Daily Life in New France


"The Question"

Military Justice

Caption: Military Justice

Between 1668 and 1758, about thirty individuals in New France, including several soldiers, were subjected to the "Ordinary and Extraordinary Question," as torture to obtain confessions was called. It consisted generally in applying torture to the accused "undressed and seated on the Question stool." 91 Sometimes the session resulted in acquittal. This was the case, for instance, of the drummer François Judicth, called Rencontre, who was accused in 1697 of bestiality. More often, however, it ended in condemnation to death. For instance, the soldier Pierre Viau, called La Rose, was tortured in 1702 and, having admitted his crime, was executed for murder. He was hanged, and his head was cut off and displayed on a stake. Those condemned could appeal to the Conseil supérieur, which was the highest court in the colony. Two-thirds of the appeals to this court resulted in commutations to "gentler" sentences. Those condemned to death were simply flogged in public and sent to the galleys for nine years!

The latter sentence resulted in a lugubrious ceremony carried out in public. Escorted by two Maréchaussée archers, the convict was lead "nude," i.e. dressed only in a shirt, to the main intersection of the town where he was flogged while begging pardon from God and the king. He generally wore a sign around his neck indicating the offence committed, and sometimes he was branded with a hot iron in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. Thereafter, he was incarcerated once again until a ship arrived to carry him back to France, where he would be sent to the galleys in Marseilles. A detachment of soldiers was always present during the first part of the sentence to form a barrier between the crowd and the convict. If the soldiers showed too much sympathy for their condemned comrade, all the lance-corporals, corporals and sergeants of the detachment risked being "reduced to the ranks." 92