The system of indentured labour used to populate the foundling colony of Montreal was not one that was totally unfamiliar to the early colonists. The French had come from a country torn by strife, religious and political, which left the land barren and impoverished. Families who had once been affluent could easily lose whatever wealth they had. We do know the occupation of Michel Beauchamp, the boys father, as being a gardener (jardinier) in Villeneuve, a part of La Rochelle that was built for the Protestants after the Great Siege of 1627. Jacques was listed as a gardener before he came and a hatmaker (chapelier) in the 1666 census. Jean, well, he was a migrant as he had just arrived that year. One thing that remained the same was family cohesion. In the recruit of 1659, there were thirteen families embarked on the St. Andre, Jacques and Marie Beauchamp came as a couple. Below, the data file on Jean, my 5th great grandfather from Fichier Origines.
Initially, trading companies or a wealthy colonist might enlist labour, covering the cost of passage, keep and wages. This might have amounted to a year’s wages for the young emigrant. Besides these expenses, there would be loss from death or desertion. There had to be sufficient profit to offset these expenses but with the fur trade being the only source of profit at the time, how was one to bring out more settlers to get the colony going? This, the Société de Notre Dame handed over to the Church, after failing to profit quite miserably. Interestingly, the cost of supplies for the engages to clear the land would run in their favour. There were private agreements made that those who settled in Montreal permanently would not be held accountable. Even so, many of the colonists still refused to agree to such an exchange.
Quebec City on the other hand, was doing quite well for itself. Merchants in La Rochelle, Rouen and the colony were actually recruiting more engagés than needed. The refitting of ships and the price of wheat as well as trade with the Caribbean had created profit. The St. Andre carried more merchants on it which helped Montreal. When New France came under control of the Ministry of Marine in 1663, the Sovereign Council decided that 200 men would be sent to the colonies per year as contracted labourers. This lasted for 3 years, mostly to the benefit of the merchants but once the family farm was established there was little outside help needed. The first steps towards self reliance were being made. A habitant might rely on his sons, local men or even soldiers for seasonal work. Outside commerce would have to fend for itself, hiring boys and natives. Skilled workers would now be hired at a premium as the colony started to expand from within.
So you can see that the small, beleaguered colony, through trade with their indigenous friends and a certain amount of help from the King began to come into it’s own. Something that few people had counted in however, was the linking of this independence to an a different identity. No one had counted on the effect of the environment on the language and customs of the people. The new language was “canadien”, the new people became “les Canadiens”.