On this day:
1733 – The right of settlers in New France to enslave natives is upheld at Quebec City.
The issue slavery in Canada has long been glossed-over by historians and by Canadian society in general. Substantive recognition of this past history of slavery did not begin until the 1960s. Slavery was actively practised in New France, both in the St. Lawrence Valley and in Louisiana. This institution, which endured for almost two centuries, affected the destiny of thousands of men, women, and children descended from Aboriginal and African peoples.
Origins of slavery in New France
Slavery was practiced in New France between 1632 and 1834, but became common only from the 1680s onwards. Initially, slavery in the colony was complicated by France’s ethical stance on the matter: slave ownership in New France was not legally recognized, but it could still be justified since only the act of enslaving people was deemed deplorable, and not simply buying or receiving slaves. Slavery operated along these lines in the Caribbean (Rushforth 2012, p. 134). Only when the administration gave in to pressure from slave-purchasing colonial officials and issued the Raudot Ordinance of 1709 did slavery in New France simultaneously become legalized and legitimized in a way that attempted to mimic the chattel slavery of the French Caribbean.
Although the majority of slaves in New France’s history were natives, attempts to increase the number of black slaves began as early as the 1680s. In 1688, François Ruette d’Auteuil, the Attorney General of the colony’s Sovereign Council, went to Paris in order to seek permission for the importation of black slaves from the Caribbean. His attempts were initially met with opposition: the king and Ruette d’Auteuil’s political enemies alike believed the climate of New France was simply too cold to support such slaves. The king eventually capitulated, however, and authorized importation from France’s Caribbean colonies. Nevertheless, the amount of black slaves in New France remained low compared to the amount of Native slaves, especially in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Colonial records show that there were only eleven African slaves in New France between 1689 and 1709 (Rushforth 2012, pp. 152–153).
Even after the capitulation of Montreal to the British in 1760, the French government negotiated that black and native slaves remain the property of their masters. Slaves could be acquired on the public market, by donation or through inheritance but a slave rarely changed master. Prices varied with time and according to the age, health, gender and skills of the slave. Nonetheless, black slaves soon appeared to be an expensive commodity. While the price of a black slave varied from 200 to 2400 livres between 1737 and 1797, a native slave cost between 120 and 750 livres.
Royal Edict of 1685
The Black Code was essentially designed for African slaves whom the French had used extensively in the French Caribbean colonies since 1685. It was composed of 60 articles and was meant to offer some protection to slaves. The Code, moreover, extended toward “Panis” slaves in New France but its legal application and enforcement remained limited due to the close relationship between French and native tribes.
The Code outlined the rights and obligations of both slaves and their owners. Slaves could not make contracts, own land, testify, or be sentenced publicly. Because they did not have the status of a civil individual, slaves could not be charged criminally as citizens. If slaves were found to have physically harmed or damaged something or someone, the owner or owners were financially and personally responsible for the damages caused. If the owner failed to pay for the damages, his slave could be forcefully removed from his possession.
The owner, additionally, had the right to whip or chain his slave. However, it was illegal to mutilate, kill or torture slaves. Although the Code classified slaves as objects much like a piece of furniture, owners, nevertheless, had obligations toward their slaves. They had to feed, cloth, care for in case of injury or sickness, and provide for aging and crippled slaves.
With regards to births and marriages, under the Black Code, there was no legal recognition of the father’s situation; a marriage between a free man and a slave woman was not legally recognized. A child born from a free man and a slave woman was considered a slave child; a child born from a free man and free slave woman, in contrast, was a free child.
In 1724, modifications were made to the Black Code. After its revision, the Code “insisted on the basic humanity of the slave: each was to be instructed, baptized, and ministered unto as a Christian, families were to be recognized, and freed slaves were to receive the rights of common citizens — in theory the African could aspire to become a Frenchman”. In practice, nevertheless, there was a huge gap between the laws written in the Black Code and reality since the large majority of French colonists ignored the existence of the document. It was an exception, moreover, for a slave to become free. And while it has been argued that the French were more lenient and tolerant towards their slaves, in comparison to the British or the Dutch, the living conditions and treatment of slaves, however, was still determined by the attitude of their owners.
