CANADA'S  FORGOTTEN  SLAVES  -  chapter  one


by  Marcel  Trudel


Translated  from  the  French  by  George  Tombs

"Give Us Negroes!"


Before 1700, few Amer-indian slaves and even fewer blacks were brought to New France. The black Olivier Le Jeune was acquired by Guillaume Couillart in 1632 and died in 1654. It was not until the year 1686 that the next black person appeared in New France, a man named La Liberte whose presence was duly recorded in the census of Acadia. Yet black slavery was already flourishing by this time in other French colonies. In 1640, Jean Aubert had introduced sugar cane in the French West Indies. Given the shortage of Amer-indian and European labour, the French followed the example of the Spaniards who had started importing African slaves in 1611. The Compagnie francaise des Indes occidentales was founded in 1664 and undertook to supply Aubert with black ebony. In 1673, the Compagnie du Senegal specialized in the slave trade, so that by 1687 there were already 27,000 black slaves in the Caribbean. In March 1685, an edict of Louis XIV known as the Code Noir, sought "to settle issues dealing with the condition and quality of the slaves in said islands," officially sanctioning black slavery in the Caribbean.


Blacks were needed to harvest sugar cane in the Caribbean, and the labour supply argument was also put forward in Canada. In 1688, the governor of New France Brisay de Denonville and Intendant Bochart de Champigny wrote to the king that workers and servants were so hard to find in the colony, and so expensive, that they ruined anyone engaged in any enterprise: the best way to remedy this situation would be to introduce black slaves.


That autumn, the attorney general of the Conseil souverain, Francois-Madeleine Ruette d'Auteuil, sailed to France, to present the case of the Canadian authorities: in April 1689, the king was presented a brief drafted by the attorney general, containing various suggestions about justice, commerce and war.


Ruette d'Auteuil was primarily concerned about commerce, but nearly half of what he wrote on commerce involved black slaves. He listed a few undertakings likely to promote the development of Canadian trade, and added:


"In order to succeed in these kinds of undertakings, one needs some advantage, whereas servants are so extraordinarily scarce and expensive that they will ruin anyone who dares to embark on any enterprise."


So how could cheap labour be obtained?


"If it please the King," Ruette d'Auteuil wrote, "to grant permission to have Negro or other slaves in that country [New France], as He has been pleased to approve in the islands of America [the Caribbean], this would be the best guarantee of success in all sorts of manufactures, together with the graces He would have the kindness to bestow on those striving for the good and increase of the said country."


Ruette d'Auteuil anticipated the objection of the climate:


"If it be objected that Negroes will not live there any longer because of the cold, experience shows the opposite, because some Negroes have borne themselves well for several years and the English have had large numbers [of such Negroes] in New England and there are many in [New] Holland."


It was worth citing the example of the neighbouring colonies of New England and New York: by 1680 New England already had about 200 blacks, although Ruette d'Auteuil neglected or avoided to mention that New England's climate was milder than Canada's. To buttress his argument, he said that there were several blacks in Canada "who have borne themselves perfectly well for several years." He did not provide any hard numbers, however, perhaps as a way of avoiding ridicule, given the tiny number of these blacks: Olivier Le Jeune died in 1654, and had been in good health since 1632, (at least we hope so); La Liberte had been living in Acadia, and there may have been a few others. It was better for Ruette d'Auteuil not to base his argument on statistics.


He also found an argument stronger than mere numbers. He seized on the most ingenious schemes to address the climate problem to the benefit of one and all. To keep blacks warm, he wrote, "their clothing will be beaver skin, whose fur will prevent them from feeling the inconveniences of winter and will moreover be inexpensive, because in wearing it they will fatten it, thereby increasing its value." It should be recalled that New France traded in two kinds of pelts: dry beaver, which according to an expression current at the time consisted of "the pelt of the beaver as it is drawn off the animal," and fat beaver, worn by Amer-indians whose sweat and bodily oils made the long hairs fall out. Fat beaver was a particularly fine fur highly prized in the clothing industry and usually brought twice the price of dry beaver.


According to Riiette d'Auteuil, not only would blacks be well protected from the cold, but by staying warm, they would double the value of the clothes they wore. Once their beaver pelts were fat, the blacks would put on new pelts and the whole operation would be repeated. Money could be made simply by dressing slaves warmly!


