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New France in 1665

Let us take a glance over the colony at the time when Courcelle and Talon landed at Quebec after an ocean journey--there were no fast lines then--of one hundred and seventeen days.

In 1665 Canada had only three settled districts: Quebec, Three Rivers, and Ville-Marie or Montreal. Quebec, the chief town, bore the proud title of the capital of New France. Yet it contained barely seventy houses with about five hundred and fifty inhabitants. Then, as now, it consisted of a lower and an upper town. In the lower town were to be found the king's stores and the merchants' shops and residences. The public officials and the clergy and members of the religious orders lived in the upper town, where stood the principal buildings of the capital--the Chateau Saint-Louis, the Bishop's Palace, the Cathedral, the Jesuits' College and Chapel, and the monasteries of the Ursulines and of the Hotel-Dieu sisters.

Francois de Laval de Montmorency, bishop of Petraea and vicar apostolic for Canada, was the spiritual head of the colony. He had arrived from France six years earlier, in 1659, and was destined to spend the remainder of his life, nearly half a century, in the service of the Church in Canada. Because of his noble character and many virtues, his strong intellect, and his devotion to the public weal, he will ever rank as one of the greatest figures in Canadian history. His vicar-general was Henri de Bernieres, who was also parish priest of Quebec and superior of the seminary founded by the bishop in 1663. The superior of the Jesuits was Father Le Mercier. The saintly Marie de l'Incarnation was mother superior of the Ursulines, and Mother Saint Bonaventure of the Hotel-Dieu.

It may be interesting to recall the names of some of the notable citizens of Quebec at that time, other than the high officials. There were Michel Filion and Pierre Duquet, notaries; Jean Madry, surgeon to the king's majesty; Jean Le Mire, the future syndic des habitants; Madame d'Ailleboust, widow of a former governor; Madame Couillard, widow of Guillaume Couillard and daughter of Louis Hebert, the first tiller of the soil; Madame de Repentigny, widow of 'Admiral' de Repentigny, to use the grandiloquent expression of old chroniclers; Nicolas Marsollet, Louis Couillard de l'Espinay, Charles Roger de Colombiers, Francois Bissot, Charles Amiot, Le Gardeur de Repentigny, Dupont de Neuville, Pierre Denis de la Ronde, all men of high standing. The chief merchants were Charles Basire, Jacques Loyer de Latour, Claude Charron, Jean Maheut, Eustache Lambert, Bertrand Chesnay de la Garenne, Guillaume Feniou. Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye, the stalwart Quebec trader of the day, was then in France.

In the neighborhood of Quebec were a few settlements. According to the census of the following year there were 452 persons on the Island of Orleans, 533 at the Cote Beaupre, 185 at Beauport, 140 at Sillery, and 112 at Charlesbourg and Notre-Dame-des-Anges on the St Charles river.

Three Rivers was a small port with a population of 455, including that of the adjoining settlements. The governor in charge of the local administration was Pierre Boucher, already mentioned as a delegate to France in 1661. The Jesuits had a residence there and a chapel which was the only place of public worship, for the colonists had not as yet the means to erect a parish church. In the vicinity there were the beginnings of settlement at Cap-de-la-Magdeleine, Batiscan, and Champlain. Among the important families of Three Rivers were those of Godefroy, Hertel, Le Neuf, Crevier, Boucher, Poulin, Volant, Lemaitre, Rivard, and Ameau. Michel Le Neuf du Herisson was juge royal, and Severin Ameau was notary and registrar of the court.

Montreal or Ville-Marie was scarcely more important than Three Rivers. The population of the whole district numbered only 625. A fort built by Maisonneuve and Ailleboust at Pointe-a-Callieres; the house of the Sulpicians at the foot of the present Saint-Sulpice Street; the Hotel-Dieu on the other side of that street; the convent of the Congregation sisters facing the Hotel-Dieu; a few houses scattered along the road called 'de la Commune,' now Saint-Paul Street; and on the rising ground towards the Place d'Armes of later years a few more dwellings--these constituted the Montreal of primitive days. On the top of the hill called 'Coteau Saint-Louis' was erected an intrenched mill--'Moulin du Coteau'--which could be used as a redoubt to protect the inhabitants. The Sulpicians' house, the Hotel-Dieu, the convent of the Congregation, and the houses of the Place d'Armes and of 'la Commune' were connected with the fort by footpaths. Before 1672 there were no streets laid out. The only place of public worship was the Hotel-Dieu chapel, fifty feet in length by thirty in width. The superior of the Sulpicians was Abbe Souart. Mother Mace was superioress of the Hotel-Dieu, but the mainstay of the institution was the well-known Mademoiselle Mance, who, by the aid of Madame de Bullion's benefactions, had founded it in 1643. The illustrious Sister Marguerite Bourgeoys was at the head of the Congregation, which owed its existence to her pious zeal and devotion to the education of the young. Among the 'Montrealistes' of note the following should be specially mentioned: Zacharie Dupuy, major of the island; Charles d'Ailleboust, seigneurial judge; J. B. Migeon de Bransac, fiscal attorney; Louis Artus Sailly, who had been for some time juge royal; Benigne Basset, at once registrar of the seigneurial court, notary, and surveyor; Charles Le Moyne, king's treasurer, interpreter, soldier, settler, who was later to be ennobled and receive the title of Baron de Longueuil; Etienne Bouchard, surgeon; Pierre Picote de Belestre, a valiant militia officer; Claude de Robutel, Sieur de Saint-Andre; Jacques Leber, a merchant who controlled almost the whole trade of Ville-Marie.

