Jean-Baptiste (1) Desautels dit Lapointe Desautels-Lapointe

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About Jean-Baptiste (1) Desautels dit Lapointe Desautels-Lapointe

Jean-Baptiste Desautels dit Lapointe

By Marc Jolicoeur

February 21st, 2000

One cannot write about this most adventurous ancestor without first acknowledging three genealogist/historians who have immortalized his memory on paper and ink. They were Judge L. A. Prud’homme, Eugenie Dubuc, and Sister Lucienne Desautels. In any study of Jean-Baptiste Desautels, one will find numerous references to these researcher’s works. In this paper, I have attempted to present the biography of Jean-Baptiste Desautels once more, interlaced with historical commentary and with added primary source references.

Jean-Baptiste Desautels gets his surname from his ancestor Pierre Desautels who came to Canada in 1653 from the village of Malicorne-sur-Sarthe, diocese of Mans, France. Pierre was one of the first citizens of the city of Montreal. The meaning of the name Des Autels is that an individual was from Les Autels. Les Autels were the regions of Aisne, Calvados, Eure-et-Loire, and Seine-Martime in 17th century France.

The name Lapointe originates from the fact that Pierre had some land at the end of the island of Montreal at a location called Pointe-aux-Trembles. In a notarial document, Pierre was called "Pierre Desautels, Sieur de La Pointe." The alias or nickname Lapointe was used by many of Pierre’s descendants, and is still in use today as a surname by some branches of the family. Jean-Baptiste used both surnames in many official documents, but it seems that he preferred to use the name Lapointe alone, especially in his years in the fur trade.

Jean-Baptiste was born on March 11, 1797 and baptized on the following day, at St. Paul in the county of Joliette in Lower Canada. His father was Basile Desautels dit Lapointe and his mother was Catherine Henry. He was 7th of nine children in his family. His father died when he was two and a half years old. His mother remarried a few years later and his stepfather was Jean-Baptiste Rivest.

As a youngster, Jean-Baptiste went to school, was a good student, and learned to read and write. His mother, Catherine Henry passed away when he was 13 or 14 years old.

A short time later, Jean-Baptiste left to join the fur trade in the far Northwest. The lure of adventure and fortune enticed the young men living around L’Assomption and St. Paul to join in the fur trade. Several of Jean-Baptiste’s cousins including Antoine Desautels, and Louis Suplice Desautels were working in the fur trade at that time.

Jean-Baptiste Lapointe, Voyageur

The North-West Company was a major fur-trading enterprise made up of a group of Scottish merchants and traders from Montreal. Their business was built upon the traditions, practices, and old trade routes of the French fur trade. The Nor’Westers would hire French-Canadian voyageurs from Lower Canada every spring to carry trade goods to their 78 trading posts in the Northwest, as far away as the Mackenzie and the Columbia rivers. The men would trade with the Natives during the winter and canoe brigades would return to Montreal in the spring loaded with furs.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was the rival fur company. It held the trading monopoly for the territory comprised of the Hudson’s Bay watershed; but independent traders, and now the NWC, had ignored this charter and had established posts all over HBC territory. By 1812, Bay men had established competing trading posts in the interior of their territory, often within a short distance of a NWC post.

At the young age of 15 years old, on Jan 10, 1812, Jean-Baptiste signed a contract to work for McTavish, McGillivray & Co. (the NWC) to go work au Dependences du Nord-Ouest for three years. He used the name Jean-Baptiste Lapointe at that time. The men who wintered in the Northwest were known as hirvernant, or homme du Nord

In May of 1812, the canoe brigades left Lachine for the Northwest. A month later, the United States declared war against England and invaded Upper Canada. A group of Canadian fur traders and Natives captured the American fort on Michilimakinac Island on July 17th. Jean-Baptiste’s canoe brigade must have traveled within 40 miles of Michilimakinac just weeks before the battle that was the first Canadian victory in the War of 1812.

Jean-Baptiste’s canoe brigade arrived at Fort William around the time of the Nor’Westers rambunctious annual meeting, the Grand Rendezvous. This is where all the wintering partners from all the NWC posts would meet with the Montreal partners to discuss company business. Trade goods heading west were prepared for the brigades going to the far-flung posts, and furs heading to Montreal were sorted and bundled for shipment.