Louis XTV Granted an Authorization


Did the king find this idea persuasive? Whatever the case, he granted his authorization. On May 1, 1689, he wrote to Governor Brisay de Denonville and Intendant Bochart deChampigny as follows:


"The attorney general of the Conseil souverain of Quebec, who has come to France to inform His Majesty that the principal inhabitants of Canada are resolved, if His Majesty so consents, to bring Negroes to that country for the purposes of cultivating and clearing land, as a way of avoiding the heavy costs of resorting to workers and labourers of that country. Whereupon His Majesty is pleased to state that He consents to such importation of Negroes as they propose, but He must at the same time warn them that Negroes may die in Canada because of the difference of the climate there; this warning being needed so that the people there only execute this project in gradual steps, and do not take on large expenditures which may in due course prove useless, doing considerable harm to their affairs and consequently to the Colony." 


By royal permission, Canadians could acquire blacks, but the king advised caution: the climate could prove harmful and Canadians would then have incurred large expenditures in vain. The effectiveness of Ruette d'Auteuil's scheme was questioned. Once Brisay de Denonville's tenure of governor came to an end, the king reaffirmed the authorization and repeated his advice in instructions he gave to Governor Buade de Frontenac in the same month of May 1689:


"His Majesty wishes him [Frontenac] to carefully consider the proposal made by some residents of Canada who would like to bring in Blacks for the purposes of cultivating and clearing land; upon which he must observe that in the event that such people are resolved to go forward with this undertaking, he must not allow them to take on considerable expense for the purchase of said Blacks, lest the loss of them, which could result from the difference between the climate of the Blacks and that of Canada, result in very considerable losses; but he should allow them to acquire Blacks gradually, increasing their purchase with each indication of success; if the establishment of these Blacks were to succeed, then it is certain that the colony would derive a great advantage in terms of cultivating and clearing land."


With the authorization and appropriate advice in hand, there was nothing to do but wait for the blacks to turn up. But on May 17, 1689, war broke out between France and England, and under terms of the League of Augsburg, a European-wide coalition of Protestant and Catholic countries lined up against the France of Louis XTV. The metropolitan powers of Europe were at war, so the colonies followed suit. Slaves could only be sent to Quebec from trading posts in Guinea once the war was over.


Slave-traders could not sell off their black ebony directly: but could prospective owners in New France find others way to ensure a supply of slaves? The war lasted eight years, and during this time only four blacks turned up in Canada. Or? May 26, 1692, two blacks were baptized in Montreal: Pierre-Celestin, about twenty-four years old, belonging to the merchant Leber (father of the famous recluse); and Louis, about twenty-six years old, a native of Madagascar living with the merchant Louis Lecompte-Dupre. On April 10,1694, Bishop Saint-Vallier confirmed the black Jacques, a native of Guinea about thirty-six years old, who had been living with the same merchant Jacques Leber, and who had been taken from the English. In September 1696, the black Francois, aged thirty-two years and owned by merchant Louis Lecompte-Dupre, was admitted to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec. These were the only four blacks documented to have reached New France during the War of the League of Augsburg. It would appear from the civil registries that two of them had been in New France at least since 1692 and one of them had been taken from the English. With no slave market then in operation, prospective owners resorted to the spoils of war.


With the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, the war came to an end after eight long years. Did this mean prospective slave owners could finally take advantage of the royal authorization granted in 1659? 


The next mention in the royal mail of the problem of sending blacks to Canada was in 1701, when the king wrote to Governor Callieres and Intendant Bochart de Champigny: "His Majesty has no objection to granting the people of Canada permission to own Blacks, but as the only way to effect this is to bring in a ship laden with Blacks, they must give assurances they will pay the costs of transportation, and Messrs. Callieres and Champigny must ensure that precautions are taken to make this happen." 


In 1689 the king had given permission to own blacks; by 1701, transporting blacks was still at the discussion stage. To minimize any losses, it had to be made clear first of all whether Canadians were actually in a position to pay for goods from abroad, and the authorities of New France had to ensure "that precautions are taken to make this happen." There was no question of a ship bearing Negroes to Quebec for the time being. In any case, war broke out again in 1702 between European powers, when a grandson of Louis XIV succeeded to the throne of Spain. This incurred further delays, and it would be eleven years before a new peace treaty was signed.


