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Louis-Joseph Papineau, portrait by Théophile Hamel (1817-1870)

Louis-Joseph Papineau, portrait by Théophile Hamel (1817-1870)

 Papineau’s Manoir

Louis-Joseph Papineau lived in this manoir. It is not a castle, but it is a home befitting a SEIGNEUR. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763) and the Quebec Act (1774), the Papineau family’s SEIGNEURIE, located on the Ottawa River, was left undisturbed.

However, I must now investigate the economy of New France because it has come to my attention that, under the SEIGNEURIAL system, New France could not be a self-sustaining colony. On the contrary!

In fact, New France was a burden on France during bad years, such as the year 1701.  In 1701, France bailed out its colony.

In 1701, no furs were collected but France was forced to still pay the colony to keep it running.” (from a website entitled The Economy of New France, in PDF)

The allocation of land under the Seigneurial System

So, let’s take a peak, first, at the SEIGNEURIES:

“In France, seigneurs were vassals to the king, who granted them the deeds to their seigneuries. The seigneurial system differed somewhat from its counterpart in France; the seigneurs of New France were not always nobles. Seigneuries in North America were granted to military officers, some were owned by the Catholic clergy and even by unions of local inhabitants. In 1663, half of the seigneuries of New France were managed by women. This situation came to be because a woman could inherit her husband’s property after his death.”[i]

The above quotation, taken from Wikipedia, would suggest that the allocation of land, under the SEIGNEURIAL system was such that farming may have been hampered. In New France, SEIGNEURIES could be allotted to religious communities, military officers and to other notables. Moreover, if a SEIGNEUR died, his widow inherited the SEIGNEURIE, and we cannot assume that she could manage on her own. I suspect, therefore, that the best arable land in the colony was not always used as farming land.


Second, I also suspect that the SEIGNEURIAL system could not stand alone. Its main components were the SEIGNEUR and his CENSITAIRES. New France also had fur traders and a few merchants and, perhaps, small businesses. New France was also comprised of explorers, missionaries, priests, doctors, lawyers and religious orders. Hospitals and Schools were the responsibility of religious orders. However,  products were made elsewhere.


The colony could supply what raw material it could harvest, but that raw material was sent to France and returned to the colony as goods or products. As for these products, a large portion was needed in the FUR TRADE.

The company of the Hundred Associates

Third, in 1663, the Company of One Hundred Associates, the COMPAGNIE DES CENT-ASSOCIÉS, either surrendered its charter or was eliminated. Reports differ. You will remember that the company was founded in 1628 by Richelieu who ruled New France.

The Company was “closely controlled by Richelieu, and was given sweeping authority over trade and colonization in all of New France, a territory that encompassed all of Acadia, Canada, Newfoundland, and French Louisiana.”[ii]

Each member of the Company of One Hundred Associates, the Cent-Associés had invested $9,000.00 (90,000 French livres) in New France. Champlain “was listed as investor number 52 in a list published on January 14, 1628.”[iii]  

However, it would not be unreasonable to think that the Associates played one role only, which was to send settlers to New France or bring settlers to New France and that, as a consequence, farming may have been limited. The individuals who were granted a SEIGNEURIE were not necessarily persons who could run a farming community.

The appointment of a Sovereign Council

At any rate, the dissolution of The Company of Hundred Associates did not put an end to the SEIGNEURIAL system, established in 1627 and abolished in 1854, but Colonial authorities in France came to the conclusion that New France would benefit from better management.

As a result, the motherland created a Sovereign Council or revived a Council that had managed New France until 1647. The Sovereign Council consisted mainly of a Governor General, an Intendant, and the Bishop of Quebec, except that the Intendant was the ruler, but “lacked any power over the military.”[iv]

The intendant was bound to no authorities, statutes or regulations. He was appointed by, removable by, and responsible to the king alone.

I have read that the SOVEREIGN COUNCIL was formed in 1675, but I have also read, elsewhere, that the SOVEREIGN COUNCIL was formed in 1663. This discrepancy may stem from the fact that New France’s second Intendant, Jean Talon, Comte d’Orsainville (1626 – 1694), was sent to New France in 1663, which does not mean that a Sovereign Council had already been appointed. The Sovereign Council was also comprised of other members listed on Wikipedia. Please click on Sovereign Council for a more detailed list.[v] The Sovereign Council endured until April 28, 1760, the very day the Battle of Sainte-Foy was fought.  However, according to Wikipedia,

[a]s early as June 16, 1703, the King of France refers to the council as the Conseil Supérieur instead of the former Conseil Souverain.

François-Xavier Garneau’s Histoire du Canada  

Let us look again at MERCANTILISM, or the lack thereof, in New France.

The Huguenots

In the first version of his three-volume Histoire [history] du Canada (1845-1848), François-Xavier Garneau wrote that New France had been weakened by the removal of the Huguenots, French Calvinist Protestants. They had to leave New France when the Edict of Nantes was revoked. The Edict of Nantes was an Edict of tolerance towards Huguenots that had been issued on 13 April 1598 by Henri IV of France and was revoked by Louis XIV, the grandson of Henri IV of France, in October 1685.[vi] 

F.-X. Garneau had to remove this section of his History of Canada, so the Bishop of Quebec could provide a “nihil obstat.” 

However, it remains that François-Xavier Garneau may have put his finger on one of the chief reasons, if not the chief reason, why the colony could not make ends meet and was, therefore, a burden on France.


According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “[a]s time went on, the seigneurial system increasingly appeared to favour the privileged and to hinder economic development. After much political agitation, it was abolished in 1854 by a law that permitted tenants to claim rights to their land.”[vii]

But how did the abolition of the SEIGNEURIAL system affect the SEIGNEURS?

I must pause here, but I would not be surprised if I learned that New France and its SEIGNEURS had something to gain from the Treaty of Paris (1763), not to mention the Quebec Act (1774), and the Constitutional Act (1791).

If indeed New France had been and remained a burden to France, it would follow, as I have suggested in an earlier post, that when New France was ceded to Britain, the French-speaking citizens of a British-ruled colony may have avoided much more than the French Revolution. Under British Rule, the Canadiens kept not only their priests but also their SEIGNEURS. Furthermore, the Canadiens avoided the Napoleonic Wars.

As I have said, I must investigate this matter at greater length, but my tentative conclusion to this blog is that the Treaty of Paris may have saved the French-speaking citizens of the former New France, including its SEIGNEURS, persons like Louis-Joseph Papineau who retained his family manoir pictured above. Louis-Joseph Papineau was the leader of the Rebels of 1837 and had to flee to the United States and then to France to avoid what could have been a death sentence, but he returned to his manoir, lived the life of a gentleman and was re-elected to Parliament.

To put it in a nutshell, when New France was ceded to Britain, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, it was not solvent, and a revolution was in the works in the motherland.

[i] The Seigneurial System,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seigneurial_system_of_New_France
[ii] “The Company of One Hundred Associates,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_of_One_Hundred_Associates
[iii] “The Company of Hundred Associates,” Wikipedia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_of_One_Hundred_Associates                                  
[iv] The Intendant of New France,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intendant_of_New_France
[v] “Sovereign Council of New France,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_Council_of_New_France.
[vi] “Edict of Nantes,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Nantes.
[vii] Jacques Mathieu,The Seigneurial System,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/seigneurial-system 
« Le dernier endroit dans l’univers » : à propos … – Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française – Érudit (erudit.org)
© Micheline Walker
2 May 2012