Interestingly, I have found myself at a point where the lives of 4 different men intersect, two of them my ancestors. They would be Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, John McLoughlin, (chief factor of Fort Vancouver, Washington), my 4th great-grandfather, John Dugald Cameron and Joseph Beauchamp, blacksmith at Fort Vancouver and later Fort Victoria.
Simpson was not born under auspicious circumstances, he was the illegitimate son of George Simpson Sr. and an unknown woman in Lochbroom, Scotland. He was raised by his aunt, Mary Simpson and attended the parish school until he went to London in 1800 around the age of 14. There his uncle Geddes Simpson, who was a partner in a sugar brokerage firm, gave him work. When the company merged with Wedderburn and Company in 1812, Simpson met a man who would greatly influence his future. Andrew Wedderburn was brother-in-law to Lord Selkirk who established the Red River colony in Manitoba, Canada.
In the early 1800’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was in a bitter struggle for the fur trade with the North West Company (NWC), the original company based in Montreal. Any means, fair or foul were used to gain or block access to furs; price manipulation, selling liquor to the natives, even stealing the other’s furs and trade goods. When the officer in charge of the Athabasca country was about to be charged with murder and the governor in chief in danger of arrest, the young Simpson’s brother-in-law, then known as Andrew Colville, ushered him into an appointment as locum governor-in-chief. When the NWC offered to buy the HBC out, the company took it as a sign of weakness and made a bid to merge the two companies. The “amalgamation” took place in March 1821.
Once appointed, Simpson travelled tirelessly across the country, a whirlwind of closures and dismissals following him. The speed he moved at is aptly described in the book “Adventurers”.
“Around the point, two canoes come racing, flying across the water at a killing pace. Nine paddlers in matching dress, singing at the top of their lungs, bring the larger one surging up to the dock. They fall silent and a bagpiper leaps ashore. Behind him strides a man in a magnificent, tartan cloak with a tall beaver hat on his head. ……. In moments the two canoes have vanished up river. Only the echoes of the paddlers’ song remains to convince the bewildered men that the governor’s visit had really happened.”
Simpson was friendly enough but would not tolerate insubordination. No advancement was given to those who did not obey. Still, the officers in the company seldom experienced any economic downturns. That was reserved for the lower ranks. In 1821, he ordered John Lee Lewes and John Dugald Cameron to inspect the old NWC posts west of the Rocky Mountains. They reported back that profit would increase if personnel was reduced. The only benefit in keeping the Columbia River area open was to provide a buffer zone between the Americans and the rich fur area to the North.
Simpson left York Factory for Fort George in Astoria out flanking John McLoughlin, chief factor of Fort Vancouver (Washington), who had left 20 days previous. The two met in Fort George and together formulated plans to counter the Russian American trade. One of the counter measures was the trapping expedition that we previously found Jean Baptiste Beauchamp on with Peter Skene Ogden. The other plan was to open Fort Langley on the Fraser River. Fort Langley however, was not a good place to ship furs to by water. The flow of the river was just too erratic, furs would have to be traded overland.
After postponing a trip to London for years, Simpson decided he would return to see his uncle. While he was there he decided to marry Geddes daughter, Frances, in spite of the fact that he was 38 years her senior. Unsurprisingly, Frances found life in Canada next to intolerable and though she had 5 children with Simpson she was very frail. When they returned to England for a visit, she stayed behind for 5 years until finally returning in 1838. By that time he had established a residence in Lachine, Quebec.
The violent competition between the HBC and the NWC did not abate in spite of proclamations and warnings from London. In May of 1820, Simpson decided to deliver the Governors proclamation personally to the NWC at Fort William himself instead of the agents in Montreal. The chief factor there was John McLoughlin, later to become known as “the father of Oregon” and this would be their first meeting.
