This is a perfect time to tell you what I know about John Lee Lewes, the fur trader who was in charge of Fort Colvile when Alexander Caulfield Anderson arrived there in 1848.
No one seems to know a lot about the man, and almost no one has written anything about him.
However, in researching Anderson, I stumbled across a few things of interest to Lewes descendants, and I will dig them out and post them here.
First of all, here is the information that the Hudson's Bay Archives includes in his biographical sheet:
Lewes was born on the 31st August 1792, at St. George's, Southwark, England.
From Bruce McIntyre Watson's book, Lives Lived West of the Divide, we learn his father was Charles Lee Lewes, a well-known actor-singer of the day.
Lewes' theatre connections might partially account for Anderson's description of him:
"Mr. Lewes was a man of fine personal appearance with many good qualities, and among all the officers of the service was conspicuous for his dashing style of dress."
The Oregon historian, Bancroft, labelled John Lee Lewes "the fop of the Columbia District."
Stories like this are what make research interesting!
John Lee Lewes entered the HBC service in 1807 when he was 15 years old, and served first as a "writer" at Fort Churchill (Manitoba, B.42/a/130-149, HBCA) for two years.
After that he served at Nelson House (Manitoba, B.141/a/1-11, HBCA) and later at Deer's Lake -- probably Deer Lake, a large lake east of Churchill and in the English River district.
By 1812 he was on the Saskatchewan River at Cumberland House (Saskatchewan, B.49/a/28-43, HBCA).
Two years later he is found at Ile-a-la-Crosse (Saskatchewan, B.89/a/1-3, HBCA), and in 1815 at Slave Lake (Lesser Slave Lake, in northern Alberta).
In 1821 he made Chief Trader and was found at Spokane House, where he was supposedly working at the same post where my great-great-grandfather, James Birnie, would only a year later keep the post journal.
From This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald's Letters from the Columbia, 1822-44, edited by Jean Murray Cole, we see his arrival at -- not Spokane House -- but Fort George (Astoria)!
"Archibald McDonald arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River with Chief Factor John Dugald Cameron, a former Nor'wester, and Chief Trader John Lee Lewes, a fellow HBC man, on 8 November 1821. Two other experienced former NWC officers, Chief Factor John Haldane and Chief Trader James McMillan, were also appointed to the district. Within days of their appearance McDonald and Lewes began the inventory of the headquarters establishment at Fort George (Astoria). By 6 April 1822 McDonald had completed his report to the council covering all four posts in the Columbia District -- Fort George (Astoria), Spokane House, Fort Walla Walla (Nez Perces), and Thompson River (Forts Okanagan and Kamloops)."
John Lee Lewes did in fact serve at Spokane House but was not yet there in April 1822, when Finan McDonald reported that "Five boats manned by forty men accompanied by two clerks vis Messrs [William] Kittson & [James] Birnie, left this for Fort George..."
All is not lost, however, for on Tuesday 16th of July, McDonald reported that: "Messrs Lews & Birnie arrived here at 8 o'clock am. and some time after Mr Kittsons with the people and goods from Fort George having left the boats at the Forks of this river."
On Friday 26th -- "We sent all the wild horses off to the plains for to feed except one Mr. Lews has kept for to ride upon if he can break him in for the purpose."
This probably refers to Lewes: "Tuesday 30th -- About 6 o'clock am. a party of Ear ring Indians arrived loaded with roots of which we traded 30 kegs. The men have not as yet been at work since their arrival but have received their axes for to ... in order as Mr. Lu.. intends enlarging the Fort & renuing the houses as it is absolutely required."
In August: "Friday 2nd -- Mr. Lews not thinking it proper to send a party to the Flat Heads for the purpose of trading until he ascertain the truth of which the courier said yesterday. and for that purpose he sent Rivet to the Ear Ring Indians in order to speak personally with the courier from the Flat Heads & if possible to bring him to the fort."
"Tuesday 6th -- ... Souteawa St. Germain has been for some time living in the Indian camp alongside of the Fort but only today he made his appearance in the Fort, he having contracted a debt of 76 skins since last year & in no way exerted himself for to pay the same. Mr. Lews gives him a few necessary to enable him to pay the old debts he is going off to the Flat Heads.."
