MONETARY VALUES IN 1650 - 1750 IN NEW FRANCE COMPARED TO TODAY
Compiled by Gerry Lalonde, ACGS Member #3312
When researching your ancestors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, if you go through the notarial acts to find your ancestors' farmland or homestead, you will read about the purchase of so many "arpents" of land for so many "livres", and many other units of measure of land, money, crops, etc. It would be very nice to know exactly what was bought for exactly how much money. Exact, we cannot be. But it is very important to our research to know roughly what we are reading in today's terms.
The best way to accomplish this is to equate everything to the value of labor; anybody's labor. First, the coin of the day was: 20 sols = 1 livre. There were other coins, but they were infrequently mentioned in the literature we encounter in our research. The following table shows the value in French livres of various labors during the period of 1650 to 1750 and compares that with wages of today.
Rates of Pay in 1650 and 1750 Livres and in 1997 Dollars
Livres: Wages per 10-Hr. Day
Livres: Wages per 300-Day, 3000/Hr Work Year
Dollars: Wages per 2000 Hr/Work Year
Low Rank Official
High Rank Official
What we are trying to show, in table form is the rate of pay in 1650 compared to the rate of pay in 1750, expressed in the currency in circulation at the time (the livre), and that in turn compared to present day wages in dollars.
The first thing we notice is that, in those one hundred years, inflation doubled the price of labor. This is a very low rate of inflation and was common in the pre-industrial period. The next thing to note is that our ancestors worked a 3000-hour work year compared to 2000 hours worked per year today.
Let's use an example to show how buying a house in 1750 compares to buying a house today. Start with our ancestor, Pierre, who was a skilled stonemason earning 1800 livres per year. Back then, a good house cost an average of 4000 livres. That is 2.2 times his yearly wages. Today's skilled worker earns about $40,000 per year. If we multiply that by 2.2, it comes out to $88,000. This sum will buy a very modest house. If we factor in the fact that Pierre had to work half again as many hours as our modern skilled worker, then we must multiply our modern worker's wages ($40,000) by 3.3 (2.2 x 150%), which gives him a $132,000 house .much better. We can conclude that Pierre, in 1750 was in the same financial position as our modern skilled worker is today. Pierre's house had no inside plumbing, or electricity and a few other minor inconveniences; our modern skilled worker is at a slight advantage, but that's progress.
Next, let's look at the cost of other things that our ancestors had to buy. But first, we must look at other measures of the day in New France.
1 linear arpent = 192 Ft.
1 square arpent = 36,864 sq. ft., or 5/6 of an English Acre.
1 lieu = 84 arpents = three miles
1 toise = 6.4 ft
1 square toise = 40 sq. ft.
1 minot = 1.05 bushels
The following table gives the value of various goods in 1650 (the first figure) and in 1750 (the second figure).
COMMODITY VALUES IN 1650 AND 1750 EXPRESSED IN SOLS & LIVRES
1 Wheat Bread, 4 lbs
1 lb. Butter
1 lb. Beef
1 lb. Wheat Flour
1 Minot Wheat (60 lbs)
1 Minot Peas
1 Minot Corn
1 Gallon of Wine
1 Livre *
1 Hogshead of Wine = 63 US Gallons
1 Gallon Hard Liquor
1000 Bd. Ft. Finished Lumber
1 Ox (7-8 Yrs. Old)
NA in 1650
1 Cord Wood
1 Church Pew (rental /year)
Farmland, raw, uncleared
Farmland, 20 Arpents, Cleared
Farmland, 20 Arpents, Cleared, plus a cabin and barn
Farmland, 40 Arpents, Cleared, plus cabin, barn & stable
It cost about 6 Sols to feed a man for one day in 1650, and about 12 Sols/day in 1740. That means that about 30% of the income of an unskilled worker went for food.
a.. Note that the price of wine remained the same throughout the 100 years of the survey. Vive le vin!
Sources: The above data was compiled by Gerry Lalond, American-Canadian Genealogical Society, Manchester, New Hampshire, from the following sources:
Your Ancient Canadian Family Ties, by Reginald Olivier, in the "How To" section of the ACGS Library.
Les Crimes et les Chatiments du Canada Francais, by Raymond Boyer, Call #H246 in the ACGS Library.
The Seigneurial System in Early Canada by Richard Colebrook Harris, Call #H54 in the ACGS Library.
A Note from Gerry Lalonde:
The sources of the material in the paper are listed at the bottom of the article. As far as I'm concerned you can use the material in that guide as you wish. A word as to where it came from. I got the data for values of various coins of the day from the book, "Les Crimes et les Châtiments Au Canada Français", by Raymond Boyer. He in turn got it from old published sources in the Archives of Quebec. Other materials came from "the Seigneurial System in Early Canada"' by Richard Colebrook Harris. Again, this material is not copyrightable because it is common knowledge of the day passed down from generation to generation. The only thing that can be copyrighted is the way I put the data together in order to make a comparison between the different times. I was an economics major in my college days and do a lot of accounting so this sort of thing fascinates me. I do not wish to copyright the material so it is free for you to use in any way you wish. Have fun with it as I did.
Gerry Lalonde, 3312