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Indigenous Knowledge, Literacy and Research on Metissage and
Metis Origins on the Saskatchewan River:
The Case of the Jerome Family

Ruth Swan and Edward A. Jerome1

ABSTRACT. Little is known about French Canadian traders who explored the pays d'en haut northwest of the Great Lakes during the French colonial era and made the transition to the British regime after 1763. Using Metis genealogy. Swan and Jerome identified some of these earliest traders along the Saskatchewan River. The family of Edward Jerome has lived on a farm in northwestern Minnesota since 1878. Edward identified Francois Jerome as a voyageur who engaged with La Verendrye to explore the "Sea of the West." Francois was at Fort Bourbon west of Lake Winnipeg in 1749. After the end of the Seven Years War and the fall of New France, an elusive French Canadian called "Saswe" by the Indians and "Franceway" by the inland HBC traders pioneered the earliest explorations along the Saskatchewan, leading the Montreal traders of British background into the Northwest to take furs away from the HBC bayside posts. Fur trade historians identified him as Francois Jerome, and Swan and Jerome's archival research demonstrated there were three generations of Jeromes on the North Saskatchewan River before they moved to the Red River Valley in the 1820s. These men married Cree women and were the ancestors of the Red River buffalo-hunting Metis.

SOMMAIRE. On sait peu de choses sur les marchands canadiens-francais qui explorerent le pays d'en haut, au nord-ouest des Grands Lacs, au cours de l'ere coloniale francaise, et qui passerent au regime britannique apres 1763, A l'aide de genealogies metisses. Swan et Jerome ont identifie quelques-uns de ces lointains marchands le long de la Saskatchewan. La famille d'Edward Jerome vit dans une ferme du nord-ouest du Minnesota depuis 1878. Edward reconnait dans Francois Jerome un voyageur engage par La Verendrye pour l'exploration de la "Mer de l'Ouest." Francois se trouvait a Fort Bourbon, a l'ouest du lac Winnipeg , en 1749. Apres la Guerre de Sept Ans et la detaite de la Nouvelle-France, un mysterieux Canadien-francais, appele "Saswe" par les Indiens et "Franceway" par les negociants de la Baie d'Hudson, effectua les premieres explorations le long de la Saskatchewan et guida les marchands anglais de Montreal jusqu'au Nord- Ouest, ou ils disputerent aux postes de la Baie le monopole du commerce des fourrures. Les historiens voient en cet homme Francois Jerome, et les recherches d'archives entreprises par Swan et Jerome ont demontre qu'il y avait trois generations de Jeromes avant leur depart pour la Rivicre Rouge dans les annees 1820. Ces hommes epouserent des femmes cries et furent a l'origine des chasseurs de bisons metis de la Riviere Rouge.

In order to trace the origins of the Red River Valley Metis, the authors used the genealogy of Edward A. Jerome, of Hallock, Minnesota, members of whose family have lived on their farm for over a century and have been in the Red River Valley since the late 1790s. Hallock is 20 miles from Pembina and the farm is located on the Two Rivers, a tributary of the Red River. The Jerome family can trace their paternal roots through the Canadian fur trade in Ruperts Land, although the ethnic designation of "Metis" has no legal status in the United States. Edward Jerome wanted to trace his ancestry, and various lines led him backwards to Jeromes who were the earliest ancestors from Quebec. Jerome discovered that he is a descendant of The Buffaloe, a Pembina Ojibwe hunter, and of his daughter who was the country wife of Alexander Henry the Younger; she was later baptized as "Magdeleine Saulteaux."3 We researched these ancestors to determine at what point they arrived in Red River, but also to trace Metis family lines as far back in time as possible to determine their origins in New France as well as their Aboriginal connections. What we discovered is that Jerome's father's line had been "Metis" for nearly 200 years.

