Manitoba History: Embattled Notions: Constructions of Rupert’s Land’s Native Sons, 1760 to 1860 *
by Denise Fuchs
The children produced as a result of the cohabitation of European traders and Aboriginal women were the ultimate expression of transcultural relations. They were living witnesses to the intimate nature of this complex encounter and a pivotal point upon which thorny matters of race, class and gender were brought to the fore. In Rupert’s Land beginning in the 1760s, a few sons of the families of ‘Bay men’ entered apprenticeships in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The ‘Lists of Servants’ and ‘Servants’ Contracts’ beginning about 1775, designated these sons as ‘natives of Hudson Bay’ or ‘natives of Rupert’s Land’ to indicate their place of birth.  Prior to 1820, lines between Aboriginals and Europeans were fairly fluid, allowing native sons to move back and forth between the two cultures with relative ease and to apply skills of both to their fur trade roles. Notions of aboriginal and mixed-descent peoples were characterized by ideas which flowed from metropolitan discourses. Constructions of native sons demonstrated evidence of ‘othering’ and the desire to inculcate European customs and beliefs. In the new world setting, such images focused primarily on practical aspects of economic interdependence and mutual cooperation to maintain harmony and to achieve success in the trade. In the post-1820 era, though economic gain became an even greater priority for the newly amalgamated Hudson’s Bay Company, increased class- and race-consciousness dominated constructions of native sons and limited their careers in the ranks of the company hierarchy. Notions of native sons in this latter period became increasingly embattled redefining their place in the social order of emergent colonial society.
This article is based on a sample of ninety-five native sons, all of whom were employees in the company-based trade. It examines changing notions of these employees from the 1760s to 1860 and considers the roles that race, and to a much lesser extent, class and gender, played in the making of these constructions and in the careers of the native sons. It encompasses the Hudson’s Bay Company’s move inland and the era of competition with the North West Company (NWC). A third era, 1820 to 1860, is marked by Governor George Simpson’s tenure in the company and includes the monopoly period of the trade.
The process of miscegenation that produced this autochthonous source of young employees was not unique to North America. It was part of imperial/ colonial encounters around the globe and has been variously interpreted. Robert J. C. Young views miscegenation as part of the economics that brought the two parties together. He suggests that bodies like goods were exchanged and that the sexual transaction and the children that resulted were part of the economic and political trafficking of colonialism.  Though temporary relationships were common among both Europeans and aboriginals, most fur trade sons in this sample were the progeny of longstanding commitments—marriages recognized by aboriginal custom, fashioned ‘according to the custom of the country’, or en fawn du pays. 
Several of these unions later received approval according to Christian rite and were registered in parish records. Children of all ages were often baptized on the same day that the Christian marriages of their parents occurred. The registries bear witness to the degree of commitment that fur traders felt for their families and the durability of European moral codes in colonial settings. They also provide a magnificent source for verifying parentage, birth dates, and names of children.
The narratives of fur traders, James Isham, Andrew Graham, and Daniel Harmon provide a base to evaluate constructions of mixed-descent children in the pre-1820 period. James Isham, wrote in 1743 from York Factory where he had established good rapport with the Cree who lived in the vicinity. Graham’s observations were written from 1767 to 1791 while he was a clerk and accountant at York Factory. Daniel Harmon, a North West Company clerk, wrote his reminiscences from 1800 to 1816. All three accounts exemplify what Mary Louise Pratt describes as ‘manners and customs’ literature which ‘served to mediate the shock of contact on the frontier, to codify difference and to act as a normalizing force when notions of familiar and normal were challenged’. 
Isham, Graham and Harmon had liaisons with Aboriginal and mixed-descent women and had children from these unions. Comments on their own families are sparse, but they did speak in broad terms about mixed-descent children. Their constructions suggest a fascination and a delight with the children’s physical attributes and potential mental capabilities. Their descriptions of fair skin and hair, and blue eyes provide an instantly recognizable, concrete and overt physical connection to their European heritage. The physical characteristics distinguish the children from Aboriginal peoples and create a distance between the two. Isham stated that they were ‘as fine Children as one wou’d Desire to behold, streight Lim’d, Lively active, and Indeed fair exceeds the true born Indians in all things’.  Graham wrote, ‘the Englishmen’s children by Indian women are far more sprightly and active than the true born natives; their complexion fairer, light hair and most of them fine blue eyes. These esteem themselves superior to the others, and are always looked upon at the Factories as descendants of our countrymen’.  Isham and Graham both acknowledged the European paternity of these children and set them apart from Aboriginals.
