Monday, June 26, 2017

Francois Bourassa's 1686, voyage to Hudson Bay for the Compagnie du Nord

Francois Bourassa (1659-1708) (our 7th great-grandfather) made a voyage to Hudson Bay for the Compagnie du Nord in 1686.

The following is an account of his adventure from "Chevalier de Troyes and the Attack at Hudson’s Bay" 

In 1685, news reached New France that the British had established permanent posts on Hudson’s Bay, and had carried off a large shipment of beaver pelts intended for Quebec City. 

In response, French Governor Brisay de Denonville charged Chevalier de Troyes, a captain in the Piémont Regiment, to lead an expedition to rout the British from the bay. De Troyes was given the task of capturing any British that he could, especially associates of Pierre Radisson, who was by then regarded as a traitor (Legget 1975: 40). 

The expedition was funded in large part by the Compagnie du Nord, which then held the monopoly on the fur trade in the region for the French. In 1686, de Troyes and his three senior officers, the brothers Pierre, Paul, and Jacques Le Moyne, led 96 other men in over thirty canoes up the Ottawa River and on towards the English posts of Hudson’s Bay. 

The voyage went well. Leaving Montreal on March 20th, when ice was still on the Ottawa, they reached the junction at Mattawa on May 10th, but here, instead of following the accustomed route west, they continued north up the Ottawa and into Lake Temiskaming. The company followed the portage route into the Abitibi River, and finally reached James Bay on June 20th, exactly three months after their departure (Legget 1975: 40). 

They captured three British forts without great difficulty ‐ Monsipi (Moose Factory), Rupert (Charles), and Albany, and all without any losing of any of their men. Pierre Le Moyne remained in charge of the forts, and de Troyes led the main body of the troop safely back to Quebec by that October. 

In total, the expedition resulted in the loss of only three men: two from drowning, and a third from exposure (Legget 1975: 40). The operation was therefore a military success with positive results for the Compagnie du Nord. 


The Fur Trade along the Ottawa River

Families of Michilimackinac – Boisguillet/Boisguilbert to Bourassa Compiled by Diane Wolford Sheppard

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Tasse à canot de voyageurs - Voyageurs canoe cup

"Canoes in a Fog" by Frances Anne Hopkins

During the fur trade era French-Canadian voyageurs and Native American hunters traveling by canoe often carried wooden canoe cups (sometimes called belt cups), a practical accessory that allowed them to dip drinking water from a lake or stream while paddling a canoe.  Until drinking unfiltered water became identified as dangerous in the 1970s, the tradition of carrying canoe cups continued with sportsmen.

Canoe cups were typically made from a tree burl, often maple or birch, that was hollowed out and shaped with crooked knife. The cups were sometimes decorated with incised, relief-carved, painted, or burned (pyrography) motifs of indigenous flora and fauna. 

Attached to the cup was usually a piece of deer or moose hide cordage, and a twig or carved toggle, which allowed the cup to hang from the sash or belt. 

My hand-carved canoe cup (pictured here) is engraved and decorated with burnt wood details of a trout or whitefish on each side.  It measures about  4¾" long by 3¼" wide by 2¼" deep, and is unsigned.  It was made by a Northern Cree (Atikamekw) Indian from the Manawan area of Quebec, Canada (about 160 kilometers northeast of Montreal).  

The Atikamekw are the indigenous inhabitants of the area they refer to as Nitaskinan ("Our Land"), in the upper Saint-Maurice River valley of Quebec.  The Atikamekw language, is a variety of the Cree language.  Their name, which literally means "lake whitefish", is sometimes also spelt "Atihkamekw", "Attikamekw", "Attikamek", or "Atikamek".  The French colonists referred to them as Têtes-de-Boules, meaning "Ball-Heads" or "Round-Heads" because of the shape of their headdress.

