Did Slaves Have the Same Rights as Freemen?

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

Slaves Could Serve as Witnesses

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

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

The role of witness on such occasions was a modest one, however. Acting as a witness at a wedding or burial was by no means as 'important as testifying in civil or criminal proceedings. Nonetheless, slaves witnessing a religious ceremony had their names entered in the civil registry, and in so doing they helped confer a legal character on baptisms, weddings and burials.

A Slave Claiming to be Free

Slaves were sometimes involved in lawsuits, which provide an indication they enjoyed some of the same prerogatives as freeborn persons. The first lawsuit went back to the fall of 1740: Lieutenant Marc-Antoine Huart, Chevalier Dormicourt, contracted with Aubry that the latter would take the Panis Marie-Marguerite by sea to the French West Indies and sell her there.

A slave since childhood, the Panis Marie-Marguerite had belonged to a succession of masters. She was first given in 1726 to Rene, a voyageur from Laprairie and the partner of Francois-Antoine Duplessis-Fabert at Baie des Puants (now Green Bay) on Lake Michigan; he sent her as a gift to Duplessis-Fabert's wife, who lived in Montreal with the merchant Etienne Volant de Radisson; Marie-Marguerite was baptized July 8, 1730 at the age of about 12 years, and the baptismal registry indicated she belonged to Duplessis-Fabert; the following year, under the name of Marguerite Duplessis, she received the sacrament of Confirmation. Her owner died in 1733, but she continued living with Volant de Radisson, who in turn died in 1735. She now had to leave the home where she had been living for ten years, and the late Duplessis-Fabert's brother sold her to the trader Jean-Louis Fornel. In September 1740, she seems to have sought to become the property of one Bailly de Messein, and on Bailly's behalf she offered Fornel the same price as he had paid for her; Fornel turned the offer down and the Panis woman ended up belonging not to the master she hoped for, but to Chevalier Dormicourt instead.

But Dormicourt quickly regretted acquiring her. The Panis Marie-Marguerite was physically unappealing (she had only one eye), and with Volant de Radisson now dead she was no longer part of a stable household. According to Dormicourt's testimony, she had since turned to vice, debauchery and theft. As a result, Dormicourt contracted to have Aubry sell the Panis woman in the French West Indies, clapping her in jail until the ship was ready to set sail.

While in jail Marie-Marguerite managed to interest a few people in her fate. According to Dormicourt, they were "priests and monks." A legal practitioner by the name of Jacques Nouette offered to defend the slave: under the French regime, practitioners with more of less improvised legal skills could stand in when lawyers were unavailable. We do not know whether he was hired by the ecclesiastics or had simply turned up on his own initiative.

In any event, Nouette does not seem to have had much of a reputation in legal circles: nothing is known about him except that he defended the Panis woman, although Chevalier Dormicourt claimed during the trial that Nouette had no fixed address, which meant he was in a state of ignominy. This was the practitioner taking up Marie-Marguerite's defence, and deploying every possible argument to prevent her being sent into exile.

On October 1, 1740 (or perhaps a few days earlier), the Panis tightly held "under lock and key" petitioned Intendant Hocquart directly. She claimed to be a natural daughter of the late Francois-Antoine Duplessis-Fabert, pointing out moreover that Dormicourt "imagined her to be his slave, and held her for no reason in chains. Although the supplicant did not have the advantage of issuing from a lawful marriage, she was not born a slave, and had therefore been born free." So went the first argument.

Now came the second argument. Her liberty was being denied "even though, residing in lands under obedience to His Majesty, which are lands of liberty for all those who, like the supplicant, profess the Roman, Catholic and Apostolic faith, her condition of slavery ought to be nullified since [her residency and faith] have made her the King's subject." Nouette may have lacked a fixed address, yet he was not without ingenuity: "Even if I was a slave," he had the Panis woman say, "then my slavery would be nullified because of my being a baptized Catholic living on French soil." However, the practitioner was overstepping the mark: true, the lands of the King of France were a refuge against slavery, but an edict of 1716 had drawn a neat distinction between continental France and her colonies, this same edict stating further that any slave arriving in France did not necessarily gain his liberty; on the one hand, Amerindians who were baptized according to the Catholic rite from 1627 onwards acquired the status of "French naturals," but on the other hand, Raudot's ordinance of 1709 had legalized slavery. The practitioner was thus raising two serious issues: the Panis woman claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of an officer, adding that even if she had been born a slave, the facts of her baptism and residency on French soil had freed her from bondage.

Intendant Hocquart studied the petition, and referred the case to the trial court, the provost of Quebec. The civil and criminal lieutenant general slapped Dormicourt with a summons to appear on October 4. How did he respond to the Panis woman's claims?

