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

 

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

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.

An Eloquent Racism

If you are Canadian, you may have grown up with a subliminal awareness of the differences between us and our American neighbors. You would be hard-pressed to find it described more eloquently than in the writings of Francis Parkman. Parkman was the son of a wealthy Boston family who attended Harvard. He spent time living with the Sioux in 1846  where he saw the effects of disease and alcoholism. He also suffered from ill health and lived through the Civil War.  His descriptions of native people and pioneering French  are a bit jarring though he does make feeble attempt to counter that along the way. To some degree it was like reading a western novel. All his books are wonderfully descriptive especially of the forest environment which was his passion.

From The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian Wars (published in 1887) ;
With steady and well ordered march, the troops advanced into the great labyrinth of woods which shadowed the eastern borders of the river. Rank after rank vanished from site. The forest swallowed them up and the silence of the wilderness sank down once more on the shores of the Monongahela.”

His descriptions of  “the Indian”,
” … Some races, like some metals, combine the greatest flexibility with the greatest strength. But the Indian is hewn out of a rock. You can rarely change the form without destruction of the substance . . . . . it is this fixed and rigid quality which has proved his ruin. He will not learn the arts of civilization, and he and his forest must perish together.”
He is never jovial in his cups, and maudlin sorrow or maniacal rage is the sole result of his potations.”

Then the author redeems himself,
And our interest increases when we discern in the unhappy wanderer the germs of heroic virtues mingled among his vices,  — a hand bountiful to bestow as it is rapacious to seize,  and even in extremest famine,  imparting its last morsel to a fellow-sufferer;  a heart which,  strong in friendship as in hate, thinks it not too much to lay down life for its chosen comrade;  a soul true to its own idea of honor, and burning with an unquenchable thirst for greatness and renown.”

He is trained to conceal passion and not subdue it. . . . . This shallow self-mastery serves to give dignity to public deliberation and harmony to social life.  Wrangling and quarrel are strangers to an Indian dwelling.”

He looks up with admiring reverence to the sages and heroes of his tribe;  and it is this principal, joined to the respect for age, springing from the patriarchal element in his social system, which, beyond all others,  contributes union and harmony to the erratic members of an Indian community.” 

He is able to distill down a description of the differences between the French and English colonies.
In the valley of the St. Lawrence, and along the coasts of the Atlantic,  adverse principles contended for the mastery.  Feudalism stood arrayed against Democracy;  Popery against Protestantism;  the sword against the ploughshare.  The priest, the soldier, and the noble, ruled in Canada.  The ignorant light-hearted peasant knew nothing and cared nothing about popular rights and civil liberties. Born to obey, he lived in contented submission, without the wish or the capacity for self-rule. “

“The settlements along the margin of the St.Lawrence were like a camp, where an army lay at rest, ready for the march or the battle, and where war and adventure, not trade and tillage, seemed the chief aims of life. . . . . Over every cluster of small white houses glittered the sacred emblem of the cross. . . . .and in the towns and villages, one met at each moment the black robe of the Jesuit, the gray garb of the Recollet, and the formal habit of the Ursuline nun.”

“Buoyant and gay, like his ancestry of France, he made the frozen wilderness ring with merriment, answered the surly howling of the pine forest with peals of laughter, and warmed with revelry the groaning ice of the St. Lawrence. Careless and thoughtless, he lived happy in the midst of poverty, content if he could but gain the means to fill his tobacco-pouch, and decorate the cap of his mistress with a ribbon. The example of a beggared nobility, who proud and penniless, could only assert their rank by idleness and ostentation, was not lost upon him. “

Again, the author admits to some redemption when he writes that the Canadian is ” a rightful heir to French bravery and French restlessness “,  and found  “ ample scope in the service of the fur-trade, the engrossing occupation and chief source of income to the colony.” He states that the fur-trade engendered a peculiar class of restless “bush-rangers” more akin to Indians than white man which allowed him to explore and gain for France tremendous territory, establishing forts and missions all through the western wilderness.  Surrounding these outposts, were small villages of Canadians who lived under their protection. Here agriculture was given up to the fur-trade and the “restless, roving Canadians, scattered abroad on their wild vocation, allied themselves to Indian women and filled the woods with a mongrel race of bushrangers.

Meanwhile the English settlers below them, burgeoned and grew in industry but “the independence of authority, which were the source of their increase, were adverse to that unity of counsel and promptitude of action which are the soul of war. In Canada, “the priest and the soldier went hand in hand; and the cross and the fleur de lis were planted side by side.” 

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.

The Ending of Hostilities

The story of how peace came to be between the Five Nations varies but I will tell the one most interesting to me. The Holy Man, Dekanawidah, born of a virgin mother in the 16th century, had a vision telling of peace among the Iroqouis nations. He travelled the land in a white canoe telling the people that they must cease their mourning wars and unite under the Great Tree of Peace. One day, he found his way blocked by a man who had sunk to extreme depths after the death of his family and had become a cannibal. Dekanawidah went to the man’s cabin and climbed onto the roof to wait for his return. When he returned with his latest victim, Dekanawida peered down into the cooking pot from a smoke hole above. The man saw the reflection  in the water and thought it was a noble and peaceful version of himself. Feeling remorse, he emptied the kettle and resolved to stop killing.

Dekanawidah climbed down from the roof and spoke the message of peace. The man offered himself as a disciple and was named Hiawatha, meaning “he who combs”, symbolizing the combing and straightening of people’s minds. Hiawatha took his message to the fierce Seneca, the last to yield. Finally, his diplomacy won and the Five Nations clasped hands. Then Dekanawidah planted a white Tree of Peace whose roots spread to the four corners of the earth so all could follow them and seek shelter. On the top of the tree, he placed the Eagle That Sees Afar, a symbol of military preparedness. He put antlers on the heads of the 50 Iroqouis chiefs and gave them the Words of the Law, said to help set the framework of the American Constitution, notably that of government by representation. With confederacy, the Iroqouis became the most powerful tribes on the continent, confident and strong., though not strong enough to fight the diseases and military power of the white man.

