Some time ago I wrote about George Stewart Simpson, son of the HBC Governor,George Simpson, and Margaret Taylor [who is traveling with Governor Simpson in my “Two Canoes” stream]. As I said, both George and his brother, John McKenzie Simpson, were sent to the West side of the Rocky Mountains — about as far away from Lachine as they could be sent. By this time the Governor had married an English-woman who sometimes traveled with him: to avoid her accidental meeting with any of his illegitimate children from earlier relationships, he sent both boys across the Rocky mountains to the Columbia district.
George Simpson actually worked under Alexander Caulfield Anderson for a short time. In my book, The Pathfinder, I totally ignored the clerk named Simpson, who was Anderson’s assistant on the incoming brigade of 1848. I was astonished when Bruce McIntyre Watson’s book, Lives Lived West of the Divide, was published, and I realized that this anonymous Simpson was Governor Simpson’s illegitimate son! But I was right to ignore him, though it took me a while to realize it. In that book, George Simpson was nothing more than an anonymous spear-thrower.
John and George Simpson were two different persons with entirely different characters. I have already written George’s story, and it is found here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/simpson/ John’s story I will tell in this post, as much of it as I know anyway. In his book, Bruce Watson has some difficulty in sorting John out from the other John Simpsons in the area. This is what Bruce Watson says. Part, if not most, of it is correct. It is certain that he was not born in Quebec:
Simpson, John Jr. Birth: possibly Lower Canada [Quebec]. (Mixed-descent)
Apprentice post master Columbia Department general charges (1845-1846). Apprentice post master, Fort George [Astoria] (1846-1847). Apprentice post master, Fort Simpson [N.W. Coast], (1847-1850), Clerk, Fort Langley (1850-1851). Clerk, Thompson’s River (1851-1854), Untraced vocation, Columbia Dept. (1854-1855), Clerk, Columbia Dept. (1855-1856), Postmaster, Fort Colvile (1856-1857)
John Simpson was engaged by the HBC in 1845 on a five year contract. (The parentage of John Simpson Jr is problematic as he was deemed to be the son of the preceding John Simpson who was in the area in 1838 and who never rose above the rank of middleman. However, in 1845 young John was given the job as apprentice postmaster, a position usually reserved for sons of officers. When Herbert Beaver baptized John Simpson in July 1838, [the] English cleric named young John’s father as George Simpson and mother as Margaret Taylor, which, given the fluidity of family relationships, is also possible). In 1856 he retired, but he appears to have worked beyond his retirement for the Company. He appeared to carry on transactions with the HBC until 1864.
We would have presumed that John Simpson came in with the 1845 York Factory Express, arriving at Fort Vancouver in November of that year. But how could Reverend Herbert Beaver have baptized John in 1838? Was he already here as a child? Obviously he was, and like his brother he had been sent out to Fort Vancouver in the 1836 incoming Columbia Express from York Factory.
As my research begins in 1846 or so, I can only tell you what I learned about John after that time, but I think Bruce Watson has given us a good idea of his earlier years. In March 1847, James Douglas writes to Governor Simpson of John, who is at Fort George [Astoria], having been sent downriver from Fort Vancouver:
It is an agreeable pleasure to me to be enabled to report favourably of Johnny during the last season, since the Fall he has been station’d at Ft. George [Astoria] where he continues to conduct himself well. Apprehensive [of] both the officers of the Modeste and a number of Sailor lads that were constantly coming in contact [at Ft. Vancouver] and that he would claim no benefit or advantage from their society, I sent him down with Mr. [Henry Newsham] Peers to Ft. George. He is now there with Mr. Forrest, he is well supplied with books and papers and is fast improving and both Messrs. Peers & Forrest report most favourably of him and [he] is most attentive to his duty. [D.5/19, fo. 372, HBCA]
The Modeste was one of the British naval ships sent to the Pacific, and its crew spent their time at Fort Vancouver. I don’t have any mention of John until 1851, when, on March 29, Chief Trader Paul Fraser of Kamloops reported that “Mr. John Simpson with 2 returning Siwashes [Natives] reached this from Langley.” [A/C/20/K12A, BCA] On May 1, 1851, John Simpson was at the North River post, where he and his people were “pillaged” by the Natives. On September 8 he was sent to Fort Langley for salmon; he returned with no salmon and two horses stolen. On October 23, John returned to the fort with a fraction of the salmon he was supposed to obtain, and the information that the Couteaux Indians “were troublesome and wanted to pillage them.” In August 1851, Fraser returned from Fort Langley with the brigades, to find “Mr. Simpson and people well but sorry to say all the Stockads down and the wheat Crops &c &c destroyed by the Cattle and Grasshoppers.” The spelling is his. “The fact is that no Establishment could be in a more delapidated State than this one was on my arrival. The Men idle during the Summer and nothing in the way of work done.” He apparently reported on this to James Douglas at Fort Victoria, who responded in April 1852:
I am sorry to observe that the crop of last summer was almost entirely lost through the neglect of the officer who remained in charge of the district. I trust you will take measures to prevent a like misfortune this year, by creating substantial fences and enclosing the fields in such a manner as to place the grain in complete security. [B.226/b/4, fo. 81]
In March 1852, John’s brother, George, wrote to his father. It appears that John is much younger than George — perhaps little more than a teenager. So, the person in charge of the Kamloops post might have been John Simpson.
