Date of Award

Summer 8-5-2019

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jacques Ferland

Second Committee Member

Alexander Grab

Third Committee Member

Stephen Hornsby

Additional Committee Members

Richard Judd

Liam Riordanl


Starting in 1755, the British began the process of not only expelling some eleven thousand Acadians from their homes and farms, but also of uprooting a culture that had survived for over one hundred and twenty years. This dissertation applies a legal historical approach to elucidate a crucial feature of that culture, namely Acadian land tenure. In particular, it traces the way in which seigneurialism, and the French law supporting it, were central to property formation in Acadian agricultural settlements from their inception to their destruction in 1755.

Scholars have been at best ambivalent, and at worst hostile to the notion that seigneurialism existed in l’Acadie. While all agree that it was the intent of the French crown to transplant seigneurialism to l’Acadie, most question whether it actually took root. In some cases, Acadians have been portrayed as New England yeoman farmers, and several have written that seigneurialism was “moribund” in l’Acadie. Most recently, scholars have acknowledged that some Acadians paid dues to seigneurs to secure their properties, but continue to question whether seigneurialism was central to property formation.

A review of seigneurialism as it had evolved in France by the seventeenth century, and as it was practiced in Canada, begins the study and provides a baseline from which to assess seigneurialism’s implementation in l’Acadie. This is followed by a close analysis of surviving concessions and land contracts. While most notarial documents were destroyed, an important collection remains, many of which are unpublished. These provide clear evidence that most Acadians held their land from, and paid dues to, a seigneur. Together with other documentary evidence, including accounts of seigneurial charges collected by the British after 1713, these legal documents demonstrate that seigneurialism not only survived, but was pervasive in the agricultural settlements.

A final chapter describes Acadians’ land use practices, as revealed chiefly by their contracts. These show that while Acadians retained important elements of their French cultural inheritance, they also forged new custom in response to environmental conditions, most particularly the practical and equitable practices used in connection with the development of the marshes on which their agriculture depended.