Daily Life in New France
Poor Officers and Food
Although some prosperous officers managed to eat lavishly, and others were occasionally invited to dine with the local elite, the majority did not spend their lives quaffing champagne and dining on delicacies. Indeed, life was very different for many officers with families and for some cadets. These men were poor, according to the standards of the time, because they lived on their military stipends alone. Gentlemen in the military were expected to maintain certain standards of living, which required additional income. In order to help officers maintain suitable standards, they were customarily given the same amount of food as soldiers received in their rations.
Officers on expeditions or in distant forts were also provided with food. An order of 1748 specifying the rations for officers, chaplains, surgeons and storekeepers in these circumstances shows that their diet was basically the same as that of common soldiers: bread, salted beef or bacon, and dried peas. However, they also received some butter, olive oil, vinegar, pepper, spices, molasses, brandy and a cask of wine to last one year. Interestingly, surgeons were not provided with the latter item.
Some officers dispatched to forts in the West found the cost of maintaining their residences in Montreal prohibitive, so that they were generally allowed to take their wives with them. Their wives then received rations as well. This leads one to conclude that life in the forts was much less ribald than is commonly imagined and that a female presence brought a certain decorum. In 1742, however, the Minister of the Navy put an end to rations for officers' wives and demanded that they be sent home to Montreal. This directive was certainly obeyed where rations were concerned, and at essentially military forts such as Saint-Frédéric, but there is reason to believe that some wives remained with their husbands in forts serving primarily as trading posts, such as Michilimackinac.
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