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The Founders of Green Bay: A Marriage of Indian and White

Jacqueline Peterson


(Reprinted with Permission of Voyageur, Historical Review of Brown County and Northeast Wisconsin, Spring, 1984)


Acknowledgment is made to Ethnohistory for permission to reprint portions of "Prelude to Red River: A Social Portrait of the Great Lakes Métis," Ethnohistory 25 (Winter 1978) 1: 41-67.

During the autumn of 1824, the old French speaking town of La Baye, or Green Bay, Michigan Territory, lost its dignity. In hindsight, the event seems insignificant, even comical. Arriving from "civilization," a zealous U.S. circuit court judge-- The Honorable James Duane Doty-- called into special session the first grand jury that Green Bay's fur trading community had ever encountered. At Doty's instigation, the muddled jurors indicted thirty-six of the town's principal male inhabitants for fornication and two for adultery. The majority pleaded guilty and to escape the fine stood before a justice of the peace to legitimize their sexual unions. Among those publicly chastised were Charles and Jean Baptiste Grignon, members of one of Green Bay's oldest and most illustrious families.

At least eight men refused to admit their immorality, however, and two carried their indignation into extended litigation, holding "that they were legally married, had lived a great many years with their wives, and had large families of children-- that their marriages had been solemnized according to the customs of the Indians.''1

John Lawe, Green Bay's most prominent citizen of British extraction, acknowledged his guilt, but in defiance of the American court never married his wife to Doty's satisfaction, even though he and Therese Rankin lived contentedly together until her death in 1842. Perhaps Lawe felt confident enough to ridicule American pretensions. Yet Doty's gesture was a harbinger, full of more than puritanical pique. Lawe's embarrassed descendants would refer to their grandmother as "Lawe's consort."2

In fact, John Lawe already glimpsed the future. A year before Doty's arrival within the newly created Brown County, the Green Bay trader had been settling his tangled accounts with the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island. The once lively emporium seemed as dreary as "any Sunday." The human wreckage of the American political and economic ascendancy in the Great Lakes region shook Lawe to the bone. He mourned to the part-Ojibway wife of his close friend Robert Hamilton of Queenstown, Ontario: "The old times is no more that pleasant reign is over and never to return any more. I am afraid and amcertain (sic) in this country..."3

What Lawe saw passing was a unique lifeway-- an occupational subculture and regional community which had, for more than a century, enjoyed a sympathetic relationship with the native inhabitants of the Great Lakes. Choosing to accommodate rather than to confront, the old residents of La Baye and elsewhere challenged the historical assumption that the cultures of Indian and EuroAmerican societies were irreconcilable.

John Lawe was a member of the commercial elite of Green Bay, but, as a relative newcomer and a Briton, he was never a full-fledged member of the subculture. Born to a Jewish mother and a Yorkshire father who had served as a fleet commander in the English navy, Lawe was apprenticed in his early teens to a fur trader uncle at Montreal, Jacob Franks. Like other Montreal pedlars in competition with the Hudson's Bay Company, Franks cast a roving eye on the rich fur fields to the south and west of Lake Superior. By the 1790s he had established a base at Mackinac and in 1797 he sent his nephew to Green Bay as clerk for the Wisconsin traffic.

Although British and American fur traders had erratically wintered at La Baye from 1761 forward, Lawe and Franks were the first permanent English-speaking residents. They were not alone, however. Taking up lands on the east bank of the Fox River, they settled among some two dozen households, or a base population fluctuating seasonally from 50 to 100 persons. A number of these inhabitants, notably the Grignons, the Langlades, LaRoses, Carons and Jourdains, could trace their ancestry at La Baye to the 1730s and 1740s. All were French-speaking Catholics without a priest who had bound their fortunes to the Indian trade. All had extensive kin ties with their neighbors, the Menomini, Ojibway and Ottawa.4

Franks maintained homes at both Mackinac and Green Bay until the War of 1812 when his proBritish activities drove Americans to pillage his island residence. Fearing continued harassment, he retired to Montreal, selling his lucrative trade and landed improvements to his nephew Lawe at the Bay. In the bargain, Lawe also inherited Franks' former part-Ottawa wife, Therese LaRose, and several mixed blood children.