At the height of the Rendezvous, the population of the fort would grow to 2000. It was a time for much festivity for partners, employees, and freemen alike, as it was only social event of the year for many. There were feasts and a great ball. Bagpipes and fiddles accompanied the dancing and debauchery while the liquor flowed. After all the business and festivities, the partners and voyageurs heading to the Northwest would be organized into brigades and would travel to their winter destinations.

Over the next three years, Jean-Baptiste worked as a devant de canot, as a clerk, and a storekeeper at several posts. He wintered at Pembina, Lake Manitoba, and Lake Winnipeg. His ability to read, write, and work hard earned him the respect of his bourgeois. These were very exciting times in the Red River district where Jean-Baptiste was staying. He was a witness to the birth of a colony that would eventually become Manitoba.

The Red River Settlement

Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk was a principal shareholder of the Hudson’s Bay Company and a great champion of immigration to British North America. In 1811, he obtained a grant of 116,000 square miles of HBC territory to establish a colony. Selkirk wanted to bring displaced Highland Scot and Irish families to the area to establish a farming community, which would provide a food source, labour pool, and retirement center for the HBC.

After a grueling 15 months of travel, an advance party of 18 settlers arrived in the Red River valley on August 30, 1812, at about the same time as Jean-Baptiste Desautels. Another 120 settlers Irish and Scottish settlers arrived on October 27.

At Pembina, there was also a growing community of Métis. The Métis were a half-breed race resulting from generations of French and NWC fur-traders who took Native wives in the Northwest. In 1812, the Métis were mostly employed in the fur trade as rowers, labourers, interpreters, or they were independent trappers.

The Métis were also a major source of food for the North-West Company. The annual Buffalo Hunt would produce large amounts of prepared bison meat called pemmican. It was tasty, would keep for many months, was compact, and provided an excellent source of energy—perfect for carrying in a canoe for 2000 miles.

In 1812, due to the lateness of the season, and a shortage of provisions, the Selkirk settlers established a camp near the NWC fort at Pembina. The fur-traders and Métis taught them to hunt bison, as that was the only way they would survive the winter. Many of the traders became friends with the settlers because of this relationship.

In 1813, the settlers built Fort Douglas near the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, started farming the land, and building homes in the vicinity. Unfortunately, their crops failed that year and they were forced to winter once again at Pembina.

Unfortunately for the poor settlers, the NWC considered the settlement a very big threat to their future. First of all, the existence of the settlement solidified the HBC’s hold to the territory, which held many important NWC posts. Secondly, if the bison were driven away by a large population, the pemmican could not be produced and the far-flung NWC posts in the Athabasca region and other points North and West could not survive without it.

In January 1814, Miles Macdonnell, the governor of the colony issued the "Pemmican Proclamation" stating that no provisions could be taken out of the boundaries of the territory. This action was needed because there were no guarantees that the next crop would be good, and another group of settlers were expected that year. The NWC and local Métis considered this a direct attack to their livelihood. It was tantamount to a declaration of war! The chief partners decided that it was imperative that the settlement fails for the Company to survive.

In 1814, the NWC and Métis started a campaign of terror. There were many shootings, skirmishes and fires to try to pursuade the colonists to give up and leave the country. Duncan Cammeron, one of the NWC partners came to the Red River settlement in the winter of 1814-15, played on their fear and convinced 133 settlers to relocate to Upper Canada. The NWC even offered them free passage in the spring. Jean-Baptiste Desautels dit Lapointe was returning to Canada himself in 1815 as his first contract had expired. Maybe he helped to transport these families?

In June of 1815 the remaining settlers were driven away by force and treat of violence. Archibald Norman Macleod of the NWC arrested the governor, Miles Macdonnell, and sent him to Fort William. The settlers fled to Jack River at the north end of Lake Winnipeg where the HBC had a trading post. The Métis moved in, razed Fort Douglas, looted everything of value, and burned the settlement.

