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A Brief Chronology of Events Relative to Lord Selkirk’s Settlement at Red River - 1811 to 1815

compiled by Alice E. Brown

Manitoba Pageant, April 1962, Volume 7, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

During the early years of the 19th century the Hudson’s Bay Company’s dividends declined sharply. During the latter part of the 18th century they had run at about eight per cent. In the early 1800s they were four per cent, and from 1809 to 1814 no dividends were paid. By 1810 the value of their stock had declined from a high of £250 per share to £50 to £60 per share. This was the situation that led Sir Alexander Mackenzie to hope that he and his friends of the North West Company might be able to gain a controlling interest. In the face of this crisis it was essential that the Governor and Committee reorganize the company and its methods of doing business.

1802 - Lord Selkirk read Mackenzie’s Voyages. His interest was aroused and he began to think of the Red River area as a possible field for settlement.

1807 - Lork Selkirk married Jean Wedderburn-Colvile. A. S. Morton makes this comment on the significance of the family connection which his marriage brought about:

It has been thought that the connection of the family with the Hudson’s Bay Company brought about his Lordship’s interest in the fur trade. It was the reverse. In 1808 Selkirk was in some sort of relation with Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and was purchasing stock in the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Wedderburn-Colvile connection was drawn thereafter into the Company, and by him. The entries in the Company’s Stock-Transfer Book throw a curious light on the matter. On 6 July 1808, Sir Alexander Mackenzie bought £1,800 of stock; on the 13th Selkirk made his first purchase, and by 24 May 1809 had acquired £4,087, 10s of stock. At this point Andrew Wedderburn Colvile stepped in, and in June and July secured £2,674, 3s. 4d. of stock. In August John Halkett, Selkirk’s other brother-in-law, began his purchases, and before the end of September had acquired £3,717 of stock. [1]

1810 - The North West Company built Fort Gibraltar at the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. In the spring of this year Andrew Colvile’s scheme for the reorganization of the Hudson’s Bay Company was adopted by the governing Committee. This reorganization was intended to bring about a closer supervision of trade, and institute a profit sharing plan for the Company’s servants. Its prime aim was to reduce costs and increase earnings.

26 February 1811 - Nine months after the scheme of reorganization was adopted by the Governor and Committee it was “Resolved that Mr. Andrew Wedderburn-Colvile be desired to request Lord Selkirk to lay before the Committee the terms on which he will accept a grant of land within the territories of the Company.” Lord Selkirk accepted and made his offer to the Company. The Company later explained the origin to the colonial Minister in these terms:

The servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company, employed in the fur-trade, have hitherto been fed with provisions exported from England. Of late years this expense has been so enormous, that it became desirable to try the practicability of raising provisions within the territory itself ... It did not appear that agriculture would be carried on with sufficient care and attention by servants in the immediate employ of the company; but by establishing independent settlers, and giving them freehold tenures of land, the company expected that they would obtain a certain supply of provisions at a moderate price. The company also entertained expectations of considerable eventual benefit from the improvement of their landed property by means of agricultural settlements ... With these views, the company were induced in the year 1811 to dispose of a large tract of lands to the Earl of Selkirk in whose hands they trusted the experiment would be prosecuted with due attention, as the grant was made subject to adequate conditions of settlement.

29 May 1811 - Selkirk’s proposal concerning the grant was considered at a General Court and was accepted by stockholders representing £29,937, votes to the contrary representing £14,823, 19s. lld. At this time Lord Selkirk held stock to the value of £4,087, 10s.