"Wednesday 7th -- The Indian that left this with Messrs. McDo & Ka arrived here with a note for Mr. Lews requesting him to send the horses across the Ear ring portage by 13th inst."
"Wednesday 28th -- This morning as Mr. Lewes, & Mr. McDonald went down to see our barrier, there happened to be some of the Indians there spearing the salmon coming up the river. Mr. McD spoke to them but they being in a canoe put all his threats at defiance. He lost no time in springing into the water & broke the canoe. The Chief of the place was much displeased and went and brock [sic] down nine of the palisades of the garden. His brother being more attached to the whites went and drove him away from the garden. He then wished to come to the fort for to dispute with us. He was prevented by the Indians. We not knowing all their intentions got our cannon loaded but one of the [sic] informed us, it was only him who was displeased with what we had done. We killed 80 salmon in our barrier. There was a guard kept up all night in case some of the Indians were badly disposed. The weather fine all day." [Hence the Spokane House men finally discovered why they were catching so few salmon in their barriere!]
In September: "Tuesday 3rd -- Mr. McDonald and his family with Mr. Lewes & his, left this place accompanied by Mr. Kittson for the Kettle falls where they will meet the boat from the forks & there embark for the Rocky Mountain portage. Messrs. Lewes & Kittson to return with two men from the Kettle falls.... We kept up a guard all night as it was Mr. Lewes orders when he left this but there is little danger as the Indians are all well disposed."
"Saturday 7th -- The men at work as usual.... About 3 oclock pm. Messrs Lewes & Kittson arrived from the Kettle falls after they saw Mr. McDonald start from the above place."
"Tuesday 10th -- Traded a horse and a few pieces dried salmon. the Indians are leaving us fast and it is not to be regretted as they are poor and have nothing to trade. Mr. Lewes give the Chief a small present for to behave himself well for the future. The weather still warm."
"Thursday 12th -- The Indians about the place have reported that this Indians from the east side of the Rocky Mountains have come within two days march of the fort. Mr. Lewes not thinking it proper for to risk our horses where they were give orders for the remove them. The weather still the same."
"Thursday 19th -- We have been employed all day giving the freemen a little advances as they have determined to go and make a hunt towards the heads of the Chipoune river & return late in the fall to the post at the Flat Heads. We had from the barrier today 34 salmon. the bastion was removed to its proper place but not finished as Mr. Lewes is to make an addition to it."
October: "Wednesday 2nd -- The men at work at the palisades they have finished the back part of the fort...Mr. Lewes give Pierre de jules Fill a pound of ... 1 foot ... and a damaged ... Cap for his good behaviour. He is to take horses in charge this winter."
"Monday 7th -- At an early hour this morning Messrs Lewes & [James] McMillan left this place for the forks of this river for the purpose of meeting with the gentlemen that may come across the mountains this fall. All hands employed at the chimney of the log house they are to raise it with... so that there will be no danger for the fire for the future."
"Wednesday 9th -- this morning Payette left this. I have sent by him what Mr. Lewes had ordered by him and likewise a pack horse I traded yesterday."
"Thursday 10th -- About two o'clock pm. Mr. Lewes and servant arrived form the forks but brought us no news of the express that we look for days."
"Wednesday 16th -- this morning we were agreeably surprised by the arrival of the men from the forks with letters from the Gentlemen that have come across the mountains. The gentlemen that arrived at the forks (fork of Spokane River with the Columbia, I expect) are as follows: Mr. Kennedy, Chief Factor; Messr. McLeod & Dease, chief Traders; Messrs. McDonald, Ross & Annance, clerks returned from the mountains. After an early breakfast Messrs Lewes & McMillan left this to go and joint [sic] those Gentlemen at the forks of this river."
"Friday 18th -- This morning Alexander Kennedy .... came to take charge of this place, he was accompanied by Mr. Lewes & Mr. Kittson. The former gentlemen after he delivers over the charge to A.K. is to go down with the express to Fort George."
"Monday 21st -- Mr. Lewes left this for Fort George, he has taken two of our men with him as we can spare them."
"Thursday 24th -- the men have been at work of yesterday. About noon two men arrived with the returned horses that Mr. Lewes had taken to the forks. They brought the remaining property hither that was left at the forks."
