Debauchery and Marriage

Amerindian and black slaves lived in a society whose mores were not their own. As we have already seen, slaves adapted quite well to those mores, since only a small number were ever convicted of crimes. Whether it was hard or easy for them to abide by the law ultimately depended on how severely justice was meted out. But morality is not the same as justice, and individual slave behaviour was not conditioned by the criminal justice system. In this chapter, we will assess individual slave behaviour.

"Debaucherous Unions"

The arrival of native Amerindian women in Quebec society continually raised the delicate question of relations with their masters and compatriots. Throughout our colonial history, Canadian men were powerfully attracted to "savage" women, while Amerindian men do not seem to have had any particular interest in Canadian women. The Jesuit Charlevoix praised Amerindian men in this respect: "None of them ever took any liberties with French women, even when they had taken the latter prisoner. They were not tempted to do so, and it is to be hoped that French men develop a similar distaste for Amerindian women."175 Canadian men sought the maximum advantage in buying Amerindian women slaves. Their natural attraction for these slave women was greatly stimulated by living with them on a day-to-day basis.

Some people completely lost their heads. In 1726 Pierre Chauvet dit Lagerne, the forty-year-old widower of Marie-Madeleine Gaudin, kidnapped an Amerindian woman he was in love with in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade. One night, he stole into Seigneur Tarieu de Lanaudiere de Laperade's residence and left with the Fox or Panis - Marie-Madeleine, aged about twenty-nine. On July 17, Intendant Dupuy published an order directing officers of the militia to take this slave "back from the hands of said Lagerne" but in the end, things worked out well for the lovers - they were dispensed from publishing three wedding banns, and married on November 7 at Beauport. The Sioux Marie-Marguerite-Caroline was the slave of Claude Landry dit Saint-Andre. After having a child out of wedlock with the voyageur Champagne in 1753, she became the mistress of Firmin Landry dit Chariot, giving him five children out of wedlock. She was pregnant again in the summer of 1771; to stop the scandal, her owner agreed to sell her to Landry dit Chariot on the express condition that he marry her, which he did on July 17,1771.

Canadian men were also attracted to black women. Claude Thibault may have hoped for the perfect love tryst in 1734, on fleeing Montreal with the black Angelique. But she created a diversion by setting fire to the house of her mistress, Widow Francheville, and when the fire spread to other houses in the city, Thibault was suddenly implicated in a spectacular crime. Charges were later dropped against him, on the grounds that he was suspected "only of fleeing and having a debaucherous union with this Negress."

A rather mischievous article by a Montrealer in the Quebec Gazette described biracial relationships in Montreal society: "The greatest harmony and understanding exist between the two sexes. Black women and white men mingle by night, forming a general company, where our young people throw off the annoying constraints of convention, and unwind from workaday tasks by indulging in innocent pleasures. The other day, following the rules of politeness, a young lieutenant saluted the black woman with whom he had been dancing: 'How did you get over your fatigue this morning, after being out last night?'"176 People could also "unwind from workaday tasks" in Quebec City, by indulging in the same sort of dubious pleasures. In 1798, in the account of his parish rounds, the parish priest of Quebec put an asterisk beside the infamous home of the black Joseph Beaumenil in Anse-des-Meres, which was a lodging-house for "meretrices" [Latin for prostitutes] .177

Our goal is not to entertain the reader by digging into the more salacious aspects of slavery, but rather to examine the problem of master-slave and slave-slave relations. There would be no point trying to develop a sort of Kinsey Report since the archival material is fragmentary and the only significant clue we have is the birth of illegitimate children.

A Majority of Illegitimate Children

Of 1205 slave women aged 14 and over, we identified 213 or 17.7% who gave birth to one or more illegitimate children: 158 or 17.2% of 921 Amerindian mothers bore children out of wedlock, while a slightly higher proportion of black mothers - fifty-five or 19.4% of 284 - gave birth to illegitimate children.