... The Northwesters asserted that Selkirk had bought stock to the extent of £40,000 of the total, given by them as £100,000. “His Lordship may be considered as possessing an unlimited influence and control in the management of the affairs, and the disposal of the property of the company.” In other words, Lord Selkirk got control of the Company and voted himself the Grant of 116,000 square miles of fertile lands. The Minutes of the General Court show the contrary. The votes of Selkirk and his brother-in-law Andrew Colvile represented no more than £8,561, 13s. 4d. Selkirk’s other brother-in-law, John Halkett, who held considerable stock, was not present and did not record his vote by proxy. Selkirk’s large purchases of stock came after he had received the grant ... [2]

Between 19 June 1811 and 7 January 1812, he acquired £18,272, 6s. 2d. worth. Towards the end of his life he had an interest of £26,000 in the Company. The allegation of the Northwesters that he owned £40,000 of stock at the outset, and in virtue of it drove the Company to work his will, does not bear investigation. The driving force in the Committee was Andrew Colvile, a man whose judgment throughout proved sane and shrewd. Lork Selkirk’s name appears but rarely in the Minutes of the Committee. He was never a director of the Company. The sympathy of the Committee with the colony lay in the nature of things. It was part of their scheme to put the Company on its feet. Thus, the North West Company directed its enmity against the Company and Lord Selkirk’s colony alike. [3]

12 June 1811 - 116,000 square miles of territory centering on the Red River Valley were conveyed to Lord Selkirk.

26 July 1811 - The Edward and Ann sailed from Stornoway on the Island of Lewis with 36 workmen under the supervision of Miles Macdonell, the newly appointed Governor of the Grant territory.

24 September 1811 - The Edward and Ann reached York Factory after a voyage of sixty-one days. This first party were unable to proceed inland in the fall of 1811, and Miles Macdonell built housing for the workmen on higher ground north of the Nelson River, at what was called the Nelson Encampment.

6 July 1812 - Governor Macdonell and a reduced party consisting of the surgeon, Mr. Edwards, 6 Scotsmen, 4 Orkneymen and 8 Irish set out for Red River following the Hayes River route.

30 August 1812 - Macdonell’s party arrived at the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers after a journey of 728 miles. In this first party of eighteen workmen were Nicol Harper, and Magnus Isbister, both from the Orkneys. Harper later became a settler in Kildonan, and Isbister’s son Alexander Kennedy Isbister became a distinguished educationalist and the founder of Manitoba’s Isbister scholarships.

4 September 1812 - Lord Selkirk’s administration of Assiniboia was officially inaugurated at the “Forks” in which the men of both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company participated.

27 October 1812 - The second party, led by Owen Keveny and made up of 120 men, and an unrecorded number of women and children, all from the west of Ireland and the Hebrides arrived at Pembina, where Macdonell and his men were busy establishing themselves for the winter. This second group had sailed from Sligo, Ireland on the Robert Taylor on 24 June 1812, and had completed the journey to their new homes in approximately four months. Some well known members of this party were Andrew McDermott, John Bourke, John Cunningham and Francis Heron. Thomas M’Keevor was the physician for this party.

24 December 1812 - A flag staff was raised at the Colony’s partially completed fort, which stood on the south side of the Pembina River where it empties into the Red, and this first Colonial establishment was named Fort Daer, after Lord Selkirk’s eldest son. The fur traders of both companies took part in the ceremony and the celebration that followed.

March 1813 - John Dugald Cameron, a North West Company trader from Bas de la Riviere Winipic visited their fort across the Pembina from Fort Daer. Up to this time the Nor’Westers had been most friendly and helpful to Macdonell, but Cameron apparently brought them word of the Montreal partners’ attitude towards the settlement, and this first easy intimacy came;to an end.

May 1813 - On 14 May a party of settlers were sent down to the Forks, and by the end of the month Fort Daer was all but deserted.

31 May 1813 - Peter Fidler, who was on his way to York Factory arrived from Brandon House, and remained at the “Forks” for a few days to survey the settlers’ lots. Point Douglas was divided into seven small lots; and 100 acre lots, each with a ten chain frontage were laid out along the west bank of the Red River, extending north from Point Douglas.

Summer 1813 - John McLeod under orders from Mr. Heney of the Hudson’s Bay post at Pembina, was building a post on the east side of the Red River opposite the mouth of the Assiniboine. Miles Macdonell felt that a post in this location might be a nuisance to the settlement and asked Lord Selkirk to have it removed, so the buildings were never occupied. No colonists arrived at Red River in the year 1813. In July Miles Macdonell went down to York Factory to meet the party that were expected to arrive from Kildonan, leaving Mr. Maclean in charge of the settlement. Because of an outbreak of ship’s fever the Captain of the Prince of Wales had refused to bring the settlers to York Factory and had set them ashore at Fort Churchill, where they were forced to spend the winter.