In the 1790s, a gradual shift away from Aboriginal influences and a move toward the adoption of more European practices occurred. Some fathers of these children began to feel a need to separate their children from Aboriginal ways and to instill in them the habits of what they considered ‘civilized life’. They became more and more anxious to educate their children according to British standards and to find suitable employment for them. They may have been influenced by the new British emphasis on occupation and success in business which emerged as part of the transition to industrial capitalism. The London Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had been slow to recognize the existence of traders’ families, began to make provisions for them. They sent out school supplies and teachers and provided more local apprenticeships for native sons. Small schools were set up at Moose Factory, Eastmain, York and Churchill in 1794 and most continued in their operations until about 1811. 
The most dramatic changes for native sons occurred in the post-1821 era following the merger of the two warring companies. One immediate consequence of the merger was the imposition of a much more rigid hierarchy. This change drastically decreased opportunities for upward mobility. 
Native sons and others were increasingly blocked from advancement into the higher ranks. Historian Carol Judd has pointed out that this new inflexible hierarchy ‘would not allow mobility of recruits from the servant class into the officer levels’.  She noted that ‘native sons of servants would probably not be affected by this change but the sons of officers would expect much more and would not be happy with this restriction’. 
The merger also coincided with the beginning of George Simpson’s forty-year tenure in the governance of the company. His preoccupation with maintaining his status and authority in the patriarchal company and his attitudes towards non-European peoples initiated the trend that prevented native sons from rising through the ranks. Just as the hierarchy of the company became more strict and rigid, the racial attitudes of some members of the officer class hardened. Simpson’s public and private remarks about Company personnel signaled the beginning of a change in the constructions of the Company’s native sons. His assertions reflected an increasing tension between the racial elements in fur trade communities. He instituted a system of formal reporting on the clerks and other employees by adding brief comments in his own handwriting to a list entitled, ‘Hudson’s Bay Company Clerks Northern Department 1821/22’. Simpson’s additions formed the basis of his Character Book (1822-30) and contained his remarks for 1822 to 1827 inclusive, and 1830. 
Initially, these accounts were fairly objective and positive but they became progressively negative over the nine-year period. Simpson often portrayed the native sons who were clerks, traders, and interpreters as ‘tolerable’ at what they did. By 1827, he repeatedly described some of them as ‘tolerable for a halfbreed’. He recommended that their salaries be reduced and often stated that they had no possibility of advancement. ‘Halfbreeds’ were reported more frequently as being less successful in the service. They were characterized as a group, as ‘conceited, unsteady, untruthful, and lacking in propriety’.  Failures became predictable. The term ‘halfbreed’ began to have pejorative connotations among Europeans but not among the mixed-descent.
Simpson’s notions of mixed-descent sons solidified in 1831-32 with his implementation of the new position of postmaster which he defined as a ranking between interpreter and clerk.  Simpson stated that native sons had ‘no prospect of further advancement, nor is it intended that they shall be removed from this Class except in very particular cases of good conduct coupled with Valuable Services’.  Chief Trader, James Anderson and Chief Factor, Donald Ross despised the positions of postmaster and apprentice postmaster. In 1845, Donald Ross proposed that the position of postmaster be abolished and that more native sons be hired as apprentice clerks.  Ross believed that the rank of postmaster was demeaning. He considered the sons of officers equal in breeding and education and superior in ability to the stream of raw apprentice clerks sent out to Rupert’s Land by the London Committee.  In a brief entitled, ‘Observations on the Class of Apprentice Postmasters, 1845’, he stated:
In the 1857 McKenzies River District Report, Chief Trader James Anderson condemned the practice of appointing ‘young gentlemen, natives of the country to the inferior grade of apprentice postmasters though doing the duty of apprentice clerks’. These young men, he wrote:
Anderson, like Ross, recommended that the position be abolished, and ‘banishing all considerations of origin that education, ability and character should be the qualifications required for granting Apprentice Clerkships in the service’.  Despite both these recommendations, the rank of postmaster continued to be used until 1875.  Several sons in this study began their careers with the company in the position of apprentice postmaster.