Stereotypes of Native people take various forms, but often subtly suggest that Aboriginal history is based on oral history rather than archival research. The implicit message is that Native history is difficult to document and unreliable, so oral history is not as valid as written history; many historians privilege the written text over oral sources and ignore the problems of unreliable texts. The other problem is that not all families possess an oral tradition. While an oral tradition might be possible in some families, it does not work in many cases where family and community history has been ignored. Cultural memory is often repressed in the face of racism, where people are made to feel ashamed of their Aboriginal background and are taught to forget about their Native ancestors while promoting immigrant (European or Canadian) relatives who are acceptable in the dominant society because they are "white." This is particularly true in cases like Metis history in the United States, where the Metis descendants of the fur trade are not even recognized as Aboriginal. If they do not have Indian status with a particular band, they are not "Indian"; yet they often experience racism in local communities, especially if they look different from other people who are the descendants of immigrants. How do they offset the shame engendered from the cruelty of racism?

Edward Jerome encountered this repression of Metis history when he asked his father, Edward Jerome, Sr., about his background: His father told him to "forget it because it will never do you any good." When interviewed by a local historian in the 1980s, Jerome Sr. was reluctant to talk.3 Edward Jr. had been curious when his cousin Frank Jerome wrote to the Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA) in London, UK, and found references in HBCA journals to Jeromes who were Cree interpreters along the North Saskatchewan River. Another cousin, Dorothy Jerome Kalka of Pembina, North Dakota, also researched family history in the Saint Boniface and Pembina Church records. Edward Jr. undertook genealogy research on various fronts and then in the 1980s and 1990s carried on the research into the HBCA in Winnipeg. Swan started to collaborate with him in 1991, and we have published several articles on ancestors from the Saskatchewan and Lake Superior areas, and produced Swan's doctoral dissertation: "The Crucible: Pembina and the Origins of the Red River Valley Metis."4

The intention of this article is to demonstrate that Metis genealogies can be followed up with archival research to produce historical family studies. This is an option for Aboriginal and Metis families where the oral tradition and stories have been lost or culturally repressed, or as a complement to existing oral histories. This methodolgy is also a challenge to the stereotype that Aboriginal history is only based on the oral tradition. Ethnohistorians using insights from anthropology and history have demonstrated that indigenous knowledge can also be based on the expertise gained from archival research. Jerome personally felt that it was important for him to document from written sources information about his ancestors; using his family insights into language and other cultural issues rounded out the picture. We feel this approach has been remarkably successful, partly because the Hudson's Bay Company in Winnipeg provides extensive documentation of the fur trade through documentary sources such as postjournals, account books, district reports, correspondence and maps. This type of research can answer historical controversies about such questions as the origins of the Metis outside of the Red River Valley. Although this ethnic identify was first articulated during the Fur Trade War in 1815—16, we wanted to document how the Jerome family moved to Red River, from where, and when? Who were these Metis ancestors and who were in the formative generation of French Canadian voyageurs and Native women? Can they be named?

Edward Jerome identified Francois Jerome as the earliest voyageur from Quebec who was in the North West during the French regime and made the transition to the new fur trade in the British regime as a trader after 1763. There were several generations of Jeromes on the Saskatchewan River before they moved south in the 1820s. While it is difficult to identify exactly who was the first Metis in this family, our research showed that it is possible to trace the family and their movements through the generations and to show how they developed as voyageurs, traders, interpreters, buffalo hunters, and later as Red River Valley settlers.

French Canadian voyageurs did not always move directly from Quebec to the North West. As Jacqueline Peterson pointed out, communities of mixed ancestry people grew up in the Great Lakes region, especially at major trading centres like Detroit, Michilimackinac and La Baye (Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan).5 As the Great Lakes trade was developing in the 1700s, fur traders from Quebec also penetrated the Western Plains, looking for the North West Passage to the Orient, and more specifically the mer de l'ouest. Indian reports suggested a large, inland body of water which French explorers hoped would lead them to a river running west to the Pacific Ocean and an easy sailing route to China.6 The La Verendrye men found that there was much confusion over the geography of the interior of North America.7

