Do Canadians Have Slave Blood?

There were many marriages between black slaves, but few between Amerindian slaves. This does not mean that Amerindian slaves remained single, however. Charlevoix noted that many white Canadian men had a pronounced liking for "savage women" and while many such men were quite content to have sexual relations with "savage women" some nonetheless felt the need to marry such women before God; some Amerindian men also formed permanent unions with white Canadian women.

"French and Amerindians should form only one people and one blood"

As Canadians returned from the pays d'en haut, they brought back mainly Panis, which raised the inevitable problem of illegitimate children and of marriage between Canadians and Amerindians. This problem went back a long way. Around 1648, the Jesuit Pierre de Sesmaisons recommended to the Pope that the French of New France be allowed to marry "savage women" even those who had not been baptized. He claimed this would produce numerous benefits, such as the strengthening of alliances with native tribes:

This will diminish the number of savages while increasing the number of Christians [...]. These marriages will greatly promote the peopling of this great country where God is not [currently] well served, since French men will marry here, and will no longer return to France in order to take wives, which in turn hinders them shortly afterwards from coming back to the colony [...]. These reasons seem pressing enough to incite His Holiness to allow the French who live in New France to marry savage girls, even when the latter have not been baptized and are not even very well educated.180

The Jesuit's memo is interesting, but more important still was the policy advocated by the minister Colbert, which favoured the complete integration of the native Amerindian and French populations in New France. In writing to Intendant Talon in 1667, Colbert regretted that the Algonquins and Hurons had not yet been integrated into French society: "You have started to address this longstanding neglect, and you must try to attract these [Amerindian] people to those who have embraced Christianity in the vicinity of our homes, and if possible to mix them together so that over time, living under only one master and one system of law, they will form only one people and one blood." The following year, Colbert accused the Jesuits and the authorities of not working hard enough to civilize converted "savages, whether by uniting them in marriage to the French or in getting their whole families to live among our own."181 Colbert's policy on the settlement of New France clearly called for bringing French and "savages" together in marriage, so that they formed only one people and one blood.

During the seventeenth century many attempts were made to bring this about. Champlain adopted three young Amerindian girls, Foi, Esperance and Charite, intending to raise them in the French manner, but ultimately the girls headed back to the forest. The Ursulines of Quebec founded a "convent for Indian women"; the Sisters of the Congregation in Montreal raised among others two Potawatomi girls, who had been presented as slaves by the Iroquois to Governor Courcelle: "they learned the French language and were raised in the European manner, so that the elder of the two girls is fit to marry a French man, but it is to be hoped that she will receive a dowry, to serve as an example to others, and to fill them with the desire to be raised in the French manner."182

The eighteenth century saw more of these marriages between French men and "savage" women of a free condition. On August 15, 1718 in Montreal, Marianne You, a twenty-four-year-old Miami Amerindian and daughter of Pierre You d'Youville Ladecouverte and of the Miami woman Elisabeth, married a Canadian named Jean Richard, son of Guillaume Richard and Agnes Tessier. A more interesting case occurred in the Hamelin family, where on November 27, 1738, in Michilimackinac, the merchant Charles Hamelin, son of Jacques Hamelin, seigneur of Grondmes, married the Sauteux or Plains Ojibwa woman Marie-Athanase who had already given him four illegitimate children. He legitimized them the day of his wedding. Marie-Athanase died in 1745, but the merchant continued to enjoy the company of Amerindian women. Another Plains Ojibwa woman named Marie-Anastasie, gave him an illegitimate son in 1746, and they finally married on February 4,1748 - his second marriage to an Ojibwa woman. Charles Hamelin's son, Louis Hamelin, faithfully maintained his father's tradition. Between 1769 and 1779, he had five illegitimate children with the Plains Ojibwa Marie-Joseph Lesable, and on August 19, 1787 in Michilimackinac he finally married the mother of his children. No matter what various people may have claimed about the matter, we could easily provide a long list of such marriages between white Canadians and "savage women" of a free condition.