Distinctions along racial lines were not limited to the strict parameters of the company. From 1818 to the 1830s, the arrival of Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries and white women in Rupert’s Land exacerbated growing class and racial tensions. Some members of the social elite who embraced these newcomers, ceased to accept native wives as social equals. Simpson, while urging his traders to form connections with principal Aboriginal families in newer areas of the trade like the Columbia, was making known his preference for white women as officers’ wives in the older more established areas of the trade. It is difficult to grasp with any degree of certainty, the forces that may have been influencing Simpson’s thoughts and behaviour at this time. He may have been responding to the changing notions of European women’s and men’s familial and domestic roles in Britain that coincided with the industrial revolution.
Women’s roles began to be more strictly confined to the domestic sphere during that time. Wives and mothers were to be exemplars of virtue, morality, and visions of tenderness and beauty in that contained setting.  It became increasingly difficult for women to play a direct role in business and professional activity.  They were to be provided for and protected by fathers, husbands, brothers and brothers-in-law.  In contrast, aboriginal women had been hunting, trapping and fishing alongside men in their role as providers and preparers of food well before the beginning of the fur trade. For a century and a half they had been challenging European notions of femininity and masculinity and confronting traders’ perceptions of gender roles.
Simpson’s racialist attitudes, though never far from view, became more entrenched and obvious at this time and provide the most concrete evidence of his thinking. Similar views were reflected in other officers’ statements and behaviour as well. Cross-cultural unions and their progeny were bound to the question of race. In current theory, race is analyzed as a social and historical construct—one that cannot exist out of time and place and is closely tied to class and gender.  In the biological sciences today, it is non-existent.  Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pseudoscientific discourses used race as a means of describing differences in language, belief systems, artistic traditions and gene pools.  Race was often confused with culture and prompted some Europeans to view Aboriginal peoples on a lower plain because of different biological characteristics and cultural beliefs. Scholars of the time believed that humankind had evolved into a hierarchy called the Great Chain of Being that placed Europeans on top and Aboriginals on the bottom. Mixed-races were placed lower than Aboriginals because it was believed that they inherited the vices of both races.  Mary Pratt Douglas suggests that native sons, as the product of two pure categories, were sometimes regarded with disdain and were difficult to label. 
European traders’ and other newcomers’ notions of Aboriginal peoples played a crucial role in the lives of fur trade wives and children. When Simpson’s British wife, Frances, arrived in Red River, very few mixed-descent wives of officers were allowed to associate with her. News of this decision angered native sons, George and Joseph Gladman as they and their wives had, until then, been part of the social elite. Simpson, however, quickly put them in what he considered to be their place. He wrote to Chief Factor John George McTavish at Moose Factory where the Gladmans were stationed, ‘I ... understand that the other Ladies at Moose are violent and indignant at being kept at such a distance, likewise their husbands, the young Gladmans ... The greater the distance at which they are kept the better’.  McTavish, incidentally, had brought his British wife, Catherine, to Rupert’s Land at the same time that Frances Simpson had come. 
Only a very small number of native sons revealed glimpses of self-ascription while commenting on their careers and voicing concerns about company policies and management. Most of them had received a few years of education in England, Scotland, Upper or Lower Canada, post schools or Red River. Some had spent their youth living at the trading posts and thus had become outwardly enculturated to a degree to the European side of their heritage. They had consciously adopted the attitudes of their European superiors in the trade in order to conform to company expectations. But a sense of alienation was evident at times in both the company and private correspondence of these sons, demonstrating an awareness of the fact that the prevailing values of the increasingly British-dominated mainstream had little personal relevance to their family situations.