The family of Pierre Gauthier, Sieur de la Verendrye, led and organized these early French explorations of the interior of North America, opening up the area west of Lake Superior, called the pays d'en haut (the upper country, or, in English, the North West).8 The goals of the fur trade and exploration sometimes conflicted. The French government and colonial administrators in New France wanted to know the potential of the western side of the continent for economic development, but did not want the expense of subsidizing the expeditions. To finance their explorations, the colonial administrations of New France encouraged Pierre Gaulder, his sons and their engages (voyageurs), to trade with the local Indians. The Sieur de la Verendrye undertook the fur trade cautiously, but had the genius to establish a string of posts along the interior waterways which could provide food and support for his explorations because it was too far to return to Quebec each fall. He thus pioneered the system of wintering in the interior which made the Montreal-based fur trade possible. The posts they built included Kaminisdquia at Thunder Bay, Fort St. Charles on Lake of the Woods in 1732, Fort Maurepas on the southern edge of Lake Winnipeg in 1734,9 Fort Rouge at the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine in 1737, and Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine near present-day Portage la Prairie in 1738. After the father Pierre retired in 1742, his sons continued his work by establishing Fort Bourbon on Cedar Lake, at the entrance to the Saskatchewan River west of Lake Winnipeg, and Fort St. Louis (Fort a la Corne), near the forks of the Saskatchewan River, several years before the fall of New France (1763). As Gerald Friesen noted:

This chain of posts was designed not only to control the highways of the fur trade and to protect the most effective route to the Rockies and the western sea, but also to cut directly across the flow of furs to the English on the shores of Hudson Bay. Thus, the competitions between French and English intensified once again. As was the case at the close of the preceding century, the French won the lion's share of the trade.10

As a result of these interior posts, the French were able to intercept Cree and Assiniboine middlemen before they took their furs to Hudson's Bay, and traded with them along the fringe of plains and parkland, so that the transportation of furs and goods was undertaken by the French rather than the Indians. Through loss of furs, the Hudson's Bay Company traders in their bayside posts realized that Canadian competition was cutting into their business, and they began sending young men westward with their Indians to gather intelligence about the competition and to recommend new methods of dealing with the Canadian "pedlars," as they called them.

The fur trade was a lucrative business, but it also became dangerous when the French allied themselves with the Cree, Ojibwe and Assiniboine against the Dakota/Sioux. The newcomers were drawn into traditional tribal alliances and Indian warfare, which often prevented the easy flow of goods. Eldest son Jean Baptiste La Verendrye lost his life along with Father Aulneau on June 8, 1734, at Lake of the Woods when the whole expedition was killed by the Sioux "as a penalty for having armed the Indians of his command against the Sioux in 1734."11 The father had sent his son to live with the Cree to learn their language and customs, and the French explorers and traders continued this practice as good communication with their allies and customers was a priority.

To undertake these great Journeys to the west, La Verendrye recruited young men from Quebec who paddled the canoes for his expeditions and carried out the labouring jobs of the posts where they wintered. According to voyageur contracts in Quebec notarial records, Francois Jerome, the son of a French militia officer by the same name, was one of these young men. His father's whole name was Francois Jerome dit Latour dit Beaume, who had come from Brittany to Montreal in 1698 and married Marie-Angelique Dardennes in 1705 in Montreal.12 They had 13 children, including two sets of twins; the eldest son, Francois Jr. was born in August 1706. After 1718, the family moved to the parish of St. Laurent on the island of Montreal.13

Francois Jr. first engaged for the West in 1727, his voyageur contract vaguely stipulating that he was engaged by M. De Villiers to make a trip to the pays d'n haut.14 The exact destination was not named. On October 12, 1733, he married Marie-Denise Denoe dite Destaillis. His mother-in-law was Jeanne Adhemar, a sister of the Royal Notary. Her father was Antoine Adhemar de Saint-Martin, and his son, Jeanne's brother, succeeded him to the title; Jean Baptiste Adhemar became Royal Notary in 1714, and he was Francois's uncle by marriage. The prestige of being married to the Royal Notary was passed down through several generations of Metis families in the North West, along the Saskatchewan and into Red River, as various descendants used the label "dit St. Martin" or "St. Matthe," corrupted in English as "Samart".15

