Time and Circumstance

Interestingly, I have found myself at a point where the lives of 4 different men intersect, two of them my ancestors.  They would be Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, John McLoughlin, (chief factor of Fort Vancouver, Washington), my 4th great-grandfather, John Dugald Cameron and Joseph Beauchamp, blacksmith at Fort Vancouver and later Fort Victoria.

Simpson was not born under auspicious circumstances, he was the illegitimate son of George Simpson Sr. and an unknown woman in Lochbroom, Scotland.  He was raised by his aunt, Mary Simpson and attended the parish school until he went to London in 1800 around the age of 14. There his uncle Geddes Simpson, who was a partner in a sugar brokerage firm, gave him work. When the company merged with Wedderburn and Company in 1812, Simpson met a man who would greatly influence his future.  Andrew Wedderburn was brother-in-law to Lord Selkirk who established the Red River colony in Manitoba, Canada.

In the early 1800’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was in a bitter struggle for the fur trade with the North West Company (NWC), the original company based in Montreal.  Any means, fair or foul were used to gain or block access to furs;  price manipulation, selling liquor to the natives, even stealing the other’s furs and trade goods. When the officer in charge of the Athabasca country was about to be charged with murder and the governor in chief in danger of arrest,  the young Simpson’s brother-in-law, then known as Andrew Colville, ushered him into an appointment as locum governor-in-chief. When the NWC offered to buy the HBC out, the company took it as a sign of weakness and made a bid to merge the two companies. The “amalgamation” took place in March 1821.

Once appointed, Simpson travelled tirelessly across the country,  a whirlwind of closures and dismissals following him. The speed he moved at is aptly described in the book “Adventurers”.
“Around the point, two canoes come racing, flying across the water at a killing pace. Nine paddlers in matching dress, singing at the top of their lungs, bring the larger one surging up to the dock. They fall silent and a bagpiper leaps ashore. Behind him strides a man in a magnificent, tartan cloak with a tall beaver hat on his head. ……. In moments the two canoes have vanished up river. Only the echoes of the paddlers’ song remains to convince the bewildered men that the governor’s visit had really happened.”

Simpson was friendly enough but would not tolerate insubordination. No advancement was given to those who did not obey. Still, the officers in the company seldom experienced any economic downturns. That was reserved for the lower ranks. In 1821, he ordered John Lee Lewes and John Dugald Cameron to inspect the old NWC posts west of the Rocky Mountains. They reported back that profit would increase if personnel was reduced.  The only benefit in keeping the Columbia River area open was to provide a buffer zone between the Americans and the rich fur area to the North.

Simpson left York Factory for Fort George in Astoria out flanking John McLoughlin, chief factor of Fort Vancouver (Washington), who had left 20 days previous. The two met in Fort George and together formulated plans to counter the Russian American trade. One of the counter measures was the trapping expedition that we previously found Jean Baptiste Beauchamp on with Peter Skene Ogden. The other plan was to open Fort Langley on the Fraser River. Fort Langley however, was not a good place to ship furs to by water. The flow of the river was just too erratic, furs would have to be traded overland.

After postponing a trip to London for years, Simpson decided he would return to see his  uncle. While he was there he decided to marry Geddes daughter, Frances, in spite of the fact that he was 38 years her senior. Unsurprisingly, Frances found life in Canada next to intolerable and though she had 5 children with Simpson she was very frail. When they returned to England for a visit, she stayed behind for 5 years until finally returning  in 1838.  By that time he had established a residence in Lachine, Quebec.

The violent competition between the HBC and the NWC did not abate in spite of proclamations and warnings from London. In May of 1820, Simpson decided to deliver the Governors proclamation personally to the NWC at Fort William himself instead of the agents in Montreal. The chief factor there was John McLoughlin, later to become known as “the father of Oregon” and this would be their first meeting.

McLoughlin was born in 1784 at Riviere du Loup, Quebec. His father was a farmer and his mother the sister of  Dr. Simon Fraser. John started an apprenticeship under his uncle at the age of 14 and by the time he was 19 he was granted a license to practise.  Instead, he decided in 1803,  to sign on with the NWC for five years as a physician and apprentice clerk.  You can see the transcript of his contract with McTavish, Frobisher and Company here.  Later that year, we see one of my distant cousins, Michel Beauchamp,  contracted to travel to the same place, Kaministiquia (now Thunder Bay, Ontario).

