Slavery in Canada (New France)

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Slavery in Canada, New France was first recorded in 1628, when the first slave in New France was brought by a British Convoy to New France. Olivier le Jeune was the name given to the boy originally from Madagascar. His given name resonates somewhat with the Code Noir, although the Code was not established until 1685. The Code Noir forced baptisms and decreed the conversion of all slaves to Catholicism.[1]

His name is reflective of a tradition in New France that would give slaves a name from prominent Catholic figures. By 1688 the favourability of domestic servitude and its integral part of New France society was evidenced by a group of French aristocrats who petitioned King Louis XIV to import more slaves from West Africa.[2]

By the early 18th century, Africans began arriving in greater numbers in New France, mainly as slaves of French aristocracy. Slavery was further fortified by the Raudot Bill of 1709. The bill was an ordinance that recognized slavery in New France in law,"Panis and Negroes who have been purchased and who will be purchased, shall be property of those who have purchased them and will be their slaves."[3]

Although slavery continued after the British conquest, the slave trade was not formally established as there was no need for a large labour force given the localized (fur and fisheries based) economies of the northern colonies. Despite the seemingly less physical work (as compared to slave labour on plantations) and as a result of their position within the domestic realms of their slave owners, Canadian slaves were always under the watchful gaze of their owners. By the time of the Conquest there were approximately 3,604 slaves in New France.

Most of these (52.3%) were located around Montreal where the economy was most dependent on labour. Historian Marcel Trudel recorded approximately 4000 slaves by the end of New France in 1759, of which 2,472 were aboriginal people, and 1,132 blacks. After the Conquest of New France by the British, slave ownership remained dominated by the French. Marcel Trudel identified 1509 slave owners, which only 181 were English.[4]

The citizens of New France received slaves as gifts from their allies among native peoples. Many of these slaves were prisoners taken in raids against the villages of the Fox nation, a tribe that was an ancient rival of the Miami people and their Algonquian allies.[5] Native ("pani") slaves were easier to obtain and thus more numerous than African slaves in New France, but were less valued. The average native slave died at 18, and the average African slave died at 25.[6]


  1. ^ Afua Cooper,The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the burning of Old Montreal (Toronto:HarperPerennial,2006), 74-76.
  2. ^ Tom Derrek,"In Bondage," The Beaver 83.1 (February–March 2003)
  3. ^ Robin Winks,Blacks in Canada(Montreal:McGill-Queens Press, 1966),6.
  4. ^ Robin W. Winks. The Blacks in Canada. A History. McGill-Queens University Press, 1997. p.9.
  5. ^ Brett Rushforth, "Slavery, the Fox Wars, and the Limits of Alliance," William and Mary Quarterly 63 (January 2005), No.1, para. 32. Rushforth confuses the two Vincennes explorers. François-Marie was 12 years old during the First Fox War.
  6. ^ Cooper, Afua (2006). The Hanging of Angélique. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-200553-0.