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The Colonial Colbert

Tracy had led a successful expedition against the Iroquois and coerced them into a lasting peace. He had seen order and harmony restored in the government of the colony. His mission was over and he left Canada on August 28, 1667, Courcelle remaining as governor and Talon as intendant. From that moment the latter, though second in rank, became really the first official of New France, if we consider his work in its relation to the future welfare of the colony.

We have already seen something of his views for the administration of New France. He would have it emancipated from the jurisdiction of the West India Company; he tried also to impress on the king and his minister the advisability of augmenting the population in order to develop the resources of the colony--in a word, he sought to lay the foundations of a flourishing state. Undoubtedly Colbert wished to help and strengthen New France, but he seemed to think that Talon's aim was too ambitious. In one of his letters the intendant had gone the length of submitting a plan f or the acquisition of New Netherlands, which had been conquered by the English in 1664. He suggested that, in the negotiations for peace between France, England, and Holland, Louis XIV might stipulate for the restoration to Holland of its colony, and in the meantime come to an understanding with the States-General for its cession to France. Annexation to Canada would follow. But Colbert thought that Talon was too bold. The intendant had spoken of New France as likely to become a great kingdom. In answer, the minister said that the king saw many obstacles to the fulfillment of these expectations. To create on the shores of the St Lawrence an important state would require much emigration from France, and it would not be wise to draw so many people from the kingdom--to 'unpeople France for the purpose of peopling Canada.' Moreover if too many colonists came to Canada in one season, the area already under cultivation would not produce enough to feed the increased population, and great hardship would follow. Evidently Colbert did not here display his usual insight. Talon never had in mind the unpeopling of France. He meant simply that if the home government would undertake to send out a few hundred settlers every year, the result would be the creation of a strong and prosperous nation on the shores of the St Lawrence. The addition of five hundred immigrants annually during the whole period of Louis XIV's reign would have given Canada in 1700 a population of five hundred thousand. It was thought that the mother country could not spare so many; and yet the cost in men to France of a single battle, the bloody victory of Senef in 1674, was eight thousand French soldiers. The wars of Louis XIV killed ten times more men than the systematic colonization of Canada would have taken from the mother country. The second objection raised by Colbert was no better founded than the first. Talon did not ask for the immigration of more colonists than the country could feed. But he rightly thought that with peace assured the colony could produce food enough for a very numerous population, and that increase in production would speedily follow increase in numbers.

It must not be supposed that Colbert was indifferent to the development of New France. No other minister of the French king did more for Canada. It was under his administration that the strength which enabled the colony so long to survive its subsequent trials was acquired. But Colbert was entangled in the intricacies of European politics. Obliged to co-operate in ventures which in his heart he condemned, and which disturbed him in his work of financial and administrative reform, he yielded sometimes to the fear of weakening the trunk of the old tree by encouraging the growth of the young shoots.

Talon had to give in. But he did so in such a way as to gain his point in part. He wrote that he would speak no more of the great establishment he had thought possible, since the minister was of opinion that France had no excess of population which could be used for the peopling of Canada. At the same time he insisted on the necessity of helping the colony, and assured Colbert that, could he himself see Canada, he would be disposed to do his utmost for it, knowing that a new country cannot make its own way without being helped effectively at the outset. Talon's tact and firmness of purpose had their reward, for the next year Colbert gave ample proof that he understood Canada's situation and requirements.

On the question of the West India Company also there was some divergence of view between the minister and the intendant. As we have seen in a preceding chapter, Talon had expressed his apprehension of the evils likely to spring from the wide privileges exercised by the company. But this trading association was Colbert's creation. He had contended that the failure of the One Hundred Associates was due to inherent weakness. The new one was stronger and could do better. Perhaps difficulties might arise in the beginning on account of the inexperience and greed of some of the company's agents, but with time the situation would improve. It was not surprising that Colbert should defend the company he had organized. Nevertheless, on that point as on the other, Colbert contrived to meet Talon half-way. The Indian trade, he said, would be opened to the colonists, and for one year the company would grant freedom of trade generally to all the people of New France.

In connection with the rights of this company another question, affecting the finances, was soon to arise. By its charter the company was entitled to collect the revenues of the colony; that is to say, the taxes levied on the sale of beaver and moose skins. The tax on beaver skins was twenty-five per cent, called le droit du quart; the tax on moose skins was two sous per pound, le droit du dixieme. There was also the revenue obtained from the sale or farming out of the trading privileges at Tadoussac, la traite de Tadoussac. All these formed what was called le fonds du pays, the public fund, out of which were paid the emoluments of the governor and the public officers, the costs of the garrisons at Quebec, Montreal, and Three Rivers, the grants to religious communities, and other permanent yearly disbursements. The company had the right to collect the taxes, but was obliged to pay the public charges.

