Friday, March 3, 2017

Ripples: Introduction, Contents and Chapter One - La Prairie

Dedicated to the descendants of Lucy Pinsonneau

A collection of essays and family histories of the voyageur ancestors of Lucy Pinsonneau (Passino) (1836–1917), our 2nd great-grandmother. This collection covers more than 100 ancestors, from over 25 families, that were engaged in the fur trade between the 1620s and 1840s in New France and later Canada.

Edited by Jerry England, 2017


Early on, during my youth, I became fascinated with mountain men and the fur trade. I still recall seeing the 1951, movie, Across the Wide Missouri, in technicolor, at a theater. I was hooked, what could be better than living off the land while trapping beaver in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

King of the Wild Frontier, 1955

In the years that followed Walt Disney television gave us Fess Parker as Davy Crocket in the 1950s and Daniel Boone in the 1960s.

Those exciting TV episodes were soon followed, in the 1970s and 1980s, by more Mountain Man films, including Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams -- TV Series (1977-1978), Centennial -- TV miniseries (1978-1979), and The Mountain Men (1980).

There was something magical about those early trappers and explorers known as Mountain Man and Voyageurs. Between 1600, and the 1840s, they were the first to go into unmapped wilderness to discover the river routes, and establish the trails that would eventually become pathways for the folks who would settle the West.

I often wondered what is was like to shoot a muzzleloading rifle, throw a tomahawk, sleep in a tipi, or paddle canoe on the Missouri River.

Then in the 1980s and 1990s, I discovered 'Buckskinning' -- folks who enjoy shooting muzzleloading rifles, dressing in 1840s period clothing, and living a Mountain Man lifestyle.

Buckskinner gatherings were called Rendezvous reenactments. They were modeled after the Rocky Mountain gatherings where the trappers met with merchants to trade their furs for supplies, tobacco, and whiskey. The National Muzzleloading Rifle Association sponsored most rendezvous events and membership was required for attendance.

For me there is no better way to learn about our nation's history than go live it for a few days at a historical reenactment. Rendezvous reenactments can be fun for the whole family. All you need to get started is some period clothing -- a 1840s style shirt, voyageur's tuque (cap) and sash, a string of trade beads, and an old pair of corduroy pants worked for me in the photo below.

Wind River, Western National Rendezvous, 1987

When I selected a voyageur costume as my attire for that early Rendezvous reenactment I remember thinking about 'Pasquinel,' the character played by Robert Conrad in the 1978, Centennial miniseries. Pasquinel was a French-Canadian fur trader who had gone out to the Rocky Mountains to trade for beaver pelts.

I had learned a few years earlier, in 1972, from an aunt who was studying our family history, that we had a French-Canadian ancestor named Passino. I didn't know anything about our Passino, but I remember thinking it would be fun to find out he was a fur trader.

Fast forward to 2011, using the internet, I had been seeking information about my Passino ancestry for more than a dozen years, when I discovered the name had been anglicized from Pinsonneau. (See the chapter titled, "French Canadian Heritage of Lucy Pinsonneau.")

A few weeks, after that discovery, I learned our Pinsonneau lineage began in 1665, when 1,300 soldiers arrived with the Carignan-Salières Regiment in New France (Canada) to fight the Iroquois.

I soon discovered my lineage goes back to François Pinsonneau dit Lafleur (1646-1731), my 7th great-grandfather, a soldier in the Saint-Ours Company of the Carignan-Salières Regiment. He arrived on the ship La Justice, 14 September 1665.

It turns out, not only are there some fur traders in our family tree, but so far I have documented well over a hundred French-Canadian ancestors linked to the fur trade between the 1620s and 1840s. My ancestors all came from villages in the St. Lawrence Valley. They came from the environs of Quebec, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal, but the vast majority were either born, married, or buried in La Prairie de la Magdeleine.

Since my breakthrough discovery I have continued researching my French-Canadian ancestry, and during the past couple of years I have been publishing vignette biographies of some of my voyageur ancestors on my blog,

The following work most assuredly has errors and omissions. I am not making excuses, but you must consider most of the documentation comes from 200 year-old perish priest's records and notary files. The ancestors themselves were mostly illiterate, so the person recording the information relied on their own best effort at spelling names.

The fact that I was born in the the United States, and don't speak or write French doesn't help.

Finally, you must consider the use of 'dit' (or also called) names, which were sometimes switched back and forth for multiple generations.

Oh! By the way I have learned what it is like to shoot a muzzleloader, throw a tomahawk, sleep in a tipi, and paddle a canoe down the Missouri River, but that's another story.