[He said he was] astonished to see priests and monks secretly arming against him without prior warning, in order to snatch away his slave, and to see clergymen groundlessly attacking the reputation of an honest man [the late Duplessis-Fabert], while treating a rascally wench and a libertine gently and with all consideration, whereas she ought to be shamefully pitched out of the colony, to put a stop to her perverted debauchery and prevent further scandal [which she was causing]: she ought moreover to be sold off in the islands rather than brought to justice for household burglary.

After this indictment of the ecclesiastics and his Panis woman, Dormicourt addressed the matter of her supposed natural descent: "They simply made up the claim she was the daughter of the late Monsieur Duplessis. This is a calumny, and I demand a retraction. They have slandered an honest man without evidence: there is simply no way to establish any relationship of the sort." Dormicourt then told the court how this Panis woman had arrived in Montreal as a slave, belonging as a slave first to Fornel and then to himself.

But what about her family name? Dormicourt objected that "said slave had always borne the name Marguerite Radisson, because Monsieur Radisson had had her baptized. And even if she bore the name of Duplessis, that proved nothing. It is customary in this country for slaves to bear the name of their master, even in the absence of any relationship of paternity or filiation." Dormicourt concluded that a family name proved nothing. The only way to prove descent, he said, was if the father acknowledged it, or the baptismal certificate specified it, whereas this slave had been baptized in Montreal "as originating from the Panis nation, without mention either of father or mother"; the Panis were recognized as slaves in our society, and several gentlemen had sent Panis to the French West Indies, there to serve as slaves. Moreover, Dormicourt continued, even if a French father acknowledged a female slave as his daughter, that would not change her condition of servitude: "A child born to a slave mother and a French father shall be a slave: such is the law in America. And this same law must be applied to 'savage'-slaves in this country: the King alone is empowered to rule on this issue or to change the law."

Dormicourt concluded with an ad hominen argument: the Panis Marguerite had always acknowledged she was a slave, and the previous month she had tried to get Monsieur Bailly of Montreal to buy her, offering on his behalf the same sum as Fornel had paid for her: "Without the misplaced charity of some ecclesiastics, she would never have considered becoming free." And who was this woman protected by the clergy? "She is a disreputable subject whose debauchery can cause a good deal of disorder and scandal: he preferred selling her off than charging her with household burglary; she is a rascally wench and a libertine, a thief, a drunkard with many other faults besides - this is the subject who has roused the charity of the clergymen." In short, Dormicourt requested permission to transport his Panis immediately to the French West Indies.

The court felt it important to know in what capacity she had been baptized, and therefore ordered Nouette to produce her baptismal certificate within a fortnight. This fifteen-day delay was a disadvantage for Dormicourt, since it was late in the navigation season, and her departure for the Caribbean was now compromised. Accordingly, Dormicourt enjoined Nouette on October 6 to "provide security [...] for damages, costs [legal fees], procedural costs, plus interest given the longer detention period."

The Panis woman now had the burden of proof: she had to prove her natural descent, and the court had instructed the practitioner Nouette to provide such evidence by producing the baptismal certificate. However, on the advice of the practitioner or clergymen, the Panis woman decided not to wait for the certificate. Perhaps she knew this piece of evidence would work against her; in fact, the baptismal certificate reads as follows: "The eighth day of July, one thousand seven hundred and thirty was christened Marie-Marguerite, a Panis twelve years of age, belonging to Captain Duplessis." It would be better for her not to present this certificate in court. On October 8, she petitioned Intendant Hocquart again, requesting leave to appeal to the Conseil superieur, "whereas the case needs to proceed swiftly," and asking that Dormicourt be slapped with a 3000-livre fine: evidently, she wasn't pulling any punches. The intendant granted the appeal.

The Conseil superieur met in special session on Octoberl7. Until then, the Panis had borne the burden of proof, but now Nouette claimed Dormicourt was the one bearing the burden of proof: "Here is a girl who claims to be free, while another claims her as his slave, without any written proof thereof, without that possession which would prove her servitude: is she required to prove the very state of slavery she is contesting? It is this ridiculous affirmation that we are appealing." In other words, Nouette argued, it was up to Dormicourt to prove she was his slave.