My brother John is at Frasers River under the orders of Mr. [James Murray] Yale [of Fort Langley], but has been [dispatched] to Kamloops for the ensuing Outfit. He is a very willing young man and does his best for the Company’s interests, the only harm in him is that he is young and thoughtless as most young people are, but he will get wiser as he gets older. [D.5/30, fo. 358]
John Simpson appears fairly regularly in Paul Fraser’s journals, where he is also an unsuccessful trader for furs. But he is definitely in Kamloops in May 1852, and so the following information, which I had identified as being about John, is clearly about George. This is where blogging helps a writer sort out and identify the different persons he or she is writing about, and clarify the story for herself and others. Blogging can also organize a little story within a big book — very useful when you are pulling your information from many places and files! More than that: it puts me in touch with descendants who can straighten out the story for me. In this case, the descendant gave me John Simpson’s middle name, something that is not mentioned in any of the letters or files I have.
Here is the information mentioned in the last paragraph: In early spring 1852, James Douglas wrote to Yale that: “Mr. [George] Simpson now proceeds to Fort Langley for the purpose of packing the furs for England. He was employed in that service last year, and the furs reached home in a high state of order. The great point is to have them thoroughly cleaned, and perfectly dry when packed. The Casks in which the small furs are packed must also be as dry as heat can make them, otherwise the furs will be destroyed and serious losses occur. If the weather is at all damp, the furs should be well aired and packed in a house where fires are kept constantly burning.” [B.226/b/10, fo. 163] It is amazing what we can learn from these letters. From this one letter we learned that packing of the furs for shipment to London was quite an art!
In July 1852, James Douglas reported to Governor Simpson on his two boys:
Your two sons are both well. George is now at Fort Langley, taking the Inventories, and closing the sale Shop business. He is very [word] and attentive to his work. I have received a favourable account of John’s conduct at Thompson’s River from which I am glad to observe that he is becoming both wise and more useful. [D.5/34, fo. 80]
There is a gap in the journals, and the next records are in September 1854. John might have been sent to Fort Langley: there is a Mr. Simpson there, who appears to be John and not George. That would mean he went out with the brigade from Kamloops, which is likely. The reason for his being sent out is shown in a letter from Paul Fraser to James Murray Yale, written 9th August 1853 on his return from Fort Langley. It says this:
The affairs of this place [Kamloops] has been much neglected this Summer. I mean the work — Simpson’s time is taken up with Horses and Women, and So Soon as I was off he took one of the Mens wives with her Sister. Such proceedings I never heard of, and has not only disgusted the Men but also the Indians. [A/C/40/F862, BCA]
In 1855, Paul Fraser died, and Donald McLean took his place at the Kamloops Post. John seems to still be at Fort Langley. In March 1856, James Douglas wrote to Donald McLean that “Mr. John Simpson not being required at Thompson’s River he will remain there till the return of the New Caledonia brigade next summer [August] when he will be sent to the east side of the mountains.” Presumably John was sent to Fort Colvile to await the boats departure for Boat Encampment. If he crossed the mountains in the fall, he would spend the winter at Edmonton House. But, in a letter to Mr. Henry Shuttleworth, who is taking out the Fort Colvile brigade from Fort Langley in 1856, we find John being assigned to his brigade. He is to help to explore a trail to the newly established Fort Shepherd, through British territory:
I wish you to make particular enquiry as to the correctness of the information received by Mr. Patrick McKenzie from an Indian at the crossing of the Okanagan River, respecting the road from thence to the Pend’oreille River, and if not too inconvenient have it at once explored and report its character to Mr. [Angus] McDonald, on your arrival at Fort Colvile. Mr. John Simpson will accompany you as assistant for the journey…. [B.226/b/12, fo. 85b]
I think the descendants of John McKenzie Simpson might not be happy about this information, but it is the way it is, and remember that this is Paul Fraser reporting the news. However, it sounds real, and apparently the other traders believed it to be true. He was removed from Kamloops and doesn not seem to have returned. I think he was going to be shipped out of the Columbia District but remained at Fort Colvile, as he was apparently needed there. He did cross the mountains and continued his career in the trade, I believe — but the descendants [several of whom follow me] will let me know in the comments below [Thank you]. I am happy I found this last piece of information: I really had to search for it. It is a good story, and hopefully everyone knows that what you learn about your ancestors might not always be good news — and that’s what makes family history so interesting.
Well — almost everyone. I once received a very cranky email from a descendant who didn’t like the story I had written. The story was completely supported in the records, however, and he couldn’t complain about that. But he was cranky, nevertheless!
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2016. All rights reserved.