The majority of what follows is information gleaned from the Archives of Quebec Notary Files, passages from books dealing with the fur trade, and my own genealogy studies. You may ask why some of the individual ancestor entries only have one voyageur trip? The answer is that the vast majority of trips were undocumented, and many early provincial records no longer exist.

I have been gathering material for this book for the past six years, and experience tells me there are many more fur trade ancestral relationships yet to be discovered. If you are descended from one of these families I will leave it to you to find additional undiscovered voyageur ancestors. Perhaps you'll share your finds with me.

I hope you enjoy the details and little stories contained in Ripples from La Prairie Voyageur Canoes.

Table of Contents


Chapter One - La Prairie de la Magdeleine

Chapter Two - Our Earliest Fur Trade Families and How they Fit Together

Chapter Three - Voyageur Families of La Prairie

• Barrette Family
• Bourassa Family
• Boyer Family
• Deneau Family
• Diel Family
• Dupuis Family
• Duquet Family
• Gagne Family
• Leber Family
• Lemieux Family
• Migner dit Lagacé Family - also called Mignier, Meunier, Meignier and Lagasse
• Peras (Perras) Family
• Pinsonneau (Pinsono) Family
• Poupart Family
• Vielle Family

Chapter Four - Voyageur Families of Trois-Rivières and Quebec

• Amiot Family
• Beauchamp Family
• Cloutier Family
• Cusson Family
• Dardenne Family
• Deroches Family
• Godefroy Family
• Godet Family
• Miville Family
• Moreau Family
• Nepveu Family
• Picard Family
• Rivet Family
• Sedilot Family

Chapter Five - Miscellaneous Fur Trade Ancestors

Chapter Six - Voyageur Ancestors in Fur Trade Timeline; Part 1 - 1600s, Part 2 - 1700 - 1800s

Chapter Seven - French Canadian Heritage of Lucy Pinsonneau

Appendix One - French Era Fur Trade Forts, Posts and Depots

About the Author


"The Voyageurs" by George Marsh, originally published by The Outing Magazine, Outing Publishing Co., 1910

If you find some of your ancestors please let me know on La Prairie Voyageurs Facebook

La Prairie de la Magdeleine

La Prairie de la Magdeleine is an off-island suburb southeast of Montreal, at the confluence of the Saint Jacques River and the Saint Lawrence River in the Saint Lawrence Valley.

French Jesuits were the first Europeans to occupy the area, which was named La Prairie de la Magdeleine, but was also called François Xavier des Prés. The land was given to the Jesuits by Jacques de La Ferté and the Company of One Hundred Associates in 1647.

The Jesuits settled their seigneury in 1667, La Prairie de la Magdeleine first developed around the mission where only a few Frenchmen and many Onneiouts [one of the six Iroquois nations] who had converted to Christianity were concentrated.

Early on, because of problems of cohabitation, the Amerindian mission moved westward leaving the site only to settlers from France.

La Prairie de la Magdeleine was an area of woods, prairies, lakes, rivers and stone quarries which was suitable for farming.

A flour mill was built there, and in 1687 a wooden palisade, which in 1691 was used to repel an attack by English-Iroquois mercenaries led by Pieter Schuyler from New England.

A few years later, a small wooden church was erected and little by little a village was born.

As Iroquois hostilities diminished La Prairie de la Magdeleine began to grow between 1694 and 1697.

The majority of the first settlers came from Montreal, with a few from the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, including Charles Diel dit Le Petit Breton (1652-1702) (my 8th great-grandfather). New residents who sought refuge there, included merchants, craftsmen and skilled workers.

By 1670, the population of settlers was significant enough to open the seigneurial administration for La Prairie de la Madeleine, and also to establish the parish of St. Francois Xavier with the building of a chapel for the Indians, and habitants on the seigneur’s estate bordering the river.

Relations between the early settlers and the Indians were friendly, although many of the Indians soon left as the land was being settled.

Until 1676 when the native mission moved to the place called Kahnawake, at the mouth of the Portage River, settlers worshipped with the Indians and would have had ample opportunity to learn native languages.
Most would have heard the tales told by soldiers of the Carignan-Salières Regiment who returned and settled at La Prairie.

From the soldiers, Iroquois and early coureurs de bois they may have learned about the routes used to conduct fur trade with the Dutch in New York.

Young men also made trips to the Iroquois or Ottawa, either as an assistant to the Jesuits or as a helpers for older coureurs de bois.

By the end of 1673, the population of habitants in the seigneury was fifty-one men, thirty-six of them unmarried, fifteen women, of which six had come as girls from Montreal, and thirty-three children.

