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Talon's Eventful Journey

Talon returned to France in an auspicious hour. It was perhaps the happiest and brightest period of the reign of Louis XIV. France had emerged victorious from two campaigns, and the king had just signed a treaty which added to his realm a part of the province of Flanders. The kingdom enjoyed peace, and its prosperity had never been so great. Thanks to Colbert, the exchequer was full. In all departments the French government was displaying intelligent activity. Trade and commerce, agriculture and manufacture, were encouraged and protected. With ample means at their disposal and perfect freedom of action, Louis XIV and Colbert could not but be in a favorable mood to receive Talon's reports and proposals. Talon acted as if he were still the intendant of New France; and though for the time being he was not, he was surely the most powerful agent or advocate that the colony could have. The king and his minister readily acquiesced in his schemes for strengthening the Canadian colony. It was decided to dispatch six companies of soldiers to reinforce the four already there, and ultimately, upon being disbanded, to aid in settling the country. Many hundred laborers and unmarried women and a new stock of domestic animals were also to be sent. Colbert had never been so much in earnest concerning New France. He attended personally to details, gave orders for the levy of troops and for the shipping of the men and supplies, and urged on the officials in charge so that everything should be ready early in the spring. To M. de Courcelle he wrote these welcome tidings:

His Majesty has appropriated over 200,000 livres to do what he deems necessary for the colony. One hundred and fifty girls are going thither to be married; six companies complete with fifty good men in each and thirty officers or noblemen, who wish to settle there, and more than two hundred other persons are also going. Such an effort shows how greatly interested in Canada His Majesty feels, and to what extent he will appreciate all that may be done to help its progress.

That the minister was not actuated merely by a passing mood, but by a set purpose, may be seen from a passage of a letter to Terron, the intendant at Rochefort: 'I am very glad,' Colbert wrote, 'that you have not gone beyond the funds appropriated for the passage of the men and girls to Canada. You know how important it is to keep within the limits, especially in an outlay which will have to be repeated every year.'

In the meantime Talon was pleading the cause of Canada in another direction. Always intent on freeing New France from the commercial monopoly of the West India Company, he renewed his assault against that corporation, and at last he was successful. This signal victory showed plainly his great influence with the minister. Colbert conveyed the gratifying information to Courcelle:

His Majesty has granted freedom of trade to Canada, so that the colony may hereafter receive more easily the provisions and supplies needed. It will now be necessary to inform the colonists that they must provide cargoes agreeable to the French, who will supply them with necessities, and so make a profitable exchange of goods. For there is now a great supply of furs in this kingdom, and if there were no other goods available as a return cargo perhaps the French ships would not go there.

The spring of 1669 was memorable for Canada. Nearly all that Talon asked for New France was granted. But one thing which he did not ask was desired by Louis and Colbert. It is probable that Talon intended to go back to Canada, but he did not expect or wish to return immediately. Yet this was what the king and the minister deemed advisable and even essential. It was very well to send troops, laborers, women, settlers, and supplies; but, in order that all should yield their maximum of efficiency, it was necessary that the business affairs of the colony should again be placed in the hands of the intendant, who had already worked wonders by his sagacity and skilful management. There was no man who knew so well the weak and strong points, the requirements and possibilities of Canada. True, only a few months had elapsed since the king had given him permission to leave Canada, and had appointed in his stead another intendant who, naturally enough, would expect to be in charge for at least two years. But, on the other hand, the king's service and the public good demanded his reappointment. Talon had to acquiesce. He had reached Paris at the end of December. Three months later he was again intendant of New France, and on April Louis XIV wrote to the intendant Bouteroue at Quebec informing him of Talon's reinstatement. To leave France so soon must have been for Talon a great sacrifice, but it was a high compliment that Louis and Colbert were paying to his talents and administrative abilities. On May 10, 1669, the king signed his new commission, and on the 17th he received his instructions, a document much shorter than the one framed for his direction in 1665. No minute advice was needed this time, for Talon was himself the best authority on all matters relating to Canada.

Talon sailed from La Rochelle on July 15. He was accompanied by Captain Francois Marie Perrot, one of the six commanders of the companies sent to Canada; by Fathers Romuald Papillion, Hilarion Guesnin, Cesaire Herveau, and Brother Cosme Graveran. Perrot was married to the niece of the intendant. The friars belonged to the Franciscan order and to the particular branch of it known under the name of Recollets. It had been thought good to reintroduce into Canada the religious society whose priests had been the first to preach the Gospel there. The intendant's former voyage from France to Canada had lasted one hundred and seventeen days, so that, allowing for all probable delays, he might expect to reach Quebec by the end of October at the latest. But it was decreed that he was not to see New France this year. His ship was assailed by a series of storms and hurricanes and driven far from her right course. After three months of exertion and suffering the captain was obliged to make for the port of Lisbon. There the ship was revictualled; but, having sailed again, she struck upon a rocky shoal at a distance of three leagues from Lisbon and was totally wrecked. Talon and his companions were fortunately saved, and found themselves back in France at the beginning of the year 1670.