Dormicourt retorted that Nouette could not serve as counsel to a slave, since a slave had no civil rights, and could neither go to court nor validly contract an agreement without the consent of her master: she could only be defended by a Crown attorney. And as for the practitioner, he had no fixed address and could not serve as guarantor for any damages. After these new ad hominem arguments, Dormicourt argued against the idea of relying on the baptismal certificate, for two reasons: first, a baptismal certificate could not be a sufficient basis, since it did not indicate the fathers and mothers of Amerindians, the baptized person only being described "as a savage, Panis or whatever, belonging to so-and-so" - in other words, the baptismal certificate was only proof of baptism; and second, it would take far too long to get the evidence, "because I am about to transport this Panis woman to the Caribbean, and if she missed the sailing, I would find it too burdensome to provide her with food and lodging until next autumn. I would prefer to consent to her discharge," Dormicourt added, "provided I am reimbursed the full purchase price, as well as the cost of maintaining her in jail, and court costs." He added, somewhat mischievously: "Since so many charitable persons are interested in the welfare of a disreputable subject given to debauchery, drunkenness and household burglary, this proposal may well rouse their indiscriminate zeal and supposed sense of charity."

The Conseil superieur decided that same day to refer the parties to the intendant, who called on his sub-delegate, Estebe, to hear Dormicourt and Nouette one last time. Dormicourt called two witnesses, Rene Bourassa and Nicolas Sarrazin: both testified they had been at Baie des Puants in 1726, had received a one-eyed Panis woman from a "savage," and had sent this Panis woman as a present to Madame Duplessis-Fabert; they also testified they had regularly seen this Panis woman living in the Radisson household where Madame Duplessis lived, and the woman's name was Marguerite. This compelling evidence weakened the Panis woman's case.

But the Panis applied to the intendant for a new delay (perhaps to be sure she would miss the sailing); she argued that her witnesses were unwilling to appear unless forced to do so, and they had vital evidence to present. What was this evidence? She claimed it showed she was the daughter of the late Duplessis and a freeborn woman; the Jesuit Father Saint-Pe knew that Duplessis had had a child born free, raised in Radisson's household: she was none other than this child herself; she had lived in a free condition in Radisson's house, but on Duplessis-Fabert's death, the latter's brother had sold her as a slave to Fornel. She therefore requested that the court summon Duplessis-Fabert's brother, who was commander of Fort Saint-Frederic. In the meantime, Nouette agreed to pay seven livres ten sols per month for her food and maintenance in jail. The intendant granted this new delay, and the following day, October 18, at the Panis woman's request, the bailiff summoned three people to testify: Joseph Denys de Laronde, the Jesuit Father Saint-Pe and Louise de Ramezay, a Montreal woman then visiting Quebec City.

The inquiry risked stretching out indefinitely just as the navigation season was coming to a close. Weeks would go by if the court were really to bring Duplessis-Fabert from Fort Saint-Frederic on Lake Champlain to hear his testimony in Quebec City. Dormicourt petitioned the intendant again: the inquiry sought by the Panis had not actually taken place because the witnesses called by Nouette had not turned up; moreover, Dormicourt claimed the scheme of bringing Duplessis-Fabert from Lake Champlain was a "frivolous red herring because Monsieur was not about to testify against himself"; all this scheme did was drag out the case, preventing "said slave from departing for [the islands of French] America once the ships are ready to set sail." Dormicourt therefore requested leave to put his slave on board a ship immediately.

Nouette tried to counter this new threat by calling for a further twenty-four-hour delay. Intendant Hocquart decided there had been enough delays already. On October 20, he signed an ordinance declaring that Marguerite Duplessis dite Radisson was indeed the slave of Chevalier Dormicourt; the intendant dismissed the Panis woman's appeal, upheld her status as a slave and ordered her to pay costs, based on Bourassa and Sarrazin's testimony as well as the fact that none of her witnesses had appeared despite her petition of October 17.161

In this slave's case, justice followed its normal course. She was the only slave under the French regime to set the workings of the justice system in motion, all the way from the trial court to the Conseil superieur and ultimately the intendant himself.

A Black Woman Claimed the Conquest Had

Made Her Free

We know of only one slave who demanded her freedom under the military regime: the black Etiennette, slave of Genevieve Gamelin of Montreal. She claimed that she had become free through the conquest of Canada.

The story went backto the taking of Sarasto (Saratoga) in 1745. She had been an infant only a year or so, when Canadians and Amerindians took the town by storm, capturing a portion of the population. Among the prisoners were a black man and woman, the father and mother of the little black infant Etiennette (also called Eskenne): the prisoners were forced to walk north to Canada, the father carrying his daughter on his back. In Montreal, the prisoners were parcelled out: the father and mother became the property of Luc Lacorne Saint-Luc; the girl meanwhile belonged to the Abenaki Pierre-Nicolas, who immediately sold her for 500 livres to the merchant-bourgeois Joseph-Jacques Gamelin; on March 7, 1746, the black infant girl was baptized and continued living in the Gamelin household.