Carved Burl canoe cup from author's collection

Carved Moose canoe cup from author's collection

More elaborately carved examples of "Canoe Cups" or "Belt Cups" can be seen at:

Belt Cup, c. 1820, Anishinaabe, Ottawa or Ojibwa -- (search - "Belt Cup")

Exceptional Northeast Carved Wood Belt Cup --

Northeast Carved and Painted Wood Canoe Cup --

Eastern Woodlands carved wood Belt Cup. c. 1760 --

Update -- Woodlands Indian Canoe Cup on PBS --

Canoe Cup appraised on PBS Antiques Roadshow at $15-20,000

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Canoe Collectibles unrelated to the fur trade...

If you found some ancestors please let me know on La Prairie Voyageurs Facebook

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Eastern Woodlands Indian Mocotaugan or Crooked Knife

This Eastern Woodlands Indian artifact, called a Mocotaugan by the Cree (pronounced “mah-kuh-TAW-gun”) is also called a “crooked knife.” It was an anthropologically important, intriguing, and sometimes beautiful woodworking tool typically used to split or carve wood for basket-making and canoe building.

My crooked knife (circa 1850) has a chip-carved ash handle with blade made from an old file, the blade is held in place with copper wire wrapping (partially missing). It is approximately  8.5" long.

Watch Caesar Newashish, a Native American of the Attikamek nation of the Manouane reserve in Quebec, use a crooked knife as he builds his bark canoe.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Narcisse Roy (1765-1814) Montreal Fur Trade Silversmith

Hudson Bay trade silver cross made by Narcisse Roy c.1800

This Native American Indian trade silver cross on a red faceted trade bead necklace was made by Narcisse Roy “N.R.” of Montreal, Quebec, Canada circa 1800. The cross is a museum quality trade silver artifact with the correct hallmarks for Quebec, the crown, “HB” (Hudson Bay Company), crown over V (meaning the silver is sterling), and “N.R.” (Narcisse Roy’s cartouche or touch mark). 

The front of the cross has a setting of glass or perhaps a gem stone which magnifies a “HB” hallmark. The cross hangs on a trade bead necklace with red faceted glass beads and brass trade beads all from the late 18th or early 19th century.  The cross measures 4 1/4” T x 3 1/8” W.

The trade bead necklace is on a 32" long strand. When I purchased the cross and necklace its provenance was stated to be from the Bryce Hathcock Collection.


Narcisse Roy (1765 - 1814) Artist, silversmith and manufacturer in Montreal, Quebec. Worked between 1797 and 1814. Narcisse Roy did considerable silversmithing for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and supplied vast quantities of trade silver to the North West Company.

More from: Dictionary of Canadian Biography,

NARSISE (Narcis, Narcisse, Narsis, Narsisse) ROY, silversmith, artist and merchant; b. 27 Nov. 1765 in Montreal, Que., son of Jacques Roy and Marie-Françoise Prud’homme; d. there 23 March 1814.

Narsise Roy must have done his apprenticeship as a silversmith in the period between 1777 and 1786. Robert Cruickshank may have given him his training, since their marks bear striking similarities, particularly in the way the initials RC and NR are formed. However, Roy could have had as master one of the many other silversmiths who were active in Montreal at that time: Louis-Nicolas Gaudin, dit La Poterie, Charles-François Delique, Jacques Varin*, dit La Pistole, Joseph Schindler*, Louis-Alexandre and Pierre Huguet, dit Latour, Bernard Decousse, Dominique Rousseau*, François Larsonneur, Caspar Frederic Grunewalt, Pierre Foureur, dit Champagne, Simon Beaugrand, John Wood, or Charles Arnoldi.

On 25 June 1787, Roy, “a merchant silversmith,” married Marie-Joseph Jérôme, dit Latour, in Montreal. The bride brought a dowry of 1,100 livres; in addition she received an inheritance from her mother in 1788 and one from her father in 1789, which brought in 1,800 livres, 301 cords of hardwood, and a year’s wheat crop. The couple moved into the house belonging to Pierre Roy, Narsise’s brother, on Rue Saint-Laurent. Twelve children were born of the marriage.

