them. Seigneurs stipulated that their lands would be forfeited unless so many arpents were put under crop each year. But all to little avail. So far as developing the permanent resources of the colony were concerned these coureurs de bois might just as well have remained in France. Once in a while a horde of them descended to Quebec or Montreal, disposed of their furs to merchants, filled themselves with brandy and turned bedlam loose in the town. Then before the authorities could unwind the red tape of legal procedure they were off again to the wilds.
This Indian trade, despite the large and valuable cargoes of beaver pelts which it enabled New France to send home, was a curse to the colony. It drew from husbandry the best blood of the land, the young men of strength, initiative, and perseverance. It wrecked the health and character of thousands. It drew the Church and the civil government into profitless quarrels. The bishop flayed the governor for letting this trade go on. The governor could not, dared not, and sometimes did not want to stop it. At any rate it was a great obstacle to agricultural progress. With it and other distractions in existence the clearing of the seigneuries proceeded very slowly. At the close of French dominion in 1760 the amount of cultivated land was only about three hundred thousand arpents, or about five acres for every head of population—not a very satisfactory showing for a century of Bourbon imperialism in the St Lawrence valley.
Yet the colony, when the English conquerors came upon it in 1759, was far from being on its last legs. It had overcome the worst of its obstacles and had created a foundation upon which solid building might be done. Its people had reached the stage of rude but tolerable comfort. Its highways of trade and intercourse had been freed from the danger of Indian raids. It had some small industries and was able to raise almost the whole of its own food-supply. The traveller who passed along the great river from Quebec to Montreal in the early autumn might see, as Peter 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. The outposts of an empire at least had been established.
GENTLEMEN OF THE WILDERNESS
A good many people, as Robert Louis Stevenson once assured us, have a taste for 'heroic forms of excitement.' And it is well for the element of interest in history that this has been so at all ages and among all races of men. The most picturesque and fascinating figures in the recorded annals of nations have been the pioneers,—the men who have not been content to do what other men of their day were doing. Without them and their achievements history might still be read for information, but not for pleasure; it might still instruct, but it would hardly inspire.
In the narratives of colonization there is ample evidence that Frenchmen of the seventeenth century were not lacking in their thirst for excitement, whether heroic or otherwise. Their race furnished the New World with explorers and forest merchants by the hundred. The most venturesome voyageurs, the most intrepid traders, and the most untiring missionaries were Frenchmen. No European stock showed such versatility in its relations with the aborigines; none proved so ready to bear all manner of hardship and discomfort for the sake of the thrills which came from setting foot where no white man had ever trod. The Frenchman of those days was no weakling either in body or in spirit; he did not shrink from privation or danger; in tasks requiring courage and fortitude he was ready to lead the way. When he came to the New World he wanted the sort of life that would keep him always on his mettle, and that could not be found within the cultivated borders of seigneury and parish. Hence it was that Canada in her earliest years found plenty of pioneers, but not always of the right type. The colony needed yeomen who would put their hands to the plough, who would become pioneers of agriculture. Such, however, were altogether too few, and the yearly harvest of grain made a poor showing when compared with the colony's annual crop of beaver skins. Yet the yeoman did more for the permanent upbuilding of the land than the trader, and his efforts ought to have their recognition in any chronicle of colonial achievement.
It was in the mind of the king that 'persons of quality' as well as peasants should be induced to make their homes in New France. There were enough landless gentlemen in France; why should they not be used as the basis of a seigneurial nobility in the colony? It was with this idea in view that the Company of One Hundred Associates was empowered not only to grant large tracts of land in the wilderness, but to give the rank of gentilhomme to those who received such fiefs. Frenchmen of good birth, however, showed no disposition to become resident seigneurs of New France during the first half-century of its history. The role of a 'gentleman of the wilderness' did not appeal very strongly even to those who had no tangible asset but the family name. Hence it was that not a half-dozen seigneurs were in actual occupancy of their lands on the St Lawrence when the king took the colony out of the company's hands in 1663.
But when Talon came to the colony as intendant in 1665 this situation was quickly changed. Uncleared seigneuries were declared forfeited. Actual occupancy was made a condition of all future grants. The colony must be built up, if at all, by its own people. The king was urged to send out settlers, and he responded handsomely. They came by hundreds. The colony's entire population, including officials, priests, traders, seigneurs, and habitants, together with women and children, was about three thousand, according to a census taken a year after Talon arrived. Two years later, owing largely to the intendant's unceasing efforts, it had practically doubled. Nothing was left undone to coax emigrants from France. Money grants and free transportation were given with unwonted generosity, although even in the early years of his reign the coffers of Louis Quatorze were leaking with extravagance at every point. At least a million livres [Footnote: The livre was practically the modern franc, about twenty cents.] in these five years is a sober estimate of what the royal treasury must have spent in the work of colonizing Canada.