Enslavement of indigenous people by whites
The Native slave system that emerged in New France blossomed in large part because of the noteworthy practice of exchanging captives as a means of forming alliances, a custom that had been dominant among natives of the Pays d’en Haut long before the arrival of Europeans. For both native and European societies, captive exchanges grew to be an important way of establishing or stabilizing relations between the oftentimes intermingling communities. Europeans involvement in such exchanges began in the 1660s when the French first moved into the Pays d’en Haut. In the 1670s, relations between the Pays d’en Haut Natives and the French began to develop in earnest due to the growth of the fur trade (Rushforth 2012, p. 143). For the natives, slaves were a sign of power, a sign that enemies could be defeated and subjugated. They were also meant to represent the shared interests of two parties (Rushforth 2012, p. 144). Eventually, slave exchanges included French merchants in Montreal and Quebec City. Even as this practice developed, especially among the elite, officials both in New France and France, nevertheless, initially discouraged it as they understood the fact that Indians considered these exchanges to be not just mere purchases of laborers but, instead, procedures for starting or ending peaceful relations. In essence, natives, placed deeper meaning on these exchanges than did their French counterparts.
The Great Peace of Montreal in 1701 changed the nature of French and native alliances: a precarious settlement was reached between the French and the natives. Thus, colonial bureaucrats began to value slave exchanges more greatly. Another reason for change of heart was the fact that traders, merchants, and officials had been purchasing native captives in order to sell them to the British colonies to the south. Not only did this ongoing trade mean potential loss of revenues for the French, but also because of tense relations with the British in general, French officials began to worry that alliances would form between the natives and the British against the French in times of war.
In the colony, as the number of panis slaves increased, their sale became increasingly notarized.
The tension between considering natives as potential trade partners and as potential slaves arose simultaneously. Indeed, the natives were potential suppliers of furs, but if France treated them as potential slaves, it would upset the complex system of French-native alliances. However, it is believed that Louis XIV abstained from taking a hard-and-fast position because of France’s traditional policy toward natives. This policy did not aim to destroy the native groups or force them to resettle far from colonial settlements but, instead, supported missionary work directed to educate and convert them. As soon as 1627, for example, baptized natives could even become French citizens with full rights.
France, moreover, was the only European nation to grant this preferential treatment to Natives, which is why Louis XIV refused to sanction slavery by statute for so long. The colony’s judges, therefore, could follow custom in regarding these slaves as slaves. Native slaves were brought primarily to Montreal. In New France, where the number of available workers was small and competing economically with the Caribbean seemed realizable (at least for a time), native slaves served primarily as labourers, farm workers, and domestics (Rushforth 2012, p. 154).
Born on this day:
1894 – Beatrice Lillie, Canadian-English actress, singer and writer (d. 1989)
Beatrice Gladys “Bea” Lillie (May 29, 1894 – January 20, 1989) was a Canadian-born British actress, singer and comedic performer.
She began to perform as a child with her mother and sister. She made her West End debut in the 1914 and soon gained notice in revues and light comedies, becoming known for her parodies of old-fashioned, flowery performing styles and absurd songs and sketches. She debuted in New York in 1924 and two years later starred in her first film, continuing to perform in both the US and UK. She was associated with the works of Noël Coward and Cole Porter. During World War II, Lillie was an inveterate entertainer of the troops. She won a Tony Award in 1953 for her revue An Evening With Beatrice Lillie.
Lillie was born in Toronto to John Lillie and wife Lucie-Ann Shaw. Although some theatre sources state that her birthname was Constance Sylvia Gladys Munston, most of her obituaries and her autobiography do not mention this name, and the online birth registry at FamilySearch gives her birth name as “Beatrice Gladys Lillie”. Her father had been a British Army officer in India and later was a Canadian government official. Her mother was a concert singer. Beatrice performed in other Ontario towns as part of a family trio with her mother and older sister, Muriel. Eventually, her mother took the girls to London, England where she made her West End début in the 1914 Not Likely. She was noted primarily for her stage work in revues, especially those staged by André Charlot, and light comedies, and was frequently paired with Gertrude Lawrence, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley.