 Franks' offspring swelled an already bulging household. Around 1807, Lawe had stolen the wife of his commercial rival, Charles Grignon. Sophia Therese Rankin, or Ne-kick-o-qua, was the daughter of a British trader and granddaughter of Ashawabemy, an Ottawa from the environs of Mackinac who had settled among the French-speaking families at the Bay during the latter third of the 18th century and married into a prominent Menomini family. Ashawabemy built a bark cabin with a central fireplace and married off his daughters and granddaughters to white traders and voyageurs, granting to each a portion of his lands along the west bank of the Fox River.

When Therese Rankin moved in with Lawe, she had already borne two daughters by Grignon, whom she apparently left behind. At war's end, however, Lawe's patriarchal compound included four new children, Therese LaRose Frank's family, and numerous Canadian engages and Indian retainers. The community about them had likewise grown to about ninety households, most of whom had supported the British during the war and now faced the threat of American reprisal.

 La Baye was not an exceptional instance of community formation far beyond the line of supposed "White" settlement. Deep within what John Quincy Adams called a howling wilderness, by the last third of the 18th century some two dozen towns and villages followed the arc of the Upper Lakes and interrupted the banks of rivers which wove themselves into Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan and into the great Mississippi drainage basin.

 The fur trading center at Michilimackinac boasted forty houses in 1749 and twice that number in 1797, exclusive of the settlement at St. Ignace on the north shore of the straits which had been established in the 1690s. Vincennes on the lower Wabash contained forty male inhabitants, their families and slaves by 1746. Fort St. Joseph in southwestern Michigan listed forty-fifty families three years later. Detroit, the rising star on the Great Lakes horizon had eighty to one hundred houses in 1767, and by 1780 Prairie du Chien was also a considerable town.

By the 1790s, trading hamlets housing from a single extended family to several hundred persons had been established at Peoria, Cahokia, Chicago, Fort Wayne, Ouiatanon, Parc aux Vaches, Riviere Raisin, Sault Ste. Marie, Petit Kaukalin, Portage, La Pointe and elsewhere. Perceived but dimly by the seaboard world, and largely ignored between 1763-1816, the inhabitants of these towns, like those of La Baye, were, as it happens, people of mixed Indian-White ancestry--Métis (meaning simply "to mix").

From the first decades of European discovery, intermarriage with the native inhabitants of North America went hand-in-glove with the trade in skins and furs. This was as true in Virginia as it was in New France, although the rapid transition to an agricultural economy in the South diminished the usefulness of interracial unions. In the North, however, climate, governmental policy, easy river access and a population top heavy with mercenary adventurers and mariners favored the perpetuation of the Indian trade long after farming proved feasible. By 1680, fully 800 or one-fifth of French Canada's male population between twenty and sixty years were annually absent from the colony, plying the fur fields of the interior. Upon their return, their prodigal behavior encouraged the disposition of the colony's young men to "live like savages," and "go about naked and tricked out like Indians." But repeated ordinances aimed at these disorderly coureurs de bois failed to halt the population drain toward the Northwest.5

 Peace with the Iroquois in 1695, moreover, pulled down the remaining barricades and dragged the locus of the fur trade and its mobile, semi-Indianized personnel away from Montreal and towards the Upper Lakes. There, beginning in the 1690s, missionary, governmental and travelers' accounts proclaim in an intensifying chorus that the new trade centers were producing all the irregularities of their eastern predecessors. Particularly lawless was the hump-backed island at the straits of Lakes Huron and Michigan, Michilimackinac birthplace of the Central Algonkian culture hero, Nanabozha, and strategic center of the Great Lakes World.