No campaign for immigrants in modern days has been more assiduously carried on. Officials from Paris searched the provinces, gathering together all who could be induced to go. The intendant particularly asked that women be sent to the colony, strong and vigorous peasant girls who would make suitable wives for the habitants. The king gratified him by sending whole shiploads of them in charge of nuns. As to who they were, and where they came from, one cannot be altogether sure. The English agent at Paris wrote that they were 'lewd strumpets gathered up by the officers of the city,' and even the saintly Mere Marie de l'Incarnation confessed that there was beaucoup de canaille among them. La Hontan has left us a racy picture of their arrival and their distribution among the rustic swains of the colony, who scrimmaged for points of vantage when boatloads of women came ashore from the ships. [Footnote: Another view will be found in The Great Intendant in this Series, chap. IV.]
The male settlers, on the other hand, came from all classes and from all parts of France. But Normandy, Brittany, Picardy, and Perche afforded the best recruiting grounds; from all of them came artisans and sturdy peasants. Normandy furnished more than all the others put together, so much so that Canada in the seventeenth century was more properly a Norman than a French colony. The colonial church registers, which have been kept with scrupulous care, show that more than half the settlers who came to Canada during the decade after 1664. were of Norman origin; while in 1680 it was estimated that at least four-fifths of the entire population of New France had some Norman blood in their veins. Officials and merchants came chiefly from Paris, and they coloured the life of the little settlement at Quebec with a Parisian gaiety; but the Norman dominated the fields—his race formed the backbone of the rural population.
Arriving at Quebec the incoming settlers were met by officials and friends. Proper arrangements for quartering them until they could get settled were always made beforehand. If the new-comer were a man of quality, that is to say, if he had been anything better than a peasant at home, and especially if he brought any funds with him, he applied to the intendant for a seigneury. Talon was liberal in such matters. He stood ready to give a seigneurial grant to any one who would promise to spend money in clearing his land. This liberality, however, was often ill-requited. Immigrants came to him and gave great assurances, took their title-deeds as seigneurs, and never upturned a single foot of sod. In other cases the new seigneurs set zealously to work and soon had good results to show.
In size these seigneuries varied greatly. The social rank and the reputed ability of the seigneur were the determining factors. Men who had been members of the noblesse in France received tracts as large as a Teutonic principality, comprising a hundred square miles or more. Those of less pretentious birth and limited means had to be content with a few thousand arpents. In general, however, a seigneury comprised at least a dozen square miles, almost always with a frontage on the great river and rear limits extending up into the foothills behind. The metes and bounds of the granted lands were always set forth in the letters-patent or title-deeds; but almost invariably with utter vagueness and ambiguity. The territory was not surveyed; each applicant, in filing his petition for a seigneury, was asked to describe the tract he desired. This description, usually inadequate and inaccurate, was copied in the deed, and in due course hopeless confusion resulted. It was well that most seigneurs had more land than they could use; had it not been for this their lawsuits over disputed boundaries would have been unending.
Liberal in the area of land granted to the new seigneurs, the crown was also liberal in the conditions exacted. The seigneur was asked for no initial money payment and no annual land dues. When his seigneury changed owners by sale or by inheritance other than in direct descent, a mutation fine known as the quint was payable to the public treasury. This, as its name implies, amounted to one-fifth of the seigneury's value; but it rarely accrued, and even when it did the generous monarch usually rebated a part or all of it. Not a single sou was ever exacted by the crown from the great majority of the seigneurs. If agriculture made slow headway in New France it was not because officialdom exploited the land to its own profit. Never were the landowners of a new country treated more generously or given greater incentive to diligence.
But if the king did not ask the seigneurs for money he asked for other things. He required, in the first place, that each should render fealty and homage with due feudal ceremony to his official representative at Quebec. Accordingly, the first duty of the seigneur, after taking possession of his new domain, was to repair without sword or spur to the Chateau of St Louis at Quebec, a gloomy stone structure that frowned on the settlement from the heights behind. Here, on bended knee before the governor, the new liegeman swore fealty to his lord the king and promised to render due obedience in all lawful matters. This was one of the things which gave a tinge of chivalry to Canadian feudalism, and helped to make the social life of a distant colony echo faintly the pomp and ceremony of Versailles. The seigneur, whether at home or beyond the seas, was never allowed to forget the obligation of personal fidelity imposed upon him by his king.