George Gladman II, deliberated about seeking employment outside Rupert’s Land in both Upper Canada and England. He concluded that though he would feel a stranger in Upper Canada, it would suit the needs of his large native family better than England. On 27 July 1840, he wrote to Edward Ermatinger, a former HBC employee who left the company to became a banker in St. Thomas:
Gladman continued: ‘I have ... been making enquiries in England and on the whole have arrived at the conclusion that Canada affords not only the best prospect of an opening in business but is at the same time a Climate best suited to the constitution and habits of natives of these northern regions’.  Thus, even though Gladman was reasonably accustomed to the European side of his heritage, he felt that ‘Canada’ was a more suitable place than England to relocate his family.
Regarding the company business, George Gladman expressed concern about those who had been clerks for extended periods before receiving promotions, himself being one of them. He had entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company at the age of fourteen at Eastmain. He was a clerk at Moose Factory from 1819 to 1834 and at Cumberland House from 1835 to 1836. After more than twenty years of service in the company, he became a chief trader in 1836.  His discontent with the long wait for promotion and his current situation led him on 8 August 1843 to write from York Factory to Edward Ermatinger:
Gladman reacted to his circumstances by resigning from the Company and retiring to Port Hope, Upper Canada. He joined the company’s service once more from 1849 to 1853 at the King’s Posts on the lower St. Lawrence River.  In 1875 the Canadian government appointed him to the Dawson-Hind expedition to explore the route between Lake Superior and the Red River Settlement and to assess the agricultural possibilities of the area. The expedition was struck in response to the HBC’s attempt to renew its charter. Gladman may have been chosen because he was an advocate of free trade in the northwest and desired an end to the HBC’s monopoly.  Although there was almost an acquiescence in Gladman’s criticism of the clerks’ lack of promotion, he brought his concerns to Ermatinger’s attention and left the company for a few years.
George Gladman’s older brother, Joseph, encountered similar difficulties within the company. Joseph had entered the service in 1814 and served as a clerk in numerous posts until he received a chief trader’s position in 1847. I have found no record of how Joseph felt about his situation but Chief Trader, James Anderson’s comments to his brother, Alexander, 24 December 1846, are most instructive:
Anderson believed that Joseph Gladman’s biracial heritage was the primary reason for his lack of promotion and that he was shouldering the responsibility of a commissioned officer but not getting the pay and recognition for it. Simpson’s 1832 remark about Gladman in his Character Book may explain why his promotion was delayed and why Anderson felt it was race that had postponed it for so long. Simpson described him as:
Joseph Gladman, having spent thirty-three years as a clerk before being promoted to chief trader, waited an additional seventeen years before becoming a chief factor. The latter appointment did not occur until 1864, four years before he retired ending his fifty-three year career with the company. 
Joseph Cook, the son of Chief Factor William Hemmings Cook and his Cree wife, Kahnawpawama entered the Hudson’s Bay Company as an apprentice at York Factory in about 1801.  He worked as a trader, an assistant trader and a writer at York Factory and Cumberland House. He served the company for about twenty years before retiring and moving to Red River.  By 1846, he had been working for at least fifteen years as a ‘school teacher, clerk and interpreter’ in Red River for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) with Reverend William Cockran and Reverend John Smithurst.  That same year he wrote to the CMS to protest about the distinction made between European and native catechists both in terms of workload and pay:
He explained that he had worked for fifteen years holding the three offices of teacher, clerk and interpreter for £50 while European catechists received £100 for only holding the two offices of clerk and teacher. It was only after Reverend John Smithurst arrived in September 1839 that he received £10 for interpreting. Cook asked, ‘what right and reason has the CMS to impose on me this post of duty to perform, more than the European Catechist? I suppose they will say, because I am only a half an Englishman. This is very true, but my good Sir, I can eat as good a plum pudding as any Englishman’.  He suggested that the CMS send out written agreements containing their conditions of employment and rate of pay and based on that, a native catechist could decide whether or not to enter their employ. He thought this would avoid ill feelings and disagreements. Finally, he warned the lay secretary of the CMS not to be surprised if they had difficulty engaging native catechists because, ‘we are rather beginning to get disgusted with our situation and the treatment and the distinction which has been made between us and the European catechist...and the too much Lordship being exercised over us’.  Cook’s skills at interpreting were vital to the missionaries who wished to convert Aboriginal peoples, yet he was not considered to be on the same footing as the European catechists. Cook’s direct confrontation of CMS authorities demonstrated, from insider’s experience, the inferior status of Rupert’s Land’s native catechists and the Anglican church’s notions of mixed-descent peoples.
