Perils of the Trail

I spoke previously of Jacques Beauchamp, voyageur, an ancestor who had traveled with Alexander MacKenzie on his voyage to the Pacific in 1793 and was later killed by Eskimos (see A Dangerous Business)  Today I came across an account of his widow from the book North of Athabasca edited by Lloyd Keith. The account is taken from the journals of James Porter, factor of the Slave Lake Post from 1798 to 1801.

After dark on a cold and blowing November day, a woman arrived with her two children, apparently seeking sustenance and shelter from the weather. She was the widow of Jacques Beauchamp, one of the men who accompanied Alexander Mackenzie on his trek in 1793 to the Pacific Ocean.  Afterwards, he apparently remained in the north, for he was one of the engages who served under Duncan Livingston at the Trout River Post over the 1798-1799 trading season. In June of 1799, Beauchamp acted as Mckenzie’s steersman on the way down the Mckenzie River to establish the trade with the Esquimaux. As mentioned in the previous section,  the traders were attacked ( by whom is still controversial), and all the Nor’Westers including Beauchamp were killed. As sometimes happened in the fur trade, the family was left unprotected and had to fend for themselves. In this case, the woman and her children remained at Slave Lake Post , presumably receiving sustenance form Porter for eleven days. She then left with an unidentified Indian who arrived at the post the day before. At least she had found some protection for herself and her children.”

There remained some controversy over the murders of Livingston and his men. Was it really the Esquimaux who he intended to trade with or some of the Indians he had hired as labourers?  Attacks like this were common and paint a less romantic picture of the life of a voyageur. What happened to Jacque’s wife and children? More hours of research.

A Spirit of Independence

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.


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.

A Dangerous Business

I had written previously about Jacques Beauchamp (born c. 1760), very likely a descendant of  Jacques Beauchamp, pioneer of Montreal, being with Alexander MacKenzie when he finally made it to the Pacific in 1793. That I found on this website. Then I found this article about Jacques Beauchamp, voyageur,  being killed by Eskimos. Genealogy Quebec has a Jacques Beauchamp listed as born in 1760 with no information for date or location of death.  I feel there is good reason to give credit to the previous article.

The Passing

Jacques Beauchamp, my 7th great uncle had passed away on the 8th of February, 1693. In her book, “Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth Century Montreal”, Louise Dechêne describes the inventory of his clothing; “Beauchamps’ wardrobe consisted of the basics: a coat, a jerken, and because nothing was ever thrown out, a second wornout and worthless jerkin, a pair of hide hose, woollen breeches, a hat , a pair of shoes, stockings, four used shirts, and two nightcaps, worth altogether no more than 40 to 50 livres.” In the notarial record below we see an transaction between Marie Dardenne, Jacques’ widow, and her sons-in-law right after an inventory has been taken. (Line 2364).

Quittance from Marie Dardenne to sons in law

Jacques died the same year as Lambert Closse famed Indian fighter who disappeared in the bush. Sadly he missed the land grants in Pointe Aux Trembles.


The oldest brother Pierre died the following year apparently on February 8, 1693. I sometimes wonder if he even existed, there is little to no information on him. Then on May 4, 1700, Jean, my 7th great grandfather died.  He, like most of Montreal’s inhabitants, had lived largely in debt, borrowing money whenever he could to buy more land. In 1666, shortly after his arrival in Montreal, he had married Jeanne Loisel, whose parents were among the earlier settlers. First, a contract had to be signed.

Mar. Contract J. Beauchamp.JPG

The wedding took place November 23, 1666. Marr-Beauchamp Loisel.jpg

They had a family.

Jean Beauchamp Jeanne Loiselle.jpg

At the time of his death he had accumulated some land which was always a priority for future generations of the family. In Quebec, property was not inherited by the oldest son but was divided equally among all the children, a custom brought from France. Jean had been granted land on Rue St. Jean and Rue St. Francois in Pointe Aux Trembles. A year after he died, The Great Peace of Montreal was established with the Iroquois. Below, his death record.