Allowing Canadians to marry "savage" women could at best have been a means of ensuring that the wife received a Christian education; it was at least a way of providing settlers with wives. But these marriages were not without serious drawbacks, as Marie de 1'Incarnation had already noticed: French men were likelier to become "savage" than "savage" women to become French. Husbands had to be prevented from giving themselves up to the savage lifestyle: in 1673, for example, when Nicolas Pelletier was allowed to marry a Montagnais woman, it was only on condition that he live with his wife in his home among the French and not in the forest among the "savages," and that the children be raised in the French language and manner.183

In the eighteenth century authorities in New France enforced a kind of prohibition. In 1706, Governor Vaudreuil ordered Lamothe from Detroit, to prevent French men from marrying Amerindian women, and as Governor Vaudreuil wrote to Intendant Raudot in 1709, Lamothe complied with this order, "as he is convinced that bad blood should never be mixed with good, given the experience we have in this country, where all French men who married savage women have become lazy libertines, and unbearably independent, and the resulting children have proved just as lazy as the Amerindians themselves, and we must not allow these kinds of marriages to take place."184 This was a far cry from Colbert's project of marrying French men to Amerindian women so that they should form "only one people and one blood."

The problem was different for Amerindians living in bondage, however: they came from deep in the interior of the continent (mostly the Upper Missouri), had often been removed from their families at a very young age, were accustomed to Canadian family life, and as Amerindian slaves thus stood better chances of being integrated into French society. In 1726, Mgr. Saint-Vallier willingly blessed the marriage of the Panis, Marie-Catherine Desbois, and a French Montrealer, Francois Sainton dit Carterel. Amerindian slaves were intimately involved with the French population, so it was natural that such unions should be solemnized in marriage. In fact, the Panis were repeatedly described as "sauvages francises" or "savages integrated into French society."

By the time Mgr. Saint-Vallier blessed this Panis-French marriage, slaves and Canadians had already been getting married for twenty years. The first case seems to have been in 1705: the Panis Laurent Leveille got the nineteen-year-old Canadian minor Marie Demers pregnant; the Panis probably belonged to the Boucher de Boucherville family, because on November 22,1705, when he ended up marrying the young Canadian woman, Meseigneur of Boucherville stood in as witness at the wedding, which took place without the publication of banns. More than thirty of these marriages between Canadians and Amerindian slaves would follow in due course.

In addition, in historical records between 1713 and 1812 we turned up a small number of marriages between Canadians and black slaves. The last of these marriages was contracted by a black man born in the slave era.

Marriages between Canadians and Blacks or Amerindians

All in all, we identified eleven, marriages between Canadians and blacks and thirty-four more marriages between Canadians and Amerindians. A total of forty-five white people (who were either French or had been integrated into French society) joined blacks or Amerindians in wedlock. Among mixed-race weddings, we found only one case where a Canadian man married a black woman - and there is no way to make sure this man, Joseph Provencal, was actually white: in all other such cases, black men married Canadian women.

Things were more balanced in the case of marriages between Amerindians and Canadians: of these thirty-four marriages, four Amerindian men married Canadian women, whereas twenty Canadian men married Amerindian women.

At the time of marrying, three black and five Amerindian spouses were still slaves. The black Francois Williams married the Canadian Marie-Elisabeth Mondina, yet continued to live in bondage; the Panis slave Louise and the Sioux slave Marie-Marguerite-Caroline were only freed when they married Canadians. The others were former slaves, emancipated at an unknown date.

Some slaves were entered in the marriage register without any surname: the Fox Joseph Le Renard married under the name Joseph alone and it was only at a later date that he adopted the surname Le Renard; the Panis Francois, husband of Madeleine Lamontagne, never seems to have cared much about surnames. Other slaves known only by their first names at the time of marriage made sure their children acquired surnames. The Panis Jean-Baptiste married Marie-Genevieve Desforges elite Saint-Maurice and simply adopted his wife's last name; his son was known as a Desforges dit Saint-Maurice. The Panis Joseph married an English servant named Mary Anne "Ouidech," and assumed the surname Riberville, by which name his children were later known. Doyon's Panis Nicolas came to be known by the surname of Doyon dit Laframboise, which is confusing for genealogists if they do not realize Nicolas Doyon was actually a Panis.

As mentioned earlier, registers do not always record the ages of each spouse: sometimes the husband's age is indicated, sometimes the wife's, and sometimes nothing at all is given. The historian can only rely on the specific facts provided. Of the twenty spouses whose age is known, none were extremely young: only three were under twenty-one years of age. The oldest to marry was the sixty-three-year-old Panis Andre Rapin dit Scayanis who tied the knot with a fifty-eight-year-old Canadian.