Writing to Colbert, Talon said he would have been greatly pleased if, in addition to these rights, the king had retained the fiscal powers of the crown. He declared that the taxes were productive, yet the company's agent seemed very reluctant to pay the public charges. Colbert, of course, decided that the company, in accordance with its charter, was entitled to enjoy the fiscal rights upon condition of defraying annually the ordinary public expenditure of the country, as the company which preceded it had done. Immediately another point was raised. What should be the amount of the public expenditure, or rather, to what figure should the company be allowed to reduce it? Talon maintained that the public charges defrayed by the former company amounted to 48,950 livres. [Footnote: The livre was equivalent to the later franc, about twenty cents of modern Canadian currency.] The company's agent contended that they amounted only to 29,200 livres and that the sum of 48,950 livres was exorbitant, as it exceeded by 4000 livres the highest sum ever received from farming out the revenue. [Footnote: It was the custom in New France to sell or farm out the revenues. Instead of collecting direct the fur taxes and the proceeds of the Tadoussac trade, the government granted the rights to a corporation or a private individual in return for a fixed sum annually.] To this the intendant replied by submitting evidence that the rights were farmed out for 50,000 livres in 1660 and in 1663; moreover, the rights were more valuable now, for with the conclusion of peace trade would prosper. In the end Colbert decided that the sum payable by the company should be 36,000 livres annually. The ordinary revenue of New France was thus fixed, and remained at that sum for many years.

It must not be supposed that this revenue was sufficient to meet all the expenses connected with the defense and development of the colony. There was an extraordinary fund provided by the king's treasury and devoted to the movement and maintenance of the troops, the payment of certain special emoluments, the transport of new settlers, horses, and sheep, the construction of forts, the purchase and shipment of supplies. In 1665 this extraordinary budget amounted to 358,000 livres.

Talon's energetic action on the question of the revenue was inspired by his knowledge of the public needs. He knew that many things requiring money had to be done. A new country like Canada could not be opened up for settlement without expense, and he thought that the traders who reaped the benefit of their monopoly should pay their due share of the outlay.

We have already seen that Talon had begun the establishment of three villages in the vicinity of Quebec. Let us briefly enumerate the principles which guided him in erecting these settlements. First of all, in deference to the king's instructions relative to concentration, he contrived to plant the new villages as near as possible to the capital, and evolved a plan which would group the settlers about a central point and thus provide for their mutual help and defense. In pursuance of this plan he made all his Charlesbourg land grants triangular, narrow at the head, wide at the base, so that the houses erected at the head were near each other and formed a square in the centre of the settlement. In this arrangement there was originality and good sense. After more than two centuries, Talon's idea remains stamped on the soil; and the plans of the Charlesbourg villages as surveyed in our own days show distinctly the form of settlement adopted by the intendant.

Proper dwellings were made ready to receive the new-comers. Then Talon proceeded with the establishment of settlers. To his great joy some soldiers applied for grants. He made point of having skilled workmen, some, if possible, in each village--carpenters, shoemakers, masons, or other artisans, whose services would be useful to all. He tried also to induce habitants of earlier date to join the new settlements, where their experience would be a guide and their methods an object-lesson to beginners.

The grants were made on very generous terms, The soldiers and habitants, on taking possession of their land, received a substantial supply of food and the tools necessary for their work. They were to be paid for clearing and tilling the first two acres. In return each was bound by his deed to clear and prepare for cultivation during the three or four following years another two acres, which could afterwards be allotted to an incoming settler. Talon proposed also that they should be bound to military service. For each new-comer the king assumed the total expense of clearing two acres, erecting a house, preparing and sowing the ground, and providing flour until a crop was reaped--all on condition that the occupant should clear and cultivate two additional acres within three or four years, presumably for allotment to the next new-comer.

Such were the broad lines of Talon's colonization policy. But to his mind it was not enough that he should make regulations and issue orders; he would set up a model farm himself and thus be an example in his own person. He bought land in the neighborhood of the St Charles river and had the ground cleared at his own expense. He erected thereon a large house, a barn, and other buildings; and, in course of time, his fine property, comprising cultivated fields, meadows, and gardens, and well stocked with domestic animals, became a source of pride to him.