Roy remained in close touch with his family. From 1794 he kept his mother in his own home and looked after her; hence he gained certain benefits under her will and some minimal financial aid from one of his brothers because “his large family does not permit him to keep his said mother without some compensation.” Bonds of family and friendship linked the Roys with a number of silversmiths, in particular Nathan Starns, at whose marriage they were present on 20 Feb. 1794. Roy was also godfather to Narcisse Auclair, who would become an apprentice of Cruickshank in 1805 and then of Starns in 1807. Another of Cruickshank’s apprentices, Michel Roy, was a nephew of Narsise. Furthermore Roy appraised the tools of Pierre Huguet, dit Latour, and the contents of his silversmith’s shop for the inventories made after the deaths of his two wives, the first being done in 1788 with the assistance of Foureur, dit Champagne, and the second in 1802 with the help of Starns.

Roy regularly engaged in land and real estate transactions. In 1789 and 1790 he purchased in succession two properties in the faubourg Saint-Laurent, one of them from the merchant Louis Cavilhe. It is interesting that the sum of 6,500 shillings required for this purchase was paid entirely in trade silver. The first installment, made in February 1791, was valued at 1,000 shillings; it consisted of “two thousand ear pendants for the Indians, of thoroughly cleaned and polished silver, half of them small and half large.” The final remittance was delivered in 1794. That year Roy bought a third property, again in the faubourgSaint-Laurent, from the merchant Joseph Howard*, for 3,000 livres, of which 2,400 would be paid “in silverware for the Indians.” This debt eventually had to be paid to the merchant Jean-Baptiste-Toussaint Pothier* since Howard’s heirs transferred it to him in 1805. In 1796 Roy bought another piece of land in the faubourg Saint-Laurent, and in 1798 a lot on Rue Saint-Jacques on which he immediately erected a two-story stone house. He had another house built in 1808–9. These numerous investments give evidence of real prosperity and business acumen.

The hiring of five apprentices in succession reflected intense activity. Jean-Baptiste Lapointe was taken on in 1793 for six years, and Roy remained in touch with him and acted as a witness at his marriage in 1802; Charles-Olivier Lepage was engaged in 1796, Antoine Delisle in 1797, Louis Tribaut, dit Laffriquain, in 1801, and François Leclair in 1802. From 1801 until 1804 Roy filled orders for the North West Company amounting to an impressive total of some 45,000 articles of trade silver: brooches, ear-rings, charms in the shape of crosses, bracelets, and “couettes”; the £1,500 of income they generated was a very large sum at the time. Roy also sold the company other goods, such as bolts of cloth and shoes.

At the end of the 18th century there was a heavy demand for trade silver. Like a number of Montreal silversmiths Roy directed the greater part of his professional activity to that market, having abandoned production of religious silverware. As the articles for the fur trade were not always marked, and as they were dispersed over an immense territory, only a few utensils and pieces of jewelry bearing his mark have been identified. The commercial importance of trade silver, in terms of the number of silversmiths involved and the phenomenal quantities of items produced, has not yet been adequately assessed in the context of an economy in which the fur trade occupied a privileged position.

During the 17 years of his business Narsise Roy hired five apprentices. Over a period of 34 years Cruickshank took on the same number, whereas Huguet in his 35 years of practice relied on two master silversmiths and eight apprentices. Cruickshank and Huguet, however, made a great deal of religious and domestic silverware as well. Thus Roy may be ranked as one of the largest producers of trade silver, along with the Huguets, Cruickshanks, Arnoldis, Rousseaus, and Schindlers.

