CANADA'S FORGOTTEN SLAVES
SLOWLY IT BEGAN
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 Amerindian 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 Amerindian slaves as gifts, but it was not until the last years of the seventeenth century that slave ownership in New France, whether of Amerindians 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 dead letter because of the outbreak of war, and a second royal sanction in 1701 also remained without effect when war resumed.
No massive importation of black slaves took place, but Canadians were able to draw off a few black slaves while warring against the Thirteen Colonies, and to exploit increasing numbers of Amerindian slaves who were brought back from the Midwest to Montreal as a result of the fur trade. The situation remained somewhat confusing since owners still lacked specific legal guarantees of their slave ownership. In 1709, Intendant Raudot ruled that people who had bought or would buy blacks and Panis as slaves did in fact own them. From that time, slavery became legal, and starting in 1709 notaries began to draw up deeds for the sale of slaves. Raudot's ordinance remained in force thereafter, and in 1730 Intendant Hocquart had it reprinted as a way of reminding French colonists that the purchase of black and "red" slaves was legal.
There was no particular problem about black slavery - unless a "Negro" had been formally emancipated, he was a slave wherever he might be, and the kings of France authorized Canadians to own such slaves. But Amerindian slavery was not so clear-cut. Could an entire "savage" tribe be enslaved, even though Intendant Raudot had only specifically mentioned the enslavement of the Panis? And what of Amerindians who had been baptized as Catholics - if baptism accorded them the same rights as French colonists, at least in principle, could they also be held as slaves? A case in point arose in 1732, when a Paducah slave who had already been baptized was seized, and then sold at auction. Once Louis XV was apprised of this case, he refused to issue a formal law on Amerindian slavery, preferring that judges in New France follow customary practice in the colony, which meant that these "savages" were indeed slaves but they could only be emancipated by a notarized act.
Was it acceptable to export Amerindian slaves? Intendant Raudot replied that it was not, because his ordinance was only valid in Canada; but actually, some "savages" were transported to the Caribbean, whether to undergo the punishment of exile or because owners no longer wanted to keep them.
Whatever the case, Raudot's ordinance definitively established the right of slave ownership; throughout the French regime this ordinance was invoked whenever the owner felt his right was under threat. Finally, Article 47 of the Articles of Capitulation in 1760 maintained the French institution of slavery under the British regime, without providing any new legal foundation for it: slave owners would still refer to Raudot's ordinance in 1800, when petitioning the House of Assembly.
In this study we counted a total of 4185 slaves from 1632 to the first third of the nineteenth century, within Quebec's traditional boundaries, as well as various other territories that depended on it from time to time. These 4185 slaves can be broken down into three groups: 2683 native Amerindians, called "red slaves"; 1443 blacks; and fifty-nine other slaves whose origin is not recorded in historical documents.
It should be noted that these 1443 blacks represented 35% of the total, and were definitely in the minority. They only began to acquire importance during the last two decades of French rule, especially as war booty and fugitive slaves, although some Canadian merchants managed to import small numbers of ebony slaves from the Caribbean. But after 1760, the number of blacks rose rapidly, especially as Loyalists fleeing America brought their slaves with them. Black slavery became more generalized under the British regime.
The largest single group among Canadian slaves were aboriginal people, who accounted for 2683 individuals or 65.1% of the total slave population. Nearly two-thirds of these slaves were identified as Panis, a nation living in the Upper Missouri and Kansas regions. However, not all slaves described as Panis were actually' from the "Pawnee" nation. The term "Panis" came over time to be applied generically to any Amerindian slave. The origin of some Amerindians was specifically entered in registers: from the Mississippi Basin came Amerindians of the Iowa ("Aiouois"), Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Ouacha, Natchez, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Shawnee, Cahokia, Tamaroa and Illinois nations; from western Canada came Amerindians of the Sioux, Brochet, Assiniboine, Cree and Mandan nations; from the Great Lakes region came Amerindians of the Ojibwa, Fox, Menominee, Mascouten, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Iroquois and Mohican nations; and from the northern reaches of the colony came natives from the Gens de terre, Tetes de boule, Montagnais and even Eskimo nations.