McLoughlin was born in 1784 at Riviere du Loup, Quebec. His father was a farmer and his mother the sister of Dr. Simon Fraser. John started an apprenticeship under his uncle at the age of 14 and by the time he was 19 he was granted a license to practise. Instead, he decided in 1803, to sign on with the NWC for five years as a physician and apprentice clerk. You can see the transcript of his contract with McTavish, Frobisher and Company here. Later that year, we see one of my distant cousins, Michel Beauchamp, contracted to travel to the same place, Kaministiquia (now Thunder Bay, Ontario).
John McLoughlin was a man of ” formidable appearance” and though he did practice medicine at the Fort , he turned out to be a very shrewd trader and bargainer. To that end he rose from £200 a term to a partnership in 1814. In 1816, he traveled to the Red River settlement just after the colony was caught in the Seven Oaks Massacre. McLoughlin was arrested (being with the NWC) and charged as being a part of the attack on the colony. Once he was cleared of charges, he realized that the future looked bleak for the NWC and encouraged a merger between the two rivals.
At this point, George Simpson arrived at Fort William with the proclamation. As was his way, McLoughlin endeavored to keep the peace, much to the chagrin of his men. This along with his natural abilities brought him the position of Chief Factor at Rainy Lake . Later he was sent to Fort George in Astoria and was replaced by Dugald Cameron. Soon he became the only chief factor in the Columbia District. The area had been largely unproductive by Simpson’s standards. Personnel was slashed and home grown produce was to replace costly provisions.
The war of 1812 had left the northern boundary undecided which meant that Fort George might very well end up inside American territory. Fort Vancouver in Washington was soon built and Simpson then ordered the Columbia area hunted dry. For the next 20 years McLoughlin would become in effect, the superintendent of the entire Columbia River district and controlled the reorganization of the Snake River expeditions, the freemen and Iroqouis were now minor in number and HBC servants used.
When Simpson decided to close Forts Taku and McLoughlin in 1843, we see the arrival of Joseph Ovide Beauchamp in Fort Vancouver. He is found listed in Bruce Watson’s book Lives Lived West of the Divide.
I have a great great grandfather named Joseph Beauchamp who lived during that time but he died in Quebec. He had a son Joseph my great grandfather. I suspect that this Joseph was again a removed cousin.
By all accounts and especially those of Roderick Finlayson who kept the Fort Victoria Journals, Joseph was a handful. His native wife, Marguerite died in 1847 after the birth of a daughter, Caroline, in Fort Vancouver. The following year he transferred to Fort Victoria where he promptly lost one of his fingers which continued to pain him for some time. He remarried in 1848 to an unknown woman and was noted as being sick and insolent most of the time. Then in 1850, he lost his daughter Caroline. He died at Fort Victoria in 1887. His HBC records have him listed as being in Oregon in 1853-4, his position listed as “sundries”. That piques my interest. I would conjecture that Joseph drank a bit. The entire Fort was dependent on him to make and repair the tools needed to keep things running and he is mentioned very frequently throughout Finlayson’s journals.
Among the many differences between John McLoughlin and George Simpson, the final rivet was the death of John McLoughlin Jr. at Fort Stikine, Alaska in April of 1842. Fort Stikine had a singular reputation for violence. John had been left in charge of the Fort when he was murdered by Urbain Héroux during a confrontation. Charges of self defense were never brought to trial because the incident took place in Russian territory. Simpson did not proceed on the matter but instead wrote a very terse letter to the father informing him of the matter, using the boy’s reputation as a precedent. McLoughlin wrote letter after letter to London claiming the injustice of the situation and his son’s name was eventually cleared. However, they were not about to let the indispensable Simpson go. It was decided that the lowering profits and McLoughlin’s charity towards the new settlers in the Willamette were sufficient reason to retire him. He died September 3, 1857 in Oregon City.
U.S. National Park Service Website: The Fort Vancouver Community
Watson, Bruce McIntyre. Lives Lived West of the Divide. Kelowna: Centre for Social, Spatial, and Economic Justice, University of British Columbia, 2010.
Christopher Moore, Adventurers Hudson’s Bay Company The Epic Story, 2000, Madison Press Books