Early Metis Records Found

A collection of old documents and photographs discovered in an abandoned log cabin south of Spirit River in the 1960s has been donated to South Peace Regional Archives. These records have been traced back to two Metis families in the fur trade before the formation of Canada. The oldest document, an 1850 copy of an 1821 Will with an attached probate document, was created by John Davis, a Hudson’s Bay Factor from Ft. Albany, and three World War I portraits of Metis soldiers are from the Hodgson family.

Research revealed that the documents and photographs were from the descendants of three English men who arrived in what was then Rupert’s Land to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company around the turn of the nineteenth century. All three of these men took “country wives” (i.e. first nations women) as partners. This was a common practice in the fur trade because it gave the trader negotiating power and protection as well as a partner who was skilled in surviving the wilds of Canada. In the next two generations, the three families became strongly inter-related.

The first to arrive was John Hodgson, son of Ephraim Hodgson from London, England, in 1774. He entered service with the Hudson’s Bay Company at the age of 12, and was sent to Rupert’s Land (later Canada) because he had a good education in mathematics, and would be useful for “taking the Distance of Places and making Plans”. He married an unidentified native woman and had several children, including a son named James.

In 1781, when John was the Chief Factor at Ft. Albany on Hudson’s Bay, young Robert Goodwin arrived. Robert married Moostigoosh, daughter of Puckwanesh, a highly regarded Cree headman. Their daughter Caroline later married James Hodgson.

In 1801 John Davis, also from England, joined the HBC. He married a woman identified only as Nancy/Anne. Their daughter Catherine married John Hodgson the third, a grandson of John and his first wife.

Documents and photographs from the Davis, Hodgson and Coulter families. They include a parchment copy of an 1821 Last Will and Testament for John Davis, 1850 and 1856 probates of the will for John & Nancy Davis and their children; a 1902 Agreement for Sale of land and a 1916 lease by William Herbert Davis from St. Andrews, Manitoba; a 1930 mortgage for Robert J. Coulter at Bridgeview; three photographs of WW I soldiers from the Hodgson family, [25] photographs from St. Andrews, Manitoba; and two photographs of a WW II soldier.

The Coulter connection is unclear.   

Executive Director Mary Nutting notes that “These are some of the oldest documents in our collection, and are all the more valuable because they document a group, the Metis, who are underrepresented in Archives. The documents include a few from the Coulter family at Spirit River in the 1930s. Robert and Ruby Coulter had once owned the log cabin where the documents were discovered by Charles Cairn in the mid 1960s. The archives would like the assistance of the public in determining the connection between the Coulter, Hodgson and Davis families. These documents can be viewed on the Archives website.

W.J. Hodgson WWI
W.J. Hodgson WWI
Bugler L.V. Hodgson
Bugler L.V. Hodgson WWI
Arthur Hodgson WWI
Arthur Hodgson WWI

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