In the meantime what was going on in Canada? Talon's successor, M. de Bouteroue, was upright and intelligent, but without Talon's masterly gifts and activity. He attended principally to the administration of justice. At the judicial sittings of the Sovereign Council he was almost always present; he himself heard many cases, and often acted as judge-advocate. On his advice the council gave out an ordinance fixing the price of wheat. There had been complaints that sometimes creditors refused to accept wheat in payment, or accepted it only at a price unreasonably low. So it was enacted that for three months after the promulgation of the decree debtors should be at liberty to pay their creditors in wheat of good quality at the price of four livres per bushel.

The evil consequences of the previous action of the council in freeing the brandy traffic were already manifest. The scourge of the coureurs de bois, later to prove so damaging to the colony, was beginning to be felt. A new ordinance now prohibited the practice of going into the woods with liquor to meet the Indians and trade with them. This ordinance also enjoined sobriety upon the Indians and held them responsible for the drunkenness of their squaws, while the French were forbidden to drink with them. Hunting in the forest was only allowed by leave of the commandant of the district or the nearest judge, to whose inspection all luggage and goods for trade must be submitted. Brandy might be taken on these expeditions, but no more than one pot per man for eight days. The penalty for violating any of these provisions of the law was confiscation, with a fine of fifty livres for a first offence and corporal punishment for a second. Thus, but in vain, did the leaders of New France attempt to stay the progress of Indian debauchery.

During the summer of 1669 a renewal of the war between the French and the Iroquois was threatened. Three French soldiers had killed six Oneidas, after making them drunk for the purpose of stealing their furs; three other soldiers had treacherously murdered a Seneca chief for the same purpose. The Outaouais also, who were in alliance with the French, attacked a party of Iroquois, killing and capturing many. Incensed at these acts of hostility, the Iroquois threatened to unbury the tomahawk. Courcelle at once set himself to the task of averting the danger. He went to Montreal, where many hundred Indians had gathered for the annual fair, to which they always came in great numbers for the purpose of exchanging their furs for goods. He convened a large meeting and made an address of great vigor and cleverness, his speech being accompanied by appropriate gifts. He then proceeded to carry out the sentence of the law upon the murderers of the Seneca chief, who were shot on the spot in the presence of the assembly. The Iroquois were placated; three men killed for the death of one convinced them that French justice was neither slow nor faltering. In the meantime the Outaouais had brought back three of their prisoners and pledged themselves for the surrender of twelve others. in this way war was averted and peace maintained.

The first ships coming from France that summer brought letters from Colbert to Courcelle and Bouteroue intimating that Talon was returning to resume his charge. Bouteroue was probably surprised to learn that he was to be superseded so soon, and the governor may have been disappointed to hear of the early arrival of a man whose authority and prestige made him somewhat uneasy. But in the colony the rejoicing was general. Mother Marie de l'Incarnation wrote: 'We expect daily M. Talon whom the king sends back to settle everything according to His Majesty's views. He brings with him five hundred men. ...If God favors his journey and brings him happily to port he will find new means of increasing the country's wealth.' Several weeks elapsed, and Talon's ship did not appear. Some anxiety was felt. Mother Marie wrote again: 'M. Talon has not arrived; in his ship alone there were five hundred men. We are greatly concerned at the delay. They may have landed again in France, or have been lost in the storms which have proved to be so dreadful.' The autumn of 1669 had been a stormy season. Fearful hurricanes swept over Quebec. The lower town was flooded to an incredible height, many buildings were destroyed, and the havoc amounted to 100,000 livres. All this was painfully disquieting. To quote Mother Marie again: 'If M. Talon has been wrecked, it will be an irretrievable loss to the colony, for, the king having given him a free hand, he could undertake great things without minding the outlay.' In the meantime M. Patoulet, Talon's secretary, who had left France on another ship and had reached Quebec safely, wrote to Colbert: 'If he is dead, His Majesty will have lost a good subject, yourself, Monseigneur, a faithful servant, Canada an affectionate father, and myself a good master.'

Fortunately, as we have already seen, Talon was not lost. At the very time when these letters were written he was on his way back to France, where he spent the winter hard at work with Colbert--preparing for the dispatch of settlers and soldiers in the spring. The minister displayed the same zeal as the year before. He appropriated ample funds, gave urgent orders, and seemed to make the Canadian reinforcements his personal affair. Talon sailed from La Rochelle about the middle of May 1670. He was accompanied by Perrot again, and also by six Recollets, four fathers and two brothers. After three months at sea he was nearly shipwrecked once more, this time near Tadoussac, almost at the end of his journey. On August 18, after an absence from Canada of one year and nine months, he landed once more at Quebec.

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


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