Thursday, January 01, 1970

Mariage à la façon du pays

Friday, 8. 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.

"I am under a moral obligation not to dissolve the connexion, if she is willing to continue it"

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 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.

Mr. McDougall informs me, that, not long since, an Indian died at Frazer's Lake, and left behind him a widow, who had been in similar circumstances before, by the loss of a former husband. A day or two before the corpse was to be burned, she told the relations of her late husband, that she was resolved not to undergo a second slavery. She therefore left the tent, secretly, in the evening, and hung herself from a tree. Among the Carriers, widows are slaves to the relations of their deceased husbands, for the term of two or three years from the commencement of their widowhood, during which, they are generally treated in a cruel manner. Their heads are shaved, and it belongs to them to do all the drudgery, about the tent. They are frequently beaten with a club or an axe, or some such weapon.

"My little son George"

Friday, December 4 [1807]. We now take great numbers of excellent trout from under the ice, with hooks and lines. Early this morning, the woman whom I have taken to reside with me, became the mother of a boy, whom I name George Harmon.

Sunday, February 25, 1810. On the evening of the 15th inst. my woman was delivered of two living boys. They appear, however, to have been prematurely born; and, from the first, little hope was entertained that they would long survive. One of them died on the morning of the 22d, and the other the last night; and today, they were both buried in the same coffin. He who gave them life, has taken it away. He had an undoubted right so to do; and though his ways are to us, inscrutable, he has the best reasons for whatever he does. It becomes us, therefore, humbly to acquiesce in this afflictive dispensation.

Sunday, 21. A few days since, I sent the greater part of my people to McLeod's Lake, to prepare for the voyage from that place to the Rainy Lake. Tomorrow, I shall leave this place myself, in company with Mr. Quesnel and others, for McLeod's Lake. I shall take with me my little son George, who was three years old last December, for the purpose of sending him to my friends in the United States, in order that he may receive an English education. Mr. J. M. Quesnel will have the care of him, until he shall arrive at Montreal.

Tuesday, December 14. On the 1st inst. I set out for McLeod's Lake; and I there received several letters from my brothers below, which announce the truly afflicting intelligence, that my beloved son George is no longer to be numbered among the living! He was in good health on the second of March last, and a corpse on the eighteenth of the same month.—For some time, I could scarcely credit this intelligence; though I had no reason to doubt its truth. This dispensation of divine providence is so unexpected, and so afflictive, that at first, I could scarcely bear up under it, with a becoming christian resignation. My tenderest affection was placed upon this darling boy; and I fondly hoped, that he would be the solace of my declining years. But how delusive was this expectation! How frail and perishing are all earthly objects and enjoyments. A few days since, in my imagination, I was often wandering with delight, to the remote land of my kindred, and parental love centered in this promising son, for whom, principally, I wished to live, and for whom I would have been willing to die. Perhaps this child occupied a place in my heart, which my God and Saviour only may of right occupy. I hope that this affliction may be the means of disengaging my affections from an inordinate attachment to earthly objects; and that it may induce me to fix my confidence and hope on things, which will never disappoint my expectation. The Judge of all the earth has done right; and it becomes me to be still and know, that he is God. I, too, must soon die; and this dispensation is, perhaps, a seasonable warning to me, to be prepared to meet my own dissolution. I desire that the Holy Spirit may sanctify this affliction to me, and make it subservient to this important end. 

On my return from McLeod's Lake, I was accompanied by Mr. McDougall and family, who came to mourn with me, and the mother of my departed son, the loss of this dear object of our mutual affection.—Her distress, on receiving this intelligence, was greater, if possible, than my own. I endeavoured, by some introductory remarks, on the uncertainty of earthly things, to prepare her mind for the disclosure, which I was about to make. Her fears were alarmed, by these remarks; and, probably, she discovered in my countenance, something to confirm them. When I informed her that our beloved son George was dead, she looked at me, with a wild stare of agony, and immediately threw herself upon the bed, where she continued, in a state of delirium, during the succeeding night.