Not Even One New Black Slave Each Year 


In the meantime, a few more individuals were added to the black population (if the word "population" can be applied to a group of just four people): one in 1700, two in 1704, one in 1705, one in 1706, one in 1707, then another in 1708, an eighth in 1711 and a ninth in 1713. This did not amount even to one new black person each year. What became of these individuals? In 1700, Philippe, a black from Barbados was bought from the Abenakis who had taken him as war booty: he was considered a slave, although surviving documents do not indicate who his owner was; he was baptized at Pointe-Levy on January 18, 1700 at about sixteen years of age. In 1704, the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec registry indicates that an unnamed black was admitted, belonging to the wife of the treasurer of the Marine, Georges Regnard-Duplessis. In this same hospital was a twenty-one-year-old black man belonging to Governor General Vaudreuil: since his name was Joseph Hisme, he may very well have been taken from the English. Pierre, another black slave aged thirty-one belonging to the same Governor General, was admitted for treatment in 1705; further traces of him can be found in documents dating to 1706 and 1708. In 1706 and 1707 another slave belonging to the same owner, the black Louis, about twenty-two years of age, was also admitted to the hospital. More black slaves-belonging to Governor General Vaudreuil followed: in 1707, he sent his slave Antoine "Flesche" to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec; this would likely have been a slave taken from the English colonies. In 1709, Pierre, the black slave of the merchant Page-Carey was admitted to the same hospital, followed, two years later, by another prisoner of war, Titus Jones. Finally, the ninth black slave of this period, Claude Antoine, was found in the service of the Governor of Montreal, Claude de Ramezay, and was baptized on March 15, 1713. Of nine blacks newly arrived in New France, four likely came here as war booty.


Given the uncertain supply of black slaves, prospective owners naturally turned to Amer-indians, who continued arriving in the country as slaves, slowly at first, but then at an ever greater pace from 1700, as the following table shows.




Amerindians

Blacks


Amerindians

Blacks

1689 

2 


1702

2


      1690

4


1703

12


      1691

         2


1704

6

2

      1692

         1

3

1705

3

1

      1693

         2


1706

7

1

      1694



1707

3

1

      1695

         1


1708

8


      1696

         2

1

1709

5

1

      1697

         1


1710

12


      1698

         1


1711

10

1

      1699

         2


1712

20


      1700

         7

1

1713

26

1

      1710

         6






Between 1689 and 1713, thirteen black and 145 Amer-indian slaves reached New France. In fact, these latter Amer-indian slaves far-outnumbered blacks, and they would maintain their lead over time. Amer-indian slavery stood at a relatively high level from 1710 onwards, largely because of an ordinance issued by Intendant Raudot in 1709, to the effect that people who bought Panis and blacks as slaves owned them outright. Given the proximity to the Amer-indian slave market, this ordinance was likely to encourage people who needed slaves, but it could do nothing for prospective owners who preferred blacks. Canadians who preferred ebony slaves had to wait till the war was over: added delays came when metropolitan authorities in France had to figure out how to ship slaves to Quebec.


Louisiana was only established in 1699, but acquired blacks far more quickly than NewFrance. Louisiana had the advantage of being closer to the Caribbean market, but it also exploited the Amer-indian market of the vast Mississippi Valley. Impact, Amer-indian slaves were put to work in the first years of the Louisiana colony, although these slaves could always wander back to their nearby tribes. This is why, in 1706 and in 1708, Governor Lemoyne de Bienville proposed a swap with the French West Indies: two Panis would be sent from Louisiana to the islands, for every black who was sent back. This would ensure that French colonists in Louisiana had less trouble holding onto their slaves. We do not know whether this two-for-one swap was put into practice. One thing is certain: in granting Crozat the Louisiana trade monopoly in 1712, the king opened the way to voyages each year to the coast of Guinea, where blacks were acquired for resale to colonists. Louisianan slave owners got the slaves they wanted, whereas the people of Canada had been waiting since 1689 for the blacks they had been officially authorized to buy.


The war ended in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. Wouldn't the Canadians now finally get their cargo of blacks? Louis XTV had granted his authorization in 1689 and had reaffirmed this authorization in 1701. In 1709, Intendant Raudot had established the legal existence of slavery. Crozat was thus in a position to buy slaves in Africa. But no shipment of Negroes reached Quebec.