 As early as the 1630s, French voyageurs and missionaries were haunting the straits. By 1695, commandant La Mothe Cadillac described the emporium of the west as "one of the largest in all Canada." Sixty bark-covered dwellings housing traders, native consorts and the first generation of mixed blood offsprings straggled along the northern shore near present day St. Ignace, Michigan. Five years later, 104 outlaw traders and voyageurs illegally resided there, despised by the Jesuit missionary Carheil for their apostasy and lewd commerce with native women.6

 Carheil's bitter refusal to recognize or sanctify marriages between heathens and apostates, drunkards, and bigamists was commonplace among conscience stricken missionaries. The rebuke was no inhibitor, however, either at Michilimackinac or at less conspicuous trading villages. Just as 17th- and 18th-century Quebec couples surreptitiously married themselves to circumvent legal and ecclesiastical restrictions, most Indian-White marriages in the Great Lakes region would be contracted à la façon du pays, or "custom of the country," that is verbally, and in the absence of notary or priest.

 The widespread pattern of "country" marriages in Canada between Hudson's Bay Company employees and their native and mixed blood spouses has been well documented recently by Sylvia Van Kirk.7 To the south of the present Canadian border, marriage customs developed in a similar fashion, although, until monopoly companies like the North West Company successfully controlled the region, less frequent turnover among voyageurs and residents in communities such as Green Bay appear to have created greater opportunities for stability. Métis village life, which seems not to have had a parallel in the North, provided niches for unproductive persons at both the lower and upper ends of the age spectrum. Even in the absence of formal clergy and magistrates, group pressure in town served to minimize sexual excesses, among Anglo-Canadians as well as French-Canadians. Life in the winter trading camps was another matter entirely. It was here that young Métis males and "White" newcomers to the trade had their first, and usually ephemeral, encounters with native women.

 Age and experience contributed to stability as well. Most of the Green Bay men indicted in 1824 had in fact been responsible husbands for many years. Although a loosely appointed justice, Charles Reaume, had been officiating at elite marriage ceremonies since about 1800 and several prominent traders had escorted their broods and wives to Mackinac for tardy baptism and marital confirmation, no one at the Bay questioned the legitimacy of marriages contracted by verbal agreement.8 In contrast to Englishmen long accustomed to church and civil requirements surrounding lawful marriage, third- and fourth-generation Great Lakes Métis looked to the force of tribal custom and to French peasant practices and the Law of Paris for assurance. The practical sense of an early modern French proverb may still have held true at Green Bay in 1824:


Boire, manger, coucher ensemble
C'est marriage, ce me semble.9

[To drink, eat, sleep together
that's what marriage is, it seems to me].

While "country" marriage satisfied the human need for legitimacy and stability in the fur trade country, the lack of documentation stymies accurate enumeration of the Métis population. At best, lists of voyageurs licensed to trade in the Great Lakes offer only a suggestive gauge. In 1777, for example, 2,431 voyageurs were officially licensed. However, Grace Nute has estimated that twice that number were actually working the interior after the limited French licensing system gave way to British competition and expansion.10 There were two groups of voyageurs. First were the licensed Montreal greenhorns, or mangeurs de lard [porkeaters] who if they weathered the first critical year customarily took a native or Métis spouse and in worn old age retired to Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, or a sister community. But second, and of increasing importance, were the growing numbers of homegrown voyageurs--Métis from the back settlements who signed on at home or at Mackinac rather than at Montreal. Countless others, calling themselves gens de libre or "freemen," plied the trade on their own hook or in tandem with a local independent trader, ranging from Sault Ste. Marie to Red River after the American Revolution.11

If total numbers are unobtainable, relative percentages can be ventured, at least for two towns. Bearing in mind that the Michilimackinac register grossly underenumerated vital events, its birth and marriage entries nonetheless indicate that the Métis were a significant portion of the population up to 1820.12 Likewise, at Green Bay, reconstitution of three generations from 1765 to 1829 illuminates a growing pool of indigenous and prolific Métis families.