Some slave women were several months pregnant once they reached the colony. Slave women being brought from the pays d'en haut and the Mississippi basin had ample opportunity for sexual relations with French paddlers during the long canoe journey. For example, in 1717 Michel Bisaillon brought a Panis woman from the Missouri tribe. On September 19 she gave birth in Laprairie to a daughter, the priest noting that the father was unknown and she had recently been brought out of her country. On October 22, 1741, the officer Clement Laplante-Lerige's Amerindian woman gave birth to a son in Laprairie, father unknown. The civil registry mentions she had come down from the pays d'en haut earlier that year. The place where a slave woman lived was no guarantee against illicit relations. In June 1764, a Panis slave at the Jesuit mission across the water from Detroit gave birth to a daughter, although she was unmarried. Moreover, when a slave mistress set a bad example, the slave not surprisingly followed suit. On April 9, 1752, at Fort Saint-Joseph (on the south-eastern shores of Lake Michigan), Marie Reaume, widow of Augustin Larcheveque, presented the illegitimate son she had had with Louis Chevalier for baptism. The following day, her Panis slave Marie-Jeanne baptized her own illegitimate child. The mistress and her slave both had illegitimate sons, so everyone was happy.

Some slave women went beyond just one illegitimate child, to have two, three, four or more. We identified nine slaves who had four illegitimate children. Some slave women had five: between 1752 and 1759, Lamothe's Panis slave Barbe, in Detroit; between 1761 and 1773, Courtois's Panis Marguerite, in Detroit; and between 1788 and 1794, Pelletier's Panis Marie, also in Detroit. Two slave women had six children out of wedlock: between 1754 and 1769, Labutte's Panis Charlotte, in Detroit; and between 1753 and 1769, Landry dit Saint-Andre's Sioux slave Marie-Marguerite-Caroline.

We found several cases of unwed mothers bringing twins into the world. For example, in May 1732 Poulin de Francheville's black slave Angehque had twins out of wedlock with Ignace Gamelin's slave Jacques-Cesar, but the twins died that same year. On January 2, 1790, George Maldrum's unmarried Panis slave Dorothee had twin girls, Suzanne and Dorothee. On March 30,1795, Jean-Baptiste Meloche's Panis slave Madeleine gave birth to twins, Charles and Charlotte. Of 341 illegitimate slave births, six were twins.

We might expect that the places with the greatest concentration of slaves also had the greatest numbers of illegitimate slave children, but this was not the case. In Montreal a total of 1525 slaves had only thirty-three illegitimate children, whereas in Quebec, a total of 970 slaves had only eighteen illegitimate children. Children born out of wedlock were actually more common in the pays d'en haut than in the centres of New France. In the little city of Detroit, a total of 650 slaves had 177 illegitimate children, whereas in Michilimackinac, a total of 160 slaves had 35 such children. But Detroit and Michilimackinac also saw many illegitimate births among free persons, since these wilderness settlements were far removed from the conservative and more tightly-controlled centres of the St. Lawrence Valley.

Of 573 children born to slaves, 341 or a very high proportion of 59.5% were born out of wedlock. Amerindian slaves had more illegitimate children than black slaves. Two hundred fifty-five or 75.9% of 336 children born to Amerindian slaves were illegitimate, while eight-six or 32.1 % of 237 children born to black slaves were illegitimate. The difference between the two groups is extremely significant one third of black slave children and three-quarters of Amerindian slave children were illegitimate. Was this due to chance, or did it reflect the strong attraction Canadian men felt for "savage" women?

Did Quebec Men Father these Children? When a slave gave birth to an illegitimate child, who was the father? It is hard to say, because the civil registries usually maintain strict silence about the matter. The records of 314 of 341 illegitimate children mention the father was unknown or uncertain (which amounts to the same). But was this unknown father a Canadian, an Amerindian or a black? The priest did not describe the child at any length in the baptismal registry: he wrote "unknown father" and left it at that. The slave population made up a tiny minority within society, so these unknown fathers were most likely Canadians. Neighbours or masters could enjoy sexual relations with Amerindian or black slave women living under the same roof, thereby increasing the overall number of slaves at no additional cost... Having said that, the "unknown father" indicated in the registries remains an unknown father.

