CANADA'S FORGOTTEN SLAVES
From the book by the same name
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 XTV 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."118
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 Sundays and no slave markets shall be held on Sundays. All baptized slaves shall be buried in holy ground, and on dying, any non-baptized slave shall be buried "by night in a field near the place" of death.
The Code Noir stipulates that whites are prohibited from concubinage with "Negresses", and the free man having children with such a concubine shall be fined two thousand pounds of sugar, together with the master who accepted it; and where the master himself lives in concubinage, the black woman and children shall be confiscated and awarded to the Hopital-General without being emancipated, unless the master (where celibate) marries his concubine slave, in which case the slave woman is emancipated by the very fact of marriage and children are both freed and legitimized. The Code authorizes black slaves to marry, but under certain conditions: the slave does not require the consent of his own father and mother, but he must obtain the consent of his master; furthermore, the master is not allowed to marry slaves against their will; children born from marriages between slaves shall be slaves, and if the father is free and the mother a slave, the children shall also be slaves; if a male slave has married a free woman, their children, either male or female, shall be free like their mother.
The Code Noir specifies the minimum food and clothing a master must provide to his slaves, although slaves are prohibited from drinking alcoholic spirits. If a master does not meet this minimum standard, the slave may lodge a complaint with a Crown attorney who shall prosecute the party concerned. Moreover, the slaves who are infirm due to age, illness or otherwise, shall be cared for by their masters, falling which they shall be cared for by the Hopital-General at their masters' expense.
Masters may free their slaves; these freed slaves shall not need letters of naturalization to enjoy the benefits of natural subjects, "even when they are born in foreign countries," and freed slaves are granted the same rights, privileges and immunities enjoyed by freeborn persons.
The Code Noir also specifies slave punishments. It stipulates various penalties for the slave who carries an offensive weapon or "large stick," who gathers in a crowd; the slave who has drawn the blood of his master, mistress or their children, shall be punished by death; slaves who assault free persons, and also some cases of robbery, shall be subject to severe penalties or even the death penalty. The fugitive slave shall have his ears cut off, and shall be branded with a fieur de lys on the shoulder; if he commits the same infraction a second time, he shall have his hamstring cut; the third time, he shall be put to death. When masters wish to punish their slaves, they may chain them and have them beaten with rods, although they are forbidden from torturing them or mutilating any limb; officers of justice may prosecute masters who have killed a slave under their control.
Such were the provisions of the Code Noir. France was the first country to define relations between masters and slaves with such precision. There was a trace of humanity in the Code Noir. Since slaves were guaranteed minimum living conditions: they had to be instructed in the Catholic faith; no master had the right to abandon slaves who had grown old; father, mother and children could not be sold separately; by marrying a white male, the female slave became free; in general the freed slave enjoyed the same rights as the natural subject without needing letters of naturalization. In other words, the slave was considered a human being, who could eventually enter white society and enjoy the same rights and privileges as whites. However, the Code Noirs also acknowledged that the slave was dangerous, and it therefore protected the white person by imposing strict measures against the slave who plundered, revolted or fled.
The preamble to the Code Noir of 16 85 states that it only applied to the Islands of French America (in the Caribbean). In 1724, the King of France issued another Code Noir to settle the condition of blacks in Louisiana.119 The Louisiana Code Noir comprises fifty-four articles, thirty-one of which were drawn directly from the previous Code Noir, the new articles consist of minor changes, except in the case of marriage: whites of both sexes are prohibited "from contracting marriage with blacks, under penalty of punishment and arbitrary fines" and priests are prohibited from celebrating such marriages. Apart from the absolute prohibition of marriage between whites and blacks, the Louisana Code Noir did not cover much new ground, although it showed that a Code Noir published in one French colony was not necessarily valid in another colony.
Given the small number of slaves in New France, there did not seem to be any need for a distinct Code Noir, or rather Code Rouge, since Amerindian slaves (called "rouges" or redskins) outnumbered black slaves. New France did not even get a freshly-printed edition of the Codes of either the Caribbean or Louisiana. We could find no specific rules on how to treat slaves in Canada, whether in the royal edicts and ordinances issued for Canada, the transcription of acts in public registries by the Conseil superieur, or Intendant Raudot's ordinance legalizing the purchase and possession of Panis and black slaves. As a result, we do not need to ask whether a slave owner was complying with a law of Canada, in granting a particular privilege to his slave, or in imposing a condition: in fact, no such law existed in Canada. It is interesting to note however that slave owners generally complied with provisions of the Code Noir of the Caribbean or of Louisiana, even when not required to do so.
Were Slaves Treated as Adopted Children? Benjamin Suite claimed "slaves were merely servants who made up part of their master's family," although he did not investigate slavery as thoroughly as we did.120 Suite should have qualified this statement, which nonetheless gives an idea of the character of slavery in New France. By law or through custom, Panis and Amerindians from several other nations were handed over to servitude, and presented as adopted children. When the Panis Charlotte was buried on April 13, 1777 in Terrebonne at the age of five years, she belonged by adoption to Hyacinthe Janis; when the Fox Michel-Louis, aged six, was baptized on September 29,1718 he was recorded as having been adopted by Lanoulher; when the Fox Jean-Baptiste was baptized on November 26,1715 he was adopted by Jacques Hubert-Lacroix; the same could be said for the Missouri Joseph-Nicolas, aged nine years, whose July 18, 1731 act of baptism stated that he had previously been adopted by the late Joseph Legris; the Panis Pierre, aged six, was adopted by Pierre Garault dit Saint-Onge when he was baptized on October 7,1713. Sometimes, civil registries simply indicate "adopted child." This was the case for the Panis Claude, adopted son of Pierre Beigne in 1742; of the Panis Elisabeth, adopted daughter of Louis Leroux dit Lachaussee in 1713; of the Panis Jean-Baptiste, adopted son of Jean Cardinal in 1722; of the Panis Marie-Francoise, adopted daughter of Jean-Francois Chorel DorvilHers in 1713. These Amerindians were sometimes later identified in records as the property of their masters, but the fact they were characterized as adopted children gives a whole different flavour to slavery in New France, as compared to the French West Indies.