MODEST IN NUMBERS
Slavery seems to have been on a modest scale, if we consider there were 4200 slaves in Canada over two centuries, but 5000 slaves in Louisiana in the year 1746 alone. Slavery was an economic imperative in colonies where sugar and tobacco were grown, whereas in French Canada no economic activity required the presence of slave labour; agriculture was only practised on a small scale, any colonial activity that could compete with metropolitan French activity was strictly forbidden, and the main commercial activity, the fur trade, involved transiting goods from one place to the other. True, domestic servants were hard to find under French rule, which could lead us to assume that Canadians imitated other slave-owning colonies. But actually, the scale of slave ownership here was nowhere near the same.
Slaves were distributed throughout Quebec, but were mostly held in bondage in the cities of Montreal and Quebec. Montreal accounted for 1525 or 36.4% of all slaves, ahead of Quebec with 970 slaves or 23.2%. Montreal was also the terminus of the fur trade - a long canoe voyage away from the pays Sen haut - so it was in Montreal that the greatest numbers of Amerindian slaves were to be found: 1007 or 37.5%, whereas Quebec City's 400 Amerindian slaves (14.9% of the total) were a distant second. These two cities had more even shares of black slaves: 39.5% in Quebec, and 35.9% in Montreal.
In the Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs proprietaries, we tracked 1574 masters: of this group, 1535 were specifically identified as slave owners, 1312 or 80% were francophones and 223 or 20% were anglophones. Francophones had a total of 2858 slaves (86.8% of all slaves identified), including 2262 Amerindians, while anglophones only held 132; francophones were mainly responsible for Amerindian slavery. Furthermore, blacks made up just 20.9% of all slaves held by francophones, whereas they represented 69.5% of slaves held by English-speaking owners.
WHO OWNED SLAVES?
These 1574 slave owners belonged to all ranks of society and practised many different professions. They were found among the highest officials (governors general, intendants, etc.), among members of the Conseil superieur, the legislative and executive councils, judges, military officers, doctors, surgeons, notaries, surveyors, interpreters, printers, tradesmen and even a sculptor; slave ownership was common among persons engaged in trade (a third of all slaves were held by the merchant class), and there again, even after the Conquest, French-Canadian merchants owned more slaves than their English-speaking counterparts. Seigneurs held a combined total of 442 slaves, which leads us to conclude slaves were a regular feature of life in seigneurial manors.
The clergy had slaves: three bishops, four secular priests (including Louis Payet, who owned five slaves and was one of the last people in French Canada to buy a slave), two Sulpicians, a Recollet Father and four Jesuits. Religious communities also owned slaves: the Jesuits in Quebec, Saint-Francois-du-Lac, Sault-Saint-Louis, the Detroit (Pointe-de-Montreal) and Michilimackinac missions; the Brothers of Charity in Louisbourg; the Hopital-General de Quebec, the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal, the Congregation of Notre Dame and especially the Hopital-General in Montreal where a number of slaves lived - both the slaves Mother d'Youville had inherited from her husband, and those slaves donated to the hospital by French colonists returning to France after the Conquest, as a way of supporting the hospital's good works, or of ensuring the welfare of slaves who could not be taken back to France. Although neither the Seminaire de Quebec nor the Ursulines seem to have owned slaves in Quebec itself, some religious communities held slaves in far-flung parts of the colony: both the Seminaire de Quebec and the Jesuits had slaves in their Kaskaskia missions, and the Ursulines had slaves in New Orleans. Within present-day Quebec, the clergy and religious communities had a combined total of at least forty slaves. We should recall than in 1720, religious communities joined the rest of the population in petitioning Intendant Begon to allow them to import hundreds of blacks. Such practices were considered normal. Slavery was a socially accepted practice, and there seemed to be nothing untoward about owning slaves at the time.
Major slave owners were few and far between, and by "major" we mean people holding at least a dozen slaves: we know of only twenty-nine owners in this category. When these major owners are grouped into families, we find the Campeau family (most of whom were closely related) leading with fifty-seven slaves, with the Lacorne and Lemoyne de Longueuil families ranking second. The Campeau family were only small-scale fur traders, people of modest means, whose extravagant taste for slave ownership actually surpassed that of the wealthiest seigneurs.
HOW SLAVES WERE TREATED
No code in this society set out the relations of masters with their slaves, nor even the general condition of slaves. However, slave owners complied strictly with the Code Noir, even going beyond it at times, and in so doing they gave something of a family character to slavery, sometimes considering the slave as an adopted child.