by Robert Derome and José Ménard

[John E. Langdon is the only author to mention Narsise Roy’s apprenticeship with Robert Cruickshank, but he does not cite the source of this statement.  r.d. and j.m.]
ANQ-M, CE-51, 28 nov. 1765, 25 juin 1787, 4 nov. 1790, 26 mars 1814; CE1-63, 1802; CN1-68, 23 avril 1813; CN1-74, 17 janv. 1788; 30 janv., 27–28 sept. 1802; 12, 26 déc. 1808; 27 avril 1809; CN1-121, 23 nov. 1790, 14 mai 1794; CN1-128, 21 juin 1787; 1er oct. 1788; 30 mars, 30 mai, 21 août 1789; 11 févr. 1793; 20 févr., 29 juill., 25 sept. 1794; 19, 20 août, 25 oct., 23 nov. 1796; 22 sept. 1797; 30 août, 10 sept. 1798; 24 août, 13 sept. 1799; 13 juin 1801; 29 mai 1805; CN1-185, 15 June, 13 Dec. 1802; 4 Nov. 1805; 16 Oct. 1807; CN1-243, 29 mai 1805; CN1-313, 23 mai 1809; 17 févr., 27 mars 1810. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, R888/M623/2; R888/N222.5. Langdon,Canadian silversmiths. Traquair, Old silver of Quebec. Gérard Morisset, “Bibelots et futilités,” La Patrie (Montréal), 15 janv. 1905: 14–15.
General Bibliography
© 1983–2017 University of Toronto/Université Laval


From: Encyclopedia Dubuque, by Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer

When white traders made contact with Native American peoples,they were anxious to find highly desirable and portable items to trade with the natives in exchange for furs. Glass beads and silver jewelry filled this need perfectly.

Newly elected chief at the Huron Tribal Council

Silver became a symbol of friendship and alliance and was first used in military alliances during the colonial wars. Fur traders presented gifts of silver to the chiefs of tribes with whom they wanted to trade. Not seen as a bribe but as a token of goodwill, the practice followed the Native American tradition of wampum exchange symbolizing an agreement between equals.

The first pieces of "trade silver" may have been personal items owned by the traders. Before long, specific styles of silver jewelry were being produced - in Europe at first, then later in North America - expressly for the fur trade. From 1725 until about 1825 silver became one of the dominant items of the fur trade. Fashioned from coins, usually melted down and shaped or hammered into thin sheets, trade silver was produced in large quantities.

High quality trade pieces were manufactured by silversmiths in Montreal, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis. Major Canadian makers included Robert Cruickshank who traveled to the Upper Mississippi region, Charles Arnoldi, Pierre Huguet dit Latour, Joseph Schindler and Narcisse Roy. Such masters would employ up to thirty other silversmiths to help meet the demands of fur traders. Larger pieces bore the mark of the silversmith; smaller pieces usually did not.

The use of makers' marks by these craftsmen have make it possible to trace these pieces back to maker, location and date. These early craftsmen used hand-made iron punches, chisels and saws to cut the intricate designs. Then they finished the piece by hammering the silver on a polished iron block (doming), filing, polishing and lastly, engraving.

Because of the high demand between 1780 and 1820, trade silver became a mainstay of the silversmiths' trade.

The most important requirement from the trader's point of view was that the pieces be thin, both to reduce cost and to make the silver light for transportation into the interior.

Northeastern tribes - who at first had little in the way of metal-working crafts - placed great value in silver jewelry in specific styles. An active trade in sterling silver brooches, rings, earrings, and other pieces flourished through the fur-trade era of the 17th through mid-19th centuries. After that time, changes were introduced including so-called "nickel silver", also known as "German silver." This inexpensive alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc contained no real silver.

"German silver" came into this country during the early 1800s, it was not obtainable in sheet form before 1838 and does not appear to have been used as a substitute for sterling in trade silver until after 1850.

Associating pieces of trade silver to a certain historical date or narrow time period is very difficult. Most of the artifact pieces are dated by their makers' marks, and makers generally produced items over several decades of their career. Generally the more basic the silver piece, the earlier the time period. The simpler rings - with few or no piercings, the crowned or weeping hearts, the plainest crosses, and nosebobs - are the ones which date to the early to mid 1700s although these designs were not necessarily dropped in favor of the more ornate work. The more elaborate pieces with fancy-shaped or multiple cutouts were generally not produced until the late 1700s to 1800s.