These marriages between Canadians and Amerindians or blacks followed customary practice. Where a man or woman planning to get married was a slave, then the prospective spouse had to obtain consent from the slave's master. This was the case for the black Pierre-Dominique Lafleur who wanted to marry the Canadian Marie Talon; he got permission in writing on November 27, 1749 and married two days later. Slaves could also be granted their freedom, which was the case for the Panis Louise in 1776 who wanted to marry Louis Brunet, and for the Sioux Marie-Marguerite-Caroline in 1771, who had first to be purchased by her fiance. This was because according to the Code Noir the marriage of a slave with a free person did not change the condition of the slave, unless the master freed the slave by a formal act. After marrying the Canadian Marie-Elisabeth Mondina in 1783, the black Francois Williams remained in slavery.

Banns were published in church. Dispensing with the three banns was considered a sign of great poverty. People who were comfortably off managed to publish at least one wedding bann. Sometimes the publication of three banns was dispensed with: it was considered better not to publicize the marriage when for example a widower remarried soon after, his previous wife had died, or there seemed to be an excessive age difference between spouses, or the bride was noticeably pregnant. Banns were dispensed with in the cases of the Panis Laurent Leveille in 1705, when he married a pregnant minor, and of Firmin Landry dit Chariot, when he married the Sioux slave who had given him five illegitimate children and who was pregnant again. In other cases of dispensation of the three banns, no explanation was given; was the bride pregnant, or did a Canadian prefer to keep quiet about his marriage to an Amerindian woman?

Witnesses are needed at weddings, and these weddings between slaves and free persons were no exception. At the 1705 wedding of the Panis Laurent Leveille, Seigneur Pierre Boucher de Boucherville, likely the Panis's master, served as witness; Captain Jacques-Pierre Daneau Demuy filled the same role at the 1752 wedding of the Panis Genevieve Caris; so did Francois-Augustin Bailly de Messein, at the 1770 wedding of his former Panis, Marie-Anne, when she married the widower Montpetit.

Of the marriages we studied, three cases of second marriages show that once their Canadian husbands had died, some Canadian women were willing to share their fives with Amerindian men, whereas once Canadians survived a first marriage with an Amerindian, they were more likely to marry a white person the second time around. And if children from the first marriage survived, intriguing blended families resulted. For example, Marie Gareau had eight children with the Panis Nicolas Doyon; she then married Charles Langevin, with whom she had more offspring: subsequent unions between some of the step-brothers and step-sisters resulted in at least two illegitimate births.

Metis and Mulattos

In our inventory we included all Canadians who married slaves, whether Amerindian or black, and also all those who had illegitimate children born of slaves. To these Canadians can be added a German who became fully integrated into French society (De Raby), the English servant "Ouidech" who was also fully integrated, and an Englishman (the officer "Yonce" - his name may have actually been Hughes), for a total of sixty-two mixed-race couples in French Canada made up of free persons and slaves.

Apart from the Englishwoman "Ouidech" and the English officer "Yonce," we found sixty cases of French Canadian families intermarrying or otherwise forming unions with Amerindians and blacks. Not all of these marriages resulted in children however: among French Canadians, forty-eight people had a total of 103 mixed-race children, of whom eighty-four were Metis and nineteen more were mulattos.

Did these Metis and mulattos go on to have more children with French Canadians? Or did they die out with the first generation, so that French Canadians today can make no claim to having slave ancestry? Genealogists will have to investigate the matter. As a first step, we drew out of our inventory those French Canadians with Metis or mulatto children who themselves later married, or at least seem not to have died in infancy. We only identified those Metis and mulatto children who married or who did not die young. But it remains to be determined whether other children were born, and above all whether these Metis and mulatto lineages have survived up to the present time. It should be noted that it was beyond the scope of our research to consider whether the current population may still have some trace of slave ancestry. However, it is conceivable that all these people may have descendants alive today, because we know their own children and grandchildren got married.

It is quite possible that among the following families, French Canadians can today be found who are descended from Amerindian or black slaves:













Blanchetiere dit Saint-Georges















Calmet dit Jolibois








Sainton dit Carterel

Chauvet dit Lagerne

Le Renard



Lesp erance


Content dit Bourdon









De Raby



Desforges dit Saint-Maurice






Doyon dit Laframboise




Mouet de Laglade



By following the various branches of their family tree, people in Quebec today may suddenly locate a great-great-aunt or distant cousin who lived in a union with a slave or the descendant of a slave, which may be the case in the following families (this is certainly the case for families which are not now extinct, such as the Trudels):
























Saint Jean

Gourdon dit Lachasse


Talon or Tanon











Martin dit St-Jean



Mondina dit Olivier



Some people in Quebec utterly reject the idea of mixed-race marriages, whereas such unions turn up in the family trees of prominent people throughout the history of Quebec. For example, Louis-Francois Lafleche, bishop of Trois-Rivieres, was a Metis although not descended from an Amerindian slave; we are almost certain that Maurice Duplessis, premier of Quebec from 1936-1939 and again from 1944-1959, was descended from the Mascouten Jean-Baptiste dit Duplessis, originally from the Great Lakes region, who had been the slave of the fur trader Gastineau dit Duplessis: this Mascouten was thus the grandfather of the great-grandfather of Maurice Duplessis.

