Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another theory on the origin of our "Beaulieu brothers."

I opened my Facebook page last weekend to find a friend had posted a quote that was perfect for me that day.
I had spent the day on my blog posting my notions of where the men I call "Our Beaulieu brothers" might have come from.
The quote was written by George Orwell in 1946, and said: "The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.
"Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time; the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

As genealogists, our false beliefs might not bump up against solid reality on a battlefield, but they can, and do, create plenty of heated arguments as we descendents search in different places for our ancestors' trail.
One descendent searches the Minnesota archives for stories about his Rondeau/Beaulieu ancestors, another "Old Man Beaulieu" descendent collects stories in the Athabasca district, while I search fur trade records and French-Canadian genealogy records on the PRDH and
None of us are successful in finding out who our ancestors are, but we have plenty of discussions and we share our information with all other family members, so they can enter the discussion.
I think we may just be confusing them, but that, too, is okay.
We are all confused.

I have searched the PRDH and the Drouin records and set up family trees online which have not collected any new information.
I have now come to the conclusion that either our brothers are not brothers at all and we have been chasing false leads through fur trade history -- or our three brothers were born in the wilds outside Quebec, and were probably already Metis.
One other Beaulieu descendent agrees with me on this, and has collected stories that support that belief, and shared them with us.

She says that when the fur trader Peter Pond arrived at Great Slave Lake on his first visit, he met the child, Francois "Old Man" Beaulieu, and his uncle Jacques.
She suggests that the voyageur who accompanied Alexander Mackenzie on his trip to the Pacific Ocean in 1793 was the father of Francois "Old Man" Beaulieu.
She also suggests that this elder Francois had a French father and a Cree mother, and was a former employee of the Compagnie des Sioux, begun in 1827.
And another titbit -- there were said to have originally been three Beaulieu brothers in the region, and suggests that their names were Jacques, Francois, and Pierre.
The Beaulieu family was already well established in the area for some years when Cuthbert Grant and Peter Pond arrived there.

So, let us look at our story this way:

Our story evolves around Peter Pond's arrival at Great Slave Lake -- when did his first visit occur?
As a twenty five year old, Pond left Milford, Conn., to join the fur trade in the Detroit area.
By 1776 he was in the area south of the Athabaska and wintered at Sturgeon River, Saskatchewan.
It was not until 1778 that he pushed north into the Athabasca and wintered on the Athabasca River 40 miles from the lake -- Athabasca lake, I presume, not Great Slave Lake.
In 1781-2 he wintered at Lac la Ronge, Saskatchewan; it wasn't until the spring of 1783 that Pond returned to the Athabasca, and learning the location of Great Slave Lake came into contact with the Beaulieu brothers there.
In 1784 he left the Athabasca and never returned.

I am not sure if anyone is really certain of the date of Pond's visit to Great Slave Lake, but let us work with 1783.

A French Canadian named Beaulieu, an employee of the Compagnie des Sioux, arrived at Great Slave Lake some years before Peter Pond arrived there -- maybe 1760?
He took a Cree Wife, and by 1783 -- when Pond visited -- was well established with a family of three sons.

If the first of these three boys was perhaps Jacques or Zacharie, born about 1765 -- this boy would have been about eighteen years old when Peter Pond arrived at Great Slave Lake.
He would have been mature enough to take charge of the situation.
But we have always said that he and his two brothers were French Canadians -- in this scenario these three brother are already French-Canadian & Cree Metis.

The second of these boys might have been Francois I, who took a Chipewyan woman named Ethiba as a wife and had children who would have been young when Alexander Mackenzie arrived there in 1793.
If he was about twenty five years old when he accompanied Mackenzie to the west coast, he was born about 1768, and he would have been fifteen when Peter Pond arrived.
But it was his son, Francois II (Old Man Beaulieu) who claimed to be fifteen years old when Peter Pond arrived at Great Slave Lake!

The third boy might have been younger -- too young to join his brother on the voyage west with Alexander Mackenzie in 1793.
If he was born about 1775, he would have been eighteen years old when Mackenzie came to Great Slave Lake, and eight or so when Peter Pond arrived.
Was his name Pierre, or was it Joseph???
If Joseph, he was old enough in 1801 to have joined the fur trade and gone to Red River to be counted in the North West Company's Red River records -- twenty six years old.
In 1805 he was experienced enough in the fur trade to be labelled a voyageur contre-maitre -- "master voyageur."
In 1807 when he met David Thompson he was thirty two years old, and had a daughter, Charlot, born in 1805 when he was thirty years old.
His second daughter, Josephine, was born in what later became Montana, in 1809 or thereabouts when he was 34 years old.
In 1811 he was thirty six years old and a free trapper.
In 1818 his eldest daughter Charlot married James Birnie, and Birnie heard the story that this Beaulieu's brother had accompanied Alexander Mackenzie from Great Slave Lake to the west coast in 1793.

A slight interruption: I think that is important -- I think that this Joseph Beaulieu was present when he saw his older brother leave Great Slave Lake with Mackenzie.
These French Canadian voyageurs were not literate; his presence as a child in the Athabasca district helps explain how he knew of his brother's adventures.

To continue his story: This Beaulieu brother remained in the territory west of the mountains until about 1820, when he was forty five years old and relatively old for the hard work of a voyageur and a free trader/trapper.
Sometime after Charlot's marriage to James Birnie, he disappeared and "returned to Montreal."
I wonder where he really settled down.
His older brother, Francois, also disappeared from the Athabasca.
I wonder what was "Home" to them?

All this is theory, but I think we need to consider this story as a possiblity.
The only hitch in the story is Francois II's claims that he was at the North West arm of the Great Slave Lake when Peter Pond arrived in 1783.
I think he adopted his father's memories and wove them into his own.
I like this story.
It explains how there was a well established French Canadian and Metis community at Great Slave Lake when Peter Pond arrived.
It explains how these men were adult enough to have been established at Great Slave Lake for a number of years before Pond arrived, and still be young enough to have enjoyed the adventures that Francois I celebrated with Alexander Mackenzie, and Joseph with David Thompson.
I think it all works.
But I think we'll never be able to prove it.
I think I have created a false belief that will, eventually, bump up against solid reality -- and that solid reality will be this: that we can only guess where these men come from, but we will never be able to prove it.


  1. Old Man Beaulieu was apparently a very controversial man (became a freeman amongst other traits). I once linked up with one of his descendant that works for Park Canada (Wood Buffalo in the NWT). I was told that his grave is only known to a few elederly and kept secret. A Metis book I once borrowed from my library had a full page on this person. Absolutely fascinating story. I share the same last name although have no family relationship whatsoever as far as I have been able to determine.

  2. I talk to a bunch of Old Man Beaulieu descendants (there are many). If you want more information I can put you in touch with them. Contact me directly. Some of them also read this blog.

  3. I like your theory. One thing to keep in mind, in the 1700s, if the father was French and the mother was from an indigenous nation, the children can be called Canadien. I have a nice example dating back to 1715 or 1716 that attests to this. Thus, the first Beaulieu could easily have been called Canadien (with a capital c) even if he was métis (with a small m) as one could be Canadien and have mixed ancestry.