Original Letters and other Documents relating to the Selkirk Settlement
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 33
The Historical Society had a night with Earl Selkirk, the founder of the Red River settlement on 17 January 1889. It was a special meeting of the society, and it was held in the committee room of the city hall. Judge Ardagh presided, and C. N. Bell, 1st vice-president, A. Bowerman, Consul Taylor, Rev. Dr. Bryce, Rev. A. B. Baird, J. W. Anderson, W. G. Fonseca, and others were present.
The object of the meeting was to hear a number of original, and hitherto unpublished letters and documents relating to the early settlement of this country which have been collected by Rev. Dr. Bryce and Chas. N. Bell.
Read by Dr. Bryce.
Lord Selkirk's First Colonization Scheme
Among copies of the Selkirk letters read by Dr. Bryce were some which bear the date I of 1802. Among these was one entitled "A proposal tending to the permanent security of Ireland in a memorial addressed to His Majesty's Secretary of State by the Earl Selkirk." His idea in this letter is substantially that the more turbulent and restless characters in the disturbed districts in Ireland should be encouraged to emigrate to some part of America, not specified, where their religious and national prejudices would not be interfered with. The places in Ireland vacated by the removal of these colonists should be filled by English and Scotch Protestants. In this memorial he made no mention of the places where he proposed to found a colony, but in a supplementary memorial to the Secretary of State, dated in the same year, he says:
"The memorialist, in stating his plan for a colony of Irish Catholics in America, confined himself to the points of essential consideration and postponed, as a secondary question, any notice of the situation that maybe proposed. This part of the subject, it must be admitted, is not altogether without difficulty, as no large tract remains unoccupied on the coast of British America except barren and frozen deserts. To find a sufficient extent of good soil in a temperate climate, we must go far inland. This inconvenience, however, is not an insurmountable obstacle to the prosperity of a colony and appears to be amply compensated by other advantages that are to be found. in some remote parts of the British territory. At the western extremity of Canada, upon the waters which fall into lake Winnipeg, and meeting in the great river of Fort Nelson, discharge themselves into Hudson bay, is a country which the Indians and traders represent as fertile and of a climate far more temperate than the shores of the Atlantic under the same parallel and not more severe than that of Germany or Poland. Here, therefore, the colonists may with a moderate exertion of industry, be certain of a comfortable subsistence, and they may also raise some valuable objects for exportation. The soil and climate are similar to those of the Russian provinces, which supply most of Europe with hemp, and on which, after the experience of the late war, this kingdom cannot with prudence rely. Some of the British traders have extended their discoveries into a climate which appears well adapted even for the vine, the successful cultivation of which would save immense sums that go every year from this kingdom into the hands of its enemies. To a colony in these territories the channel of trade must be the river of Port Nelson, which from the lake to its discharge is between 300 or 400 miles and a navigation interrupted by considerable obstructions, these, however, may probably be remedied. If any concurrance of circumstances should lead to the organization of territory on the Upper Mississippi, a communication might be opened from thence to the same port as the heads of that river interlock with the waters of Lake Winnipeg, in a level country where there would be little difficulty in connecting them. From the length of this inland navigation the expense of carriage will probably be too great for the export of corn, while the markets of Europe remain at a moderate rate. This, however, may have its advantages as it will turn the attention of the colonials to articles of greater value in proportion to their weight and of those none seem more promising than hemp which has been neglected in the Maritime Colonies chiefly, perhaps, because the sure ready market for grain has encouraged the inhabitants to continue the ample culture to which they had of old been accustomed. The greatest impediment to a colony in this quarter seems to be the Hudson Bay monopoly which the possessors cannot be expected easily to relinquish. They may however, be amply indemnified for its abolition without any burden, perhaps, even with advantage to the revenue.
A Great Winter Journey
Dr. Bryce also read a letter from Francis Talbot, ex-mayor of Wabasha, Minnesota. He enclosed the copy of a letter from Earl Selkirk, dated Fort William, Feb. 21st, 1817. The original of the letter, which was recently destroyed by fire, belonged to Mr. David Cratte, of Wabasha, grandson of Captain Duncan Graham. The letter is one of instructions to Capt. Graham. Mr. Talbot also enclosed a sketch of a trip made by the late Mr. Alexis Bailey, of Wabasha, from Montreal to Fort William in 1818 with despatches from Lady Selkirk to her husband. The account stated that "When Mr. Alexis Bailey was about 19 years of age, and while attending school at Montreal, Lady Selkirk fearing some conspiracy was brewing by which the life of the earl was in danger, sought in vain for some days the means of communicating with her husband. A thousand miles in winter was a formidable journey which no one seemed willing to attempt. The gallant heart of the youth offered his services to the lady and she gave him carte blanche." The account goes on to say that Bailey reached the Earl, who complimented him on his bravery, and after fitting him out for his return journey he entrusted him, not only with letters to Lady Selkirk, but with other important documents. "On the return trip a beclouded sun for some days brought affliction and almost disaster to the party. The long detour from the right path of their journey almost exhausted their provisions, and for eight days their only satisfaction was out of the little sack of parched corn. The Frenchmen were determined to kill and eat the dogs, and it was only from the fact; that Mr. Bailey, youth as he was, resisted sound sleep and with pistol in hand watched, not the dogs, but the voyageurs." Finally they ran across a trapper and secured sufficient venison from him to supply them with food. Thus supplied, he led his train in safety back to the metropolis to be received by Lady Selkirk, not only with verbal expressions of gratified heart, but with a kiss of joyful approval. The letter stated that Mr. Bailey was an old friend of Gen. Sibley, Com. Kittson and others. Consul Taylor, who was present, said he knew Bailey very well.
