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extended the political influence of the French government in its transactions with the Indian nations of America. The privileged traders were generally men of education, and it was their interest, as well as duty, to promote the general objects expected from them; knowing that, on failure, their exclusive rights would be withdrawn. Their conduct besides was closely watched by the missionaries, whose attention was particularly directed to the prevention of abuses arising from the sale of spirituous liquors among the savages. This system had the best effect in improving the character and increasing the comforts of the natives; as a proof of which,' says Lord Selkirk, we need only compare the present state of the Indians in Canada, with that in which they stood immediately after the conquest of that province by Great Britain, at which period populous villages existed in many districts where, at present, we meet only two or three wandering families, and these addicted to the most brutal excesses, and a prey to want and misery.'
This system of traffic, however, being inconsistent with the received principles of freedom of trade' under the English government, was speedily abolished, and the trade thrown open; the first adventurers made large profits; and this encouraged others to embark in the same concern; a keen commercial competition arose, which, if confined to innocent barter, might have been advantageous to the Indians by supplying them with better goods ou more reasonable terms: but it was soon discovered that, of all the goods offered for sale, a profuse supply of spirituous liquors was the shortest and most ready mode of obtaining a preference in the market. The propensity of the Indians to intoxication was fostered by unbounded temptation; and disorders of all kinds were the result: the rival traders, scattered over a country of immense extent, and removed to a distance from all civil authority, believed, and were confirmed in the belief, that the commission of almost every crime would pass with impunity. Every art,' says Lord Selkirk, which malice could devise, was exerted without restraint, and the intercourse of the traders with each other partook more of the style of the savages by whom they were surrounded, than of the country from which they had sprung.' His lordship quotes Mr. Henry and Sir Alexander M'Kenzie to prove the reciprocal hostility of the traders, each pursuing his own interests in such a manner as might most injure his neighbour,'-and the baneful effects of such conduct on the morals of the Indians. The agents principally employed in the distant parts of the country were French Canadians, known by the name of Coureurs des bois, a set of men who, by accompanying the natives on their hunting and trading excursions, had become so attached to the Indian mode of life, that they had lost all relish for their former habits and native homes. The missionaries com
plained of the licentious manners of these men, whom they repre sented as a disgrace to the Christian religion; while the Indians, losing all respect for them, laid them under frequent contributions: the merchants who had embarked in the trade were disgusted with their ill success, and refused to continue their advances. Sir Alexander states, that in the year 1780, as some of these traders were about to depart from the Eagle Hills, where a large band of Indians were engaged in drinking near their houses, a Canadian, to ease himself of the troublesome importunities of a native, gave him a dose of laudanum in a glass of grog, which effectually prevented him from giving further trouble to any one, by setting him asleep for ever. The consequence of this was a fray, in which one of the traders and several of the men were killed, and the rest saved themselves by flight. About the same time two of the establishments on the Assineboin River were attacked, when several white men and a greater number of Indians were killed. In short, it appeared that the natives had come to the resolution of extirpating the traders, and that they were only saved from their indignation by the ravages of the smallpox, which, at this moment, spread among the Indians like a pestilence, and almost depopulated the country. By this calamity the traders, though rescued from personal danger, found the source of their profits cut off; no furs were brought to them; and those natives who had escaped the contagion, fled their approach, and hunted only for their own subsistence.
In this forlorn situation of the fur trade, the merchants of Canada thought it best to form an association under the name of the Northwest Company, and throw their separate capitals into one common stock; but a few individuals, not satisfied with the arrangement, continued to carry on a separate trade. This retarded a general union, which, when effected, was again dissolved; in 1798 a great secession from the North-west Company took place, and a new one was formed, known by the name of the X. Y. Company. A coalition, however, was at length effected between these rival bodies in the year 1805, at which time the North-west Company took its present form and character—a character so curious, that we shall briefly describe it from Lord Selkirk's pages.
The whole concern is divided into a hundred shares; seventy-five of which belong to the Old, and twenty-five to the New Company; of the former, thirty are held by one house at Montreal; of the latter, eighteen or nineteen are appropriated to different houses in Montreal and London; the remaining shares are held by individuals, who are termed wintering partners, and who take upon themselves the charge of managing the affairs of the Company in the interior. These partners hold a general meeting every summer at the rendez
vous of Fort William, at the Grand Portage, on Lake Superior; where all matters are decided by a majority of votes, each share giving a vote, and absentees voting by proxy. After a certain period of service, a wintering partner is permitted to retire with considerable allowances; the vacancy is filled by the election of a clerk, who must have served a certain number of years, under the direction of the wintering partners, in the management of one or more trading posts in the interior; the choice, as may be supposed, generally falls on one who possesses the qualifications most requisite for promoting the common interest; he must be well acquainted with the nature of the trade, the character and manners of the Indians, and the mode of acquiring influence among them. The hope of obtaining the envied situation of a partner, excites among the senior clerks an activity and zeal for the general interests of the concern, hardly inferior to that of the partners themselves; who, on their part, watch closely the conduct of the clerks under their immediate command, not only from regard to the common interest, in which they participate, but also from feelings of personal responsibility; as the praise or censure of his associates is dealt out to each partner according to the success or failure of his management, and the profit or loss on his ledger.
