Tuesday, October 01, 1985

Lisette Duval (Laval) Harmon 1791-1862

" cherished companion and the mother of my children" --Daniel Harmon

Elizabeth Laval, or Duval, was the Métis "daughter of a French-Canadian voyageur and a woman of the Snare people, whose country lies along the Rocky Mountain." She was born circa 1791 in the western Canadian Rockies. At the age of 14, Lisette was given as a "country wife" or femme du pays to Daniel Harmon "à la façon du pays" (in the custom of the country, or in common law) at South Branch Fort, Saskatchewan, on October 10, 1805. She traveled to the prairies and British Columbia for a decade with Daniel, and returned from Fraser Lake, BC to Vermont with him and their two surviving daughters in the spring of 1819.

Lisette and Daniel were formally married in the church of NorthWest Company headquarters at Fort William on August 19, 1819. Her son John was born on August 24, and the family departed for Montreal two days later. They arrived in Vergennes, Vermont, on September 11, having made a canoe trip of some four thousand miles in eleven weeks with three small children including a newborn. Lisette eventually bore fourteen children, ten surviving infancy; she buried all but two, as well as her husband. She died at Sault-au-Recollet, Montreal, February 14, 1862 aged 70, and is buried in Lot G-11 of Mount Royal Cemetery.

Sunday, August 04, 1985

Daniel's Decision

Friday, August 4, 1815 is a turning point in Daniel Harmon's journal. Devastated by news of his son George's death, Daniel turned inward in a profound spiritual crisis that would change his life and lead him to end his North West Company career. For the next three years, Daniel struggled with intense grief for the loss not only of his son, but his father and several of his brothers back in Vermont. And his grief was not his alone, for he had had to break the news to Lisette.

"Her distress at 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 she probably discovered in my countenance something to confirm them. When I informed her that our beloved son was dead, she looked at me with a wild stare of agony and immediately threw herself on the bed, where she continued in a state of delirium during the succeeding night."

This period was also a turning point in the Company's fortunes. Beaver exports had been declining steadily: trapped out, said some, and starved, said others. The War of 1812 had left the Americans a major force in the fur trade, leading the Hudson Bay Company to take over the North West Company in a bid to keep Canadian trade routes out of American hands. Next, the Red River Affair discredited both the Company and its leader Simon Fraser when Scottish settlers attacked and burned the trading post for its close relations with natives and MŽtis. Trade was giving way to settlement, white women were pushing westward, and formal church marriages were displacing the more casual liaisons "in the custom of the country." It was the end of an era. Heartsick and homesick, Daniel's thoughts turned to home.