Read by C. N. Bell.
Blue Laws of the Settlement
Mr. Bell read a list of rules, drawn up , by the H. B. Co. in the handwriting of Thos. Simpson, the explorer, for the guidance of the settlers. Its date is probably 1830. Some of the laws are slightly stringent and others very humorous, at least viewed from the present. Quotations are made as follows:
Several instances have occurred within the last season of tripmen and others forming engagments with different individuals at the same time. Such fraudulent conduct will in future be punished in the most severe manner.
Great mischief arises to the young timber and to the crops from the improper practices of allowing unringed pigs to roam at large. It is therefore directed that every individual finding these animals trespassing on his lands do seize the same for his own benefits; and the constables are further empowered and ordered to seize all unringed pigs which they may find straying in any part of the Settlement for their own use as a perquisite of office.
Another highly improper practice is that of catching horses belonging to other people and riding or driving them to a distance, which if continued must be severely punished. Many settlers have been robbed of their horses by Indians; this arises in a great measure from their own cowardice, every man being equally justified in pursuing and firing upon a horse-thief as upon robbers entering his house by force.
For the better observance of the Sabbath be it notified that no loaded vehicles or craft of any description whether I be longing to or conducted by Protestants or Catholics shall be hereafter allowed to pass on that day; and all constables are hereby directed to seize and detain such as may make the attempt on the pain of forfeiting their, the said constables', offices.
Some indolent persons it is observed very improperly throw out the manure from their stables upon the river during the winter season, thereby not only impoverishing their own land but driving away the sturgeon and other fish from the river; such highly reprehensible conduct shall be severely visited whenever it is repeated.
The heathenish and blasphemous practices of conjuring over sick persons it is to be lamented still manifests itself from time to time in the settlement. It is therefore notified that any settlers who will hereafter dare to admit such devilish rites into their houses shall be banished from the colony and the pretending conjurors tried far their lives.
Mr. Bell also produced and read the following documents:
So help me God!
You, Angus Matheson, shall well and truly serve our sovereign lord the King, and the governor and council of the district of Assiniboine, in the office of constable until lawfully discharged there-from. You shall also well and truly do and execute all things belonging to the said office to the best of your skill and knowledge.
So help you God!
Sworn before me, at Fort Garry, Red river settlement, the 23rd day of Oct. 1823.
Goerge Simpson, Governor Northern Dept. Rupert's Land.
Following is a copy of a passport, allowing the Swiss settlers for the Selkirk colony to leave Switzerland. After reaching the Red river, in 1821, they remained until 1826, when they departed in a body for Minnesota.
Under the direction of the central police of the town and republic of Berne, invites all the authorities charged with the maintenance of order for the good of the public, to give liberty of passage to the persons named in the following pages, all residents of Switzerland, to depart for the Red river, in Northern America, passing via Rotterdam, where they will embark under the direction of Captain Rudolphe May of that city, with a recommendation to give them aid and assistance in case of need, which favor will be reciprocated.
This sheet has been deliverd for the term of this voyage.
Made at Berne, in his absence,
Then follows the seals and signatures of public officials - "Ministre de Raviere," "Legation des Pays Bas le Maintcendra," "Canton Basel," "Stadt Coblenz."
In answer to the memorial of the Scotch settlers now at Red river, Mr Halkett has to assure them in the first place, that he believes the petitions transmitted by them to England were are regularly received, and that every consideration was given to them there which the subject of them would admit of. He has not been in England since these were sent over; but a large packet of letters and petitions from the Red rover settlers has lately been put in his hands, and which he will lose no time in attending to as much as in his power, and answer them for the executors of the late Earl of Selkirk as well as he can.