Civil registries duly identify twenty-seven slave children. We identified four slave owners who yielded to the charms of their slaves:

Mouet de Langlade, Charles. Before 1754, he had a son named Charles with his unnamed Amerindian slave (Michilimackinac).

Villeneuve, Constant. On April 3O, 1759 at Michihmackinac, his Panis slave Charlotte gave birth to a Panis named Charlotte: the slave designated her master as the father.

Sanscrainte, Jean-Baptiste. On 7 October 1760, at Michili-mackinac, his unnamed Amerindian slave gave birth to a son named Jacques.

Bourassa, Daniel. On 7 April 1794, at Michilimackinac, the Panis Regis, son of Daniel Bourassa and his Panis slave, was baptized; this Panis had a daughter with an unknown father in 1792, and she had another daughter in 1797.

The sixteen other white fathers of illegitimate children we identified were not the masters of the slave mother.

The following is a list in alphabetical order of the natural fathers we identified:

Bourassa, Daniel


Champagne, voyageur


Chevalier-Lullier, Charles


Dion, voyageur




Fleur d'Epee, Louis


Jasmin, voyageur


Lamothe, voyageur


Landry dit Chariot


Larche, Francois


Lesperance, Jean-Marie


LeVerrier, fils


Lorrain, Joseph


Magnan, Jean


Mouet de Langlade, Charles


Sanscrainte, Jean-Baptiste


Villeneuve, Constant


Villeneuve, Daniel


"Yonce," English officer


In all of these cases, the mothers were Amerindian slaves, which provides once again an indication of the attraction Canadian men felt for "savage" rather than black women... Among blacks, the reverse occurred. Black men were attracted to Canadian women, but once the woman gave birth, the black father married her, at least if we can judge from the rare examples turning up in the archives. In November 1749, the Canadian Marie Talon married the black Pierre-Dominique Lafleur, slave of Jacquin dit Philibert's widow, and gave birth the following April; in September 1783, the Canadian Marie-Elisabeth Mondina gave birth to a daughter: the month before, she had married Antoine Juchereau-Duchesnay's black slave Francois Williams.

The Natural Children of Slave Mothers Shall Also Be Slaves

When a slave woman gave birth to a child whose father was unknown or was a free man, what was the child's status? The Code Noir of the Caribbean stipulated that the illegitimate child of a slave woman was a slave like its mother, whatever the condition of the father. Although the Code Noir was never officially adopted in Canada, this principle was invoked at the trial of the Panis Marie-Marguerite in 1740. The owner of this Panis woman testified: "According to the law in America [Louisiana and the Islands], a child born to a slave mother and a French father is deemed a slave, and this law should be applied in our own country."178 The reasoning behind this principle was as follows: the father is always uncertain, whereas only the mother is certain, therefore, fructus ventrem sequitur - the child has the same status as its mother.

This principle was applied at least four times in Canada. Around 1739, Jean-Marie Lesperance had a daughter named Marie-Joseph with Claude Marin de Laperriere's Ojibwa slave Rose; but when the child was buried in Montreal in 1749, she was recorded as a slave belonging to one Lecuyer. In July 1746, Chevalier's slave gave birth to a daughter whose father was Louis Fleur d'Epee; she was entered in the baptismal registry as Chevalier's property. In 1760, an Ojibwa woman and an unnamed French father had a baby. The child was sold to Antoine Cuillerier who still owned it in 1764. In 1766, Claude Landry dit Saint-Andre's Sioux slave Marie-Marguerite-Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Suzanne, whose father was Firmin Landry dit Chariot. When the latter bought the Sioux woman and married her, the daughter Suzanne remained Claude Landry dit Saint-Andre's slave until the parents were able to redeem her. Even where the father was of a free condition, we see that the natural child of a slave mother was also automatically a slave.

