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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Margaret Taylor

So who was Margaret Taylor, and why is her name in so many history books? The answer is that she was the “country wife” of Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This was the fact I discovered when I found her name in the book in the gift shop. It was common practice for men in the fur trade to take a native or Metis woman as a “country wife” or marry “à la facon du pays” (in the custom of the country). Sometimes these relationships were long-lasting, with provisions made for any children of the union. Sometimes, if a man was transferred to another post, he made provisions to “turn off” his partner, meaning he would arrange a marriage for her to someone else, and perhaps make some financial provisions.Although “love” may or may not have been a consideration, the relationship was often  beneficial to both parties.

As Sylvia Van Kirk says in her book Many Tender Ties:

“The Indian viewed marriage in an integrated social and economic context; a marital alliance created a reciprocal social bond which served to consolidate his economic relationship with a stranger. Thus, through marriage, the trader was drawn into the Indian’s kinship circle. And in return for giving the traders sexual and domestic rights to their women, the Indians expected reciprocal privileges such as free access to the posts and provisions.”

From the point of view of the fur trader, he gained not only companionship and important social ties to trading partners, but a wife who was skilled in the many practical skills necessary to his occupation, such as making snowshoes, moccasins and pemmican.

Margaret  Taylor was born around 1805 at the Polar Sea (York Factory) to George Taylor, an English sloopmaster and Jane, a native woman. Simpson apparently had many liaisons with Metis women, and around 1825 began a relationship with Margaret.   Simpson was known to have acknowledged Margaret’s brother Tom, who was his personal servant, as his “brother-in-law”. One of Margaret’s descendants, Christine Welsh, has a National Film Board movie called “Women in the Shadows” which explores her Metis roots.

Margaret bore Governor Simpson two sons. Their first son, George Stewart Simpson, was born February 11, 1827. (He would join HBC as a 13-year-old apprentice and eventually become a Chief Trader.) In July, 1828 Margaret accompanied Simpson on a canoe trip from York Factory to New Caledonia (what is now British Columbia).   Amable Hogue was part of the crew of this trip. During this voyage, Margaret became pregnant again with Simpson’s child.   James Raffan states in Emperor of the North:

“In fact, she had re-crossed through the April snows of the treacherous Athabasca Pass when well into her second trimester. Ninety miles on foot or on horseback slogging over her beloved governor’s muddy winter road between Fort Assiniboine and the North Saskatchewan likely did nothing to improve her feeling of well-being.”

Simpson left her at Fort Edmonton with instructions to Chief Factor John Rowand to arrange for her to go to Fort Alexander. This was done and Simpson’s second son, John Mckenzie Simpson, was born August 29, 1829. (John stayed in Manitoba.) Chief Factor John Stuart’s letter to Simpson, of February 1, 1830, praised Margaret :

“…it is but common justice to remark that in her comportment she is both decent and modest far beyond anything I could expect or ever witnessed in any of her country women. She appears to be as content as is possible for one of her sex to be in the absence of their lord and natural protector and as a mother she is most kind and attentive to her children whom she keeps very clean.”

There was a great deal of surprise then, when in May of 1830 Sir Simpson returned from a trip to England with a new wife in tow, his cousin Frances! Colleagues were shocked at Simpson’s cruel and dismissive treatment of Margaret. Simpson’s marriage to Frances is considered by historians to be a turning point in the social customs of the fur trade. Whereas native and Metis wives were at one time considered invaluable for their skills and connections, only European women were now  “civilized” enough for the expanding settlement. Years later, one of Margaret and Amable’s sons would refer to his mother as a “sturdy Scotswoman”. The denial of Metis roots had begun.

Governor Simpson belatedly arranged to have Margaret married off to Amable Hogue. They were married March 24, 1831 by Rev. David Jones at the Red River church, witnessed by Pierre Leblanc and William Bruce. Amable worked as a mason on the building of Lower Fort Garry, where Simpson and Frances were going to live…how ironic!