Francois Jerome and Marie-Denise Denoe had eight children, baptized in Montreal between 1735 and 1746; the five boys and three girls were registered in the parish of Notre Dame de Montreal. Two died as infants. In the genealogy of Tanguay, however, there are no continuing descendants of this line, although there are listed descendants of some of Francois's brothers, Nicholas-Charles and Jean Baptiste.16 This is perhaps an indication that Francois's male descendants moved out of Montreal, most likely because of the fur trade. Francois's career as a voyageur and later a trader continued from 1727 to 1757 (see Figure I for the geographical extent of his contracts). In the 1730s, he was appointed to the French post at Detroit, south of Lake Huron.17 The father, Pierre Gauthier, Sieur de la Verendrye, had retired in 1742, but his sons were carrying on his exploration work.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Fur trade voyageur contracts for Francois Jerome, 1700s.
Note: Modern provincial and slate boundaries are included for reference.
Source: Rappons de l'Archivisl du Quebec.
Cartography by Douglas Fast, University of Manitoba.

In 1743, Francois Jerome made a contract with the "Sieur de la Verenderie" {sic] to go to the Sea of the West.18 In 1745, Francois was hired by the Sieur Maugras to go to Forts La Reine and Dauphin in the same vicinity as the famous sons.19 Fort La Reine was located on the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie, and Fort Dauphin was between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis. In 1749, Francois Jerome had a contract for Fort Maurepas20 and Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine.21 Both these forts had been established by the La Verendrye family, as they were located on strategic waterways which connected with Manitoba Lakes that led to the northern reaches. In 1756, Francois Jerome dit Latour contracted to the Sieur Louis Lamay Desfonds to Aposte Ouyatonons, the Wabash Post in the Illinois country southwest of Lake Michigan." The following year, he must have made enough money to hire his own voyageurs and thus became a trader himself: "Sieur Francois Jerome dit Latour" hired Joseph Beaumayer and Gabriel St. Michel to go to Michilimackinac.23 This suggests that the latter French post on the Michigan shore between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior was now Francois's base of operations and that he may have stopped returning to Montreal each season.

If a trader wanted to penetrate the forested interior beyond Lake Superior, he had to establish a base in the Great Lakes and arrange to have the goods brought from Montreal; then when the furs came out, a Montreal crew would return with them. The voyageurs from Montreal were called "mangeurs de pore" (pork- eaters). The North West voyageurs in the interior were known as the winterers; although their diet at the posts consisted mainly of fish and meat, or pemmican, the canoe brigades ate Indian corn and wild rice traded from the Indians. The Canadian companies used the model of La Verendrye to organize posts at regular intervals to stockpile food, as the voyageurs did not have time to hunt and fish on their long journeys. Men like Francois, who organized the trade and supervised the voyageurs, were called "wintering partners" and they had the support of Montreal merchants and financiers who organized the trade goods to go to the Great Lakes as well as the selling of the furs in Montreal and Europe. The pioneering efforts by the La Verendrye family and the Great Lakes traders like Francois Jerome dit Latour, who obviously learned a great deal when he worked for them, developed the extensive Montreal-based trade network which culminated in the North West Company, which spanned the continent to the Pacific and the Arctic Ocean by the 1790s. Obviously, when British partners became involved in the Canadian companies after 1763, they did not have the expertise and depended on the experience of their French traders and voyageurs to keep pushing north and west to the finest fur fields of the Athabaska. Generally, anglophone historians like A.S. Morton emphasized the British leadership of the NWC after 1763, and little is known of the French traders and voyageurs who continued to work for the Canadian concerns after the fall of New France.

