Francois Payette


The Flintlock gun

The Voyageur and his flintlock gun

Someone who I happen to follow on Twitter put out a request for information on Francois Payette, and as I knew he was a West of the Rocky Mountains man, I responded with what information I had on hand. Firstly, I own a copy of B.C. Payette’s The Oregon Country Under the Union Jack, published privately in 1962 by Payette Radio Limited. B.C. Payette must be a descendant of Francois Payette, and he followed his ancestor through various fur trade records, publishing what he found in two books that I know of.

The first book, published in 1964 by Payette Radio, is titled The Northwest and is found at the University of Victoria Library. I photocopied parts of the book when I was searching for my Beaulieu ancestor. He has lists of people who were working for the North West Company after “la fusion” in 1804, and also the “Lists of Men for the year 1805” at various posts. I found my Beaulieu ancestor at Red River —  but I didn’t find Payette in any of the lists of NWC employees in this book — I even went back to the university to check the book, and didn’t find him there. However, as we all know, these lists of employees are incomplete. 

One online biography for Francois Payette, written by Ron Marlow, has Payette working as a young man on Lake Ontario as a canoeman, building log rafts and floating them 300 miles downriver to Quebec. The book mentioned above contains letters written by the owner of the company (Thomas Blackwood), so B.C. Payette knows that this is his ancestor. Blackwood’s company also seems to have connections to the fur trade through its headquarters at Michilimackinac — though it doesn’t trade in furs as far as I can tell. 

The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives has no biographical record for Francois Payette, but in his three volume book, Lives Lived West of the Divide, Bruce Watson has him listed as being born in L’Assomption, Quebec, in 1794. Francis D. Haines Jr., author of Francois Payette’s biography in the Pacific Northwest Quarterly, vol. 47, No. 2 (April 1956) [available on JSTOR] is titled: “Francois Payette, Master of Fort Boise.” He says this:

The birth and early life of Francois Payette are shrouded in mystery. The first known record of him is from 1810. In that year, he engaged to the firm of Blackwood and Company for a period of one year at Baye Quinté on Lake Ontario. He was reported to be from St-Roc.

Thomas Blackwood’s company traded in grain and lumber. When Francois Payette returned to Montreal, he entered the employment of John Jacob Astor, who owned the Pacific Fur Company. “According to his own account, Payette came to the Pacific Northwest in “the second vessel sent out by Mr. Astor.” This ship, the Beaver, left New York in the fall of 1811 and arrived in Astoria in May, 1812.” [Francois Payette, Master of Fort Boise.]

When the Pacific Fur Company was sold to the North West Company, Payette was one of many who remained in the fur trade in the new company. In 1814, Payette was in the first canoe of the annual express from Fort George [Astoria] to Fort William [Thunder Bay].

So let’s see what B.C. Payette has to say of his ancestor in The Oregon Country Under the Union Jack. He has Francois Payette listed as traveling as a clerk in the Tonquin — not the Beaver, along with Ovide de Montigny and Gabriel Franchère. The Tonquin left New York September 6th, 1810 (which doesn’t mean that Payette sailed with it). However, in his A Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America, Gabriel Franchère lists Payette as “Francis Pillet,” and so I presume Payette did sail in the Tonquin. To confuse matters, in Franchère’s index, there is no Francois Pillet, but there is a Benjamin Pillet. So….

But “Benjamin Pillet” went out with the canoes in 1814, according to Franchère, and so I presume that Francois, and Benjamin, are one and the same person.

B.C. Payette writes that the Hudson’s Bay Archives lists Francois Payette, formerly of the Pacific Fur Company, was engaged on October 17 1813 (by the North West Company), and his time expires on May 1st 1814, when he will be free in Montreal. So this information is in the North West Company reels at HBCA. Another source for information of this sort is Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de-Quebec, and yes, the 1945-1946 volume is listed as a source in the article by Francis D. Haines. These books are in the University of Victoria library, and will be in your university library as well. 

According to Alexander Henry’s “Journal Across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific” (apparently in Library and Archives Canada, but a transcript of which is in Payette’s book, Oregon Country), Alexander Henry arrived at Fort George [Astoria] on November 15, 1813, with the incoming canoe brigade from Fort William. There is no mention of Payette until Friday, January 7, 1814:

Rainy weather at 8 o’clock A.M. arrived four loaded Canoes with Packs in a most wretched condition, some of them perfectly soaked with Rain, the oil cloths were very bad, old and torn, but even with the best of Covering it is almost impossible to preserve Packs at Rainy Season of the year… On board these Canoes, came passengers, Clerks of the late Pacific Fur Company Messrs. Russell Farnham, McGillis [Donald McGillis], Pittet [Francois Payette] and Mathews [William W. Matthews, of New York], they had met Messrs. [David] Stewart and K [Alexander McKay?] yesterday morning at the Willamette and had fully warned them of the danger before them in passing the falls…

I am not sure where Payette was posted or where he came from. But he seemed to stay at Astoria, as, on Friday January 28:

At 12 o’clock 3 Canoes set off with 24 men and Mr. Franchère and Pettit [Francois Payette] to trade Sturgeon at the several Villages above us, as far as the Willamette…

On Tuesday February 3, Payette returned with 25 sturgeon. According to Henry, these sturgeon could weigh anywhere from 25 lbs to 250 lbs, and the larger fish were 9 feet long. Henry also noted that his men could eat 13 Sturgeon a day, large and small.

