About Shamwest

Family historian and author of Leaves in the Wind, a history of my British, French and Metis ancestors. Former pre-school teacher, traveler across Canada. Rose gardener.

The Voyageurs

In her book “Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth Century Montreal, Louise Dechêne traced 668 men who took part in the fur trade between 1708 and 1717, the peak departures for the “pays d’en haut” being between 1713 and 1717.  Most left in April-May and October to early November, spending every second winter in the colony. The engages who were generally novices, would leave in the spring and return from Michilimakinac or Detroit in late summer. They were hired mainly to man the canoes. More than half came from Montreal, representing a quarter of the local male population. Next to Montreal, Trois-Rivieres sent 54% of her men, then Varennes and Chateauguay between 21% and 30%. fur-trading was not a common occupation for two-thirds of the colonial population. In the outlying regions, travel west was all but unheard of  which begs the question of  how much the fur trade actually shaped the people’s character.

The majority of voyageurs were Canadian born and received easier credit from merchants as sons of “habitants” than new arrivals who were French soldiers or former soldiers. The soldiers most often married in the colony instead of going off into the country. Brothers followed in each others footsteps, either signing on together or forming partnerships to take advantage of trading permits.  In my family, Pierre and Jacques Beauchamp traveled to Detroit together along with their brothers-in-law, Pierre and Joseph Bazinet.  Some families who had long traditions in the fur trade were the Cardinals, Rivards, Tessiers, Trottiers, Vandry’s, Menards, Reaumes and Gareaus. These families account for about one quarter of the fur traders. Others might be hired because of their artisanal backgrounds. The crown required the skills of carpenters to work on the western posts and merchants would require surgeons, blacksmiths and gunsmiths who would trade on the side in the down seasons.  Dechêne states that  “only a thin line separated the voyageurs from small merchants” who would ply their trade in the west and turn to fur trading full -time if they did not succeed. Merchants would send their sons on these trips to learn their trade and they were often sent at a younger age than the others. Their training would often end in a shop in the colony or La Rochelle. Officers sons would often be sent west until their appointments. It was the same for many sons of the upper class. Since recruitment took place at the height of the agricultural season,  only a few rural boys would be hired and generally only as engages.

In the sample population for voyageurs, the average age of first departure was 22 or 21 for and engage.  Over half the men were between 20 and 30 years old and the average marrying age was typical for Montreal at 28.7. Most families were left behind in Montreal and many of the young men did not marry quickly even after they returned . After citing several reasons this might have been so, Dechene concludes that the most likely is that many of the men relocated south to the Mississippi where they so often traveled. What their fate might have been there is something to ponder.

Conditions on the fur trade expeditions were something akin to slavery and only the fittest could endure IF they didn’t drown or get a ruptured hernia which was often the case.  You would paddle 5 or 6 leagues ( approximately 30 kilometres) a day, live off of corn and bear fat for 12 to 18 months (hence the name “mangeurs du lard” for the men who made the short trips). and sleep under bark or branch . You would have to carry two bundles weighing 200 pounds held by a head strap along a portage of undetermined length. Canoes could tip, swarms of mosquitoes drive you mad. You would be depending on your companions for the length of the trip, a reason to choose family. If  you impressed the head voyageur on your first trip he might engage others from you family, thus networks were built.

By 1700, an engage would be paid 150-200 livres worth of beaver pelt a year. This would be turned into goods which would be given to creditors or his family. If the trip lasted longer, such as 12 to 18 months, he might earn 300-400 livres. Food was provided free and they could take along clothing, a gun a blanket and other personal effects which were detailed in the contract. These they could barter and could bring back a bundle of pelts worth 50 to 75 livres.  These wages were significant enough to bring many  of the men back year after year.

Next time, I will be looking at W.J. Eccles book, “The Canadian Frontier” and what he had to say about the Fur Trade.

If you would like to read about what a voyageur looked like and wore, you might enjoy this article.

 

Perils of the Trail

I spoke previously of Jacques Beauchamp, voyageur, an ancestor who had traveled with Alexander MacKenzie on his voyage to the Pacific in 1793 and was later killed by Eskimos (see A Dangerous Business)  Today I came across an account of his widow from the book North of Athabasca edited by Lloyd Keith. The account is taken from the journals of James Porter, factor of the Slave Lake Post from 1798 to 1801.