The sons of Pierre de la Verendrye continued with the fort-building north of the Assiniboine and west of Lake Winnipeg. Between 1741 and 1743, Pierre Gaultier de La Verendrye (second son of Pierre Sr.) built Fort Dauphin, near Lake Winnipegosis, while other members of their group built Fort Bourbon to the northwest of Lake Winnipeg, and Fort Paskaya (The Pas) to the northwest of Cedar Lake.24 Francois Jerome may have been involved in the establishment of the posts west of Lake Winnipeg. Jerome became associated with the La Verendrye family in 1743 when he signed a contract to explore for the mer de l'ouest, and later in 1745 with the Sieur Maugras for Forts La Reine and Dauphin.

The Sieur Pierre Gamelin Maugras was the cousin by marriage of Louis Joseph Gaultier de la Verendrye, also known as Le Chevalier, Louis Joseph Gaultier (the fourth son of Pierre Gaultier de la Verendrye and Marie-Anne Dandonneau)25, so it appears that Jerome was most closely associated with this member of the famous family. Le Chevalier had spent from the spring of 1742 to July 1743 exploring the plains south-east of Fort La Reine, looking for the "Sea of the West." According to his biographer, Antoine Champagne, he was accompanied by his brother, Francois Gaultier du Tremblay, two Frenchmen, and some Indian guides. Although Francois Jerome was engaged to explore for the Sea of the West in 1743, it is not clear whether he accompanied the La Verendrye brothers in 1742—43.26 This trip greatly increased geographical knowledge of the central plains, and also proved there was no Sea of the West in that area: the large body of water described by the Indians was probably Lake Winnipeg.27 Before he died. La Verendrye Sr. decided to focus his explorations on the north and the Saskatchewan River.

The governor of New France, Charles de Beauhamois, had a master plan to extend French control of the west; but it suffered from the vagaries of French politics and the explorers had trouble getting the financial support they needed. Pierre Sr. had been replaced as commandant for the poste de l'Ouest in 1743 while his sons stayed in the west:

In 1747 [Beauhamois] sent Pierre and the Chevalier [Louis Joseph] de la Verendrye to carry on the trade of the Western Posts, doubtless hoping that the Court would relent, as indeed it did and reappoint the father [Pierre as commandant]. The sons spent the winter at the northerly posts facing the English. In the spring of 1749, the Chevalier ascended the River Saskatchewan [Paskoyac] probably from Fort Bourbon, to the confluence of the north and south branches "where (there] is the rendezvous every spring of the Crees of the Mountains, Prairies and Rivers to deliberate as to what they shall do—go and trade with the French or with the English." That year the French carried off the main part of the trade in small furs at the expense of York Fort.28

In the late 1740s the sons stayed in the west, while their father tried to raise more capital for their exploring projects and their men continued to pursue the fur trade and take furs away from the English on the bay. Unfortunately, Pierre Sr. died in December 1749 in Montreal while his sons were recalled to Quebec for various military engagements.29 It is generally assumed by historians that when the French officers were recalled to New France to defend it, everyone left and the French lost the colony in 176330; little is known of the French traders who worked with the military and who were taking the furs away from the HBC.

When Jerome went to Fort Bourbon in 1749, he was not a soldier like the La Verendrye brothers but a voyageur and trader. In May 1749, the master of York Factory received a letter from Francois Jerome, asking for a list of prices and proposing a little commerce cache, or private trade. The French trader also showed his wisdom based on experience in dealing with the Natives:

As it came to our knowledge by the bearer of the said letter that you was ready to send one of your men in those parts, you may do it with all safety and fear nothing on our side. Leave the Indians quiet as we do. Although we have an officer with us. If you have any money. Goods or otherwise, we might settle a little private trade. Send us word at what price you take Beaver...

He sent along his broken oboe with the Cree middlemen, asking that it be repaired

TO BE CONTINUED . . . . . .