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Seigneurial system

The seigneurial system was a semi-feudal system of dividing land in New France.

The system was introduced in 1627 by Cardinal Richelieu. Land was arranged in long strips, called seigneuries, along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Each piece of land belonged to the lord, or seigneur. The seigneur divided the land further among his tenants, known as censiteurs or habitants, who cleared the land, built houses and other buildings, and farmed the land. The habitants paid taxes to the seigneur (the cens and the rentes, or "cents and rents"), and were usually required to work for their seigneur for three days per year, often building roads (the corvee)

Seigneuries were often divided into a number of areas. There was a common area on the shore of the river, behind which was the best land and the seigneurs estate itself. There was also one or more sets of farmland, not adjacent to the river, immediately behind the first set.

Seigneurs were vassals to the king, who granted them the deeds to the seigneuries. The king was represented in New France by his intendant; the first intendant of New France was Jean Talon, who made it a requirement that seigneurs actually live on their estates.

The seigneurial system differed somewhat from its equivalent in France; while in France it was a remnant of the feudal system, in New France it was seen as an incentive for settlement and colonization. It also allowed for increased control over settlement by a central authority.

After the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the conquest of Quebec during the Seven Years' War, the Quebec Act of 1774 retained the seigneurial system. However, the system was abolished in 1854.



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