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.

The Wood Runners

By 1721, the very lifeblood of New France, the fur trade, was on the brink of disaster. The market in France was glutted and fur shipments were no longer being accepted. The King (Louis XIV) had tried in many ways to establish industry in the colony and control it to his benefit but had largely failed, at times because of lack of materials, at times lack of industriousness on the part of the colony itself. Various monetary systems were tried, even to the point of creating “card money” yes, literally marking playing cards with a stamp.

It did not take long for some of the men in the colony, who became known as the “coureurs des bois”, already hardened by the fur trade, to start trading for themselves. They knew they would have to compete with the Indian fur traders and to this end, ventured further inland looking for new trapping grounds thus stimulating western exploration. The royal reaction was to turn these men into outlaws and create trading licenses. Each license allowed the departure of two canoes loaded with goods. Only one canoe was allowed afterwards bearing 3 men and 400 pounds of freight. The licenses were sometimes sold for the profit of government and sometimes given to widows of officers, the hospital or other people in need.  At times, they would be sold privately to merchants or voyageurs. The licenses were valid for a year and a half, with each canoeman sharing in the profits which could be considerable, providing you didn’t drown first.

The bane of the fur trade was the running off of the young men into the woods, at one time 800 disappeared following the call of Daniel Dulhut. The fear was that they would not resettle and help to build the colony. The way of life was one of adventure and freedom, many adopting the ways of their native brothers. Unlike the natives though, they had a better capacity for the brandy which was part of the trading deal. An inebriated Indian could always be cheated in an unfair trade deal.  It was considered to be one the “tools of the trade”. The reason this continued was the fear of losing the young men to the English traders or driving them away from the Church.

The King had ordered that whipping and branding be given for the first offence of trading without a license and being sent to the galleys  for the second offense. Nothing the intendant Duchesneau did could prevent the debauchery and lawlessness. Therefore, siegneuries were abandoned, wives left behind and children ran about in the streets as men gathered and disappeared into the forest. They could be gone for years out of the reach of the law. Montreal  was the headquarters for the fur trade. When a party of “coureurs des bois” returned, the settlement would turn into a place of revelry and debauchery. The men would bedeck themselves in a blend of French finery and Native decoration, always with a sword at their side, the women following suit. Of course, after the celebration was over, confessions were heard and penances issued for the Church could not afford to lose any more souls.

One of the most famous coureurs des bois was Daniel Greysolon Dulhut who was a noblemen and career soldier from Lyon, France. His mission was to create a peace between the western Indian tribes and the French while fortifying areas that were under threat by the English and Iroqouis. To this end, he fortified the fort at Michillimakinac, Michigan and built Fort William on Lake Superior and later, Fort St. Joseph. He made an enemy of the intendant Duschsneau for disobeying the orders of the King and was slandered by La Salle in order to gain a monopoly on exploration rights for New France. In spite of this, he was able to secure the authority of New France in the Great Lakes area. He died in Montreal in 1710, leaving a part of his fortune to Charles Delauney who had cared for him. The city of Duluth, Minnesota is named after him.

It is likely that at this point, the ending of the 17th century and with the rise of the coureurs des bois a new nation started to form in New France, that of the Metis as they took  “country wives”, women they had children with but did not marry. Eventually, the coureurs des bois would fade away and in their place came the “voyageur”, a man whose business it was to legally transport goods up into the “pays des haut”.

There were several voyageurs in the family of which I would like to find out more. For now I will just list some. Francois Beauchamp, Michel Beauchamp, Joseph Beauchamp, Antoine Beauchamp, Pierre Beauchamp, Augustin Beauchamp, Hubert Beauchamp and Jean Beauchamp, very likely the son or grandson of our original settler. There were also voyageurs in my grandmother’s family (Daigneault), Richard Daigneault was one of them. Below are some maps of the fur trade hub lakes taken from a book by Eric Morse, Fur Trade Routes of Canada/Now and Then.

Fur Trade Routes Out of Lake Athabasca

Lake Superior Fur Trade Routes E. Morse

Lake Superior Trade Routes

Lake Winnipeg Fur Trade Routes. Eric Morse

Lake Winnipeg Trade Routes

Sources included but not limited to :
Francis Parkman, The Old Regime in Canada
Francis Parkman,  Pioneers of France in the New World
Canada: The Fur Trade at Lachine
St. Boniface Historical Society-Voyageur Contracts 
PRDH-University of Montreal
Genealogy Quebec
Ancestry.ca
Virtual Museum of New France