Our slave-owning ancestors, part 2

This article follows up on the one published on July 7th 2021, and aims to highlight the presence of First Nation and Black slaves within the English and French populations of the Laurentian valley.

Source : Création Bernard Duchesne

James McGill is one of the most famous cases of a slave owning member of the elite. This trader, who at some point was magistrate and member of the council which constituted the government of Montreal, will have at least five slaves (McGill, 2021). One of these slaves was a Black girl named Marie-Louise: 

          ” On the sixth of February one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, by me, the undersigned priest was buried in the cemetery near the church, the body of Marie Louise [black] belonging to Mr. McGuil squire, justice of the Peace, deceased yesterday, at the Hôtel Dieu de St-Joseph, aged ____, the undersigned Sieur Baron and Duransaux Montres were present. André Baron “

        « Le six février mil sept cent quatrevingt neuf, par moi prêtre soussigné, a été inhumé dans le cimetière proche de l’église, le corps de Marie Louise [Noire]appartenant a Mr Mcguil Ecuier Juge à paix, décédée d’hier, a l’Hotel Dieu de St Joseph, âgée de ____ ont été présent les sieur Baron et Duransaux montres soussignés. André Baron  [sic] »

Marie Louise’s burial record.
Source: Record 572200, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

There is a popular belief that the enslaved people of ancient Quebec mostly belonged to nobles. But as it turns out, only 38% of slaves lived in upper class households according to the information available today. 31% were enslaved by merchants, and another 31% by farmers, labourers, voyageurs, blacksmiths, bakers, and other members of the lower class (Dupuis, 2020).

In this last stratum of the population, we find François Campeau, a blacksmith and second-generation slave-owner, who enslaved at least two First Nation girls: Marguerite, who died at 15 years old, and an unnamed young girl who died at 13 years old.

           ” The year one thousand seven hundred and thirty-seven on the eighth of January, I the undersigned Jean Bouffandeau, priest of the seminar of st-joseph have buried in the cemetery of the poor the body of Marguerite [First nation] aged about fifteen (?) belonging to Francois Campeau blacksmith who died yesterday in the communion of the said Roman Church, were present the same Campeau and Simon Mongino “

         « Lan mil sept cent trente sept le huit de janvier, je soussigné Jean Bouffandeau pretre du seminaire de (?)ay inhumé dans le cimetière des pauvres le corps de Marguerite sauvagesse âgée d’environ quinze ans ayant appartenant a Francois Campau forgeron décédé hier en la communion de laditte Église Romaine ont été présent led. Campeau et Simon Mongino  [sic] »

Marguerite’s burial record.
Source: Record 151707, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

What tasks were asked of Marguerite? Why was she living in this household? These questions are difficult to answer, but the biographical archives allow us to speculate on her living conditions.

François Campeau, married in 1698 to Marie-Madeleine Brossard, will have a total of 14 children. Marie-Madeleine died in 1729, which could correspond with the year of Marguerite’s purchase. We do not know the date of Marguerite’s arrival in New France, but we do know that Native slaves arrived on the territory at a young age (Trudel, 2004).

If so, she would have joined the Campeau family around the age of eight and the household would have included François Campeau, six of his sons as well as three of his daughters, all single and aged between 11 and 30. It would therefore be entirely possible that Marguerite performed domestic chores in the household to help with the needs of the family following the death of Marie-Madeleine.

It turns out that the Campeau will become a multigenerational slave owning family. François Campeau’s father, Étienne Campeau, is the first in a line of five generations of slave owners. Without being very wealthy and coming from modest professions such as mason, carpenter and blacksmith, this family will nonetheless build a slave network that expanded from Montreal to Detroit.

The Campeau family is not an isolated case. Biographical research has allowed us to learn more about the various slave owning families, such as the Demers, Boyer, Hervieux and Parent families, who will own slaves for at least three generations. This is in addition to the rich slave owning families: the Baby, the Tarieu de Lapérade, the Lemoyne de Longueil, the Lacorne Saint-Luc and the Fleury D’eschambault, to name a few.

Commemorative plaque of Olivier Le Jeune, first African slave and resident of New France

We even find traces of slaves in the families of the last two Prime Ministers of Quebec: Guillaume Couillard (direct ancestor of Philippe Couillard), owner of Olivier Le Jeune, the first known black slave in Quebec territory, and Charles Legault Deslauriers senior (direct ancestor of François Legault), owner of a young native Panisse who died at 10:

          ” The fifth of August one thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven were buried in the cemetery the body of a baptized panise who died yesterday, aged about ten, belonging to Charles Legault dit Deslauriers senior. Was present Jacques Perrier said who signed with me.”