Another native son, James Sinclair, became a spokes-person for the ‘new nation—the group of both French and English-speaking mixed-descent people in the Red River valley who had forged an identity in the preceding decades. The sequence of events which compelled him to petition for the rights of the ‘new nation are complex and span the years from 1841 to 1850. They are tied inextricably to the changing economic needs of the growing Métis population in the Red River valley and the battle for free trade. Sinclair tried to establish his right to export and on 29 August 1845, in an attempt to clarify matters with the company, he presented a petition to Alexander Christie, Governor of Assiniboia, inquiring about hunting, trapping and trading rights of the native sons in relationship to the company and to the settlement. He wanted to confirm the rights of the native born as compared to British subjects. He wrote, ‘having at the present moment a very strong belief that we, as natives of this country, and as Halfbreeds have the right to hunt furs in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory ... and again sell those furs to the highest bidders, likewise having a doubt that natives of this country can be prevented from trading and trafficking with one another, we would wish to have your opinion on the subject.’  Governor Christie’s replied that all Sinclair’s queries were addressed in the HBC charter and that Sinclair and his friends had access to it. Sinclair then wrote London Governor, John Henry Pelly and Committee on 6 September 1845 explaining that ‘Mr. Christie has refused to settle my a/c in any manner and their being no other course left to pursue, than to lay the case before yourselves, knowing well that you would not allow the slightest stain to rest on an Escutcheon, which has for a century and a half remained unsullied’.  Two years later on 14 April 1847, Governor Pelly and Committee replied from London instructing Simpson to pay Sinclair one hundred pounds and discharge him.  They chose to deal with the matter of Sinclair’s private account only, rather than the much larger issues that he had raised.
Sinclair’s endeavours did not end there. He travelled to London where he joined forces with an old friend and fellow native son, Alexander Kennedy Isbister, the son of Thomas Isbister, an Orkneyman, and Mary Kennedy, the daughter of Chief Factor Alexander Kennedy and his Cree wife Aggathas.  Isbister, a graduate of Edinburgh University, had been hired as an apprentice postmaster in 1838 at age sixteen and sent to Fort Simpson in the McKenzie River district. He helped to establish a trading post at Peel’s River which later became known as Fort McPherson.  He undertook some exploration in the Peel River area which he later described in an article for the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society.  However, after three years of work at £20 per annum, he became frustrated by his lack of advancement and in 1841 resigned his position and moved to London where he became a bitter opponent of the company. As a result of Sinclair’s visit, Isbister published a series of pamphlets in the London Times of 19 August 1848, claiming that the FIBC charter was void. One year later, in Red River, at the trial of Pierre Guillaume Sayer, a native son accused of illegal trafficking in furs, Chief Magistrate, Adam Thom confirmed the rights of the Company to exclusive trade under the Charter. Sinclair used Isbister’s articles to demonstrate that the Charter had been challenged and in the exchange that ensued, he was allowed to act as counsel for Sayer and managed to have his sentence stayed. He achieved his goal of having the ‘new nation’s’ concerns heard by the court. The Metis traders interpreted the outcome of the trial as the HBC’s forfeiture of control of the trade.
Throughout all these troubles Sinclair remained a reserved and able man determined not to waste away as a local merchant or to passively accept inferior status. He was a confident leader dedicated to defending the claims of his people. He left Red River in 1849 and became a citizen of the United States.  Simpson sought his re-engagement as a clerk in 1853 to take charge of Fort Walla Walla and the Snake River Country. Ironically, the company was having difficulty with free traders in the area. In 1854 Sinclair guided his second group of emigrants to the Columbia and he and his family established themselves there near Fort Walla Walla.  Simpson praised his work noting that Sinclair had discovered that mismanagement at the post had been a major problem. A year later in 1856, Sinclair was shot and killed in a raid on the fort.