15 October 1813 - Macdonell arrived back at Red River and found that Mr. Maclean had managed the settlement successfully during his absence, and had started to build a house 54 feet by 21 feet. This building was the beginning of Fort Douglas. It was situated at the north side of the base of Point Douglas, where the river begins the long loop which forms the Point, and it faced up river towards the Forks and the North West Company’s Fort Gibraltar.

Winter of 1813-14 - Mr. and Mrs. Maclean, with their family and six men, wintered at Point Douglas but all the other settlers returned with Governor Macdonell to Pembina where they could be supported by provisions from the buffalo hunt.

8 January 1814 - Macdonell issued a proclamation prohibiting the export of provisions of any nature from the Territory of Assiniboia for a period of one year. It should be remembered that this affected only provisions gathered within Lord Selkirk’s Grant, and that the provisions were to be purchased, not confiscated without compensation.

31 May 1814 - Sheriff Spencer seized the provisions from Fort Qu’Appelle which were being held at Fort La Souris on the Assiniboine River opposite Brandon House.

17 June 1814 - As the North West Company’s wintering partners proceeded to their annual rendezvous with the Montreal partners at Fort William, John MacDonald of Garth from the Columbia district paused at Red River to negotiate with Governor Macdonell for the release of enough pemmican to supply their northern brigades. Macdonell agreed, and this phase of the trouble between the Colony and the North West Company seemed to be settled.

21 June 1814 - Lord Selkirk’s third party of Settlers, the Sutherlanders from Kildonan, who had been forced to winter at Churchill, arrived with their leader Archibald Macdonald. There were 83 persons in this party. These new settlers were settled on 100-acre farms adjoining the existing lots, but farther down the river. They were surveyed with a narrower frontage of three chains so that the settlers houses would be closer together. In the summer of 1814 Governor Macdonell estimated that there were 200 Canadians with their Indian wives and families living in the settlement. Some of them had already taken up land.

14 July 1814 - The Governor issued a proclamation prohibiting the running of buffalo with horses. The North West Company men agreed with this restriction at first, as it was better for traders, settlers and Indians alike, if the herds were not kept too far out on the plains; but the hunters, who were the only people with any number of horses suitable for running buffalo, resented any interference with their superior position. When the North West Company men saw how keenly the proclamation was resented by the hunters, they encouraged their discontent and resentment.

2 September 1814 - A small party of settlers, consisting of fourteen men and one woman, arrived at York Factory, and proceeded inland with Governor Miles Macdonell.

Winter of 1814-15 - The settlers were divided between Pembina and the Forks. Miles Macdonell spent most of the winter at Fort Daer, contending with the now hostile buffalo hunters for provisions. Many of the settlers, a majority of them in fact, were by this time distinctly unhappy in their new homes, and yielded to the persuasion of Duncan Cameron, the North West Company man in charge of Fort Gibraltar. They decided to leave with the North West Company brigades in the spring and accept the help that company offered in establishing them-selves as settlers in Upper Canada.

June 1815 - 133 settlers embarked with the Nor’westers for Upper Canada.

16 June 1815 - Governor Macdonell surrendered himself to the North West Company in an attempt to avert an attack on the colony.

20 June 1815 - Governor Macdonell was taken back to Canada for “trial”. Among the North West Company men who accompanied him was Simon Fraser, the Pacific explorer. After Macdonell left, the half-breeds attacked the settlement and forced the few remaining settlers, sixty in number, to leave. They withdrew to an encampment in the vicinity of the present Norway House. John McLeod of the Hudson’s Bay Company, along with a few of his men, was allowed to stay in the ruined buildings of Fort Douglas.

This chronology of significant events in the history of Red River will be continued in our September issue. We plan to complete it up to the year 1834, when the Selkirk Estate formally turned over its interests in Assiniboia to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Notes

1. Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., P. 535.

2. Ibid; p. 533.

3. Ibid; p. 537.

Page revised: 23 May 2011

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