         « Le cinq aout mil septcent soixante et sept a été inhumé dans le cimetière le corps d’une panise Baptisée décédée d’hier âgée d’une dixaine d’années appartenante a Charles Legault dit deslauriers pere. A été présent jacques perrier led au qui a signé avec moy  [sic] »

Burial record of a Panise owned by Charles Legault.
Source: Record 368509, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

In conclusion, I hope to have demonstrated that slave owners were not necessarily well off and came from various backgrounds and classes. In New France, we find Black and First Nation slaves in several families and institutions, in all social strata, as well as in all regions of the Laurentian Valley, from Gaspésie to Detroit.

Cathie-Anne Dupuis
MSc. Demography,
Doctoral candidate in history

Boulle, Pierre H. 2007. Race et esclavage dans la France de l’Ancien Régime. Paris, France: Perrin.
Peabody, Sue. 1996. « There are no slaves in France » : the political culture of race and slavery in the Ancien Régime. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Our slave-owning ancestors, part 1

My last publication, Slavery as witnessed through New France’s parish registers, demonstrated how the presence of enslaved First Nation and African slaves on Quebec territory could be detected in the parish registers. This first study only grazes the surface of this poorly documented population’s history.

Source: Benjamin Henry Latrobe, An Overseer Doing His Duty, 1795, The Maryland  Historical Society

This article will demonstrate that slavery was omnipresent in French Canadian society, mostly during the 18th century. Slaves were owned and used by people issued from the whole socioeconomic spectrum. It is a common misconception that slavery was practiced exclusively by the elite, yet farmers, blacksmiths, traders, clergy members and governors also enslaved Native and African individuals.

The parish registers, available on the Drouin Institute’s website Genealogy Quebec, allow us to find slave owners from every socioeconomic level. For example, the sisters of the Congregation, members of the clergy, owned five slaves between 1733 and 1796: two Panisse girls, one Fox, two Poutéoutamises and one male of African descent named Paul Étienne:

          ” The twenty-nine of November one thousand seven hundred seventy-two by me, undersigned priest, was buried in the cemetery near La Poudrière the body of Paul Etienne [black] belonging to the sister of the Congregation, who died yesterday in the hospital aged about seventy years. Were present Mr. Fortin and Pierre Baron beadle who have undersigned “

          « Le vingt neuf novembre mile sept cent soixante et douze par moy pretre sousigné a eté inhume dans le cimetière proche la poudriere le corps de paul étienne [noir] appartenant au sœur de la Congregation, decedé d’hier a l’hopital âgé d’environ soixante dix ans ont étés presens monsieur fortin et pierre baron bedeau qui ont sousignés [sic] »

Source: Record 363708, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

Paul Étienne was likely given or sold to the sisters of the Congregation because of his old age, which made him useless to the family that enslaved him in his younger years. He was baptized only one year and two months before his death. No other part of his life is known as of today.

The king of France is regularly mentioned as a slave owner in the archives. We identified 26 individuals who were slaves to king Louis XV. Curiously, France advertises itself at the time as a free land for everyone (Peabody, 1996 : 3). Many French and Quebecers would be surprised to know that their ancestors enslaved Native and Black men and women, in New France as well as on the old continent (Boulle, 2007).

Among the king’s slaves, we find two Panisses who were buried simultaneously:

          ” On the eleventh of November, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-six were buried in the cemetery of the general hospital the bodies of two small panises belonging to the king who died on the present day, baptized in the room. Was present Mr. Curatteau ecclesiastique who signed. “

          « Le onze novembre mil sept cent cinquante six a été inhumé dans le cimetière de lhopital general les corps de deux petits panisses appartenant au Roy décédés du jour présents, ondoyés dans la sale. A été présent Mr Curatteau ecclisiastique qui a signé [sic] »

Source: Record 303757, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

We do not know the name or the age of these two little girls: they have lost their voices. They were likely predestined to domestic work for the hospital or would have occupied other functions serving the population and the king. One can only speculate on their situation. 

After receiving a death sentence for attempting to escape his condition in Martinique, a black slave named Mathieu Léveillé is offered the possibility of avoiding death on the condition he migrates to Canada and becomes maître des hautes œuvres de la société under the king of France. The tasks associated with this title consisted of torturing prisoners and executing death row inmates. As a matter of fact, he was the torturer of Marie-Josèphe-Angélique, a black slave accused of having set the city of Montreal on fire. He died ten years after his arrival on Quebec territory, during which he was hospitalized eleven times. Mathieu Léveillé will have fled certain death in Martinique to impose the death penalty on the criminals of New France.