Under Talon's wise direction and encouragement, the settlement of the country progressed rapidly. Now that they could work in safety, the colonists set themselves to the task of clearing new farms. In his Relation of 1668 Father Le Mercier wrote: 'It is fine to see new settlements on each side of the St Lawrence for a distance of eighty leagues... The fear of aggression no longer prevents our farmers from encroaching on the forest and harvesting all kinds of grain, which the soil here grows as well as in France.' In the district of Montreal there was great activity. It was during this period that the lands of Longue-Pointe, of Pointe-aux-Trembles, and of Lachine were first cultivated. At the same time, along the river Richelieu, in the vicinity of Forts Chambly and Sorel, officers and soldiers of the Carignan-Salieres regiment were beginning to settle. 'These worthy gentlemen,' wrote Mother Marie de l'Incarnation, 'are at work, with the king's permission, establishing new French colonies. They live on their farm produce, for they have oxen, cows, and poultry.' A census taken in 1668 gave very satisfactory figures. A year before there had been 11,448 acres under cultivation. That year there were 15,649, and wheat production amounted to 130,979 bushels. Such results were encouraging. What a change in three years!

One of the commodities most needed in the colony was hemp, for making coarse cloth. Talon accordingly caused several acres to be sown with hemp. The seed was gathered and distributed among a number of farmers, on the understanding that they would bring back an equal quantity of seed next year. Then he took a very energetic step. He seized all the thread in the shops and gave notice that nobody could procure thread except in exchange for hemp. In a word, he created a monopoly of thread to promote the production of hemp; and the policy was successful. In many other ways the intendant's activity and zeal for the public good manifested themselves. He favored the development of the St Lawrence fisheries and encouraged some of the colonists to devote their labor to them. Cod-fishing was attempted with good results. Shipbuilding was another industry of his introduction. In 1666, always desirous of setting an example, he built a small craft of one hundred and twenty tons. Later, he had the gratification of informing Colbert that a Canadian merchant was building a vessel for the purpose of fishing in the lower St Lawrence. During the following year six or seven ships were built at Quebec. The Relation of 1667 states that Talon 'took pains to find wood fit for shipbuilding, which has been begun by the construction of a barge found very useful and of a big ship ready to float.'

In building and causing ships to be built the intendant had in view the extension of the colony's trade. One of his schemes was to establish regular commercial intercourse between Canada, the West Indies, and France. The ships of La Rochelle, Dieppe, and Havre, after unloading at Quebec, would carry Canadian products to the French West Indies, where they would load cargoes of sugar for France. The intendant, always ready to show the way, entered into partnership with a merchant and shipped to the West Indies salmon, eels, salt and dried cod, peas, staves, fish-oil, planks, and small masts much needed in the islands. The establishment of commercial relations between Canada and the West Indies was an event of no small moment. During the following years this trade proved important. In 1670 three ships built at Quebec were sent to the islands with cargoes of fish, oil, peas, planks, barley, and flour. In 1672 two ships made the same voyage; and in 1681 Talon's successor, the intendant Duchesneau, wrote to the minister that every year since his arrival two vessels at least (in one year four) had left Quebec for the West Indies with Canadian products.

The intendant was a busy man. The scope of his activity included the discovery and development of mines. There had been reports of finding lead at Gaspe, and the West India Company had made an unsuccessful search there. At Baie Saint-Paul below Quebec iron ore was discovered, and it was thought that copper and silver also would be found at the same place. In 1667 Father Allouez returned from the upper Ottawa, bringing fragments of copper which he had detached from stones on the shores of Lake Huron. Engineers sent by the intendant reported favorably of the coal-mines in Cape Breton; the specimens tested were deemed to be of very good quality. In this connection may be mentioned a mysterious allusion in Talon's correspondence to the existence of coal where none is now to be found. In 1667 he wrote to Colbert that a coal-mine had been discovered at the foot of the Quebec rock. 'This coal,' he said, 'is good enough for the forge. If the test is satisfactory, I shall see that our vessels take loads of it to serve as ballast. It would be a great help in our naval construction; we could then do without the English coal.' Next year the intendant wrote again: 'The coal-mine opened at Quebec, which originated in the cellar of a lower-town resident and is continued through the cape under the Chateau Saint-Louis, could not be worked, I fear, without imperiling the stability of the chateau. However, I shall try to follow another direction; for, notwithstanding the excellent mine at Cape Breton, it would be a capital thing for the ships landing at Quebec to find coal here.' Is there actually a coal-mine at Quebec hidden in the depth of the rock which bears now on its summit Dufferin Terrace and the Chateau Frontenac? We have before us Talon's official report. He asserts positively that coal was found there--coal which was tested, which burned well in the forge. What has become of the mine, and where is that coal? Nobody at the present day has ever heard of a coal-mine at Quebec, and the story seems incredible. But Talon's letter is explicit. No satisfactory explanation has yet been suggested, and we confess inability to offer one here.

