Daily Life in New France


Soldiers' Wages

Gunner of a canonnier-bombardier company in New France, between 1743 and 1750

Caption: Gunner of a canonnier-bombardier company in New France, between 1743 and 1750

The word soldier is derived for the French word for wages: solde. This neatly summarizes the importance of remuneration to these men. However, the wages they received were small and the deductions many, including those for food and lodging. An examination of the wages received by soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la Marine from 1680 to 1750 turns up several interesting facts. First, the wage of nine livres a month or 108 livres a year, before deductions, remained unchanged over this entire period of 70 years! 82 In comparison, civilian day labourers in about 1740 could earn approximately 360 livres a year; a foreman 700 livres; and a blacksmith 1,000 livres in the Forges du Saint-Maurice. 83 Furthermore, before soldiers could purchase anything with their 108 livres, substantial deductions were made for clothing, the general staff, rations and the fund for soldiers no longer fit for service. In the end, barely 15 livres a year were left.

What could be bought around 1700 with this amount of money? A nice coat with a waistcoat cost between 60 and 120 livres; a dressing gown, 30 livres; a pair of slippers, 2 livres; a pair of silk stockings, 12 livres; a good hunting rifle, 50 livres; a storybook, 20 livres; a brush and comb set, 8 livres. And this doesn't take furniture or housing into consideration! Soldiers were actually paid only once every three months during company inspection by the general staff. Only those soldiers who were present received their wages, while the wages of soldiers in hospital or serving in various posts were kept by the treasurer until they returned.