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NOBLESSE, OR GENTRY, IN CANADA,
IN THE YEAR 1775,
THERE are only twenty-two names of noble families in all Canada; therefore, it we allow five persons to a name, there are about one hundred noble persons in Canada, men, women, and children.
This Noblesse has nothing to do with the landed property of the country in consequence of their nobility, Some of them, indeed, have seigniories; but others of them are exceeding poor, not having 100l. sterling, some not 30l, ayear, to maintain themselves and their families, either in land or other property.
Those of them who are tolerably rich, live in the lowns of Quebeck and Montreal all the year, except, perhaps, a month, or less, when they visit their seigniorics to collect their rents and dues. They were uled to pay court to the Governonr and Intendant, and other officers of the Crown, in the time of the French Government, and never to try to make an interest with the people. And, accordingly, they have very little interest with the people, by whom they are rather hated, and formerly were feared,) than loved or respected.
The nobles hitherto spoken-of are the hereditary nobility, There were in old France, in the year 1740, no less than fifty thousand of those noble families, according to the account given of them by that most faithful of all French writers of history, the Abbé de Saint Pierre, in his Political Annals. It is easy to see that many of these noble persons must be totally
without property. This nobility descends to all the male pofterity of the persons ennobled, from generation to generation, ad infinitum, to younger sons of younger sons of younger fons. This causes the number of these noble persons to be so enormously great.
Persons become noble in this complete, or hereditary, manner, either by letters patent of the King of France creating them so, though without a title, (for a title is not necessary to make a man noble,) or by exercifing certain honourable offices in the state. For example, the family of every member of a parliament in France, or of any other sovereign court of justice, (that is, court of justice to which appeals lie from inferiour courts, and from which no appeals Jie to any higher court, except to the King himself in his council of state,) who dies in his offioe, or who holds it for twenty years, and then resigns it, is thereby ennobled. So is the family of every General Officer of the army who dies in his employment, or holds it for a certain number of years. So is the family of a Captain in the army who has served ten years in it, and whose father and grand-father have also served, each of them, ten years in it in the fame rank.
Besides this hereditary nobility, there are many nobles for life A Captain in the army who has served in that commission, (or, I believe, in that commission together with the inferiour commissions of Enlign and Lieutenant,) for the space of twenty years, is thereby ennobled for his life, though his father was not an officer, nor noble in any degree.
Of this latter fort of nobles there are several in Canada. General Carleton, in a letter to Lord Shelburne in the
year 1767, reckons-up about one hundred and twenty persons, who had commands either in the French army or the militia of Canada, or civil employments, or grants from the French king of exclusive rights to trade with the Indians in particular
trading trading-posts, or some other advantages under the French government, which they had loft by the change of government. But this loss did not follow from their being Romancatholicks; for, if they had been protestants, they must have lost these advantages equally, as most of the places they held have no existence under the English government, and the few places, or offices, that continue under the new government, are such as they are not personally qualified lo discharge, though they should be protestants, such as the offices of judges, collector and compiroller of the customs, reccivergeneral of the revenue, &c.
These people, therefore, cannot be gratified by only taking-away the disabilities arising from their being Roinancatholicks, nor without creating new places, or employments, civil and military, to bestow upon them ; which would be not only unreasonably expensive to Great-Britain, but also dangerous; and all their complaints against the English laws, on account of the disabilities they impose on Roman-catholicks, are at the bottom only begging letters. Among these one hundred and twenty discontented perfons, there are some who are of noble families, so as to transmit the nobility totheir children; but the greater part of them are only noble for life by their employments, and some of them not noble at all, either because they have not held their employe ments long enough to make them fo, or because their employments were not of such a nature as to confer nobility, of any kind, on the persons who held them. Yet these one hundred and twenty persons are the principal persons who have complained of the EngliM laws, and been the cause of the late act of parliament*. The rest of the one
* This act was passed on the 10th of June, 1774, aod is entitled " An Act for making more effectual Provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec in North America." M 2
hundred and twenty thousand, or, according to General Carleton's estimation of them, one bundred and fifty thoufand, inhabitants of Canada, were very well pleased with the change of government, and have often acknowledged that they were happier under the English government than they had ever been before.
In France it is a privilege of the nobility to be exempted from paying a certain land-tax, which is called the taille personnelle : but there was no such tax in Canada under the French government.
It is another privilege of the nobles, that they alone can enjoy the rights of Judicature, (les droits de baule, moyenne, et balle jufiice.) which may bave been annexed, by the French king's grants, to any feigniories, or large tracts of Jand, held of the crown by the tenure of doing fealty and homage, ( foi et hommage,) of which they may happen to be poffelled. If a man that was not noble purchased one of these feigniories, he might enjoy all the pecuniary rights belonging to it, such as the mill-tolls due from the freehold tenants, and the fines for alienation; but he could not, without the French king's licence, exercise the rights of judicature belonging to it. However, this was a matter of small consequence with respect to Canada, because, in that country, scarce any of the owners of seigniories exercised these rights of judicature in the time of the French government, though they were usually mentioned in the grants of their seigniories. But the expense attending the exerciseof these rights of judicature, (such as keeping a prison, with a steward, or judge of the court, a seigniorial, or fiscal, attorney, and a register of the courty) was too great for them. And further, their right of holding these courts was so checked and controuled by the king of France's edicts, and the provincial regulations upon that subject, that it would have been but a sort of ornamen
tal right, or feather in the cap, of those who should have held them, rather than a real and fubftantial degree of power in them. I believe there was not one fingle lay seignior in all Canada before the late conquest, that exercised these rights of judicature; but certainly, if there were any, they were exceeding few : and none of them have been exercised fince the conquest.
The French owners of leigniories sometimes talk of the hardship of not being permitted to exercise their feigniorial jurisdictions under the Englisi government. There may, perhaps, be some little injustice in it, because it is a sort of appendage to their landed property, which has been granted to them without reserve by the capitulation and the treaty of peace; yet this is doubtful.. But it is certain there is no bardsbip in it at all; for, if they could exercise them, they would not do so, for the reasons above-mentioned. Their view in making these complaints is to induce the Government to buy these jurisdictions up, as they have heard the parliament did in the year 1747, with respect 10 the Scotch heritable jurisdictions. But these complaints come with an ill grace from such of the French seigniors as are not noble, (which is the case with many of them,) since they had no right to exercise these jurisdictions under the French government.
Many of the nobles have no feigniories at all, nor any other landed property. There are scarce any people in Canada that have patrimonial fortunes to any confiderable amount. The few rich men amongst the French there have acquired their own fortunes in the service of the king of France, that is, most probably, by cheating the king and oppressing the people: for the pay of the French military officers is but about a third part of the pay of our officers, and the pay of their judges and other civil officers is low in proportion; sa