Montreal capitulated to the British in September 1760. Nine months later, in June 1761, the black woman demanded to be released so she could return to the English colonies which she had left as an infant. How can this sudden nostalgia be explained, since Montreal had in fact become her home, and she had never known any other family than the Gamelins? Did Etiennette want to break free from authority which she found unbearable? Given that she was now about seventeen years old, perhaps she had fallen in love with a black or English soldier from New York during the occupation of Montreal. In any event, her mistress Genevieve Gamelin did not want her to leave.

On June 6, 1761, the black Etiennette appeared before the Militia Court in Montreal and asked leave to return to New England: she said she was native of that country, and by virtue of the Capitulation of 1760 she must be regarded as a free British subject. The black woman was citing the Articles of Capitulation, although only Article 47 referred to slavery: Vaudreuil had requested that "The Negroes and panis of both sexes shall remain, in their quality of slaves, in the possession of the French and Canadians to whom they belong; they shall be at liberty to keep them in their service in the colony or to sell them; and they may also continue to bring them up in the Roman religion." To which Amherst replied: "Granted, except those who shall have been made prisoners."162 This reply was ambiguous: either the people of Canada could not claim back their slaves who had been captured by the English, or slaves previously captured from the English would no longer be held in bondage by Canadians. Perhaps the black Etiennette sought to use this second interpretation, as if to say: "I was once captured from the English, so I am no longer a slave of Canadians."

In our view, Etiennette was likely citing ordinances recently issued by military governors. Indeed, the authorities had begun an investigation to release captives from the Thirteen Colonies who had been taken or adopted by Canadians. On May 13, 1761, Governor Gage published the following ordinance in Montreal: "As several English children and others taken during the war are at this moment among the inhabitants, in the town as well as in the country, notwithstanding the orders long since repeated on the subject; all persons of whatever rank are hereby ordered to bring all the English children, women, or men, whether prisoners or deserters;" Canadians not complying with this ordinance could face a fine of 100 ecus (more than 600 French livres) and six months' imprisonment.163 In Trois-Rivieres, Governor Burton learned that English children and servants in captivity had still not been reported to the authorities: on May 31, 1761, he summoned all persons to report within a fortnight "the name, age and sex of English children and domestics who reside with them, whether they have received them as a gift, or have purchased them from Indians."164 The following June 6, Etiennette appeared before the military court, in her bid to return to New England.

Her mistress, Genevieve Gamelin, appeared in the Militia Court to assert her ownership rights over the slave: she told the officers under what circumstances the Gamelin family had come into ownership of the black in December 1745, at a cost of 500 livres, and she said the slave had been raised and maintained continuously in the Gamelin household ever since, without ever being claimed by anyone. Lacorne Saint-Luc, who had bought the black woman's parents in 1745, backed up Genevieve Gamelin's testimony. After hearing the parties, the Militia Court produced a verbatim of the case, transmitting it to the governor of Montreal.165 Unfortunately, Governor Gage's ruling in this case has not survived the ravages of time, and we have to let the matter drop just when the story begins to get interesting.

The Same Justice for Slaves

If slaves in New France and colonial Canada had been subject to the Code Noir, they would have lost significant legal advantages. According to Article 31 of the Code of the Islands of French America, and also of Louisiana: "Slaves shall not be a party, either in court or in a civil matter, either as a litigant or as a defendant, or as a civil party in a criminal matter. And compensation shall be pursued in criminal matters for insults and excesses that have been committed against slaves"; naturally, the Code of 1685 granted the same criminal sanctions on slaves as on free people, but the 1724 version issued for Louisiana removed the requirement that the Conseil superieur uphold punishment by whipping, branding the fleur de lys or cutting the slave's ears off, when the sentence was being imposed by a trial court.166 In other words, the last edition of the Code Noir left a slave sentenced to corporal punishment at the mercy of a lower court; the slave had no legal right to be a party either as litigant or defendant.

Slaves were better treated by the courts in Quebec, where the Code Noir was not in full force. A slave could be a plaintiff in a civil case. In December 1727, the Panis Catherine belonging to the wife of Louis Maray de Lachauvignerie filed a lawsuit against the surgeon Benoist, in whose household she worked as a domestic servant. The surgeon wrongfully seized the Panis woman's clothes because of a debt Madame de Lachauvignerie owed him. The Panis first had the bailiff serve a summons on Benoist, then she appeared in the court of Montreal, which found in the slave's favour. In November 1761, the black Louise appeared before the Militia Court in Montreal with a view to getting Widow Loranger to pay her 396 livres worth of tobacco, but the widow claimed to be owed sixty livres by Louise's husband for having "laundered and mended his clothes" while he was a slave of one Monsieur Martel. The Militia Court dismissed the two parties without pronouncing in favour of either. Undeterred, the black woman appealed this decision and won, the appellate court taking the view that maintenance of a slave was the master's responsibility, not the slave's.