In August, Colin Robertson, a Bay man, led the settlers back to Red River. He quickly worked to calm the Métis, seized the Nor’Wester’s Fort Gibraltar, and rebuilt Fort Douglas.

In the fall of 1815, a new governor, Robert Semple, arrived in the colony with a new group of settlers. The NWC continued to harass the settlers that winter. When the residents started hearing rumours of an attack being planned on the colony, the majority of the settlers sought safety within the walls of Fort Douglas.

In the winter of 1815-16, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, an independent trader and friend of the settlement carried letters by snowshoe from Red River to Lord Selkirk who was in Montreal. The letters told Selkirk of the atrocities and deportations of 1815 and convinced the Lord that the settlement needed protection or it would be destroyed once again. Selkirk recruited 30 voyageurs and 104 discharged soldiers of the War of 1812 to come with him to Red River to protect the colony. These soldiers were mostly Swiss mercenaries from the regiments of Des Meurons and Watteville. Selkirk promised them free land at Red River, or free passage back to Europe in return for their services.

Baptiste Lapointe, Nor’Wester

Back in Montreal on Jan 25, 1816, Jean-Baptiste signed a second contract to work for McTavish, McGillivray & Co. to be stationed at Fort William for an additional three years. He again used the name Jean-Baptiste Lapointe.

In one North-West Company Ledger book, we find the following:

Baptiste Lapointe


Sundries of Montreal EngBk.
 Cash Paid in Montreal 
     218.5 Deserted to HBC

The units are livres and sous, the old currency of the French fur trade. Twenty sous made one livre. The North West Company continued to use this unit of measurement as it was a voyageur tradition. One livre was equal to 1/24 £ (Halifax currency) in Montreal and 1/12 £ in the West. This difference enticed the men to spend their salary in the West, at the North-West Company stores, at inflated prices.

From this entry, we learn a few interesting things. Jean-Baptiste purchased some supplies from the North-West Company stores in Montreal in the spring of 1816 and he was advanced some cash against his future wages. EngBk stands for English River Book. English River was a Company district administered from Ile-a-la-Crosse. This area was his probable destination for 1816. For most voyageur’s, this ledger book contained their wages as well, but because he "Deserted to HBC," he was not paid most of his contractual wages. Why he deserted to the Hudson’s Bay Company is Jean-Baptiste’s greatest adventure!

On June 19, 1816, while Jean-Baptiste was still on his way to the Northwest, a number of Métis, NWC men, and Natives attacked the Red River settlement, in what became known as the Battle of Seven-Oaks or La Grenouillère. The war party was lead by Cuthbert Grant and included Thomas McKay, Antoine Houle, Pruneau, Alexander Fraser, Michel Bourrassa, Lacerbe, Francois Deschamps, Boucher, Beaudry and Delorme. Twenty-two settlers including Governor Semple were killed and their bodies mutilated. After suffering from violence, pillage and theft, the remaining settlers were put on boats and sent across Lake Winnipeg toward Hudson’s Bay.

Lord Selkirk set out for the Northwest in June 1816 with his mercenaries and voyageurs, presumably only days or weeks behind Jean-Baptiste.

In Sault St. Marie, Selkirk met Miles MacDonnell and learned of the massacre at Seven-Oaks. Since he was not able to convince any local lawmen to accompany him to the Northwest, he got himself appointed as a Magistrate under the Canada Jurisdiction Act. He decided to sail to Fort William and confront the Nor’Westers who were all gathered for the annual Rendezvous.

Selkirk’s party reached Fort William on August 12, 1816. Selkirk and his men easily took control of the fort and arrested many of the NWC’s partners that were there. Jean-Baptiste had already left Fort William by then and was rowing west in a canoe brigade led by NWC partner Alexander McDonell.

In the NWC’s most important fort, Selkirk gathered evidence and seized documents. He took affidavits and depositions from many NWC prisoners and others who had witnessed NWC atrocities at Red River and elsewhere. Selkirk sent the NWC partners and others accused of violence at Red River to Canada to stand trial. Selkirk stayed at Fort William for the entire winter. He spent the time writing much correspondence, collecting evidence, and directing his mercenary army.

