Scales or Fur

The actual start of the fur trade was of course, with the natives themselves. By the end of the 16th century, around 500 Basque ships were fishing in Canadian waters. Basque country straddled north-western Spain and south-western France at the western end of the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe.  A whale fishery had been established at Tadoussac where the Saquenay River meets the St. Lawrence. The French had found the main route to the interior of the continent and French names were given to the rivers and islands along this route.  Along the way though they had alienated the Iroquois who occupied the area and controlled the neighboring tribes. If the Iroquois opposed them, the French had no hope of occupying the St. Lawrence or any area beyond it.

Cod from the Atlantic coast became an economic mainstay of northwestern France. The fishermen began to compete and moved further down the St. Lawrence.  The small trade of goods for furs was already going on but it did not take long until the fishermen realized it was a much easier way to make money.  Competition soon rose as the men competed to reach the tribes first. At the crux of this commerce was the economic partnership between the Europeans and the First Nations.

The fur of the Canadian beaver, useful in the creation of felt, was a superior pelt to the Russian or Scandinavian. It was first softened by being used as robes and coverings for the natives.  Then the swindle began, a few cheap goods, such as an axe or knife worth 1 livre might be traded for a pelt worth 20 livres.  Felts hats sold in Paris for 30 livres. The natives themselves saw little value in a sweaty fur.  Tadoussac, now became a summer meeting place for over a thousand Algonquin, Etchimin and Montagnais every summer. They learned to barter and wait until several ships arrived to drive competition up between the French.

Tadoussac Map

Site of Tadoussac, Quebec

When the Iroquois were finally “brought to terms” by the sending of French troops to Canada, the fur trade boomed at the expense of the colony. It would be some time before the King and his minister Colbert, would see anything like the centralized colony they had envisioned. The First Nations were bound to the French by commercial and military alliances, alliances that were formed to counter the competition of unlicensed traders at Tadoussac. The unlicensed traders were The Dutch and English who had now entered into the fur trade. These military alliances kept them contained along the Atlantic seaboard and the shores of Hudson Bay. In the early years of  the struggles between the French and English, the First Nations held the greater part of control because of their vast numbers.

During the time of negotiation with the Iroquois, in 1665, 400 Ottawa arrived at Trois-Rivieres with 150,000 livres worth of fur. The next year, 100,000 livres worth reached La Rochelle. In 1667, 550,000 livres worth of furs was sent to France. (1)  However, even with a 50% reduction in price, vast wealth was still to be gained. With peace, traders and natives could travel back and forth in safety, and even further into the west to avoid the native middlemen.  The call of wealth and adventure lured the Canadiens further and further into the wilderness.

  1. W.J. Eccles, The Canadian Frontier 1534-1760, 1969, Holt, Rinehart and Winston , New York

The Venture

At any given point in their life, a voyageur may have been an explorer, a settler or even a soldier but firstly, let us make a differentiation. In Canada, the term “voyageur” came into use primarily after Colbert, minister of the marine for Louis XIV, decided that licenses or “conges” must be issued for any merchant wishing to send his men to trade for furs.  This the “coureurs des bois”  who traded for themselves summarily flouted.  They were men who had adapted to the life of the Indian and in fact, took on many of their ways.  The voyageur one might view as an employee or merchant,  the coureurs des bois as an outlaw.

What was the personality of the voyageur like? We should firstly look at his life in France. The communities were small and unless he was a soldier it is unlikely that he would have traveled too far out of his parish. The church and his family would be foremost in his mind but he would be no stranger to war, for France was plagued by political and religious war for centuries. The family of Jacques and Jean Beauchamp, my ancestors, migrated from Nanthieul de Bourzac in Perigord, to La Rochelle on the coast for what reason I have not ascertained except for that La Rochelle was a haven for the Huguenots.  We know that La Rochelle was put under siege by Richelieu to bring her under control of France. So, we know that these people were hardened by war.

Yet, in her book, “The Voyageur“,  Grace Lee Nute describes the voyageur as having  “extreme courtesy”. She says ” His Gallic ancestry was nowhere so evident as in the deferential ease with which he addressed his superiors, the Indians, ladies or men of his own class. The French language came to his aid here, for though he could neither read not write, his by birthright were the graceful French phrases and expressions which mean little and yet are so effectual in establishing cordial relations. ”  (1)

His stature was short and compact , his torso large and muscular from hours of rowing.  His dark hair, kept long,  his clothing highly decorative after the manner of his native brothers. He was often dirty and unkempt. When he got older, he was likely to bear the scars of an animal attack or accident and be crippled with rheumatism.

