A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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LOUIS HÉBERT: A Legacy of Tenacity
The Filles du Roi

The Filles du Roi, or King's Daughters, were women shipped to New France under royal auspices in the mid-seventeenth century to rectify an imbalance of the sexes in the colony of New France(1).

From 1608 to 1663, the colony of New France had been under the administration of commercial companies, formed by merchants from various cities in France. These companies promised to settle and develop French land in return for exclusive rights to its resources(2).

But colonization led by business meant that economic interests and trade took priority. The population was mostly men: traders, storekeepers, workmen, indentured servants, dockhands, soldiers, seamen and clerics. Bringing wives and children meant more mouths to feed. Family members weren't all able to contribute for the profit of the colony.

As a result, these French companies failed to achieve the desired results of establishing a colony of settlers. In 1663, after half a century of occupation, only one percent of the land claimed by France was being used and the population of New France numbered scarcely 3,000, 1,175 of whom were Canadian born. British colonies at this time had expanded to 100,000(3).

In an attempt to increase the fortunes and families of the colony, the impotent company rule of New France was replaced by a royal government. The young monarch, King Louis XIV, initiated a new French era in Canada with an aggressive immigration policy and incentives to encourage marriage and child bearing. One of his strategies was to even out the imbalance of the male and female populations by sending to New France what has become known as the "King's Daughters," or "les filles du roi"(4).

The King's Daughters were women of marriageable age who were sent to New France at state expense as wards of the King between 1663 an 1673. An estimated eight-hundred to one thousand girls arrived during the first 10 years of the royal government and were commonly referred to as "les filles du roi." They were brought under the careful supervision of various authorities such as the clergy. These women brought trousseaus and in some cases, were supplied with a small dowry if they could not afford their own. Some were Parisian beggars and orphans. Others were recruited from the La Rochelle and Rouen areas. Administrators' reports suggest that many were ill prepared for the arduous life of the Canadian peasant(5).

Quick marriages and families were encouraged. Almost all of the King's Daughters found husbands quickly. Further incentives to procreate were given in money grants to young married men and fathers of large families. Annual gratuities of up to 400 livres were rewarded to families of 12. Bachelors were penalized; hunting and fur- trading privileges were withheld to encourage them to settle down and start a family. Marriages between French and aboriginals were also encouraged. It was an active campaign supporting family values and it reaped the desired results. When the offspring of the "filles du roi" came of age 20 years later, the demographic situation of New France had indeed changed(6).

In 1663 there had been one woman to every 6 men; now the sexes were roughly equal in number. By 1671, there had been 700 births. During the first decade of royal government, in fact, population climbed to over 9,000. From then on, immigration fell away, largely due to declining government aid as France became caught up in costly new wars in Europe. Nevertheless, the tradition of large French- Canadian families was now well established. The still-growing colony went on replacing over ninety percent of its people through natural birth, rather than immigration(7).

Endnotes:
1-7 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).


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