Whether the master treated his slave as an adopted child or not, the slave received special care. For example, a newborn slave was sometimes put out to nurse: was this an indication of the master's paternal concern, or simply of his desire to maintain the quality of livestock? He could have had both motivations. When Pierre Raimbault's unnamed Panis slave gave birth to a son Joseph in 1723, the master put the child out to nurse in the household of a parishioner of Riviere-des-Prairies, Nicolas Benoist, husband of Catherine Thibault: the child died there, aged six weeks, and was buried on June 1,1723. When the Fox Marie, belonging to the widow of Georges Regnard-Duplessis, gave birth in December 1727 to an illegitimate daughter she had with Le Verrier the younger, the child was sent to Ancienne-Lorette, a place where people in Quebec often put their children out to nurse: the illegitimate infant girl, Marie-Francoise, was buried there on January 25, 1728. Marie-Anne-Victoire, a black slave belonging to Governor General Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, gave birth to a son in November 1757, who was baptized in Montreal the same day- the governor immediately put the infant out to nurse with Widow Janot-Lachapelle at Pointe-aux-Trembles, although the child was buried there on December 1, at the age of six days. We also know of the case of Marie-Charlotte, legitimate daughter of Jacques and Marie, a black couple belonging to Luc Lacorne Saint-Luc: she was born January 23, 1759 and baptized two days later in Montreal, then immediately put out to nurse with widow Lapistole, of Longueuil, but the child died there in August, aged eight months. There are not many historical records of wet-nursing, but it seems that the children of slaves actually received the same care as the owner's own children.
Reading and Writing Among Slaves
The young slaves grew up alongside other children, but did they get a basic education? What did slaves receive besides religious instruction, a subject we discuss elsewhere in this book? We would first of all have to establish what children of average families got in the way of education, although the lack of specialized studies in this area means we have to content ourselves with guesswork. Canadians under the French regime and after the British Conquest often signed their names with a cross: did this mean they were illiterate? Or did they sign their names with a cross, as some authors have claimed, because they were afraid to affix their signature? Very little is known about illiteracy in New France and colonial Canada, so we will focus solely on the education of slaves.
Slaves were usually illiterate. Several times, slaves or freedmen were called upon to sign civil registries or other official documents, and they almost always replied they could not sign. Some slaves ventured to sign documents with a cross or mark. For example, as we said above, Guillaume Couillart's black slave gave evidence in court, in 1638: he drew a cross at the bottom of the document, even though he was enrolled in the Jesuit school of Father Le Jeune. His master Guillaume Couillart was no more knowledgeable, however: he signed with a drawing of a man lying on his back.
It is interesting for a historical researcher to discover slaves signing with a cross, but it still more interesting to discover actual signatures. We only found one such signature among Amerindian slaves: the Fox Michel-Louis, identified as a Panis and called Michel Ouysconsin.
There were far fewer black than Amerindian slaves, yet we found five signatures among black slaves: Pierre-Dominique Lafleur, Joseph Lafricain, Marie-Louise Williams, Joseph Pierson and Nancy Bradshaw. Of these five slaves able to sign their names, only one lived under the French regime; the others lived after 1800, and were either slaves or freedmen.
Signing one's name was not necessarily proof of having been educated: did some slaves get beyond the point of signing their names? In July 1779, the merchant John Turner Sr. announced that his black Ismael, aged about thirty-five years, had fled; according to the description given in the Quebec Gazette, this slave read English fairly well. D oilier de Casson mentioned a female Potawatomi slave who (thanks to a dowry) was educated by the Sisters of the Congregation, learned French and was in condition to marry: her education had to be roughly like that of the young girls of the Congregation. A former slave reportedly studied at the College de Montreal: Charles Mouet de Langlade, son of Charles Mouet de Langlade, was born before 1754 to an Amerindian slave, and according to the custom of the time, was therefore a slave like his mother; but he was fortunate enough to be recognized legally by his father, who took pains to raise him and send him to the College de Montreal.121 These were exceptional cases.
Learning a Trade
Did Amerindians and blacks have qualifications for particular types of employment, at least during the time they were held in bondage? Few Amerindians seem to have had technical skills: they generally fell into the somewhat vague category of domestic service. When Amerindian slaves belonging to Governor Beauharnois were admitted to the Hotel-Dieu-de-Quebec, they were described as lackeys or footmen: in 1733, the Fox Francois, aged 11; the Fox Louis, aged 10, the two Eskimos Charles Coli and Charles-Hilarion; in 1736, the Paducah Joseph. The title they were given possibly did not accurately reflect their duties, but whatever the case, the position of footman provided some security since footmen were so rare. While she was held in bondage, one Amerindian woman worked as a servant outside of her master's home: the Panis Catherine belonged to the wife of Louis Maray de Lachauvignerie, and worked as a servant for the surgeon Benoist;122 the Lachauvignerie family probably did not need a Panis idling in their home, so they put her to work elsewhere. Another case was the Panis Chariot, of Detroit, who seems to have become the parish beadle. At a time when few slaves served as witnesses at church ceremonies, he attended forty-three burials, most of them burials of children.
