Monthly Archives: September 2020


WAR OF 1812

PRAIRIE du CHIEN, Wisconsin


Beaver, Indigenous Tribes, Metis

This started with John Jay, when in Paris in 1745, negotiating the Peace of Paris that ended our Revolutionary War, set the Northern Border of our country on water boundaries past the end of Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods then westward on the 49th parallel to above the Mississippi River. The definition of borders was a major part of the “Peace of Paris” and several other alternatives had been proposed. The 49th parallel was accepted by both the American and British negotiators. Why the 49th parallel? I have found no reason. Perhaps it was the Northern border of the Hudson Bay Company. This line was redefined by Jay in the Treaty of 1794 (the Jay Treaty). The line was surveyed. (the start of the Mississippi was south of the 49th parallel.) In the treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 the line was extended West and then was finalized in the treaty of 1818. The 49th parallel would be the Northern Border of the United States and extend to the Pacific Ocean. Oregon territory was disputed and solved later.

The Jay treaty in 1794 recognized the importance of the fur trade and the Indigenous tribes that lived and hunted on both sides of the line. The Jay Treaty allowed the Indigenous to freely migrate across the borders. The Jay treaty delayed a war between America and England.  This was to come in 1812 when President James Madison declared war against the British. The Americans had three purposes. The first was invasion and victory in Canada. This did not work. The second was the objection to British attack and conscription of American naval staff on the ocean. This also did not work. The third was stabilization of the NorthWest territory, much in what is now Wisconsin. The war was actually a draw with no change in territory occurring. The treaty of Ghent written in 1818, gave a strip of land above the 49th parallel back to Manitoba and in exchange, a larger piece below the line, which had been occupied by the British, part of the Red River land, in what is now mostly Wisconsin, back to the United States. The treaty demanded that the English leave forts that were in American territory.

In 1812 the United States was small. It was the 13 colonies in the East and along the Atlantic coast, plus 10 that had been added. The Northern area was the NorthWest territory and Michigan territory.  The West beyond the Mississippi was not settled. In the North it was a vast land mass, populated by native Indigenous tribes and Scotch-English traders.  There were lakes, rivers, and beaver.

At the time of our Revolution beaver fur hats were the fashion in England, and the Northern fur trade was very active and profitable between 1730 and 1850.  A life style between the Indigenous trappers and the English traders developed. Several trading post were opened by the British that allowed transportation of the furs via the Great Lakes to Montreal and from there to England. Prairie du Chien, Green Bay and  Mackinac all in what would be Wisconsin were the three major trading areas and all in British control. With the end of the Revolution and definition of the Northern Border of the United States the land became American territory. The control of the trading posts and forts still was under British influence and British removal of their soldiers was a subject of both Jay’s Treaty and the resolution of the War of 1812. Tension between the Indigenous tribes, the British traders and the Americans who wanted land possession continued.

During our first four presidents land purchase and enlargement of the United States was  part of our politics. Obtaining control of the Mississippi from Spain, a critical waterway to transport goods and crops was needed. Thanks to Napoleon’s financial needs, we got the Louisiana purchase which was a huge amount of our Middle land.  This was done in part by our relative Robert Livingston and finalized by James Monroe. Livingston had been sent to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. He was a difficult man, very impressed with his Livingston heritage. He made little progress, and James Monroe was sent to join him in 1805. Napoleon was going through financial problems with his wars and apparently summoned both men to meet with him. The entire Louisiana property was offered for 18 million dollars and accepted. It was land from New Orleans up the west side of the Mississippi River to our Northern border. Robert Livingston then tried to take credit for the purchase! We wanted Florida from Spain. This was done in 1819 by John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State under James Monroe. This gave us total control of the Mississippi. Texas and California and the Southwest came later in 1848. This with the Mexican American War and Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. We forgave Mexico 13 million in their debt to us.

I am a long way from John Jay and our Northern Border. The major population in the northern area were Indigenous tribes, and there were many of them. The economy was fur trade. A strong relationship between Indigenous trappers, Scotch or French traders, and the two fur companies, Hudson Bay Company and later the North West Trading company had developed. These were English based and controlled. It was a big business. The relationship between the traders and the trappers was critical. The Indigenous trapped beaver, they brought them to the trader who gave them rewards, the furs went through either the Hudson Bay Company or later NorthWest trade Company to Montreal and then to England and top hats came out. There were few other people living in this area other than the indigenous native tribes and the traders. A marriage arrangement could be made between an Indigenous bride to a trader.  While the Hudson Bay Company had made this illegal it was often to happen. The children of these marriages were called Métis or mixed children. Many of these traders had several wives and marriages could be started and stopped easily. The Métis mainly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, were numerous and often held an important position in the Indigenous -Trader relationships.