In the second place, he has to state with regard to the prices of goods, that it is uncertain at present how long the colony store will be permitted to continue; but while it does, those settlers who are industrious and worthy of encouragement shall in time of distress receive some credit according to the state of the store at the time. The same indulgence, however, will not be allowed to persons who do not cultivate their lands, and endeavour by every reasonable means to provide for their families. The price of goods in the colony store is now to be reduced, the same to be seventy-five percent, on the London prices (viz., the former York prices); and in order to encourage all the Red river settlers, Lord Selkirk's executors have resolved to remit the interest now due upon their debts, and further, to allow a reduction of twenty per cent on the payment of the principal sum due by them respectively on the 31st day of May 1822.
With respect to the price of grain, the price as recommended by Lord Selkirk (viz., ten shillings oer bushel for wheat, seven and sixpence for barley and seven and sixpence for pease) will at present be continued to the settlers for all which they may furnish to the colony store.
With respect to the application of the Scotch settlers for a clergyman of their own persuasion, Mr. Halkett will state the circumstances to the executors when he returns to England, and an answer will be sent to them as soon as possible.
(signed) J. Halkett.
List of men belonging to the Red River Settlement, arriving in Hudson's Bay in 1811, and brought from York Factory, July, 1812.
Passengers on board the Prince of Wales for Red River settlement.
Note. - This party landed at Churchill Factory, Hudson's Bay, about the 13th August, 1813, and the following spring went overland to York Factory and thence to the Red River Settlement. - C. N. B.
Lord Selkirk write Miles Macdonald that he could not get a Catholic clergyman to go out to the settlement. Several had refused him.
Geo. Bulger, writing Aug. 4th, 1822:
"As to what is styled 'Fort Douglas." It is well situated, though there is a better position for a fort about 200 yards higher up, upon the land which Mr. Pricthard gave up. But as to the fort itself it is, as Mr. Halkett can tell you, the most filthy miserable place imaginable. It is, by at least 25 feet, too small, and the stockades are for the most part rotten and tumbling down. The buildings, except one, are mere log huts, very old and so full of holes as to be perfectly unsuitable. The only one that is of any value is what is called the new house, but even this is nothing more than the shell of a badly built log house, being nowhere boarded outside, and having but two rooms finished inside and so badly have these been done that the light may bee seen through the walls in many places."
An application having been made to the executors of the late Earl of Selkirk from the non-commisioned officers and soldiers of the late Regiment de Meuron, now settled at the Red River, and which was transmitted to England last year, Mr. Halkett, on the part of the executors, declares as follows on the three several points of the said application:
1st. As there does not appear to be any means of ascertaining here what quantity of working utensils or other articles were allowed by Government to discharged soldiers in Canada in the year 1816, Mr Halkett (who is of opinion that the Regiment de Meuron is entitled to these allowances) will, without delay, apply through the military secretary at Quebec for a list of the same, and as soon as it is received the allowances shall be made up to those who are entitled to them.
It appears that these discharged soliders now at this place have been already furnished with horses upon credit. And with respect to cattle, they must know that the late Lord Selkirk did everything in his power to get cattle brought to that colony. It has happened unfortunately that the person with whom a contract was made for supplying the colony with cattle failed in two attempts to bring them here. But it is hoped that he will be more successful in the third attempt, which he means to make this season. If the cattle should arrive, a fair proportion pf them shall be delivered to the de meurons, who will hold them as the property of Lord Selkirk, until it is ascertained whether and on what terms of payment the military settlers in Canada were allowed cattle by the government in 1816.
2. Mr. Halkett knows nothing of the regular tariff formed, as the de Meurons say, by the late Earl of Selkirk, to regulate the price of goods in the colony. If the de Meurons have such a document they ought to produce it. At present all that Mr. Halkett can say is that the price of goods in the colony-store is now to be reduced to seventy five percent upon the London prices (the seventy five percent being to cover the expense of transportation from London to the Red River). And with regard to grain, the price recommened by the Late Lord Selkirk, viz., ten shillings per bushel for wheat, seven shillings and six pence per bushel for barley, and seven shillings and six pence per bushel for pease, will at present be continued to be credited to the settlers for that they may furnish to the person in charge of the colony.
3. It is very doubtful how long the colony store will be allowed to continue, nut as long as it does there will be no objection to give to honest and industrious settlers, in seasons of distress, some credit for absolute necessities only, so far as the state of the store at the time will allow. But those who do not, by the cultivation of their lands and every other fair means endeavor to discharge what they owe, cannot expect to be credited again. For the encouragement of all the settlers, the executors of Lord Selkirk have consented to take off the interest which has been charged upon their debts, and they will be credited with the amount thereof in this years' account. And upon the payment of the debts due by them on the 31st of May, 1822, a reduction will be allowed on the principal sum of their respective debts of no less than twenty per cent.
Forks, Red River, July 16th, 1822
Page revised: 13 January 2013