When my book was published in November 2011, I was also in the throes of writing a talk to be given in front of the Victoria Historical Society. In order to write the speech, I re-read and quoted from “The Private Journal of Henry Newsham Peers from Fort Langley to Thompson’s River, Summer 1848,” found in the British Columbia archives under [its old] number E/A/P34A. Alexander Caulfield Anderson had, as his clerk, a young man named Simpson. I had no idea who he was and he remains entirely unmentioned in my book. But imagine my shock and horror when I realized that I had ignored George Stewart Simpson, mixed-blood, illegitimate son of the HBC Governor George Simpson.
But of course he wasn’t important to the story I was telling in The Pathfinder; he might not even be more than a spear-thrower in my next book. Still, it was an interesting discovery….
James Raffen, author of Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson and the Remarkable story of the Hudson’s Bay Company, says this about Sir George Simpson’s son, George:
p.233-34: While Simpson tended to his labours in Lachine, Margaret Taylor “gave birth at York Factory in February 1827 to a bouncing baby boy, whom she named George Stewart Simpson. Simpson met the child for the first time that summer, during the Northern Council at the depot, just before he hurried back south to make his way … to Moose Factory… On his way back upriver in September, to return to Lachine, he jotted off another quick private note to McTavish, in which his paternal responsibilities were given their usual shrug. “Pray keep a sharp look out upon Madam, if she behaves well let her be treated accordingly but on the contrary [be] sent about her business and the child taken from her.” That was the Governor’s attitude toward his mixed blood mistress and son. The next time he met Margaret, Governor Simpson was married to his cousin, and he rushed through Fort Alexander, where Margaret was now living, so as to avoid having to “introduce his unsuspecting English wife to his half-Chipewyan wife, who had been counting the days until his return.”
Poor Margaret Taylor. But it appears that Governor Simpson did not entirely abandon his illegitimate children. Both George and his brother, John, were sent West of the Rocky Mountains.
I have learned a lot more about George Simpson, the son, and his career west of the Rockies. The first mention I find of him is in 1847, when in April John Lee Lewes reports from Fort Colvile that “Your son George has past the winter with me, he has conducted himself to my satisfaction with one solitary exception, attentive to what I have said to him, and is very smart with his Pen. A little of your [admonition] to him however will not be amiss, he is yet young, and I understand has been applying to get married. I have prevented this taking place, and will do so as long as he is with me, a hint on this matter as well as that on temperance from you will I think be of beneficial effect for the young Man.” Simpson was about twenty years old at that time. A few months later Lewes reported that: “The Summer business of this place during my absence was left to Mr. G. Simpson, who performed the duties satisfactorily.”
In October  George Simpson wrote a letter to his father, the Governor, from Fort Connah, in the Flathead Country. The letter begins with this sad paragraph:
My dear Father. You will I hope pardon the liberty I now take in writing you, after having delayed doing so for some time past and perhaps giving you a great deal of uneasiness and the risk of your displeasure, my reason for not having corresponded with you was, that I had by several opportunities previous sent you letters and they were never acknowledged. I am really ashamed and vexed at myself for my past conduct at the islands, and now deem it my duty as a son to ask your forgiveness for my past folly, which I can now assure you was more my misfortune than my fault. I am aware that slanders circulate with the rapidity of thought and the bad actions of men are much more talked about than the good — being thrown into Company at the Islands when young and inexperienced of the ways of the world, it is no wonder that such a lad as I was then, got entangled into the snare, when my Superior has a propensity to the same failing. I attribute it rather to hot blood and unrestrained liberty, than any wish or love of indulging in dissipation, I trust by the help of Gods Grace this will be the last time I shall have to ask your forgiveness on that head, amendment shall be my trial in the future.
George had spent four years at the Sandwich Islands, where he worked under an alcoholic man who taught him to drink. Here is what Bruce McIntyre Watson’s books, Lives Lived West of the Divide, has to say of young George Stewart Simpson:
George Stewart Simpson came to Fort Vancouver as a boy of eight with the 1836 brigade. In 1838, according to Reverend Herbert Beaver, young Simpson had arrived decently clothed but two years later he was running about “in appearance like a beggar’s child, and at one time suffered so much from sores, brought on entirely by the neglect of Chief Factor McLoughlin’s woman, under whose charge he was placed.” Young Simpson had probably got his sores from flea bites from his beating furs in the large fur house at the fort, a job that young children often did. In 1841, he joined the HBC, likely at Fort Vancouver, and joined his father, Sir George Simpson, for a voyage to Honolulu where he spent the next four years in apprenticeship. He rose through the ranks and around 1858 became Chief Trader….
In March 1848 James Douglas (still at Fort Vancouver) reports that George Simpson “is said to be rather high mettled, but in the main a smart, kind-hearted youth and as the old [Dr] Gardiner used to say of my namesake the botanist [David Douglas], “better a deivil, than a dolt.””
