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,

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!

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.