In the fierce competition between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, the British-based HBC tried to avoid introducing silver into its trade because it was a fairly expensive item. However, the North West Company were so successful that the British were forced to introduce trade silver in 1796. In 1821, when they took over control of the Montréal-based NWC, the first item dropped from the trading lists was silver.

Canoes passing Caughnawaga (Frances Ann Hopkins)


Narcisse Roy was a distant relative of mine.  You may think this is taking things too far in trying to make a genealogy connection, but he was the grand-nephew of the wife of our 9th great-uncle.

Confused?  The lineage back to Lucy Pinsonneau (my 2nd great-grandmother) looks like this:

Narcisse Roy (1765 - 1814) -- grand-nephew of wife of 9th great-uncle -- Montreal Silversmith
Jacques Roy (1718 - 1773) -- father of Narcisse Roy
Jacques Roy (1688 - 1731) -- father of Jacques Roy
Catherine Ducharme (1657 - 1719) -- mother of Jacques Roy
Madeleine Roy (1684 - 1726) -- daughter of Catherine Ducharme
Jean Perras dit Lafontaine (1668 - 1736) -- husband of Madeleine Roy -- 9th great-uncle
Denise Lemaitre (1635 - 1691) -- mother of Jean Perras dit Lafontaine
Marguerite Perras dit La Fontaine (1665 - 1708) -- daughter of Denise Lemaitre
Joseph Poupart (1696 - 1726) -- son of Marguerite Perras dit La Fontaine
Marie Josephe Poupart (1725 - 1799) -- daughter of Joseph Poupart
Pierre Barette dit Courville (1748 - 1794) -- son of Marie Josephe Poupart
Marie Angelique Baret (Barette) dit Courville (1779 - 1815) -- daughter of Pierre Barette dit Courville
Marie Emélie (Mary) Meunier Lagassé (1808 - 1883) -- daughter of Marie Angelique Baret (Barette) dit Courville
Lucy Passino (Pinsonneau) (1836 - 1917) -- daughter of Marie Emélie Meunier Lagassé -- my 2nd great-grandmother

ADDENDA (June 9, 2017) Narcisse Roy, Born in Montreal, Nov. 27, 1765.

His paternal grandmother, Marguerite French, was born in Deerfield, Mass., May 22, 1695; was captured by the Indians and taken to Montreal March 1707, and was there rescued and brought up by the sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame.  Married in Montreal 1787 Marie Josephte Gerome Latour, related to other Montreal silversmiths.

As a silversmith, he trained several apprentices and made much silver for the Indian trade.  His mark, NR in script in a shaped cartouche, is found on Indian silver ornaments and some domestic silver.

In the manuscript account and invoice books of the Northwest Company (traders at Mackinac and elsewhere among the Indians), now in the archives of the Seminary at Quebec, are many records of the trade silver supplied by Narcisse Roy, as in 1801, the order including:

2,000 Broaches 
1,500 Small Crossee 
10 Arm Bands
2,000 Earbobs 
49 Ear Wheels 
10 Sets Gorgets
264 Heart Broaches 
34 Wrist Bands 
78 Beavers (effigies)
20 Double Crosses

Narcisse Roy died in Montreal March 18, 1814.


"The Old Silver of Quebec" by Ramsay Traquair, Toronto, 1940

"Indian Trade Silver" by Marius Barbeau. 1840.

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Beware of fake trade silver...

Not long ago I bought this "Hudsons Bay Company engraved trade silver beaver effigy pendant" supposedly made by Robert Cruickshank an early Montreal silversmith.

I was excited to get an 18th century treasure for such a bargain price, but I can't anything like it in any reference books.  I hope it's not a fake because Lord knows there are plenty of them in fur trade collectibles.

Caveat emptor

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