The Spirit of Resistance

On November 16, 1885, a lone figure stood silently on the gallows waiting to meet his destiny.  His name was Louis David Riel and he was my first cousin 4 times removed. Below, a clip from Ancestry linking my father to the Lagimodiere family from whom Riel`s mother, Julie sprang. Julie`s brother Romain was my  3rd great-grandfather.

Riel Connection snip

You can see in the chart the names that were well-known in the Red River Settlement, Lagimodiere, Diagneault, Cyr, Thibault. Other names in the family were Jennie Cameron, Mary Inkster, Catherine Martineau and of course, Marie Anne Gaboury.  Further back in the family one finds the more obscure appellations, Marie…..(Lesperance), Charlotte….., Josette….(Indienne) and Suzanne Sauteuse. On the 1901 Census of Canada, my great-grandfather, William Daigneault declared  himself and his family as being French Metis (M.F.) and Red in skin colour.

The settlement was established at the confluence of the northern Red and Assiniboine rivers which is in modern-day Winnipeg, Manitoba. It had been a prominent trading place for the aboriginal people of the area, the Cree and Ojibwa among them.  Before that prehistoric people had camped and traded there. These two rivers were part of a canoe route that joined with the Mississippi and Missouri rivers on the southern trade route.

in 1783, the first trading post was built by Pierre Gualtier de la Verendrye. He named it Forte Rouge or Red River.  Many of the French trappers who traded there married First Nations women which eventually led to the creation of a new culture, the Metis.  Initially, there was a society dominated by the First Nations people of the area with whom the French were on amicable terms .

For the main part, the French traders and their offspring blended with the First Nations culture . The buffalo hunt remained one of the main features of life among the people.  Sedentary farming did not come naturally to them. It didn’t even make sense. The winters were long and freezing,  in the spring the Red River would storm its banks and flood the area. The summers were hot and humid and the tall prairie grasses provided ideal forage for the hundreds of buffalo which roamed freely.

The land that had been owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company as part of its vast empire was called Rupert’s Land and it had been given complete authority over it.  Now, the Company’s fortunes were waning. It proved to be a fortunate time for a wealthy and very idealistic  young nobleman, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. When his brother died, he inherited a great fortune.  He also had a compassionate heart and hoped to transplant hundreds of Scots who were being driven off their land during the Highland Clearances.

Selkirk realized that to gain enough land he would have to become a major shareholder in the Hudson’s Bay Company.  He bought as much stock as possible and then asked for a grant of 116,000 square miles which covered parts of  present day Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota. In May, 1811, the deed was granted willingly, they knew he was likely to lose money.

The first colonists arrived from the Hebrides in Scotland in the summer of 1811. At their head was Miles Macdonell also a Scot and appointed governor of the colony. They had to spend the winter at York Factory before they could come. In August 1812, they arrived at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers and settled at Point Douglas. After they took formal possession of the land, they continued on to Fort Daer on the Pembina River in North Dakota to find food.  The Metis people there supplied them with fish and pemmican made from the buffalo they hunted.  In 1813 more colonists arrived  and they all sowed crops together on long strip plots running back from the river.  The sowing was too late however and the crops failed.

The men who worked for the HBC resented the extra trouble of  having to help the new settlers and the stricter rules Selkirk was enforcing on them. They could not easily make private deals for extra money now. At Fort York, some of Macdonell’s men had been persuaded against him and he found himself with no supplies when they finally got to Point Douglas.

Selkirk had no notion of how serious the rivalry was between the HBC and the North West Company. The Northwest Company was composed largely of Metis and French from Montreal. The settlement lay across the path to the Athabasca country where the Nor’Westers gained most of their wealth. The King’s charter had granted the HBC only the lands that drained into the Hudson Bay. The Athabasca drained into the Arctic but to get to it the Nor’Westers would have to cross what was becoming British territory. They had been able to do this until now because there weren’t enough men to stop them.  The new settlement was composed of British people, faithful to Selkirk who could help close the gates to the Athabasca.  The fur trade war intensified.

Below, a map of trading posts and canoe routes:

Trading_Posts_Canoe_Routes

Trading Posts and Canoe Routes -Cristian Ionata-edmaps.com 

The map shows the canoe routes up to Athabasca country where the highest quality furs were found (colder weather made for thicker furs). From Fort Garry and up through Lake Manitoba to  Fort Cumberland  and then to Ile a La Crosse and the Athabasca River, the source of which lies in Jasper National Park, Alberta. At Ile a La Crosse we find mention of Jean Baptiste Beauchamp who travelled with Peter Skene Ogden on the Snake River Expeditons which I have written about hereRichard Daigneault is listed as an employee of the HBC in 1804 here. Jean Baptiste and Vincent Daigneault (my grandmother’s maiden name) are listed as HBC employees for 1855-6 here.

The NWC tried preventing the colonists from even arriving at the settlement by complaining to officials in Britain but did not accomplish that.  Then they tried to stop the Metis at Fort Pembina from selling supplies to the colonists.  Back at Fort Garry, they made every attempt to get the them to desert. They found themselves caught in the trade war.

Macdonell decided to act by issuing the “Pemmican Proclamation” in January 8th, 1814. For one year no supplies were to be taken out the colony without permission. He began to seize pemmican from the Nor’Westers and supervised provisioning of all canoes traveling between Lake Superior and the Athabasca country.  In June of that year the Montreal partners of the NWC arrived and decided that the colony must be destroyed entirely. The settlers were promised free passage and provisions to resettle in Upper Canada (Ontario) or be driven off.

Commander of Fort Gibraltar, Duncan Cameron, tried to win the settlers over with parties and talk of coming on side with the NWC . He even spoke Gaelic to them. When that failed he tried to raise  insurrection among the Metis by driving home the fact that they were forbidden to sell pemmican and that their land was being stolen . The Metis, reverting to the ways of their mothers, intimidated the settlers by killing horses, taking guns and plundering houses. They were setting the stage for what became known as the “Pemmican Wars”. Finally, in June, Macdonell decided it was in the settlers best interests that they give up the fight. It was too late. He and 134 deserting settlers were taken by Duncan Cameron to Fort William where he was to be charged with robbing the company. He did not get charged but the settlers proceeded to Upper Canada to settle.

Likewise,  the settlers who stayed behind were driven out and fled to Norway House on Lake Winnipeg. While they were there, a brigade of HBC officials was making its way from Montreal to the settlement on the Red River.  When they arrived and heard what was happening, they continued to Norway House to bring the settlers back. A few stubborn men had stayed behind to build Fort Douglas and start some crops. On November 3 of 1814, another group of colonists arrived with a new governor, Robert Semple. A second colony had been planted. Below, a map of the Red River Settlement as it was in 1818.

Map RRS 1818

Red River Settlement 1818 -Scan from The Romance of the Prairies by A.L. Burt

Right click on the image to open it in a new tab.

 

 

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

 

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.

 

The Contract

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.