The Legalization of Slavery

Slaves show up in historical records in Quebec from the 1670s up till the 1830s. We located documented traces of eighty-six slaves before 1709 (eleven blacks and seventy-five Amer-indians), although slavery had not yet been formally legalized. The civil registry of Lachine (an official state document) referred to a Panis as a slave, and in 1700 the civil registry of Pointe-Levy identified a black man as a slave. In church and hospital registries, meanwhile, blacks and Amer-indians were described as belonging to particular individuals. Slavery was not yet an established institution.

Was There Any Guarantee of Slave Ownership Before 1709? 

When a Canadian habitant owned a slave, he had, or believed he had, some basis for the right of ownership. Yet before 1709, it was hard for owners to demonstrate that they could indeed exercise such a right. In March 1685, Louis XIV published the Code Noir, which settled issues in the Caribbean, "dealing with the condition and quality of the slaves in said islands." The Code Noir specified that particular slaves were "personal property" duly belonging to their owners, but the edict only applied to the French West Indies and was neither promulgated in Canada nor even recorded by the Conseil souverain. When the time came to settle issues related to blacks in Louisiana, the King of France issued another edict, in much the same terms, but for Louisiana alone. Nothing in the Code Noir of the French West Indies or of Louisiana applied to Canada. Could slave owners find some basis for the right of ownership in the Treaty of Whitehall, concluded between France and England in November 1686? This treaty concerning the neutrality of American…..


Nearly 4200 Slaves in Quebec

In a letter to the minister Maurepas in 1744, Caultier de Laverendrye wrote about his toils in His Majesty's service for the good of the colony, citing three advantages in particular: "the great number of persons to whom this enterprise affords a living, of the slaves that are obtained for the country, and the furs of which formerly the English got the benefit." If Laverendrye considered slavery to be the second advantage in importance, ahead of furs, then slavery must have been a perfectly legal institution, accepted just as readily by the authorities as by the inhabitants of New France; and there had to be sufficient numbers of slaves for the minister to be impressed by the argument. We set out to establish the number of these slaves.

The Challenges of Coming Up with a Number 

We combed the civil registries from the beginnings of New France to colonial Quebec in the nineteenth century, which involved thorough searches of Catholic and Protestant records. Since the Church required that slaves be baptized and buried in consecrated ground, this seemed a promising way to account for much of the slave population. In fact, these records provided us with the greater part of our documentation: of 4200 slaves we identified, over 3000 show up in civil registries. Additional information was obtained by going through patient records and death registries at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec (the records for this period at the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal have unfortunately disappeared) and in the general hospitals.

Census roles, particularly the one taken in Quebec in 1744, were also helpful, at least when census takers took the trouble to enumerate…..


The Slave Market

On June 15, 1709, Madeleine Just, wife of Pierre You d'Youville Ladecoverte, sold a Panis to Pierre-Thomas Tarieu de Laperade, husband of Madeleine Jarret de Vercheres; then on October 19, Jacques Nepveu sold the Panis Marie to his own brother. In September 1796, Louis Payet, parish priest of Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, sold a black woman, Rose, to Thomas Lee; and Jean-Baptiste Routhier sold his mulatto to Louis-Charles Foucher.83 These examples constitute the first two slave sales in Quebec, in 1709 and, then the very last two such sales, in 1796. Buyers and sellers were French-speaking Canadians in each case.

Slaves as Personal Property

On April 13, 1709, Intendant Raudot issued an ordinance making it legal to buy and sell slaves: "All Panis and Negroes who have been and who shall hereafter be bought, belong in full ownership to those who purchased them as slaves." According to the 1685 edition of the Code Noir (but also the 1724 edition specially drafted for Louisiana, another part of New France), slaves were likened to personal property. The Code Noir never came into force in the St. Lawrence Valley, but slaves were considered to be personal property here as elsewhere, and Canadians treated them as such.

By "personal property" we mean that slaves were owned in just the same way as livestock. When the notary Raimbault drew up an inventory of the property of the late Francois-Madeleine You d'Youville, whose wife came to be known as Mother d'Youville, he simply wrote at the end…….


Owners at All Levels of Society

Colonial Canada's population of legal slaves was made up of native Amer-indians and blacks bought and sold in private transactions or auctioned off to the highest bidder in a public market. We should examine whether slave ownership was restricted to the most powerful members of society, and whether any particular group of society, such as the clergy, refused on principle to enslave other human beings.

French-speaking Slave Owners

In reviewing historical records, it is clear that not all Amer-indians and blacks who lived in slavery in Quebec were actually slaves at the time the documents record their presence: some had regained their liberty some time after entering the country as slaves, and the documents do not always tell us who their owners were. Even in cases where documents identified individuals as slaves at the time of writing, the names of owners were not always indicated.

