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Memorable Manitobans: Sarah McLeod Ballenden (1818-1853)

Fur-trade wife.

Born in Rupert’s Land, she was the daughter of Chief Trader Alexander McLeod and his “half-breed wife.” In the 1930s she was sent for education to Red River, where she met and married John Ballenden. Pretty and vivacious, she chafed during Ballenden’s posting to Upper Canada and rejoiced at his return in 1848. The pleasure was considerably reduced by her husband’s stroke, but Sarah enjoyed the status of the wife of a Chief Factor, including a “dalliance” with an English officer who often ate at the Hudson’s Bay Company mess table. Those who regarded Sarah Ballenden’s ancestry as tainted led the attempts to blacken her character by spreading rumours of adultery, and the tiny settlement chose sides as Captain Christopher Foss went to court in 1850 “to clear the reputation of a lady.” Despite a jury finding in Foss’ favour with an assessment of high damages against the defendants, those who criticized Sarah refused to be chastised. An incriminating note allegedly from Sarah to Foss that was intercepted by George Simpson hardly helped. Alexander Ross reported, “If there is such a thing as dying of a broken heart, she cannot live long.” She died in Edinburgh shortly after being reunited with her husband.

See also:

“The Reputation of a Lady”: Sarah Ballenden and the Foss-Pelly Scandal by Sylvia Van Kirk
Manitoba History, Number 11, Spring 1986

“Destined to Raise Her Caste”: Sarah Ballenden and the Foss-Pelly Scandal by Sylvia Van Kirk
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 31, 1974-75 Season

“Many Tender Ties”: Women in Fur Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870 by Sylvia Van Kirk

Sarah McLeod, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 17 August 2013

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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