Following Mackenzie

Let us see how close we can come to pinning down the said Jacques Beauchamp who traveled to the Pacific with Alexander Mackenzie. What do we know?

Firstly, we know that all Beauchamps from North America derive from the pioneers, Jacques and Jean Beauchamp. In my case, Jean Beauchamp. We follow the family down from Jean, using the PRDH records for each child to 1800 which is when they stop.  We need a Jacques who would be of age to be experienced and working as a voyageur at the time of Mackenzie’s hiring for the trip. The trip was in 1793 and the average age to start voyaging was 22 years.  Most voyageurs retired, many due to ill health, in their 60’s.

We know that Jacques gained a reputation when he refused to embark when ordered to by Mackenzie (the canoe had pretty much fallen apart by this time, causing mutinous murmurs among the men). From Mackenzie’s journal, “The next morning, Friday, while the work of repairing the canoe was in progress, the two Canadian scouts came in, hungry, cold, and ragged, with a report substantially the same as that of the Indian. They had seen the larger river, however, but were of the opinion it would be necessary to carry everything to it, owing to the obstacles to navigation in the stream they had embarked on. The canoe was patched up and on Saturday the journey was continued, four men in the canoe, the others carrying on shore part of the freight. That morning Mackenzie experienced the first instance of disobedience to mar the journey. Beauchamp flatly refused to embark in the canoe when ordered.” (1)  I suspect that Jacques was one of the scouts and realized what peril the men would be in.

The closest record I have so far of a family member who might have been on Mackenzie’s expedition is below. Again from the Voyageur Database at the SHSB.

Joseph Beauchamp contract with McTavish Frobisher (Mackenzies Voyage)The forename is different but name interchanges were common during that period.  Joseph Beauchamp is the name that figures most prominently among the family voyageurs in Montreal and the Northwest.  I saw no suitable candidates among Jacques Beauchamp’s descendants.  The whole family of this Joseph was from Lachine, Quebec, the start point of all expeditions. There is a brother Jacques at the bottom but no contract for him.

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp and Marie Josephe Filion family

Here is a map of the area and Mackenzie’s two voyages. undertaken to find a new trade route for the country.  The northern route to the Arctic covered 4800 kilometres (3000 miles), the route to the Pacific, 3700 kilometres or 2300 miles all with 8 other men in a birch bark canoe 25 feet long.  Mackenzie had been greatly influenced and inspired by Peter Pond‘s travels to the west.

Sir Alex MacK. Explorations

It is hard to describe the vastness of Canada and the thought of crossing thousands of miles over any part of it in a canoe is well… rather incredulous. Never the less, the man was found in Mackenzie who lead his men on to the end, not without strong resistance. In Volume 2 of his book “Voyages from Montreal…” he records one of many incidents which tested the endurance of every man there, recorded June 13, 1793.

” Thursday, 13. —At an early hour of this morning the men began to cut a road, in order to carry the canoe and lading beyond the rapid; and by seven they were ready. That business was soon effected, and the canoe reladen, to proceed with the current which ran with great rapidity. In order to lighten her, it was my intention to walk with some of the people; but those in the boat with great earnestness requested me to embark, declaring, at the same time, that, if they perished, I should perish with them. I did not then imagine in how short a period their apprehension would be justified. We accordingly pushed off, and had proceeded but a very short way when the canoe struck, and notwithstanding all our exertions, the violence of the current was so great as to drive her sideways down the river, and break her by the first bar, when I instantly jumped into the water, and the men followed my example; but before we could set her straight, or stop her, we came to deeper water, so that we were obliged to re-embark with the utmost precipitation. One of the men who was not sufficiently active, was left to get on shore in the best manner in his power. We had hardly regained our situations when we drove against a rock which shattered the stern of the canoe in such a manner, that it held only by the gunwales, so that the steersman could no longer keep his place. The violence of this stroke drove us to the opposite side of the river, which is but narrow, when the bow met with the same fate as the stern. At this moment the foreman seized on some branches of a small tree in the hope of bringing up the canoe, but such was their elasticity that, in a manner not easily described, he was jerked on shore in an instant, and with a degree of violence that threatened his destruction. But we had no time to turn from our own situation to enquire what had befallen him; for, in a few moments, we came across a cascade which broke several large holes in the bottom of the canoe, and started all the bars, except one behind the scooping seat. If this accident, however, had not happened, the vessel must have been irretrievably overset. The wreck becoming flat on the water, we all jumped out, while the steersman, who had been compelled to abandon his place, and had not recovered from his fright, called out to his companions to save themselves. My peremptory commands superseded the effects of his fear, and they all held fast to the wreck; to which fortunate resolution we owed our safety, as we should otherwise have been dashed against the rocks by the force of the water, or driven over the cascades. In this condition we were forced several hundred yards, and every yard on the verge of destruction; but, at length, we most fortunately arrived in shallow water and a small eddy, where we were enabled to make a stand, from the weight of the canoe resting on the stones, rather than from any exertions of our exhausted strength. For though our efforts were short, they were pushed to the utmost, as life or death depended on them.

This alarming scene, with all its terrors and dangers, occupied only a few minutes; and in the present suspension of it, we called to the people on shore to come to our assistance, and they immediately obeyed the summons. The foreman, however, was the first with us; he had escaped unhurt from the extraordinary jerk with which he was thrown out of the boat, and just as we were beginning to take our effects out of the water, he appeared to give his assistance. The Indians, when they saw our deplorable situation, instead of making the least effort to help us, sat down and gave vent to their tears. “

Later, as I previously mentioned, in 1804, Jacques as steersman for explorer, Duncan Livingston was killed by the Esquimaux along with the rest of the party. If he was steersman for Mackenzie, he would have been in the seat when the bottom was smashed out of the canoe. Throughout Mackenzie’s book, we hear repeatedly of the fears of the native people; fear of the environment, fear of attack and fear of starvation, problems they still face today.

  1. Mark S. Wade, Mackenzie of Canada p.133


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