It is therefore impossible to make an exhaustive study of slave ownership, and we can only come up with approximations, both of owners and of slaves themselves. Of the approximately 4200 slaves in our Dictionnaire, 3200 (or 76.2%) had clearly identified owners. It has not always proven straight-forward to identify these owners, given that the first and last names of just 1137 owners are recorded. Moreover, it should be noted that ownership was not always confined to individuals: the state, religious communities, and merchant associations, could hold slaves in collective ownership; We will leave aside collective owners for the moment, to focus on individual owners….


The Living Conditions of Slaves

When owners purchased a slave in a notarized sale, or had the slave baptized, they generally promised to treat the slave humanely; but was this a promise to meet standards of treatment set by the authorities, or was it a voluntary commitment on the owners' part, reflecting their intention to treat the slave as a human being? In other words, did owners have to comply with a code defining the respective duties, of owners and slaves? Were slaves treated humanely? Did they enjoy certain rights?

Slave Legislation and Protection in Canada 

In March 1685, Louis XIV responded to requests from colonial authorities by issuing an edict comprising sixty articles, known as the Code Noir, to settle "issues dealing with the condition and quality of slaves."

The Code Noir stipulates that slaves are personal property, they can be seized as movable property, but husband, wife and prepubescent children cannot be taken and sold separately; these slaves can have nothing which does not belong to their master, and whatever they earn through their own industry or generosity belongs to their master; they are "incapable of disposing or contracting on their own behalf"; they cannot exercise any public office, and their statements in court are to be treated as briefs from which "neither presumption nor conjecture can be drawn."

The Code Noir also states that all slaves shall be baptized and instructed in the Catholic faith, they cannot publicly practise any other religion, and any masters allowing their slaves to practise any non-Catholic faith shall be severely punished; slaves shall observe…..



Slaves and the Sacraments

No explicit state law or church regulation obliged Canadian slave owners to raise their slaves in the Catholic faith. Admittedly, Catholicism was the state religion in New France, and in principle the colony could only be inhabited by Catholics, so one could imagine that slave owners would naturally have been inclined to baptize slaves and to ensure they were raised as Christians. It remains to be seen if the facts fit this theory.

Masters Were Slow to Baptize Their Slaves 

Actually, slave owners did not baptize their slaves as quickly as one might think. For example, three unbaptized slaves were sold by their owners. On September 14, 1737, Jacques-Hugues Pean de Livaudiere sold the thirteen or fourteen-year-old slave Therese to Joseph Chavigny deLachevrotiere de Latesserie: the deed of sale states that this Fox Amer-indian had not been baptized, and there is no way of knowing whether her new owner had her baptized. On October 1 the same year, Augustin Bailly de Messein sold his ten-year-old Paducah slave to the same Latesserie: this was another pagan slave and it is impossible to ascertain how long Bailly de Messein held him; Latesserie had him baptized the following October 20. The Pahis Fanchon, aged ten to eleven years, had belonged for an indeterminate period to the Montreal merchant Jacques-Francois Daguille, before she was sold to Mathieu-Theodore de Vitre, on November 4, 1751, by which time she had still not been baptized. Some slave owners put off baptizing their slaves, or possibly did not even bother with baptism at all. It seems to have been a fairly common practice to wait one, two or even three years. In…..


Crime and Punishment

Black and Amer-indian slaves unwillingly found themselves in a society whose standards were foreign to them. Did they behave in ways that led to punishment? Were slaves punished more harshly than persons of a free condition? Was the very presence of slaves a threat for society?

In colonies with a high proportion of slaves, stringent measures were taken to protect masters. Under the Code Noir, slaves were forbidden from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks at the risk of being whipped; they were also forbidden from congregating, risking the same punishment, while repeat offenders could be punished with death; once recaptured, runaway slaves would have their ears cut off and the fleur de lys branded on one shoulder; runaways recaptured a second time would have their hamstring cut and be branded with a fleur de lys on the other shoulder; runaways recaptured a third time would be put to death. A slave who struck his master in the face or drew blood would be put to death; a slave caught stealing could be subject to public humiliation and even put to death; masters could chain slaves and have them beaten with rods or straps, but masters were forbidden from torturing slaves or mutilating any limb, since mutilation and the death penalty were the prerogative of royal justice alone.

There seems to have been very little humanity in these repressive measures, which were adopted at the time in the French West Indies, with a view to protecting the tiny population of white slave owners from the surrounding mass of black slaves. In New France, meanwhile, the Code Noir never came into force. How did masters keep their slaves working, and how did they punish them?…..


Did Slaves Have the Same Rights as Freemen?

The slaves of French Canada were held in bondage, yet they were subject to many of the same conditions as their masters, taking part for example in the sacraments of the Church. Slaves appear to have had a privileged status in French Canada. But did that mean they enjoyed the same prerogatives as freeborn persons? Could slaves in fact be freed?