A fortiori when the father was unknown. The mother's master saw the number of his slaves increase, and could dispose of illegitimate children as he saw fit. On August 16, 1752, in Detroit, when the illegitimate son of the Panis slave Barbe was baptized, the slave owner Guillaume Dagneau-Douville de Lamothe vowed he would only sell the child to Catholics. In April 1759, when Joseph Cabassie's Panis slave Marie-Anne gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Francoise, Cabassie gave the child to Jean-Baptiste Petit dit Milhomme who kept her as his personal property. In January 1763, when a Panis slave woman in prison gave birth to a daughter, the commander of Detroit immediately gave the child as a slave to the bourgeois Pierre Barthe. In May 1772, Marguerite, a Panis slave belonging to Charles-Martin Courtois, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, and the child was immediately given to Francois Lebeau; the following year, the same slave had another child out of wedlock, who was immediately handed over to Berthiaume "as a gift to serve as his slave." In November 1772, when Jean-Baptiste Chapotoris slave gave birth to a bastard girl, Chapoton immediately gave the child to one Madame Pelletier, who became the slave child's mistress as was made clear in the child's burial register a few days later. In December 1774, when a Panis slave woman belonging to Alexis Trottier-Desruisseaux gave birth to an illegitimate child, the master gave the child to Alexis Maisonville who kept it as a slave. The father's status therefore was of no consequence: the natural children of slave mothers were slaves like their mothers. And from time to time masters could make friends at low cost, simply by giving away the children their slave women had.

The fact the illegitimate child of a slave belonged to the master was so well-established that many times the child's mother was not even identified in civil registries. The Panis Bonaventure was born in 1751 to a Panis woman belonging to Charles Chauvin. When the infant boy was buried in May 1753, the registry showed he belonged to Chauvin, without any mention of the mother. In October 1757, the Panis Nicolas was buried. Born the previous month to a Panis woman belonging to Simon Gendron dit Potvin, he was mentioned in the burial register only as the child as Nicolas, the slave of Gendron dit Potvin, without identifying the mother. When Pierre Chesne-Labutte's Panis child Pierre was buried in January 1759, the registry made no mention of the mother; the same happened in May 1766 at the burial of the Panis Marie-Joseph, daughter of Gabriel-Christophe Legrand's slave, in August 1759 at the burial of the Panis Francois-Prisque, son of Labutte's slave, and in May 1778, at the baptism of the Panis Marie-Louise, daughter of Lagotherie's slave. And we could cite many more examples as late as 1796. It was common practice under both French and British rule, to identify an illegitimate child's master rather than its mother: possession was more important than affiliation. Slavery in French Canada was not always particularly humane...

Slave Marriages

There were not that many marriages between slaves; we identified only seventy-three. Slaves were allowed to marry. According to the Code Noir of the Caribbean, slaves needed the consent of their masters, but not of their own parents, and it was strictly forbidden for priests to conduct weddings if it appeared that masters had not first given their permission. At the same time, the Code Noir of the French West Indies forbade masters "from using any constraints on their slaves to marry them against their will," and these provisions also featured in the Code Noir of Louisiana. Although Canadian slave owners had no obligations in this regard, they generally fulfilled these provisions.

When Colonel Campbell's slaves Jean-Francois and Jeanne married in Montreal on January 20,1785, the minister noted the marriage was taking place at the owner's request; there was some urgency, since the bride was pregnant. Similarly, when the black slave York married the black woman Margaret McLeod in Montreal on January 22, 1786, they both had to get permission from their respective masters.