The most interesting civil suit was the one we referred to above, brought in 1740 by the Panis Marie-Marguerite against her master. We saw how complicated this suit turned out to be: the Panis woman petitioned the court, the owner filed his own counter-petitions, after which the Panis woman requested and obtained additional delays. It seemed like an ordinary lawsuit involving two persons of a free condition, whereas if the slave had been subject to the Code Noir, she would have been stopped in her tracks from the outset.

There was no distinction between slaves and persons of a free condition in criminal court either: it was the same justice for all, because slaves in Quebec were not subject to the restrictions imposed in other French colonies by the Code Noir. In Detroit in 1762, a Panis man and woman murdered the man who had come to buy them. Amerindians asked the governor to let them punish the couple according to their own justice, but since the guilty parties were part of society, the authorities preferred to give them a proper trial. We should also note that the slave could get a writ of Habeas Corpus and appear before a judge just like a free person. According to a long-established custom, masters who wanted to punish their slaves locked them up in prison and left them languishing there to think things over, for as long as the masters deemed necessary, but from the 1790s, slaves were brought before the judge. This judge was William Osgoode, an outspoken opponent of slavery,'who released any black who was sued in court as a slave.

Slaves could thus invoke Habeas Corpus, but they also had the right to a trial by jury, as in a Detroit case in 1792, involving the black Cutan, who faced a jury. Slaves also had the right of appeal to a higher court: in 1734, the Panis Jacques was found guilty of rape, and appealed to the Conseil superieur. That same year, the black Angelique was sentenced to burning at the stake in Montreal for setting fire to the city, and she appealed to the Conseil; she was led to Quebec, and the sentence was ultimately changed to strangling before burning. In 1756, after being sentenced to the gallows in Montreal, the Montagnais Marianne appealed to the Conseil superieur in Quebec City on the grounds she was pregnant. The Conseil suspended execution of the sentence long enough to have a surgeon ascertain whether she was in fact pregnant. Finally, some slaves sentenced to death were granted a pardon at the foot of the scaffold, but in cases where the slave was not pardoned, the punishment meted out was no different than it would have been for a free person convicted of the same crime. In other words, when a slave appeared before a judge, he was a man like any other.

Slaves with Quebecois Surnames

It was only normal that slaves should have Christian first names, but the fact slaves bore family names (usually the names of their masters) strikes us as a social promotion of sorts, outwardly putting slaves on the same footing as free people. During the 1740 trial of the Panis Marie-Marguerite, Chevalier Dormicourt said: "It is customary in this country for slaves to bear the name of their master, even in the absence of any relationship of paternity or filiation." This custom was practiced by slaves in general, although less often by Amerindians than by blacks.

The following is a list of family names which Amerindian slaves borrowed from Quebecois families (although we have left out names drawn or apparently drawn from Amerindian languages).












































Saint Luc

Content dit Bourdon








De Berey











Of these sixty-three surnames, at least thirty were borrowed by Amerindian slaves from their masters: we are sure about this fact because the slaves used the surname of their masters as long as they resided with the latter; as for other surnames, they may reflect a former master-to-slave relationship which it has been impossible for us to establish.

It is surprising how few Amerindian slaves bore the name of a Canadian family. Apart from children, we counted only 158 Amerindians with such names, or a tiny 5.9% of the total of 2683 Amerindians. It seems that Amerindians were integrated into Canadian society and did not care about surnames.

The situation was different for blacks. Of a total of 1443 blacks, 469 or 32.5% took a family name - almost one third. Whether they were slaves or freedmen, blacks seemed to have been more aware than Amerindians of the importance of a surname. Only fourteen of the family names adopted by blacks were French: Beaumenil, Cere, Couture, Hubert, Lamour, Lejeune, Lenegre, Lepage, Leveille, Marie, Paul, Saint-Francois, Saint-Julien, Rosier (for Desrosiers); the black Hubert took the name of his godfather, Father Hubert, and the black Lejeune the name of the Jesuit who had taught him; the blacks Lepage and Rose definitely took their masters' surnames. The reason so many blacks had English names is that they mostly came from English colonies and overwhelmingly belonged to English masters.