Voyageurs and the fur trade

Two good canoe routes from the La Prairie de la Madeleine area reached directly to the best beaver pelts on the continent.

Savages settle in La Prairie with the French, 1680

A trip by the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers was fairly safe from the Iroquois and English attacks but required much portaging. The other route through the upper St. Lawrence and the lakes to Niagara, Detroit, Michilimackinac and Green Bay passed through a long stretch where voyageurs were threatened by Iroquois interference.

Voyageurs, after 1681 are usually licensed and under contract with fur trade merchants. They were primarily in the business of bringing merchandise to central depots and hauling furs from the depots to Montreal.

Before 1681, some of the habitants of New France began to fan out to deal with the Indians in their own territories. Called coureurs des bois, a name which means “wood runner.” After 1681, they were usually unlicensed and seen as outlaws, because they traded illegally in the eyes of the French authorities.

This 1691 map shows the route LaPrairie's voyageurs would take from Lachine (just across the river from LaPrairie). They would spend seven to eight weeks paddling heavily-laden freight canoes (“canots de maître”) up the St. Lawrence, along the Ottawa & Mattawa rivers, across Lake Nipissing, down the French River to Lake Huron, then west to Fort Michilimackinac.

Coureurs des bois

The most active and most picturesque figure in the fur-trading system of New France was the coureur-de-bois. Without him the trade could neither have been begun nor continued successfully. Usually a man of good birth, with some military training, and a good education, he was a rover of the forest by choice and not as an outcast from civilization.

Young men came from France to serve as officers with the colonial garrison, to hold minor civil posts, to become seigneurial landholders, or merely to seek adventure. Very few came out with the fixed intention of engaging in the forest trade; but hundreds fell victims to its magnetism after they had arrived in New France.

The young officer who grew tired of garrison duty, the young seigneur who found yeomanry tedious, the young habitant who disliked the daily toil of the farm--young men of all social ranks, in fact, succumbed to this lure of the wilderness.

"I cannot tell you," wrote one governor, "how attractive this life is to all our youth. It consists in doing nothing, caring nothing, following every inclination, and getting out of the way of all restraint." In any case the ranks of the coureur de bois and voyageurs included those who had the best and most virile blood in the colony.

Coureurs des bois enjoyed the adventure, money, the beauty of nature, and a life free of conformity and the harsh work of farming.

Living closely with the Indians, they adapted to Indian ways and dress, and soon were as skilled as the Indians in the ways of the forest. Most cared little for tomorrow. This lifestyle appealed more strongly to the French temperament than to that of any other European nationality.

One coureurs des bois reported that, “there is no life so happy, none so independent, no place where a man enjoys so much variety and freedom as in the Indian country.” These wandering coureurs des bois were perplexing to the authorities.

Even when Louis XIV decreed, in 1681, that the first offense for being a coureurs des bois would be flogging, a second offense branding with the Fleur de Lys, and a third offense punished by life in the galleys or by the death penalty, this mattered little to men who didn’t intend to get caught a first time.

Many people in New France conspired to protect the coureurs des bois from the law. When they were hauled before a judge, they were usually at most fined and turned loose to continue their trade.

Among the early pioneers at La Prairie de la Madeleine, most of the able-bodied men were either coureurs des bois or voyageurs, often serving in both capacities at different times.

A tradition developed in families where older experienced men cared for the younger sons of habitants.

La Prairie's Pioneer Fur Trade Families

All three sons of Pierre Peras (Perras) dit La Fontaine (1616-1684) (my 9th great-grandfather) and his wife Denise Lemaitre (1635-1691) (my 9th great-grandmother) (Pierre, Jean and Jacques Perras) were involved in the fur trade, as were their sons-in-law, Pierre Poupart (1653-1699) (my 8th great-grandfather), and Antoine Jacques Boyer (1671-1747) (my 8th great-grandfather).

The involvement of whole families in the fur trade is obvious. Not only was our ancestor Jacques Deneau (Deniau) dit Destaillis (1660-1720) (my 7th great-grandfather), involved but also his brother Charles Marin Deneau dit Destaillis (1663-1708) (my 8th great-uncle) and a total of 19 Deneau family members are listed on 69 voyageur trips.

Ten members of the Boyer family, including Antoine Jacques Boyer (1671-1747) (my 8th great-grandfather), the husband of Marie Perras (1673-1736) (my 8th great-grandmother), his son Charles, and his grandson Charles are listed on 31 voyageur trips.

In all more than 2249 contract records of voyageurs are listed for La Prairie de la Magdeleine residents, while these lists do not include the trips these same men made on their own as coureurs des bois.

