Captain of Militia (Milice) in New France

The Canadians were overall happy with their government. Some European travelers stated than, on the whole, this attitude resembled that of a child toward a parent.

Indeed, the government of New France was neither an abstraction, nor an impersonal machine. It was compassionate, as well as intelligent, and behaved like a wise father who knew how to humor his children. The first agent of the government in each community was the captain of local militia (milice).

As a rule, there was only one captain in each parish, and he was never of any seigniorial rank. This person was usually the most responsible and respected member of the community.

According to the law, he was appointed from above, but, in fact, he derived his authority from the community. Although the captain of milice secured his commission from the governor of New France, his real power came from the people he was protecting. Thus, he was regularly consulted, and his approval was considered necessary in may cases.

These informal meetings were generally held at the church after the Sunday service, and the captain always kept his word (if he had not, he would lose all authority in a matter of days). The captain read out the laws and orders of the government at the church door, and nobody could plead ignorance, because all the inhabitants attended divine service regularly.

Coming through the captain of milice, the governement orders were commonly obeyed; but if they were not, the captain reported to the governor or the intendant, who, after careful investigation, would impose a fine upon the delinquent.

Was this position ever rewarded? Well, the captain of milice had an honored seat in the church, the right to a larger piece of holy bread at the celebration of the Mass, and the right to wear a sword. He could get an occasional gift from the Governor of New France for his service. Finally, he enjoyed a great respect of his fellows. That was it.

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