Altogether the white population of Canada, including the settlers and laborers arriving during the summer of 1665, numbered only 3215. Yet the colony had been in existence for fifty-seven years! It was certainly time for a new effort on the part of the mother country to infuse life into her feeble offspring. This was a task calling for the earnest care and the most energetic activity of Tracy, Courcelle, and Talon.

One of the first matters to receive their attention was the reorganization of the Canadian administration. We have seen that in 1663 the Sovereign Council had been created, to consist of the high officials of the colony and five councilors. At this time, September 1665, the five councilors were Mathieu Damours, Le Gardeur de Tilly, and three others who had been irregularly appointed by Mezy, the preceding governor, to take the places of three councilors whom he had arbitrarily dismissed--Rouer de Villeray, Juchereau de la Ferte, and Ruette d'Auteuil. The same governor had also dismissed Jean Bourdon, the attorney-general, and had replaced him by Chartier de Lotbiniere. These summary dismissals and appointments had arisen out of a quarrel between the governor and the bishop, in which the former appears to have been influenced by petty motives. At any rate Mezy had been recalled by the king; and Tracy, Courcelle, and Talon had been instructed to try him for improper conduct in office. But before their arrival at Quebec, Mezy had obeyed the summons of another King than the king of France. He had been taken ill in the spring of the year and had died on May 6. Mezy being dead, it was wisely thought unnecessary to recall unhappy memories of his errors and misdeeds. Sufficient would be done if the grievances due to his rashness were redressed. Accordingly the dismissed officials were reinstated, and on September 23, 1665, a solemn sitting of the Sovereign Council was held, at which Tracy, Courcelle, Laval, and Talon were present, together with the Sieur Le Barroys, general agent of the West India Company, and the Sieurs de Villeray, de la Ferte, d'Auteuil, de Tilly, Damours--all the councilors in office before Mezy's dismissals--Jean Bourdon, the attorney-general, and J. B. Peuvret, secretary of the council. The letters patent of Courcelle and Talon as well as the commission and credentials of the Sieur Le Barroys were duly read and registered; the letters patent of the Marquis de Tracy had been registered previously. With these formalities the new administration of Canada was inaugurated.

The next proceeding of the rulers of New France was to prepare for a decisive blow against the daring Iroquois. Tracy and the soldiers, as we have seen, had arrived in June and three forts were in course of building on the Richelieu river, or 'riviere des Iroquois,' so called because for a long period it had been the most direct highway leading from the villages of these bloody warriors to the heart of the colony. During the summer and autumn of 1665 the Carignan soldiers were kept busy with the construction of these necessary defensive works. The first fort was erected at the mouth of the river, under the direction of Captain de Sorel; the second fifty miles higher, under Captain de Chambly; and the third about nine miles farther up, under Colonel de Salieres. The first two retained the names of the officers in charge of their construction, and the third received the name of Sainte-Therese because it was finished on the day dedicated to that saint. During the following year two other forts were built--St John, a few miles distant from Sainte-Therese, and Sainte-Anne, on an island at the head of Lake Champlain. Both Tracy and Courcelle went to inspect the work personally and encourage the garrisons.

In the meantime Talon was in no way idle. He had to organize the means of conveying provisions, ammunition, tools, and supplies of every description for the maintenance of the troops and the furtherance of the work. Under his supervision a flotilla of over fifty boats plied between Quebec and the river Richelieu. It was also his business to take care of the incoming soldiers and laborers and to see that those who had contracted disease during their journey across the ocean received proper nursing and medical attendance.

From the moment of his arrival he had lost no opportunity of acquiring information on the situation in the colony. There is a curious anecdote that illustrates the manner in which he sometimes contrived to gain knowledge by concealing his identity. On the very day of his landing he went alone to the Hotel-Dieu, and asking for the superioress, introduced himself as the valet de chambre of the intendant, pretending to be sent by his master to assure the good ladies of the hospital of M. Talon's kindly disposition and desire to bestow on them every favor in his gift. One of the sisters present at the interview--Mere de la Nativite, a very bright and clever woman--was struck by the extreme distinction of manner and speech of the so-called valet, and, with a meaning glance at the superioress, told the visitor that unless she was mistaken he was more than he pretended to be. On his asking what could convey to her that impression, she replied that by his bearing and language she could not but feel that the intendant himself was honoring the Hotel-Dieu with a visit. Talon could do no less than confess that she was right, showing at the same time that he appreciated the delicate compliment thus paid to him. From that day he was a devoted and most generous friend to the Hotel-Dieu of Quebec.