A more arduous undertaking next confronted the new seigneur. It was not the royal intention that he should fold his talent in a napkin. On the contrary, the seigneur was endowed with his rank and estate to the sole end that he should become an active agent in making the colony grow. He was expected to live on his land, to level the forest, to clear fields, and to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before. He was expected to have his seigneury surveyed into farms, or en censive holdings, and to procure, as quickly as might be, settlers for these farms. It was highly desirable, of course, that the seigneurs should lend a hand in encouraging the immigration of people from their old homes in France. Some of them did this. Robert Giffard, who held the seigneury of Beauport just below Quebec, was a notable example. The great majority of the seigneurs, however, made only half-hearted attempts in this direction, and their efforts went for little or nothing. What they did was to meet, on arrival at Quebec, the shiploads of settlers sent out by the royal officers. There they gathered about the incoming vessel, like so many land agents, each explaining what advantages in the way of a good location and fertile soil he had to offer. Those seigneurs who had obtained tracts near the settlement at Quebec had, of course, a great advantage in all this, for the new-comers naturally preferred to set up their homes where a church would be near at hand, and where they could be in touch with other families during the long winters. Consequently the best locations in all the seigneuries near Quebec were soon taken, and then settlers had to take lands more remote from the little metropolis of the colony. They went to the seigneuries near Montreal and Three Rivers; when the best lands in these areas were taken up, they dispersed themselves along the whole north shore of the St Lawrence from below the Montmorency to its junction with the Ottawa. The north shore having been well dotted with the whitewashed homes, the south shore came in for its due share of attention, and in the last half-century of the French regime a good many settlers were provided for in that region.
For a time the immigrants found little or no difficulty in obtaining farms on easy terms. Seigneurs were glad to give them land without any initial payment and frequently promised exemption from the usual seigneurial dues for the first few years. In any case these dues and services, which will be explained more fully later on, were not burdensome. Any settler of reasonable industry and intelligence could satisfy these ordinary demands without difficulty. Translated into an annual money rental they would have amounted to but a few sous per acre. But this happy situation did not long endure. As the settlers continued to come, and as children born in the colony grew to manhood, the demand for well-situated farms grew more brisk, and some of the seigneurs found that they need no longer seek tenants for their lands. On the contrary, they found that men desiring land would come to them and offer to pay not only the regular seigneurial dues, but an entry fee or bonus in addition. The best situated lands, in other words, had acquired a margin of value over lands not so well situated, and the favoured seigneurs turned this to their own profit. During the early pears of the eighteenth century, therefore, the practice of exacting a prix d'entree became common; indeed it was difficult for a settler to get the lands he most desired except by making such payment. As most of the newcomers could not afford to do this they were often forced to make their homes in unfavourable, out-of-the-way places, while better situations remained untouched by axe or plough.
The watchful attention of the intendant Raudot, however, was in due course drawn to this difficulty. It was a development not at all to his liking. He thought it would be frowned upon by the king and his ministers if properly brought to their notice, and in 1707 he wrote frankly to his superiors concerning it. First of all he complained that 'a spirit of business speculation, which has always more of cunning and chicane than of truth and righteousness in it,' was finding its way into the hearts of the people. The seigneurs in particular, he alleged, were becoming mercenary; they were taking advantage of technicalities to make the habitants pay more than their just dues. In many cases settlers had taken up lands on the merely oral assurances of the seigneurs; then when they got their deeds in writing these deeds contained various provisions which they had not counted upon and which were not fair. 'Hence,' declared the intendant, 'a great abuse has arisen, which is that the habitants who have worked their farms without written titles have been subjected to heavy rents and dues, the seigneurs refusing to grant them regular deeds except on onerous conditions; and these conditions they find themselves obliged to accept, because otherwise they will have their labour for nothing.'
The royal authorities paid due heed to these complaints, and, although they did not accept all Raudot's suggestions, they proceeded to provide corrective measures in the usual way. This way, of course, was by the issue of royal edicts. Two of these decrees reached the colony in the due course of events. They are commonly known as the Arrets of Marly, and bear date July 11, 1711. Both were carefully prepared and their provisions show that the royal authorities understood just where the entire trouble lay.
The first arret went direct to the point. 'The king has been informed,' it recites, 'that there are some seigneurs who refuse under various pretexts to grant lands to settlers who apply for them, preferring rather the hope that they may later sell these lands.' Such attitude, the decree went on to declare, was absolutely repugnant to His Majesty's intentions, and especially 'unfair to incoming settlers who thus find land less open to free settlement in situations best adapted for agriculture.' It was, therefore, ordered that if any applicant for lands should be by any seigneur denied a reasonable grant on the customary terms, the intendant should forthwith step in and issue a deed on his own authority. In this case the annual payments were to go to the colonial treasury, and not to the seigneur. This decree simplified matters considerably. After it became the law of the colony no one desiring land from a seigneur's ungranted domain was expected to offer anything above the customary annual dues and services. The seigneur had no legal right to demand more. By one stroke of the royal pen the Canadian seigneur had lost all right of ownership in his seigneury; he became from this time on a trustee holding lands in trust for the future immigrant and for the sons of the people. However his lands might grow in value, the seigneur, according to the letter of the law, could exact no more from new tenants than from those who had first settled upon his estate. This was a revolutionary change; it put the seigneurial system in Canada on a basis wholly different from that in France; it proved that the king regarded the system as useful only in so far as it actively contributed to the progress of the colony. Where it stood in the way of progress he was prepared to apply the knife even at its very vitals.