This has all come from Fort Spokane District Journal, 1822-1823, B.208/a/1, Reel 1M144, HBCA. The journal entries end the next spring as the brigades leave for Fort George with the furs -- John Lee Lewes does not return before that time to Spokane House.
Have you noticed how the Spokane House men spelled Lewes name in the early postings, and how the spelling changed?
I don't know how modern day descendants pronounce their name, but I suspect that John Lee pronounced his name "Lews."
In 1823, John Lee Lewes returned to the east side of the mountains and served at Moose Lake, near Cumberland House -- and at Cumberland House itself (Saskatchewan, B.49/a/28-43, HBCA).
In 1826-1827 he took a leave of absence and return to Europe; he came back to the country as a Chief Trader in charge of Moose Factory (Ontario, on James Bay, B.135/a/130-144, HBCA).
In 1829 he returned to Cumberland House on the Saskatchewan where he was Chief Factor; in 1831, Archibald McDonald wrote the following in a letter to Edward Ermatinger:
"I understand our friend [Duncan] Finlayson is in nomination for a Factorship. This looks well. [John Lee] Lewes has gained a feather also, but I believe he will be the only one of the original 12." (From: This Blessed Wilderness, ed. by Jean Murray Cole).
Lewes is again granted furlough, to Europe, in 1835-36.
Immediately on his return he was made Chief Factor in charge of the Ungava District at Fort Chimo (N.Quebec, B.38/a/1-11, HBCA), where he would have been more interested in the valuable seal and "porpoise" (beluga whale) harvesting than in the fur trade itself.
Surprisingly, this was an important aspect of the fur trade, and as two of my Anderson-Seton family worked there I will have to speak of it eventually.
This position did not last long and in 1837 he was back in charge of Cumberland House (B.49/a/43-54)
By 1844 he was posted northward to Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie River (NWT, B.200/a/10-30, HBCA) where he accidentally shot off his hand.
This was relatively easy to do with the flintlock guns the fur traders used and he was not the only man to injure himself through a moment's carelessness (David Thompson's clerk, James McMillan, shot off two of his own fingers by accident in 1810 or so; this is the same James McMillan who worked with Lewes at Spokane House).
For more information on these guns, see my blog posting on Flintlock Guns, dated Sunday February 7, 2010: "Flintlock Guns and Percussion Guns."
Bruce Watson ("Lives Lived") says that after his accident he took a furlough to England, travelling with his son, John Jr.
Apparently Lewes was already considering retirement to Canada, because Archibald McDonald wrote: "Lewes is looking to the St. Lawrence, tho' he still speaks of Australia!" (Cole, "This Blessed Wilderness.")
In 1845 Lewes was made Chief Factor in charge of New Caledonia, where he was supposed to replace Peter Skene Ogden at Stuart's Lake.
According to Bruce Watson ("Lives Lived") Lewes was supposed to relieve Donald Manson, but "ill health forced him so far to remain at Colville [sic] (Source: Rev. Morice's history of New Caledonia published under various names).
Here is what I wrote about that, in my book: The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson's Journeys in the West:
"In late August , Peter Skene Ogden and Donald Manson arrived at the fort, riding at the head of the incoming New Caledonia brigade. Manson, who had been in charge of Fort McLoughlin when Anderson served there, had come north from Fort Vancouver with the brigade to take charge of New Caledonia. Peter Skene Ogden has planned to leave New Caledonia with the outgoing express in the fall, and he would not return.
"For the most part, the gentlemen who worked the New Caledonia fur trade remained in the territory for a number of years, but change occasionally occurred. Peter Skene Ogden hoped to leave New Caledonia in 1844, but abandoned his plans when John Lee Lewes, who was to replace him, lost his hand in a shooting accident...."
So, am I right? I think so.
The HBC records don't exactly record where Lewes was, but he was at Fort Colvile in 1848 when Alexander Caulfield Anderson arrived there in the fall of that year, and he had apparently been there for a couple of years; there are no HBCA records.
He was at the post in December 1847 when many of the missionaries flocked to Fort Colvile after the massacre at Waiilatpu mission.
From: Incoming Correspondence to George Simpson, D.5/22, HBCA, John Lee Lewes letter from Fort Colvile, written 17th April 1848, indicates he had been granted two years' leave of absence by George Simpson, and said: "the board of management [in Fort Vancouver] has so arranged that I am to cross the Mountains next Autumn, my charge agreeably to your appointment will be delivered over to Mr. C. T. Anderson, who is to conduct the Colvile Outfit to this place from Fort Langley during summer."
