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.