We should not forget however that the slave was a form of personal property: newspapers advertised slaves as commodities (over a thirty-year period, we found 137 slave ads in newspapers), sometimes offering them for sale alongside livestock; slaves were listed in inventories of property along with animals, and were sometimes exchanged for horses, even when the slave had been baptized. There does not seem to have been any public market specially designated for slave sales, although we know for certain that some slaves were sold at auction or on the market square. It was rare for batches of slaves to be sold together, and the largest batch was only five slaves.
Slaves were bought and sold under the same conditions as any other merchandise - they were carefully examined; young, and even very young slaves were preferred; slaves were bought at twenty and even fifteen years of age, and often much younger than that; slaves had to be trained, and brought to identify with the slave-owning family before adulthood, when the temptation to run away (especially for Amerindian slaves) grew stronger.
The slave, was an expensive item because he was not really essential in economic terms. The average "savage" slave cost 400 livres while the average black slave cost 900 livres, but then there was a ready supply of Amerindian slaves whereas black slaves were harder to get and bring into the colony by sea. Some prospective slave owners were prepared to buy slaves on credit, even going so far as to mortgage their property in order to acquire this luxury item.
No law compelled owners to baptize their slaves and they were in no hurry to do so: some owners waited several years, sometimes (although rarely) letting the slave reach an advanced age before being baptized on their deathbed. Under French rule, baptisms could be important social events, drawing the most prominent citizens: when the ten-year-old black slave Pierre-Louis Scipion was baptized in 1717, thirteen people signed the baptismal registry. Sponsors at slave baptisms included Governor Beauharnois, Intendants Dupuy and Hocquart, other senior officials and members of the clergy. The owner often reserved the honour of serving as godfather to his own slave, although this practice was only found in French and Catholic society.
HOW THEY WERE NAMED
Even when they were baptized, many slaves were entered in the baptismal registry without either first name or surname. For this reason, 25.3% of Amerindians and 17.3% black slaves appearing in historical records remain anonymous. The first name was recorded for 68.6% of Amerindian slaves, and 50.2% for black slaves. When slaves acquired a first name, they were often given the same name as their sponsor or master. Some slaves acquired celebrated names such as the slave Versailles owned by Vergor in 1749, or Louis Quatorze who was buried at Saint-Vallier in 1773.
Finally, slaves were allowed to marry if they first obtained the consent of their master. The marriage ceremony followed the usual ritual, with masters, family members or friends - and even sometimes slaves themselves - serving as witnesses. Even when married, slaves continued living in bondage unless their master formally emancipated them; the legitimate children of slaves remaining in bondage belonged in full ownership to the mother's master. We tracked seventy-three marriages between slaves in historical records.
Slaves were generally illiterate and only one Amerindian slave could sign his name: the Fox Michel-Louis, also called Michel Ouysconsin, who had belonged to one Lanouillier. Eight black slaves were able to sign their name, including Pierre-Dominique Lafieur, a black slave belonging to Philibert du Chien d'Or. When he married a Canadian in 1749, he signed the registry of civil status, although his wife was not competent to do so.
TRADES AMONG SLAVES
Amerindians do not seem to have practised trades, apart from the English-speaking Amerindians that Madame Legardeur de Repentigny had purchased for her Montreal factory; they generally served as domestic servants; a handful of them (just eight) had gained enough of their master's trust to be sent into the pays d'en haut to trade in furs. Most blacks had a trade, the most popular ones being cooks and hairdressers.
Although slaves were not protected by any code, they nevertheless enjoyed some of the same privileges as people of a free condition: they could serve as witnesses in religious ceremonies (baptism, marriage, burial) and their names could be entered as witnesses in civil registries. A slave was even a plaintiff in a case against a free person: in 1727 the Panis Catherine, slave of Lachauvignerie, brought a lawsuit against Benoist the surgeon, and won. Slaves fought for their freedom in the courts, where judges allowed them to use any legal means at the disposal of ordinary citizens. This was the case when the Panis Marie-Marguerite Duplessis dit Radisson took Chevalier Dormicourt to court to avoid being exported to the Caribbean. In criminal cases a slave was treated the same way as a citizen. The slave easily obtained permission to appear before a judge and then to appeal before the Conseil superieur, while under British rule the slave enjoyed Habeas Corpus and could request a trial by jury. Such privileges meant the slave here had far greater rights than slaves in other colonies.
