James McMillan

I’m continuing the story of our McMillan ancestors. James McMillan, was born in Glen Pean, Loch Arkaig, Scotland around 1783. Having come to Canada with his family in 1802 (which I wrote about here), he quickly struck out on his own. In 1803 or 1804 he joined the North West Company, a rival fur trade company to HBC. He was employed at first as a clerk, and spent some time in the Fort des Prairies department (now Edmonton).

In many ways, James McMillan is one of our most interesting ancestors. Should you google his name with the words “fur trade” you will see that he is written about in many essays, books and websites. He had an eventful career in the fur trade.

In 1807 James  accompanied the famous explorer and map-maker David Thompson on Thompson’s first expedition across the Rocky Mountains to the upper Columbia River. He spent time at Kootenae House, near Invermere, in present day British Columbia.

At Saleesh House in present day Montana, James had a shooting accident. In the book Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet, the author quotes David Thompson’s journal and tell us that:

“By the accidental going off of his Gun Mr. McMillan had both the forefingers of his hands shot through by a Ball & much lacerated with the Powder, both of his Fingers are broke & seemingly will with difficulty be kept from falling off – I dressed them the best I could.

Several days later, another entry in Thompson’s journal tells us:
“Mr. McMillan’s forefinger of the left hand having a bad appearance & no hopes of its joining with the stump I separated it.”
Ouch!

In 1821, when HBC and NWC amalgamated, James rose to the position of Chief Trader in the Columbia district (as did our ancestor John Warren Dease). In Governor Simpson’s Character Book (HBC Archives A.34/2) he says of McMillan:

“A very steady plain blunt man, shrewd & Sensible of correct conduct and good character, but who has gone through a vast deal of severe duty and is fit for any Service requiring physical strength firmness of mind and good Management provided he has no occasion to meddle with Pen & Ink in the use of which he is deficient his Education having been neglected. An excellent Trader, speaks several Indian languages and is very regular and Economical in all his arrangements: a good practical Man, better adapted for the executive than the legislative departments of the business. His plain blunt manner however cannot conceal a vast deal of little highland pride, and his prejudices are exceedingly strong, but upon the whole he is among the most respectable of his class and a generally useful Man.”

In 1824 McMillan accompanied Governor Simpson on his journey from York Factory to Fort George (Columbia). Coincidentally, Amable Hogue was part of the crew. Amable would later marry Simpson’s former country wife Marguerite Taylor, and McMillan’s granddaughter Philomene would marry Amable’s son Thomas. Also on that trip was Tom Taylor who was Marguerite’s brother. On the trip, Simpson met up with John Warren Dease. McMillan’s son William would marry Dease’s daughter Margaret).
Confused yet?

In 1827 McMillan was promoted to Chief Factor and soon established Fort Langley at a site he had chosen on another trip in 1824. There is a statue of him and Chief Wattlekainen of the Kwantlen First Nation in the city of Langley at Inne’s Corner. The wooden statues were commissioned by HBC in 2002 to commemorate the 175th anniversary. You can view the statue here.

The Fort is now a National Historic Site. You can watch a video here. And of course, we have another plaque! See it here.

McMillan Island, opposite Fort Langley, is named after James. Interestingly, in his journal records for HBC, James sometimes spelled his name McMillan, and sometimes MacMillan!

As for his personal life, sometime before 1806 James married “according to the custom of the country” Josephte Belisle. They had 2 children, William (my great-great grandfather), another James, and Evan. Definitive information about James Jr. and Evan is lacking. McMillan would go on to have two more “country wives”, Marie Letendre and Kilakotah, and numerous children.

When Governor Simpson went to England to find a wife (abandoning our ancestor Marguerite Taylor), James accompanied him, and found himself a Scottish bride, Eleanor McKinley. Heather Devine in her essay “The Indian-Metis connection: James McMillan and his descendants”, which is in the book The Lochaber Emigrants to Glengarry notes:

“Today the values of a fur-trade society that promoted liaisons with native women, then encouraged and condoned the custom of abandoning country wives, seem alien. James McMillan, however, was responding to the rigorous demands of his profession. Furthermore, by marrying his country wives and daughters to responsible partners and by ensuring that his sons were offered opportunities in the fur trade, McMillan obeyed the customs of the country.”

In 1830 James was appointed to run an experimental farm at Red River. He was there until 1834, but it was not a successful endeavour. He then went to the Montreal district, and retired from the fur trade in June 1839. He returned to Scotland, and died there in 1858.

Here is a summary of James McMillan’s HBC career.

HBC Archives

HBC Archives

And what of McMillan’s country wife, Josephte Belisle? She was born in the North West Territories to Belisle, a French Canadian and Josephte, a native woman. Sometime around 1815, having been “turned off” by James, she became the country wife of Amable Fafard dit Delorme. Josephte and Amable had 5 children, who thus became half-siblings to my great great-grandfather William.

This Delorme family had several interesting connections. Pierre Delorme was an important political figure in Manitoba. He was part of the Provisional Government headed by Louis Riel during the Red River Resistance. He was also the first member to represent Provencher in the federal House of Commons, from 1870 to 1872. The original Delorme house, an example of Red River frame construction, is on display at St. Norbert Provincial Park. See it  here.

Genevieve Delorme (also William’s half sister) married Andre Beauchemin, who was also a member of the Provisional Government.

Amable Fafard dit Delorme must have died before 1835, when we find Josephte listed as the ‘Widow Delorme” in the Red River Census of 1835. In 1838 and 1840 her son William and his wife Marguerite Dease are living with her. In the 1870 census Josephte is living near William. She died after 1876. Despite being married to Delorme, she called herself McMillan when she applied for scrip.

Library and Archives Canada RG 15 v. 1322

Library and Archives Canada RG 15 v. 1322

You can read more about James McMillan in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

And here’s our descent to Pépère:

1-James MCMILLAN (1783-1858)
+Josephte BELISLE (1785-?)
2-William MCMILLAN (1806-1903)
+Margaret DEASE (1818-1905)
3-Philomene MCMILLAN (1848-1923)
+Thomas HOGUE (1840-1924)
4-Thomas Joseph HOGUE (1879-1955)

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2 thoughts on “James McMillan

  1. Monique carriere

    I have just recently found out that I am a descendant of Alan McMillan and Marguerite Cameron. I have always held a wish to go to Scotland which I plan to do in 2020. I am very anxious to see the areas where my ancestors came from. I do come from Winnipeg Manitoba

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