The Conditions of Freedom

In any case, slaves naturally dreamed of gaining their freedom; they wanted to be free to marry the person they loved, like the black Jacques-Cesar, or they wanted to be free because liberty is one of the deepest human needs. The black Joseph Beaumenil longed to be free and therefore did research into his own condition. In 1768, at the age of twenty-one, he was sold by Joseph Cureux dit Saint-Germain to Michel Fortier, in 1785, nine years after the death of the latter purchaser, the black Beaumenil petitioned Justice Pierre Panet "with good cause, given that he was aware of the agreements concerning him entered into by Messrs. Saint-Germain and Fortier"; he requested a copy of the deed of sale, "as he is a part thereof, and keenly interested in its contents". Justice Pierre Panet considered this curiosity legitimate, and authorized the notary Antoine Panet to issue a copy of the deed, "for a reasonable fee"; the notary produced the copy, providing it free of charge, doubtless because the black man was so poor. Fortunately it did not cost anything, because the black-only discovered one important fact in the document: he had been sold in the company of another black for a total sum of 200 pounds, Quebec currency; the deed of sale established no time limit on his servitude.167

Normally this limit on servitude could only be established by legal emancipation. Under the French regime, a slave could only be emancipated in a formal notarized document - a mere verbal declaration was not enough. In 1736, Intendant Hocquart issued an ordinance with royal authorization on the procedure for emancipating slaves: given that "many individuals of this colony had freed their slaves, without any other formality than granting them their freedom verbally," and considering it was necessary "to find an invariable manner for establishing the status of slaves who could be emancipated at a later date," he advised "that in future all individuals in this country, of whatever quality and condition, who want to emancipate their slaves, will be required to do so by a notarized document, of which a copy shall be kept and minuted, and shall also be registered at the nearest royal court"; any other emancipation not following this procedure would be null and void.168 The law was clear: only a notarized act of emancipation could release a slave from bondage.

Emancipation was a rare event under French rule, judging from the registries of notaries. Yet here and there, historical records mention freedmen or free Panis. Some of them may have been verbally freed from bondage before 1763, while others may have been formally emancipated in their masters' will and testament, since this latter means of emancipation satisfied the ordinance of 1736. Under the British regime, emancipation was common and it became more and more frequent during the late eighteenth century: emancipation could be established by notarized act, as under French rule, or where the master provided written permission for his slave to marry; or the master could specify in his will that at his death his slaves would regain their freedom. For example, when the black Louis-Antoine willingly returned to bondage in 1761 to marry the black Dominique Gaudet, it was understood they would remain slaves untjl their master's death, which took place in 1789. In 1774, the Sioux Jacques, slave of the surveyor Claude Gouin of Detroit, married the Chickasaw Marie-Louise, slave of the bourgeois Antoine Cuillerier: the two would remain slaves until Claude Gouin and his wife had died. In 1797, the widow of the voyageur Antoine Janis made her will, and specified that on her death her Amerindian slave Marie-Antoine-de-Pade would be emancipated.

Emancipation sometimes depended on other conditions. On September 3,1796, the merchant John Shuter bought the black Jack on credit, and that very same day Shuter committed in a notarized agreement to emancipate Jack six and a half years later, on condition that he conduct himself well. Jack satisfied this condition and obtained his freedom on November 2, 1803.169 On August 25, 1797, the innkeeper Thomas John Sullivan of Montreal also bought the black Manuel on credit, immediately committing to free him in five years, if he conducted himself well; the black agreed to this condition, but lacked Jack's loyalty and patience, and ran away on March I.170 Purchased in 1797, the black Rubin received the assurance of his master, the merchant John Young, that he would be released from bondage after seven years if he conducted himself well.171 We should add that these three cases came at the end of the slave-owning era in Canada: by now, the legality of slavery was in doubt, and owners sought to ensure the continuing services of their slave by promising emancipation at a future date.

In at least one case emancipation was granted provided the slave disappeared forever. On May 12, 1794, Seigneur Francois Boucher de Laperriere and his wife Marie-Charles Pecaudy de Contrecoeur agreed before the notary Racicot to emancipate their black Jacques, aged about twenty-one years, on condition that "he go up to the pays d'en haut and remain in the farthest trading posts there"; coming back to the St. Lawrence Valley would mean returning to bondage, in which case they could dispose of or sell him as they saw fit.172 Clearly, the Laperrieres were afraid that the black knew their house-hold all too well: they felt the need to send him to the most remote trading posts in the Great Lakes region, never to return. Slave owners under the French regime had been consumed by this same fear of the all-knowing slave, and for this reason some proposed deporting Panis to the French West Indies once they reached adulthood.

