LE JEUNE, OLIVIER, a servant of Guillaume Couillard; baptized 14 May 1633 at Quebec; d. 10 May 1654 at Quebec and was buried there the same day.
He came from Madagascar or Guinea, and was brought to Quebec when still very young by one of the Kirke brothers, who sold him for 50 écus to Le Baillif, a French clerk who had entered the service of the English. In July 1632 Le Baillif gave him to Guillaume Couillard. At his baptism this black man had received the Christian name Olivier in honour of Olivier Letardif, the head clerk; at his burial we find him bearing the family name of the Jesuit Paul Le Jeune, who had catechized him. In 1638 he was “chained up for 24 hours” for slandering Nicolas Marsolet; he signed his confession with an X. We do not know whether Couillard treated him as a slave or set him free, for in the burial register Olivier is listed as a servant. No text certifies that he was a slave. His situation may very well have been the same as that of the Indian girls Charité and Espérance, whom Champlain was unable to obtain permission to take to France and whom Couillard adopted.
Slavery was not to be legalized in New France until 13 April 1709, by an ordinance of Intendant Raudot*; it nevertheless existed in the 17th century: the word “esclave” (slave) is used in the records of Lachine, on 28 Oct. 1694, to describe René Chartier’s “panis.” Certainly the slave trade had started before 1694: the trader Pierre Ducharme bought a little panis prior to 1691, and Laurent Tessier’s widow sold an Indian sometime around 1689. The custom on the part of the French of accepting Indian slaves had begun even earlier: in 1674 Louis Jolliet brought from the Mississippi region a little slave who had been given him there; in 1671 the Iroquois gave Governor Rémy de Courcelle two Potawatomi slaves to appease his wrath. Slavery did therefore exist in fact in the 17th century and the ordinance of 1709 merely sanctioned an established practice. One must in addition keep in mind the international principle in force at the time: a black man was a slave wherever he might be, unless he had been emancipated.
If Olivier Le Jeune was the first black man to appear in the St. Lawrence Valley, he had been preceded in New France by another, an anonymous man who died of scurvy at Port-Royal during the winter of 1606–7, and by Mathieu de Coste (de Costa), who was engaged by the Sieur Du Gua de Monts and who is supposed to have served in Acadia around 1608.
ASQ, Documents Faribault, 17. JR (Thwaites), V, 62, 64, 196–98. Lescarbot, Histoire (Tross), II, 455. Marcel Trudel, L’esclavage au Canada français: histoire et conditions de l’esclavage (Québec, 1960), 3–17.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 10 mai 1654.