I have an indirect relationship to this. My  great great aunt was John Jay’s older sister, Eva Jay. She in her mid thirties married the Rev Henry Munro, an Episcopal minister born in Scotland. He had had two previous marriages, the first produced a daughter Elizabeth. Both of his wives died after childbirth.  Eva and step daughter Elizabeth were very angry and vindictive people. This was at the start of our revolution and father Henry was arrested for his English ties. He was able to escape and moved back to Scotland.  Daughter Elizabeth married. She married Donald Fisher and moved to Montreal. They had three children, the oldest, born in 1776, was Henry Munro Fisher.  He moved to Prairie du Chien about 1795 to become a fur trader.

Prairie du Chien was a settlement located near the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, a strategic point along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway that connects the Great Lakes with the Mississippi. It became a center for fur trade before the Revolution and was in a part of the land the British had designated as “Indian land.” Henry first worked for the Northwest Trade Company and then as an independent. Later in his life he worked for the Hudson Bay Company.

Fur was the center of the Northwest economy and the British fur traders had developed close relationship with the Indigenous tribes that trapped the Beaver. Almost all fur was traded at posts such as Prairie du Chien and transported via the Great Lakes to Montreal, where it was finished and shipped to England.

Henry’s first marriage about 1796 was to Madeleine Gauthier de Verville (b. c`779, bap 17 Jul 1786 Mackinac, Wisconsin) daughter of Claude Charles Gauthier and Madeleine Paschal Chevalier. This was the start of his Métis connection. Both his wife’s mother and father had one Indigenous parent. His wife’s  grandfather Jean Baptiste Réaume had married Symphorose Ouaouagoukoué, a Native American, during the 1710s. Jean Baptiste Réaume probably met and married his wife while he was a trader and interpreter at Green Bay. By this first marriage, there was a son, Henry Munro Fisher Jr., who had five marriages, several to indigenous brides. A daughter, Jane Fisher, married Joseph Roulette and then Hercules Louis Dousman. Hercules had gathered great wealth at the end of the fur trade with wood and real estate investments. His home in Prairie du Chien was rebuilt by his son and has been restored and is now used for the public. His second marriage was with Marie Anne LaSaliere. They had one child, Elizabeth Fisher who moved to Green Bay after marrying her teacher, Henry Baird. He became the only lawyer in Green Bay. She was French speaking but learned to read and write in English. She became a prolific writer and had a weekly column in the Green Bay newspaper.

Henry Munro Fisher, US born, Canadian educated, is to me an example of what happened to those in the fur trade. It was the start of the Métis family. His first wife had indigenous blood from both her mother and father. In 1812, living in the new United States territory at Prairie du Chien his sympathies would be with the British and he would consider himself more Canadian than American. He had been made an officer in the United States militia but could not think of fighting against his Indigenous partners. The War of 1812 meant a US military force would be sent to capture Prairie du Chien as American territory. This did not work. The American force captured the fort defending Prairie du Chien, then the indigenous and British re took it, and the village continued under British control. But the thought of his being a part of an armed attack by the American troops against his Indigenous and British partners sent Henry north of the 49th parallel into Canada. He went north to St Boniface, now part of Winnipeg in Manitoba, and he did not have to join the fight for Prairie du Chien. He took with him his eldest sons, Alexander and Henry, and a nephew, Charles Brisbois. His wife and younger children I believe stayed in Prairie du Chien. He settled in St Boniface and acquired considerable property. After the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812 the Red River territory south of the 49th parallel became American and Henry senior may have sold his St Boniface property and returned to live in Prairie du Chien until his death in 1846.

His son Henry remained in Canada, first working as a clerk for the North West Company and then as an employee of the Hudson Bay Company and also as a free trader. He became one of the few Metis to achieve the rank of a commissioned officer in the Hudson Bay Company. He spent most of his career in the Saskatchewan district and retired to Saint-Boniface, Manitoba in 1855. He had numerous wives and children and left many Métis descendants in present-day Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The British phase of the fur trade ended in the American North West in 1814. That year, Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Ghent, which officially ended the War of 1812. The earlier provision in Jay’s Treaty that allowed Canadian traders to live and work in the Midwest was not included in the new treaty, and Congress quickly passed laws that forbade anyone who was not a U.S. citizen from participating in the trade. Traders at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien had to apply for citizenship if they wanted to ply their trade, and the vast majority did so. British companies in Canada were no longer allowed to send goods to these traders or buy their furs. After 1815, the New York-based American Fur Company moved quickly to monopolize the fur trade in the Great Lakes region. The company’s owner, John Jacob Astor, known to be a fierce competitor, attempted to crush other trading companies that got in his way. Despite his efforts, Astor never gained a complete monopoly over the trade; too many other Americans opposed him. However, Astor’s company did manage to gain control of the majority of the trade in the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi valley.

