Monday, September 11, 2023

(Pleasures of) the History of New France

An attractive thing about the history of New France is how deep back it goes, at least among Canadian subjects. Indigenous history goes way farther, obviously, but not with the same wealth of documentation. If you like a subject to research where you are definitely in a foreign country where they do things differently and there are lots of sources to show you just how, New France fits -- even for 21st century pur-laine Quebeckers, I'd say.

I was reminded of that by a recent post on the Query the Past blog that reviews a couple of micro-studies by Gaston Deschênes, one that examines Canadien responses to the American revolutionaries' invasion of the St-Lawrence corridor in 1775-6, and the other on the same subject during James Wolfe's invasion of 1759. There are abundant studies of the political/military aspects of both conflicts. What Deschênes sought to do was see what local sources might add to the big story.  

What he has able to do, apparently (I'm reading Patrick Lacroix's review, not the originals), is tease out as much detail as possible on who among the francophone population got involved in these conflicts, where exactly they stood in their communities and, for the 1775-76 conflict, at least, which of them joined the American cause and (possibly) why.  Given the nature of those local sources in New France/Quebec, diligent research makes it possible to find out quite a lot about even the most obscure individuals. Good to see that kind of work still goes on in New France studies.

I once tried to consider why in 1813 loyalist John Crysler became a hero of Canadian resistance to another American invasion, while his first cousin Adam Crysler was hanged for giving armed support to the same invaders. Let's just say the New-France/Quebec files (parish records and notarial files in particular) seem a lot more detailed on local communities and obscure individuals than the Upper Canadian ones.  

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