On This Day
1854 – The Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada abolishes the seigneurial system.
The manorial system of New France was the semi-feudal system of land tenure used in the North American French colonial empire.
Both in nominal and legal terms, all French territorial claims in North America belonged to the French king. French monarchs did not impose feudal land tenure on New France and the king’s actual attachment to these lands was virtually non-existent. Instead, landlords were allotted land holdings known as manors and presided over the French colonial agricultural system in North America.
Manorial land tenure was introduced to New France in 1627 by Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu granted the newly formed Company of One Hundred Associates all lands between the Arctic Circle to the north, Florida to the south, Lake Superior in the west, and the Atlantic Ocean in the east. In exchange for this vast land grant and the exclusive trading rights tied to it, the Company was expected to bring two to three hundred settlers to New France in 1628, and a subsequent four thousand during the next fifteen years. To achieve this, the Company subinfeudated almost all of the land awarded to it by Cardinal Richelieu — that is, parceled it out into smaller units that were then run on a feudal-like basis and worked by habitants.
The lands were arranged in long narrow strips called seigneuries or fiefs along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, its estuaries, and other key transit features. This physical layout of manorial property developed as a means of maximizing ease of transit, commerce, and communication by using natural waterways (most notably, the St. Lawrence river) and the relatively few roads. A desirable plot had to be directly bordering or in very close proximity to a river system, which plot-expansion was limited to one of two directions—left or right.
Despite the official arrangement reached between Cardinal Richelieu and the Company of One Hundred Associates, levels of immigration to French colonies in North America remained extremely low. The resulting scarcity of labor had a profound effect on the system of land distribution and the habitant-seigneurial relationship that emerged in New France.
King Louis XIV instituted a condition on the land, stating that it could be forfeited unless it was cleared within a certain period of time. This condition kept the land from being sold by the seigneur, leading instead to its being sub-granted to peasant farmers, the habitants.
When a habitant was granted the title deed to a lot, he had to agree to accept a variety of annual charges and restrictions. Rent was the most important of these and could be set in money, produce or labour. Once this rent was set, it could not be altered, neither due to inflation or time. An habitant was essentially free to develop his land as he wished, with only a few obligations to his seigneur. Likewise, a seigneur did not have many responsibilities towards his habitants. The seigneur was obligated to build a gristmill for his tenants, and they in turn were required to grind their grain there and provide the seigneur with one sack of flour out of every 14. The seigneur also had the right to a specific number of days of forced labour by the habitants and could claim rights over fishing, timber and common pastures.
Though the demands of the seigneurs became more significant at the end of French rule, they could never obtain enough resources from the habitants to become truly wealthy, nor leave their tenants in poverty. Habitants were free individuals; seigneurs simply owned a “bundle of specific and limited rights over productive activity within that territory”. The seigneur–habitant relationship was one where both parties were owners of the land, who split the attributes of ownership between them.
Born On This Day
1922 – Esther Lederberg, American microbiologist (d. 2006)
Esther Miriam Zimmer Lederberg (December 18, 1922 – November 11, 2006) was an American microbiologist and a pioneer of bacterial genetics. Notable contributions include the discovery of the bacterial virus λ, the transfer of genes between bacteria by specialized transduction, the development of replica plating, and the discovery of the bacterial fertility factor F (F plasmid).
Lederberg also founded and directed the now-defunct Plasmid Reference Center at Stanford University, where she maintained, named, and distributed plasmids of many types, including those coding for antibiotic resistance, heavy metal resistance, virulence, conjugation, colicins, transposons, and other unknown factors.
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