Unfortunately for those most concerned, however, the royal orders were not allowed to become common knowledge in the colony. The decree was registered and duly promulgated; then quickly forgotten. Few of the habitants seem to have ever heard of it; newcomers, of course, knew nothing of their rights under its provisions. Seigneurs continued to get special terms for advantageous locations, the applicants for lands being usually quite willing to pay a bonus whenever they could afford to do so. Now and then some one, having heard of the royal arret, would appeal to the intendant, whereupon the seigneur made haste to straighten out things satisfactorily. Then, as now, the presumption was that the people knew the law, and were in a position to take advantage of its protecting features; but the agencies of information were so few that the provisions of a new decree rarely became common property.
The second of the two arrets of Marly was designed to uphold the hands of those seigneurs who were trying to do right. The king and his ministers were convinced, from the information which had come to them, that not all the 'cunning and chicane' in land dealings came from the seigneurs. The habitants were themselves in part to blame. In many cases settlers had taken good lands, had cut down a few trees, thinking thereby to make a technical compliance with requirements, and were spending their energies in the fur trade. It was the royal opinion that real homesteading should be insisted upon, and he decreed, accordingly, that wherever a habitant did not make a substantial start in clearing his farm, the land should be forfeited in a year to the seigneur. This arret, unlike its companion decree, was rigidly enforced. The council at Quebec was made up of seigneurs, and to the seigneurs as a whole its provisions were soon made known. During the twenty years following the issue of the decree of 1711 the intendant was called upon to declare the forfeiture of over two hundred farms, the owners of which had not fulfilled the obligation to establish a hearth and home (tenir feu et lieu) upon the lands. As a spur to the slothful this decree appears to have had a wholesome effect; although, in spite of all that could be done, the agricultural development of the colony proceeded with exasperating slowness. Each year the governor and intendant tried in their dispatches to put the colony's best foot forward; every autumn the ships took home expressions of achievement and hope; but between the lines the patient king must have read much that was discouraging.
It may be well at this point to take a general survey of the colonial seigneuries, noting what progress had been made. The seigneurial system had been a half-century in full flourish—what had it accomplished? That is evidently just what the home authorities wanted to know when they arranged for a topographical and general report on the seigneuries in 1712. This investigation, on the intendant's advice, was entrusted to an engineer, Gedeon de Catalogne. Catalogne, who was a native of Bearn, born in 1662, came to Canada about the year 1685. He was engaged on the improvement of the colonial fortifications until the intendant set him to work on a survey of the seigneuries. The work occupied two or three years, in the course of which he prepared three excellent maps showing the situation and extent of all the seigneuries in the districts of Quebec, Three Rivers, and Montreal. The first two maps have been preserved; that of the district of Montreal was probably lost at sea on its way to France. With the two maps Catalogne presented a long report on the ownership, resources, and general progress of the seigneuries. Ninety-three of them are dealt with in all, the report giving in each case the situation and extent of the tract, the nature of the soil and its adaptability to different products, the mineral deposits and timber, the opportunities for industry and trade, the name and rank of the seigneur, the way in which he had come into possession of the seigneury, the provisions made for religious worship, and various other matters.
Catalogne's report shows that in 1712 practically all the lands bordering on both sides of the St Lawrence from Montreal to some distance below Quebec had been made into seigneuries. Likewise the islands in the river and the lands on both sides of the Richelieu had been apportioned either to the Church orders or to lay seigneurs. All these tracts were, for administrative purposes, grouped into the three districts of Montreal, Three Rivers, and Quebec; the intendant himself took direct charge of affairs at Quebec, but in the other two settlements he was represented by a subordinate. Each district, likewise, had its own royal court, and from the decisions of these tribunals appeals might be carried before the Superior Council, which held its weekly sessions at the colonial capital.
On the island of Montreal was the most important of the seigneuries in the district bearing its name. It was held by the Seminary of St Sulpice, and its six parishes contained in 1712 a population of over two thousand. The soil of the island was fertile and the situation was excellent for trading purposes, for it commanded the routes usually taken by the fur flotillas both from the Great Lakes and from the regions of Georgian Bay. The lands were steadily rising in value, and this seigneury soon became one of the most prosperous areas of the colony. The seminary also owned the seigneury of St Sulpice on the north shore of the river, some little distance below the island.