Prior to 1795, twenty-two of twenty-seven, or 81 percent of all male householders had married known Indian or Métis women, although only three males were themselves Métis. Fourteen years later, as second generation Métis began to establish families of their own, the number of new Métis householders had risen to a minimum of forty, or 42 percent, or a maximum of sixty, or 63 percent. Including known wives, 87 percent of the eighty-four households in 1816 (population approximately 533) were Métis. The Métis percentage of total households declined in 1829 to 60 percent due to the gradual influx of Americans engaged in non-trading occupations. Many of the Americans were single or childless, however. If we count only those couples with known offspring (104 of 142 households), 78 percent of Green Bay's fertile families were Métis on the eve of Green Bay's Americanization. And they were prolific, nearly as prolific as the legendary French-Canadian families of 17th century Quebec.

As the 1830 Michigan Territory census shows, both Mackinac and Green Bay groaned under the weight of single adult males. Sex imbalance was endemic to the Métis trading communities, but the 1830 figures are misleading because, at Green Bay, the majority were single male American speculators and adventurers who had arrived the same year. At Mackinac, where the census was taken in August, the male surplus reflected the summer ingress of "vacationing" voyageurs there to carouse, exchange their peltry and reingage for the coming winter season. Their wives and children remained at home, to farm and fish, at a tribal village or one of the inland Métis communities spawned by the Indian trade.13

The living arrangements, material culture and occupations of Métis set them apart from both their Indian kin and neighbors and from European society in the East. The establishment of permanent villages and towns, geographically separate and visually distinct from adjacent band villages, was a critical hallmark of Métis development. However, like other peasant and tribal communities practicing a subsistence barter economy, Métis villages were never large. The maximum size appears to have been something less than 1,000, even for commercial emporia like Mackinac and Detroit.

 The physical layout of Métis villages was vaguely reminiscent of earlier French string settlements fronting the St. Lawrence, settlements which themselves had been adaptations to a fur trading economy rather than replications of European agricultural village patterns. Lacking a core, rectangular grid structure, and in many cases verifiable land titles, Métis towns rambled along the shoreline of inland rivers and lakes, seemingly without design.

The apparent disorder and backwardness of these settlements shocked outside observers. William Keating dismissed the small, upright log, barkcovered cabins with their high-peaked roofs and mud and thatch fireplaces as mere "rude huts."14 Such houses leaned into the primary highway, the waterroad, where they often tumbled after years of decay. Behind them, narrow, picketed gardens trailed off into the timber, protecting tiny patches of peas, potatoes and garlic from the unfettered meanderings of horses, hogs and horned cattle. Agriculture, such as it was, was confined to a modest-sized common field. At Green Bay, only two square miles had been set aside.15

Travelers with a humorous bent could poke fun at the crude Métis farms and the medieval implements and conveyances, but early 19th century Americans, in general, were contemptuous of these suspiciously Indian-like folk who had lost their sense of private property and its full exploitation. Métis themselves had developed a remarkable self derisive humor. They referred ironically to their clearings as "deserts," even making a verb out of it, "deserter" i.e., "to desolate the forest, or introduce cultivation."16

Like Métis architecture, which blended Algonkian construction techniques and materials with Norman design and comfort, the clothing, cuisine, amusements, transportation, medical practices, language, belief and custom of Great Lakes Métis borrowed and adapted as freely from native culture as they did from European cultural tradition. Jonathan Carver noted at Detroit in 1766, that:

it is not uncommon to see a Frenchman with Indian shoes and stockings, without breeches,wearing a strip of woolen cloth to cover what decency requires him to conceal. Yet at the same time he wears a fine ruffled shirt, a laced waistcoat with a fine handkerchief on his head.17

According to Carver, the "French" at Detroit had "laid by many of their savage customs" following the arrival of the English, but sixty years later, in 1820, Métis fashion was still distinctive. Métis voyageurs were visually identifiable as much by their blue pantaloons, capot and fiddle, as by their leggings, red finger-woven sash, moccasins, hair feathers and taboos.18