After dark on a cold and blowing November day, a woman arrived with her two children, apparently seeking sustenance and shelter from the weather. She was the widow of Jacques Beauchamp, one of the men who accompanied Alexander Mackenzie on his trek in 1793 to the Pacific Ocean.  Afterwards, he apparently remained in the north, for he was one of the engages who served under Duncan Livingston at the Trout River Post over the 1798-1799 trading season. In June of 1799, Beauchamp acted as Mckenzie’s steersman on the way down the Mckenzie River to establish the trade with the Esquimaux. As mentioned in the previous section,  the traders were attacked ( by whom is still controversial), and all the Nor’Westers including Beauchamp were killed. As sometimes happened in the fur trade, the family was left unprotected and had to fend for themselves. In this case, the woman and her children remained at Slave Lake Post , presumably receiving sustenance form Porter for eleven days. She then left with an unidentified Indian who arrived at the post the day before. At least she had found some protection for herself and her children.”

There remained some controversy over the murders of Livingston and his men. Was it really the Esquimaux who he intended to trade with or some of the Indians he had hired as labourers?  Attacks like this were common and paint a less romantic picture of the life of a voyageur. What happened to Jacque’s wife and children? More hours of research.

A Spirit of Independence

It took some time before the colony of Montreal became self-sufficient. Although filled with people of high rank and birth, all depended on the good will of the French King, firstly Louis XIII and then Louis XIV.  Accounts were kept, reports made, rules re-arranged but all with the King’s approval. This mode of existence was not for all. The French spirit of adventure, freedom and enterprise more often than not prevailed.

By the end of the 17th century,  French fur trade was well established in the upper Great Lakes.  Intermarriage with the Native women led to the rise of the Métis  or “mixed bloods”. The “country-born” were the offspring the British traders, all sometimes referred to as “half-breeds”.  The blend of Native and European customs made them unique. In a few generations, Métis settlements extended from the upper Great Lakes to the Red River and south through the Great Plains to the Arkansas River.

We find the two brothers, Jacques and Pierre Beauchamp (sons of original settler Jacques Beauchamp), at Fort Pontchartrain, Detroit listed on the rent list of 1707-1710 as non-payers since they are only there as “canotiers” or voyageurs (from the website,  “metis-history-info”.  Below an example of what a voyageur contract looked like, this one for Francois Beauchamp , grandson of original settler Jean Beauchamp.

Francois B. Voyageur contract 2

Francois B. Voyageur Contract 1748

The Voyageur Database at the St. Boniface Historical Society in Winnipeg, Manitoba supplies a printed record as well.

Francois

There are a few interesting points in these records. There is little to no information about the oldest emigrant brother, Pierre, something common among the voyageurs. On the written contract above, the head canoeman is Pierre Deschamps. That name is often interchanged with Beauchamp. As well, the lowest member is Francois Beauchamp perhaps taken as a protege by Pierre . In the list of people paying rent at Detroit, just above the Beauchamp brothers, are two Bazinet brothers, Pierre and Joseph. It happens that Pierre and Jacques married two Bazinet sisters, Anne and Marie.

A Dangerous Business

I had written previously about Jacques Beauchamp (born c. 1760), very likely a descendant of  Jacques Beauchamp, pioneer of Montreal, being with Alexander MacKenzie when he finally made it to the Pacific in 1793. That I found on this website. Then I found this article about Jacques Beauchamp, voyageur,  being killed by Eskimos. Genealogy Quebec has a Jacques Beauchamp listed as born in 1760 with no information for date or location of death.  I feel there is good reason to give credit to the previous article.

From Montreal to Manitoba

Here are the descendants of Jean Beauchamp,  said pioneer which run down to my father who was in the first generation the first to be born in Manitoba. The descendant being the male on the top left of the first tables. Interestingly, there would be 3 Jean’s before we get to a different name.

Family Record Jean Beauchamp and Marie Jeanne Mulouin m1701.jpg

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp and Marie Josephe Filion family.jpg

Jean b. Beauchamp and Marie Anne Duquet Madry family.jpg

Nicolas Beauchamp and Apolline Charbonneau family.jpg

BEAUCHAMP, Joseph 1807- PRDH Individual Record 695464.jpg

Theophile Beauchamp Baptism PRDH.JPG

Damase from nosorignes.JPG

Joseph Frederick Beauchamp nosorigines.JPG

Birth- Edmond Beauchamp.JPG

I admit to being a bit messy with this but each website only has certain years these documents are available for. The first are from a venerable source,  The Programme de recherche en demographie historique (The Research Program in HIstorical Demography) at the University of Montreal.    The green tables are from “Nosorigines” an excellent website for linking families together, a little less formal. Of course, I had to revert to my father’s actual birth certificate until I find something else but here you have the line down from Jean Beauchamp, pioneer in New France to my father, Edmond Beauchamp.