Another HBCA letter confirms he left in the fall -- written from Fort Vancouver on March 16th 1848 to Governor Simpson (B.223/b/37, Reel 1M232):
"Mr. Chief Factor Lewes does not consider himself capable of undertaking the journey across the mountains this spring, and will therefore remain at Colvile until the month of October next, when he intends to proceed to Jasper's House with the Fall Party. This arrangement is favorable to our plans as it will leave Mr. Chief Trader Anderson disposable for the summer trip to Fort Langley with the brigade."
In his "History of the North West Coast," Anderson described Lewes this way:
"Entered the service of the HBC some years before the Coalition and was stationed at various points in the Northern part of Hudson's Bay. Afterwards in the interior at the posts on English River and Athabasca. While in charge of the District McKenzies River he was accidentally mutilated by the discharge of a gun and lost his sight in consequence. subsequently he was appointed to the Columbia Department, and remained for some years in charge of the Colvile district in which appointment Mr. Anderson succeeded him in 1848. Mr. Lewes after retiring form the service proceeded to Australia with his family with the intention of settling there, but he finally decided on returning to Manitoba and Red River where when Mr. Anderson last heard from him he was still living. Mr. Lewes was a man of fine personal appearance with many good qualities, and among all the officers of the service was conspicuous for his dashing style of dress."
Remember though that even though my great grandfather said the above about this man, it might not be entirely true -- I don't know that Lewes actually went to Australia and returned, and I doubt he did.
Also notice that Anderson said he has lost his eyesight as the result of the gun-accident -- it might be that Lewes was losing his sight in 1848. This statement confused me many times over, and every other historian records that Lewes lost his hand as the result of the accident, and so, that must have happened. This was one of the many tiny facts I had in the book that I had to check and doublecheck -- do you now see how so-called "errors" happen?
Following is what James Robert Anderson, A.C.'s son, had to say about Lewes in his Memoirs, "Notes and Comments on early days and events in British Columbia..." in BC Archives.
"In 1848 after the return of my father to Kamloops (after taking out the brigade to Fort Langley) we left that place and proceeded to Fort Colvile where as mentioned before, Mr. Lewis [sic] was relieved, who with his wife and family consisting as far as I can remember of an elder son, Adolphus, two good-looking girls and some younger children. The accompanying copy of the letter, although marked "private" from Mr. Lewis to my Father, is of interest. With certain eliminations concerning the descendants of some people still living, it is as follows:
"July 17, 1850, Cumberland House..... My dear sir; Your highly esteemed and interesting favour under date the 9th of last April came safe to hand. Accept my thanks for the same and the great fund of information which it contained. I am glad to learn that your Colvile affairs have turned out so much to your satisfaction. I wish it may continue so with you but such is hardly to be expected now-a-days. Men's minds seem to be all in a ferment on your side of the mountains, when and how this grand illusion will end, time alone can develop, and as it may it will not do so to the interest of the Fur Trade, its funeral knell has long been tolling in the west and ere many years have passed by, the Fur Trade will only be a thing that was and is no more. What a change during the last three years has come over the Columbia. I had Mr. [Eden] Colvile's company over three days in the spring; he gave me during that time a budget of Columbia, etc. news. You may be sure indeed the sayings and doings of the far west was the principal theme of our conversation; nothwithstanding the heterogeneous manner of our Columbia business in the present day. It is pleasing to see the result of the closing years outfit, such splendid doings in the gold way I certainly never anticipated. to look at the overplus above the Columbia expenditure we might expect to see in due time some amendments to our dividends. Alas for that of 1849, I for one do not look forward to much or if any amelioration on latter years. The returns of all the Northern Departments east of the mountains for last year are most miserable, the worst I really think since 1821 and this falling off will I fancy more than counterbalance the Columbia increase. The present outfit or that for 1850 there is no doubt will be still in a more deplorable state. The loss of the York F hired ship "Graham" last fall has so startled the big wigs in Fenchurch Street that they will this season pour into the country via three ships to York Factory, canoes from Montreal and by oxen and carts from St. Peters, goods to