"Some of the women are excellent singers"

Among the Indians, there are poets, who are also musicians. The person who composes a song, does it by singing it over alone, in the air which he designs shall accompany it; and he repeats this exercise, until he has committed both sufficiently to memory. After that, he frequently teaches it to others. Songs are frequently composed for particular occasions, such as feasts, &c. Among the Carriers, there are often several competitors for this honour; and he who composes the best song, is rewarded, while the unsuccessful poets are treated with derision. The subjects of their songs are generally love and war, though they have some which are ludicrous and obscene. They have a great variety of songs; and I have known an Indian who could sing at least two hundred, and each song had its peculiar air. Female poets are not common among them. Some of the women, however, are excellent singers.

"The women manifest much ingenuity and taste with porcupine quills"

The women manifest much ingenuity and taste, in the work which they execute, with porcupine quills. The colour of these quills is various, beautiful and durable; and the art of dying them, is practised only by females. To colour black, they make use of a chocolate coloured stone, which they burn, and pound fine, and put into a vessel, with the bark of the hazel-nut tree. The vessel is then filled with water, and into it the quills are put, and the vessel is placed over a small fire, where the liquor in it is permitted to simmer, for two or three hours. The quills are then taken out, and put on a board, to dry, before a gentle fire. After they have been dried and rubbed over with bear's oil, they become of a beautiful shining black, and are fit for use. To dye red or yellow, they make use of certain roots, and the moss which they find, on a species of the fir tree. These are put, together with the quills, into a vessel, filled with water, made acid, by boiling currants or gooseberries, &c. in it. The vessel is then covered tight, and the liquid is made to simmer over the fire, for three or four hours, after which the quills are taken out and dried, and are fit for use. Feathers, they also dye in a similar manner, and these colours never fade.

Daniel Williams Harmon 1778-1843

Daniel Williams Harmon was born in Bennington, Vermont (then part of New York) on February 19, 1778. The fourth son of a tavernkeeper who had fought on the American side in the Battle of Bennington, Daniel joined the North West Company in the spring of 1800 at the tender age of 22.

Daniel Williams Harmon was a moral man whose passions were conversation, religion, and family. He was intense but not an intellectual, intelligent but not educated. Though one of his brothers went to Dartmouth, Daniel was cut from rougher cloth. The Reverend Daniel Haskell, editor of Daniel's journal, bemoans the fur trader's lack of a classical education as it shows through in his rough writing style. Nicknamed "the priest" by his Canadian companions, Daniel was passionately spiritual, intensely reserved, and extremely hard on himself. Each birthday in his journal finds him condemning his life of "folly and sin," though apart from one or two occasions where he admits to being "three sheets to the wind," it is hard to find evidence of his transgressions. He was serious, earnest and responsible, and inclined to be dry, especially without the society he craved. This was the society of close friends and their books, and his journal constantly laments the lack of good conversation especially about religion. He missed his family intensely, and yearned for their letters; we can only regret that none of his survived.

After a nineteen-year career as a clerk and company factor in the Canadian northwest, Daniel retired from the NWC in 1819 and returned to his native Vermont. The event that has perhaps most distinguished this otherwise typical fur trader's career was his decision to bring with him his mixed-blood wife and children.

With his brothers Argalus and Calvin, Daniel founded the town of Harmonville, later Coventry, Vermont, in 1824, where he kept a trading post and sawmill on the Black River. The family returned to Montreal in the spring of 1843, where Daniel died weeks after the move in March, aged 65. No formal record of his death is known, though he is presumed buried in Montreal. The Harmon family monument in Mount Royal Cemetery is near the grave of his contemporary, the famous Canadian cartographer David Thompson.

"An agreeable woman, and an affectionate partner"

Thursday, October 10. 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.

"Teaching my little daughter Polly to read and spell"

Wednesday, May 8. People have just arrived from Stuart's Lake, who inform me that the mother of my son was delivered on the 25th ultimo, of a daughter, whom I name Polly Harmon.

Saturday, July 20. Strawberries begin to ripen, and we have the prospect of an abundance of them, as well as of other kinds of fruit. I now pass a short time every day, very pleasantly, in teaching my little daughter Polly to read and spell words in the English language, in which she makes good progress, though she knows not the meaning of one of them. In conversing with my children, I use entirely the Cree, Indian language; with their mother I more frequently employ the French. Her native tongue, however, is more familiar to her, which is the reason why our children have been taught to speak that, in preference to the French language.