Métis festivals and the foods which accompanied them were equally syncretic. Women at Green Bay, Mackinac and other northern villages celebrated Lent and courting time at the sugar bush in Central Algonkian cabins near their native kin. There, young couples tossed French crepes sweetened with maple sugar, a condiment as essential as garlic in the Métis preparation of fish and game. At home, wizzened old voyageurs, long retired to their gardens, carefully nurtured cuttings from Quebec pear, plum and apricot trees from which brandies and wines were distilled for the traders' tables. The aged and poor rarely shared in the groaning feasts of meats and pastry. They were fortunate if they could acquire sufficient tobacco and tea.19

J.G. Kohl succinctly summarized Métis cultural hybridization in 1860:

...the Canadian half-breeds often swagger with two genealogies -- a European commencing with a 'lieutenant du roi,' and an Indian, from some celebrated chief. I met one half-breed, a man tolerably well off, who had engraved both his French coat of arms and his Indian totem (an otter) on his seal-ring.20

Such artful amalgamation of two lineages and two culture complexes did not render Métis marginal people torn between two identities. Rather, some Great Lakes Métis prior to 1830 drew a line between themselves and their Indian clients, with whom they were intimate, just as others would distinguish between themselves and "Whites." While self-denominators are rare in the literature (some Métis residents of Green Bay referred to themselves as French "creole," i.e., native born), one can infer from the labels attached to outsiders, whether "Indians" or "Whites," that Métis community members considered themselves as distinct. One of Kohl's informants suggested that the term "White" was reserved for Americans.21

 One of the primary reasons that Great Lakes Métis were able to construct a separate identity was their monopolization of the middle occupational rungs of the fur trading system. Unlike their 17th-century forerunners, the coureurs de bois, the progenitors of the Great Lakes Métis generally did not transform themselves into White Indian hunters and give themselves up to Indian society. Instead, the first Canadians to migrate into the Great Lakes region after 1695 fatefully walked into a vacuum occasioned by the Iroquois blockade of the Montreal trade routes and the temporary dislocation and devastation of the Huron and Ottawa middlemen. Aggressively seizing a position of influence at Michilimackinac, Sault Ste. Marie, Green Bay, Prairie du Chien and elsewhere, they and their Métis children carved out a broker relationship between Central Algonkian and Siouan bands to the northwest and European society to the east, functioning primarily as traders, voyageurs and clerks who journeyed to and lived among their native middletown clients.

The Grignon family at La Baye and the LaFramboise family of Mackinac were typical of the several dozen leading Métis families in the Great Lakes region. Charles Grignon and his six trader brothers sired the last generation of identifiable Métis at Green Bay, just as the LaFramboise cousins were the last at the island community and at Chicago. Their patriarchal compounds, composed of extended kin, servants, employees and engages, and native retainers, were finely crafted educational cells --designed to spin off a new generation of Métis mediators. Ironically, however, the children, born between 1800 and 1820, found themselves stripped at maturity of inheritance. The anguish of the children's readjustment to American values and a rigidifying system of racial classification can only be inferred from subsequent life patterns. But a brief look at the patriarchal ancestors may clarify the uniqueness of the world that had suddenly been lost.

In 1728, Charles Grignon's great grandfather, Sieur Augustin Mouet de Langlade, acquired a license to trade at Michilimackinac through the only family connections a second-generation Canadian officer of the marine could wangle for his youngest son. Although only twenty-five, the ambitious Langlade married the widow Villeneuve and took in her six children, one a teenager. It was a fortuitous choice, if not romantic. Domitille Villeneuve (her baptismal name) was the sister of the local Ottawa band chief, La Fourche, and daughter of chief Kewanoquat. The lifelong alliance, coupled with Langlade's kin affiliation with the commandant of the garrison at the straits, ensured his success as a trader among the Ottawa south to Grand River and with the Menomini at Green Bay.22