The Murder of Owen Keveney

Owen Keveney was a much-despised agent of Lord Selkirk’s. He was a terribly cruel individual and was hated by the men in his employ. In the summer of 1816, he departed from Fort Albany on Hudson’s Bay with the intentions of going to Red River to "restore order".

Keveney’s party was made up of four Irishmen and two Métis. The men were subjected to hardships and cruelties from their master. On August 14th, 1816, near Lac-Du-Bonnet, all his men escaped except his clerk, Couly. They left the camp during the night and made their way to the NWC fort at Bas-de-la-Rivière. There, two of the men gave Archibald Norman McLeod depositions relating Keveney’s worst cruelties against them. McLeod was a Magistrate under the Canada Jurisdiction Act and a powerful NWC senior partner. They claimed that Keveney had stabbed one man in the leg with a bayonet, and he had shot the other in the face with a gun full of powder. Each incident was a result of the men falling asleep due to exhaustion.

McLeod set a warrant for Keveney’s arrest, and sent a party to go arrest him. This party included Tom Costello -- one of the Irish men from Keveney’s party, a NWC clerk, three Métis, and Charles de Reinhard. De Reinhard was a sergeant of the Des Meurons Regiment who had been recently discharged from duty in the war and was hired by the NWC. This posse found and arrested Keveney in a Native village and took him back to the fort where he was held captive for three days.

Archibald McLellan, the NWC partner in charge of the fort had good reason to fear Keveney’s intentions. Keveney had been outfitted with all of the items of a military expedition, including a gun mounted on a pivot on a canoe. McLellan decided to send Keveney in chains, guarded by Joseph Cadotte and five men, to be detained at Fort William.

Jean-Baptiste Desautels, who was still only 18 years old, was at Lac-la-Pluie in a canoe brigade led by Alexander McDonell. The brigade was on its way to spend the winter at Red River at the recently captured Fort Douglas.

McDonnell’s brigade met up with Keveney’s escort at Pointe-aux-Pins on the Winnipeg River. McDonell ordered Jean-Baptiste Desautels, Hubert Faye, and a Sioux guide named Joseph Fils de la Perdrix Blanche to take charge of the prisoner and bring him to Lac-la-Pluie. McDonnell took Jean-Baptiste and Faye’s clothing so that they would not deviate from their task and continued to Bas-de-la-Riviere. Jean-Baptiste was left only wearing a shirt. Severe cold spells marked 1816 the "year without a summer", therefore Jean-Baptiste must have suffered greatly over the next few weeks.

After nine days of travel, near Portage-Du-Rat, Jean-Baptiste, Faye, Joseph and Keveney met up with two NWC partners, Stuart and Thompson. These two were rushing towards Red River because they had learned that Lord Selkirk had taken Fort William and they wanted to notify the NWC officers at Red River. The partners ordered Jean-Baptiste, Faye, Joseph, and Keveney to turn around and follow them to Bas-de-la-Riviere.

Since their canoe was smaller, they quickly fell behind Stuart and Thompson’s brigade. The guide Joseph, who may have gotten secret orders from McDonell, tried to convince Jean-Baptiste and Faye that they should kill Keveney. Both Frenchmen protested and Jean-Baptiste stated that he would protect the prisoner with his life. Jean-Baptiste and Faye had to prevent Joseph from killing Kenevey for two days.

On the third night, while camped on an island, Joseph got up, got his gun and went to where Keveney was sleeping to go and kill him. Jean-Baptiste, seeing what was about to take place, jumped on Joseph and wrestled the gun away from him. Joseph was infuriated and broke their canoe in retaliation.

They traded a blanket and some rum for a new canoe, but it was too small to carry all four of them. Keveney volunteered to stay on the island, and the three others headed off downstream. Keveney gave Jean-Baptiste a few pieces of silver in gratitude for saving his life.

They camped for the night on a nearby deserted island. During the night, the Joseph tried to murder Jean-Baptiste and Faye, but he was surprised before he could accomplish this endeavor. Joseph ran off with the canoe and the pemmican, leaving the two Frenchmen on the island without any supplies. They stayed on that island for four days and were only able to eat one dead fish that floated by.

