James McDougall

Location of HBC Fort Alexandria

Fort Alexandria, on the Fraser River, stood on the east side of the river in the 1840’s. However, at the time that George and James McDougall were at the post, it stood on the opposite or west side of the Fraser River, north of modern-day Soda Creek. I do not know if its exact location is known, and I don’t think it is.

As I do my last *personal* edits of my York Factory Express book, I am attempting to determine which of the two McDougall brothers traveled west in the 1826 York Factory Express to Jasper’s House. Historians have put forward a number of theories, with most believing it was James. But I am trying to determine his identity accurately. I agreed it was probably James, but until a short time ago I did not know for sure. Now I do know.

In the biographical Sketches of the men who are mentioned in Aemilius Simpson’s Journal, William Barr and Larry Green, editors of “Lt. Aemilius Simpson’s Survey from York Factory to Fort Vancouver, 1826” [The Journal of the Hakluyt Society, August 2014], say this:

McDougall, James and George. Two brothers named ‘McDougall’ served as clerks in the early 1800s. The references to them in the published primary and secondary sources are scant and often confusing. It is not possible to be certain which one was with the York Factory – Fort Vancouver brigade in 1826. In 1800 Daniel Harmon, a NWC clerk and later partner, noted that he met James McDougall accompanying the Athabasca brigade to Rainy Lake and that he had ‘been in this Country two years.’ A clerk of the same name later served under John Stuart at various posts in New Caledonia. He founded a post at the eastern end of the Rocky Mountain Portage on the Peace River in 1804 and was in New Caledonia until at least the mid-1820’s. In 1825 the names James and George McDougall appeared in a list of clerks ‘whose engagements expire and whose services will not be required next year be brought out to the Depot ensuing spring for the purpose of being permitted to retire.’ However, the following year a James McDougall was included in a group of clerks whose engagements had expired, and he was offered 100 pounds ‘for the current Outfit.’ And a James McDougall was assigned to the post at ‘Fraser’s Lake in New Caleodnia’ for the 1828-9 season. A clerk called James McDougall retired to Montreal in 1832 and died there in 1851.

George McDougall was in the HBC service in the Peace River District in 1815. He joined the NWC in 1816 and after the amalgamation of the two companies he was accepted into the new concern. He was in New Caledonia district until 1830 — at Frazer’s Lake in 1819, Fort Alexandria, on the Fraser River, in the fall of 1826, the Chilcotin country from 1826-8, and Fort George (Fraser River) in 1829-30. The remainder of his career, 1830-49 was spent in the Athabasca and Peace River districts. Although he was in charge of trading posts for most of that time he never rose above the rank of clerk.

George McDougall’s story is here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/george-mcdougall/

In 1805, James McDougall was in New Caledonia with Simon Fraser, as we will see in the book titled: The Letters and Journals of Simon Fraser, 1806-1808, edited by William Kaye Lamb, [Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2007]. In the introduction, he writes:

We do know for certain that in the autumn of 1805 Fraser led a party of about twenty men up the Peace River and established a post at Rocky Mountain Portage, at the foot of the turbulent Peace River Canyon. This was intended to be both a trading post and an advance supply base from which he could set off to cross the Rocky Mountains. With Fraser were two clerks, John Stuart and James McDougall. Stuart was an exceptionally able and reliable man, and was to serve as Fraser’s second-in-command throughout the adventurous three years that lay ahead. McDougall is a lesser character, but he carried out important preliminary explorations on several occasions, and deserves more notice than he has received.

Here is what the B.C. Metis Mapping Research Project ( http://document.bcmetiscitizen.ca ) has to say about James McDougall. (This link will not lead you to James McDougall’s bio, but to the home page of the BC Metis Mapping Research Project):

Montrealer James McDougall, brother of George McDougall, is noted for his exploration work with Simon Fraser on the Pacific slopes. McDougall first joined the NWC on March 10, 1798 as an apprentice and was first stationed on the Pacific slopes at Fort McLeod in 1806. In May 1806, McDougall made a reconnaissance trip from McLeod’s Lake to Stuart Lake, which he determined drained into the “Columbia” (ie. the Fraser River) via the Stuart and Nechako Rivers, important information for Fraser’s later exploration…. In 1808 he joined Fraser in his trip to the mouth of the Fraser and back and in December, 1811, he joined Daniel W. Harmon at Stuart Lake for the holidays…. He continued working at various posts in New Caledonia and, in 1827, when he was in a deplorable state of health, his sister-in-law nursed him back to health. In July 1830, he and his family headed east over the Rockies and, on June 29, 1831, the HBC Council at a meeting decided to grant James McDougall 500 pounds sterling which he could draw on at any time. He died in Montreal at the age of sixty-seven…

1827 is a year of interest to me, of course, as it is the year that George McDougall crossed the Rocky Mountains in spring, to pick up his brothers wife and children who had been left behind — presumably the year before — at Carlton House. James McDougall was supposed to be too sick at that time, to make the journey to Carlton House himself. So it appears that in 1827 George left his own wife at Fort St. James to nurse his brother, James, back to health, and headed across the Rocky Mountains to pick up his brother’s wife and children. That would appear to make the McDouglas/McDougall who traveled west with Aemilius Simpson in 1826, James McDougall.