Image result for great peace iroquois

 

Lords of the Forest Part 2

The land of the Iroqouis was one of great fertility and beauty and formed a large rectangle which was divided into five north-south strips, one to each tribe. Each area had its own lake or river system and was governed by it’s own council. Each council had a ceremonial fire, the smoke of which together was seen as a giant longhouse, more than 200 miles from end to end. The eastern door of this symbolic longhouse was guarded by the Mohawk tribe. The western door was protected by the Seneca’s. In between were the Oneidas and Cayugas and between them were the Onondagas. By the late 1600’s, as other tribes were defeated, the influence of the Longhouse spread from New England to the Mississippi and from Ontario to Tennesseeiroquois-five-nations-1650

The Seneca in 1680, numbered near 5,000 and that population contained 1,000 of the fiercest warriors in America. The settlement contained four main villages with 150 longhouses. The longhouse was a rectangular structure made from poles and sheets of bark.  It could measure up to 150 feet long and 25 feet wide. At each end would be painted the symbol of that particular clan. Inside, every 12 feet, a small fire burned, the smoke rising up through vents in the roof.  Along the walls, were platforms, one upper for storage and one lower for sleeping, each partitioned off to accomodate a whole family. From the rafters hung braids of corn, strings of dried apples and squash, hanks of tobacco and bundles of roots. Each family occupied a position in the whole, part of a family descended down from the mother’s line for the Iroqouis were a matrilineal society. The women owned all material goods except for the men’s personal belongings. When a boy married, he moved into his brides house and when a girl married, her husband joined her family.

longhouse

Longhouse Interior

The lineage ran from family to clan to half-tribe and then whole tribe. Children had to marry outside of their own clan and preferably not to a blood relation. It was in the power of a woman, if her husband was killed to demand compensation in the form of an enemy captive. When the captive was brought, she could adopt him or have him tortured or even killed.

A matriarchal society was the natural outcome of the life of the men in the tribe who spent vast amounts of time away, at war, hunting or searching for beaver to trade. They could be away as long as three months. This left most of the camp maintenance up to the women who worked tirelessly, harvesting up to a million bushels of corn a year as well as squash, beans and sunflower seeds. Corn, squash and beans were known as “the three sisters” and were planted with each other.  Corn would provide the stalk for beans to grow up and squash would shelter the earth from the heat.  Surplus food was stored in underground granaries. When their husbands came home loaded with meat from deer, elk or beaver carcasses, a feast would be held with stews made with meat and vegetables, corn dumplings, mushrooms, baked apples, nuts and berries. (It is interesting to note that these people were among the first Amerindians to have tooth decay as corn turned to sugar in their mouths. The northern peoples had strong cavity free teeth, though their gums may have suffered.)

Of course, the most important role of an Iroqouis woman was to bear children. When her time came, she would quietly slip off and the baby would be born in the privacy of trees and shadow. The child was washed, wrapped and carried back to the waiting village. The mother would nurse him until three or four years of age. When the mother must travel or was otherwise busy, she would place the baby in a “tikinaagan” or cradleboard which could be attached to a horse or stood on the ground while she worked. If she carried a pack, the strap would be across her forehead, otherwise on her chest or arms. Below an older child who probably did not enjoy being constrained. Being confined in these cradleboards often resulted in hip displacement as it forced the femur into an unnatural position.

mohawk-cradleboard

Mohawk Cradleboard

As the Iroqouis child grew, often with his father absent, his mother would be sure that he was loved but not spoiled. Children were taught from an early age their gender role, boys fighting each other with pretend clubs and girls learning their role by following their mothers to the fields. They were taught to eat sparingly and were bathed in cold water to toughen them. Corn played a large part in the care of children, being used to bandage fingers, deworm with a brew from corn ashes and scrub with the cob when they were dirty.

From the age of eight years, each child began to practice the role they would play. At puberty,  a boy would make a trip into the forest with an elder to find his guardian spirit, a vision quest. He might throw himself against rocks repeatedly to prove his manhood and recount his dreams in detail to determine with the elder,  what his guardian spirit would be. There was no greater day for a young man, than when he rode off to his first battle at around age eighteen.

The Seneca, “keepers of the western door” were rivaled in their ferocity only by their eastern brothers, the Mohawk. The name “Iroqouis” was given to them by the Algonquian, meaning “Nation of Snakes”. Their style of fighting was ambush, their weapons as silent as the mocassined runners themselves;  tomahawk, bow, arrow and knife often made of flint sharpened to a razors edge.  The sound of the hatchet in a tree meant it was time to go on the warpath, generally to avenge the death of one of the tribe. After a raid, a tree would be emblazoned with the clan symbol and a count of victims and captives.

native-american-weapons

Weapons Used by the Woodland Indians

The fate of a captive was not a happy one. At first, his wrists would be tied in a symbolic slave band, then he might be beaten, bitten or burned. When they arrived at the village he would have to “run the guantlet”. If he survived this, he might be adopted by the tribe as the women and children were.  If the tribe’s women were still bitter about the loss of their loved ones, the prisoner was doomed.  They might poke him with red hot embers, tear his hair out and set fire to the cords he was bound with. They might pull out his nails and take slices of flesh, perhaps eating some of them to symbolically ingest his wisdom and strength.

Something would have to happen to stop the inter-tribal warfare that could decimate the whole Iroqouis population.