Daily Life in New France


One Big Family

In New France, officers, and to a certain extent the commercial bourgeoisie, formed one big family. Beginning in the seventeenth century and increasingly in the eighteenth, marriages took place between the various families belonging to the military and commercial elites. It was not unusual to combine these two activities, as could be seen in the Le Moyne and Le Ber families.

In France, such alliances were frowned upon because nobles were reluctant to lower themselves to the level of merchants. Nobles derived their incomes from renting out their lands or from their stipends as royal officers; commercial ventures were for commoners. Applying such a principle in New France would have made it impossible for both the colony and the officer class to survive. In 1685, the king bowed to reality and allowed officers to engage in commerce without fear of diminishing their status.

In general, however, the families of Canadian officers preferred to marry among themselves. One-third of Canadian officers married officers' daughters, and about one-sixth married young women of the bourgeoisie. The remainder married into the families of nobles or commoners. Like ordinary soldiers, officers had to request the governor's permission to marry, which was generally granted.

Through these marriages, "military families" began to predominate in the colony. While only one-fifth of officers married into other officers' families in the seventeenth century, this increased to one-half by the mid-eighteenth century. Thus officers' families gradually came to form a kind of colonial military caste.

Some Canadian officers had seigneuries, and others had lands which enhanced their incomes a little, in addition to providing them with a home when they retired. However, unlike the nobles in France, they could not earn much from their properties because of the small population and the limited area in which their products could be sold. Other officers married into bourgeois families which supported them. The remainder had to support their families on their military stipends. The latter officers were often helped by appointments as commandants of Western forts.