Finally, in granting emancipation, some masters added a few gifts as a sign of their satisfaction. In 1750, Josue Boisberthelot de Beaucour's widow made her will and promised to free her Panis slave Gabrielle elite Arthemise; she promised at the same time to leave "my stockings, shoes, my two little mantles"; this small gift hardly amounted to much, but the Boisberthelot de Beaucour family had fallen into poverty, and in any case, the widow's death in 1759 meant that the Panis woman would have to wait nine years to inherit the stockings, shoes and two mantles bequeathed by her mistress! In 1796, in undertaking to free the black Jack, the merchant John Shuter promised him a new set of clothes: a coat, jacket, breeches, a hat, shoes and stockings - the black man would at least cut a fine figure among free people. In 1797, the widow of Antoine Janis specified in her will that she would leave her bed and cover to the Amerindian Marie-Antoine-de-Pade, as well as "six pairs of the best bed linen to be found on her death, and all the testator's used clothing," including "towels and napkins, a copper crucifix, a mirror, an empty chest and a cupboard as is"- a complete trousseau plus furniture!

Emancipated Slaves

In his will of 1802, Seigneur Antoine Juchereau-Duchesnay preferred not to free his slaves: "I specify that my Negro Francois Williams not be sold, but since complete liberty would be more disadvantageous than advantageous given his age, I specify that he choose a master among my five children, legatees under this will, and that the master he chooses shall be bound to care for him in sickness and in health. I also grant the same liberty to his wife Mondina elite Olivier of Saint-Thomas-de-Montmagny and to her two daughters for the time they are required to serve me or to remain in my possession."173 The slave thus enjoyed security as long as he remained with his master but lost this security as soon as he was freed. Seigneur Juchereau-Duchesnay therefore concluded his black should remain in bondage. It was a wonderful idea to free slaves, but in gaining that liberty which humans everywhere naturally desire, these slaves should not become a burden for society.

The freedman could make a go of his new life if he learned a trade. But in inquiring whether Amerindian and black slaves practised specific trades during their years of bondage, we found that blacks practised the most diverse trades, whereas Amerindians worked only as servants or boatmen. And emancipated blacks also had this greater range of skills than Amerindian freedmen.

It was understandable that Amerindians should work as boatmen, since that was a trade they had grown up with: Amerindian freedmen therefore signed up for work especially in the pays d'en haut. This is illustrated by the following examples drawn from the historical record:

BOURDON, Joseph, Panis

April 2, 1719, signed up to go to the pays d'en haut at a salary of 120 livres of beaver; April 29, 1726, signed up for work in the pays d'en haut at a salary of 160 livres (currency of France); June 11, 1728, signed up for the journey to Michilimackinac at a salary of 171 livres, payable in beaver and deer skins; April 20, signed up for work in the pays d'en haut at a salary of 160 livres, payable in furs; July 2, 1732, signed up for the round trip to Illinois Country at a salary of 200 livres, payable in furs, plus the skins of any animals he hunts, which he can bring back in the canoes, at no additional cost; May 18, 1735, signed up for the trip to Michilimackinac at a salary of 150 livres in furs.

JEAN, Panis

May 13, 1718, signed up for the journey to Michilimackinac (this commitment was later cancelled); August 16, 1718, signed up to go to Detroit at a salary of 75 livres of beaver skins (the return journey was unpaid).


September 25, 1710, signed up to work for the commander of Fort Detroit for 150 livres; August 21, 1712, signed up to go to Detroit at a salary of 200 livres; May 24, 1726, signed up for work in the pays d'en haut and the Illinois Country, at a salary of 210 livres, payable in furs; August 21, 1727, signed up for work in the pays d'en haut at a salary of 250 livres; May 25, 1732, signed up for the trip to Michilimackinac at a salary of 120 livres in furs, in addition to a deer skin (this commitment was later cancelled); July 12, 1732, signed up to go to Detroit at a salary of 60 livres (the return journey was unpaid).

We found eighteen Amerindian freedmen working as voyageurs, paddling canoes laden with trade goods to the pays d'en haut, and bringing them back laden with furs. We consider these eighteen Amerindians as freedmen because their employment contract specified they were free, or they kept their earnings to themselves. We know of two other Amerindian freedmen who accepted employment in the St. Lawrence Valley itself: when the Panis Pierre died in 1703, he was described as an "employee" of the Saint-Joseph farm which belonged to the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal; from 1708 until his death in 1720, the Panis Joseph Riberville was employed by Guillaume de Lorimier, of Lachine. The Chickasaw Marie-Louise was a servant in Quebec City, employed in the Porlier-Benac household, before getting married in Detroit in 1774, and when she was buried in Quebec City in 1810 at the age of 70 years, she was still described as a servant. We identified only two Panis who became soldiers: the Panis Jacques staying at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec in April 1712, and the Panis Charles who fomented a mutiny at Fort Niagara in 1730. We should also mention a Panis woman, Marguerite, who seems to have operated a business since she provided effects and lent money to a man named Jolibois; she sued him in court for the sum of fifty-three livres and in 1761 the Militia Court in Montreal ordered Jolibois to repay his debt in instalments of twelve livres per month.

