Soldiers receive playing cards as wages

It was on this day in 1691 that Count Frontenac was forced to issue money made of cut-up playing cards, to pay the troops in the Quebec garrison.

According to Bank of Canada archives, in 1685, the colonial authorities in New France found themselves short of funds. A military expedition against the Iroquois, allies of the English, had gone badly, and tax revenues were down owing to the curtailment of the beaver trade because of the war and illegal trading with the English. Typically, when short of funds, the government simply delayed paying merchants for their purchases until a fresh supply of specie arrived from France. But the payment of soldiers could not be postponed.

The units of account in France at this time and in the French colonies in the Americas were livres, sols, and deniers. As was the case with English pounds, shillings, and pence, there were 20 sols to the livre, and 12 deniers to the sol. There were no livre coins. Other coins in circulation included the louis d’or, the écu, the liard, and the double tournois. Their values varied widely over time with changes in their gold or silver content, government policy,and inflation. For example, the value of the louis d’or ranged from 10 livres in 1640 to 54 livres in 1720 (McCullough 1984, 43).

Jacques de Meulles, Intendant of Justice, Police, and Finance came up with the  ingenious solution—the temporary issuance of paper money, printed on playing cards. Card money was purely a financial expedient. It was not until later that its role as a medium of exchange was recognized.

According to Wikipedia, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac et de Palluau (May 22, 1622 – November 28, 1698) was a French soldier, courtier, and Governor General of New France from 1672 to 1682 and from 1689 to his death in 1698. He established a number of forts on the Great Lakes and engaged in a series of battles against the English and the Iroquois.

Frontenac_bust

Bust of Frontenac at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa.

In his first term, he supported the expansion of the fur trade, establishing Fort Frontenac (in what is now Kingston, Ont.,) and came into conflict with the other members of the Sovereign Council over its expansion and over the corvées required to build the new forts. In particular, despite the opposition of bishop François de Laval, he supported selling brandy to the Aboriginal tribes, which Laval considered a mortal sin. The conflict with the Sovereign Council led to his recall in 1682.

His second term was characterised by the defence of Quebec from a British invasion during King William’s War, a successful guerrilla campaign against the Iroquois and English settlements which resulted in the elimination of the Iroquois threat against New France, and a large expansion of the fur trade using Canadian coureurs des bois. He died before his second recall to France.

Quebec’s most famous building and landmark, the Château Frontenac, is named after him, as is the Kingston Frontenacs ice hockey team.

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