The Wood Runners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fur Trade Routes Out of Lake Athabasca

Lake Superior Fur Trade Routes E. Morse

Lake Superior Trade Routes

Lake Winnipeg Fur Trade Routes. Eric Morse

Lake Winnipeg Trade Routes

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

Under Attack

When Champlain joined the Algonquin raid against the Iroquois and won by use of muskets which the Iroquois did not have, he couldn’t have known the terrible consequences. In 1615, he travelled deep into the Lake Huron region where he befriended the Huron who were strategically located between the east, west and northern Algonquins on a prime trading route. They soon became middlemen, channeling thousand of beaver pelts each year into the hands of the French. Champlain came to believe that the Huron could hold off the Iroquois.

By 1640 though, the Iroquois had made alliances with the fur-seeking Dutch who were operating along the Hudson River. Now armed with muskets, they began raiding Huron villages deep in the woodlands until in 1649, they finally overwhelmed the Huron. After this they launched another attack on the neighbouring Tobacco tribe who was, like the Huron, against the Iroquois. A nation of 30,000 people lay in devastation with many being taken as slaves or adopted into the League. The adoptees swelled the ranks of Iroquois and created new warriors.  With the defeat of the Hurons, the Iroquois gained control of the fur trade, playing the English and French against each other. Attacks on the French settlements came hard and fast.

By this time, the Compagnie des Cents Associes, still reeling from the effects of the Kirke brothers occupation, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1645, a group of leading settlers were granted control over the fur trading rights of the company and renamed it the “Compangie des Habitants”. The Compagnie des Cents Associes would retain ownership of New France but the new company  would be responsible for the costs of administering the colony. That meant paying the governor and military officers, maintaining the forts and garrisons, the upkeep of the clergy and being responsible for bringing twenty male and female settlers over each year.

At this time, there were only 600 residents in the French colony for although life in France may have been hard, there was little economic incentive for the people to come. That along with the various hardships and tales of the “wild men of the woods” would keep the population down. This is not to mention the fact that the persecuted Huguenots would find no shelter in Quebec.

In March of 1649, the Iroquois attacked a small Huron village killing or capturing most of it’s 400 inhabitants. They tortured the captive priests, believing them to be responsible for the destruction of their country. Being familiar with the baptism of dying children, they baptized the priests, Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lelement with boiling water over and over again and after longs hours of torture, finally executed them. However, the fall of the Huron aided the life of the tiny colony. Now, the colony’s farmers would be the suppliers of food to the northern Algonquins instead of the Hurons. After the 1650’s the engages began to stay past their required 3 year contracts. By 1653, the coureurs de bois replaced the Huron as middlemen in the fur trade, bringing furs from their camp with the Ottawas on the Great Lakes into New France. Among these men were Radisson and Groselliers, explorers of the Great Lakes up to the far end of Lake Superior.


Map of the Beaver Wars- Francis Jennings

By 1653 New France was almost on the verge of collapse from the Iroquois attacks. 32 settlers had been killed and 22 captured, leaving only 50 to hold Montreal. Even further north in Quebec and Trois Rivieres, the settlers were afraid to go out for fear of being ambushed. After a 5 year truce, the attacks commenced again in 1658 but by this time, the population had increased greatly and the men had learned guerilla warfare themselves. When Louis XIV came to power in 1663 he decided that he would not take a loss on the potentially lucrative colony. He disbanded the Compagnie de Cents Associes and established the Carignan-Salières Regiment to gain control of the Iroquois. He brought the Filles de Roi to Quebec, girls who had been orphaned to balance the population and of course, increase it. The goverment was reformed with the Governor and Intendent now being controlled by France. The Bishop was no longer the supreme power in New France. The 1666 census showed an increase in population to 3,215.

My 6th great-aunt, Marie Beauchamp is recorded as dying in Montreal in 1652. She would have been only 14, having arrived a long while before her brothers, Jacques and Jean who arrived in 1659 and 1666. What she was doing there and how she died is a matter of conjecture and would need some research. She may have been a ward of the famous Marguerite Bourgeoys, teaching sister. Why would her parents send her off? She is recorded as being buried at Notre Dame in Montreal.