While reviewing the great intendant's activities, we must not fail to mention the brewing industry in which he took the lead. In 1668 he erected a brewery near the river St Charles, on the spot at the foot of the hill where stood in later years the intendant's palace. He meant in this way to help the grain-growers by taking part of their surplus product, and also to do something to check the increasing importation of spirits which caused so much trouble and disorder. However questionable the efficacy of beer in promoting temperance, Talon's object is worthy of applause. Three years later the intendant wrote that his brewery was capable of turning out two thousand hogsheads of beer for exportation to the West Indies and two thousand more for home consumption. To do this it would require over twelve thousand bushels of grain annually, and would be a great support to the farmers. In the mean-time he had planted hops on his farm and was raising good crops.

Talon's buoyant reports and his incessant entreaties for a strong and active colonial policy could not fail to enlist the sympathy of two such statesmen as Louis XIV and Colbert. This is perhaps the only period in earlier Canadian history during which the home government steadily followed a wise and energetic policy of developing and strengthening the colony. We have seen that Colbert hesitated at first to encourage emigration, but he had yielded somewhat before Talon's urgent representations, and from 1665 to 1671 there was an uninterrupted influx of Canadian settlers. It is recorded in a document written by Talon himself that in 1665 the West India Company brought to Canada for the king's account 429 men and 100 young women, and 184 men and 92 women in 1667. During these seven years there were in all 1828 state-aided immigrants to Canada. The young women were carefully selected, and it was the king's wish that they should marry promptly, in order that the greatest possible number of new families should be founded. As a matter of fact, the event was in accordance with the king's wish. In 1665 Mother Marie de l'Incarnation wrote that the hundred girls arrived that year were nearly all provided with husbands. In 1667 she wrote again: 'This pear ninety-two girls came from France and they are already married to soldiers and laborers.' In 1670 one hundred and fifty girls arrived, and Talon wrote on November 10: 'All the girls who came this year are married, except fifteen whom I have placed in well-known families to await the time when the soldiers who sought them for their wives are established and able to maintain them.' It was indeed a matrimonial period, and it is not surprising that marriage was the order of the day. Every incentive to that end was brought to bear. The intendant gave fifty livres in household supplies and some provisions to each young woman who contracted marriage. According to the king's decree, each youth who married at or before the age of twenty was entitled to a gift of twenty livres, called 'the king's gift.' The same decree imposed a penalty upon all fathers who had not married their sons at twenty and their daughters at sixteen. In the same spirit, it enacted also that all Canadians having ten children living should be entitled to a pension of three hundred livres annually; four hundred livres was the reward for twelve. 'Marry early' was the royal mandate. Colbert, writing to Talon in 1668, says: 'I pray you to commend it to the consideration of the whole people, that their prosperity, their subsistence, and all that is dear to them, depend on a general resolution, never to be departed from, to marry youths at eighteen or nineteen years and girls at fourteen or fifteen; since abundance can never come to them except through the abundance of men.' And this was not enough; Colbert went on: 'Those who may seem to have absolutely renounced marriage should be made to bear additional burdens, and be excluded from all honors; it would be well even to add some mark of infamy.' The unfortunate bachelor seems to have been treated somewhat as a public malefactor. Talon issued an order forbidding unmarried voluntaries to hunt with the Indians or go into the woods, if they did not marry fifteen days after the arrival of the ships from France. And a case is recorded of one Francois Lenoir, of Montreal, who was brought before the judge because, being unmarried, he had gone to trade with the Indians. He pleaded guilty, and pledged himself to marry next year after the arrival of the ships, or failing that, to give one hundred and fifty livres to the church of Montreal and a like sum to the hospital. He kept his money and married within the term.