In the spring, some hundred canoes would leave Montreal for the west to transport trade goods and supplies for the garrisons.  They would travel up the Ottawa River to Michilimackinac, then to Lake Michigan and the Sioux country, overland from Lake Superior to the Mer de l’Ouest which was a huge region centered around Lake Winnipeg.  Then they paddled along the Saskatchewan River to the Rocky Mountains. Many traveled only to Michilimackinac, Green Bay or Kaministiquia , delivering goods and returning to Montreal with pelts. Others would stay to trade with the Indians or would be simply returning to a semi-permanent home from which they would trade further inland.

Fur Trade Posts of La Mer de l'Ouest, 1750

Fur Trade Posts of La Mer de l’ Ouest

Before they could even leave Montreal though, there was a procedure that had to be followed. A permit had to be obtained by the merchant (who was supplying the goods to be traded with the Indians) to send one or more canoes to a specified post. It also controlled the area to be traded in, the number of men, their names and places of residence. The men were required to carry a musket and were limited to four jugs of brandy each which they were forbidden to use in trading with the Indians. There was a large fine if the crew list was changed, and if a voyageur did not give his correct name or residence.  Thus, the authorities kept track of all the men who left the colony and where they were at all times. A contract was duly notarized with the merchant who hired them. It stipulated the destination and duration of the voyage, wages and position in the canoe, stern, bow or center. Sometimes the men would be given goods they could trade on their own account. (2)

Below an example, with two of the men in my family, Pierre Hunault Deschamps (husband of Catherine Beauchamp) as lead voyageur and Francois Beauchamp as an engage.

Notes: If you right click on your mouse, you should get an option to open the images in a new page which should enlarge them.

Footnotes- (1) Nute, Grace Lee , The Voyageur, 1931, Reprint 1986 D. Appleton, New York
(2) Eccles, W.J., The Canadian Frontier, 1534-1760, 1969 Holt, Rinehart and Winston,Inc.,New York

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.

 

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.

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

The Infant Colony

I am  enjoying Francis Parkman’s “Pioneers of France in the New World”.  Though his writing may seem at times slightly archaic, there is no doubting his mastery of the metaphor. In the book, he describes New France as a head (king, noble and Jesuit), under which “the lank lean body would not survive“. Conversely, New England was “strengthening and widening in a slow and steadfast growth, full of blood and muscle, a body without a head“.

Of New France he says  “Even commerce wore the sword, decked itself with badges of nobility, aspired to forest seigneuries and hordes of savage retainers.”  That is a little strong but it does give the gist of things. Without support the feeble colony simply would not survive. The restrictions placed on immigration and commerce would not allow for the expansion New England was experiencing, where a man could go as far as he was able without interference. Albeit, he wasn’t going to get much help. One gets a sense that the people were simply pawns in the game of European expansion.

However, pleas for help did not fall entirely on deaf ears. In 1665, Louis XIV decided to once and for all stop the terrorist raidings of the Iroquois who from the beginning, had no idea of anyone actually settling on the land, or passing it on into perpetuity. Trade with them you may, but own the land no. He also decided to get serious about governance of the colony and cancelled the charter of the One Hundred Associates. Then he created the Sovereign Council out of the old Council of Quebec which would have jurisdiction over justice, police, roads, finance and trade.

In 1665, the St. Sebastien arrived in Quebec. On board were  Prouville de Tracy, the commander-in-chief of the troops, Sieur de Courcelle, the governor, and Jean Talon, the Intendant of justice, police and finance. There were soldiers, settlers, laborers and supplies for the starving colony. The great Jean Baptiste Colbert, Louis’ minister of finance had sent a letter of instructions with Talon on how to deal with the Church and State, the West India Company who would be their trading partner and how to deal with the Iroqouis.

Tracy led the troops in a major attack on the Iroqouis and held them in defeat until peace was made. That in itself is a harrowing story. He returned to France in 1667, leaving  Remy de Courcelle as governor and Talon as intendant. With peace estabished, Talon was able to go ahead with his plans to build New France. He conducted the first census of Canada, showing Montreal at the time as having 3,215 European residents. Quebec the largest had a population of 2100 people, Montreal 635 and Trois Riviers, 455. (from Stats Canada).

Land that had been initially granted to the Jesuits was forfeit to the building of houses for new settlers who would be granted land, food and tools as well as payment for clearing the first two acres in two years. In return, they must clear the next two acres in 3-4 years for new arrivals. With Jean Beauchamp, arriving in 1666, one would suppose that he took advantage of this offer.