Some Amerindian slaves worked as weavers. We know that Madame Legardeur de Repentigny, and Agathe Saint-Pere, operated a small factory in Montreal; in 1705, Canadian authorities wrote that "the public derives a benefit from Madame de Repentigny's factory, which manufactures large covers of coarse linen thread out of tree bark, and a kind of drugget made of coarse wool from the colony, which is a great help to poor people unable to buy costlier goods from France." Madame de Repentigny spent a lot of money "buying materials from the English Indians who knew this trade" and "took Canadians in, to train them."123 She procured workmen who knew weaving from the English, to get her factory up and running. We do not know the names of the slaves who kept this short-lived Montreal factory going.
It is particularly interesting to note that several Amerindian slaves got their master's permission to serve as boatmen and voyageurs in the pays d'en haut. This meant masters had to make sure they did not lose their slaves in the wilderness! We found eight names of Amerindian slaves working in the fur trade.
They served in the fur trade between 1719 and 1766, but in five cases, the master himself signed the employment agreement on the slave's behalf, and in two more cases a notary specified that the master had authorized his slave to serve in this capacity. The Panis Francois and Pierre handed half their earnings to their master: according to the Code Noir for the Islands of French America, everything the slave earned went to the slave owner, whereas in this case, the master settled for half of his slave's earnings. Two of these Amerindians had a special task to perform: the Brochet Louis, belonging to the French merchant Jollier, was hired as a guide, while the Panis slave Louis-Josephs, belonging to Farly, served as helmsman.124
Amerindian slaves only worked as servants or boatmen, but the Gazette deMontreal and the Quebec Herald reveal that black slaves practiced a range of trades, from barber to hairdresser, printing pressman, cooper, sailor, soldier and executioner.
Blacks often had several different skills, and owners putting their slaves up for sale never failed to list their many talents: Samuel Morin's mulatto slave was good in the kitchen, knew how to keep a house in order, did needlework and cared for children; when Moore the printer put his black slave up for sale in 1790, he described her as "suitable for almost all kinds of work, a good cook and maid; she knows how to milk cows and how to make butter." If we are to believe the classified ads in newspapers, all these black people - male and female alike - were very good cooks. It seems that the mulatto Rosalie, who first belonged to Duperron-Baby, then to Charles-Eusebe Casgrain, was an expert chef: "Rose knew the culinary arts just as well as her mother did," wrote P. B. Casgrain. "She excelled in pastry and confectionery. We still talk about her baked piglets and roast snipe."125 In reading Casgrain, one is tempted to cry out "Long live slavery!"
Like Amerindian slaves, blacks held in bondage sometimes worked in the fur trade with the permission or on the initiative of their master, or to make the voyage to the Illinois Country, working as a sailor. In the latter case, the slave received food, a jug of alcoholic spirits each month and tobacco.126 He may have preferred this to a straight money wage.
How did slaves dress? The Code Noir of the French West Indies required the owner to provide his slave with two coats of linen or four ells of cloth. Masters obviously needed to provide more clothing in Canada, although they did not need to go as far as Ruette d'Auteuil's proposal of dressing black slaves in beaver fur. We are working here on the basis of fragmentary information.
Details of Amerindian slave dress are extremely scarce. During a trial in 1727, thePanis Catherine, belonging to Maray de Lachauvignerie, sued the surgeon Joseph Benoist with whom she was in service. The Panis complained that her belongings had been confiscated by the surgeon. For the previous three weeks, she had been deprived of the only clothes "she owned, whereas she had none other to change into." These clothes were as follows:
A cotton apron
Three hemp shirts
Eight caps (five large and three muslin)
A pair of gloves
Three skeins of yarn
An old pair of stockings
A pair of moccasins
A flannel petticoat
A stitched cap
Aside from the clothes on Catherine's back, this represented the Panis slave's entire wardrobe, so she was suing to retrieve them. The Court ruled in her favour, and the surgeon was ordered to return her clothes...127
The description of a runaway Panis provides us with a few more details of Amerindian slave dress. On June 14, 1778, the Panis Francoise, aged about thirty-five years, ran away from her owner, the widow of Thomas-Ignace Trortier-Dufy-Desaulniers: the slave was said to be of "ordinary height and medium build" and simply dressed in striped cotton. On July 14, 1783, the Quebec Gazette announced that the Panis Jacob, aged about twenty, had run away from Daniell and Dalton, wearing "a blue bonnet, a white feathered hat, a ruffled shift, English shoes and silver buckles, and a bundle of clothes with a greyish coat of fine cloth tied up with a handkerchief." This was evidently a well-dressed slave: with English shoes and silver buckles, a cuffed shirt, his coat of fine cloth and a white feathered hat, the Panis Jacob must have cut a fine figure.
There is far more information about the dress of black slaves. We have, for example, the account books of the printer William Brown, which enable us to track the various expenses the printer incurred to dress his black slave Joe (excluding, of course, the cost of having Joe whipped).
From the list of expenses in these account books, we conclude that providing Joe with shoes was costly: he often needed new moccasins - three times in 1779, and three more in 1785; in February 1787, the printer gave him five shillings for shoes,128 but laid out more money for shoes in April and then again in June and September! One wonders whether Joe was reselling all these shoes on the sly.
Newspapers provide interesting details about the dress of fugitive black male slaves:
Black man belonging to Jean Orillat, of Montreal, about twenty:two years old: on running away on August 20, 1775, he wore a short coat, grey, made of English drugget [coarse wool fabric].