Stretching farther along this northern shore were various large seigneuries given chiefly to officers or former officers of the civil government, and now held by their heirs. La Valterie, Lanoraie, and Berthier-en-Haut, were the most conspicuous among these riparian fiefs. Across the stream lay Chateauguay and Longueuil, the patrimony of the Le Moynes; likewise the seigneuries of Varennes, Vercheres, Contrecoeur, St Ours, and Sorel. All of these were among the so-termed military seigneuries, having been originally given to retired officers of the Carignan regiment. A dozen other seigneurial properties, bearing names of less conspicuous interest, scattered themselves along both sides of the great waterway. Along the Richelieu from its junction with the St Lawrence to the outer limits of safe settlement in the direction of Lake Champlain, a number of seigneurial grants had been effected. The historic fief of Sorel commanded the confluence of the rivers; behind it lay Chambly and the other properties of the adventurous Hertels. These were settled chiefly by the disbanded Carignan soldiers, and it was their task to guard the southern gateway.
The coming of this regiment, its work in the colony, and its ultimate settlement, is an interesting story, illustrating as it does the deep personal interest which the Grand Monarque displayed in the development of his new dominions. For a long time prior to 1665 the land had been scourged at frequent intervals by Iroquois raids. Bands of marauding redskins would creep stealthily upon some outlying seigneury, butcher its people, burn everything in sight, and then decamp swiftly to their forest lairs. The colonial authorities, helpless to guard their entire frontiers and unable to foretell where the next blow would fall, endured the terrors of this situation for many years. In utter desperation they at length called on the king for a regiment of trained troops as the nucleus of a punitive expedition. The Iroquois would be tracked to their own villages and there given a memorable lesson in letters of blood and iron. The king, as usual, complied, and on a bright June day in 1665 a glittering cavalcade disembarked at Quebec. The Marquis de Tracy with two hundred gaily caparisoned officers and men of the regiment of Carignan-Salieres formed this first detachment; the other companies followed a little later. Quebec was like a city relieved from a long siege. Its people were in a frenzy of joy.
The work which the regiment had been sent out to do was soon begun. The undertaking was more difficult than had been anticipated, and two expeditions were needed to accomplish it; but the Iroquois were thoroughly chastened, and by the close of 1666 the colony once more breathed easily. How long, however, would it be permitted to do so? Would not the departure of the regiment be a signal to the Mohawks that they might once again raid the colony's borders with impunity? Talon thought that it would, hence he hastened to devise a plan whereby the Carignans might be kept permanently in Canada. To hold them there as a regular garrison was out of the question; it would cost too much to maintain six hundred men in idleness. So the intendant proposed to the king that the regiment should be disbanded at Quebec, and that all its members should be given inducements to make their homes in the colony.
Once more the king assented. He agreed that the officers of the regiment should be offered seigneuries, and provided with funds to make a start in improving them. For the rank and file who should prove willing to take lands within the seigneuries of the officers the king consented to provide a year's subsistence and a liberal grant in money. The terms proved attractive to some of the officers and to most of the men. Accordingly, arrangements were at once made for getting them established on their new estates. Just how many permanent settlers were added to the colonial population in this way is not easy to ascertain; but about twenty-five officers (chiefly captains and lieutenants) together with nearly four hundred men volunteered to stay. Most of the non-commissioned officers and men showed themselves to be made of good stuff; their days were long in the land, and their descendants by the thousand still possess the valley of the Richelieu. But the officers, good soldiers though they were, proved to be rather faint-hearted pioneers. The task of beating swords into ploughshares was not altogether to their tastes. Hence it was that many of them got into debt, mortgaged their seigneuries to Quebec or Montreal merchants, soon lost their lands, and finally drifted back to France.
When Talon arranged to have the Carignans disbanded in Canada he decided that they should be given lands in that section of the colony where they would be most useful in guarding New France at its most vulnerable point. This weakest point was the region along the Richelieu between Lake Champlain and the St Lawrence. By way of this route would surely come any English expedition sent against New France, and this likewise was the portal through which the Mohawks had already come on their errands of massacre. If Canada was to be safe, this region must become the colony's mailed fist, ready to strike in repulse at an instant's notice. All this the intendant saw very plainly, and he was wise in his generation. Later events amply proved his foresight. The Richelieu highway was actually used by the men of New England on various subsequent expeditions against Canada, and it was the line of Mohawk incursion so long as the power of this proud redskin clan remained unbroken. At no time during the French period was this region made entirely secure; but Talon's plan made the Richelieu route much more difficult for the colony's foes, both white and red, than it otherwise would have been.
