Saturday, March 5, 2011

Joseph Rondeau and Josephine Beaulieu

In an earlier posting, I mentioned that some Birnie descendents uncovered a document stored in the Oregon Historical Society Archives, that told us that "the only sister of Charlotte Beaulieu married a [Joseph] Rondeau and lived at or near St. Paul, Minn., supposed to be very well to do." [Source: Ben Holladay Dorcy, OHS Manuscript 1092, Transcript p. 127, OHS.]
I followed this lead, and looked for descendents of Joseph Rondeau and Josephine Beaulieu of St. Paul, Minn.
I found quite a few of them, but this story was absolutely new to all.
They knew almost nothing of their ancestor Josephine Beaulieu, and had no knowledge of whom Josephine's father might have been.
In their stories, Josephine's mother was a Kootenay woman -- not the Cree wife that our Beaulieu was said to have.
And it might be true; Beaulieu's Cree wife might have died, or Beaulieu might have taken a second wife in the Kootenais so he could trade for furs from her people.
But it is also possible that Josephine, who was still very young when she met and married Joseph Rondeau, did not know that her Cree mother did not come from the area that later came to be called "Montana."

The various Rondeau descendents gave me Josephine's story, and now I share it with you.
Josephine or Josephte was born sometime between 1808 and 1810; various census records show she was born about 1810 in British America, but her obituary says she was 81 in February 1890 -- that would put her birth in 1808 or 1809.
That is exactly the time when "our Beaulieu" was a free-trader in the area around David Thompson's Saleesh House, in modern-day Montana.
Joseph and Josephine Rondeau were listed as settlers in Red River after 1827, when their marriage was blessed at St. Boniface.
One source tells that they were married in the west before coming to Red River, and since there were no priests out west at that time they had their marriage blessed as soon as they arrived at St. Boniface.

Joseph and Josephine left Red River in either 1836 or 1837, and settled near Fort Snelling, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Some descendents put their migration a year or so earlier -- in 1835.
There are many history book written on the City of St. Paul that mention Josephine and Joseph Rondeau as being early settlers in the area.
There are few clues to where she came from.
In the book, "French Canadians of the West," her name is spelled Boileau and she was of Kootenay and French lineage, though one descendent found a note that said her mother was Cree Indian.
A son's death certificate has her listed as being born in "MO" or Montana, while her husband Joseph Rondeau was born in Canada.
Her grave is in Crookston, MN, and the large stone says she was 88 when she died in 1890, but the descendents believe it is in error.
There is no death certificate for her anywhere, though her husband's death was recorded in Crookston just five years earlier.

For a few years I had only a little information about Joseph Rondeau.
Joseph Louis Rondeau was baptized on 31st August 1797, in Lanoraie, Berthier County, Quebec, and died on 8th May 1885 in Crookston, MN.
His father was a voyageur named Louis Rondeau; his mother Marie Madeleine Borneuf.
The Drouin records show that there were two Louis Rondeaus born in Lanoraie about the same time, so no one knows if there were two with the same name, or one child baptized twice.
The records state that, at the age of 17 or 18, Joseph Rondeau enlisted in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company as a voyageur, and was sent to the Pacific coast where he spent several years in the westernmost outposts of the company's domains.
In fact he worked for the North West Company before 1821, not the Hudson's Bay Company.
His 1819 contract with the NWC was for three years, and would have gone on to 1822.
Of course, in 1821, when the HBC took over the NWC, he was transferred to the HBC books.
Apparently Joseph Rondeau had a choice, and decided to remain with the new company.
We have found Joseph Rondeau in the following HBC records so far:
June 1825: Swan River List of Servants, Middleman (B.154/f/1), and June 1825-26: Fort Pelly List of Servants bound for York Factory.
His time expired in June 1826 (Outfit 1826) (B.154/f/2) and he does not appear in the List of Servants for the following year.
About 1827 he settled at the Red River Colony, near Fort Garry, where records indicated he married or re-married Josephine Beaulieu and established a farm.
After enduring the hardships of the Colony for 8 years, the couple joined the 60 or so refugees who travelled south to settle near Fort Snelling, MN.
Descendents disagree on the date of arrival, but one firm date appears to be July 12, 1838, when he arrived with Benjamin Gervais.
Rondo -- that is how his name was spelled after he moved to Minnesota -- purchased a house that was later burned by the military when the settlers were forced away from Fort Snelling in May 1840.
The Rondeaus moved up to St. Paul, where they purchased the property and unfinished cabin of Edward Phelan, a man who was serving a prison sentence for murder.
Joseph Rondeau and his wife lived in the house for a season or two while they built a new house.
And that is where the descendents' story stuck for a few years.

