Trade relations with Canada

Ph. May explains the difficult beginnings of the West Indian trade towards the metropolis and the necessity of the Colonial Pact (1665) in order to prevent the West Indian products from going abroad, particularly in the Netherlands. But one of the obligations of the Pact forced the metropolis to meet all the needs of the settlers. This proved difficult and during the 17th century, the nascent colony experienced moments of famine. It must be remedied. One of these remedies will be the establishment of a trade flow with Canada.

Philippe May has written the most remarkable economic history of Martinique, and remains a source of information for all the historians of this island.

… “Colbert himself had recognized the impossibility in which the Metropolis found itself to satisfy all the needs of Martinique. And, was it not unwise to leave the transportation of its wartime supplies entirely at the mercy of the Dutch and English fleets? Fortunately, Canada and Acadia, whose climate is similar to that of northern Europe, produced wheats like France, cod and fish were caught on their coasts, which, when salted, could replace the Irish meats. Their forests provided excellent wood for building ships. It was necessary at all costs to link the fate of these colonies, whose productions were so happily completed. In the event of hostilities, they would support each other; our American possessions would form as an organism capable, on occasion of turning in on itself and of living a reduced life, but of living. Traffic would be established between Quebec and Saint-Pierre. Better still, a circuit similar to that accomplished by slave traders in the South Atlantic, could be established between our coasts of the Ocean, Canada and Martinique. Our shipowners would bring metropolitan goods to North America, take the salted fish, the flour and the boards that they would trade in the islands, before joining their home ports, for tropical products. Canadians themselves, leaving and returning from the St. Lawrence, could profitably undertake this circumnavigation of the Ocean. ”

As early as 1964, Governor General Tracy assured that relations between the colonies could soon be established. Colbert, in 1668, when he had judged our trade fairly solid, ordered Bass to encourage the inhabitants to travel to Canada, from where they could draw the ships essential for the transport of their sugars. Intendant Talon had advised him that the Canadians were ready to liaise with them. Navigation would become ordinary between the two countries, which would be very useful. In 1670, three vessels built in Canada anchored in Martinique. To encourage these first trials, Colbert immediately unloaded all the foodstuffs that such ships, pushing their voyage further, could carry to France. But the king mainly had in mind the establishment of a reciprocal trade with Martinique and for that, it was necessary to assist the inhabitants in any case in the construction of the boats. Relevant orders were addressed to Talon and the Comte de Frontenac, administrators of New France.

The project was huge and grand, but once again. Colbert was ahead of his time. The distance between the two colonies was considerable for sailing ships and if it was relatively easy to ascend from the Antilles to the north, the winds were lacking in the opposite direction. It would have required large tonnage vessels, significant capital, sufficient supplies, to give rise to profitable traffic, all things which were still absolutely wanting. Despite the king’s refusal to grant him a 10-year privilege, which he had asked for, the Marquis d’Angennes-Maintenon, owner of the powerful Mouillery refinery (Saint-Pierre, Martinique), nevertheless tried to establish relationships with Quebec, by sending a light sailboat laden with cane brandy, sugar and tafia. But apart from the fact that exit rights were prohibitive, events did not serve him. A fire destroyed this ship and its cargo in Canada. Everything had to be started all over again. These daring efforts, Seignelay wished to testify that he approved them as Colbert himself would have done and he allowed the free entry of foodstuffs intended for Canada from Martinique. But these facilities were of no use; despite some successes, Canada’s trade is not successful. The minister was surprised; weren’t there big profits to be made? In Martinique, the intendant had a better vision of things. The colonists were not in force to undertake such a trade. Only the wealthy shipowners of Bordeaux or La Rochelle could engage in operations of such scale and so far in the future. But the war which arose made abandon in France, for a moment, all these projects.

The famine which raged in 1708 made them resume in Martinique. Could we not get from Canada the edibles that the Metropolis no longer sent, flour, fish, beer and cider and also wood, coal for sweets and linens for ships? But the farmers on the estate were struggling. As long as the Liberal ruling of 1685 was not respected, there was no reason to think about it. Salt, syrups, sugars, cotton, chocolate and jams were, without a doubt, excellent cargoes that were sold in Quebec. But maritime insurance was very high, especially in wartime and the wages of the crew during the six months of the expedition would amount to several thousand francs. Even, by selling in Canada with a low profit, immediately reused in cod, flour, salted fish and planks, there could only be a meager profit. Yet a well understood slave system, by reducing the length of journeys, could alone allow some gain.

The famine became more and more cruel, all these calculations were neglected and, in 1714. no ship having come from France, the colonists (of Martinique), made armaments to seek flour in Canada. No regular traffic was however established. In 1727, when the ban on foreign trade was reiterated, the minister saw fit in return for promoting relations with a country whose flour and saltings could replace those of the Dutch and the English. The exemption from the weight duty of 1 0/0 and 3 0/0 was granted, for all the foodstuffs of the island and, moreover, for sugar that of duty of 40 soils per quintal collected at their entry into France, but which one made pay at the exit of Martinique, when one authorized the transport elsewhere than in the Metropolis. This tax refund was useful. Those who, in 1727, had armed ships at Saint-Pierre did not do their business. It was not possible to make two trips in the year as they had hoped. The merchants of the island could not therefore engage in such high expenses for such a low traffic. Only ships from France were able to advantageously link the two possessions.

The trade of the Metropolis was rising indeed and felt its strength returning to it. The timing was right. Relations were established between Ille Royale and Canada with Martinique. Vessels left Luisbourg. The Minister had remarkably coordinated the efforts of all of his administrators. By 1730 strong ties had been forged between the three colonies. This new trade was mainly supported by the vessels of France, but little by little the colonists indulged in it themselves. A very ingenious solution had been discovered to the problem. Instead of going to Quebec, very far away, and which one could not reach in winter without facing with great risks the ice of the Saint-Laurent, the Martiniquais stopped at I’lle Royale, which allowed them to make the two trips per year necessary for the amortization of their expenses. This latter colony thus became the warehouse of Canada’s commerce. The best relations persisted between the two great French possessions, which continued to exchange the products of their territories and their industry.

“We always see with pleasure, wrote the intendant of Martinique, arriving Canadian buildings”. There were 19 in 1730, 25 in 1731, 34 dropped anchor in 1732 and unloaded goods for more than 800,000 pounds. 18 of these settler-owned ships returned to Canada carrying syrups and sugars for more than 100,000 pounds. Colbert’s dream had become a reality. In 1743, 46 ships landed at Saint-Pierre and 30 left. The Intendant of La Croix tried to further increase this traffic by creating a powerful society uniting shipowners from Rouen, Quebec and Martinique. But the project was “far too large, requiring too many correspondents and considerable capital?”. Ten years later, 35 trips still took place between Luisbourg and Martinique. Many outings were also possible in 1755. Martinique alone supported the unfortunate colony abandoned by the Metropolis. (note: France engaged in the 7 year war and had to fight on several fronts at the same time: in Europe, in Senegal, in the Antilles and in Canada, against the English in particular).

Then it was defeat and the Treaty of Paris (1763). Trade relations with Canada was wiped out.

(extract from the book ECONOMIC HISTORY OF MARTINIQUE by Ph. MAY)

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