Slave owners did not always willingly or quickly grant their slave leave to marry the slave of another master, since one of the two masters would necessarily lose his property. This was the case, for example, with the black Jacques-Cesar, belonging to the merchant Ignace Gamelin, and the black Marie-Elisabeth, belonging to the Dowager Baroness de Longueuil. Gamelin readily gave his consent. In consideration of the services that Jacques-Cesar, aged about fifty-two years, had provided over a thirty-year period, Gamelin allowed him to marry on January 21, 1761, granting him his freedom at the same time, but not "under any other conditions or for any other marriage than this." But, unfortunately for poor Jacques-Cesar, the Baroness de Longueuil could not make up her mind. Was the reason that Jacques-Cesar had already had three illegitimate children with the dreaded black Angelique, who had set fire to the city of Montreal in 1734? Or that the Baroness did not want to give up her thirty-nine-year-old slave? Months went by, then a year, then another year. Finally, on January 26, 1763, the Baroness gave her consent and freed her slave, but on condition that the newly-wed couple remain in her domestic service for three more years. On this basis, the wedding finally took place in Longueuil, on February 5, 1763; in the wedding registry, the priest duly noted that Gamelin had consented in 1761 and the Baroness in 1763; he annexed their declarations of consent to the registry.

The merchant Dominique Gaudet experienced roughly the same dilemma in 1761 when his fifteen-year-old black slave Marie-Catherine Baraca fell in love with the twenty-year-old black Louis-Antoine. The latter had been free from childhood,but the merchant Gaudet had no intention of losing his slave Marie-Catherine. The person who found a way out of this situation, on March 26, 1761, was none other than Louis-Antoine himself who accepted before a notary to return to slavery, selling himself to Gaudet.

Slave owners allowed their slaves to marry, sometimes adding specific conditions. The state took the same approach to slaves it owned. For example, in the early 1740s, the hangman in Quebec City was a 25-year- old black, Matthieu Leveille. Intendant Hocquart decided to find him a suitable wife, importing a black slave woman for this purpose, at the state's expense. Unfortunately, mail was only sent to France once a year at the time, so sending an official letter, getting the necessary permission, setting the administrative machinery in gear, placing the order in the Caribbean and finally shipping the slave to Quebec took several years, the slave woman only arriving in 1742. In the meantime, Leveille had fallen seriously ill, was committed to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec, and finally died on September 9, 1743, still officially employed as public executioner and still unmarried. This left the black woman Angelique-Denise high and dry. She had been brought north from the islands to marry, and had been left languishing in Quebec until the executioner was restored back to health - but now her black fiance had died. What future lay in store for this black slave? The sacrament of marriage was now out of the question, so she was baptized instead, on December 23, 1743, while awaiting orders from the king. On March 30, 1744 the Minister wrote to the Intendant: "Once you have found a white man to replace the now deceased Negro as public executioner, it would be desirable that you resell the Negress originally obtained for this Negro, at cost price if possible."179 And the unlucky young woman was sent off to new horizons.

Marriage Involved the Same Requirements 

As a Church sacrament, marriage evidently involved the same rights and obligations for slaves as for free people. Slaves had to publish the banns of marriage, and witnesses had to participate in the wedding itself. The intention to marry was normally published by"three banns from the pulpit, but the number of banns could be reduced, subject to certain fees. It was common practice in Canadian society and elsewhere to publish just one bann, although poor people were sometimes forced by a lack of funds to have their banns published on three successive Sundays. We found no slave wedding where the priest had actually been compelled to publish three banns - probably slave owners did their best to keep up appearances.

Most of the time, slave couples followed the general practice in society, and received an exemption from two callings of banns. For example, the blacks Joseph and Marie-Louise, who belonged to Lagorgendiere and Contrecoeur respectively, and whose marriage took place in Montreal January 12, 1750; the blacks Jacques and Marie, slaves of Lacorne Saint-Luc, who wed in Montreal on May 24, 1757; Juchereau-Duschesnay's black slave Francois Williams, who married a Canadian in Quebec City on August 5, 1783. We should add here that in each of these cases, we would have expected a total exemption from callings of banns because the bride was already pregnant; the Canadian woman marrying Juchereau- Duchesnay's black slave was actually six months pregnant.