John McLoughlin was a man of ” formidable appearance” and though he did practice medicine at the Fort , he turned out to be a very shrewd trader and bargainer. To that end he rose from £200 a term to a partnership in 1814. In 1816, he traveled to the Red River settlement just after the colony was caught in the Seven Oaks Massacre.  McLoughlin was arrested (being with the NWC) and charged as being a part of the attack on the colony. Once he was cleared of charges, he realized that the future looked bleak for the NWC and encouraged a merger between the two rivals.

At this point, George Simpson arrived at Fort William with the proclamation. As was his way,  McLoughlin endeavored to keep the peace, much to the chagrin of his men. This along with his natural abilities brought him the position of Chief Factor at Rainy Lake . Later he was sent to Fort George in Astoria and was replaced by Dugald Cameron. Soon he became the only chief factor in the Columbia District. The area had been largely unproductive by Simpson’s standards. Personnel was slashed and home grown produce was to replace costly provisions.

The war of 1812 had left the northern boundary undecided which meant that Fort George might very well end up inside American territory.  Fort Vancouver in Washington was soon built and Simpson then ordered the Columbia area hunted dry.  For the next 20 years McLoughlin would become in effect, the superintendent of the entire Columbia River district and controlled the reorganization of the Snake River expeditions, the freemen and Iroqouis were now minor in number and HBC servants used.

When Simpson decided to close Forts Taku and McLoughlin in 1843, we see the arrival of Joseph Ovide Beauchamp in Fort Vancouver. He is found listed in Bruce Watson’s book Lives Lived West of the Divide.

Joseph Beauchamp Lives Lived WEst

I have a great great grandfather named  Joseph Beauchamp who lived during that time but he died in Quebec. He had a son Joseph my great grandfather. I suspect that this Joseph was again a removed cousin.

By all accounts and especially those of Roderick Finlayson who kept the  Fort Victoria Journals, Joseph was a handful.  His native wife, Marguerite died in 1847 after the birth of a daughter, Caroline, in Fort Vancouver. The following year he transferred to Fort Victoria where he promptly lost one of his fingers which continued to pain him for some time.  He remarried in 1848 to an unknown woman and was noted as being sick and insolent most of the time. Then in 1850, he lost his daughter Caroline. He died at Fort Victoria in 1887.  His HBC records have him listed as being in Oregon in 1853-4, his position listed as “sundries”.  That piques my interest.  I would conjecture that Joseph drank a bit.  The entire Fort was dependent on him to make and repair the tools needed to keep things running and he is mentioned very frequently throughout Finlayson’s journals.

Among the many differences between John McLoughlin and George Simpson, the final rivet was the death of John McLoughlin Jr. at Fort Stikine, Alaska in April of 1842. Fort Stikine had a singular reputation for violence. John had been left in charge of the Fort when he was murdered by Urbain Héroux during a confrontation. Charges of self defense were never brought to trial because the incident took place in Russian territory.  Simpson did not proceed on the matter but instead wrote a very terse letter to the father informing him of the matter, using the boy’s reputation as a precedent. McLoughlin wrote letter after letter to London claiming the injustice of the situation and his son’s name was eventually cleared.  However, they were not about to let the indispensable Simpson go. It was decided that the lowering profits and McLoughlin’s charity towards the new settlers in the Willamette were sufficient reason to retire him. He died September 3, 1857 in Oregon City.

Citations:
John S. Galbraith, “SIMPSON, Sir GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 8, 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/simpson_george_8E.html.

W. Kaye Lamb, “McLOUGHLIN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 8, 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcloughlin_john_8E.html.

Sylvia Van Kirk, “CAMERON, JOHN DUGALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 8, 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cameron_john_dugald_8E.html.

U.S. National Park Service Website: The Fort Vancouver Community
https://www.nps.gov/articles/fortvancouvercommunity.htm

Watson, Bruce McIntyre. Lives Lived West of the Divide. Kelowna: Centre for Social, Spatial, and Economic Justice, University of British Columbia, 2010.

Christopher Moore, Adventurers Hudson’s Bay Company The Epic Story, 2000, Madison Press Books

“Fort Victoria Journal”, Beauchamp, Joseph Ovide, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, B.226/ a/1, edited and transcribed by Graham Brazier et al, eds. http://www.fortvictoriajournal.ca. (March 9, 2018)

 

A Free Man Part 3

In my previous post, “A Free Man”,  I mentioned that 23 men had left Ogden’s venture for the American Company. As it happens, 12 men had left Ross’s expedition of 1824 and commenced trapping with the American’s. Later they joined up with the famed , Jedediah Smith . Smith and his party accompanied Ogden out on his first Snake Country expedition to Flathead Post. Ogden suspected him of trying to gain information for his American employer, William Ashley.  So, our ancestor Baptiste Beauchamp who was a trapper for the party,  would have known Smith or at least have been in contact with him.