Here was an interesting experiment in Roman imperial colonization repeated in the New World. When the empire of the Caesars was beginning to give way before the oncoming barbarians of Northern Europe, the practice of disbanding legions on the frontier and having them settle on the lands was adopted as a means of securing defence, without the necessity of spending large sums on permanent outpost garrisons. The retired soldier was a soldier still, but practically self-supporting in times of peace. These praedia militaria of the Romans gave Talon his idea of a military cantonment along the Richelieu, and in broaching his plans to the king he suggested that the 'practice of the politic and warlike Romans might be advantageously used in a land which, being so far away from its monarch, must trust for existence to the strength of its own arms.'
All who took lands in this region, whether seigneurs or habitants, were bound to serve in arms at the call of the king, although this obligation was not expressly provided in the deeds of land. Never was a call to arms without response. These military settlers and their sons after them were only too ready to gird on the sword at every opportunity. It was from this region that expeditions quietly set forth from time to time towards the borders of New England, and leaped like a lynx from the forest upon some isolated hamlet of Massachusetts or New York. The annals of Deerfield, Haverhill, and Schenectady bear to this day their tales of the Frenchman's ferocity, and all New England hated him with an unyielding hate. In guarding the southern portal he did his work with too much zeal, and his stinging blows finally goaded the English colonies to a policy of retaliation which cost the French very dearly.
But to return to the seigneuries along the river. The district of Three Rivers, extending on the north shore of the St Lawrence from Berthier-en-Haut to Grondines, and on the south from St Jean-Deschaillons east to Yamaska, was but sparsely populated when Catalogne prepared to report in 1712. Prominent seigneuries in this region were Pointe du Lac or Tonnancour, the estate of the Godefroys de Tonnancour; Cap de la Magdelaine and Batiscan, the patrimony of the Jesuits; the fief of Champlain, owned by Desjordy de Cabanac; Ste Anne de la Perade, Nicolet, and Becancour. Nicolet had passed into the hands of the Courvals, a trading family of Three Rivers, and Becancour was held by Pierre Robineau, the son of his famous father, Rene Robineau de Becancour. On all of these seigneuries some progress had been made, but often it amounted to very little. Better results had been obtained both eastward and westward of the region.
The district of Quebec was the first to be allotted in seigneuries, and here of course agriculture had made better headway. Grondines, La Chevrotiere, Portneuf, Pointe aux Trembles, Sillery, and Notre-Dame des Anges were all thriving properties ranging along the river bank eastward to the settlement at Quebec. Just beyond the town lay the flourishing fief of Beauport, originally owned by Robert Giffard, but now held by his heirs, the family of Juchereau Duchesnay. This seigneury was destined to loom up prominently in later days when Montcalm held Wolfe at bay for weeks along the Beauport shore. Fronting Beauport was the spacious island of Orleans with its several thriving parishes, all included within the seigneury of Francois Berthelot, on whom the king for his zeal and enterprise had conferred the title of Comte de St Laurent. A score of other seigneurial tracts, including Lotbiniere, Lauzon, La Durantaye, Bellechasse, Riviere Ouelle, and others well known to every student of Canadian genealogy, were included within the huge district round the ancient capital.
The king's representatives had been much too freehanded in granting land. No seigneur had a tenth of his tract under cultivation, yet all the best-located and most fertile soil of the colony had been given out. Those who came later had to take lands in out-of-the-way places, unless by good fortune they could secure the re-grant of something that had been abandoned. The royal generosity did not in the long run conduce to the upbuilding of the colony, and the home authorities in time recognized the imprudence of their policy. Hence it was that edict after edict sought to make these gentlemen of the wilderness give up whatever land they could not handle properly, and if these decrees of retrenchment had been strictly enforced most of the seigneurial estates would have been mercilessly reduced in area. But the seigneurs who were the most remiss happened to be the ones who sat at the council board in Quebec, and what they had they usually managed to hold, despite the king's command.
THREE SEIGNEURS OF OLD CANADA—HEBERT, LA DURANTAYE, LE MOYNE
It was to the seigneurs that the king looked for active aid in promoting the agricultural interests of New France. Many of them disappointed him, but not all. There were seigneurs who, in their own way, gave the king's interests a great deal of loyal service, and showed what the colony was capable of doing if all its people worked with sufficient diligence and zeal. Three of these pioneers of the seigneuries have been singled out for special attention in this chapter, because each prefigures a type of seigneur who did what was expected of him, although not always in the prescribed way. Their work was far from being showy, and offers a writer no opportunity to make his pages glow. The priest and the trader afford better themes. But even the short and simple annals of the poor, if fruitful in achievement, are worth the recounting.