During this time, McLellan and McDonell wondered what had happened to Keveney and his escort. On September 5, 1816, a number of the NWC partners met at Bas-de-la-Riviere to discuss their sorry state of affairs. They were troubled that Selkirk may be travelling towards Red River and would arrive at their location before long. They decided that they needed somebody to go back to Lac-la-Pluie to find out if Selkirk’s men were coming and also to find out what had happened to Keveney and his escort.

Archibald McLellan, accompanied by Pierre Chartier, Cuthbert Grant, Charles De Reinhard, Francois Mainville, Joseph Cadotte, Jean-Baptiste Desmarais, and Augustin Poirier dit Desloges took off up the river. After four days of travel they came across Joseph, and a few hours later, they found Jean-Baptiste and Faye.

Jean-Baptiste proceeded to tell the whole story to McLellan, and he was livid. McLellan, Cadotte, and others told them that they should have let the Native kill Keveney. McLellan then beat Faye with a pole. After witnessing this, Jean-Baptiste ran to the far end of the island. McLellan chased after him and beat him so many times on the left arm, that he fell unconscious.

When he came to, the party was already leaving the island, and Jean-Baptiste had to swim out to the canoes to catch up with them. McLellan wanted him to row, but the other men took pity on him and allowed him to rest and eat some pemmican.

On September 11th, the brigade arrived at the island where they had left Keveney, but he was nowhere to be seen. They traveled for another five hours and found Keveney with a family of Natives.

McLellan sent Keveney in a small canoe with Reinhard, Mainville, and the guide Joseph. He ordered Reinhard to kill Keveney at a convenient place away from the Natives. They traveled up the river for a few miles and Keveney asked to go ashore for a minute.

When Keveney returned to the canoe, Mainville shot him through the neck. Keveney fell on the canoe, and Reinhard put him trough with his saber twice. Having, heard the shot and being a short distance ahead, Jean-Baptiste and Faye who were in a small canoe turned back to investigate. When they turned the corner of the river, they witnessed Reinhard’s hands full of Keveney’s blood. They rushed to the scene but it was too late. Keveney was dead. This place was on the Winnipeg River at a place called Haut des Dalles.

Joseph washed the blood from Keveney’s clothing, and Mainville and Reinhard put the corpse in the bushes. They also hid Keveney’s tent, boots, and personal belongings. McLellan instructed Jean-Baptiste not to talk about the murder or "you will be punished." Cadotte threatened that he would be hanged.

The brigade arrived at Lac-la-Pluie on September 13th, 1816, where Jean-Baptiste asked for some clothing since he was only wearing a shirt. He traded his clothing at Bas-de-la-Riviere for Keveney’s coat, which had saber holes in it. Later, Faye would take that coat with him to Montreal.

Captain Proteus D’Orsonnes, a former officer of the Des Meurons regiment who was leading Selkirk’s mercenary army , was on his way to Lac-la-Pluie. D’Orsonnes met Bonnin and Sanssouci who talked about the murder. D’Orsonnes wrote to Reinhard at Lac-la-Pluie asking his former co-regimentary for information. A Nolin carried the message. Reinhard told Nolin that Nolin’s life was in danger because he had been ordered by his NWC masters to kill all the English (HBC men).

While at Lac-la-Pluie, Jean-Baptiste Desautels met his cousin Suplice Lapointe. Suplice had been in the forced employment of the NWC that year and was liberated only when Lord Selkirk captured Fort William and arrested the NWC partners. When Suplice heard the story about Keveney, he suggested that Jean-Baptiste go and talk to Captain D’Orsonnes.

On October 2 1816, D’Orsonnes arrested Reinhard and sent Reinhard, Jean-Baptiste, and Faye, to Fort William as witnesses.

Jean-Baptiste and Faye gave depositions at Fort William to Lord Selkirk on October 21, 1816. These depositions told the entire story about the murders. Reinhard confessed in front of Lord Selkirk at Fort William on November 3, 1816.