The HBC biography sheets tell us that there were two Joseph Rondeaus in the HBC fur trade, and I actually found one of them in the Spokane House journals written by James Birnie, in 1821-22.
But this Joseph Rondeau was not the Rondeau that married Josephine Beaulieu, even though he was in the same area that Josephine's sister was and working at the same post that Charlotte Beaulieu/Birnie lived in.
Apparently, this Joseph Rondeau returned to Montreal when HBC Governor Simpson cut the numbers of employees in the posts west of the mountains.

More current information about Joseph Rondeau comes from another descendent: "Joseph Rondeau was at a post in the Rocky Mountains when an Alexander Roderick McLeod was born in 1817.
"Joseph says in an interview for a St. Paul History Book that he held this infant Alexander McLeod on his lap.
"I did some research and found McLeod to have been born in 1817, so I surmised that Joseph would have held him as an infant about 1817 to 1819.
"Now as to the name of the post, the History Book says that Alexander's father was a prominent officer of the HBC.; there is a Fort McLeod named for him and also the McLeod River near Fort Edmonton.....
"Joseph's own biography in this book says he worked on the Frazer River, Great Slave Lake, Fort Edmonton, and other posts on the extreme west and north of the Hudson's Bay Company's domains."

But these descendents had been diverted by Fort McLeod, about 10 miles west of Lethbridge in Southern Alberta.
This was not a fur trade post, but a North West Mounted Police post.
I opened up my HBC book to look up the fur trade posts, and realized that Joseph Rondeau must have been posted at McLeod Lake, in north-eastern British Columbia west of Edmonton House.
I knew this post, originally named Trout Lake Fort, was founded by the explorer Simon Fraser in 1805 -- but I hadn't realized that its name honored Archibald McLeod, an employee of the North West Company.
Clearly this was where Joseph Rondeau was located for a little while at least.
From there he could travel to Fort St. James, Fraser's Lake, and Fort George, on the Fraser River.
I wonder if he travelled so far west, and if he actually spent a winter at a temporary post on the Fraser River near where Fort George was later built?
Was the first Fort George built on the east side of the river, and later moved to the west?
The reason why I ask this is: on one of Alexander Caulfield Anderson's maps in the British Columbia archives, he shows an "old fort" on the east side of the Fraser River, across the river from the place where historians believe Fort George always stood.
Did the early NWC men spend a winter in a temporary fort on the river, and was Joseph Rondeau here?
Historians believe Anderson's map is in error, but what if it is not?
Did an early fort exist on the east bank of the river opposite modern-day Prince George, and did Joseph Rondeau and other NWC men spend a winter there?

I have another question about Joseph Rondeau: where did he meet Josephine Beaulieu?
I think it is likely that they met and married at Edmonton House, where the freetrader Beaulieu might have travelled to trade his furs after David Thompson left the area.
From the Hudson's Bay Company's post journals kept while James Bird was in charge at Edmonton House, we know that Jaco Finlay -- one of Thompson's men -- visited the HBC fort with a group of other free-traders.
Was Beaulieu among these men?
Was Rondeau at Edmonton House, and did he wed Josephine Beaulieu at that time?


  1. I believe the time at StPaul/Ft Snelling was as early as 1834. according to MN history books my great grandfather Joseph Pepin(Papin) was baptised at Ft Snelling AKA St Peters with your Josephine Beaulieu and Joseph Rondeau as Godparents June 29, 1839. His older brother Etinene(Stephen) was born at Red River Settlement,Canada in 1832.

    25. Joseph Papin, born May 5, 1834. Parents: Antoine
    and Marie Ann Papin. Godparents: Joseph Rondeau, Josephine

  2. I am forwarding your comment to Rondeau descendents if that's okay with you...... Thanks.