This system, Lord Selkirk observes, is admirably calculated to infuse activity into every department; and to direct that activity, in the most effectual manner, and with complete unity of purpose, towards the common interest; but is by no means calculated to produce much respect for the rights of others: on the contrary, he adds, the very nature of the association and the extensive range which their operations embrace, cannot fail to produce an esprit de corps not very consistent with the feelings of propriety and justice;' and this observation is particularly applicable to the wintering partners. Secluded from all society, except that of persons who have the same interests with himself, the necessity of maintaining a fair character in the estimation of the public, which, in the common intercourse of civilized society, operates as a check on the inordinate stimulus of self-interest, has no influence with him; he is solicitous only for the approbation of those who are not likely to judge his excesses with extreme rigour. He knows too that in these remote regions, the restraints of law cannot operate; and that it must be a case of very extraordinary importance which would induce a plaintiff to travel thousands of miles to find the court from which he is to seek redress. It cannot, therefore, excite much surprize if, under such circumstances, acts of injustice and oppression are committed against weaker neighbours. His lordship concludes by asking if acts of illegal violence are allowed to pass without any mark of reprobation; and still more, if promotion is given to those
who have been guilty of them, whether it can be doubted that there exists a regular, concentrated plan of systematic oppression, carried on with the consent and approbation of those who have the chief active direction of the affairs of the Company?'
To prove that such a systematic plan does exist, he proceeds to point out the conduct of the Company, with regard, first, to their own servants in the interior-secondly, to the native Indians-and lastly, to private traders.
If the facts stated be true, they are most disgraceful to the parties concerned, and highly discreditable to the national character; if false, we doubt not the gentlemen connected with the Northwest Company, in London and Montreal, many of whom are very respectable, will feel it incumbent on them to take immediate steps to wash away the foul stain cast upon them, by the felonious acts of pillage, robbery and murder, which they are seriously charged with having sanctioned and abetted.
It appears from the Journal of Count Adriani, as quoted by the Duc de Liancourt, and from Mr. (now Sir Alexander) M'Kenzie, that the voyageurs, or servants employed in the interior by the North-west Company, are men of the most uncontrolled dissipation and licentiousness, and that the Company encourage this conduct; that drunkenness and debauchery are so essential a part of the system, that if any of them evince a disposition to economy and sobriety, they are selected for the most laborious drudgery and subjected to such a train of ill usage as to drive them at length into the general system. Their wages are not paid in hard cash; but the Company take care to supply them with rum, blankets, and trinkets for the Indian women, and no difficulty is made in allowing them credit till they become deeply involved in debt. The servant is then in complete bondage, and no alternative left him but absolute submission to his employers, or a gaol. He must, therefore, yield to to every imposition which his superiors think fit to practise upon him'-a trifling imposition, it seems, of not more than three or four hundred per cent. on every article which he takes from them! Besides this, money is reckoned according to the North-west_currency-every shilling of which is accounted two of the ordinary money of the province; so that we cannot greatly wonder that with wages nominally double or treble the annual rate of wages in the province, the servants of the North-west Company should never realize any property. So far, indeed,' says Lord Selkirk, 'from saving money, or bettering their condition in this service, there are many of them who leave their families in great distress, and never remit any part of their wages for the support of their wives and children; and, he adds, strangers travelling through Lower Canada must be struck with the frequent appearance of
beggarly hovels, bespeaking a degree of poverty seldom to be met with in other parts of America;-these habitations are usually occupied by the families of Voyageurs employed in the north-west.'
The number of Voyageurs in the service of the North-west Company cannot be less than 2,000. Their nominal wages are from 30l. to 60l., some as high as 80l., or even 1007.-the average cannot be less than 407., and is probably higher; so that the sum-total of wages must be 80 or 90,000l. The gross return of their trade seldom exceeds 150,0002., and when the cost of trading goods, and all the expenses of the concern are taken into consideration, it must be very evident that the Company could never afford, out of this sum, to pay such an amount of wages. To obviate this difficulty their servants receive goods, the real value of which cannot be accurately known without a reference to the books of the Company; but in the opinion of persons of the best general information, the prime cost of the goods so employed cannot exceed 10,000. sterling. From one article a judgment may be formed of the rest-spirits are sold to the servants of the Company the interior, at the rate of eight dollars per quart, which cost the Company little more than one dollar per gallon at Montreal; so that when a servant becomes addicted to drinking spirits (no very uncommon case) it is an easy matter to add 10l. or 20l. to his nominal wages.'-p. 39, 40.
If such be the treatment of their own servants, that which is experienced by the Indians, it may readily be imagined, is not likely to be of a more just or leuient description. Lord Selkirk says that the instances are numerous of Indians being plundered of their property, and of personal violence being exercised towards them, for no offence but that of having presumed to trade with others, who offered them a better price for their furs; that though this is generally done under some pretence of debt, instances are common of the most brutal and atrocious violence, when no such pretence could be alleged. One of these we shall give.
In the year 1796 one of the gentlemen of the North-west Company had been killed near Cumberland House, by a particular band of Indians. From the timid character of the Indians in that quarter, and the insults to which they have been in the habit of continually submitting, it is more than probable that they must have been driven to this act of desperation by some extraordinary provocation. However that might be, it was thought of essential consequence to the Northwest Company that the act should not pass unpunished. One of the Indians supposed to be guilty was overtaken by a party of the Company's servants, commanded by Mr. M'Kay, the partner in charge of the department, who, taking upon himself the office of executioner, as well as of judge and jury, levelled his gun, and shot the offender dead upon the spot. Another Indian of the same band was taken alive; a sort of mock trial was held, in which three partners of the North-west Company condemned him to death; and he was immediately hanged on a tree in the neighbourhood of the trading-post.'-p. 47.