The matrimonial zeal of Colbert and Talon did not slight the noblemen and officers. Captain de la Mothe, marrying and taking up his abode in the country, received sixteen hundred livres. During the years 1665-68 six thousand livres were expended to aid the marriage of young gentlewomen without means, and six thousand to enable four captains, three lieutenants, five ensigns, and a few minor officers to settle and marry in the colony.

A word must be said as to the character of the young women. Some writers have cast unfair aspersions upon the girls sent out from France to marry in Canada. After a serious study of the question, we are in a position to state that these girls were most carefully selected. Some of them were orphans reared in charitable institutions under the king's protection; they were called les filles du roi. The rest belonged to honest families, and their parents, overburdened with children, were willing to send them to a new country where they would be well provided for. In 1670 Colbert wrote to the archbishop of Rouen: 'As in the parishes about Rouen fifty or sixty girls might be found who would be very glad to go to Canada to be married, I beg you to employ your credit and authority with the cures of thirty or forty of these parishes, to try to find in each of them one or two girls disposed to go voluntarily for the sake of settlement in life.' Such was the quality of the female emigration to Canada. The girls were drawn from reputable institutions, or from good peasant families, under the auspices of the cures. During their journey to Canada they were under the care and direction of persons highly respected for their virtues and piety, such as Madame Bourdon, widow of the late attorney-general of New France, or Mademoiselle Etienne, who was appointed governess of the girls leaving for Canada by the directors of the general hospital of Paris. When young women arrived in Canada, they were either immediately married or placed for a time in good families.

The paternal policy of the minister and the intendant was favored by the disbanding of the Carignan companies. In 1668 the regiment was recalled to France; four companies only were left in Canada to garrison the forts. The officers and soldiers of the companies withdrawn were entreated to remain as settlers, and about four hundred decided to make their home in Canada. They were generously subsidized. Each soldier electing to settle in the colony received one hundred livres, or fifty livres with provisions for one year, at his choice. Each sergeant received one hundred and fifty livres, or one hundred livres with one year's provisions. The officers also were given liberal endowments. Among them were: Captains de Contrecoeur, de Saint-Ours, de Sorel, Dugue de Boisbriant, Lieutenants Gaultier de Varennes and Margane de la Valtrie; Ensigns Paul Dupuis, Becard de Grandville, Pierre Monet de Moras, Francois Jarret de Vercheres.

The strenuous efforts of Colbert and Talon could not but give a great impulse to population. The increase was noticeable. In November 1671 Talon wrote:

His Majesty will see by the extracts of the registers of baptisms that the number of children this year is six or seven hundred; and in the coming years we may hope for a substantial increase. There is some reason to believe that, without any further female immigration, the country will see more than one hundred marriages next year. I consider it unnecessary to send girls next year; the better to give the habitants a chance to marry their own girls to soldiers desirous of settling. Neither will it be necessary to send young ladies, as we received last year fifteen, instead of the four who were needed for wives of officers and notables.

In a former chapter the population of Canada in 1665 was given as 3215 souls, and the number of families 533. In 1668 the number of families was 1139 and the population 6282. In three years the population had nearly doubled and the number of families had more than doubled.

Other statistics may fittingly be given here. During the period under consideration, the West India Company sent to Canada for the king's account many horses and sheep. These were badly needed in the colony. Since its first settlement there had been seen in New France only a single horse, one which had been presented by the Company of One Hundred Associates to M. de Montmagny, the governor who succeeded Champlain. But from 1665 to 1668 forty-one mares and stallions and eighty sheep were brought from France. Domestic animals continued to be introduced until 1672. Fourteen horses and fifty sheep were sent in 1669, thirteen horses in 1670, the same number of horses and a few asses in 1671. So that during these seven years Canada received from France about eighty horses. Twenty years afterwards, in 1692, there were four hundred horses in the colony. In 1698 there were six hundred and eighty-four; and in 1709 the number had so increased that the intendant Raudot issued an ordinance to restrain the multiplication of these animals.

From what has been said it will be seen that this period of Canadian history was one of great progress. What Colbert was to France Talon was to New France. While the great minister, in the full light of European publicity, was gaining fame as a financial reformer and the reviver of trade and industry, the sagacious and painstaking intendant in his remote corner of the globe was laying the foundations of an economic and political system, and opening to the young country the road of commercial, industrial, and maritime progress. Talon was a colonial Colbert. What the latter did in a wide sphere and with ample means, the former was trying to do on a small scale and with limited resources. Both have deserved a place of honor in Canadian annals.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Great Intendant, A Chronicle of Jean Talon in Canada 1665-1672, 1915

 

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