Friday, 23 March 2012

Until I can meet with other family members in early April to clarify our lineage, here is a description of our the physical and spiritual environment of our ancestors between 1700 to 1759. 

(Montreal is located in the west while Sorel is located in the east.  If you would like to examine the details of this map, please visit ).

As I had stated in an earler posting, Antoine III Desrosiers dit Lafreniere and his wife Angelique Piette wed on February 9,1722 in Sorel, Quebec. Sorel was located at the junction of the lower Richelieu River and on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It was 88 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Since 1665, Fort Richelieu protected the small community of Sorel from Iroquois First Nations attacks and later attempted to stop the British invasion in 1759. The map below dated 1695 indicates the location of the fort by the large"*".

Sorel had fertile lowlands located near sea level.  The relatively mild climate encouraged farming. It is assumed that many of our ancestors were farmers, and plots of land were acquired based on a French tenancy system.

France assigned plots of land 5 by 15 kms. in size to seigneuries (former military or social elite members who acted like landlords). The seigneurs would then subdivide the land into smaller parcels of 3 by 30 arpents (about 90 square acres) and rent it out to the habitants (tenants). Seigneurs were obligated to provide a flour mill and ovens for its tenants.

All family members diligently worked together to sow and harvest produce on their long, narrow piece of land extending often from the river's edge.  They grew vegetables, such as peas and maize; tobacco; and apple, cherry and/or plum trees imported from France. They ploughed fields of barley, rye, oats and sometimes wheat. According to Cole Harris's book The Reluctant Land: Society Space, and Environment in Canada before Confederation, Sorel had sandy soil and thus, wheat yields were low.

Some families could afford to have a variety of livestock, (which were also French imported) such as pigs, cattle, and sheep. Fields were often ploughed by oxen as only one out of 5 settlers owned a horse in the 1720's (Origins: Canadian History to Confederation).

The natural environment surrounding Sorel also supplied families with food.  There were wild raspberries, and red and black currants. There were also venison, muskrats, geese, ducks and/or hare, and of course, an abundance of fish in the nearby rivers and streams.

In the early 1700's, waterways had been utilized as the major source of transportation. Many informal roads had been developed prior to the 1730's, but they were only 24 feet wide and often utilized by ox carts.  In 1731, work began on the construction of a road called the "Chemin du Roi" (King's Highway). It was 7.4 metres wide and stretched over 280 kilometres from Quebec City to Montreal. Now travel between the two cities only took days by horse-drawn carriage rather than weeks by water.


Missionaries of various denominations, such as the Recollets and the Jesuits, had been in New France for over a century. There are over 70 volumes of the Jesuit missionary records entitled Jesuit Relations available online that describe the vast and interesting work that they performed.

When Louis XV became monarch of France in 1715 (Louis XIV died of gangrene after a reign of 72 years), Bishop Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrieres de Saint Vallier (pictured above)was appointed to oversee the christianization of all citizens of New France, encourage dignified behaviour amongst his flock, and develop education and healthcare in the region.  Some of the main struggles addressed by the parish priests included drunkeness, blasphemy, dancing, live theatre performances, and immodest dress, which revealed naked arms and bared bosoms. With his overbearing zeal, Bishop de Saint Vallier complained about "the Bad Habit of appearing in underwear without bottoms during the summer to avoid the Great Heat" and threatened their damnation! (The Peoples of Canada: A Pre-Confederation History)

While attending church, parishioners were expected to behave in a civilized manner.  They were prohibited from arguing and/or brawling in the church lobby before, during, and after services; and racing horses during or after church mass. Also, they were not permitted to leave the church as soon as the sermon started.

To support the church, each farming family was expected to pay 1/26th of the grain produced on their land as a tithe (here is a website which describes the Church of Sainte-Pierre de Sorel located near the confluence of the Richelieu and St. Lawrence Rivers:

By 1759, there were approximately 200 women in religious orders, 200 clergy, and 100 parishes in New France. The clergy also had extra assistance. From 1700-1759, it was not unusual for merchants, traders and clergy to own slaves of First Nations or African descent. There were about 3,600 slaves in 1759 in New France.

Next week:  War in New France 1756-1763