Some slaves got an exemption from callings of banns. Such was the case for Charles and Charlotte-Elisabeth, black slaves belonging to the Baron Lemoyne de Longueuil, who married in Montreal on August 29, 1719; and for Joseph dit Neptune, Governor General Vaudreuil's black slave, who married the black woman Marie-Francoise in Montreal on February 27, 1759. We identified another bann exemption case: Dominique Gaudefs black slaves Pierre Baraca and Marie-Anne were married in Lachine on July 11, 1746, but four months earlier, the mother had had a daughter baptized whom the parents concealed after the marriage ceremony, by which time the young bride was pregnant again. The exemption was simply to avoid publicizing this situation.

A key requirement at weddings of slave and freeborn alike was to be accompanied to the altar by witnesses. What did slaves do? We have already seen that slave owners considered it their duty to stand in as witnesses at baptisms and funerals; they sometimes acted in the same capacity at the weddings of their slaves. In February 1763, when Jacques-Cesar married the black Marie-Elisabeth, the bridegroom's master Ignace Gamelin and Christophe Gamelfn-Lajemmereais both served as witnesses, while the young Dowager Baroness de Longueuil accompanied her black slave Marie-Elisabeth to the altar. At the December 11, 1783 marriage of the black William Deane with the black Nancy Hill, at the Anglican Church of Quebec, the merchant Thomas Hackett and the clerk John Lane served as witnesses.

Sometimes, a situation occurred that may be unique to slavery in Canada - slaves served as witnesses at marriages, alongside free people. At Lachine, on July 11, 1746, at the marriage of the black slaves Pierre Baraca and Marie-Anne (who was already pregnant), Marie-Anne Cuillerier, wife of the owner of the blacks, and Chevalier de Lacorne's slave Joseph, served as witnesses. In January 1750, in Montreal, another Joseph, Fleury Deschambault de Lagorgendiere's black slave, married Pecaudy de Contrecoeur's black slave Marie-Louise. At meirweddmg, Francois and Rene Pecaudyde Contrecoeur served as witnesses, along with Gamelin's black slave Cesar and Hervieux's black slave Joachim.

But weddings could also be family affairs for blacks, since black slaves sometimes stood in as witnesses when other blacks got married. On April 21, 1750, Hervieux's slave Jasmin and Madame Lestage's slave Valentin served as witnesses at the wedding of Leber de Senneville's black Joseph-Hippolyte dit I'Espiegle and Soumande-Delorme's black Marie-Madeleine. Likewise at Lachine in 1761 the blacks Joseph-Hippolyte and Charles served as witnesses at the wedding of Dominique Gaudet's black slaves Louis-Antoine and Marie-Catherine Baraca. These were exceptional cases under the French regime. Under British rule, slave owners - particularly English-speaking slave owners - generally did not bother to attend the religious ceremonies of their slaves.

Children Belonged to the Mother's Owner As we have already seen, the illegitimate children of a slave woman automatically became the property of this slave's master, whether or not their father was known. This provision strikes us as understandable, because if the slave woman was unmarried, there was no question of a family. But what happened to children born to married slaves? According to the Code Noir of the French West Indies and Louisiana, female slaves marrying their masters became free and their children free and legitimate. As for children born from marriages between slaves, they "shall be slaves, and if the husband and wife have different masters, they shall belong to the masters of the female slave, not to the master of her husband." Moreover, if a male slave married a free woman, their children would be of the same condition as their mother and would be free, whereas if the father was free and the mother a slave, "the children shall also be slaves." The law remained the same, whether the child was legitimate or not - the child would be of the same condition as its mother. These provisions were fulfilled in Canada, even though the Code Noir was never officially adopted. We collected many examples.