At the end of the War of 1812, the British (including Canada) and the Americans were to jointly share occupation of the Columbia River region for a period of 10 years while the northern border was settled.  Ogden, who had accidentally traveled south of the 42nd parallel found his tent invaded by Johnson Gardner, leader of an American trapping party, asking him if he knew what country he was in.  Ogden insisted it was Oregon territory to which Gardener told him the area had been ceded to the United States. Neither was right and at the time, there were no territorial maps of the area.

Below a map of the Oregon Country/Columbia District during this period and the Forts.

Oregoncountry2-Kmusser

By Kmusser [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Then a heated discussion of  HBC policy ensued. Simpson’s policy was to overprice the supplies and equipment which each man went into debt for. Then, when the debt was being paid, he undervalued the furs given in payment.  The Freemen, many of them Métis,  like the Americans, were quick to “fly the flag”. They needed little provocation to fight and felt little allegiance to anyone . Twelve of the Freemen took their horses and furs and left. I did not see Baptiste on the list of defecting men in William Kittsons journals. Kittson was Ogden’s second in command and kept a more particular journal than Ogden.

It did not take long however, for the HBC men to return back with their tails between their legs. The American system of free enterprise was a little too rough for them. Soon after,  Simpson admitted his mistake with some prompting from John McLoughlan, the factor at Fort Vancouver.  The HBC also disallowed liquor which ensured fair dealing with the natives who could be easily parted from their furs under its influence

By March 1827, the policy to “hunt the country dry” was still in place. As Ogden moved further afield to do just that, he left the eastern Snake country unprotected, allowing the Americans to move in.  Jedediah Smith had crossed into  California and north into Oregon  for the first time which was a major threat to the HBC.  Along the way they were attacked by the Umpqua Indians.  Smith had escaped and made it to Fort Vancouver. Governor George Simpson offered him $2600 for his horses and fur. In exchange Smith agreed to stay out of territory west of the Divide.³

During the expedition of 1826, the men began to show signs of food poisoning though the form it took did not make it readily apparent. Symptoms began with severe headaches and pain in their “loins” and extremities. This they thought was from the beaver meat they ate. Ogden not being ill himself decided to eat some. He did not taste any difference in the beaver meat from that area and gloated that it didn’t have any effect on him. Five days later,  he was crawling on the ground. It turns out that the beavers were gnawing on hemlock root and that passed down to the meat. Most of the men survived. The cure? A mixture of pepper and gun powder in water as an emetic!

Baptiste Beauchamp is also mentioned by Alexander Henry who travelled with David Thompson, as having been “Thompson’s man” .

JB Thompsons Man

If you are interested in Thompson’s expedition to the Columbia River you can follow this link.

 

 

A Free Man

In 1824, Alexander Ross was assigned by HBC Governor George Simpson to head an expedition into “Snake Country” . The Snake River runs off of the Columbia River in Washington State and travels south and eastward.

Snake River Map Wikimedia Commons

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp or “Baptiste” as he was known, joined the expedition as a trapper. While the main party gathered at Flathead Post (near present day Sanders, Montana), he was at “Prairie de Cheveaux, the council ground of the Salish Nation. (Journal of Alexander Ross, Snake Country Expedition, Feb 10, 1824). He is noted in Bruce Watson’s “Lives Lived West of the Divide”.

Jean Baptiste Beauchamp-Lives Lived West of the Divide Bruce Watson

Ross speaks about the incident with the Peigan Indians (Blackfoot)  in his Journal of the Snake Country Expedition,

JB Beauchamp meets the Piegans Alex Ross Snake Country Ex. 1824

Reminds one of a western movie doesn’t it? Who this particular Jean Baptiste is I cannot say for certain. There are several voyageur records for Jean Baptiste Beauchamp for the years between 1794 and 1817 some for the HBC and there is a record for that name born in Pointe aux Trembles, Quebec in 1771 and dying in Louisiana in 1815 . That person married in Missouri in 1795, making him a strong possibility.

Baptiste crops up again in Alexander Henry’s book “The Saskatchewan and Columbia Rivers”. Henry had traveled with Thompson from Lake Winnipeg to Vermilion Alberta.

JB Thompsons Man

We next find Baptiste joining up with  Peter Skene Ogden after Simpson became disgusted with Ross’s outcome in Snake Country.

