Free Seigneurial Structure: Canadian Social History Essay Sample
This essay reflects on Harris’ argument that the seigneurial structure is wobbly or loose. This is noted from this quote
Rural society in Canada quickly became and long remained remarkably egalitarian……Farm families lived in rough sufficiency, their lives dominated by the season rhythm of the land,
Not by more powerful people who lived in other ways. Rural life in Canada had not developed the complex, interlocking hierarchy of French social relations….Institutionally Canadian rural society was simple enough: nuclear families spread across the land in small subsistent farms with few and weak institutional constraints on their independence.
Another argument is that the seigneurial system is essentially a protective device, sheltering a distinctive francophone society and enabling it to survive the Conquest. This view by Maurice Seguin mentions:
Not only a system of colonization marvelously adapted to peasants without capital; but a system, prophetically conceived, it seems, for a conquered people for whom the land remained the only refuge. For more than sixty years after the disaster of the Conquest , while it kept away foreigners, it preserved for the Canadians the possibility of obtaining, under British occupation, five to six million argents at a price that the French authorities had in some way determined in advance….At a century’s distance, this administrative masterpiece would still operate, far from its natural supervisors, with enough faithfulness to the original model to cover at least two generations of Canadians with its protection. The role of the parish in the survival of the Canadians has been acknowledged. The role of the seigneur will, in its turn, eventually be acknowledged.
Fur trade did not allow for economic growth through agriculture because under the French monarch, the work of trapping animals, skin processing, and transportation of the animals to the coast was carried out by self supporting Indians (Noel, 1981). The few Europeans who remained in the fur business had little food needs thereby allowing for minimal agricultural growth. Canada hence remained a trading post which was always prone to attacks from Iroquois raiders and was thereafter captured and held for a period of time by the British freebooters.
With the coming in of a new ruler Louis xiv in 1663 however, a new genuine France which had a sizeable number of Europeans most of whom were agrarian and rural, a stage for social order similar to that of the mother country was set.
The leadership of Louis xiv of a decade brought revolution for the St. Lawrence colony by reorganizing the Canadian administration, thereby forming a military contingent and revitalizing agriculture. This resulted in the establishment of the French immigrants (Moogk, 1979). As this happened, Quebec and Montreal remained stations in the transatlantic system of trade and linked Indian nations of the North America with Europe with fur trade as the major export commodity (Harris, 1978).
Seigneurial institutions were imposed by deliberate inappropriate policies on the Canadian government. These included policies on land ownership and distribution (Moogk, 1979). The seigneurial institutions supported aristocracy by appropriating surpluses of peasant producers to the Canadian government just as it had done to the Old France (Noel, 1981). The members of the aristocrat dominated French state conceived a settlement colony. Feudal governments would have been a necessity if the New France consisted of more fur traders and independent peasants (Greer 1985, 8).
It is quoted, “St Ours followed his ancestor into the profession of arms. Ordered with his regiment to the new world, he ended up settling in Canada even though he inherited an estate in France. He fathered a large family, thus founding “dynasty of rich and powerful landlords and military officers that would play an important role in Canadian affairs until the middle of the 19th century” (Greer 1985, 10). This makes an explanation why the seigneurs of the New France were considered poor. Though St Ours was rich, he still got lucrative positions for him and his sons in the colonial troops while at the same time managing a monopoly of fur trading. By the end of the century the populations froze, agrarian economy was further underdeveloped and seigneurial incomes were at their all time lowest (Harris, 1978). This supports the idea that seigneurial structure was weak at supporting the Canadians and had higher propensity to support the francophone at the expense of the general population.