Colonial Administration


Royal Colony
Colonial Administration
The Economy
Fur and Expansion
French-English Rivalry




New France was administered as a French province. Office holders were appointed by the King and dismissed if they did not perform to the King’s satisfaction.

The chief colonial officer was the governor-general, based in Quebec. He was a military man and a member of the noblesse d’épée and was responsible for law and order and military forces. There were also local governors in Montreal, Trois-Rivieres, and Acadia. New France had a substantial military force.

The Intendant was the chief provincial administrator, responsible for finance, economic development, justice, civil administration. He often was a member of the noblesse de robe. An effort was made to bring bureaucratic efficiency and centralized control to distant provinces. The intendant was seconded by a large bureaucratic staff.









Colonial administration was completed by the Sovereign Council, an appointed body modeled on the provincial parliaments of France. The Council was made up of the governor, the intendant and the bishop, an attorney-general (a member of the Paris Bar) and 5 other councilors (12 after 1703) chosen among the seigneurs or prominent citizens The Council served as the court of appeal for criminal and civil cases It also had an administrative purpose to regulate commerce and enforce the King’s edicts in the colony.


The political system was conservative, with power exercised by a social elite. There was no notion of an authority emanating from the people. Yet the habitants were encouraged to report problems to their superiors and occasionally consultative assemblies were organized to settle the concerns of the governed. The paternalistic system of New France allowed a sympathetic response of royal authority when special problems linked to frontier conditions occurred. Habitants in New France were granted exceptions from the general rules prevailing in France and spared the crushing taxation imposed on the people of France. At the local level, the people's leaders were the Captains of the Militia, well-respected habitants with military experience who organized their neighbors for self-defense and local work, and represented them in relation with higher authority.


Louis XIV chose the Custom of Paris as law of the colony. Royal courts were established in Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Montreal. They dealt with both civil cases and criminal cases, following the procedures and sentences used in Paris. Habitants disliked harsh punishment, which set them apart from the general European enthusiasm for public punishment (for example, carpenters in New France refused to build pillories or gallows). This was due to the strong sense of community born from the small number of immigrants and shared frontier experience.