Peter Warren Dease in New Caledonia

The men of the HBC Brigades riding along the shores of Lake Okanagan

The HBC Fur Brigade, by John Innes. Image MSC130-19234-01 courtesy of the Philip Francis Postcard Collection, a digital initiative of Simon Fraser University Library. The original John Innes painting is also at SFU, in their art collection, I believe. 

Peter Warren Dease was assigned the charge of the New Caledonia district in 1831, taking over the charge of the district from Chief Factor William Connolly, who had been at Fort St. James since 1824 — first as Chief Trader, and finally as Chief Factor. William Connolly wrote the first of the HBC Brigades journal that has been preserved in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and Peter Warren Dease kept the second.

Dease arrived in New Caledonia with the incoming 1830 York Factory Express [the Columbia Express], almost certainly coming into the district with the New Caledonia men who traveled over the HBC’s Tete Jaune [Yellowhead] Pass to the headwaters of the Fraser River. Dease would take over the district in the springtime, but in the meantime he was put in charge of Fraser’s Lake post, while Connolly and John McDonnell ran Fort St. James. In reality, however, Dease spent his winter at Fort St. James, learning from Connolly what his new command entailed.    

On April 20, 1831, Connolly left Fort St. James via McLeod Lake and the Peace River, on his way to attend the annual meeting at… Red River, perhaps? Peter Warren Dease went out to the Columbia District with the New Caledonia Brigades, as we know, and he returned to Fort St. James on September 14, 1831, travelling with Francis Noel Annance, who would spent the winter in New Caledonia before leaving the fur trade forever. Or at least that the plan… (It seems he left the trade sometime about 1835, according to Bruce Watson). As you probably know, I have become quite fond of Francis Annance since I read his journal of the journey to the Fraser River in 1824, and I have learned that he had a most interesting few years in New Caledonia!!! (But that is not the story I am telling you today.) 

So, Peter Warren Dease. In 1831, the Fort St. James district’s returns were down substantially, but two years later, they had improved again. By 1835, Dease was in poor health and received furlough, and he left the territory, leaving Peter Skene Ogden as his successor. And why do we know so little of Dease’s time at Fort St. James? Well there are basically no post journals for that fort after 1825.

But because there is so little information available on Fort St. James, Jamie Morton found what he could and he put it together in his microfiche report, found at https://parkscanadahistory.com/series/Mf/367.pdf. And he found almost nothing for the time that Peter Warren Dease was in charge of Fort St. James — hence the huge gap in our story. Nevertheless, there are other sources of information, and one of them is Marie Elliott’s book, Fort St. James and New Caledonia: Where British Columbia Began [Harbour Publishing: 2009]. Here is what she has to say of Peter Warren Dease’s time at Fort St. James:

Under Dease’s leadership Fort St. James was a lively place. He was popular with his men and participated in musical soirees playing the violin and flute. Feasts of “roasted bear, beaver and marmot” and games of chess, whist and backgammon helped to pass the long winter evenings… When Dease’s contract expired in 1835, he pleaded for a furlough to recover his health. On his departure from Stuart Lake his men presented him with a musical snuff box as a token of their appreciation.

Marie Elliot also reminds me that Peter Warren Dease was in charge of Fort St. James when botanist David Douglas arrived there, travelling in with the HBC Cattle Drive north to Fort Alexandria (and beyond) in 1833. David Douglas lost his journals in the Fraser River at the rapids in the Fort George Canyon when his canoe was destroyed while coming downriver. Nevertheless, his maps survived the dunking, and are in the BC Archives. For more information, see my blogpost, here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/cattle-drive/ 

I wonder if Peter Warren Dease also travelled in in that interesting brigade? The question will unfortunately remain unanswered, as there is no information available. 

So what else do we know about Peter Warren Dease, if we know little-to-nothing of his time at Fort St. James? He was born in Montreal in 1788, and in 1801 joined the trade of the XY Company when he was only thirteen years old! The XY Company was merged into the NWC, and in 1820 (when he was 32), Dease was a member of the North West Company party that waylaid Colin Robertson at the Grand Rapids below Ile-à-la-Crosse. (By this time, both Peter Skene Ogden and Samuel Black were in New Caledonia, and so they played no part in this particular kidnapping.)

With the merging of the NWC with the HBC in 1821, both Peter Warren Dease, and his brother, John Warren Dease, were both taken into the HBC as Chief Traders. Peter spent time in the Athabasca District. In 1823, Governor Simpson instructed Dease to undertake an exploration of the Finlay River and other rivers west of the Rocky Mountains and parallel to the Mackenzie. Governor Simpson was looking for a river on the west side of the Mackenzie Mountains, that flowed north to the Arctic Sea, and Dease was expected to locate this fur-rich river. And here is what I have to say in my “Journeys” manuscript:

There were few paths across the Mackenzie Mountains, however, and reaching this land of amazing furs proved an almost impossible task for those HBC men who were assigned the duty of finding it. Dease delayed his exploration until it was too late in the year to start. Then Black sailed into York Factory and was immediately assigned the charge of the expedition. In giving Samuel Black his instructions, Dease implied that Black should look for a river that flowed toward the north.