One of the first problems with which the intendant had to deal in discharging the duties of his office was the dualism of administrative authority. It has been mentioned that Colbert had founded a new trading company, known as the West India Company. This corporation had been granted wide privileges over all the French possessions in America, including feudal ownership and authority to administer justice and levy war. The company was thus invested with the right of appointing judicial officers, magistrates, and sovereign councils, and of naming, subject to the king's sanction governors and other functionaries; it had full power to sell the land or make grants in feudal tenure, to receive all seigneurial dues, to build forts, raise troops, and equip war-ships. The company's charter had been granted in 1664, and of course Canada, as well as the other French colonies in the New World, was included in its jurisdiction. The situation of this colony was therefore very peculiar. In 1663 the king had cancelled the charter of the One Hundred Associates and had taken back the fief of Canada; but a year later he had granted it again to a new company. At the same time he showed clearly that he intended to keep the administration in his own hands. Thus Canada seemed to have two masters. In accordance with its charter, the company held the ownership and government of the country de jure. But in point of fact the king wielded the government, thus taking back with one hand what he had given with the other. By right the company controlled the administration of justice; it could, and actually did, establish courts. But, in fact, the king appointed the intendant supreme judge in civil cases, and made the Sovereign Council a tribunal of superior jurisdiction. By right, to the company belonged the power of granting land and seigneuries. In fact, the governor or the intendant, the king's officers, made the grants at their pleasure. This strange situation, which lasted ten years--until the West India Company's charter was revoked in 1674--is often confusing to the student of the period.

Talon saw at a glance the anomaly of the situation; but, being a practical man, he was less displeased with the falsity of the principle than apprehensive of the evil that was likely to result. In a letter to Colbert, dated October 4, 1665, he discussed the subject at length, putting it in plain terms. If, when the grant was made, it was the king's intention to benefit only the company--to increase its profits and develop its trade--with no ulterior consideration for the development of the colony, then it would be well to leave to the company the sole ownership of the country. But if His Majesty had thought of making Canada one of the prosperous parts of his kingdom, it was very doubtful whether he could attain that end without keeping in his own hands the control of lands and trade. The real aim of the West India Company, as he had learned, was to enforce its commercial monopoly to the utmost; and become the only trading medium between the colony and the mother country. Such a policy could have but one result; it would put an end to private enterprise and discourage immigration.

In spite of the company's apparent overlordship, Talon thought that, as the king's agent, he was bound to exercise the powers appertaining to his office for the good of the colony. By the end of the year 1665 he had planned a new settlement in the vicinity of Quebec on lands included in the limits of the seigneury of Notre-Dame-des-Anges at Charlesbourg, which he had withdrawn from the grant to the Jesuits, under the king's authority. This was the occasion of some friction between the Jesuits and the intendant. Talon gave the necessary orders for the erection of about forty dwellings which should be ready to receive new settlers during the following year. These were to be grouped in three adjacent villages named Bourg-Royal, Bourg-la-Reine, and Bourg-Talon. We shall learn more of them in a following chapter.

Another enterprise of the intendant was numbering the people. Under his personal supervision, during the winter of 1666-67, a general census of the colony was taken--the first Canadian census of which we have any record.

The count showed, as we have already said, a total population of 3215 in Canada at that time--

2034 males and 1181 females.

The married people numbered 1109, and there were 528 families.

Elderly people were but few in number, 95 only being from fifty-one to sixty years old, 43 from sixty-one to seventy, 10 from seventy-one to eighty, and 4 from eighty-one to ninety.

In regard to professions and occupations, there were then in New France

3 notaries,
5 surgeons,
18 merchants,
4 bailiffs,
3 schoolmasters,
36 carpenters,
27 joiners,
30 tailors,
8 coopers,
5 bakers,
9 millers,
3 locksmiths.

The census did not include the king's troops, which formed a body of 1200 men. The clergy consisted of the bishop, 18 Priests and aspirants to the priesthood, and 35 Jesuit fathers. There were also 19 Ursulines, 23 Hospitalieres, and 4 Sisters of the Congregation. The original record of this, the first Canadian census, has been preserved and is without question a most important historical document. It is likewise full of living interest, for in it are recorded the names of many families whose descendants are now to be found all over Canada.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The Great Intendant, A Chronicle of Jean Talon in Canada 1665-1672, 1915

 

Chronicles of Canada


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