 

 

The Passing

Jacques Beauchamp, my 7th great uncle had passed away on the 8th of February, 1693. In her book, “Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth Century Montreal”, Louise Dechêne describes the inventory of his clothing; “Beauchamps’ wardrobe consisted of the basics: a coat, a jerken, and because nothing was ever thrown out, a second wornout and worthless jerkin, a pair of hide hose, woollen breeches, a hat , a pair of shoes, stockings, four used shirts, and two nightcaps, worth altogether no more than 40 to 50 livres.” In the notarial record below we see an transaction between Marie Dardenne, Jacques’ widow, and her sons-in-law right after an inventory has been taken. (Line 2364).

Quittance from Marie Dardenne to sons in law

Jacques died the same year as Lambert Closse famed Indian fighter who disappeared in the bush. Sadly he missed the land grants in Pointe Aux Trembles.

45894_83024005508_1004-00241

The oldest brother Pierre died the following year apparently on February 8, 1693. I sometimes wonder if he even existed, there is little to no information on him. Then on May 4, 1700, Jean, my 7th great grandfather died.  He, like most of Montreal’s inhabitants, had lived largely in debt, borrowing money whenever he could to buy more land. In 1666, shortly after his arrival in Montreal, he had married Jeanne Loisel, whose parents were among the earlier settlers. First, a contract had to be signed.

Mar. Contract J. Beauchamp.JPG

The wedding took place November 23, 1666. Marr-Beauchamp Loisel.jpg

They had a family.

Jean Beauchamp Jeanne Loiselle.jpg

At the time of his death he had accumulated some land which was always a priority for future generations of the family. In Quebec, property was not inherited by the oldest son but was divided equally among all the children, a custom brought from France. Jean had been granted land on Rue St. Jean and Rue St. Francois in Pointe Aux Trembles. A year after he died, The Great Peace of Montreal was established with the Iroquois. Below, his death record.

Original D.Rec. Jean BEauchamp Full Image.JPG

Jacques “Le Grand” Beauchamp and Jean “Le Petit” Beauchamp are considered to be among the founding families of not just Montreal but Canada itself. They suffered privation and constant threat but helped to build this land with courage and enterprise. Their descendants number in the thousands. Both are buried in the Cimetiere St. Enfant Jesus in Point Aux Trembles, Quebec.

Nature or Nurture?

I have in the last month attended two online “bootcamps” hosted by Thomas MacEntee of Hide-Definition Genealogy and his guest speaker Mary Eberle who is a genetic genealogist and DNA expert. The first was Getting Started with DNA and Genealogy and the second Additional Tools and Concepts (regarding DNA testing). The courses are fairly intense and absolutely full of information if you are thinking of using DNA testing as an adjunct to your genealogy research.  The price is more than fair for what you get which is the online talk as well as handouts. You will also get a copy of the webinar and handouts for one year afterward.  So, though these are past, they are still available at the links above.

The whole DNA testing phenomena I am sure,  has people curious and frightened at the same time. We are very excited by the leaps and bounds of technology but there is also an aura of the unknown about it which smacks of our worst science fiction movies.  “Security breach” used to be a term only the government had to worry about. Now it is an everyday part of our lives. Mary Eberle addresses some of these issues in her first lecture. She also talks about the various testing companies and how they work. Only one does the medical tests and that is 123 and Me.

All this brings once again to the fore the old concept of whether it is nature, for example our DNA or nurture, the way we are raised which makes us who we are. That question would certainly rise when dealing with criminals. I think we have all seen the two sides, the incorrigible child  of two gentle parents or the scholar who comes from a very disadvantaged background.  I wonder what DNA will tell us.

To me so far, it is leading to a lot of confusion and we are finding out the obvious; that a family is composed of many different genes which shows up in sibling differentiation. If you want to know how that happens, than you can study genetics. We can verify family stories or perhaps unverify them. Also, we can find out what path of emigration our ancient ancestors took out of Africa and where they ended up.  I myself am just getting used to the fact that we all originated from Africa to begin with!  I would definitely recommend getting some previous training and information before you embark on this journey, just to make it all worth the effort.