Role and functions of the french colonial governors

Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site

French administration


The governor represented the king of France in the colony. From 1608, when Quebec was founded, until 1663, the governor held virtually all powers: military command, civil management, and execution of royal decrees. He could make civil and criminal judgments, with or without the participation of officers of the court, according to his will. Only financial management was outside his domain, since the colony depended on the authority of trading companies, which were more interested in the profits of the fur trade than colonizing the country.


In 1663, things began to change: the king of France took direct control of the colony and installed a true colonial government. New France became the equivalent of a French province. From that moment on, royal jurisdiction involved nomination of a governor, intendant and sovereign council to ensure the smooth functioning of the colony.

Although he lost the power to intervene in civil and legal administration, the governor remained the king's representative in the colony. This gave him precedence and moral authority over the events that marked colonial life. The governor had a high hand in military affairs, leading the troops, setting up and managing the militia and recommending the construction of fortifications.

He was also responsible for managing external relations, not only with neighboring colonies, but especially and above all with Amerindian nations, in order to protect and expand the French realm of influence in America. In wartime, the governor was invested with supreme authority. In other spheres of colonial activity, he had a right of review and in some cases exercised shared jurisdiction either with the intendant or council.

The French governor's three spheres of influence

The governor's influence extended locally, regionally and across the continent.


Since the French regime extended over much of North America and the fur trade itself was continental, the governor's influence was continent wide. But if in principle he had command over all of New France – from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico – in practice his territory was limited to the Saint Lawrence valley and Great Lakes region. This was due to the fact that Acadia, Newfoundland and Louisiana would eventually have their own governors.


With the administration of the Saint Lawrence valley being divided into three jurisdictions – Trois-Rivières, Montreal, and Quebec - this last jurisdiction over which he presided personally – it could be said the governor also fulfilled a regional function.

The presence of the militia was another source of the governor's power in the Saint Lawrence valley. During wartime, the governor could command the militia or demand that it carry out fatigue duty.


Locally, the governor could recommend the construction of fortifications and other military works to protect the capital.

Date modified :