MSS-036-Money in New France

Episode 036-July 28, 2015

For good or bad, money plays a huge role in our lives today. Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have any. Imagine what life would be like if our government didn’t have any.

France, gold écu

France, gold écu (1641) depicting Louis XIII (National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History)

Our ancestors faced that very situation several times during the colonial period. So in this episode we take a look at the changing face of money in the colony from the beginning of New France until the conquest, including the role played by inflation and counterfeiters. We’ll also learn some money terms you may come across, for example, in notarial records such as marriage contracts, sales, and apprenticeships.

French-Canadian News

The American French Genealogical Society

August 22, 2015, 9:00 AM, at the library in Woonsocket, RI-One visit to the AFGS Library and you’ll be amazed at the amount of repertoires available to help you with your research. Take advantage of Jan Burkhart’s class on ‘How to Use the Library’ and ‘How to Read the Repertoires.’

The Franco-American Centre in Manchester, New Hampshire

August 11th from 7-10 PM- Tired of waiting for Mardi Gras to roll around again? Then come help the FACNH celebrate ‘Halfway to Mardi Gras’ held at the N’Awlins Restaurant, 860 Elm Street, in Manchester. If celebrating Mardi Gras once a year isn’t enough, then join them for a mid-summer celebration of Acadian music, Cajun food, and the joie-de-vivre for which Louisiana and Acadia are renowned.

August 16th,10 AM-2 PM at Saint Anselm College- the Fête des Acadiens to celebrate National Acadian Day. This family fun day is for all generations and includes games, raffles, food, music and more.

Acadian Ancestral Tour of 2016

Acadian Ancestral Tour promoI hope you’re following all your lines back to the immigrant, looking for those Acadian lines. That’s what I’ve been doing so that I’m all set for the trip that Lucie LeBlanc Consentino (Acadian and French-Canadian Ancestral Home Facebook page), Fred Clark (And Away We Go Travel), and I have been working on.

This time when I visit Acadia, I want to know precisely who my Acadian ancestors were and where they lived so I can take full advantage of all the sites we visit on our jam-packed journey.

We are awaiting the last of the financial items to wrap up so we can publish the itinerary. Then Lucie and I will notify everyone when we will begin taking reservations, she on her Facebook page and I through the Maple Stars and Stripes mailing list. Be sure to sign up for one or both of those so you don’t end up on a waiting list.

Language Tip #36-Money Words

As you work your way through Canadian documents such as marriage contracts, engagement contracts, and sales, you will come across words indicating worth. In the beginning, the colonists traded, or bartered, with the Natives. But fairly soon, coins were brought into the colony.

Notary record

from Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec (

From the Roman denarius came the French denier. Twelve deniers equaled one sou, or sol (same thing), equivalent to a French penny. Twenty sous equaled one livre. A livre was simply an accounting value. There was no issued denomination worth one livre. But other coins could add up to that amount. The livre tournois, minted in the Touraine region of France, was comparable to an English pound. Three livres tournois equaled one écu, and three deniers equaled one liard.

There was a need for low-denomination coins in the early days of the colony, so France sent the double tournois, worth two deniers. Another coin found in the colony was the louis d’or, which was worth 10 livres in 1640 and 54 livres by 1720.

Coins could be minted in gold, silver, copper, or billon (a base alloy of tin, copper, and silver). The chart below, from Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer, shows several of these coins and their values at various times. French Coins and Values

Money in New France

People say that money isn’t important unless you don’t have any. Well, access to money was a real problem for our ancestors. Of course, bartering was used extensively at first, not only with the Natives, but also among the colonists. They traded food, tobacco, cloth, silver items, and weapons with the Natives for animal pelts, especially those from beavers.

No coins were ever struck in Québec. Colonists had to await the arrival of the King’s ships to replenish their supply. The arrival of those ships depended a bit on luck. Capture by the enemy or sinking due to storms could lead to that anticipated arrival being in vain.

Various types of coins came and went throughout the history of New France. In the early 1600s, France sent large amounts of a low-denomination coin called a double tournois, worth 2 deniers, to New France. In the 1640s, France included other coins like the louis d’or, worth 10 livres in 1640 and 54 livres by 1720, the écu (about 3 livres tournois), and the liard.

Liard de France

Liard de France, Louis XIV, 1655, courtesy of Nikisiou

France’s coinage values mimicked those of the English, where twelve pence equaled one shilling, and twenty shillings equaled one pound. In France, twelve deniers equaled one sou, and twenty sous equaled one livre.