          ” On the tenth of September, one thousand seven hundred and forty-three was buried in the cemetery of the Hôtel Dieu of Quebec the body of Mathieu [black] maitre des hautes oeuvres who died the previous day aged about thirty-four years and provided with the sacraments of penance and extreme unction were present Jean Baptiste Le Fort Devilleneuve and Louis Rose dit Bellefleur who signed with us “

          « Le dixieme Septembre mil sept cent quarante trois a été enterré dans le cimetière de l’hôtel Dieu de quebec le corps de mathieu [noir] maitre des hautes œuvres mort le jour précédent âgé d’environ trente quatre ans et muni des sacrements de penitence et d’extreme onction ont été présente Jean Baptiste le fort devilleneuve et Louis rose dit Belle fleur lesquels ont signé avec nous [sic] »

Source: Record 169488, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

The first part of this article demonstrated that the enslavement of native and black individuals was widely accepted in society, although it was not the norm in France. In the second part of this article, we will direct our observation towards slaves living within commoners.

Cathie-Anne Dupuis
MSc. Demography,
Doctoral candidate in history

Boulle, Pierre H. 2007. Race et esclavage dans la France de l’Ancien Régime. Paris, France: Perrin.
Peabody, Sue. 1996. « There are no slaves in France » : the political culture of race and slavery in the Ancien Régime. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Slavery as witnessed through New France’s parish registers

Slavery has allowed many societies to generate income at the expense of the exploited. While the history of slavery is no secret, few Canadians know that their ancestors benefited from this exploitation under the pretense of white superiority. As early as 1629, until its abolition in 1834, Natives and Black people were enslaved by the French and British colonists living in Quebec.

The first individual to be enslaved in New France is believed to be Olivier Le Jeune, an eight-year-old child from Madagascar who was taken into slavery by the Kirk brothers. Olivier Le Jeune died at about 30 years of age as a servant to Guillaume Couillard. The term servant, a translation of the French word domestique, is used here because the institution of slavery was not yet legal* in New France at the time. The document illustrated in Figure 1 is the only religious record available on this Malagasy child. Exhaustive studies of correspondence have made it possible to know his history and origin.

« Le 10 de may mourut a l’hopital Olivier Le Jeune domestique de Monseigneur Couillar après avoir reçu le sacrement de confession et communion par plusieurs fois il fut enterré au cemetiere de la paroisse le mesme jour. »

Which translates to:

“On the 10th of May died at the hospital Olivier Le Jeune servant of sir Couillar after receiving the sacrament of confession and communion he was buried at the cemetery of the parish the same day. “

Figure 1. Olivier Le Jeune: first Black slave that we know of in Quebec
Source: Record 68801, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

Olivier le Jeune is the first proof of slavery in the St. Lawrence Valley. Marcel Trudel, a pioneer in the study of slavery in Quebec, lists 4,185 Native and Black slaves in the Valley from the 17th to the 19th century (Trudel, 2004). These slaves were mainly acquired through alliances with First Nations, and were war prisoners from various enemy nations of the Native groups allied with the French colonists (Rushforth, 2012).

However, this number only counts the slaves that were found in written records. We believe there were approximately 10,000 Native slaves in New France between 1660 and 1760, but we only know the names of 1,200 of them (Rushforth, 2016).

The trace of slaves in the archives can be subtle and difficult to find. Few researchers have tackled the monumental task of identifying them. First, the term slave only started appearing in official documents around 1709, when Intendant Raudot normalized slavery on the territory of Quebec. (Trudel, 1990: xvi). However, priests remained reluctant to use the term. In the parish archives available on PRDH-IGD.com and GenealogyQuebec.com for the period, the word esclave (slave) is only listed 207 times. The term Panis was more commonly used to designate Native slaves. Among these is young Paul, slave of Paul Lecuyer, who resides in Montreal. His baptismal record illustrated in Figure 2 reads as follows:

« Ce jour d’huy dixseptième aoust mil sept cent quatre a esté baptisé paul sauvage de la nation des panis aagé environ de dix ans demeurant en la maison de paul lecuyer habitant de cette parroisse qui dit avoir achepte le dit sauvage pour la premierre fois desdits sauvages panis et aiant este pris esclaves par d’autres sauvages nommés les renards. Il la rachepte deulx et a le dit paul lecuyer este le parain dudit enfant baptisé et sa femme nommée francoise leconte en a este la maraine quy ont promis l’eléver et l’instruire en la foy catholique apostolicque et romaine aiant dessein de le re tenir a leur service tout autant de temps quil plaira a Dieu de disposer de luy a la mareinne signé et le parain a declaré ne seavoir escrire ny signer de ce enquis suivant l’ordonnance. »

Which translates to:

“Today, the 17th august 1704 has been baptized paul savage aged around 10 years old staying in the house of paul lecuyer living in this parish who claims having purchased said savage from the panis savages which had been enslaved by others savages named les renards. He was bought from them and said paul lecuyer is the godfather of the baptized child and his wife named francoise leconte is the godmother who have promised to raise him and instruct him in the faith of the apostolic and roman catholic church and to keep him under their service for as long as God wills. The godmother signed and the godfather has declared not knowing how to write or sign, as is inquired.”

