Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

vous of Fort William, at the Grand Portage, on Lake Superior; where all matters are decided by a majority of votes, each share giving a vote, and absentees voting by proxy. After a certain period of service, a wintering partner is permitted to retire with considerable allowances; the vacancy is tilled by the election of a clerk, who must have served a certain number of years, under the direction of the wintering partners, in the management of one or more trading posts in the interior; the choice, as may be supposed, generally falls on one who possesses the qualifications most requisite for pronoting the common interest; he must be well acquainted with the nature of the trade, the character and manners of the Indians, and the mode of acquiring influence among them. The hope of obtaining the envied situation of a partner, excites among the senior clerks an activity and zeal for the general interests of the concern, hardly inferior to that of the partners themselves; who, on their part, watch closely the conduct of the clerks under their immediate command, not only from regard to the common interest, in which they participate, but also from feelings of personal responsibility; as the praise or censure of his associates is dealt out to each partner according to the success or failure of his management, and the profit or loss on his ledger.

This system, Lord Selkirk observes, is admirably calculated to infuse activity into every department; and to direct that activity, in the most effectual manner, and with complete unity of purpose, towards the conmon interest; but is by no means calculated to produce much respect for the rights of others : on the contrary, he adds, the very nature of the association and the extensive range which their operations embrace, cannot fail to produce an esprit de corps very consistent with the feelings of propriety and justice;' and: this observation is particularly applicable to the wintering partners. Secluded from all society, except that of persons who have the same interests with himself, the necessity of maintaining a fair character in the estimation of the public, which, in the common intercourse of civilized society, operates as a check on the inordinate stimulus of self-interest, has no influence with him ; he is solicitous only for the approbation of those who are not likely to judge his excesses with extreme rigour. He knows too that in these remote regions, the restraints of law cannot operate; and that it must be a case of very extraordinary importance which would induce a plaintiff to travel thousands of miles to find the court from which he is to seek redress. It cannot, therefore, excite much surprize it, under such circumstances, acts of injustice and oppression are committed against weaker neighbours. His lordship concludes by asking—if acts of illegal violence are allowed to pass without any mark of reprobation; and still more, if promotion is given to those

not

who have been guilty of them, whether it can be doubted that there exists a regular, concentrated plan of systematic oppression, carried on with the consent and approbation of those who have the chief active direction of the affairs of the Company ?'

To prove that such a systematic plan does exist, he proceeds to point out the conduct of the Company, with regard, first, to their own servants in the interior--secondly, to the native Indians-and lastly, to private traders.

If the facts stated be true, they are most disgraceful to the pate ties concerned, and highly discreditable to the national character; if false, we doubt not the gentlemen connected with the Northwest Company, in London and Montreal, many of whom are very respectable, will feel it incumbent on them to take immediate steps to wash

away the foul stain cast upon them, by the felonious acts of pillage, robbery and murder, which they are seriously charged with having sanctioned and abetted.

It appears from the Journal of Count Adriani, as quoted by the Duc de Liancourt, and from Mr. (now Sir Alexander) M.Kenzie, that the voyageurs, or servants employed in the interior by the North-west Company, are men of the most uncontrolled dissipation and licentiousness, and that the Company encourage this conduct; that drunkenness and debauchery are so essential a part of the system, that if any of them evince a disposition to economy and sobriety, they are selected for the most laborious drudgery and subjected to such a train of ill usage as to drive them at length into the general system. Their wages are not paid in hard cash; but the Company take care to supply them with rum, blankets, and trinkets for the Indian women, and no difficulty is made in allowing them credit till they become deeply involved in debt. The servant is then in-complete bondage, and no alternative left him but absolute submis. sion to his employers, or a gaol. He must, therefore, yield to to every imposition which his superiors think fit to practise upon him' trifling imposition, it seems, of not more than three or four hundred per cent. on every article which he takes from them! Besides this, money is reckoned according to the North-west currencyevery shilling of which is accounted two of the ordinary money of the province; so that we cannot greatly wonder that with wages nominally double or treble the annual rate of wages in the province, the servants of the North-west Company should never realize any property.

So far, indeed,' says Lord Selkirk, ' from saving money, or bettering their condition in this service, there are many of them who leave their families in great distress, and never remit any part of their wages for the support of their wives and children, and, he adds, strangers travelling through Lower Canada must be struck with the frequent appearance of

beggarly

a

beggarly hovels, bespeaking a degree of poverty seldom to be met with in other parts of America ;—these habitations are usually occupied by the families of Voyageurs employed in the north-west.'

The number of Voyageurs in the service of the North-west Company cannot be less than 2,000. Their nominal wages are from 301. to 601., some as high as 80l., or even 1001.the average cannot be less than 401., and is probably higher; so that the sum-total of wages must be 80 or 90,0001. The gross return of their trade seldom exceeds 150,0001., and when the cost of trading goods, and all the expenses of the concern are taken into consideration, it must be very evident that the Company could never afford, out of this sum, to pay such an amount of wages. To obviate this difficulty their servants receive goods, the real value of which cannot be accurately known without a reference to the books of the Company; but in the opinion of persons of the best general information, the prime cost of the goods so employed cannot exceed 10,0001. sterling. From one article a judgment may be formed of the rest-spirits are sold to the servants of the Company in the interior, at the rate of eight dollars per quart, which cost the Company little more than one dollar per gallon at Montreal; so that when a servant becomes addicted to drinking spirits (no very uncommon case) it is an easy matter to add 101. or 201. to his nominal wages.'--p.39, 40.