Moreover, slaves were not punished any more severely than free persons, as we established in studying documents relating to eighteen slaves punished for crimes. Slaves and free persons were led to the gallows for petty thievery, burglary occurring at night, violence, arson and murder. Some slaves faced less severe punishment, for example when they were deported, while a Canadian found guilty of the same crimes would be hanged: this can no doubt be explained by the fact that rebellious slaves were not as dangerous here as they would have been in the Caribbean. The crimes committed by slaves here were rare and isolated acts, bearing no resemblance whatever to some class revolt against slave-owning society.
Another privilege of the slave was acquiring a family name: it was common practice under French rule for the slave to bear the same name as his master, and if the slave had already been given the master's first name, then both slave and master had identical names, which can be confusing for genealogists today. We counted 158 Amerindian slaves or 5.9% of the total with a Quebecois family name, whereas 32.5% of black slaves had their master's name. This suggests that slavery here had a more humane and family character.
SLAVES BEING ILL
When the slaves became ill thy were generally sent to the hospital. Between 1690 and 1800, at least 525 slaves were hospitalized, and we would definitely have found more if the records of the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal had been preserved - Montreal had the largest slave population in all of Quebec. It sometimes happened that once a slave became "worn out" the owner's family placed him at the Hopital-General where he remained comfortably until the end of his days.
THE LENGTH OF LIFE
It is astonishing to discover how young slaves were when they died - on average 19.3 years of age. In other words, slaves generally did not reach twenty. Amerindian slaves, on average, died younger (17.7 years), though black slaves lived longer (dying on average at 25.2 years). On the other hand, blacks had a higher rate of infant mortality: while 25% of Amerindian infants died in their first year, 29.1% of black infants died over the same period. Under these conditions, few slaves reached an advanced age. No male Amerindian slave reached 70 years. Only twenty-three slaves lived to their eightieth year, and only two blacks to their ninetieth. Finally, only two slaves, both women, lived to their hundredth year: the Panis Marie-Joseph, former slave of Ruerte d'Auteuil, was placed at the Hopital-General de Montreal, and died there in 1799, aged 100 years, while the black Mary Young died in Montreal in 1813 at the age of 106 years!
Slaves were buried roughly along the same lines as in free society. Some were buried on the day of death, although most were buried the following day as in free society; the burial act was written in exactly the same ritual terms, before witnesses, who were sometimes slave owners (none of them English-speaking, however), other slaves or simply the beadle, a parish officer. In most cases slaves were buried in the paupers' cemetery, but one female slave was buried in a church next to her mistress.
As in other colonies the slave could obtain his freedom if his master were willing to emancipate him. Until 1709, it appears from Intendant Raudot's ordinance that several slaves had been emancipated on the basis of a simple verbal declaration; from 1709 on the only way for a slave to be emancipated was in a notarized act. We found very few of these acts, although documents often identified freedmen or free Panis (which amounted to the same). Once freed, the slave was left to his own devices; freed Amerindians only seem to have known the trade of canoeing, but freed blacks had knowledge of more trades and were better prepared than Amerindians to enjoy their freedom.
The presence in our society of nearly 4200 slaves naturally led to "metissage" or interbreeding, resulting in children of mixed race. These slaves lived in family settings, Canadian men had a penchant for "savage" women, and most slaves were actually Amerindian women.
Many love affairs resulted, as well as children born out of wedlock. Of 573 children of slaves 59.5% were born out of wedlock. Amerindian women were the most likely slaves to have illegitimate children: indeed, we calculated that 75.9% or three-fourths of children born to such Amerindian woman were illegitimate, whereas the proportion of illegitimate children born to black slaves was 32.1% (which was still high). Who were the fathers? Historical records do not provide much information about this: the father was generally given as "unknown," only nineteen fathers being identified by name. Whoever the father may have been, these illegitimate children were born into bondage and belonged to the mother's master.
White masters sometimes married their slaves. This should not be considered particularly surprising, since Colbert and Talon had hoped the French and Amerindians "would form only one people and one blood." The first such marriage took place in 1705. We tracked forty-five marriages between masters and slaves, thirty-four of them between whites and Amerindians, and eleven more between whites and blacks. There were almost as many white men marrying Amerindian women as Amerindian men marrying white women. Strangely enough, no white masters married black women, although some white women married black men.