The honour of being the colony's first seigneur belongs to Louis Hebert, and it was a curious chain of events that brought him to the role of a yeoman in the St Lawrence valley. Like most of these pilgrim fathers of Canada, Hebert has left to posterity little or no information concerning his early life and his experience as tiller of virgin soil. That is a pity; for he had an interesting and varied career from first to last. What he did and what he saw others do during these troublous years would make a readable chronicle of adventure, perseverance, and ultimate achievement. As it is, we must merely glean what we can from stray allusions to him in the general narratives of early colonial life. These tell us not a tithe of what we should like to know; but even such shreds of information are precious, for Hebert was Canada's first patron of husbandry. He connected his name with no brilliant exploit either of war or of peace; he had his share of adventure, but no more than a hundred others in his day; the greater portion of his adult years were passed with a spade in his hands. But he embodies a type, and a worthy type it is.
Most of Canada's early settlers came from Normandy, but Louis Hebert was a native of Paris, born in about 1575. He had an apothecary's shop there, but apparently was not making a very marked success of his business when in 1604. he fell in with Biencourt de Poutrincourt, and was enlisted as a member of that voyageur's first expedition to Acadia. It was in these days the custom of ships to carry an apothecary or dispenser of health-giving herbs. His functions ran the whole gamut of medical practice from copious blood-letting to the dosing of sailors with concoctions of mysterious make. Not improbably Hebert set out with no intention to remain in America; but he found Port Royal to his liking, and there the historian Lescarbot soon found him not only 'sowing corn and planting vines,' but apparently 'taking great pleasure in the cultivation of the soil.' All this in a colony which comprised five persons, namely, two Jesuit fathers and their servant, Hebert, and one other.
With serious dangers all about, and lack of support at home, Port Royal could make no headway, and in 1613 Hebert made his way back to France. The apothecary's shop was re-opened, and the daily customers were no doubt regaled with stories of life among the wild aborigines of the west. But not for long. There was a trait of restlessness that would not down, and in 1616 the little shop again put up its shutters. Hebert had joined Champlain in the Brouage navigator's first voyage to the St Lawrence. This time the apothecary burned his bridges behind him, for he took his family along, and with them all his worldly effects. The family consisted of his wife, two daughters, and a young son. The trading company which was backing Champlain's enterprise promised that Hebert and his family should be paid a cash bonus and should receive, in addition to a tract of land, provisions and stores sufficient for their first two years in the colony. For his part, Hebert agreed to serve without pay as general medical officer of the settlement, to give his other services to the company when needed, and to keep his hands out of the fur trade. Nothing was said about his serving as legal officer of the colony as well; but that task became part o his varied experience. Not long after his arrival at Quebec, Hebert's name appears, with the title of procureur du Roi, at the foot of a petition sent home by the colonists to the king.
All this looked fair enough on its face, but as matters turned out, Hebert made a poor bargain. The company gave him only half the promised bonus, granted him no title to any land, and for three years insisted upon having all his time for its own service. A man of ordinary tenacity would have made his way back to France at the earliest opportunity. But Hebert was loyal to Champlain, whom he in no way blamed for his bad treatment. At Champlain's suggestion he simply took a piece of land above the settlement at Quebec, and without waiting for any formal title-deed began devoting all his spare hours to the task of getting it cleared and cultivated. His small tract comprised only about a dozen arpents on the heights above the village; and as he had no one to help him the work of clearing it moved slowly. Trees had to be felled and cut up, the stumps burned and removed, stones gathered into piles, and every foot of soil upturned with a spade. There were no ploughs in the colony at this time. To have brought ploughs from France or to have made them in the colony would have availed nothing, for there were no horses at Quebec. It was not until after the sturdy pioneer had finished his lifework that ploughs and horses came to lessen the labour of breaking new land.
Nevertheless, Hebert was able by unremitting industry to get the entire twelve arpents into cultivable shape within four or five years. With his labours he mingled intelligence. Part of the land was sown with maize, part sown with peas, beans, and other vegetables, a part set off as an orchard, and part reserved as pasture. The land was fertile and produced abundantly. A few head of cattle were easily provided for in all seasons by the wild hay which grew in plenty on the flats by the river. Here was an indication of what the colony could hope to do if all its settlers were men of Hebert's persistence and stability. But the other prominent men of the little settlement, although they may have turned their hands to gardening in a desultory way, let him remain, for the time being, the only real colonist in the land. On his farm, moreover, a house had been built during these same years with the aid of two artisans, but chiefly by the labour of the owner himself. It was a stone house, about twenty feet by forty in size, a one-story affair, unpretentious and unadorned, but regarded as one of the most comfortable abodes in the colony. The attractions of this home, and especially the hospitality of Madame Hebert and her daughters, are more than once alluded to in the meagre annals of the settlement. It was the first dwelling to be erected on the plateau above the village; it passed to Hebert's daughter, and was long known in local history as the house of the widow Couillard. Its exact situation was near the gate of the garden which now encircles the seminary, and the remains of its foundation walls were found there in 1866 by some workmen in the course of their excavations.