Yes, indeed, it is he. I have been able to confirm this from several journals written west of the Rocky Mountains. These journals definitely solve the mystery, and they give further information on the events of fall 1826, when the New Caledonia men leave the incoming express to pass over their Rocky Mountain Portage to the headwaters of the Fraser River. In his journal, Aemilius Simpson wrote:

The day has been occupied in making arrangements for our Journey across the Portage & the separation of the Brigades for the Colombia & New Caledonia, the latter pursue a route that has hitherto been passed by few [through Yellowhead Pass]. Report says it is a good one which leads them to the Head Waters of Fraser’s River. [“Lt Aemilius Simpson’s Survey from York Factory to Fort Vancouver, 1826,” page 56].

I wondered if this McDougall had come out by Yellowhead Pass that spring, but he did not. Another journal identifies the McDougall brother that left New Caledonia in 1826, to meet the York Factory Express and it tells the route he took to leave the territory. This journal is published in James R. Gibson’s The Lifeline of the Oregon Country: The Fraser-Columbia Brigade System, 1811-47 [Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997] and can easily be accessed by anyone who wants to confirm this information:

William Connolly’s Journal of the Brigade from New Caledonia to Fort Vancouver and Return, 5 May-23 September 1826

1826. May 5th Friday — Every arrangement being completed both for the voyage to York Factory & to Fort Vancouver, at 8 o’clock in the morning Mr. James McDougall with 8 Men took their departure from Stuarts Lake for Fort Simpson (McLeod’s Lake) where they will join Messrs. Brown & [William] McBean with the people already there with whom they will proceed, under the command of Mr. Brown, for York Factory….

Stuarts Lake — George McDougall, Clerk with three Men.

It is clear that in 1826, James McDougall went out with the York Factory Express via McLeod Lake and Peace River, and George McDougall remained behind in New Caledonia.

One more journal adds information about the incident, and that is Peace River: A Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific, by the Late Sir George Simpson, in 1828. Journal of the late Chief Factor, Archibald McDonald, who accompanied him.  Edited by Malcolm McLeod. [Ottawa: J. Durie & Son, 1872] I knew about this journal, but stumbled on it only yesterday in the Greater Victoria Public Library, where it has been for years! Here is what Archibald McDonald says of the McDougall brothers, when he and Governor Simpson arrived at Fort Alexandria. The editor has added additonal information to McDonald’s journal, which makes it a bit hard to understand:

Sat, 27th [August 1828] Breakfasted at second point above the house. At House by ten. [Note by Ed. — this place, “House,” is Fort Alexandria, as appears by letter, now before me, dated “Fort Alexandria, Western Caledonia, 8th March, 1828,” from Geo. McDougall, then in charge, and addressed to my father. The incident is a small one, but under the circumstances, is, I think, worth mentioning. Mr. McDougall’s letter contains much of interest as to the country, and states amongst other noteworthy things, that the scarcity of salmon the year previous [1827] was unprecedented (he was then at Fort St. James). where he arrived in November, from my grandfather’s (Pruden’s) post (viz, Fort Carlton on the Saskatchewan). The statement in the letter that he left Carlton on the 20th August [1827], and arrived at Fort St. James, in November [1827], shows that he could not have gone by the very “long about route by the Columbia,” but by the Yellow Head Pass, a line of route forming the shortest side of a triangle, and by all means the easiest, as appears from the fact of his sending, shortly before that, by the same route, his sick brother James, (powerless in limb) to the East side for medical aid, and who returned by the same route, meeting the Caledonian party at Cranberry Lake.]* The two McDougalls are here, besides Mr. [James Murray] Yale, who, with his party, arrived on the 22nd…

*These square brackets are in the manuscript. The square brackets around the two dates in this are mine, meant to clarify the year, 1827. George McDougall had gone as far as Carlton House in 1827, but how did he return? To find this, we go to Edward Ermatinger’s 1827 journal:

5th, Friday [October 1827] Fine warm weather. Having separated and prepared the Baggage the Columbia people set off about 10 am with 15 horses…. Mr. McDougal has 40 horses to transport his packs, &c…

I think the only inaccurate statement in the story above (meaning, the editor’s notes in Archbald McDonald’s journal), is that James McDougall was sent across the mountains by his brother, George, for medical aid in 1827. But we do now know that James McDougall suffered from something that looked like a stroke, to me at least, as he was “powerless in limb.” We also now know it was James that went out and returned in 1826, leaving his wife and children at Carlton House — and that it was George who went out via the Yellowhead Pass in 1827, and returned via the same route in October-November after retrieving James’s family. It gives me great satisfaction to say that I can now clearly identify James McDougall as being the man who accompanied Aemilius Simpson from York Factory to the Jasper Valley in 1826.

The next post in this series is this one: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/second-leg/

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.

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