The slave owner generally declared that he owned the legitimate children of his slaves, without paying any attention to the parents of those children. We will provide a few examples here, in chronological order, to show how frequent this attitude was. In 1746, a widowed black slave, whose husband had died shortly beforehand at Saratoga, and who belonged to the officer Lienard de Beaujeu, had her daughter buried in Quebec City: the act of burial noted the child belonged to Beaujeu but made no mention of the mother. In 1755, Louise, the legitimate daughter of Fleury Deschambault de Lagorgendiere's blacks, was born, then died, but the parents were mentioned neither in the baptismal registry nor in the act of burial - it was enough to say the infant girl belonged to Fleury Deschambault de Lagorgendiere, When Joseph, the six-day-old legitimate son of Governor General Vaudreuil's black slaves, was buried at Pointe-aux-Trembles in 1757, the act of burial described him only as a little "Negro" belonging to the governor. In 1784, in Detroit, when the twins of Bernard's black slaves were buried, the act of burial mentioned their owner by name, but not their parents. The same thing happened in 1791, at the burial of the four-year-old legitimate daughter of two of Colonel Campbell's black slaves, and again in 1797, at the burial of the legitimate son of two other of the colonel's slaves. Evidently, legitimate children belonged to the parents' master.

This ownership of the legitimate children of slaves had another consequence: the slave owner could dispose of the children as he saw fit. In 1755, Soumande-Delorme's black female slave had a legitimate child, but by the time the child was buried at Quebec in 1758, it belonged to Captain Francois Mercier: the mother's owner had given or sold the infant to the captain. When the free black Louis-Antoine accepted in 1761 to return to slavery in order to marry Dominique Gaudet's black slave Marie-Catherine, the contract specified that Gaudet would own any resulting children, and sell both parents and children as he saw fit.

The most important case arose in 1729 when the two sons of the first Baron de Longueuil divided up their late father's estate, which included the black slave Charles, his wife Charlotte-Elisabeth and their five children. Chevalier Paul-Joseph Le Moyne de Longueuil inherited the slaves Charles, Charlotte-Elisabeth and three of their children: eight-year-old Charles-Claude, three-year-old Marie-Charlotte, and one-year-old Joseph. The second Baron de Longueuil inherited only two of the slave children: six-year-old Francois, and five-year-old Marie-Elisabeth, but he also got two Panis slaves from his brother by way of compensation. As a result, the parents and three of their children were handed over to Chevalier de Longueuil while the two other children, aged six and five years respectively, were handed over to the second baron. This division of property had not completely eradicated the family unit, since the youngest of the children would continue to live with their parents, but the fact remained that being separated from one's family at the age of five or six years was harsh. The Code Noir of the Caribbean and Louisiana prohibited the separate sale of parents and their young children before puberty, but as the Code Noir was never formally adopted in Canada, slave owners did as they pleased in this regard.

Marriages Between Slaves

We have considered at some length the conditions under which slaves could marry and the fate reserved for their legitimate children, but we have not yet presented a statistical profile of slave marriages. This profile is a real challenge, because vital records have not all survived. We are thinking, for example, of records at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, which disappeared in a fire; the only known copies unfortunately made no mention of Amerindians; baptismal registries identified some children as legitimate, without mentioning the marriage of their parents; and it often happened that the act of baptism or burial of a child did not specify whether the parents lived as husband and wife. Given that information about slaves in civil registries was hopelessly vague, we will only use definite references to slave marriages in our statistical portrait.

We only found eleven marriages between Amerindians.

Since slave owners sometimes had both Amerindian and black slaves, the question naturally arises whether there were any mixed-race slave marriages. To our surprise, we only identified four such marriages: in each case, the husband was black (no Amerindian married a black woman), which might lead to the conclusion that black men were not particularly attracted to Amerindian women.

The first such marriage took place onApril 10,1752 at Detroit, when two slaves belonging to Albert Parent's widow (Marie-Suzanne Richard), married - the black slave Charles and the thirty-year-old Panis slave Marie-Marguerite who was baptized six days earlier. At the wedding, the bride was three months pregnant. On July 9, she gave birth to a daughter named Catherine, described in the records as a "Negress." We could not determine whether the couple had any other children.

Another marriage was contracted around 1756 between a black man and a Panis woman, according to an act of burial of April 12, 1767, for on that day Marie-Madeleine, the eleven-year-old legitimate daughter of the black Chariot and the Panis Marie was buried at Lachine; the following May 15, the father was buried at the age of fifty years and was identified as the husband of the Panis Marie. This leads us to conclude that the marriage took place around 1756, but it is also possible this was the couple that got married in Detroit in 1752.

