Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Company of the West Indies


Company of the West Indies. The Company of the West Indies was created in May, 1664, by Louis XIV under Colbert's inspiration, with a view to expanding France's colonial trade and navigation by placing all French colonies under one single head. The edict of creation granted to the Company in perpetuity and full ownership the mainland of America from the Amazon to the Orinoco, the French West Indies, Canada, Acadia, Newfoundland, and the lands from the North of Canada to Virginia, together with the coast of Africa from cape Verde to the cape of Good Hope. In this immense territory, the company was given the monopoly of navigation and trade for 40 years with a bounty of 30 livres per ton on goods taken out of France, and 40 livres on goods brought to it, all goods being free of duty. The Company could sell or grant lands with seigniorial rent, and was even allowed the right to make war and treaties. Colonists and Catholic Indians were entitled to full French citizenship. Of course, the Company was implicitly charged with all the expenditure connected with the colonies.


Such were the formidable rights, virtually vice-regal, bestowed on the Company, the main activities of which were centred in the West Indies and on the African coast. In Canada, the Company began operations in 1665, through its agent-general, who received a seat in the Sovereign Council. The Company left the fur-trade free to the inhabitants, but retained the monopoly of the French imports. Yet on representations from Talon, it allowed the inhabitants to bring in goods for the first year. But, by a decree of 1666, the French trade was implicitly reserved to the Company with the fourth beaver and the tenth moose duties as well as the Tadoussac trade. Later, in May, 1669, the French trade was also declared open to all colonists.


It can be seen that the Company's privileges in Canada were greatly curtailed. Besides collecting the beaver and moose duties and owning the Tadoussac trade, its only activity was the purchasing of Canadian furs and their sale in Europe. As feudal owner, it distributed seigniories and censive lands, being entitled to all seigniorial dues, and appointed judges and various minor officials. Finally, it discharged only 30,000 livres of the colonial budget. For the rest, the colony was directly administered under authority of the king, who appointed and paid both the governor and the intendant and nominated the members of the Sovereign Council. He also defrayed the military and colonizing expenses, and all budget expenditure over and above the amount paid by the company.


Outside Canada, the Company's affairs were far from prosperous. The war of 1666 proved very expensive, while the war of 1672 completely disrupted the Company's trade and finance. In consequence, its directors offered to resign their charter; and it was cancelled by an edict of December, 1674.


The Company's debt of 3,523,000 livres was paid by the king. Out of the Company's property, amounting to 1,047,185 livres, to which he added 250,000 from his own treasury, the king also refunded to the shareholders their capital investments of 1,297,185 livres. All colonies, including Canada and Acadia, reverted to the Crown.

Source : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p. 113.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College