In her revues, she utilized sketches, songs and parody that won her lavish praise from The New York Times after her 1924 New York début in André Charlot’s Revue of 1924, starring Gertrude Lawrence. In some of her best known bits, she would solemnly parody the flowery performing style of earlier decades, mining such songs as “There are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden” and “Mother Told Me So” for every double entendre, while other numbers (“Get Yourself a Geisha” and “Snoops the Lawyer”, for example) showcased her exquisite sense of the absurd. Her performing in such comedy routines as “One Dozen Double Damask Dinner Napkins”, (in which an increasingly flummoxed matron attempts to purchase said napkins) earned her the frequently used sobriquet of “Funniest Woman in the World”. She never performed the “Dinner Napkins” routine in Britain, because British audiences had already seen it performed by the Australian-born English revue performer Cicely Courtneidge, for whom it was written.
In 1926 she returned to New York City to perform. While there, she starred in her first film, Exit Smiling (1927), opposite fellow Canadian Jack Pickford, the younger brother of Mary Pickford. This was followed by The Show of Shows (1929). After a 1927 tour on the Orpheum Circuit, Lillie made her Broadway Vaudeville debut at the Palace Theatre in 1928 and performed there frequently after that. She also played at the London Palladium in 1928.
On stage, she was long associated with the works of Noël Coward, beginning with This Year of Grace (1928) and giving the first public performance of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in Coward’s The Third Little Show (1931). Cole Porter and others also wrote songs for her. From the late 1920s until the approach of World War II, Lillie repeatedly crossed the Atlantic to perform on both continents. With Bobby Clark she appeared in London in Walk a Little Faster, and with Bert Lahr, she starred in New York in The Show is On (1936). Lillie won a Tony Award in 1953 for her revue An Evening With Beatrice Lillie, which she had played both on Broadway and on tour, and she was nominated for another Tony in 1957 for a “golden jubilee edition” of the Ziegfeld Follies. She starred in Auntie Mame in both New York (1956–1958) and London (1958), and in 1964 she made her final stage appearance as Madame Arcati in High Spirits, the musical version of Coward’s Blithe Spirit, receiving another Tony Award nomination.
In 1944, Lillie appeared in the film On Approval. Her few other film appearances included a cameo role as a revivalist in Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and as “Mrs. Meers” (a white slaver) in her last film, Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).
After seeing An Evening with Beatrice Lillie, critic Ronald Barker wrote, “Other generations may have their Mistinguett and their Marie Lloyd. We have our Beatrice Lillie and seldom have we seen such a display of perfect talent.” Sheridan Morley noted in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that “Lillie’s great talents were the arched eyebrow, the curled lip, the fluttering eyelid, the tilted chin, the ability to suggest, even in apparently innocent material, the possible double entendre”.
Marriage and children
She was married, on 20 January 1920, at the church of St. Paul, Drayton Bassett, Fazeley, Staffordshire, England, to Sir Robert Peel, 5th Baronet. Following the marriage, she was known in private life as Lady Peel. She eventually separated from her husband, but the couple never divorced. He died in 1934. Their only child, Sir Robert Peel, 6th Baronet, was killed in action aboard HMS Tenedos (H04) in Colombo Harbour, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in 1942.
During World War II, Lillie was an inveterate entertainer of the troops. Before she went on stage one day, she learned her son was killed in action. She refused to postpone the performance saying “I’ll cry tomorrow.” In 1948, while touring in the show Inside USA, she met singer/actor John Philip Huck, almost three decades younger, who became her friend and companion, and she boosted his career. As Lillie’s mental abilities declined at the end of her career, she relied more and more on Huck, whom her friends viewed with suspicion. In 1977, a conservator was appointed over her property, and she retired to England.
Retirement and death
Lillie retired from the stage due to Alzheimer’s disease. Julie Andrews remembered that Lillie, as Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie (filmed in 1966 and released in 1967), had to be prompted through her lines and was often confused on set.
Lillie died on January 20, 1989, which was also the date of her wedding anniversary, at Henley-on-Thames. Huck died of a heart attack 31 hours later and is interred next to her in the Peel family estate’s cemetery near Peel Fold, Blackburn.
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