the amount of 16000 pounds sterling; if this is not making the pot boil over with a vengeance I know not what is. the goods coming by the ships are all very well but those from Montreal and St. Peters we could very well have dispensed with. They were not asked for by us neither are they wanted. with what we have on hand until the ships come, all the posts would have got on very well without this enormous and ruinous expense. I have recently returned from Norway House and after tomorrow I am again off for York Factory to meet the ships and get the residue of my current outfit. The council business of the present season went off very smoothly. some changes have taken place in the general appointments -- Chief Trader [James] Anderson from the South (your brother I believe [yes]) to Athabasca to replace [Edward] Ermatinger who goes to Canada and in the Devil's own humour too XXX I have not seen Frank [Ermatinger] since I crossed the mountains.... Nicol Finlayson replacing old Roderick who came out bag and baggage sickly and as weak and helpless as an infant XXX He retires to Basdic [sic] le Riviere, there I fancy to end his days which to all appearances seem to be drawing to a rapid close. chief Trader Reay [sic] off on another two years government searching expedition. Bell at the head of Mackenzie River affairs during Reay's absence. Dr. Todd back to Swan River, Chief Factor Ballenden home via Canada on the sick list. Black takes his place at Red River, where Gov. Colvile is also to winter. Wm. McTavish up from the Sault goes to York Factory for the present and although I never have heard so, preparatory, in my opinion, to jump into Hargreaves' place as head man at York Factory -- Dehambault off to Canada on furlough. Others not herein mentioned remain the same as last year. Columbia appointments I shall not touch upon; all these you will see by minutes of council.
"Not a word transpired this season about the Yankees buying us out with their million of dollars. They never I think had any serious idea of doing so -- all humbug on their part. Jonathan looks well to his dollars before parting with them. 1863 will soon come round when he expects to get all for nothing.
[This para refers to the Americans purchasing HBC property in Oregon Territory].
"I am very glad to hear that Frederick after the sad and melancholy fate of young Charles, so conducted himself as to meet with your approval. Pity it was that that stupid fellow, Young, had not got the shot in his own head. The jackass has destroyed a fine young man worth a shipload of unfeeling and careless Yankees. Frederick, I understand, has got a good situation, a money-making one at least and I sincerely hope he will have good sense enough to profit by it.
[This paragraph refers to a young American travelling with the express showing off his gun and accidentally shooting and killing a son of Mr. Charles, Chief Factor in charge of Red River; Frederick Lewes must have been there.]
"All the Columbia gentlemen seem to be on the move. It is time I should do so too, and do it I certainly shall before long. My arrangements are taken. Adolphus from the fountain head [?] is ordered out next spring. On his return in the fall he will conduct his mother and the three youngsters to Vancouver Island, have carte blanche for sending them there. I go to Canada myself for the purpose of removing my eldest daughter and as I strongly suspect her fatherless children from that country. With them and my son John I shall without delay bend my steps by ship from New York or Boston. This is a sudden resolve is it not? Canada since I received my spring letter has lost all charms for me. I will go to the Columbia. If that does not please me after a very short trial trip, for Van Dieman's Land via the Sandwich Islands. XXX Yours most truly, John Lee Lewis [sic]."
I am not sure that Adolphus delivered his mother and three siblings to Fort Victoria, nor do I think Lewes ever came to the Columbia district.
He also did not take his wife east with him, as he would not have thought she would fit in there.
This is why -- from Sylvia van Kirk's Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur Trade Society, 1670-1870:
"In many ways, mixed-blood girls brought up among their mothers' people became virtually indistinguishable from the Indians -- as their names Neskisho, Ke-che-cow-e-coot and Wash-e-soo E'squaw' testify. A detailed description of the mixed-blood wife of John Lee Lewes, a prominent nineteenth-century officer, reveals that she was much more influenced by her Plains Cree mother than her Orkney father John Ballenden, who had been a Hudson's Bay Company servant:
"She is the daughter of an Indian woman, and much more the squaw than the civilized woman herself, delights in nothing so much as roaming around with her children making the most cunning snares for Partridges, rabbits and so on... she is moreover very good-natured and has given me two pairs of worked moccasins.. she also gives me lessons in Cree."
