Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Dena Goodman


The linkage between king and people in the discourse of the ancien capitaine is based on the dual roles of the captain as an intermediary representing the people to the king and as a royal officer commissioned by the king to exercise royal sovereignty. Maritime captains, Indian chiefs, and French missionaries participated in a discourse that advanced and nurtured the village leader and post captains as links between France and New France, between the king in the old world and his people in the new. Tracing the development of the diplomatic language in New France and observing the old Canadian captains as they extended French dominion into the Mississippi Valley, shows that the chain linking the king to his people was strained by the gap that developed between the interests of the king's service and the welfare of the colony itself. The city of Natchitoches planted by Louis Juchereau de Saint Denis on the border between two empires became the nucleus of a viable frontier community. The economic failure of the Company of the West created new opportunities for those who were ready to learn and apply the techniques of the ancien capitaine, and by demonstrating their ability to control a vast territory with a handful of soldiers, the old captains attempted to bridge the gap between the king's interest and the survival of the colony. The use of words and force by the ancien capitaine forged the strong link of the chain that tied the people--families, tribes, and traders--of the captain's post to the kingdom, confederacy, or federal republic which was best able to defend and protect his people and supply their needs. The ancien capitaine presented himself as the royal agent who could bring the benefits of protection and material prosperity to the people who accepted him as their spokesman. The effective frontier commandant was a royal officer who commanded the loyalty of the fictive kinship groups surrounding his post. The key to Spanish control was the enlistment of French captains in the service of the Spanish king.