Lord Selkirk in Red River

In the fall of 1816, Captain D’Orsonnes and the Des Meurons mercenaries had advanced as far as Lac-La-Pluie. Later Miles MacDonnell joined them. During the winter they marched cross-country in snowshoes for forty days to Pembina. Selkirk’s "army" surprised the NWC there and seized the NWC fort and Fort Daer. Next they traveled to Red River and captured Fort Douglas from the NWC by surprise. At Fort Douglas, several NWC men connected to Keveney’s murder were arrested.

Lord Selkirk planned to prosecute the accused in Canada. Selkirk understood the importance of Jean-Baptiste’s eyewitness testimony. Jean-Baptiste was unique because he was willing to testify against the NWC. Most French-Canadians were loyal to the NWC, their traditional masters. Most were unwilling to testify, and they would run off into the woods at any auspicious moment to avoid returning to Canada as a witness. Selkirk put Jean-Baptiste under constant guard and took him with his entourage to Red River when he visited the colony in June of 1817.

Selkirk spent the summer of 1817 reestablishing his colony, and collecting evidence and depositions relating to the crimes. The Government of Canada sent William B. Coltman, a Royal Commissioner, to Red River to restore some order and to investigate the Seven-Oaks incident. Coltman settled many of the disputes between the NWC and the HBC. The result of Coltman’s visit was that all NWC property captured by Selkirk was returned to the NWC.

Many of the Des Meurons men settled in Red River. Coltman also appointed a police force of sixteen men. This would finally guarantee lasting peace in Red River.

Lord Selkirk granted Jean-Baptiste him some land at St. Boniface. Fifty-eight years later, Monsignor Alexandre Antonin Tache, the powerful bishop of St. Boniface, stated in an affidavit signed on August 30, 1875, that he had known Jean-Baptiste Desautels and that the land had been given to him by Lord Selkirk. He must have known Jean-Baptiste in Lower-Canada since the bishop did not arrive in the Northwest until 1845!! The words "connut personellement " (knew personally) are underlined!!

While they were at Red River in 1817, Jean-Baptiste asked permission of Selkirk to go and visit his cousin Sulpice Desautels who was now living on the edge of the Assiniboine River. He was allowed to go, but two guards accompanied him.

It was also at this time that Selkirk saw Jean-Baptiste fighting with another man and he scolded him:

"Lapointe, je crois que vous allez mal agir et que nous ne pouvons guère compter sur vous à Montreal."

"Lapointe, I believe that you will not act well and we cannot count on you at Montreal."

Jean-Baptiste responded:

"Je ne me damnerai ni pour toi, ni pour un autre grand cou."

"I will not damn myself for you, nor for another long neck."

It appears that French-Canadians considered the Scottish to have long necks.

When Selkirk returned to Canada that fall, Jean-Baptiste accompanied him. Selkirk was fearful for his safety and chose to return to York via the United States. Selkirk traveled south up the Red river and down the Minnesota river to the Mississippi, down the Mississippi to St. Louis, up the Ohio, by stage to Washington, by sail to New York, north to Albany, by stage to Lake Ontario and by ship to York. Since Jean-Baptiste was a protected witness in Selkirk’s care and a voyageur, he might have also seen this grand tour!

The Trial of Charles de Reinhard

Many NWC partners were implicated in one way or another with the crimes that took place in the Northwest. Selkirk arrested many individuals and had complaints filed against many others. Few of the cases went to trial, and in many cases where the trial took place, the defendants or witnesses were back in the Northwest, so the prosecution failed. In many cases, associates of the NWC paid the witnesses bribes to change their story or to leave town. In Montreal at that time the NWC was very powerful. There was also a big question as to whether the Northwest territories were in Canada’s jurisdiction or London’s.

When Mainville was being brought back to Canada to face justice he escaped into the woods and stayed in the Northwest to live with the Natives for many years.

In the murder charge against Charles de Reinhard, the prosecution actually was successful in getting a conviction in Quebec City in 1818 due primarily to Jean-Baptiste Desautels’ testimony. It is noteworthy that Jean-Baptiste could not understand English so the questioning was conducted using interpreters.

Hubert Faye who had seen all that Jean-Baptiste had seen was bribed to change his story. Faye’s story contradicted Jean-Baptiste’s and his own previous affidavit on many points.