A beaver hat is a hat made from felted beaver fur. They were fashionable across much of Europe during the period 1550–1850 because the soft yet resilient material could be easily combed to make a variety of hat shapes (including the familiar top hat.)  Smaller hats made of beaver were sometimes called beaverkins,   To make felt, the underhairs were shaved from the beaver pelt and mixed with a vibrating hatter’s bow. The matted fabric was pummeled and boiled repeatedly, resulting in a shrunken and thickened felt. Filled over a hat-form block, the felt was pressed and steamed into shape. The hat maker then brushed the outside surface to a sheen.

The fur trade ended about 1850.  Beaver were almost hunted out. There was a change in English fashion and the Top Hat went out of style. There was need for the fur companies to shift to other areas which several did. Hudson Bay continued by becoming more involved in department store sales. Real Estate and lumber were profitable. The western push of America for ownership and development of land into farms became a driving American idea and the Indigenous tribes were in the way. A change in the Indigenous from free hunting migratory people into farmers content on assigned property was an American political plan that never happened.  Meanwhile the fur trade and British traders support had made the Indigenous grow dependent on “white man’s” goods.

What happened to the Indigenous tribes?  There were a number of tribes living in the Red River area of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is home to 11 federally recognized tribes: Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation, Forest County Potawatomi, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior. These tribes supported themselves with hunting and fishing and a nomadic life style. Changing them to farmers was not going to work!  Many of the indigenous joined with the British to challenge the American force that was trying to subdue them. After the War of 1812 peace for the indigenous tribes did not happen. Especially in the western lands that were American south of the 49th parallel. The US wanted control of the indigenous and wanted them on reservations. With the end of the Beaver fur trade the partnerships between indigenous trappers and the fur traders came to an end. Continued wars occurred between indigenous tribes and Army forces over control of property.  This resulted in the defeat of the indigenous and their being placed on reservations. The indigenous suffered greatly during this period. Many died from diseases such as small pox brought by “white man”. The trade of alcohol to them by traders was devastating. The loss of their economy by the ending of the fur trade made them more dependent on their American captors. Control by starving or killing occurred. The vast Buffalo herds that the Plains indigenous relied on were slaughtered by US Army and other hunters. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one. Over one thousand buffalo killed. Wow!

A bigger question is what happened to the many Métis children produced during this time. Most of these children lived and grew up in the Red River area and were Canadian. They all grew up in the fur trading time and as adults had assumed roles with the fur trading companies. Most moved and settled in Manitoba and Saskatchewan after the War of 1812. Prejudice against them grew.

Henry Munro Fisher, II, the son living in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with many wives and many Metis children was part of this. Through marriages there were Métis family relations with many of the trader families. His marriage to Madeline LaFromboise in 1820 produced 4 children. They all married and there were thirty grandchildren!  The marriages were to other Métis families, Alexander to Susanne Desjarais,  John to Elizabeth Brabant, Elizabeth to Louis Bousquet, Madeline to Francois Poitras.  A daughter of Madeline, Eliza married Alexander Riel and they had eleven children! Henry Jr. was appointed to the Council of Assiniboia in 1857. This was a prestigious role given to someone held in high standing within the community. The family continued to live in St Boniface, Manitoba on the Red River. Also Betsy Fisher, a daughter of Henry Jr. who married Louis Bousquet had property. Louis and Betsy had a number of children, and a son Chrysostome had land there.

While living in Manitoba, Henry became a partner with Louis Riel, father of  Louis David Riel (1844 –1885)  Louis Riel, Jr became a leader of the Métis people. Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands in the Northwest came progressively under the Canadian sphere of influence. He is regarded by many as a Canadian folk hero today. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government. The first resistance was the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870.The provisional government established by Riel ultimately negotiated the terms under which the modern province of Manitoba entered the Canadian Confederation.   Riel was forced to leave Canada but returned about 1884. Again there was need to represent Métis grievances which ended in the North-West Rebellion of 1885. The Métis were badly defeated by the North West Mounted Police, and Louis Riel was convicted and hung on Nov 16, 1885. Whether seen as a Father of Confederation or a traitor, he remains one of the most complex, controversial, and ultimately tragic figures in the history of Canada.

Between 1812 and 1850 it was an unsettled time for all. The fur trade was ended. The War of 1812 was over. The Northern boundary of the United States had been drawn. The indigenous had become dependent on the “white man” and had been moved into reservations. The Métis people would primarily live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and struggle for their independence. The United States would get five new states. Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota. Immigrants would settle. The land would be farmed.