The King had declared that all young men were to be married by age 20 and girls 14 or 15, with severe penalties for those who avoided the state, such as loss of hunting and trapping rights. Here, it is possible that Jean’s sister Marie who died at 14,  may have died in childbirth. Within a year Jean was married to Jeanne Loiselle, the contract below. Note the name of Marguerite Bourgeois (Bourgeoys) on the contract. Jeanne was the first student at the first school established by the Sister in Montreal. The marriage record I have previously posted.Mar. Contract J. Beauchamp

There was financial reward for having children, 300 livres a year for the first 10 and 400 livres for 12 or more. This was a successful action.  In 1665, there were 3,215 settlers, and 533 families. After three years, the population had grown to 6,282 settlers and 1,139 families.

When Jean and Jeanne were married she would have been 17 years old and he 22. She did not have a child until 1699 but it did not live.

Death of Jean's 1st child 1669.JPG

You can see at the bottom she was attended by a master surgeon, so a fortunate girl. Another child, Marie was born the next year. As I have no landing record for Jean I do not know what he may have been engaged to do when he came but most of the family seem to have been primarily habitants. There are several notarial acts for Jean, mostly in the form of land transactions and a few donations to his children. On May 4, 1700 he passed away in Pointe Aux Trembles after settling his debts having enough money to gift his priest, Father Chaigneau 200 pounds. Jeanne died on October 4, 1708.  Interesting that Jeanne had 3 priests in attendance!

Death of Jean Beauchamp -1700 prdh

Death of Jeanne Louiselle Beauchamp pdrh 1708

Making Good

I am in receipt of a translation of the book,  “Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth Century Montreal”, the original written in French in 1974 by Louise Dechêne a professor at McGill university. This version was translated by Liana Vardi in 1992. I won’t go into the trouble I went to to find a copy as well as avoid exhorbitant fees for it.  All I can say is thank you Amazon.com. Note it was the American site that worked for my purposes. Fortunately, I don’t live too far from the border. The book is considered to be somewhat of a “holy grail” in researching New France. It has much quantative information in it to give a more certain idea of what it was actually like in Montreal at that time.

Imagine my surprise when I was doing an initial browse through the book and I came upon the name of my 5th great uncle, Jacques Beauchamp! This was not the first time I got a sense of the type of person he was. He just seems to be well-known in the community. With a dit name like Le Grande (as opposed to Jean’s dit name of le Petite), one imagines a rather boisterous personality. To quote Madame Dechêne, speaking of an inventory, of death assetts,

“Jacques Beauchamp of Pointe-aux-Trembles owned such a house. He died at the age of fifty-eight, leaving behind a widow, five married daughters, two boys aged fifteen and seventeen, and a net worth of 3000 livres. ” Then after describing living conditions, she states ” Beauchamps’ wardrobe consisted of the basics: a coat, a jerkin (a sleeveless leather jacket), and because nothing  was ever thrown out, a second worn out 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 or 50 livres.”  At this point, the author is disputing the reputation the habitants had for strutting about in their finery, illustrating their ignorance of agricultural life.  She wonders how people who lived with so little could possibly have the means to own such clothing. At any rate, 3000 livres was a fairly good sum for the times according the table of assets she presents.

In her opening chapter, Dechene says that until 1668, the settled population of aboriginals at the fort was nearly double that of the French. Some came for protection, some to attend the Jesuit or Supulcian missions. In the summer there would be a huge fur trade fair where hundreds of people from the different nations would visit and trade for fur. The governor would greet the native leaders with great ceremony. Care was supposedly taken to prevent the molestation of the native people by the French but did not preclude them dropping half the value of their trade goods on liquor even after the fair.

At Sunday Mass, the colonists would again be in contact with the aboriginal people. Their children attended the same school, each sex being trained in useful skills. This did not apply to the country children who were only taught catechism or the Christian doctrine. Native people near the fort were allowed to grow subsistence crops but could never own land. The movement to new land when the soil wore out was not possible for them once the surrounding land was granted to French colonists. This caused a migration away from the fort the land further away. So although initially, the King had granted the right to farm for subsistence, the lands returned to the Jesuits and Supulcians in this way and they could then collect dues from the French. Some were encouraged to build in the European way but problems arose there also. Cattle grazed in the cornfield once the wheat was up and the native men went away hunting in winter leaving the women with farm chores they could not do on their own. The French kept them in debt by supplying them with the things they needed which was repaid with furs.  Many did military service for mere subsistence. The concensus was that to actually pay them would be a waste since they would only drink it away. When they did drink there was often violence but justice was stalled to keep relations going.

There were few known inter-racial marriages in Montreal, neither race accepted it. Some women were kept in the country, the “country wives” but generally immoral behaviour was not sanctioned by either the French or native. An illegitimate child might be born occasionally but there was no racial blending as there would be later in the West. In the end, the colony of New France served itself. The emigrants were at least given a vehicle to establish themselves in the colony but the native people found no way to win . Both started in poverty but it would only change for one group. The other would be displaced.