Black man belonging to Levy Solomons, of Montreal, about thirteen years old: on running away on April 24, 1788, he wore a stocking cap, large blue breeches [trousers for men, ending above the knee] and a round hat.
Caleb, a black man b elonging to Mathew and John McNider, from twenty-six to twenty-seven years old: he ran away on Sunday, April 13, 1788, wearing "A dark blue frock coat, a coat and a grey jacket, dark blue breeches, white stockings and a round hat."
Charles, ablackmanbelongingto Pierre-Guillaume Guerout, about twentyyears old: he ran away on July 31,1783, wearing "a grey stocking cap, and large cloth breeches."
Cuff, a black man belonging to Elisab eth McNeill, of Quebec City, about thirty-eight years old: he ran away on May 28 or 29,1785, wearing "a white shirt, a grey jacket, the sleeves of old stockings, a blue frock coat, a round hat with band and buckle, green leggings, black buckles on his shoes."
Drummond, a black man belonging to John McCord, of Quebec City: he ran away on the morning of June 25, 1765, wearing a dark cloth coat and leather breeches.
Fortune, a black man belonging to McMurray, about twenty-five years old: he ran away from Carleton Island on July 18, 1780, wearing a large shirt and large cloth breeches.
Ismael, a black man belonging to John Turner, of Montreal, about thirty-five years old: in July 1779, he ran away, wearing a "hat painted white, a smock.and large breeches of Osnaburg cloth, a plaid cloth shirt and moccasins." He ran away again on March 7, 1784, wearing "a round pointed hat, with a blue ribbon surrounding the shape of the hat, a plush red jacket, a pair of Amerindian leggings and blue Bergen-op-Zoom breeches, a pair of shoes with metal buckles." On running away a third time, in 1788, he wore a round hat, a blue sailor's waistcoat, a white vest, large blue breeches, but was barefoot.
Jack, a black man belonging to Finlay and Gregory, of Montreal, ran away in the night of Saturday, May 10,1778, wearing a red coat, trimmed with green, a pair of breeches, a buffalo-skin jacket and an old cap.
Jack, a black man belonging to William Grant, of Quebec City: he ran away in 1792, wearing a stocking cap of thick blue cloth lined with white flannel, a waistcoat of the same color, large breeches of coarse brown cloth.
Jacob, a mulatto belonging to Miles Prenties, of Quebec City, about eighteen years old: he ran away on Friday evening, July 10,1778, wearing a short coat of light brown fustian and white cloth breeches, a round hat.
Joe, a black man belonging to William Brown, of Quebec City: he ran away on November 22,1777, wearing a green-coloured soft hat, an old coat of sky blue broadcloth, an old coat of grey cloth, leather breeches, Amerindian leggings and moccasins. He next ran away on January 25, 1778, wearing a green-coloured soft hat, a blue coat with matching vest and breeches, a pair of grey woollen stockings and moccasins. He then ran away on December 22,1778, wearing an old green-coloured soft hat, a coat of grey-brown cloth and a side-buttoned jacket and fall front trousers of the same cloth with yellow buttons, a pair of black Manchester velvet breeches, grey wool stockings and a pair of Amerindian moccasins. Joe ran away a fourth time on September 16, 1779, wearing "a coat of grey-brown cloth, torn under the arm, and a side-buttoned jacket and fall front trousers of the same cloth with yellow buttons, a pair of leather breeches, old yarn stockings, and a pair of moccasins." He escaped from prison on February 18, 1786, wearing "a blue frock coat, a red stocking cap, a white waistcoat, and a round hat." Finally, he ran away in August 1789, wearing "a red bonnet, a pair of large striped .cotton breeches."
Lowcanes, a black man belonging to William Gill, of Quebec City, about twenty-five years old, ran away on November 18,1775, wearing a short white coat with a red cap, jacket and breeches.
Nemo, a black man belonging to Hugh Pdtchie, of Quebec City, about eighteen years old, ran away on October 24, 1779, wearing "a striped flannel side-buttoned waistcoat, old wool stockings and a pair of English shoes."
Nero, a black youth belonging to John Mittleberger, of Montreal, about fourteen years old: he ran away wearing "a blue short coat, lined with red baize, a grey short coat, a ditto [a coat] coloured green, a green cross-stitched stocking cap, a ditto and a large twill breeches, a pair of breeches and a jacket of fustian"; this fourteen-year-old black slave lifted a good supply of clothes before running away from his master, the tailor Mittleberger.
Pompey, a black man belonging to the merchants Johnson and Purss: on August 12, 1771, "when he cleared off," he wore a brown vest and breeches.
Richard, a black man belonging to the merchant Rosseter Hoyle, twenty-five or twenty-seven years old: he ran away in 1790, wearing a brownish-black stocking cap and large breeches.
Robin, a black man belonging to James Eraser: on August 12,1798, he ran away, wearing "a shirt and large breeches of course cloth, a light coloured jacket, a wool hat and old shoes."
Thompson, John, a black man working on board the ship Susannah: he ran away on September 27,1779, wearing a brown jacket with a flannel stocking cap and black knit breeches, without stockings.
Welden, Elber, a mulatto and apprentice cobbler, about nineteen years old: he ran away on October 7, 1792, wearing a brown coat, a coat of twill, gaiters, a pair of boots and a new hat.
As for runaway black female slaves, they are described as follows:
Black woman belonging to Isaac Werden, of Quebec City, about twenty-four years old: she ran away on August 22, 1766, wearing "a black dress and a red callimanco petticoat"
Bert, a black woman belonging to Johnson and Purss, about eighteen years old: this rather short black woman ran away on March 5, 1787, wearing a blue jersey skirt, a brown striped cotton bonnet and an Amerindian shawl worn around the neck.