Slaves Could Serve as Witnesses

According to the Code Noir of 1685 (and also the code of 1724), slaves had no legal capacity: they were charges under the law, they entered as such into community property, and they could only act through their masters. These provisions of the Code Noir were not strictly applied in New France, however. Slaves often acted as witnesses here, on the same footing as freeborn persons. They could serve as godparents after baptisms: we have already mentioned forty-six baptisms at which blacks or Amer-indians served as sponsors, and the number would have been higher still if Canadians had not made a point of honour of serving as godparents to their own slaves. In any event, the number of slaves serving as sponsors is high enough for us to conclude there was little distinction between slaves and freeborn persons in this regard.

Slaves also served as witnesses at the weddings of fellow slaves: in 1750, two blacks stood in as 'witnesses' at the wedding of Leber de Senneville's black slave Joseph-Hippolyte dit l'Espiegle; under the French regime this was exceptional, however, since slave owners normally served as witnesses at slave weddings, baptisms and burials, whereas under the British regime, slaves generally filled this role……


Debauchery and Marriage

Amer-indian 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 Amer-indian 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 Amer-indian men do not seem to have had any particular interest in Canadian women. The Jesuit Charlevoix praised Amer-indian 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 Amer-indian women." Canadian men sought the maximum advantage in buying Amer-indian 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 drtLagerne, the forty-year-old widower of Marie-Madeleine Gaudin, kidnapped an Amer-indian woman he was in love with in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade. One night, he stole into Seigneur Tarieu de……


Do Canadians Have Slave Blood?

There were many marriages between black slaves, but few between Amer-indian slaves. This does not mean that Amer-indian 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 Amer-indian men also formed permanent unions with white/Canadian women.

"French and Amer-indians 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 Amer-indians. 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…..


Slaves Disappeared One by One

The Anti-Slavery Campaign

Slave-owners were getting anxious about the gains of the anti-slavery movement. Evidence of this anxiety is contained in a sales contract from November 1787. Pierre Joinville, a resident of He Dupas, represented by the merchant Louis Olivier, bought Cynda, a ten-year-old black slave from John Lagord for the sum of 750 livres. Joinville added an important clause to the contract: "Should any law be adopted by the Legislative Council currently in session or by any other authority, emancipating slaves and giving them their freedom," the seller, Lagord, would have to take his black slave back and reimburse the entire sum he had received from Joinville. Already by 1787, it was clear owners feared the more or less imminent abolition of slavery. Was the Legislative Council of Quebec serious about abolishing slavery or was it only rumoured to be concerned about the matter? We found no documentary evidence either in or before 1787 that would help answer this question. On the one hand, Pierre Joinville did not want to pay a hefty price for a slave he might have to give up soon afterwards, whereas on the other hand, John Lagord may have agreed to reimburse the entire sale price in the event of abolition because he was not that worried it would happen anytime soon. By 1787, there had been no public campaign in Quebec against slavery: newspapers were silent on this issue.

It was only in July 1790 that newspapers began to publish anything on slavery. On July 22, 1790, the Quebec Herald printed a 48-verse poem, "'Domestic Slavery; or Lines occasioned by the Efforts to emancipate the African Negroes" The poem is attributed to one Quoilus and we cannot say whether the author was Canadian or…..


Throughout this work we have been dealing with a historical territory which does not quite occupy the same space as present-day Canada. Our study establishes that slavery had an official, legal existence over two centuries, that is between 1632 and 1834.

It is hard to imagine why Amer-indian and black slavery would not have been practised in Quebec during this period, when it was a widespread institution in all European colonies, Catholic and Protestant alike. However, slavery here remained on a relatively small scale. The black man that Guillaume Couillart received as a gift in 1632 would remain the colony's only black inhabitant for a quarter of a century. Governor Courcelle and the explorers Jolliet and Dulhut received Amer-indian slaves as gifts, but it was not until the last years of the seventeenth century that slave ownership in New France, whether of Amer-indians or blacks, became a regular feature of society. Indeed the word "slave" was mentioned for the first time in the civil registry on October 28, 1694.

The original French colonists of Quebec wanted to import massive numbers of black slaves into the colony. In 1688, three years after the publication of the Code Noir regarding the French islands of America (the Caribbean), Governor Denonville and Intendant Bochart de Champigny asked for blacks. In 1689, Ruette d'Auteuil wrote a memorandum to the king claiming that enterprises in Canada were failing because of the scarcity and high cost of labour, whereas they would succeed if "Negroes" were imported. In 1689, Louis XIV therefore allowed colonists in New France to own slaves, although he also urged caution since these blacks, acquired at great cost, might not adapt well to the climate. This first royal sanction of slavery remained a…….