Langlade's dual connections also allowed him to pass on to his only child--Charles Langlade-- both an established Ottawa trade, and a commission in the French army, albeit the Indian service. Charles Langlade's brilliant career as Indian military leader, strategist and agent stretching over nearly forty years and three empires is well known. Less attention has been given to his bicultural skills. The product of two cultures and education systems, Langlade moved comfortably between Indian and European societies. When not wintering with his Ottawa relatives, he was tutored by Jesuit missionaries at the straits. His grace and intelligence impressed both French and British military leaders, although they rightfully suspected his allegiance.

Similarly, Langlade held the admiration and respect of his Ottawa kin, who named him Akewangeketawso--military conqueror. As early as age ten, he was carried into battle against the Chickasaws under the protective arm of his maternal uncle-- LaFourche. The Ottawa thought Langlade possessed a powerful manito, and, had he desired, he might have risen to prominence within his mother's people.

Langlade chose not to identify his interests with either power. Rather, like his military compatriots, Claude Gauthier (a Métis nephew), J.B. Cadotte and Louis Chevalier, all early Michilimackinac traders and voyageurs, he preferred an intermediary stance. Langlade and the others were the elite nuclei around which stable Métis communities were formed at Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, and LaPointe, Wisconsin, and St. Joseph, Michigan.

Charles Langlade predictably married first an Ottawa woman of La Fourche's band. However, his fame after the destruction of Pickawillany and Braddock's defeat in 1755 secured him both a perpetual superintendency of the Indians of Green Bay and the hand of a French creole daughter of a Detroit trader. Langlade moved permanently to Green Bay after 1763, having traded there with his father and kin from the 1740s. He carried with him an aging mother and father, his wife and two small daughters, his nephew Gauthier, and his part-Ottawa son Charles and daughter Agathe.

The children received a proper education. Charles Jr., after schooling in Montreal, joined his father in the trade, and later became a British Indian interpreter. The daughters, tutored at home, married traders and a voyageur from Michilimackinac. The youngest, Domitille, inherited the family compound and trade at Green Bay and with her husband, Pierre Grignon, launched the third generation of influence.

By the time Charles Langlade and Claude Gauthier died, just after the turn of the century, their related dynasties were well entrenched at Green Bay, Michilimackinac, and Prairie du Chien. Their Métis children and grandchildren all functioned successfully as traders, traders' wives, interpreters, militia and Indian service officers. Moreover, their grandsons were already renewing the cycle --seeking wider affiliations whose byproduct inevitably would swell the Métis ranks.

Of Domitille Grignon's eight sons (including one male survivor of her husband's first marriage to a Winnebago woman) all whose wives are known made intelligent matches. Pierrishe married into the Winnebago Dekaury; Louis took the daughter of an Ojibway chief; Charles wed Therese Rankin (later wife of John Lawe), granddaughter of a Menomini chief; and Augustin, a relative of Menomini Chief Oshkosh. Amable's first wife was Ojibway; his second, the daughter of a Red River Métis trader.

Simultaneously, at Michilimackinac, to cite a single example, the LaFramboise clan had formed kinship alliances with the Potawatomi, Sioux and Ottawa. Neither the Grignon nor LaFramboise lineages were unique. Every Métis community had several such lineages, all of which by 1820 had so entangled themselves through marital and commercial alliances that Métis identity had become regionalized rather than place-specific. The expansive engine of the fur trade, coupled with the French Métis system of wintering out with the tribe, made such a development certain. In the 1850s, when the trade had shifted to the northwest, J.G. Kohl happened upon a Métis whose self-description might easily have been uttered by the men of the trade a generation earlier:


Où je reste? je ne peux pas te le dire. Je suis Voyageur, je suis Chicot, Monsieur. Je reste partout. Mon grand-père etait Voyageur: il est mort en voyage. Mon père était Voyageur: il est mort en voyage. Je mourrai aussi en voyage, et un autre Chicot prendra ma place. Sutch is our course of life.23


The denouement in the Great Lakes region came rushing in on the heels of American Fur Company absorption and destruction of the independent traders. Intense competition between American and British trading companies had stripped much of the Great Lakes of furs by the early 1830s. Thereafter, Indian cessions and removals and American land speculation and settlement conspired to disenfranchise the Métis middlemen. American farmers and businessmen did not need a broker class or a buffer between themselves and a broken Indian population herded onto sad reserves.