The livre was an artificial coin; none were ever minted. It was for accounting purposes only. The livre tournois (minted in Touraine) was equivalent to the English pound. English-French Monetary Comparison In documents, the livre, the sou, and the denier are found abbreviated as follows: Monetary Abbreviations In 1670, King Louis XIV sent 5- and 15- sous coins to the North American colonies.

By the 1680s, foreign coins found their way to the colony, usually due to illegal trade with the Dutch and English. Because of a mistrust as to these coins’ value, they had to be weighed. The heaviest Spanish dollar was worth four livres.

By this time, the fur trade had slowed down. That, combined with the illegal trade, resulted in reduced taxes for the government. In 1685, Jacques de Meulles, the intendant of Justice, Police and Finance, had no money to pay the soldiers. With no paper supply or printing press, he used the soldiers’ playing cards as paper money.

This made France nervous. They pointed out the real possiblity of inflation and counterfeiting, both of which came to pass.

De Meulles’s solution was meant to be temporary and ended the following year. However, card money came back into use from 1689 to 1719. Instead of redeeming the cards for coin when the King’s ship arrived, the colonists and merchants continued to circulate and accept the playing cards, freeing up money meant for redemption for the governemt. This lead to a sharp increase in inflation by 1717.

The government also had to deal with counterfeiters.

  • 1690-Pierre Malidor, a French-Canadian surgeon was flogged and sold into bondage
  • 1736-Louis Mallet and his wife Marie Moore were hanged for “fabricating and uttering counterfeit card-money.” Their son, Louis Marie, also paid the price; he was sent back to France.

In 1713, after signing the treaty ending the war with England, France was financially strapped and could only back a quarter of the paper money in New France. The end of card money in 1719 lead to a decline in trade and industry. With nothing to replace the card money, the colonists suffered through a major recession from 1721-22.

100 Livres Tournois

La Banque Royale-100 livres Tournois (1720) (National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution)

The government issued promissory notes called ordonnances, but in 1729 reinstituted the use of card money, this time highly regulated and redeemable in France. Further financial problems in France lead to a mistrust of paper money. By the 1750s, inflation was so high that Montalm noted in 1759 that it cost eight times more for provisions than it had in 1755. In October of 1759, France stopped payment on the notes. When news reached Canada in June of 1760, it caused a financial panic. After the conquest, France redeemed the card and paper money at anywhere from a 20% to 85% discount. By 1771, the paper money was worthless, and our ancestors suffered economic hardship for many years.


Is there a way to calculate what a certain amount of money in New France would be worth today? No, there isn’t. The best we can do is achieve a sense of value based on what the colonists paid for certain items or what they were paid for certain jobs. Here are a couple of sources to help understand value:

Other Sources

Free PDF Resource

MSS-036-freebieDownload your copy of the 3-page PDF, Money in New France. It summarizes some of the information in this episode. Keep it with you on your smart phone or tablet; save it on your computer, or print it out. Whatever works best for you. This quick reference guide contains:

  • “Cash” chronology
  • English and French money comparison chart
  • Abbreviations found in French-language documents
  • French coins and values
  • Sources

To get your freebie, just go to, type in your email address, and I’ll send you the link to the PDF. So check it out and let me know if you’d like to see other handouts like this in future podcasts.

Translation Offer

Reminder: Don’t forget to scan your French-language journal articles or readable notary records so that Dr. Blood’s students can use them this fall for translation exercises. See episode #32 for info and instructions.



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4 comments on “MSS-036-Money in New France

  1. Patty Roy

    Thank you for a wonderful podcast. This one must have taken you a lot of time to research. It was very well done and I learned a lot.

    1. Sandra Goodwin

      Hi Patty-I’m glad you found it useful. It did take a few days to research, but I enjoyed learning about it as much as you did!!

  2. Carol DiPirro Stipkovits

    Love your podcasts! They are so helpful in my research. I actually print out all your ‘cheat sheets’ and keep them in a binder on my desk. It will be nice to have one in a printed format rather than what I’ve been doing which is basically just a screen print, lol! Thanks for all your hard work and for making my research simpler.

    1. Sandra Goodwin

      You’re very welcome, Carol. If you think the formatted cheat sheets are helpful, I’ll try to include more in the future.

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