Here are excerpts from Jean-Baptiste’s actual testimony from the trial that occurred on May 23, 1818, in Quebec:

"Au Lac-La-Pluie je n’avais pas de Butin ou des hardes point de tout. Je n’avais pas mais une chemise. J’étais près de nue."

"At Lac-La-Pluie I had no booty or any clothes to wear. I only had a shirt. I was almost nude."

"Je ne parle pas sauvage ou Anglais. Keveney ne parle pas Francais. Joseph ne parle pas Francais, quelques mots."

"I do not speak Indian or English. Keveney does not speak French. Joseph does not speak French, a few words only."

The defense attorney challenged Jean-Baptiste’s story repeatedly. When the attorney argued that Selkirk or his allies had coached Jean-Baptiste’s testimony, Jean-Baptiste shocked the court with the following brave reply:

"J’ai parlé avec quelque personnes et elles m’on dit de dire la vérité et même de prendre la communion et faire la confession avant de me rendre mon temoinage ici. Je ne suis pas engagé au Service de la Société de la Baie d’Hudson ni de Lord Selkirk. J’ai été actionné par M. Coltman a la rivière rouge de descendre et il m’a cautionné de dire la vérité"

"I spoke with a few people and they told me to tell the truth and even to take communion and make my confession before coming here to give my testimony. I am not engaged in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company nor of Lord Selkirk. Mr. Coltman at Red River ordered me to come down here and he cautioned me to tell the truth."

Samuel Gale, Selkirk’s observer at this trial commented about Jean-Baptiste’s reply: "This interposition of the Church was rather unexpected and did not seem to suit the purposes of the inquirers."

The defense argued that the Hudson’s Bay Company was paying his way, and therefore Jean-Baptiste was being bribed to offer his testimony.

"C’est Monsieur Gauvin l’hurissier de Montreal qui paye nos vivres a present a ce que je crois. Mi Lord Selkirk m’a dit que quand la cour et tout cera fini. Je serai bein payé. Il m’a donné un peu d’Argent dans le temps que j’étais dans le nord. Je n’ai recu que vingt cinq piastres de la companie du Nord Ouest pour six mois que J’ai fait avec eux mais j’ai deux [ans] de reste. Je connais M. Forrest a Montreal. Il est l’Agent de Mi Lord Selkirk. Il m’a donné cinq piastres en different temps. Il m’a donné peut etre trente piastres peut etre quarente. Je ne puis pas dire exactement--mais je n’ai pas recu plus que quarente piastres de lui."

"Je demeure present a l’Assomption."

"It’s Mr. Gauvin, the court bailiff of Montreal who pays my way currently, I think. Mi Lord Selkirk told me that when court and all are finished, I will be well paid. He gave me some money when I was in the North. I received twenty-five pounds from the North West Company for six months that I worked for them, but I still have 2 [years] left. I know Mr. Forrest at Montreal. He is the agent of Mi Lord Selkirk. He gave me five pounds at different times. He gave me maybe thirty pounds, maybe forty. I cannot say exactly, but I did not receive more than forty pounds from him."

"I live presently at l’Assomption."

Jean-Baptiste added that a few days before, a Mr. Henry McKenzie, Justice of the Peace of Montreal (and also a NWC partner), offered him considerable money to disappear to the United States, but he refused it.

Samuel Gale, Selkirk’s attorney who had accompanied Selkirk to Red River, and who was his observer at this trial writes about Jean-Baptiste Desautels in a letter to Lady Selkirk:

"His consistency + self possession were really astonishing when the efforts taken to confuse and perplex him are considered"

In another letter in the Selkirk papers we find:

"Lapointe is the finest lad I ever saw"

After the trial, Selkirk reminded Jean-Baptiste of his previous energetic vow:

"Vous m’avez prouvé que vous ne vouliez vous damner ni pour moi ni pour un autre grand cou."

"You have proved to me that you would not damn yourself for me nor for another long neck."

Henry McKenzie who was present at the trial was arrested on the spot. Faye ended up spending several months in jail for having committed perjury. Charles de Reinhard was convicted to death and ended up hanging himself later in his jail cell.