Far fewer blacks were emancipated than Amerindians, yet the occupations of freed blacks were more varied. Some were soldiers: Benjamin Butcher served in the American army of occupation in 1775, Joseph Hunter in the French army in 1756, Jacques Paul in Brigadier Janson's regiment in 1783, and John Williams in the Canadian Volti-geurs before 1816. Others worked on board ships:

Caesar Brown, Peter Carter, John Dickson, John Griffiths, Nicholas Jones, Joseph the mulatto, John Linds, Joseph Mclntyre, Edward Parkinson and Richard Thompson. John Ross worked as a hand on a brig, then at Quebec; Margaret Sinclair was cook on board the Quebec in 1803. Robert Boston, Cato Giles, Jacques Robertson and Henry Thompson were farmers. In 1816, William Lee was a dressmaker: James Black went from raftsman to upholsterer in 1787, but in 1817 he was described as a cabinetmaker. James Payne was a carpenter in 1802, George Crane a saddler in 1810, the mulatto Eber Welden an apprentice shoemaker in 1792, while John Curtain was a painter in 1818 and a longshoreman in 1825. Nicolas Jackson was a hairdresser in 1820. Nafrechoux's former slave Francois-Dominique dit Mentor was described as a goldsmith in 1773. Jean-Barthelemy built barrels in 1795. The black Jacques-Cesar served as beadle in Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie around 1784. James Richard was a music-lover, playing in the Royal Newfoundland Fencible of Infantry band in 1809. One black man had a profession nobody admired - George was public executioner in Quebec in 1805, and was likely the poor man roughly handled by a crowd on a market day in 1806.

Freed blacks signed up for work on a long-term or short-term basis. Louis Marie, who lived in the household of the merchant Louis Lecompte-Dupre in 1692, voluntarily let himself out in 1696, before a notary, to Jean Cailhaut dit Baron of Laprairie, to cultivate the land. This three-year contract specified that the black man would receive annual wages of 360 livres. The black woman Charety signed up for ten years as a servant to John Mclntyre, innkeeper in Soulanges. The contract specified she would receive food and lodging, plus five shillings a year, and although her salary was not high, she was guaranteed a roof over her head for a ten-year period. When the black Charles died in 1807, Joseph Lafricain signed up for two years as a carpenter at a salary of 1200 livres (old currency). To get up to Michilirnackinac where he was to work, he would be middle paddler, which meant the journey would not be much of a strain.

We identified forty-one other black freedmen who were simply described as day labourers, although their occupation was not recorded: they worked from day to day, depending on whatever needed to be done.

To make a meaningful comparison of the ways Amerindian and black freedmen ensured their livelihood, we would need a much longer list of freed slaves, but historical records surviving to our day are incomplete.

Still, of one hundred two freedmen whose occupations we know, seventy-eight were blacks and only twenty-four were Amerindians. There were twice as many Amerindian slaves as black ones, however. Perhaps fewer Amerindians were emancipated than blacks. Perhaps Amerindians deserted in greater numbers than blacks. Perhaps the difference stemmed from the fact more blacks reached adulthood. Another possible explanation is that blacks aspired to live the way whites did, whereas Amerindians did not seem to care as much.

The fact is that some freedmen posed a challenge to society, although fragmentary historical records make it impossible to assess the challenge. We can only gather shreds of evidence here and there. The Panis Marie, buried at age twenty-two in 1732, had no fixed address; the Panis Jacques travelled the colony from one end to the other, before finally being arrested in 1734 on a charge of rape; in 1710, the Panis Nicolas stole an axe, a canoe and then murdered the people he was hired to lead to New England; in 1800, an elderly black was described as a beggar-—-we do not know whether to say he was "poor, but free" or "free, but poor"...

As long as slaves were held in bondage, society was hardly interested in their fate; but once slaves were freed, society was extremely concerned about its own security. In petitioning the House of Assembly in. 1800 to regulate the status of slaves, Montreal slave owners declared they were "deeply sensible that this class of men who are now let loose on society, and live an idle and profligate life, may be tempted to commit crimes, which it is the duty of every citizen to endeavour to prevent."174 Society had profited handsomely from slavery, but slavery in turn could come back to haunt society.