By the way, Mrs. Lewes's father is the John Ballenden who met Anderson at Fort Colvile in the early 1850's, and who took Peter Skene Ogden's place at Fort Vancouver for a year or so.
Lewes spent some time with Anderson at Fort Colvile, and gifted Anderson his copy of Joseph Howse's Cree Dictionary -- today a book worth thousands of dollars!
I have seen that book, with Anderson's signature in it; it has been restored and is in the possession of a book collector who lives in Vancouver, I believe.
According to the HBCA biographical sheet, John Lee Lewes retired on the 1st June 1852.
He died twenty years later at "Lewes Villa," St. Andrews, Manitoba, and was buried two days later.
On their biographical sheet, the HBCA lists a few more resources that I have not accessed (or at least not looking at Lewes' records), and they are:
E.E. Rich, ed., Journal of Occurrences in the Athabasca Department by George Simpson, 1820 and 1821, London: HBRS, 1938, Vol. 1, Big. pp. 446-447 (I wonder if Big listed here is supposed to be Biography?)
M.A. MacLeod, ed., The Letters of Letitia Hargrave, Toronto: The Champlain Society.
You can find these volumes in any good library in Canada, and you can photocopy them too.
You can also read some of the journals that he kept, probably on microfilm at HBCA (or borrowed from them) -- these are:
Lesser Slave Lake (Alberta) Post Journals: 1817-1819, B.115/a/1-3, Reel 1M70; 1820-1821, B.115/a/4, on Reel 1M71. Both Volumes 2 and 4 contain correspondence which is often worth reading for additional information.
Fort Churchill (Manitoba) Post Journals: 1834, B.42/a/164- (to cover the few months he spent at Churchill that year), Microfilm reel 1M36.
Cumberland House (Saskatchewan) Post Journals: 1837-1840, B.49/a/43-54, Reel 1M41.
Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories): 1840-1841, B.200/a/10-30, Reel 1M140. (Doublecheck my reel numbers in case I erred on HBCA website).
From Bruce Watson's Lives Lived, I have Adolphus' fur trade records:
Birth: probably Spokane House, 1821. Born to John Lee Lewes and Jean Ballenden
Death: Fort Vancouver, September 1856
Passenger, Prince of Wales (ship), 1826; Passenger, Forager (ship), 1840; Apprentice clerk, Fort Vancouver, 1840-1841; Clerk and Surveyor, Fort Vancouver, 1842-1845; Clerk, Fort Vancouver, 1848-1849; Clerk, Willamette Falls (a few miles south of Fort Vancouver), 1849-1850; Clerk, Fort Vancouver Indian Trade, 1850-1853
As a young boy, Adolphus was taken by his father in 1826 to England where he was educated. He subsequently joined the HBC as a surveyor and clerk on December 18, 1839, and sailed from London on January 1840. He spent his entire career working out of the Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, WA) area and, as a surveyor, drew up the plans for Fort Victoria. On his retirement in 1845 he was offered passage to California, where he said he wished to retire, or England, but instead chose to stay and farm at Cathlapootle (320 acres), some distance below Vancouver (Clark County). Faced with the prospect of having to become an American citizen, he asked for re-admission to the HBC and rejoined on March 1, 1848. In 1850 he was noted as living alone and he may not have had a family. That same year he was reluctant to leave the territory and go north and survey Vancouver Island and declared his intention to become a US citizen in Clackamas Co., Oregon Territory (probably in what is now Washington state). He retired once again in 1853 and died at Fort Vancouver in 1856.
The Lewis River, formerly the Cathlapootl and flowing into the Columbia below Vancouver, is named after Adolphus Lee Lewes and Frederick Lewes who settled in the area.
If anyone who reads this has more information re: John Lee Lewes, post it below. This is actually going to be read by a John Lee Lewes descendant from Australia, who cannot easily research his ancestor.
Isn't it interesting that Lewes, who talked many times of going to Australia, actually now has modern day descendants in the place?
I have a fair bit of information on John Ballenden, too; he had a rough time of it both at Red River and at Fort Vancouver, and all of this was left out of my book (well, it wasn't relevant). But I think I will write about John Ballenden's experience in the fur trade next week -- he butted heads with Fort Victoria's James Douglas and won the argument.
You don't mess with John Lee Lewes' father-in-law, John Ballenden!