Governor General Vaudreuil did not agree. According to a marginal note in this same memorandum, he believed "it is inappropriate to bring them to [New France], because the climate is too cold and it would cost too much for people to dress them in winter and he believes it would be better to bring in salt workers." The problem of how to clothe Negroes had already been raised in 1689. But was Vaudreuil unaware that Ruette d'Auteuil had come up with an ingenious scheme: dressing blacks in beaver pelts, as a means of doubling their value? Or had his personal experience as slave owner made him pessimistic? By 1716, his two Amer-indians and four blacks had been admitted to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec: at that time, entering the hospital meant being on the verge of dying. Indeed, records show that black slaves under the French regime died young - on average before reaching their twentieth Birthday.


Word from the French government came back: "it does not seem appropriate at present to send Negroes to Canada." Vaudreuil's prudence had won the day, but it is worth noting that the government refused to send a shipment of blacks to Canada, while continuing to allow Canadians to own slaves. As a result, in 1719 Intendant Begon asked once more that blacks be sent to Canada, and the regent replied in 1720 that he "wants to know beforehand what price people will pay for Negroes, piece d'Inde" Acccording to the Dictionnaire de Trevoux, the expression "piece d'Inde" referred to a black slave between twenty and thirty who was well built, healthy and had all his teeth.


Begon supplied the information requested, sending the regent a "submission made by the communities, senior officers and habitants of the Colony to pay the sum of 600 [livres] for Negroes, piece d'Inde, or as established by mutual agreement at Quebec with the captains of slave ships." This submission, the intendant added, "was signed only by those to whom he has had the opportunity of proposing it, and there are already subscriptions for 101 Negroes and Negresses, which leads him to believe that if the Compagnie des Indes wanted to send a vessel to Quebec in 1701 laden with 200 Negroes or Negresses, sales would be brisk and the slaves would be sold just as advantageously as in Martinique."


There was nothing random about Intendant Begon's request: he had taken the trouble to get religious communities, officers and habitants to sign purchase orders. In so doing, he had collected subscriptions for hundreds of blacks, which is why he believed a cargo of 200 blacks could be sold off quickly enough in Canada. Subscribers were willing to pay 500 livres each, or as agreed with the slaver-traders.


Who were those subscribers? We did not find a list of buyers. We can only say that at least a hundred individuals wanted to acquire blacks. In the absence of a list, we can only rely on notarized deeds of sale, references in the civil registries or other documents. Subscribers included religious communities, clergymen, officers, merchants and even ordinary habitants or tillers of the land.


Begon Called for a Cargo of Negroes



According to Intendant Begon, if 200 blacks were sent to Quebec, sales would be brisk, and they would be even more so "when money is more common in Quebec and people know the usefulness of having Negroes on their land." And he saw fit to write a memorandum to colonial authorities on the need for blacks in Canada. In 1689, the main argument had been the scarcity and high cost of domestic servants. The argument had developed over time. Begon now developed a series of important arguments: the cultivation of hemp and the general progress of agriculture, assistance to the elderly, the dearth of domestic servants, defence in time of war, the experience of other colonies.


Begon began his plea by urging that blacks be brought in to grow hemp, drawing inspiration perhaps from the role sugar cane had played in the introduction of black slavery in the Caribbean. He then referred to a social problem that black slavery could help solve - that of parents who became infirm or who had no children.


"Widows and the elderly who have no children fit to work would no longer be forced by their powerlessness to abandon their homes or sell them for a pittance." If black slaves could work the land, then elderly parents would no longer depend on their children in conditions that caused all sorts of tragedies:


"Fathers and mothers who have cleared a lot of land and established their homes could, on reaching an advanced age or becoming infirm and being incapable of working any longer, maintain control of their assets and continue exploiting them. By means of their Negroes, they would no longer be forced to depend on their children, nor be exposed to abuse from them. Instead, their children would always show them respect and submission, hoping thereby to show themselves worthy of an eventual inheritance, whereas at present, because there is not enough labour to work the land, ageing fathers and mothers are forced to place themselves at the mercy of one of their sons, and to induce him to help them in their old age, making him a donation of all their property so they can be [properly] fed, housed and supported."


