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

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.

People of Purpose

My 6th great-uncle Jacques Beauchamp and his family came to Canada on the St. Andre to help Gabriel Souart, physician turned priest, set up the Sulpician seminary in Montreal and farm a land grant. On board were the great founding mothers,  Jeanne Mance and Marguerite Bourgeoys. Jeanne Mance is known as a co- founder of Montreal and the Hopital Dieu and Marguerite Bourgeouys as founder of the Congregation de Notre Dame de Montreal. The company had set out in 1657 to find further support for the colony and it’s religious aims. Also involved was Paul de Chomeday de Maisonneuve a gentlemen/soldier who was hired to lead and protect the colonists. He became the first governor of Montreal. It is interesting to note that all of these people had actual letters from Louis XIII giving permission to do what they had to do.

In 1653, Maisonneuve set sail for France determined to bring back enough soldiers to combat the Iroquois. With a donation from Jeanne Mance which had formerly been intended for the Hopital Deu, he was able to return with what would become known as the “Grand Recru”. Later in 1655, Maisonneuve made another trip to France to seek out the first parish clergy for the colony. He returned in 1657 with Abbe Queylus and 3 Sulpician priests.

That same year, Jeanne Mance had fallen and fractured her wrist which was not healing well. After a year she set out with Marguerite Bourgeoys, Judith Moreau and Catherine Mace to bring back 3 nursing sisters known as the Hospitallers de Saint Joseph.  While she was there, she hoped to obtain more funding from Angelique de Bullion, whose husband was Finance Minister under Cardinal Richelieu. The Sisters were able to recruit workers for the Seminary as well.  Among them we find Jacques Beauchamp and his wife, Marie Dardeyne. Note at the bottom, the line stating these passengers were “pour Monsieur Souart”.


The following are some census returns for Jacques.

Jacques 1666 Census cap.JPG

Jacques 1667 census cap.JPG

Jacques 1681 Census.JPG

Here you get some notion of their early life in Canada. You can see that Marie was kept fairly busy!  The change of occupation from “chapelier” (hat maker” to “charpentier” is interesting. I am not sure what use a hat maker would have been to Monsieur Souart. By the next year he is a farmer and carpenter.  I would tend to think that there was an error there. It is a coincidence that my own grandfather,  Alfred Beauchamp was a carpenter.

By 1659, the Iroquois had effectively blocked the economy of New France. Their war parties patrolled along the banks of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, intercepting shipments of furs from Algonquins to the west. When they resumed their bloody ambushes at Ville-Marie in 1663, Maisonneuve created the militia of the Sainte-Famille in order to meet the danger. The 139 settlers,  who remained mostly inside the fort walls, were divided into 20 squads. Each squad had a corporal elected by the majority. Jacques Beauchamp was drafted into the eighteenth squadron as found in the Memoirs and Documents of the  Montreal Historical Society published in 1859:

Jacques in the Militia 1663.JPG

The force provided additional guards for workers in the fields and relieved the Montreal militia for nightly guard duty on the walls of the town. In 1666, following the arrival of French regular troops,  Maisonneuve disbanded the Soldats de la Sainte-Famille. In three years, the unit lost only eight men to Iroquois war parties. Ironically, 1666 is the year that my 5th great-grandfather,  Jean Beauchamp and brother to Jacques arrived in Montreal.

The Intrepids

Canada would indeed not exist without the courage and persistance of a few intrepid souls. From the explorers Cabot and Cartier to Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec,  who himself went to the great Richelieu for help in establishing the foundling colony. The Canada that my ancestors came to was hardly different than it had been for hundreds of years. It was primarily inhabited by aboriginal peoples who had migrated here following the melting glaciers. As they came, they developed means of survival appropriate to their surroundings, fishing on the coasts, hunting first the giant mammoths and then the bison on the prairies, learning to cultivate corn in the east. Among them trade networks developed and wars were fought.

When explorers and fishermen sailed from Europe to Canada, they brought disease with them, measles, tuberculosis and smallpox which soon decimated the aboriginal populations. Rats poured off the ships and the seeds of foreign plants were carried in on the bottoms of shoes. In 1603,  Champlain arrived at Stadacona, later to be called Quebec and set up a small fort. The men soon got scurvy but were helped by the Montagnais, who brought them pine tea to drink. They also brought furs to trade which would keep the little company going. Champlain embraced the aboriginal way of life and was soon going with them on their travels. As he travelled he drew maps and pictures of what he saw.


                    Habitation at Quebec                            Charny-Wikimedia

In 1615, he travelled 1000 miles to the home of the Huron people. What he saw surprised him, the Huron people were farmers and they were settled. They grew squash, corn, beans and tobacco which they traded along the lakes and rivers of northern Ontario and Quebec. The Huron homeland was on a small peninsula on Georgian Bay, in Lake Huron where more than 20,000 people lived. This was the Huron Confederacy, a nation of matriarchal tribes. The women chose the chiefs.


The enemies of the Huron were the Iroquois which means “rattlesnake”,  a name given them by the Huron. They called themselves the People of the Longhouse. The Iroquois spoke the same language and lived the same lifestyle but were age-old enemies. Since the French had arrived they were fighting for control of the fur trade routes. Atironta, the Huron war leader,  had asked Champlain to fight alongside the Hurons to which he agreed since the colony was dependent on the furs brought to them.  The attack failed and Champlain was wounded in the knee but the French were now Huron allies. At the same time, Catholic missionaries started to come to Huron country looking for conversions, among them, Jean de Brebeuf.