Original D.Rec. Jean BEauchamp Full Image.JPG

Jacques “Le Grand” Beauchamp and Jean “Le Petit” Beauchamp are considered to be among the founding families of not just Montreal but Canada itself. They suffered privation and constant threat but helped to build this land with courage and enterprise. Their descendants number in the thousands. Both are buried in the Cimetiere St. Enfant Jesus in Point Aux Trembles, Quebec.

Checking and Rechecking

There is ample warning from professional genealogists to check and cite the source of your records correctly. Therefore, I try to find my own records as much as possible rather than using someone else’s tree for the same family. It is rather frustrating when you find that they are for the main part accurate but I still feel better about at least checking things. You run into problems most times because of naming patterns. The son being named after the father for instance. That can also be a help because names tend to run in families. There is also a problem created by indexed records which may contain errors through transcription and the interpretation of at times illegible handwriting.

Like most people with the Beauchamp name in Quebec, I knew the pioneers in the family were Pierre, Jacques and Jean. Comparing trees, I saw that I had the wrong line going fairly far back. At that point I had to start checking and double checking to see how many people had the same line going. That would be the line connecting to Damase my great-grandfather. So I would use them as a framework and check each person as I went. Then I hit the Joseph’s in the family. Not fun. There is the name they were called and the name they were baptized with. I was thrilled to see a whole family of voyageurs. I had found records of two brothers I know are in my family,  Jacques and Pierre Beauchamp who were voyageurs. Many men had to supplement their income by transporting goods and furs along the rivers of New France.  They were two generations back and one of them was called Damase.

There are, of course, many resources for Quebec genealogy which you can find at Cyndi’s list.  Ancestry is so good at joining things up for you, the index and the original. That is a help because if you are able to actually read the original you will get extra information. So, by looking at the orginal baptismal records, I found out that the two Joseph’s were called by their second names of Theophile and Isaac . Then I started cross-checking with the records at PRDH from the University of Montreal. That is a paying site as well but with a little information you can save some money by looking for the union or family of two known ancestors. They have been kind enough to list the couple with their parents, date and place of marriage along with their children’s information. That costs 17¢ (providing you know who you are looking for). Pretty cool! Then you can go from there.There is also a tree at Nos Origines, another site that is fairly well done. So you can see I am right in the middle of it now. What fuels me? The history of the place and times my ancestors lived in and knowing I am part of that. And the memory of my grandparents.

Making Good Part 2

The system of indentured labour used to populate the foundling colony of Montreal was not one that was totally unfamiliar to the early colonists. The French had come from a country torn by strife, religious and political, which left the land barren and impoverished. Families who had once been affluent could easily lose whatever wealth they had. We do know the occupation of Michel Beauchamp, the boys father, as being a gardener (jardinier) in Villeneuve, a part of La Rochelle that was built for the Protestants after the Great Siege of 1627. Jacques was listed as a gardener before he came and a hatmaker (chapelier) in the 1666 census. Jean, well, he was a migrant as he had just arrived that year.  One thing that remained the same was family cohesion. In the recruit of 1659, there were thirteen families embarked on the St. Andre,  Jacques and Marie Beauchamp came as a couple. Below, the data file on Jean, my 5th great grandfather from Fichier Origines.

Jean Beauchamp F.O..JPG

Initially, trading companies or a wealthy colonist might enlist labour, covering the cost of passage, keep and wages.  This might have amounted to a year’s wages for the young emigrant. Besides these expenses, there would be loss from death or desertion. There had to be sufficient profit to offset these expenses but with the fur trade being the only source of profit at the time, how was one to bring out more settlers to get the colony going?  This, the Société de Notre Dame handed over to the Church, after failing to profit quite miserably. Interestingly, the cost of supplies for the engages to clear the land would run in their favour. There were private agreements made that those who settled in Montreal permanently would not be held accountable. Even so, many of the colonists still refused to agree to such an exchange.

Quebec City on the other hand, was doing quite well for itself. Merchants in La Rochelle, Rouen and the colony were actually recruiting more engagés than needed. The refitting of ships and the price of wheat as well as trade with the Caribbean had created profit. The St. Andre carried more merchants on it which helped Montreal. When New France came under control of the Ministry of Marine in 1663, the Sovereign Council decided that 200 men would be sent to the colonies per year as contracted labourers. This lasted for 3 years, mostly to the benefit of the merchants but once the family farm was established there was little outside help needed. The first steps towards self reliance were being made. A habitant might rely on his sons, local men or even soldiers for seasonal work. Outside commerce would have to fend for itself,  hiring boys and natives. Skilled workers would now be hired at a premium as the colony started to expand from within.

