The First Soldiers of New France

Few Soldiers To Fight The Iroquois

The Colony Expands

The fort of Ville-Marie in 1645

Caption: The fort of Ville-Marie in 1645

These were the prevailing conditions when, in May 1642, a group of colonists under the leadership of a former officer, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, went to Montreal Island to establish a settlement. Considerable audacity was needed for such an undertaking, for this location, near Iroquois territory, was particularly exposed to attack. The new settlers constructed a fort, and the next year, equipped it with artillery. If the inhabitants of Quebec lived in relative security, the same was not true of the settlements of Trois-Rivières and Montreal, which their inhabitants never left "without their muskets, swords and pistols." 30 The danger was such in Ville-Marie (which would one day become Montreal) that all inhabitants were expected to provide for their own defence. It is not surprising therefore that they asked the king for colonists who were "all people with a stomach for war," knowing how to handle "a trowel with one hand and a sword with the other." 31

The defensive organisation of the colony proceeded. In August 1642, Governor Montmagny, having received a contingent of about 40 soldiers from France, ordered the construction of a fort at the mouth of the Richelieu River, where the city of Sorel now lies, in order to block the traditional invasion route of the Iroquois. In addition, the Queen of France, Anne of Austria, was particularly interested in Canadian affairs (though primarily from the point of view of protecting the missions), and she provided 100,000 livres to raise and equip a company of 60 soldiers. This was done in the winter of 1643-44, and the company "distributed among the various parts of the country," according to a chronicle of the time. 32

These soldiers arrived in Quebec in June 1644. Twenty-two of them were then sent 1,300 km away "to the Hurons," that is, to the Sainte-Marie mission on the shores of Lake Huron, where they arrived on September 7. Here they lived with the Jesuits and shared their table. In September 1645, they returned to Ville-Marie, escorting a convoy of some 60 canoes "loaded with beaver." 33 This expedition was remarkable from several points of view. It was the first time that a French, or any European, garrison had been dispatched to defend positions this far west. Second, what the soldiers were guarding was not a solidly constructed fort, equipped with cannons, but a mission protected by a simple palisade in Amerindian style. Finally, the economic impact of the fur convoy, which reached its destination thanks to the vigilance of this escort, was considerable.

However, the "Queen's soldiers" were insufficient in number to ensure the safety of the French and their Amerindian allies. This detachment seems to have been incorporated with the regular garrison after 1645, because it was not mentioned again. At this time, there were perhaps about 60 French soldiers, distributed between the settlements of Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec.

Additional Images

French artillery, 1640s