A total of 103 children were born of these hybrid unions: eighty-four Metis and nineteen mulattos. Many of these children married in turn, and left descendants of their own. Was Benjamin Suite right in thinking that the mixture of slave and French blood amounted to a single drop of Missouri water falling into the St. Lawrence? But Suite did not base this remark on statistics. The statistics provided in our own work should only be considered as a starting point for research; historical records would have to be examined carefully, to identify the descendants these slaves may have left among us, if we were ever to attempt to determine the extent of slave ancestry among ethnic French Canadians alive today.
ENDING OF SLAVERY
Nor is it that straight-forward to determine exactly when slavery ended in our society. In 1787, owners began to express initial concerns about their rights as slave owners. Starting in 1790, newspapers campaigned against slavery, although this campaign was only occasional, and consisted mainly in reprinting news and literary pieces drawn from foreign newspapers: at no time was the system of slavery in Lower Canada attacked head-on. Then on January 28, 1793, Pierre-Louis Panet submitted a first bill for the abolition of slavery to the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. Panefs bill died on the order paper, perhaps because twelve of the House of Assembly's fifty members were slave owners themselves. In neighbouring colonies, however, concrete steps were being taken against slavery: Nova Scotia sent a first shipment of black slaves to Africa, and in the spring of 1793, Upper Canada passed a law prohibiting the introduction of new slaves into the province, although slaves already there would remain in that condition, and their children would gain their freedom on reaching the age of twenty-five. It followed that any slave moving to Upper Canada automatically became free, and from 1793 on, the province became a haven of liberty for slaves fleeing neighbouring colonies.
In Lower Canada slave ownership continued, although owners were increasingly concerned about the situation. In 1794, a Montreal judge refused to recognize the condition of slavery, and freed a slave whose only crime was to have run away. In 1798, Chief Justice William Osgoode, based in Montreal, refused in principle to convict a slave charged as a runaway, ruling that in future he would free every slave brought before his court. As a result, slaves began deserting their masters with all impunity. Masters had one last recourse - Parliament. In April 1799, Montreal slave owners working through Joseph Papineau, a member of the Lower Canada House of Assembly, asked the House to rule on the status of slaves, although the House paid scant regard to this initial request. In April 1800, slave owners renewed their request, and this time the House of Assembly set to work drafting a bill, which died on the order paper after two readings.
Slave owners continued to feel alarmed. The courts of Lower Canada no longer recognized the condition of slavery, Upper Canada had become a haven for runaways, and in 1800 Nova Scotia transported a second shipment of slaves back to Africa (since 1755, deportation had become truly fashionable in this province!). During the January 1801 session, James Cuthbert introduced a bill on slavery, which went through two readings, but the House of Assembly let the matter drop. In March 1803, James Cuthbert tried once again to get fellow members to rule on the status of slaves, but his bill died on the order paper after two readings, and the matter of slavery would never again be raised in the House of Assembly.
At the same time, the practice of slavery was gradually dying out. The last slave sale in Lower Canada was contracted on May 13, 1797; the last newspaper advertisement for a slave sale appeared on January 29,1798; the word "slave" appeared for the last time in civil registries on November 18, 1798. In the years to follow, only a very few slaves appeared in historical records: the last slave we were able to document was the Panis, Marie-Marguerite, donated by Andre Grasset de Saint-Sauveur to the Hopital-General de Montreal in 1764, who belonged to the same hospital in 1772, dying there on April 6,1821 at the age of seventy-eight, although it is impossible to say whether she was still a slave at death or had been freed by then. By 1833, when Britain abolished slavery in the colonies (the law took effect in 1834), there were no longer any Amerindian slaves in Lower Canada, although a handful of black slaves may have benefitted from this imperial legislation. In Lower Canada, slavery disappeared as mysteriously as it had begun.
Even more surprising than this silent withering-away of slavery is the fact that it has left so few traces in the collective memory and literature of Quebec. In the 1863 romance Les Anciens Canadiens (Canadians of Old), Philippe Aubert de Gaspe gave a minor role to a mulatto woman his grandfather Ignace-Philippe Aubert de Gaspe had bought around 1787. 205; the same writer wrote Femme de la tribu des Renards (Woman of the Foxes) providing biographical details about Marie-Genevieve, a Fox slave held by the Couillart family of Saint-Thomas-de-Montmagny.206 Around 1881, when Father Raymond Casgrain waxed poetic about his own supposed descent from Crusader ancestors, Adolphe-Basile Routhier playfully tore this claim to shreds, establishing somewhat mischievously that the earliest Casgrain to reach Canada had first of all married the daughter of a Panis.207 In 1891, Father Casgrain wrote of the mulatto Therese, former slave of the Duperron-Baby family,208 and in 1898, P.B. Casgrain devoted a few lines to two other slaves held by this same family: the mulatto Rosalie or Rose Lontin and the Panis Catherine.209 These scattered references are the only ones to appear in nineteenth-century literature.