Another challenge facing genealogists is the fact that some slaves turn up in Quebec family trees at the origin of new branches that are related to an elder branch by name alone. People interested in tracing the history of the Leveille, Rapin, Monplaisir, Leduc, Bourdon, Riberville, and Doyon dit Laframboise families should forget about identifying the French founder of such families, since all are descended from Amerindian slaves who took French names when they married Canadians. And while some names such as Angelique de Berey or Paul-Joseph Longueuil may appear to be aristocratic, Angelique was actually a slave belonging to her master Berey des Essarts. For his part, Paul-Joseph Longueuil was a slave belonging to the Lemoyne de Longueuil family, who assumed their name and perpetuated it through his children. It is important not to confuse the descendants of slaves with their masters!

Treating an Irritating Problem in Jest Quebec francophones do not seem to relish speaking about the mixed-race unions that were so obviously a feature of life in New France. People who claim that the Quebecois have native Amerindian blood are usually met with denial, even when no one has taken the trouble to investigate the matter thoroughly and establish the facts. A century ago, the historian Benjamin Suite wrote: "we might say that every year a few drops of Missouri water fell into the St. Lawrence River."185 It is true that the number of marriages between Canadians and Panis or blacks was not particularly high - we only traced forty-five of them. However, the number of such marriages matters less than the number of resulting Metis and mulattos: one has only to consider the fact that more than 20,000 people alive today descend from a single seventeenth-century French immigrant who only married once. It remains to be determined how many people also descended from these mixed-race unions, a question which should interest the Leveille, Leduc, Doyon and other families.

Adolphe-Basile Routhier ventured onto this dangerous territory in the nineteenth century when he made fun of Father Henri-Raymond Casgrain, who proudly claimed to be descended from the historic Casgrain d'Airvault and Montmorency families....Routhier took pleasure in bursting Father Casgrain's pseudo-aristocratic bubble. Routhier wrote:

Alas! This golden page of [Casgrain family history], probably has no basis in fact. Because before including Father Casgrain in some Gotha of the French nobility, we should first do some digging in the civil registry of Quebec, and in the registers of baptisms and burials in the parishes of Quebec City and Beaumont, where various deeds state that Jean Casgrain was a caterer in the Lower Town, in other words he prepared and served food and drink for travelers and pleasure-seekers of the time, and he married at Quebec one Miss Duchesne dite LeRoide, daughter of Andre LeRoide of the Panis nation. These acts establish that Jean Casgrain was by no means a native of the Vendee region of France, but came from the old province of Aunis, and instead of being a sergeant leading troops in battle he was simply a cook leading his dishes; and if he spilled blood then it was only the blood of a chicken, and if he suffered injuries it was probably burns in the kitchen. So, if [Father Casgrains alleged ancestor], Jean-Baptiste Casgrain actually existed - this man of the Vendee, born in Airvault, this sergeant who fought at the head of the troops of France and Navarre, this Turk-slayer not to mention Turk-eater, if this peg-legged, scarred, battle-hardened Casgrain actually existed, which nobody can actually believe, then it cannot be the same person as Jean Casgrain the cook, who in the year of grace 1750, tossed crepes in his cheap little eating joint in the Lower City, and led Miss LeRoide of the Panis nation to the altar.

Routhier was sure about his facts. What he wrote about Jean Casgrain was literally-true: Jean Casgrain first married the Panis's daughter, then married a Canadian woman. Routhier could have added, however, that the Canadian Casgrain family descends from Jean Casgrain's second marriage with the Canadian Marguerite Cazeau, but this would have weakened the delicious effect of his satire... Routhier generously showed his respect for the Metis people: "Do not think I am deriding the Panis, or any other savage tribe. Quite the contrary. And if someone were to tell me that I had Amerindian blood, I would not feel humiliated in the least. All I want to establish is that Father Casgrain does not descend directly from the Montmorency family or the Caniac family of Perigord."186 

Routhier and Suite both considered mixed-race unions between the French and slaves something to joke about, and the same goes for Quebecois today when they address this issue. An elegant way to dismiss irritating little problems is to poke fun at them.