The Money of New France

Part of researching our ancestors’ lives is looking at their economic situation. How much real estate did they own? What did it cost? What personal property did they have and what was its value? Part of determining this information is having an understanding of the currency of the period and what the value of that currency is.

In the colony of New France, the monetary system is a bit complicated. The system was based on the livre. Just as British currency was divided into pounds, shillings, and pence, the livre was subdivided into sols and deniers. The major difference between the two currencies was that there was no livre coin. There were twelve deniers in a sol, and twenty sols in a livre. When written out, it was often abbreviated. Instead of saying 10 livres, 5 sols, and 3 deniers, it would be written as 10ll.8s.9d.

These denominations were the same in France as they were in the French colonies, such as New France and Saint Domingue. But the value of the money was different. Until 1717, the monnaie du pays or argent du Canada was worth less than the monnaie de France or argent de France. The value was lessened and reduced by one quarter. It was not until 1717 that the monies were equalized in value.

During this time there was no paper currency, only coinage. And coins were not minted in New France. They were brought into the colony by the King’s ships. This would cause shortages if a ship was delayed, especially if the next ship could not come until the following Spring.

In the late 17th century, The intendant Demeulle used playing cards as a form of paper currency. He signed  cards, declaring them to worth varying amounts of money. This did not cause inflation, as it was not meant to increase the amount of money in circulation, only as a temporary way of paying the government’s bills. When the next ship arrived, the cards were turned in for coins. This system was used until 1714, but in 1729 French-Canadian merchants demanded a return to the system in order to keep the economy moving. Some of this card money is still in private hands, and very collectible. This card was expected to sell at auction for $8,000.

To find out more about French-Canadian currency, see “The French Colonies and the Exchange on Paris” in John J. McCusker Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600­–1775 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978 (280–90) and “Economic Life” in Marcel Trudel Introduction to New France (Pawtucket, R.I.: Quintin Publications, 1997) 184–89.

Five Books for Your Reference Shelf

Despite the easy availability of information, good genealogists know that sometimes old school books are still the best way to learn and get information. Here are five books that deserve a prominent place on every genealogist’s reference bookshelf.

Elements of Genealogical AnalysisElements of Genealogical Analysis: How to Maximize Your Research Using the Great Migration Study Project Method
Robert Charles Anderson, FASG
(Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014)

Thirty years in the making, this book is an inside look into the strict research methodology used by those involved in the Great Migration Study Project, the scholarly project to document the origins of this group of seventeenth-century immigrants to New England. The first section is devoted to analytical tools for sources, records, and linkages. The second section discusses the problem-solving sequence from problem selection to problem resolution.


Going to the SourcesGoing to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing, Fifth Edition
Anthony Brundage
(Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons, 2013)

First published in 1989, this work is a great introduction to the process of historical research. While it focuses on the study of history, the skills are also applicable to genealogy. And good genealogists know that history is a major component of our research. It is brief, only 7 chapters and 5 appendixes in 176 pages.



Money and ExchangeMoney & Exchange in Europe & America, 1600–1775: A Handbook
John J. McCusker
(Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978)

In modern America, our currency is guaranteed by the federal government. This has not always been the case, however, especially in the colonial era. Terms like bills of credit; pounds, shillings, and pence; sterling; old tenor; current tenor; Proclamation Money; Lawful Money and more are often found in the documents we use in genealogy. But do you really understand what each of these terms mean? And how money in the colonies was linked to money in countries around the world? McCusker does an excellent job of explaining money and the way it was used in simple terms that can provide a greater understanding of your ancestors’ lives.

Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records
Patricia Law Hatcher, FASG, FGSP
(Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2016)

This work is an excellent resource for understanding the records left behind by your ancestors concerning their real estate. Whether the ancestors lived in state-land states or public-land states, this book will help you find the records and show you how to interpret them to get the most information from them. Originally published in 2003 by Betterway Books and long out of print, it has been reissued by the Genealogical Publishing Company. Although not a complete revision, it has been reviewed for obsolete references and information which has been either updated or deleted.


Women and the Law of PropertyWomen and the Law of Property in Early America
Marylynn Salmon
(Chapel Hill, N.Carol.: University of North Carolina, 1986)

Researching women can be one of the most challenging aspects of research for American genealogists. Could women own property? Could they sign contracts? What happened to their property when they were widowed? What about unmarried women? Salmon cuts through the misinformation and explains what the real implications were based on the law, and how that can impact your ancestral research.