Some Métis had sensed the end and had migrated northwest to Minnesota and to Red River. Others hedged. As early as 1800, the Grignons and their extended kin were wintering as far west as the headwaters of the Mississippi River and Pembina in search of better peltry. However, they, like John Lawe, spurned Robert Dickson's and Lord Selkirk's suggestions in 1816-1819 that the Green Bay Métis community emigrate with the Menomimi to Red River.24 Now in middle age, they would only painfully dislodge themselves, if at all. John Lawe never left, although his attempt to compete with Yankee businessmen left him nearly destitute.

The children had fewer means at their disposal, and frail defenses against American prejudice. Most of those who remained slipped into impoverished anonymity. A few married Americans and turned awkwardly to farming. The majority, however, fled to the sanctuary of native kin, or pulled up stakes and migrated to former trading stations and new town sites close to a reservation or band village where their mediational and transportation skills could be employed for a few decades more.25

By the 1840s, Green Bay's Métis population had in effect disappeared. Curiosity seekers would have to travel to Bay Settlement, to De Pere, to Kaukauna, to Butte des Morts, to Wisconsin Rapids, to Portgage, to Prairie du Chien, to the upper Mississippi and the lakes of Minnesota to find the bark cabins and picket fences, the French voices in Indian clothing, the remnants of peaceful coexistence and accommodation. Ultimately, they would have to travel to the Red River Colony, where many of the Grignons' counterparts from the Bay, Mackinac and Sault Ste. Marie had already sequestered themselves among the "freemen" and Métis voyageurs of the combined North West and Hudson's Bay Companies.26 What separate Métis identity remained rightfully belongs to the Canadian prairies where it continues to nourish itself.



Jacqueline Petersonis assistant professor of history and comparative American cultures at Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. Formerly, she was assistant professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota and research associate of the Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, soon to be published by University of Oklahoma Press. She has published a number of articles in the area of Métis history and is editor, along with Jennifer S.H. Brown, of the forthcoming The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America (University of Manitoba and University of Nebraska Presses, 1984). [Return beginning of article]





1. 1824 Trials and Decisions, James D. Doty Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; Col. Ebenezer Childs, "Recollections of Wisconsin Since 1820," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 4(1859): 166-67.

2. 1820-1855 Unbound Letters, Charles A. Grignon Papers,

State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 1.

3. John Lawe to Robert Hamilton, August 26, 1822, September 5, 1823, and September 12, 1824, Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 20(1911): 277-78, 308-310. 351-52.

4. Augustin Grignon, "Seventy-two Years Recollections of Wisconsin," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 3(1904): 241-42.

5. Harris, Richard Coleman. The Seigneurial System in Early Canada, A Geographical Synthesis (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), p. 115; Jacques Henripen, La Population Canadienne au Début du XVIIIeSiecle: Nuptialité, Fecondité, Mortalité infantile (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954), p. 20; Samuel Eliot Morrison, The Parkman Reader, From the Works of Francis Parkman (Boston: Little Brown, 1955), p. 258.

6. Sheldon, E.M. The Early History of Michigan, From the First Settlement to 1815 (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1856), pp. 173-74; Peter L. Scanlan, Prairie du Chien. French, British, American (Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta, 1937), p.21; Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1898): 19.

7. Van Kirk, Sylvia. "Many Tender Ties": Women in FurTrade Society, 1670-1870 (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Watson & Dwyer Publishing Ltd., 1980); Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980).