TURNING A BLIND EYE
And yet, French Canadian writers regularly exploited the grand themes of Canadian history! Prominent literary figures such as Octave Cremazie, Louis-Honore Frechette and Pamphile Le May were forever writing about heroes in the epic mode, although they never mentioned a single episode or victim of slavery here. Our novelists based their work, above all, in historical personalities and events, but they never noticed the presence of slaves. At a time when novelists relished in historical re-enactments, none, apart from Aubert de Gaspe, ever bothered to mention slaves. The strangest case was surely that of William Kirby, author in 1877 of The Golden Dog. The work contains meticulous descriptions of the final years of French rule; the main character is Philibert, a bourgeois and master of at least five slaves, one of whose black slaves married a Canadian woman. Other characters in this work own slaves; but when Kirby describes family life and mentions domestic servants several times, no slaves make an appearance. Nineteenth-century Canadian literature simply omitted the theme of slavery.
Another trace of slavery turned up in the autobiographical account of an Oblate Father, Damase Dandurand, who died in 1921 aged 102. Born in Laprairie, where he spent his early childhood, Dandurand remembered going to Montreal as a child with his mother. There they met a black slave who was being offered for sale, in the last years of slavery. According to Father Dandurand, the slave pleaded to be bought.210 By the time the Oblate wrote up this experience, were his memories accurate, or did he combine the facts with details he had gleaned somewhere else? No matter the case, this seems to have been an authentic eye-witness account of an institution quickly forgotten.
The next mention of slavery we found was in 1951. In Testament de mon enfance (Testament of My Childhood), Robert de Roquebrune dwelled at length on the memory of a black man, Sambo, who long before the author's birth "had turned up one evening at Christmas-time, like one of the Wise Men of the East who had lost his way in the snow." Sambo had been a slave in Virginia before the Civil War, and was taken in at the manor of Saint-Ours in L'Assomption,211 and as such was neither a survivor of Canada's own slave population, nor a vestige of this slavery in our own literature. The next time slavery featured in a Canadian literary work was not until 1999, with the publication of Micheline Bail's historical novel L'Esdave (The Slave), which rigorously reconstructed the life of a female slave of the eighteenth century.
So much for literature. Has language in Quebec retained some trace of an institution that existed here for two centuries? By 1881, Adolphe-Basile Routhier preferred the English spelling "Pawnee" to the French spelling "Panis" - even though this latter spelling had regularly turned up in the civil registry and countless historical documents, in both languages. Although the last Panis slaves disappeared from the historical record in the early nineteenth century, we find it astonishing that just fifty years later, a leading judge and author (who penned the words to "O Canada") was no longer capable of spelling the term properly. Indeed, each time we have spoken about Panis, we have been met with a dazed look and the question "But what's a Panis?"
According to an old Quebec folk tradition, whenever children asked where babies came from, the answer was: "Well, 'savages' passed by, and left a baby behind"; according to another version, babies turned up in cabbage patches... Why all this discretion about "savages" in Quebec? It could have resulted from the proximity of aboriginals; but if we recall how many times fur traders of the eighteenth century returned from the pays d'en haut with very young Panis obtained from "savages," it is conceivable that the folk tradition of Amerindians leaving a baby in a cradle actually goes back to the era of slavery.
CANADA FORGETS... HOW?