Figure 2. Baptism record of Paul, slave of Paul Lecuyer
Source: Record 13744, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

This baptism record shows that young Paul is not mentioned as being the slave of Paul Lecuyer, but only as living in [his] house of and in their service. The priest, however, emphasizes that his godparents, as his owners, will raise him in the Catholic religion, without questioning the legitimacy of the presence of this young Native in the household. This demonstrates the normalization of the practice.

There are no other records mentioning this slave. We cannot find a burial record for this child so far, although his godparents promised to raise him within the Catholic faith; it appears that they did not offer him a burial on Catholic soil. Was he sold? Did he manage to escape his servile condition? These questions, unfortunately, remain unanswered.

Portrait of a Haitian woman, believed to have been the slave of the wife of the Quebec painter François Beaucourt. 1786, Wikimedia Commons

To identify slaves in the records, it is often necessary to use deduction based on the words and innuendos used by the priests. Even when PRDH-IGD identifies an individual as a slave, the word itself is generally not written explicitly in any of the records pertaining to the individual.

For example, let us look at the case of Marguerite Françoise, a young Panis girl baptized at the age of 14, whose baptism is illustrated in figure 3. The priest indicates that she is a savage of the Panis nation. That in and of itself is enough to deduce her slave status (Trudel, 1960). In addition, the last sentence of the baptism record mentions that it is signed by Louise Bizard wife of Mr. Dubuisson, captain of the troops and master of said savage. The mention of master clearly implies that Charles Dubuisson owns Marguerite Françoise and that she has no vocation other than serving Charles Dubuisson and his family.

« Le dixseptieme avril mil septcent dix huit a été baptisée par nous soussigné curé et official de quebec marguerite francoise sauvagesse de la nation des panis agée de quatorze à quinze ans son parain a été sieur charles dubuisson et la maraine dame marie magdelaine dubuisson qui on déclaré ne seavoir signer et en leur place a signé madame louise Bizard epouse de M. Dubuisson capitaine des troupes et maitre de ladite sauvagesse »

Which translates to:

“The 17th of april 1718 baptized by us undersigned, Marguerite Françoise, savage of the nation of Panis aged between fourteen and fifteen her godfather was sir charles dubuisson and her godmother was marie magdelaine dubuisson both of which declared not knowing how to sign and in their stead signed by Mrs. louise bizard wife of M. Dubuisson captain of the troops and master of the said savage”

Figure 3. Baptism record of Marguerite Françoise, slave of Charles Dubuisson.
Source: Record 64150, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

It is thanks to the use of these terms and innuendos that Marcel Trudel was able to form the Dictionnaire des esclaves et leurs propriétaires in 1990 (revised in 2004), listing 4,185 Black and indigenous slaves who lived in the St. Lawrence Valley. This research was carried out using parish records, but also using patient registers from various hospitals, censuses, notarial records, and other types of documents. Further research in the archives may reveal more and allow us to find the slaves missing from this initial work.

In the next articles of this series, we will discuss the place and living conditions of slaves who lived in Quebec under the French British colonist regimes. This research is based on the discoveries of Marcel Trudel and deepened by my personal research as well as that of my fellow researchers working on the subject.

Cathie-Anne Dupuis
Master’s student in demography and doctoral candidate in history at Université de Montréal and collaborator to the Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH)

*Slavery did exist at that time, the practice of slavery being customary in nature. The standard which guarantees the property of slaves to owners is permitted with the ordinance of Raudot in 1709 (Gilles, 2008).
N.B The word “savage” is only quoted for historical representation, we condemn the use of this word in any other context.

GILLES, D. 2008. La norme esclavagiste, entre pratique coutumière et norme étatique : les esclaves panis et leur statut juridique au Canada (XVIIe – XVIIIe s.) Ottawa Law Review, vol. 40, No.1, p. 73 – 114
RUSHFORTH, B. 2012. Bonds of Alliance, Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, Caroline du Nord, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 406 p.
RUSHFORTH, B. et KAHN, A. 2016. Native American Slaves in New France, Slate, History, Then, again. [en ligne] URL: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2016/01/an_interactive_record_of_native_american_slavery_in_new_france.html (page consultée le 27 octobre 2020)
TRUDEL, M. 1960. L’esclavage au Canada français, histoire et conditions de l’esclavage, Québec, Les Presses Universitaires Laval, 432 p.
TRUDEL, M. 1990. Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada français, Québec, Éditions Hurtubise HMH ltée, 490 p.
TRUDEL, M. 2004. Deux siècles d’esclavage au Québec, Québec, Éditions Hurtubise HMH ltée, 405 p.