However, the intendant noted, the terms of these donations were not always faithfully fulfilled, which led to lawsuits or conflicts about anticipated inheritances, with as many as ten or twelve children quarrelling over terms of the donation of property.


The presence of black slaves would not only make the elderly independent of their own children, it would help solve the problem of domestic servants. Officers, merchants and city-dwellers in general could take land and have blacks work it for them. Blacks could be taught essential trades, thereby increasing the number of workers. In addition, blacks would be very useful for home defence, and were more obedient: this meant no longer relying solely on Amer-indians, who did whatever they pleased and withdrew from battle as soon as they felt their position weakening. Finally, the English colonies had started thriving once blacks were introduced there. Intendant Begon recalled that other French colonies had been granted authorizations to import blacks, and hoped the same favour would be accorded to Canada.


A Cargo of Negroes Authorized Once Again 


This was the line of argument Begon submitted to the Conseil de la Marine in January 1721. It was a more elaborate argument than the one Ruette d'Auteuil had developed in 1689. On the margins of the document, the Conseil wrote this favourable note: "Send a copy of this notice and the submission to the Compagnie des Indes, underlining the fact that if it commits to sending a shipment of Negroes this year, sales will move quickly and it will reap considerable profit." Begon's project of importing 101 blacks reached a milestone when the regent sent his consent to the Compagnie des Indes.


The Conseil de la Marine informed Begon of a new delay, which "has arisen because of the need for a restructuring of the Company governance, which is being addressed at the moment, so the shipment cannot be sent this year," but the Council would ensure that its promise was kept.


This, it seemed, meant only that a postponement of the project was in order: the Company had to be restructured, the Conseil de la Marine would hire the Company to send a shipment of blacks to Quebec, and so the purchase order would be fulfilled in 1721.


In fact, no shipment ever reached the colony. Word of this new delay was the last time Begon's project was ever mentioned. How can this be explained? The Compagnie des Indes was in a new situation: it held the monopoly of the slave trade, but had constantly to defend itself from private ship owners while being unable to profit from its own monopoly. The council of the Compagnie proposed to abandon the monopoly; then, in 1724, its monopoly privilege was restricted to the territory of Senegal alone — a huge victory for private ship owners, but a great loss for the Compagnie. Begon's project seems to have got lost in the shuffle.


People in Canada could always rely on private initiative: but could a ship owner profitably transport a few hundred blacks from Africa to Quebec? There were many closer colonies to sell off a regular cargo of 500 or 600 Negroes.


No slave ship ever came to Quebec, as we know from statistics between 1714 and 1760 on total black slave arrivals each year.


1715

7

1730

4

1746

11

1715

3

1731

3

1747

18

1716

1

1732

5

1748

16

1717

2

1733

4

1749

8

1718

2

1734

2

1750

12

1719

-

1735

4

1751

   7

1720

-

1736

3

1752

10

1721

2

1737

6

1753

6

1722

1

1738

7

1754

5

1723

1

1739

4

1755

16

1724

2

1740

5

1756

9

1725

-

1741

5

1757

15

1726

2

1742

3

1758

9

1727

3

1743

15

1759

12

1728

3

1744

21

1760

6

1729

2

1745

11






The annual number of new blacks arriving was ridiculously low, even when we count a few black infants born here. Canadians had received official authorizations in 1689, 1701 and 1721, yet there was no massive import of blacks to Quebec. Prospective slave owners would have to make do with a few individuals.

………………………….


WOW,  DO  YOU  SEE  THE  ATTITUDE  OF  MIND  HERE?  THOUGH  FEW  BLACKS  CAME  TO  CANADA  DURING  THE  YEARS  MENTIONED,  THE  MIND-SET  OF  THE  FRENCH  IN  CANADA  AND  AT  HOME,  WAS  THE  SAME  AS  THE  ANGLO-SAXSON  PEOPLE  OF  BRITAIN  AND  THE  USA.  THE  ATTITUDE  WAS  BLACKS  MADE  GOOD  WORKING  SLAVES  FOR  THE  WHITE  EXPANSION-SETTLERS  AND  WHITE  PERSONAL  "EMPIRE"  BUILDERS.


TRULY  A  TWISTED  DEPRAVED  MIND-SET,  FLURISHING  IN  CANADA,  AS  WELL  AS  IN  THE  USA  -  Keith Hunt