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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter VI.—Royal Government—To 1670


Constitution op the Supreme Council—1663. De Mesy, Governor —De Tracy, Viceroy—Talon, Intendant—1G65. Do Courcelles, Governor-Attacks the Iroquois—De Tracy conquers the Mohawks-1666. Eighteen Years' Truce—Talon's wise administration — Seigniorial Tenure op Land —The Fur Trade —The Small-pox and Liquor Traffic waste the Native Tribes.

The charter of the Hundred Associates having been rescinded (February, 1663), the government of New France became vested directly in the crown. Colbert, the new minister of Louis XIV., a man of comprehensive views, and of great energy and integrity of character, continued for a score of years to be the tried and true friend of Canada. The new government was administered by a Supreme Council, composed of the Governor, the Bishop, and the royal Intendant, assisted by four Councillors—a number afterwards raised to twelve. Of this Council, Bishop Laval was president, and had jurisdiction over ecclesiastical affairs, The Governor was the military representative of the King, and was generally of noble rank; while the Intendant was his representative in legal matters, and was generally a member of the legal profession. The respective duties and authority of the Governor and Intendant were not clearly defined, and from their peculiar relations it was impossible but that jealousies should arise between them. The Governor frequently, and with justice, regarded the Intendant as a spy upon his conduct and a check upon his influence ; and each made frequent and often conflicting reports to the King. The jurisdiction of the Council covered every department of government—legislative, judicial, executive— from declaring war or peace to trivial municipal regulations, and the settlement of petty disputes. The code of laws of the mother country, known as the "coutume de Paris," or custom of Paris, became the recognized colonial standard.

The new system was inaugurated with considerable energy. A hundred families of immigrants arrived, and the prospects of the colony began to brighten. M. de Mesy, commandant of Caen, was the first Governor.

The trade of Canada had meanwhile been granted to the West India Company, one of those giant monopolies that strangled its infant commerce, just struggling into life. In consideration of its control, for fifty years, of the traffic of New France, it was to defray all the expenses of government.

Simultaneous with these events was another which was destined to affect the entire future history of the North American continent. The English sovereign, Charles II., had granted to his brother, the Duke of York, the country adjacent to the Hudson River, which for fifty years had been in the peaceable possession of the Dutch. Four English ships anchored before New Amsterdam, and demanded its surrender. After a short parley, the white flag was raised, and the Dutch settlers became British subjects. Out of compliment to the Duke of York, the place was renamed New York, and Fort Orange became Albany. The English strove steadily to divert the fur trade from the St. Lawrence to the Hudson, offering in barter better goods at lower prices than the French. Out of the commercial greed of these formidable rivals sprang the cruel wars which long desolated the frontiers of New England and New France.

The Marquis de Tracy, a veteran officer, was sent to Canada to reduce the Iroquois and settle all disorders. He arrived in the spring of 1665, with a splendid body of troops—the royal Carignan regiment, which had won glory in Hungary, fighting against the Turks. The mounted officers especially struck terror to the breasts of the savages as they were deemed inseparable from the horses they bestrode—the first the Indians had ever seen. Soon after arrived M. de Courcelles, the new Governor, and M. Talon, the new Intendant of Canada, with more soldiers, and a numerous body of immigrants.

The colony was now strong enough to wage aggressive warfare. To check the inroads of the Iroquois, forts were built at Chambly and Sorel. De Courcelles and De Tracy made successive attacks on the Iroquois in their strongholds. The savages learned to dread the strength of that arm which from so great a distance could strike such a blow, and a treaty of peace was made, which gave rest to the long-harassed colony for eighteen .years.

Under the able administration of De Courcelles and Talon, after the departure of De Tracy in 1667, the affairs of the colony greatly prospered. The Intendant especially laboured to develop the natural resources of the field, the forest, and the mine, as well as the fisheries and the fur trade. Many of his enlightened schemes are only being carried into effect two centuries after his death. He procured the disbandment of the Carignan regiment in the colony, with grants of land to the officers and men. In order to procure wives for the disbanded troops and unmarried colonists, Talon procured a large immigration of marriageable young women of good character, to whom a handsome dowry was paid. A fine was imposed on celibacy, and on the arrival of the annual ship-load of candidates for matrimony, couples were married, says the contemporary chronicle, "by thirties at a time."

These military colonists became the tenants or censitaires of the seigniors, often their former officers, to whom extensive domains had been assigned. The soldiers' grants, situated chiefly on the St. Lawrence and Richelieu, were generally a hundred arpents or French acres in size, having a narrow frontage on the river and running back about a mile and a half. These farms often became subdivided by inheritance into a mere riband of land, some of which have continued in the same family to the present time. In the absence of roads, the proximity to the river furnished facilities for travel, and also for mutual defence. The censitaires paid to the seignior a nominal rent, but they were required to labour for his benefit a certain number of days in the year; to get their corn ground at his mill, paying a fixed toll therefor: to give him one fish in every eleven caught; and, in case of a sale of their lands, to pay him one-twelfth of the price received. It was, in fact, a modified form of a feudal tenure. It was only entirely abolished in 1854.

Trade, however, strangled by artificial restrictions, languished, and the West India Company grew rich at the expense of the colony. Almost the sole traffic was that in furs, which was unduly stimulated to the great injury of the country. The wild forest life had an irresistible fascination for the adventurous spirits of the time. Hundreds of the young men, disdaining the dull routine of labour, became Coureurs Bois,—"Runners of the Woods,"—and roamed like savage nomads upon the distant shores of Lakes Superior and Michigan. Meanwhile the fields languished for lack of tillage; poverty and famine wasted the land. The coureurs de bois, lawless and reckless, set at defiance the royal edicts issued for their restraint, and glutted the market with furs for which there was no remunerative demand : three-fourths of the stock at Montreal was burned in 1700 in order to make the rest worth exportation.

A considerable number of Algonquin Indians had been gathered into mission communities by the Jesuit Fathers, and brought under at least the partial restraint of Christianity and civilization. But the white man's diseases, and the white man's vices, were more easily acquired than the white man's virtues. The small-pox wasted the native tribes. The white man's "fire water" had a fatal fascination for the red man's unrestrained appetite.


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