Cash, a black woman b elonging to Hugh Ritchie, of Queb ec City, about twenty-six years old: she ran away on October 24,1779, in the company of the black man Nemo, taking a lot of cloth and personal effects with her, and a big pack of clothing which may include "a mantle of black satin, caps, bonnets, ruffles, ribbons, six seven skirts, an old corsage."
Isabella, a mulatress belonging to George Hipps, of Quebec City, about fifteen years old: she ran away on August 18, 1778, wearing "a striped woollen jacket and petticoat, without stockings or shoes". She ran away again on October 29, 1778, wearing "a striped cotton dress and skirt, a fashionable cap and a black silk handkerchief."
Lydia, a black woman belonging to James Fraser, of Montreal: she ran away on August 12, 1798, wearing "a short blue and white striped dress with a blue drugget-skirt and a black silk cap: she [the runaway female slave] is fat and well proportioned."
Given these fragments of information, it is hard to know for certain what slaves wore, although they did not likely wear uniforms. They do not seem to have worn livery, with the possible exception of the Panis Jacob, the slave of Daniell and Dalton, who wore a white feathered hat, clothes of fine cloth, a ruffled shirt, and English shoes with silver buckles; or the black slave Jack, belonging to the merchant William Grant, who wore a thick blue cloth stocking cap lined with white flannel, a waistcoat of the same colour, breeches of coarse brown cloth; or again a black slave belonging to Prentiess put up for sale by the printers of the Quebec Gazette: according to an advertisement in March and April 1769, he cut a fine figure, dressed in livery.
In general, slave clothes seem to have been somewhat incongruous, even though black slaves evidently went for the round hat, coarse cloth and English shoes. The mulatto Andrew, slave of the innkeeper James. Crofton, ran away in May 1767: according to the Gazette, he could be picked out from other mulattos because he made a point of dressing well. Other slaves, however, were shabbily dressed, either through carelessness or because they had nothing better to wear: the merchant John Turner's black slave wore a hat ' painted white and moccasins; James Eraser's black slave Robin ran away wearing old shoes; and in 1773 the mulatto Isabella, belonging to the butcher Hipps, ran away wearing neither shoes nor stockings. Yet the owners of these slaves were all comfortable bourgeois.
Slaves at the Hospital
The Code Noir of the French West Indies (and also of Louisiana) provided that if sick or disabled slaves were not kept in the, master's home, they should be admitted to the hospital, where they would be maintained at their master's expense. The Code Noir was never actually implemented in Canada, so it is worth asking whether Canadian owners unable to keep their slaves any longer took pains to ensure they got proper care at the hospital. The Hopital-General de Montreal as well as the Hopital-General and Hotel-Dieu de Quebec conserved their patient and death records, so we can track the time slaves spent in these hospitals. Unfortunately, records at the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal did not survive: we only know that eighty slaves died at this hospital because the burial records at Notre-Dame-de-Montreal recorded their place of death.
In any case, we found a high rate of hospitalization among slaves. B etween 1690 to 1800- that is, over a century- 525 slaves were hospitalized in Quebec, Montreal and even in Detroit (although in the latter case, just one slave was admitted):
Hotel-Dieu de Quebec
301 slaves, including 204 Amerindians
Hopital-General de Montreal
121 slaves, including 101 Amerindians
Hotel-Dieu de Montreal
80 slaves, including 64 Amerindians
Hopital-General de Quebec
19 slaves, including 10 Amerindians
Hopital de Detroit
In statistical terms, far more slaves were admitted to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec than other hospitals, although we would get a different picture of slave hospitalization if records had survived at the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal. The first two slaves, both Amerindians, were admitted to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec in 1690. Of 301 slaves admitted to the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec, 207 stayed there on one occasion, fifty-one were admitted twice, nineteen stayed on three separate occasions, and others were admitted more often than that. The Eskimo Coli and the black Thomas-Louis both stayed at the hospital eight times, whereas the Fox Gilles-Hyacinthe, belonging to the Ihtendant Hocquart, was admitted to the Hotel-Dieu on no less than ten different occasions, and does not seem to have died there, despite these repeated visits.
According to statistics on slave admissions, the Hopital-General de Montreal ranks second, but it is important to note that slaves were discharged from the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec as soon as they got better, whereas slaves stayed much longer at the Hopital-General de Montreal since this latter hospital actually served as a refuge, a final resting place: slaves who were disabled or could no longer be maintained in private homes were admitted to the Hopital-General de Montreal, where they remained until their deaths. The family they had served most often sent them to the hospital: for example, the Fox Catherine belonging to the merchant Guillet, entered the Hopital-General on October 25,1754 at the Guillet family's expense (whose accounts books have come down to us); she died on October 7,1768 at the age of sixty. The Hopital-General also opened its doors to abandoned slaves: such was the case, for example, of the poor black slave Catherine, wife of the black Antoine Lamour, who died there in August 1811, at the age of seventy.