Baptiste in Ogdens Exped

Ogden descended from a British loyalist family of good repute but had a violent temper himself.  He joined the North West Company in 1809, his first post at Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan then an important supply depot on the fur trade route. This interests me because my grandmother’s family, the Daigneault’s were trappers in the area.  Watson states that he thinks Baptiste was from Saskatchewan.  He then states that Baptiste was in Spokane (1823) at the time Ogden was made Chief Trader by the HBC in spite of the fact that he had bloodily murdered an Indian for trading with them. Simpson felt he was just the man to accomplish the goals of the company now merged with the Northwest Company in an attempt to end the deadly competition between the two. Simpson initiated a “scorched earth policy” whereby Ogden was to bring back as many furs as possible, leaving none for the Americans. The rationale was that this would also deter settlement of the area.  During the expedition Baptiste was on, 23 freemen defected to the Americans who promised a more fair return.

In the late 1840’s Ogden was in charge of Fort Vancouver where ironically, another ancestor of mine, Joseph Ovide Beauchamp was working as a blacksmith. What are the odds?

 

To Detroit

Detroit 1701

Detroit 1701

In the early days of researching my father’s family, the Beauchamps, I came upon a  website created by Dick Garneau, now deceased. It is called “Canadian History: A Distinct Viewpoint”.  He was in pursuit of his Metis ancestry. I had been directed to a page which listed inhabitants of Detroit, Michigan who paid rent between 1707 and 1710.  In the list, the two voyageur brothers, Jacques and Pierre Beauchamp (sons of original settler Jacques Beauchamp and Marie Dardenne) were listed as non-rent payers alluding to the fact that they were probably just there to deliver goods as “freemen”.  We find the term “freemen” strongly linked to the Metis. It is certainly symbolic of the culture. Also on the list were two Bazinet brothers, Pierre and Joseph.  Joseph paid a “town rent”. The Beauchamps and Bazinets were both from Pointe aux Trembles, north of Montreal. I should note that Jacques and Pierre were the sons of Jacques Beauchamp,  my ancestor Jean, was their uncle.

Later, I came upon the website “Maple Stars and Stripes”  and listened to a podcast called “Settling Detroit” with Suzanne Sommerville.  She had written a book with two other members of the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan called ” Le Détroit du Lac Érié 1701-1710, Volumes I and II”.  In it are transcripts of voyageur contracts for Detroit. Some of the records for the Beauchamp family and relations found were:

On 30 May 1705, Jacques Urbain Rochert acting for the Compagnie de la Colonie de Canada, hired Jacques and Pierre Beauchamp to make a voyage to Detroit. Cadillac had been cleared of charges for trafficking in furs and alcohol and was on the way to lay the foundations for the great city. (p.312)

On 7 April 1707, Francois Ardouin, acting for Antoine de Lamothe, sieur de Cadillac, hired Pierre and Joseph Bazinet and Jacques and Pierre Beauchamp of Pointe aux Trembles to transport 300 livres worth of merchandise to Detroit. Again, the two brothers Bazinet, had married the two Beauchamp sisters, Anne and Catherine. (p.324)

On 25 April 1707, Pierre and Joseph Bazinet and Jacques Beauchamp borrowed money from a Montreal merchant, Pierre Perthuis to finance another voyage to Detroit. (p.326

On 25 April 1707, Jacques Beauchamp and Joseph Bazinet again borrowed money from Jean Baptiste Neveu, a Montreal merchant for merchandise for a voyage to Fort Ponchartrain (p.327)

On 5 June 1707, Pierre Beauchamp was hired by Francois Ardouin acting for Antoine de Lamothe, sieur de Cadillac for a voyage to Detroit. (p.327)

Also on that page is Toussant Dardenne, maternal cousin to the Beauchamp brothers, borrowing money and contracting for voyages to Fort Pontchartrain and Detroit. Toussaint is also found on the Census of Detroit in 1710.