Another native son, Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun Jr., voiced his frustrations after eighteen years service. He left the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1858 and began to work for the American Fur Company at St. Paul, Minnesota. He wrote from St. Paul to Edward Ermatinger on 22 June 1858 introducing himself as a ‘native of the country’. He stated that he left the company after serving as a clerk for fifteen years because he had no chance of being promoted. Additionally, he enumerated several injustices which he felt the company practiced.  These inequalities were a reaction to Simpson’s practice of lumping all employees of mixed descent together at the lowest social rank. Pambrun told Ermatinger that in ‘conduct and education’, the ‘half-caste[s]’ as he called them, ‘were as good as Europeans’.  He continued: ‘no other nation can so easily surmount the obstacles and difficulties of the country. or are. So generally adequate to its management’. Yet, he pointed out, they ‘entered into the Service upon a lower rank and salary than Europeans’.  Furthermore, he noted that even ‘those of a better Class and who have received a better education, they [the HBC] do not even award a much better position’.  He also noted inequalities in the way the Hudson’s Bay Company disciplined native sons: ‘conduct which in a European is overlooked, is in a native punished, and has always been the case ever since a Bois Bruille [Brute] was entered the Service’. 
The testimonies of this small group of native sons indicate not only a self-conscious awareness of their place in the company hierarchy and the emerging European colonial establishment, but also an understanding of the social context in which their families lived their daily lives. Further, their mediations demonstrate an agency that embodied the strength and courage to articulate their concerns and, in some cases, to leave the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In nineteenth century European racial discourses, Aboriginal people were placed at the bottom of the Great Chain of Being. Native sons and all their mixed-descent kin were classified below that level because they were perceived as an impure category. In terms of class, both aboriginal and mixed-descent peoples were imagined as similar to the lower classes in Britain and in need of education, religious and moral elevation. European notions of gender roles had been challenged since the beginning of the fur trade when confronted by aboriginal cultural practices including spiritual beliefs, kinship ties, and consensual government. While differences were expressed in European traders’ interpretations of aboriginal world views recorded in the pre-1820 period, negative notions of native sons were only sporadically applied at this time. In the post-1820 period, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European racialist ideologies began to play a significant role when the impetus toward European colonization and settlement became more intense. Efforts to fashion the native sons in the images of British gentlemen did not guarantee equality with Europeans, nor inclusion in the new settler society of the Canadian West. Notions of native sons became more and more embattled as the trappings of ‘Europeanness’ which the company had endeavored so persistently to imprint upon the native sons, no longer counted in a society that increasingly valued ‘whiteness’ alone as the instrument for acceptance and success.
4. Mary Louise Pratt, ‘Scratches on the Face of the Country; or What Mr. Barrow Saw in the Land of the Bushmen, “Race,” Writing and Difference, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), p.140.
11. Glyndwr Williams, ed., Hudson’s Bay Miscellany 1670-1870 (Winnipeg: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1975) p.154.
12. Jennifer S. H. Brown, ‘Half-breeds: the Entrenchment of a Racial Category in the Canadian Northwest Fur Trade’, paper presented at Central States Anthropological Society Meetings, St. Louis, Missouri, Spring, 1973, pp. 10-11.
13. G. Williams, ed., Hudson’s Bay Miscellany 1679-1870 (Winnipeg: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1975), p. 232.
16. P. Goldrirtg, ‘The Permanent Workforce: General Measurements, Papers on the Labour System of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1821-1900 vols. 1, 2, & 3. Manuscript Report Series, nos. 362, 412, 299 (Ottawa: Parks Canada., 1979, 1980, 1984), p. 81.
27. Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: The Study of the History of an Idea, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), see chapter 8, ‘The Chain of Being and Some Aspects of Eighteenth Century Biology, pp. 227-242; Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge, 1966), pp. 3-11.
30. Heather Rollason Driscoll, “A Most Important Chain of Connection”: Marriage in the Hudson’s Bay Company, From Rupert’s Land to Canada, Theodore Binnema, Gerhard J. Ens and R. C. Macleod, eds., (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001), p. 98.
33. W. L. Morton, ‘George Gladman’, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB), vol. 9, p. 319.
35. W. L. Morton, ‘George Gladman’, DCB, vol. 9, p. 319.
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