Perspectives on the Fur Trade

Document 1: Country Marriages

Source: Daniel Williams Harmon, A Journal of the Voyages and Travels in the Interior of North America (New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1903), 23-24, 69-70, 119, 229-231.


Friday, [August] 8 [1800]. This evening, Mons. Mayotte took a woman of this country for a wife, or rather concubine. All the ceremonies attending such an event, are the following. When a person is desirous of taking one of the daughters of the Natives, as a companion, he makes a present to the parents of the damsel, of such articles as he supposes will be most acceptable; and, among them, rum is indispensable; for of that all the savages are fond, to excess. Should the parents accept the articles offered, the girl remains at the fort with her suitor, and is clothed in the Canadian fashion. The greater part of these young women, as I am informed, are better pleased to remain with the white people, than with their own relations. Should the couple, newly joined, not agree, they are at liberty, at any time, to separate; but no part of the property, given to the parents of the girl, will be refunded.

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Wednesday, [August] 11 [1802]. On the ninth instant, a Chief among the Crees, came to the fort, accompanied by a number of his relations, who appeared very desirous that I should take one of his daughters, to remain with me. I put him off by telling him, that I could not then accept of a woman, but probably might, in the fall. He pressed me however, to allow her to remain with me, at once, and added, “I am fond of you, and my wish is to have my daughter with the white people; for she will be treated better by them, than by her own relations.” In fact, he almost persuaded me to keep her; for I was sure that while I had the daughter, I should not only have the father’s furs, but those of all his band. This would be for the interest of the Company, and would therefore, turn to my own advantage, in some measure; so that a regard to interest, well nigh made me consent to an act, which would have been unwise and improper. But, happily for me, I escaped the snare.

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Thursday, October 10 [1805]. This day, a Canadian’s daughter, a girl of about fourteen years of age, was offered to me; and after mature consideration, concerning the step which I ought to take, I have finally concluded to accept of her, as it is customary for all gentlemen who remain, for any length of time, in this part of the world, to have a female companion, with whom they can pass their time more socially and agreeably, than to live a lonely life, as they must do, if single. If we can live in harmony together, my intention now is, to keep her as long as I remain in this uncivilized part of the world; and when I return to my native land, I shall endeavour to place her under the protection of some honest man, with whom she can pass the remainder of her days in this country, much more agreeably than it would be possible for her to do, were she to be taken down into the civilized world, to the manners, customs and language of which, she would be an entire stranger. Her mother is of the tribe of the Snare Indians, whose country lies along the Rocky Mountain. The girl is said to have a mild disposition and an even temper, which are qualities very necessary to make an agreeable woman, and an affectionate partner.

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Saturday, February 28, 1819. Mr. George McDougall has arrived here from Frazer’s Lake, to remain, as I am going to McLeod’s Lake, to prepare for a departure for Head Quarters; and my intention is, during the next summer, to visit my native land. I design, also, to take my family with me, and leave them there, that they may be educated in a civilized and christian manner. The mother of my children will accompany me; and, if she shall be satisfied to remain in that part of the world, I design to make her regularly my wife by a formal marriage. It will be seen by this remark, that my intentions have materially changed, since the time that I at first took her to live with me; and as my conduct in this respect is different from that which has generally been pursued by the gentlemen of the North West Company, it will be proper to state some of the reasons which have governed my decision, in regard to this weighty affair. It has been made with the most serious deliberation; and, I hope, under a solemn sense of my accountability to God.

Having lived with this woman as my wife, though we were never formally contracted to each other, during life, and having children by her, I consider that I am under a moral obligation not to dissolve the connexion, if she is willing to continue it. The union which has been formed between us, in the providence of God, has not only been cemented by a long and mutual performance of kind offices, but, also, by a more sacred consideration. Ever since my own mind was turned effectually to the subject of religion, I have taken pains to instruct her in the great doctrines and duties of Christianity. My exertions have not been in vain. Through the merciful agency of the Holy Spirit, I trust that she has become a partaker with me, in the consolations and hopes of the gospel. I consider it to be my duty to take her to a christian land, where she may enjoy Divine ordinances, grow in grace, and ripen for glory. We have wept together over the early departure of several children, and especially, over the death of a beloved son. We have children still living, who are equally dear to us both. How could I spend my days in the civilized world, and leave my beloved children in the wilderness? The thought has in it the bitterness of death. How could I tear them from a mother’s love, and leave her to mourn over their absence, to the day of her death? Possessing only the common feelings of humanity, how could I think of her, in such circumstances, without anguish? On the whole, I consider the course which I design to pursue, as the only one which religion and humanity would justify.