So, if in 1847 he was at Fort Colvile over the summer, he may or may not have travelled upriver with Thomas Lowe’s York Factory Express. But he did come out with the outgoing Fort Colvile brigade along with Henry Newsham Peers! When he went in with the brigade from Fort Langley, he remained in the Kamloops area. In April 1849 he wrote another letter to his father, the Governor:
My dear Father; it is with great pleasure that I take up my pen to acknowledge the receipt of your letter… and to thank you for thus condescending to bestow your invaluable time on addressing an undutiful son as well as for your [word] in passing over past misconduct: trusting that my future behaviour will be amply amended for the uneasiness which my rash conduct has cost you.
He gave an excellent description of the incoming 1848 brigade which, unfortunately, I did not have when I wrote The Pathfinder. [As a writer, I have learned that you find the best stuff after your book is published!] In February 1850, James Douglas reported to Governor Simpson, telling him that George was at Kamloops, active and useful, and John [George’s brother] at Fort Langley. But George soon ended up at Fort Victoria, where he is mentioned in my great-uncle James Robert Anderson’s memoirs. James was then a twelve-year-old student at Reverend Staines’ school, established inside the walls of the fort. This is what he wrote:
About this time an incident occurred which illustration the vigilance which had to be exercised by the Hudson’s Bay Company regarding the prevention of the indiscriminate use of spirituous liquors by their employees and natives. As long as the Company’s vessels alone traded on the coast the supervision of this illicit traffic was comparatively easily controlled but when outside vessels from the American ports began to trade, infractions of the rule became more frequent. On the occasion alluded to, the men by some means had secretly obtained a barrel of spirits which they surreptitiously conveyed to their quarters where they proceeded to have a proper carouse. It of course did not take long for the evidences of the irregularity to become very apparent and forthwith a search was ordered by Mr. [James] Douglas and the barrel discovered and seized. Then in sight of the whole school it was taken to the middle of the fort yard and the head smashed in with an axe by Mr. George Simpson. The disappointed and intoxicated men on their hands and knees taking a last draught as the liquor ran out not even taking the trouble to use their hands to scoop it up.
Simpson must have come out with the brigade in 1850, as Douglas wrote in October 1850, that he had “detained George at Langley, and he is now here with me [at Fort Victoria], and worth Moffat and Robertson put together. He is very attentive, smart and active, and a good pens man, though I perceive he has, contrary to his usual accuracy, made one or two mistakes in copying the letters correct. I will give you a further report of him, if spared till spring.”
In 1857 George married one of James Murray Yale’s daughters, and I have a personal story from a descendant about this marriage. Here’s how she started, after I had posted what information I had on my old blog:
Always great to read your posts. Ohhh but where is the romance in you? You did not mention of wedding of young (or not so young) George Simpson to Isabella was shared with John D. Manson, who married another Yale daughter, Aurelia. It was a pageant on the Fraser attended by Governor Douglas.
The rest of the story comes from the book: Pioneer Women of Vancouver Island, and is told by Aurelia Manson, nee Yale. It reads:
The Brigade, their one hundred horses left at Hope, used to come to Langley with their chief Traders, [Peter] Ogden, [Donald] McLean, and their clerks. They brought rich loads of furs and stopped with us for a few days selecting their outfits for the year. My younger sister and I were married at the same time. She married Mr. G. Simpson, son of Sir George Simpson. He was much older than my husband [John D. Manson].
Our wedding ceremonies were performed by the Governor, Sir James Douglas, in the presence of his daughter, Miss Agnes, his niece, Miss Cameron, Mr. Dallas, Mr. Pemberton, and Mr. Golledge and Mr. Ogden of Stuart Lake. Captain Mouat gave the signal to the men who were waiting, and seven guns were fired from the fort to salute the weddings of the Chief Trader’s daughters. Mr. Ogden suggested a canoe ride after the ceremonies. So the boats were brought out, manned by the voyageurs. The Governor, the Chief Trader and bridal party took the first canoe. The remainder of the party followed in the other one. I can see it all still. We paddled up the Fraser River, the Canadiens singing their Boat Song.
Those days are gone forever.
In January 1858, James Douglas reported to Governor Simpson on his son’s behaviour: “[Henry Newsham] Peers is said to be lapsing into irregular habits and it is perhaps therefore as well that he has retired from the service. George Simpson is the next best man for the River transport, but he too I am grieved to say is not perfectly regular, though he is well disposed to be so, and both active, able, and zealous, in the discharge of his duties.” In February, Douglas put Simpson in charge of the upriver transport of supplies via the Fraser River, to the new Fort Dallas. Simpson was mentioned as being at Fort Langley and on the Fraser River in the spring and early summer of 1858, but in a letter written in June, James Douglas noted that “George Simpson is entirely lost and will this year be sent to Peace River.”
Simpson remained in Peace River for two years before retiring and returning to what was now British Columbia. He settled in the Fraser Valley, and died at his Victoria residence in 1894.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.
- Measles in the Columbia district, summer to fall 1847
- York Factory Express, Lake Winnipeg to Cumberland House