By 1697, the fortification enclosed 120 persons, among them Charles Marin Deneau dit Destaillis (1663-1708) (my 8th great-uncle) and Jacques Deneau (Deniau) dit Destaillis (1660-1720) (my 7th great-grandfather), Francois Leber (Lebert) (1626-1694) (my 8th great-grandfather), and Francois Bourassa (1659-1708) (my 7th great-grandfather). Francois Leber's sons Joachim Jacques Leber (1664-1695) and Francois Leber (1673-1746) were also involved the fur trade.

The story of the Bourassa family is somewhat typical of the times

A native of France, Francois Bourassa married Marie Le Ber (1666-1756) (my 7th great-grandmother), the daughter of La Prairie de la Magdeleine pioneers Francois Leber (Lebert) (1626-1694) (my 8th great-grandfather) and Jeanne Testard (1642-1723) (my 8th great-grandmother).

Francois Bourassa and his three sons: Rene Bourassa dit LaRonde (1688-1778), Francois Joachim Bourassa (1698-1775), and Antoine Bourassa (1705-1780) were Coureurs des bois and became known as the fathers of the fur trade.

After five years of marriage, Francois was captured during a skirmish with the Iroquois and presumed dead but returned after a prolonged absence.

Francis and Marie Bourassa had seven children, with five living to adulthood. Their daughter, Marie Elisabeth Bourassa (1695-1766) (my 6th great-grandmother), married Jacques Pinsonneau dit Lafleur (1682-1773) (my 6th great-grandfather). Francois Bourassa had two concessions of land and also a home in the village of La Prairie de la Magdeleine, but had prospered even more by being involved as a fur trader in the west.

When Francois died at age 48 in an epidemic at Montreal, Marie married a third time to Pierre Herve. Like most of the families of La Prairie de la Magdeleine at this time, the Bourassa family watched their sons head west to make a profit in the fur trade.

NEXT: Our Earliest Fur Trade Ancestors...

Index - Ripples from La Prairie Voyageur Canoes


I decided not to have "Ripples from La Prairie Voyageur Canoes" printed because of its limited appeal. 

I published it online, so it's free to all. 

I takes a little work to download and put in a text editor, but when done it is 250 pages, and prints out nicely in black and white. 

I consider this work to be  a "genealogy act of kindness." 



Addenda 5 May 2017:

Here are some additional definitions of voyageur and coureur des bois from Suzanne Sommerville:

"In its beginnings, the fur trade was run by private companies. The Indians came down to trade at the centers established by the French at Tadoussac, Québec City, Trois Rivières, and a place called Cap de Victoire (Sorel). Etienne Brulé may have been the first “legal” coureur de bois, literally, runner in the woods, traveling as far as the Great Lakes by 1610, but most Frenchmen remained close to the settlements on the St. Laurent and traded with the Indians when they delivered the furs and pelleteries they had acquired, often from far distant lands. The Indians themselves did not want it any other way.

... Voyageurs is the term usually given to those who voyaged legally, either for exploration or to man the canoes traveling to the pays d’en haut. They were free agents granted permission by the 1670s or hired by those who, especially after 1681, received one of the legal 25 congés, permits to trade. ... Voyageurs began to be called simply engagés, or hired men. They contracted for their wages and the conditions of their employment before they left the mother colony. Thousands of these hiring contracts, engagements, survive in the notarial records of New France, and copies of these documents can be ordered. One more important point: The government of France periodically and several times issued pardons to the coureurs de bois, if they would return to the mother colony, sometimes after they served in a military engagement. This was particularly true in the 1690s, when some came down with the Indians allied to the French to join in the initiatives against the Iroquois in New York. In 1716, the coureurs de bois were asked to join the Indians allied to the French in the conflict against the Renard / Fox / Mesquakie Indians in the pays d’en haut, the country up river, now the Mid-West. In return, they would be pardoned and could return to the St. Lawrence valley settlement. 

At first, in the official correspondence between France and New France, the coureurs de bois are considered a detriment to the colony and to the evangelization of the Indians. The priests and government leaders, in particular, complained often about their libertine practices; and the point of view of these officials is the one usually cited and preserved in the published histories. Eventually, however, the coureurs de bois were recognized for the positive contributions they made in exploration and for their knowledge of the Indians allied with France. The friendships and families they established were crucial for the continuation of the fur trade, and the fur trade was essential for the survival of New France."

Thank you Suzanne for trying improve my understanding.

For more information about Coureurs des Bois and Voyageurs look here:

Coureurs des Bois and Voyageurs and Engagés


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