On Tuesday February 8th, Payette was left behind with the people when Alexander Henry, L[?] Stewart, and Franchère went exploring for a spot to build a new post. By the end of the month they were clearing land for the new Fort George near or on Tongue Point. 

In March, on the 15th, “At 10 o’clock Mr. Pittet [Francois Payette] set off in a Canoe with a letter to Mr. W. Henry on the Willamette desiring him to come off instantly with all his people and to be here about the 25th instant.” On Friday March 25, “At 7 o’clock our people arrived from the Willamette River: — Mr. W. Henry and Messrs. McGillis, Peittet [Francois Payette], Wallace Yam McKay [William Wallace and Thomas McKay?]. Three wooden Canoes loaded with 20 packs of Beaver…” In early April the outgoing express men begin to prepare their canoes for the journey across the Mountains, and as it is 1814 — the year that Payette left the territory — he will be part of the crew doing the work. In Henry’s records, Francois Payette is on the “Statement of People at Fort George for the Summer.” Later, however, he is listed as going out with the express from Fort George — one of the men leaving on the 1st of May, 1814, in two light canoes. Shortly after the canoes left, B.C. Payette stated that “Here the transcript abruptly Ends.” As we know, Alexander Henry drowned in the Columbia River on May 22, 1814. 

In Gabriel Franchère’s book, “Benjamin Pillet” is a member of the party which founded Fort Okanogan. In addition to this he is on the Cowlitz River expedition, the Spokane River expedition, and there is more on his later years in this book. I will try to include all this in the future posts if I can.

So when I continue the story of Francois Payette, I will post it here: 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2019. All rights reserved.

11 thoughts on “Francois Payette

  1. Patricia Edge

    Thank you so much for your blog! We love reading about whwt the lives of our forebear were like, and in some of your blogs – about our forebears specifically! My husband has Beaulieu forebears in L’ Assomption(sp?) also. Even if they weren’t about how some of our forebears lived, your writing is fascinating anyway!

  2. Tom Holloway

    You seem to be suggesting that that Francis Pillet and François Payette are the same person. I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption. Comparing Bruce Watson’s bio sketches of those two men suggests some parallels (apparently both passengers on the Tonquin, e.g.), but divergent in other respects. Pillet left the PNW in 1814, as you say. Payette was active in the Snake Country brigades and later in charge of Ft. Boise. Payette, Idaho is named for him.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      It is actually B.C. Payette who suggests — or more than suggests — they are the same person. In his self-published book, he writes “Payette” in brackets after any mention of Pillet. And yes, I know about his years at Fort Boise. I have also found him in at least one York Factory Express Journal, though whether he travels all the way out to Hudson Bay I might not be able to determine.

  3. Gary Mundinger

    Ron Anglin’s book Forgotten Trails (WSU Press, 1995) page 49: “…on July 22, 1811, the two parties cast off into the Columbia. The Pacific Fur Company contingent was led by…David Stuart…and included clerks Alexander Ross, Ovide de Montigny, Francis Pillet, and Donald McLennan….”
    This party was initially traveling with David Thompson’s group up the Columbia to establish Ft. Okanogan.
    Unfortunately Anglin doesn’t cite his source but you should be able to cross-reference this information easily. It supports Gabriel Franchere’s book which you noted.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, there is already some confusion here as Payette says himself he came out by a different ship than Pillet apparently did. And who is Benjamin Pillet? All this was written by B.C. Payette, who thought that Pillet was Payette — he says so quite clearly in his book, which was written some time ago and so he probably didn’t have access to the information we have today. So I am perfectly happy to accept that the Payette in this Payette book is Pillet, not Payette. Anyone who reads this will have to do his own research to confirm the story — for me, this is just a story, not research, and Payette plays no part in my writing (so far, anyway). Anyway, thanks for your information because it will remain on the website so that people who think this is Payette can be warned it is not.

  4. Gary Mundinger

    I see now that Ron Anglin’s bibliography lists Franchere’s
    Adventure at Astoria not the title you referenced by him. (I’m just adding to the confusion, aren’t I?)
    Looking online I noted Alexander Henry’s The Saskatchewan and Columbia Rivers, 1897, F.P Harper, referenced Pillet.
    Okay, I’ll stop.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, even in this manuscript in B.C. Payette’s book, he wrote Pillet [Payette] all the way through.
      I do have a few Payette stories that might not be in any biography, however — for the future.
      You don’t need to stop. 😉

  5. David Gutierrez

    I enjoyed your information about Payette. Will you be writing about his time in Idaho in the future?

    Thank you,

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Ha! I think you probably know a lot more than I do about Payette in Idaho than I do! But I can touch on it; I know I found information on when Fort Boise was closed down and I presume he was there at that time. He did turn up in a few York Factory Express journals, so that will be new to you. For me, this was just a blogpost, in response to a question I got asked on twitter. Some of my blogposts are just that — stories (right or wrong). Others are research and sorting research for future books.