Slaves Died Young
The King of France consented to the request of Canadians for black slaves, although he warned them "that Negroes may die in Canada because of the difference of the climate there," resulting in the waste of large expenditures.129 These fears were justified. The most surprising feature of Amerindian and black slavery in Canada is that slaves died young: of the 4087 slaves whose age at death has been established, 38.8% lived to an average age of 19.3 years! If Amerindian and black slaves are treated separately, however, it comes as a surprise to discover that black slaves lived much longer than Amerindian ones; the average age at death of black slaves was 25.2 years, whereas the average age at death of Amerindian slaves was just 17.7 years. It would seem that blacks were better suited for living among the whites of Canada than Amerindians were. We cite these averages of 25.2 and 17.7 years as if we had worked them out with great precision. Actually, except in the case of children born in New France, the age given in burial records was only an eyeball estimate, which could in turn affect the average. Moreover, we only know the ages of 1239 out of 2683 Amerindian slaves (46.2%) and of 348 black slaves out of 1443 (24.1%). Given the fragmentary information we are working with, we are offering this average age of death at 19.3 years as a reasonable approximation.
Amerindian slaves reached the colony in large numbers earlier than black slaves did: records of a few deaths turn up in the 1680s, and then from 1700 onwards the greater number of deaths means we can establish average lifespan for each decade. In the case of black slaves, we can only estimate average lifespan starting in the 1730s. Black slaves (even bearing in mind there were three times more Amerindians than blacks), it is surprising to note the low mortality of blacks: in 1733, fifty-eight Amerindians and two blacks died; in 1755, fifty-six Amerindians and six blacks died; in 1757, fifty-one Amerindians and four blacks died, and so on. Evidently, Amerindian slaves had far less resistance to epidemics than black slaves. This fact was frequently mentioned by writers observing the Amerindians; they had no defences against the most benign diseases from Europe.
Experience showed that the black slave was worth more than the Amerindian slave, since the black more easily resisted common diseases. Indeed, the highest peak year for deaths among blacks was 1776, when just ten deaths were recorded. The other side of the coin is that the infant mortality rate among blacks was higher than among Amerindians. Of 336 children of Amerindian slaves, 84 died before the age of one year (which is already a high proportion of 25%), whereas of 238 children of black slaves, 93 died before reaching the age of one year (39.1%). It is true that this percentage is not valid from a scientific point of view, since the figure should have been drawn from a sample of 1000, but we could not manage otherwise, given the small size of the slave population. In our view, the fact that 93 of 238 children died before reaching the age of one year constituted a very serious problem for the black population. Were these infant deaths due to the climate, as Louis XTV had feared? Were owners negligent in caring for Negro infants? We should not forget that the infant mortality rate was high even among whites: in the eighteenth century, for every 1000 live births in Canadian families, fully one quarter of infants died before their first birthday130. The infant mortality rate was thus roughly the same among Amerindian slaves and Canadians, whereas among black slaves it took on simply disastrous proportions.
Accidents could also abruptly bring slave lives to an end. On July 10,1753, the twelve-year-old Panis Jean-Baptiste Bourdon dit Content drowned at Saint-Augustin and was buried the next day. The black girl Francoise-Charlotte, daughter of the slave Sylvie belonging to Seigneur Jean-Baptiste Boucher de Niverville, died at the age of seventeen years, "having unfortunately drowned in the rapids," and was buried at Chambly on July 21,1776. The eighteen-year-old black slave Jean, belonging to the merchant Robert Lester, drowned and was buried in Quebec City on May 20, 1783. Then, in June 1792, the four-year-old Panis Andre-Gabriel, belonging to MacLeod, drowned as well, at Lachine, and was buried fifteen days later in Montreal, on July 9,1792. The black Caesar Brown, a sailor aboard the Sappho, drowned on September 2, 1804, and received an Anglican burial five days later in Quebec City. The seventy-year-old black Jean-Baptiste, who had been a freeman for several years, died in a fire on December 13, 1791, at the mill just outside of the Recollets Gate in Montreal. Fire broke out, probably started by ash falling from the old Negro's pipe, and within "five quarters of an hour" the mill was consumed by fire and Jean-Baptiste had perished, part of his body being recovered from the embers and his burial taking place the next day in Montreal.131
Few Slaves Lived Past the Age of Seventy Based on the averages we calculated, slaves were almost twenty years old at death, so slaves reaching middle age were rare. Of 1239 Amerindian slaves whose age at death is known to us, only sixty-eight (most of them women) died between forty and fifty years of age, while of 348 blacks, only forty (most of them men) died in this range.132 A smaller number of slaves died between the ages of sixty and seventy: only thirty-seven, of whom twenty-one were Amerindians (one of them a man) and sixteen were blacks (six of them women).
Twenty-five slaves lived into their seventies, of whom sixteen were blacks (four of them women) and nine Amerindians: at this point, we can only speak of Amerindian women, since no Amerindian male slave reached seventy. Almost as many slaves -twenty-three — lived into their eighties, of whom eight were Amerindian women and fifteen were blacks (six of them women).
Of these twenty-three octogenarians, three lived almost to their ninetieth birthday: the black Marie-Rose lived to eighty-six, the Panis Marie-Louise lived to eighty-seven and the black Marie-Elisabeth lived to eighty-eight. Two blacks reached the age of ninety years: Cicona, buried on October 3,1820, and Jenny, buried on October 6,1832, both of them in Detroit.
One Amerindian and one black slave reached lived a full century. The Panis Marie-Joseph died at the age of 100, while the black Mary Young lived longer than any other slave, dying at the age of 106 years; she had been alive during the reign of Louis XIV, and now passed away at the end of the reign of Napoleon.