8. "Certificates of Marriages, Baptisms and Divorces," vol.. 55, Grignon, Lawe & Porlier Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

 9. Hunt, David. Parents & Children in History: The Psychology of Family Life in Early Modern France (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970), p. 64.

 10. Nute, Grace. The Voyageur (New York and London: D. Appleton & Company, 1931), p. 7.

11. Keating, William S. Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of St. Peter's River, Lake Winnepeek, Lake of the Woods etc. Performed in the year 1823, 2 vols. (London: Geo. B. Whittaker, 1825) 1: 48; George Johnston, October 1, 1828 Report, Executive Office 1810-1910, Box 232, State Archives of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan; John Johnston to Colonel Trimble, January 24, 1822, St. Mary's Falls, in Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Archives of Aboriginal Knowledge, 6 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott and Company, 1860) 2:524.

12. Mackinac Register, Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 28 (1908): 469-513; Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 29 (1910): 1-149.

13. Harlan, Elizabeth Taft and Elizabeth Case, eds., 1830 Federal CensusCTerritory of Michigan (Detroit, Michigan: 1961); Gurdon S. Hubbard to Abby Hubbard, August 24, 1818, Gurdon S. Hubbard Papers, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois.

14. Keating, WiDiam S. Narratzue of an Expedition, 1: 75-76, 165-66; John Parker, ea., The Journals of Jonathan Carver and Related Documents 176~1770 (Minneapolis-St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1976), p. 75; James H. Lockwood, "Early Times and Events in Wisconsin," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 2(1855): 119; Thomas L. McKenney, Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes, of the Character and Customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of Incidents Connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac (Baltimore, Maryland: Fielding Lucas, Jun'r, 1827, 276-77; John H. Fonda, "Early Reminiscences of Wisconsin," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 5(1868): 232.

15. American State Papers, Public Lands. Vol. 5 (Washington, D.C.: Gale & Seaton, 1860), p. 97.

16. KohL J.G. Kitchi-Gami, Wanderings Round Lake Superior (London: Chapman and Hall, 1860; Reprint ea., Minneapolis: Ross and Haines. 1956). DD. 304. 304n.

 17. Parker, John, ea., The Journals of Jonathan Carver, p. 66.

18. Ibid.; William S. Keating, Narrative of an Expedition, 1:76; Thomas L. McKenney, Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes, p. 350; Elizabeth Therese Baird, "Indian Customs and Early Recollections," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 9(1882): 322-23; Elizabeth Therese Baird, "Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island." Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 14(1898): 63.

19. Baird, Elizabeth Therese. "Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island," p.21; Thomas L. McKenney, Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes, p. 263; General Albert G. Ellis, "Fifty-four Years Recollections of Men and Events in Wisconsin," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 7(1876): 219-222.

20. Kohl, J.G. Kitchi-Gami, p. 297.

 21. Kohl p. 261; Andrew J. Vieau, Sr. "Narrative," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 9(1882): 234.

 22. Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 7(1876): 125, 179-185

 23. Kohl J.G. Kitchi-Gami, p. 260. "You ask where I live. I cannot tell you. I am a Voyageur, a Chicot, sir. I live everywhere. My grandfather was a voyageur; he died while on a voyage. My father was a voyageur; he died while on a voyage. I will also die while en route, and another Chicot will take my place. Such is our course of life." 

24. Robert Dickson to John Lawe, April 23,1819, Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 20(1911): 105-06.

25. Keesing, Felix. "Leaders of the Menomini Tribe," typescript, n.d. United States Manuscripts, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; Charles A. Grignon Papers, Unbound Letters, State Historical Society of Wisconsin; Andrew J. Vieau, Sr., "Narrative," pp. 226-233; Peter J. Vieau, "Narrative," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 15(1900): 465-67.

26. Charles A. Grignon Papers, Unbound Letters, 1820-1855, State Historical Society of Wisconsin; Donald Chaput, "The 'Misses Nolin,"' The Beaver (1975): 14-17.

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