How can slavery in Canada have been virtually forgotten? Historians are surely to blame, whether because they did not examine slavery or because they failed even to notice it. Despite the fact that the historian Francois-Xavier Garneau was born in 1809, when slavery still existed in Lower Canada, he completed misinformed his readers about slavery:
We feel it is our duty to cite a decision here, which greatly honours the French government, the decision consisting namely in prohibiting the entry of slaves into Canada, a colony which Louis XIV preferred to any other because of the warlike character of its inhabitants; a colony which he seems to have wanted to model on the image of France, to infuse with courageous nobility, and to colonize with a truly national, Catholic and French population without any admixture of races. In 1688, it had been proposed that Blacks be resorted to, for the purposes of agriculture. The ministry replied that it feared these Blacks could perish in experiencing the change in climate, and that the project was therefore not worth pursuing. This decision effectively prevented the introduction of a great and terrible plague into our society. It is true the Code Noir conceived for the Caribbean was extended to Louisiana; it is true that there were ordinances about slavery; nonetheless, slavery was not prevalent in Canada; there were scarcely a handful of slaves by the time of the Conquest Indeed, their number increased as a result of the Conquest, after which they completely disappeared.
Garneau dug himself even deeper into a hole by claiming that "the government and Canadian clergy should be honoured for consistently opposing the introduction of Blacks into Canada."212
What an extraordinary distortion of historical truth! Jacques Viger and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine would rightly blame Garneau for removing from his History "the most important aspect of this problem: that the king authorized the purchase of slaves."213 In fact, at the urging of Ruette d'Auteuil and Intendant Begon, the King of France explicitly authorized Canadians to buy black slaves. He approved ordinances on slavery issued by his intendants, and the mixing of races was strongly recommended by Colbert and Talon. Contrary to Garneaus claims, slave ownership was just as prevalent under the French regime as it would later b e under the British regime; and while Garneau claimed the clergy had consistently opposed slavery, the Catholic Church of Canada actually never took a position on slavery; in fact, we have established that senior ecclesiastics, bishops, priests, religious and members of religious communities all owned slaves. Finally, Garneau left out all mention of "savage" slaves, who actually far outnumbered black slaves. Coming from a historian who had such a profound impact, this erroneous description of slavery could only have one result - helping society forget the institution had ever existed here.
Jacques Viger and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine refuted Garneau in 1859 when they published a work on the legal foundations of slavery in French Canada. Their pioneering work was not followed up for two decades, however.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Cyprien Tanguay brought out his multi-volume Dictionnaire genealogique des families canadiennes, which included approximately 200 Amerindian and black slaves under the French regime.214 The question only came up again in 1906 when Colonel Hubert Neilson (whose grandfather, the printer John Neilson, had owned slaves) devoted twenty pages to slavery and accused Canadian historians of studiously ignoring the subject.215 Historians gradually began to mention slavery more often: in 1911 Benjamin Suite wrote the first really interesting study, although it was only fifteen pages long and had no statistics.216 In 1913 Mgr. L.A. Paquet lamented that "the stain of slavery" had been legally sanctioned in Canada,217 and two years later, O.M.H. Lapalice pieced together an incomplete inventory of blacks living in Montreal under French rule.218 Seven years later Pierre-Georges Roy published a series of sales contracts, showing once again that slave trading had been well-established here.219 Nothing new on the subject was published for another quarter century. Then, in 1949 and 1956, Robert-Lionel Seguin focused renewed attention on the problem of slavery, although limiting himself to the area around Vaudreuil-Soulanges.220 Finally, in 1960, we published a 400-page work, Histoire de Tesclavage au Canada frangais, following it up with a comprehensive study of all slaves and masters in our 1990 Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs proprietaires au Canada frangais, a second edition of which appeared in 1994. We have also given lectures and speeches in various parts of Quebec about the practice of slavery here.
And yet, at the begmning of the twenty-first century, the phenomenon of Quebec slavery seems still relatively unknown. Who knows, for example, of the old slave cemetery in Saint-Armand, near the Vermont border? It seems that in 1794 the Lukes, a Loyalist family fleeing the American Revolution, settled in this village with their slaves, who worked at clearing the land and making potash. These slaves were buried near a place now called Nigger Rock.
Although we have put a lot of energy into establishing rigorous historical facts about slavery, we are still met with surprise and especially disbelief: "What! Do you mean slavery actually existed in Quebec?" The version of Quebec history we have long been told was all about missionaries and spiritualists, whereas in point of fact, our colonial past can be likened to the Thirteen Colonies of America. And as for our supposed "ethnic purity" ... it has actually been "corrupted" by Amerindian and Afro-American blood! As the Bible says: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."
SO NOW THE RESTORATION OF TRUTH ON CANADA'S FORGOTTEN SLAVES HAS BEEN PROCLAIMED! Keith Hunt