Among Amerindian slaves, no men reached old age, none for example living to their seventieth year. Amerindian women, meanwhile, tended to live much longer. Among black slaves, more men than women lived into their seventies, but then almost three times more women than men reached the milestone of eighty years. What is even more important to note is that a greater proportion of black men than Amerindian men lived past forty years: of 1239 Amerindians whose age at death is known, only 107 lived past the age of forty - a tiny proportion of 8.6% - whereas of 348 Negro men whose age at death is known, ninety-two lived past forty - a proportion of 26.4%. Blacks lived much longer than Amerindians and if their infant mortality rate had not been so high, the average age of black slaves at death would have been much higher. On the one hand, the Amerindian typically lived just a few years once enslaved by the French, and on the other hand, infant mortality was very high among black slaves: for these reasons, slaves died on average before their twentieth birthday.
Were slaves buried more hastily than free people? Even if the slave was the personal property of an owner, like cattle, did the owner ensure the slave was buried as a human being?
The slave burial sometimes took place on the day of death. For example, the Amerindian Jean-Baptiste, belonging to Noel Pelletier, was baptized and buried on October 17,1755 in Neuville; an unnamed thirteen-year-old Panis girl, belonging to Francois Campeau, died on November 10, 1757 around five o'clock in the morning, and was buried the same day in Montreal; an unnamed twenty-year-old Amerindian woman, the slave of Pierre Chesne-Labutte, died on February 9, 1759 and was buried the same day in Detroit. To know whether these burials were hasty affairs or not, we need first to determine the cause of death. For example, burials were accelerated when people died of a contagious disease.
Most often, slaves were buried the day after death. If we connected ourselves with reading the burial act, we could end up with the impression that the owner wanted to dispatch the corpse as quickly as possible. Yet we should remember that under the French regime and even in the nineteenth century, it was customary to bury a deceased person, whatever his condition, immediately after death. Embalming was a costly business, and was therefore generally avoided. The deceased were not exposed very long. We know, however, of four slaves buried the day after they died. These were exceptional cases, made possible by the time of year when death occurred.
The burial act of the slave was no different in form from that of the free person: the same simple and uncluttered ritual formula was used, and the act was signed by just one person, the officiating priest. We have seen that baptisms and weddings took up more or less space in parish registries, depending on the social rank of the people involved, and the largest possible number of people signed as witnesses. But this was not the case with the burial act - whether nobleman or commoner, Governor General or simple slave, the same stark formula was used in the burial register: "And so were lost the names of these masters of the earth," according to Malherbe. We should note, however, that in general the slave maintained his or her condition of slave even in the burial act, and this can actually be seen as fortuitous, since it means more slave names can be added to our inventory. We should also note the priest did not always bother to name the slave being buried: we found 450 anonymous slave burials, 365 of them Amerindians and forty blacks.
The burial had to take place in the presence of witnesses. The burial of the deceased slave was sometimes witnessed by fellow slaves, which comes as a surprise since the slaves were considered minors in the eyes of the law. Between 1742 and 1752, the Panis Chariot, who may have served as church beadle, served as witness at forty-three burials in Detroit. Black slaves were most likely to serve as witnesses at the burials of fellow black slaves, to the point that we can speak of a generalized custom, many examples of which can be given. In fact, some blacks made a point of attending the burials of fellow blacks - Paul Cramer Polydore, Robert Jackson, Francis Smith and his wife Dorothy Hutchins attended all funerals of black people.
Slave owners only attended slave burials on five occasions. Such cases were uncommon, and in each case the slave owner was French Canadian. We sought such cases in English society in vain; English slave owners simply did not attend the burial of their slaves.
Details are scarce about the actual burial ceremony; the ritual observed was not differerent from any other burials. In officiating at the burial of an unnamed young black in October 1736, the Recollet Daniel, a missionary in Detroit, took the trouble to add the following lines to the burial act: "I buried him the way I bury Christians, according to the rite of the diocese." The ritual must have been the same for everyone, but were some ceremonies more elaborate than others?
On this point, burial acts are obviously short on details. One of them reveals that on December 14, 1755, the funeral of the Fox Madeleine in Les Ecureuils took place in the presence of "a great concourse of people." Another burial act provided more generous details: the Jesuit Pierre Laure incorporated a long note in Latin in the Miscellaneorum Liber to describe the burial of the Montagnais Marie-Louise, who had been the slave of Fleury Deschambault de Lagorgendiere and who was buried at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec on November 25, 1732: "Cum Monialium Solatio defunctaest a me in Petro Laure in coemeterio, companis Sonantibus, Sequentibuspuellulis Sepultafuit." This slave was given a magnificent burial. She died at the age of twelve, after having received the care of nuns, and was laid to rest to the sound of bells and a procession of children. We do not know of other such cases, but we believe this single case gives an idea of the relatively humane character of slavery in New France.
What did slave funerals cost? We have no idea, and have not turned up even a single document in this regard. Civil registries contain two references to burial fees, however: on August 31,1759, Nicolas Lefebvre had to pay five livres for his fifteen-day-old black infant Marie-Angelique, who was buried in Montreal; meanwhile, adult burials were evidently more expensive, because on July 15, 1740, Conrmissaire-ordonnateur (financial administrator) Michel, who represented the intendant in Montreal, paid a burial fee often livres for his twenty-two-year-old black slave Francois.
The Code Noir of the Caribbean and of Louisiana stipulated that "all baptized slaves shall be buried in holy ground." There were no specific rules for the burial of Catholic slaves in New France. Catholic slave owners naturally acted the way Catholics were expected to act. In Montreal, slaves were usually buried in the paupers' cemetery, outside the city, and this often happened in Quebec City as well. This should not necessarily be considered an indication that owners did not care about the burial of their slaves: leading members of the colony, from rich merchants to senior officials, often humbly asked to be buried in the paupers' cemetery! At least one slave, the Amerindian Marie-Athanase, belonging to the merchant Charles Hamelin, died at Michihmackinac in January 1748, and received the unusual distinction of being buried next to her master's late wife, in the church itself, as if the slave had really been part of the family.