So, in 1824, Peter Warren Dease met Sam Black, and it was he who gave Black his instructions for his exploration of the Finlay River. Black did not reach the rivers he was intended to find (the Yukon and Porcupine) and it would take Robert Campbell to finally accomplish that discovery more than a decade later. 

In  1820 and later in 1824-25, Dease was acting as backup for John Franklin’s land expedition into the north: locating provisions for the party and providing support. (In 1824 he was 36 years old). In 1827 he moved north to the Mackenzie River district, where he was promoted to Chief Factor in 1828. In July 1830 he was appointed to the New Caledonia district, where we learned that he was an “amiable, warm hearted, sociable man.” [Dictionary of Canadian Biography] He introduced cattle into the district (the above-mentioned cattle drive seemed to be his work), and encouraged farming in the district. Daniel William Harmon was known to be the first farmer in the district; although he had long left the district it is probable that his gardens still survived at Fraser’s Lake, which would certainly encourage Dease’s interest. 

As I have already said, Dease left the New Caledonia district in 1835, and was replaced by Peter Skene Ogden. Dease was granted furlough, and then, in June 1836 he was assigned the command the HBC’s Arctic exploring expedition, searching for the sections of the Northwest Passage that had not yet been discovered by John Franklin, Frederick William Beechey, and George Back (all familiar names if you have followed my “Journeys” posts). Governor Simpson’s cousin, Thomas Simpson, who had joined the HBC in 1829, was made second-in-command. Young Simpson joined Dease at Fort Chipewyan, and the two men and their 12-man expedition set off to explore the Arctic coast.

They returned to Fort Good Hope, Mackenzie River, after their first expedition and began their second when spring arrived. But now Simpson griped about not being assigned the leadership of the expedition. Their Arctic explorations continued in 1839, when from the mouth of the Coppermine River they reached the mouth of the Great Fish River and Montreal Island (which James Anderson and his men would explore in 1855). And Simpson would find, and name, the Castor and Pollux River, which Chief Factor John Rae would briefly visit in 1854. (Castor and Pollux River was named by Simpson for the expedition’s two boats — how interesting!)

On the completion of that year’s explorations, the two men returned to Fort Simpson, Mackenzie River, on October 14, 1839, from whence Simpson departed for Upper Fort Garry. However, while enroute to St Paul, Minnesota, Simpson became moody and depressed, and killed two of his Métis companions before committing suicide.

The two men had spent three years in their Arctic explorations, and Peter Warren Dease was granted furlough for 1840-41, to seek medical attention in London for an eye complaint. He was about 52 years old at this time. He attended the annual council meeting at Norway House in June 1840, and then went down to Red River, where he and his Métis wife were married. There were rumours that he would be knighted, and one of the ladies [Letitia Hargrave] commented that Mrs. Dease “was a very dark squaw & will be a curious lady.”

I do not know if Dease was aware of Letitia Hargrave’s remarks, but he left his wife at Red River while he went on to London, where he turned down the knighthood. He was introduced to the gentlemen of the HBC Committee in London, and granted an extended furlough that would take him to his retirement in 1843. Dease returned to Canada and settled on a farm near Montreal, and his wife and family joined him there.

Peter Warren Dease died on January 17, 1863, at the ripe old age of 75. He and his wife had eight children: four sons and four daughters. He was respected among all the HBC men, and Chief Factor Archibald McDonald wrote of him:

It was for like service on the subsequent expedition (that of Dease and Simpson), of 1837-1839, which completed a survey of our North coast from Franklin’s furthest, west of the Mackenzie, and also for much new discovery on the east side, and north of the Coppermine River, that knighthood, we have already alluded to, was offered to Mr. Dease. On his refusal of the honour, the Imperial government offered him a pension of a hundred pounds sterling. On his retirement in 1841-42, he settled in the immediate neighbourhood of Montreal, where even among the old tall Nor-Westers that used to then walk the streets of their old emporium, Mr. Dease, tall, straight and strong, and of noble mien, towered above the rest. [Peace River: A Canoe Voyage from the Hudson’s Bay to the Pacific, p. 76]

This post is part of the Fort St. James series, even though it hardly mentions Fort St. James. To go to the beginning of the series, go here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/fort-st-james-2/

When the next post in the series is published, I will put it here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/whatever-i-name-it/ 

Ad as you know, my book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published in July. You can order it from your favourite bookstore, or from Amazon.com. And yes, even if it does not at the moment show up in an American distributor’s catalogue, both it, and The York Factory Express, will be available (at last) to your local bookstores. 

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2024. All rights reserved.

 

2 thoughts on “Peter Warren Dease in New Caledonia

  1. Jackie Corrigan

    Great post! Have you read the book From Barrow to Boothia: The Arctic Journal of Chief Factor Peter Warren Dease, 1836-1839, edited by William Barr? Peter is my third great-granduncle.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Nice to hear from you again, Jackie. No, I haven’t, but perhaps I should — and its a William Barr book too. When I wrote this, I was really more interested in Dease’s time in New Caledonia and found nothing (which will probably happen with Peter Skene Ogden, too, as there are no HBCA records for Fort St. James.)
      Dease sounded like such a nice man.

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