If such be the treatment of their own servants, that which is experienced by the Indians, it may readily be imagined, is not likely to be of a more just or levient description. Lord Selkirk says that the instances are numerous of Indians being plundered of their

pro. perty, and of personal violence being exercised towards ther, for no offence but that of having presumed to trade with others, who offered them a better price for their furs; that though this is generally done under some pretence of debt, instances are common of the most brutal and atrocious violence, when no such pretence could be alleged. One of these we shall give.

• In the year 1796 one of the gentlemen of the North-west Company had been killed near Cumberland House, by a particular band of İndians. From the timid character of the Indians in that quarter, and the insults to which they have been in the habit of continually submitting, it is more than probable that they must have been driven to this act of desperation by some extraordinary provocation. However that might be, it was thought of essential consequence to the Northwest Company that the act should not pass unpunished. One of the Indians supposed to be guilty was overtaken by a party of the Company's servants, commanded by Mr. M‘Kay, the partner in charge of the department, who, taking upon himself the office of executioner, as well as of judge and jury, levelled his gun, and shot the offender dead upon the spot. Another Indian of the same band was taken alive; a sort of mock trial was held, in which three partners of the North-west Company condemned him to death; and he was immediately hanged on a tree in the neighbourhood of the trading-post,'-p. 47.

men,

It would be a disgusting task, says his lordship, to detail the numerous and continued acts of violence exercised in the most illegal and tyrannical manner against the wretched natives of these districts; who have, in consequence of their connection with the traders, been growing more deficient in every estimable point of character, from the time that Canada fell under the government of Great Britain. The cause of this bumiliating fact, Lord Selkirk adds, can no longer be a mystery, when it is known that the management of these people has been left without controul in the hands. of 'who speculate upon the vices of their servants:Nor must the whole blame be thrown on the wintering partners. Their principals in London are accused of having lent themselves to counteract measures which might have tended to reform the habits, and ameliorate the condition of the native Indians. The American government, it is said, by placing an effectual restraint on the sale of spirituous liquors, has succeeded in exciting a spirit of regularity and industry, formerly unknown, among the Indian tribes residing on the waters of the Ohio. When the same measure was proposed to be adopted with regard to the Indians within the British boundaries, the Hudson's Bay Company are stated to have expressed their hearty concurrence in the proposition, as equally beneficial to the native inhabitants, and to the comfort and security of all who resided among them; but the agents and partners of the North-west Company, in London, strongly opposed it; and were supported by such influence as made it necessary, at that time, to drop the further prosecution of the measure.

Lord Selkirk proceeds to shew how inipossible it is to contend with the North-west Company, whose outrageous acts of violence and injustice long since drove all private competitors out of the trade; and even rendered it necessary for the New Company to form a junction with them. On this occasion Sir A. Mackenzie observes, after the severest struggle ever known in that part of the world, and suffering every oppression which a jealous and rival spirit could instigate; after the murder of one of our partners, the laming of another, and the narrow escape of one of our clerks, who received a bullet through his powder-horn in the execution of his duty, they were compelled to allow us a share in the trade.' Once united, however, the two parties, Lord Selkirk observes, were equally desirous of throwing a veil over the atrocities which took place during their quarrel.

We deem it unnecessary to trouble our readers with a long recital of the unjust and atrocious conduct which Lord Selkirk accuses the North-west Company of having held towards their rivals the Hudson's Bay Company. It is stamped with the same character as that of the other two Companies towards each other before their junction. The instances related of theft, robbery, and murder, hitherto committed with impunity, render it sufficiently evident that the extensive countries occupied by the North-west Company are in a state which calls aloud for the attention of the British legislature; and that the honour of the nation cannot fail to be tarnished, if the outrages now practised be allowed to go on without effectual check or interference.' As matters stand, there is scarcely a possibility of bringing an offender to justice for crimes committed within the Indian territories,' however atrocious. The only act of the British legislature which relates to them is that of 43 Geo. III. cap. 158, commonly called the Canada Jurisdiction Act;' the countries over which its operations extend are so vaguely defined, that the persons who drew it up must, as Lord Selkirk thinks, have been ignorant of the existence of any British colony in North America, except Upper and Lower Canada. By this law all acts of violence and oppression must be tried in Montreal, a distance of three or four thousand miles from many parts of the • Indian territories,' and thither the parties must repair by an inland navigation, far more tedious and difficult than a voyage to England, At Montreal, a Canadian criminal is in the midst of his friends and connections, with his employers on the spot, anxious to defend him. • But how is it,' asks Lord Selkirk, with the English trader, who is dragged down by this route to take his trial in a place where he is an utter stranger—in the midst of his enemies where his employer may probably not have a correspondent to pay the'smallest attention to his interest, and where he cannot bring down a single witness for his defence, except at an enormous expense and inconvenience?'

before

One case only, it seems, has been brought to trial under this act, and we most heartily concur in Lord Selkirk's observation, that “the whole transaction which gave rise to that trial, and the singular proceeding's connected with it, are of a description scarcely to be equalled in the judicial annals of any age or country.' It is too long to extract, but the case is briefly this: In the year 1809, a party of the North-west Company, under the command of one Eneas Mac Donnel, armed with swords and pistols, assaulted and plundered an unarmed party of the Hudson's Bay Company, wounded several, and pursued them to their house, where John Mowat, a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company, whom Mac Dompel had previously struck with his sword and was preparing to strike again, shot Mac Donnel on the spot. To prevent further bloodshed, Mowat stepped forward and voluntarily surrendered himself; and it was settled that two of the Hudson's Bay servants should be taken down with him to Montreal, as witnesses in his behalf. The treatment of Mowat during eigh

teen

« AnteriorContinuar »