Champlain was determined to make New France a permanent settlement believing it would bring wealth and honor to his King and country. Soon labourers, artisans and farmers began to arrive, among them Louis and Marie Hebert, the first settlers of Quebec. A sailor named Abraham Martin also arrived in 1620 and farmed where the Plains of Abraham stand. Soon, religious orders began to arrive, the Ursuline teaching  nuns and Paul de Maissoneuve founder of Ville Marie,  to whom my ancestors would be connected.

Champlain for his part was kept very busy up to his death in 1635, he was continually sailing back and forth to France looking for support from the King or to publish his books. His marriage to Helene Boullé, 31 years his junior had been made mainly to gain him respectability. She spent most of her life in France, spending only 4 years in Quebec after which she entered a convent. Champlain became known as the Father of New France.


    Samuel de Champlain           H.D. Holmfeldt

If your are interested in how the Woodland people lived you can watch this film.


A Better Life

Canada was and continues to be a land of immigrants. Most Canadians share a sense of pride in their ancestors which is perhaps a little more real to them in view of the fact that this is such a young country. 148 years (Canada’s age) would cover approximately only 11 generations. There is a general consciousness of sacrifices made and things accomplished that lead to a strong sense of our identity. There is also an awareness of the things that drove people out of their countries, things that seem so far away. When I research my ancestors, I am always looking for a backstory and it has never failed to provide me with hours of entertainment

I am fairly certain the Beauchamp family would have lived through the seige of La Rochelle in 1627-28 and have found some evidence which leads me to believe the family was Huguenot (Protestant).

1) Jacques first son’s godfather was a Swiss Army Guard, they were known Protestants.

Jacques Jr. Baptism

2) Among isolated recorded names are the following:

Noms Isole

It is possible that the Jacques named above is the godfather in our Jacques birth record.

3) Jacques (our ancestor) had maternal grandparents, Elie and Marie who were married in the “Great Temple” in La Rochelle, the Huguenot Church.

Unless the family was split down the middle, I would be fairly certain they were Huguenot. They would not be granted entry to New France without converting to Catholicism so that creates another problem. They certainly were Catholic during their time here and in the foreseeable future. Another interesting thing is the spelling of the Jean’s name in his baptismal record, “Jehan” which is the spelling from the old French, showing that they were an old family indeed.

What brought them to Canada? Very likely poverty and just a little religious fervor. The family was from the country but most of them died in La Rochelle, showing that they would have gone there for work and if they were Huguenot, for shelter during the religious storm of persecution. But the Societe de Montreal was having serious problems getting people to stay. Once the 3 year contract was up, people were rushing back across the sea.

From Peter Moogk’s book, La Nouvelle France,

“……Immediate land grants and family ties were seen to be effective in keeping former indentured servants in the colony. The Montreal Associates applied the lesson in 1659 (the year of Jacques arrival) when they enrolled 109 people in France, 40 were women (12 wives accompanied by single women and a few nuns).Eight families had their passage paid for in turn for accepting a redemption bond that required payment in 2 years. Thanks to the presence of relatives and marriageable women, most of the people brought out in 1659 became settlers.”

We know that Pierre Beauchamp, the oldest brother of Jacques and Jean had come out but for some odd reason there is very little that would show an involvement with them. Perhaps he was a “canotier” like his namesake.

I doubt that Jacques and his wife , would have had any idea of what they were walking into ………

Notes on “La Nouvelle France” by Peter Moogk

I thought I would write a little about Peter Moogk’s book “La Nouvelle France” as one person’s point of view and findings on that place. I have found that the book is singularly hard to distill down because it is as much a statement of the author’s point of view as it is of the various and interesting facts he writes about.

Peter N. Moogk is currently Professor Emeritus (History) at the University of British Columbia, with a special interest in the history of New France. He starts his book talking about how our school system prepared students for the language and culture of Paris rather than French speaking Canada, a difference I also noticed when I first studied high school French. Everything in the texts seemed so polished and formal. It just didn’t seem relevant to our own culture. Moogk found a difference in political ideology and civil law, for instance, the fact that marriage contracts (prenuptial agreements) were the norm in Quebec and that genealogy and family ties found common threads in conversation. He also states that the distinctiveness of French Canadian culture was discussed in only a very general way in history books. After that, Moogk goes on to explain what the position of historian should be.

There is a difference between historical fiction and scholarly history. Complete objectivity is unattainable, yet a credible interpretation will appeal to the evidence and allow the reader to verify that there is a foundation for the writer’s view. All historical evidence is not of equal value, and the well-trained historian will appraise the veracity of surviving testimony, consider the context of the times, and produce an  account that is consistent with the best evidence.”

The author disputes the idea that the culture of New France was based solely on economics and states that most of the current histories of New France were based on the correspondence of French bureaucrats and not ordinary people. He states that the “colonists of French North America were social conservatives who were determined to preserve what they remembered of their homeland’s ways.” In other words, they did not just come here to make money, for example through the fur trade.

Moogk also states that  small samples of authoritative evidence are preferable to large bodies of information from questionable sources but this can present problems in itself if there is no authoritative evidence. Then he must create a composite picture out of selections from written sources and this is risky because it requires experience and informed judgement.

He than goes on to talk about how we cannot hope to understand the minds of our ancestors because what we consider appropriate now was not the same in the past. The French colonists were “proud, mutually suspicious and fearful people living in a dangerously unpredictable world.”  Moogk’s purpose was to look inside that world and find the source of the cultural differences in French Canada that exist even to this day.

As I talk about life for my ancestors in New France, I will be referring at times to this book.