The third mixed-race slave wedding took place in 1780, when . the black Jacques-Caton and the Metis Marie, two slaves belonging to the bourgeois Jacques Duperron-Baby, got married. The wedding was held at the owner's request in order to legitimize the couple's child. Actually, the Metis Marie had a son baptized somewhere between January 10 and 19, 1780, although the vagueness of records makes it impossible to say whether the wedding took place during the fortnight preceding the infant's birth, or sometime afterwards.

Finally, around 1798, the black slave Jollock Kellings belonging to the merchant George Gregory, took an Amerindian wife, Josette Christie, who had come to Quebec at a young age from the pays d'en haut. The following year, when their one-year-old son was buried at Sainte-Anne-du-Bout-de-I'lle, the priest described the infant as a "Negro" but did not know whether the parents were married or not; from 1803 on, they were described as husband and wife.

This brings the total of slave marriages we identified to seventy-three, which can be broken down as follows:

Marriages between Amerindians


Marriages between Amerindians and blacks


Marriages between blacks


We should note that very few of these slave marriages involved lawful unions between Amerindians and blacks. And if we recall that the Amerindian slave population was twice the size of the black slave population, it seems surprising to find just eleven marriages between Amerindians, and fifty-eight between blacks. This does not mean that Amerindians avoided getting married, since thirty-four Amerindian slaves married whites: a more plausible conclusion might be that Amerindians married whites more readily than other Amerindians...

We would be able to determine with reasonable accuracy the average age at which slaves married, but only if we established the age of husband and wife at each wedding, and could rely on a sufficiently large sampling of such marriages. The records only indicate the age of six Amerindian husbands, and even then the age given was a guesstimate. Of these six husbands, five were twenty-three years old or less, the youngest couple being Rene Bourassa's twenty-two-year-old slave Charles, who married seventeen-year-old Marie.

More complete information about the age of black slaves appears in the records. The registries provide the age of thirty spouses, but not always the age of husband and wife together. The records such as they are indicate that the average age of husbands on marrying was 32-3 years, while that of wives was 24.9 years. This average was only obtained from a relatively small sample of thirty individuals. The youngest couples were twenty-year-old blacks, while the oldest was Gamelin's fifty-two-year-old slave Jacques-Cesar, who married the Baroness de Longueuil's black slave after waiting two years. Six wives were twenty years old or less and one was just fifteen — Dominique Gaudet's slave Marie-Catherine, for whom the free black Louis-Antoine consented to return to slavery.

Cases of large age differences were rare, the most striking being the marriage in 1719 of slaves belonging to the Baron de Longueuil, when the thirty-five-year old black Charles married the twenty-year-old black Charlotte.

At least six of these seventy-three unions were so-called "obligatory marriages" given that the bride was already pregnant. For example, in 1797, the black Paul Cramer Polydore walked down the aisle with the forty-year-old black slave Margaret Wimble. She had already given him four illegitimate children, and was pregnant again - neither of them should have found this surprising.

6 children

Jean-Francois and Jeanne, black slaves belonging to John Campbell, married in the Anglican Church of Montreal in 1785.

7 children

Charles and Charlotte-Elisabeth, black slaves belonging to the Baron de Longueuil, married in Montreal in 1719

Francis Smith and Dorothy Hutchins, black slaves, married at the Presbyterian church of Quebec in 1788

8 children

Robert Jackson and Catherine Stephens, black slaves, married at the Anglican Church of Quebec in 1795

We would have liked to calculate the average size of slave families, but how could we have done this? Many slave children were baptized without being identified, and in an age of high infant mortality (and it was even higher among blacks) it often happened that newborns were not even baptized, which meant they never appear in official records. With such fragmentary documentation, we were only able to identify four families with six or more children as the preceding table indicates.

These four examples only concerned black married slave households; we never identified more than three children per Amerindian slave household. The statistical profile of slave households might change if we could access more information, but this is impossible at the present time.