So you can see that the small, beleaguered colony, through trade with their indigenous friends and a certain amount of help from the King began to come into it’s own. Something that few people had counted in however, was the linking of this independence to an a different identity. No one  had counted on the effect of the environment on the language and customs of the people. The new language was “canadien”, the new people became “les Canadiens”.

Making Good

I am in receipt of a translation of the book,  “Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth Century Montreal”, the original written in French in 1974 by Louise Dechêne a professor at McGill university. This version was translated by Liana Vardi in 1992. I won’t go into the trouble I went to to find a copy as well as avoid exhorbitant fees for it.  All I can say is thank you Note it was the American site that worked for my purposes. Fortunately, I don’t live too far from the border. The book is considered to be somewhat of a “holy grail” in researching New France. It has much quantative information in it to give a more certain idea of what it was actually like in Montreal at that time.

Imagine my surprise when I was doing an initial browse through the book and I came upon the name of my 5th great uncle, Jacques Beauchamp! This was not the first time I got a sense of the type of person he was. He just seems to be well-known in the community. With a dit name like Le Grande (as opposed to Jean’s dit name of le Petite), one imagines a rather boisterous personality. To quote Madame Dechêne, speaking of an inventory, of death assetts,

“Jacques Beauchamp of Pointe-aux-Trembles owned such a house. He died at the age of fifty-eight, leaving behind a widow, five married daughters, two boys aged fifteen and seventeen, and a net worth of 3000 livres. ” Then after describing living conditions, she states ” Beauchamps’ wardrobe consisted of the basics: a coat, a jerkin (a sleeveless leather jacket), and because nothing  was ever thrown out, a second worn out and worthless jerkin, a pair of hide hose, woollen breeches, a hat, a pair of shoes, stockings, four used shirts and two nightcaps worth altogether no more than 40 or 50 livres.”  At this point, the author is disputing the reputation the habitants had for strutting about in their finery, illustrating their ignorance of agricultural life.  She wonders how people who lived with so little could possibly have the means to own such clothing. At any rate, 3000 livres was a fairly good sum for the times according the table of assets she presents.

In her opening chapter, Dechene says that until 1668, the settled population of aboriginals at the fort was nearly double that of the French. Some came for protection, some to attend the Jesuit or Supulcian missions. In the summer there would be a huge fur trade fair where hundreds of people from the different nations would visit and trade for fur. The governor would greet the native leaders with great ceremony. Care was supposedly taken to prevent the molestation of the native people by the French but did not preclude them dropping half the value of their trade goods on liquor even after the fair.

At Sunday Mass, the colonists would again be in contact with the aboriginal people. Their children attended the same school, each sex being trained in useful skills. This did not apply to the country children who were only taught catechism or the Christian doctrine. Native people near the fort were allowed to grow subsistence crops but could never own land. The movement to new land when the soil wore out was not possible for them once the surrounding land was granted to French colonists. This caused a migration away from the fort the land further away. So although initially, the King had granted the right to farm for subsistence, the lands returned to the Jesuits and Supulcians in this way and they could then collect dues from the French. Some were encouraged to build in the European way but problems arose there also. Cattle grazed in the cornfield once the wheat was up and the native men went away hunting in winter leaving the women with farm chores they could not do on their own. The French kept them in debt by supplying them with the things they needed which was repaid with furs.  Many did military service for mere subsistence. The concensus was that to actually pay them would be a waste since they would only drink it away. When they did drink there was often violence but justice was stalled to keep relations going.

There were few known inter-racial marriages in Montreal, neither race accepted it. Some women were kept in the country, the “country wives” but generally immoral behaviour was not sanctioned by either the French or native. An illegitimate child might be born occasionally but there was no racial blending as there would be later in the West. In the end, the colony of New France served itself. The emigrants were at least given a vehicle to establish themselves in the colony but the native people found no way to win . Both started in poverty but it would only change for one group. The other would be displaced.