Devotion to Masters
Obviously not all slaves enjoyed such special privileges, nor did all slaves feel like members of their master's family. Some slaves were harshly treated - how often is impossible to say. For example, the Panis Jacques swore in an official statement in 1734 that he had fled because his master, the officer Tarieu de Lanaudiere de Laperade, used to beat him: did this husband of Madeleine de Vercheres regularly beat slaves or had the Panis Jacques done something to deserve.beating? We do not know. Many slaves deserted under the British regime and we do not know whether they ran away after abusive treatment or because they wanted to live their lives as they saw fit. This problem is very complex. For example, the black slave Joe belonged to William Brown, publisher of the Quebec Gazette: Brown was forced several times to clap Joe in prison and have him whipped by the hangman because the slave had run away or had stolen property; but in examining Brown's very detailed accounts, it seems the slave had nothing to complain about—-his master fed him well, gave him clothes over and over again, with disconcerting patience. At the New Year, Brown was in the habit of giving Joe money, and starting in 1788 he gave him a weekly allowance.133
Although other slaves were sincerely devoted to their master, we cannot come to any general conclusion about the sentimental relations between owners and slaves on the basis of the few examples known to us. We already mentioned Pompee, a black slave belonging to Doctor Antony, who died from a stab wound in 1776 while defending his master from an attacking Ojibwa. This courageous slave provides one example of devotion. In June 173 6, a female Sioux slave also saved the life of her master: when Sioux Amerindians captured the Jesuit Father Aulneau's canoe and tied Bourassa, the lead paddler, to the stake to burn him, the Sioux woman successfully pleaded for Bourassa's life.134
Black slave women caring for the master's children sometimes loved these children as their own. In his family memoirs, Father Henri-Raymond Casgrain remembers the story of the mulatto Therese who lived with the Duperron-Baby family of Toronto:
Our mother still laughs with all her heart, when she recalls a funny incident she caused on arriving in Toronto. As she entered the avenue leading up to the residence of the Honourable Mr. Baby, a terrified black woman came running up to her, gesticulating and babbling frenetically. At first, our mother was taken by fear, and thought she was dealing with a mad woman; but Mr. Baby and his son reassured her, laughing uproariously. The woman was his father's old slave, whom he had inherited from his mother, and she was expressing her joy at seeing the master's daughter, by performing a "Negro" dance, accompanied by an African chant.
Father Casgrain's brother evokes happy memories of another slave in the Baby family, the mulatto Rose Lontin, known as Rosalie: "Wonderful Rose often lulled me in her arms and had a singular attachment to me. The most extraordinary thing happened in 1851, when I knocked on her door in Amherstburg. I was now a man, yet she had not seen me since my childhood. On opening the door, she recognized me at once and hugged me, kissing me and showing her amazement and joy." And he ends the anecdote with a spontaneous detail that seems to give an accurate idea of relations between masters and slaves: "With the naivety of a true child of her race, [Rose] did not hesitate to listen to the conversation of her masters, and came squatting on her heels at the door of the dining room, relishing in their presence and the pleasure of hearing them talk."135
Philippe Aubert de Gaspe relates an actual scene of his own family life in the romance Canadians of Old:
At last Archie .[wandered about the manor] in search of the servants and found Lisette, the coloured cook, busy in the kitchen making dinner. Lisette had been a second mother to Jules. Unable to speak for tears, she threw her arms around Archie's neck as she used to in the days when he came to spend his holidays at the manor with his friend. With all her faults, this mulatress, whom the captain [Ignace-Philippe Aubert de Gaspe] had purchased when she was four years old, was very attached to the whole family. She held the master of the house in some slight awe. But no one else. The mistress she obeyed only when she felt like it, on the principle that she, Lisette, had been in the household longer than Madame d'Haberville. Blanche and her brother were the only ones whose gentle treatment could make Lisette do their bidding, and although Jules very often teased her, she only laughed at his mischievous ways and was always ready to cover up his misdeeds and take his part when his parents were wont to scold... This same indomitable woman had nevertheless taken her masters' misfortunes to heart like a true daughter of the family.136
The example of the Fox slave Genevieve, belonging to Seigneur Couillart de Lespinay, provides another indication of the tone of slavery here. She entered Couillart's service at the age of twelve years, and according to Aubert de Gaspe, "she developed a tender and maternal devotion for the lovable child [the son of Seigneur Couillart] who was hers to amuse. She called him her 'son as soon as she learned to prattle in French." When swimning in the bay, she delighted in taking him on her shoulders. "Poor Grosse! She would frequently tell us in her patois, as she looked across the fine reach of the Saint-Thomas bay at high tide, 'Cross bay many times with my son on back, va! But not now. Me six-foot Seigneur Couillart.' [...] One day he wrote to his wife from Quebec that a slight indisposition prevented him from coming to the seigneury for several days. The Fox woman "died of anxiety and a broken heart at Saint-Thomas, repeating incessantly 'My son is going to die!' About three days later, the excellent Monsieur Couillart expired in my arms in Quebec City, in the street that bears his name. He was very fond of the gentle Indian, and we had been careful not to tell him of her death. [...] They left this earth to meet in heaven." 137Aubert de Gaspe's written account strays from the truth: the Fox woman actually died not three days but rather two and a half months before Couillart. Yet the fact remains that he lived close to the era of slavery, and gives a sense of the mutual affection of masters and slaves.