On page 337, we find my 9th grand aunt, Barbe Loisel who married first at 13 and then twice thereafter leaving “no posterity” or children. On 5 Sept 1708, Barbe , as wife of Louis LeGantier, Sieur de Lavallée and de Rané who was in Detroit as an officer of the Marines,  created an obligation or debt to purchase merchandise and wearing apparel which would be sold in Detroit. On 6 Sept she lent money for goods to Jean Gros/Legros dit la Violette of Lachine. As Dame de René, she had granted certain droits or rights to Jacques Alexis Fleury which he repaid in Montreal.  We can see that she had gained status through her marriage. Also on this day she hired la Violette and Joseph Lamy to take her by canoe to Fort Pontchartrain to join her husband but not until she had formed a business association by proxy with Jacques Cardinal of Lachine and borrowed yet again for merchandise and equipment for the voyage from Madeleine Marchand.  One might surmise that Barbe had been waiting for directions from her husband and once received she quickly implemented them.  That marriage lasted 21 years after which she married an interpreter to the Ottawa Indians, Francois Fafard-Delorme. He died and she returned home to Montreal and died at the age of 79 on December 24, 1742 at the Hôpital Général. Barbe was sister to Jeanne Loisel, wife of Jean Beauchamp, pioneer, and my 8th great-grandmother.

27 Sept 1708 another brother-in-law to Jacques and Pierre, Pierre Hunault dit Deschamps signs an obligation for merchandise for a voyage to Detroit with his son Pierre Hunault and Pierre Chesne. Pierre was married to Catherine Beauchamp.

The names of the two sets of brothers, Bazinet and Beauchamp, can be found in Detroit’s first directory.  Since their children were all born in Quebec one might assume that the list included those who were not permanent residents. The two families however, may be considered among  the “voyageur families” .  The names of Pierre, Jacques, Francois and Joseph who often worked under their uncle Pierre Hunault as well as Antoine and Henri are listed in the Voyageurs Database of the SHSB in Winnipeg. Their deaths are primarily recorded in Quebec.

What of the lives of the Bazinet sisters who married Jacques and Pierre, left behind while the men traveled? Catherine fared better then her sister, all of her 9 children lived to a reasonable age. Such was not the case with Anne. Out of the 18 children she bore, 9 died in infancy,  including 2 sets of twins. She had married at the relatively mature age of 17 unlike our Barbe who was married at 13.  One can only imagine the hardships of running a farm while your husband was away. Pierre died in 1722 at 46, leaving her a widow at 40.  Catherine and Jacques both died in 1719, months apart. Anne seems to have outlived everyone in spite of her hardships, dying in 1751.

Sources: PRDH, SHSB, Ancestry.ca

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

 

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

Over My Shoulder

You might or might not like to think or talk about what your family’s personal traits were as you uncover your family history, but  there is no doubt that they affect you . My parents, Sheila Joy Richard Phillips  and Edmond Guillaume Daniel Beauchamp, were very lively characters, you can almost tell by their names. Both ran fairly close to the stereotype of their ancestors, Scots-Irish and  Canadien-Metis. Indeed, the way they grew up in very enclosed communities, propagated it.  There were few occurrences my mother did not have a saying for. Her favorite one was “you’ll meet yourself coming back”, her admonition about parenting.

It is strange, how one recalls things in spite of trying so desperately to be our own person. There is a corner in our town which has a beautiful grove of ancient poplar trees. When the wind blows the leaves turn to their underside and create a stunningly beautiful silver patch.  When this happens I hear my mother’s voice saying “Lan, it’s gonna rain”.  It inevitably does.

My father, raised by a strict Catholic mother,  was very intent on having me raised that way, absorbing all the rites and rituals of the church.  He had a huge picture of the Sacred Heart placed on a wall in our home and told me that ” a family who prayed together stayed together”. At night, he did not so much as tuck me in as terrify me of the evil that could befall when I was sleeping, to wit, he crossed my hands over my chest for protection. It puts me in mind of Don William’s song “Good Ole Boys Like Me“. Somehow, I grew into a very practical person but little things still happen that my daughters and I love to talk about, some might call it “feminine wisdom”.

Yesterday, I was in pursuit of  my voyageur ancestors and was trying to nail down the two brothers, Jacques and Pierre Beauchamp who were in Detroit in 1705, having gone on one of  Cadillac’s convoys.  (pg. 363   Le Detroit du Lac Erie 1701-1710 Vol. 1, Les Harnais and Sheppard 2016). In the Voyageurs Contracts Database of the St. Boniface Historical Society,  I came across a contract for  Francois Beauchamp which stated that he was the son of the deceased Jacques Beauchamp so I went off the see which Jacques it was. As it happens I scrolled down and saw the name Beauchamp highlighted again and beside it the name Edmond.  I thought “there was another Edmond back then? Then I noticed that it was not a voyageur record but a school record (keep in mind that my French is only intermediate). I made out 6e annee  and found that it was a school record for my father! I had only typed in the name Beauchamp in the search box to broaden my search and there he was, “mon pere” in his Grades 4,5 and 6 school photos! What are the odds? I do believe he is looking over my shoulder as I write this!