That strivings so worthy should have in the end won due recognition from official circles is not surprising. The only wonder is that this recognition was so long delayed. An explanation can be found, however, in the fact that the trading company which controlled the destinies of the colony during its precarious infancy was not a bit interested in the agricultural progress of New France. It had but two aims—in the first place to get profits from the fur trade, and in the second place to make sure that no interlopers got any share in this lucrative business. Its officers placed little value upon such work as Hebert was doing. But in 1623 the authorities were moved to accord him the honour of rank as a seigneur, and the first title-deed conveying a grant of land en seigneurie was issued to him on February 4 of that year. The deed bore the signature of the Duc de Montmorenci, titular viceroy of New France. Three years later a further deed, confirming Hebert's rights and title, and conveying to him an additional tract of land on the St Charles river, was issued to him by the succeeding viceroy, Henri de Levy, Duc de Ventadour.
The preamble of this document recounts the services of the new seigneur. 'Having left his relatives and friends to help establish a colony of Christian people in lands which are deprived of the knowledge of God, not being enlightened by His holy light,' the document proceeds, 'he has by his painful labours and industry cleared lands, fenced them, and erected buildings for himself, his family and his cattle.' In order, accordingly, 'to encourage those who may hereafter desire to inhabit and develop the said country of Canada,' the land held by Hebert, together with an additional square league on the shore of the St Charles, is given to him 'to have and to hold in fief noble for ever,' subject to such charges and conditions as might be later imposed by official decree.
By this indenture feudalism cast its first anchor in the New World. Some historians have attributed to the influence of Richelieu this policy of creating a seigneurial class in the transmarine dominions of France. The cardinal- minister, it is said, had an idea that the landless aristocrats of France might be persuaded to emigrate to the colonies by promises of lavish seigneurial estates wrested from the wilderness. It will be noted, however, that Hebert received his title-deed before Richelieu assumed the reins of power, so that, whatever influence the latter may have had on the extension of the seigneurial system in the colonies, he could not have prompted its first appearance there.
Hebert died in 1627. Little as we know about his life, the clerical chroniclers tell us a good deal about his death, which proves that he must have had all the externals of piety. He was extolled as the Abraham of a new Israel. His immediate descendants were numerous, and it was predicted that his seed would replenish the earth. Assuredly, this portion of the earth needed replenishing, for at the time of Hebert's death Quebec was still a struggling hamlet of sixty-five souls, two-thirds of whom were women and children unable to till the fields. Hebert certainly did his share. His daughters married in the colony and had large families. By these marriages a close alliance was formed with the Couillards and other prominent families of the colony's earliest days. From these and later alliances some of the best-known families in the history of French Canada have come down,—the Jolliets, De Lerys, De Ramesays, Fourniers and Taschereaus,—and the entire category of Hebert's descendants must run well into the thousands. All but unknown by a busy world outside, the memory of this Paris apothecary has none the less been cherished for nearly three hundred years in many a Canadian home. Had all the seigneurs of the old regime served their king with half his zeal the colony would not have been left in later days so naked to its enemies.
But not all the seigneurs of Old Canada were of Hebert's type. Too many of them, whether owing to inherited Norman traits, to their previous environment in France, or to the opportunities which they found in the colony, developed an incurable love of the forest life. On the slightest pretext they were off on a military or trading expedition, leaving their lands, tenants, and often their own families to shift as best they might. Fields grew wild while the seigneurs, and often their habitants with them, spent the entire spring, summer, and autumn in any enterprise that promised to be more exciting than sowing and reaping grain. Among the military seigneurs of the upper St Lawrence and Richelieu regions not a few were of this type. They were good soldiers and quickly adapted themselves to the circumstances of combat in the New World, meeting the Iroquois with his own arts and often combining a good deal of the red man's craftiness with a white man's superior intelligence. Insatiable in their thirst for adventure, they were willing to assume all manner of risks or privations. Spring might find them at Lake Champlain, autumn at the head-waters of the Mississippi, a trusty birch-bark having carried them the thousand miles between. Their work did not figure very heavily in the colony's annual balance-sheet of progress with its statistics of acreage newly cleared, homes built and harvests stowed safely away. But according to their own ideals of service they valiantly served the king, and they furnish the historian of the old regime with an interesting and unusual group of men. Neither New England nor the New Netherlands possessed this type within their borders, and this is one reason why the pages of their history lack the contrast of light and shade which marks from start to finish the annals of New France.