Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Seigneurial System in Early Canada

Seigneurial System in Early Canada: A Geographical Study

Richard Colebrook Harris
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 278
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Seigneurial System in Early Canada
    Book Description:

    This was the seigneurial system of land tenure, whose legal structure was transferred alsmot unaltered from France to the New World. Although the system was old and effete in seventeenth-century France, scholars have considered that it shaped much of the life of early Canada. Harris argues in this classic study, now available in paper for the first time, that such was not the case.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6099-4
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-xii)
    R. C. H.
  3. New Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    R. C. H.
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xxi-2)
  5. 1: The Problem of the Seigneurial System
    (pp. 3-8)

    At the beginning of the seventeenth century the seigneurial system, that is to say French feudalism, was old and effete. Seigneurs, who in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had supplied their censitaires with needed services in return for certain payments, in the seventeenth century often lived in the glitter of an opulent court on the revenue of a burgeoning number of exactions which had long ceased to represent aquid pro quofor services rendered. The legal framework of an earlier feudalism remained in thecoutumes, or codifications of French customary law, but as military power centralized in royal hands...

  6. 2: The St. Lawrence Valley
    (pp. 9-19)

    The trickle of settlers that crossed the Atlantic from France to the New World was deflected around a buffer of Dutch and English claims along the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States to a few islands in the West Indies, to the lower Mississippi, and, in the north, to a fringe of land around the southern margin of the Canadian Shield. As drawn by French cartographers, France’s possessions in North America formed a crescent extending from New Orleans on the Mississippi delta to Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. Others claimed some of this land, and with a...

  7. 3: Land Division among Seigneurs
    (pp. 20-40)

    Probably few of the Europeans who came to North America in the seventeenth century thought of the move as a creative venture. There were forests to clear, houses and roads to build, and fields to plow, but immigrants envisaged in European terms the settlements which would grow out of these labors. However, a new environment forced creativity upon its settlers, and the building process inevitably modified many European institutions and ideas, and particularly, because land was the outstanding new resource, European policies of land distribution and settlement. Out of this rethinking came impractical Utopian experiments, quite workable approaches to land...

  8. 4: The Seigneurs’ Control of the Land
    (pp. 41-62)

    The Canadian seigneur has been pictured by some as the beneficent guardian of his flock, and by others as a member of an insouciant privileged class.¹ His admirers write of the seigneur as a leader who settled his censitaires’ small disputes and calmed their anxieties, and who was the fulcrum of a community which he had created and watched over with loving care; his deprecators write of him as a parasite who lived off royal appointments andgratifications° and illegal dealings in the fur trade, while totally neglecting the welfare of his censitaires. Probably there were both types, for Canadian...

  9. 5: The Seigneurs’ Revenue from their Seigneuries
    (pp. 63-87)

    If it can be assumed that a seigneur’s interest in his concession rarely stemmed primarily from altruistic considerations, then the revenue that a seigneurie produced, or might be expected to produce, was probably what motivated him to develop his land. Thus there was a direct correlation between actual or expected revenue and the enthusiasm, energy, and capital the seigneur invested in his seigneurie. If these assumptions are correct, information about revenue is, indirectly, information about the seigneurs and their role in shaping the development of the land.

    William Bennett Munro has studied the types of seigneurial revenue to which the...

  10. 6: The Role of the Seigneurs in Settling their Seigneuries
    (pp. 88-116)

    Although the assumption is inherent in most of the literature on early Canada that there was a cause and effect relationship between the seigneurial regime and colonization,¹ the mechanics of this relationship have not been explained. Beyond a general picture of riparian settlement in a double line between Montreal and Quebec, there is no information about settlement patterns in the colony or about the seigneur’s role in shaping them. A cause which is not understood is thought to have produced an effect which has not been described.

    In order to assess more accurately the importance of the seigneur as a...

  11. 7: The Roture
    (pp. 117-138)

    Because many aspects of the seigneurial geography of early Canada reflected less the influence of the seigneurs and seigneuries, a subject which has been discussed in Chapters 3 to 6, than that of the censitaires and their rotures, it is now necessary to narrow the focus of this study and examine some of the patterns which developed within seigneuries. The point of departure for this large-scale geography of the seigneurial system is the roture, the concession of land which a censitaire received from his seigneur. Most of the cleared land in the colony was on rotures, most of the colony’s...

  12. 8: The Habitants’ Use of the Land
    (pp. 139-168)

    Almost all Canadian censitaires were farmers who would have been described as peasants in France, and in Canada were known as habitants. Today this epithet suggests rurality, small scale agriculture, and the frame of mind associated with both. Its meaning was roughly the same during the French regime, although the distinction between urban and rural people was not so sharp as it is today, and the man who could putSieurin front of his name was not thought of as an habitant however well he fitted the other criteria.

    Until recently the few references to the habitants in the...

  13. 9: The Seigneurie as an Economic and Social Unit
    (pp. 169-192)

    One of the most persistent claims made for the seigneurial system in Canada is that it constituted an important unit of social and economic organization. “It served,” wrote William Bennett Munro, in agreeing with Benjamin Suite on the point, “as no other social organization could have served to give the colony a defensive strength against her encircling enemies.” Guy Frégault suggests that the system was introduced into Canada “en vue de doter le pays de l’organisation économico-sociale,” and that this was what distinguished it from the system in France. Thomas Gérin refers to the seigneurie as “the social unit of...

  14. 10: The Seigneurial System in Canada during the French Regime
    (pp. 193-200)

    With long, thin fields stretching away from the St. Lawrence and straggling rows of farmhouses along either bank of the river for two hundred miles and more, the landscape of rural Canada towards the end of the French regime presented a unique face. Visitors commented on its distinctive charm, and scholars since have assumed that its distinctiveness reflected the influence of the seigneurial system. Yet, as the previous chapters have demonstrated, the seigneurial system was largely irrelevant to the early geography of Canada. The pattern of rotures was an important part of the geography of the colony, and the imprint...

  15. Appendix: Key to Numbering of Seigneuries
    (pp. 201-202)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 203-228)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 229-230)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-240)
  19. Index
    (pp. 241-249)
  20. [Maps]
    (pp. 250-251)