Archibald McLellan was also tried for the Keveney murder and Jean-Baptiste gave his testimony, but the prosecution was unable to get a conviction. In another indictment, Francois Mainville, Jean-Baptiste Desmarais, and Joseph Fils de la Perdrix Blanche were the accused, but the case was thrown out because of the Jurisdiction issue.

During the "war" between the two trading companies, 40 HBC employees or settlers had been murdered or killed and one NWC man was killed. There were a total of 38 indictments for murder. Reinhard was the only accused to be convicted.

Lord Selkirk was very thankful to Jean-Baptiste because of his high sense of morals, and he rewarded him with 4000 livres and a scholarship for the College at l’Assomption. Presumably, Jean-Baptiste attended the college for a year.

By 1819, Selkirk was in big financial trouble. In addition to the high costs of trying to establish a colony, he had already spent 100,000 £ defending his own actions in the Northwest and trying to prosecute the crimes that had been committed by the NWC. Because of this, Jean-Baptiste’s educational scholarship was cut short.

Selkirk returned to England very ill from his stay in the wilderness of the Northwest, from his extensive travels, and from the years of litigation in Canada. Selkirk died in Pau, France on April 8th, 1820.

Jean-Baptiste Lapointe, Bay Man at Lac-La-Pluie

Jean-Baptiste joined the Northwest fur trade one more time. He signed a contract to work for the HBC on May 10th, 1819, to work at Postes qui seront indiquees for two years. He ended up being posted at Lac-La-Pluiefor the duration of his contract.

One particularly memorable story that Jean-Baptiste passed down to his grandchildren is that one time, he was on a return voyage from Cumberland House when he lost all of his provisions. After traveling three days without any food, he stayed with some Natives and they served him some meat. After the meal, they showed him the remains of a human hand and told him that it was Sioux that he had just eaten!

In the Statement of Servants Accounts book for Lac-La-Pluie for 1821-1822, we find Jean-Baptiste Lapointe’s name along with several other Canadian Servants. His "capacity" was listed as "Labour", his primary residence in 1821 and his winter residence in 1822 were both listed as Lac-La-Pluie, and his wages were 1000 livres for the year. He was the only servant on the page that had no "book debt".

In another similar account book for 1821-1822, we see most of the same information repeated with some additional facts. His age was listed as 24, his parish was L’Assomption, he wintered at Lac-La-Pluie in 1821, his contract was to expire on May 10th, 1822, he had 3 years of service with the HBC, and he had no fines.

In Jean-Baptiste Lapointe’s HBC Ledger entry, we find some interesting transactions. In 1819, he was advanced 555 livres at Montreal. In 1820, he was credited 800 livres as wages in Lac-La-Pluie, he was credited 200 livres by order of Louis Lacroix, 200 livres by order of Joseph Laronde, and 226 livres by order of H. Lege. In 1820, Jean-Baptiste charged his account for 137.8 livres worth of "Goods". In 1821, he was again credited 800 livres as wages in Lac-La-Pluie, he was credited 700 livres by order of Jean-Baptiste Rabboujou, and 200 livres by order of F. Deny. His balance on May 31, 1822 was 2433 livres and 12 sous.

These sources seem to suggest that Jean-Baptiste was very responsible with his money. He did not have any debt or fines against him, nor did he pay any monies to others. Instead, he must have done some extra jobs for others to pay him. Maybe he was trapping on the side, or he was a very good card player? At any rate, Jean-Baptiste returned to Montreal in 1822 after his contract expired and there he collected a nice nest egg.

Because of the legal squabbles of 1818, and some decline in the fur markets, the HBC and NWC were forced to merge in 1821 under the HBC name. Because of this merger, the number of trading posts and employees required in the fur trade was greatly reduced. Since trade goods could now be supplied via Hudson’s Bay, there was no longer a high demand for voyagers from Canada. This could be one of the reasons that we do not find Jean-Baptiste working in the fur trade after 1822.

Jean-Baptiste Desautels, Habitant

Jean-Baptiste returned to Canada for good in 1822. He married a 15 year old Lucie Laporte at l’Assomption in the county of Joliette on January 7, 1823. Lucie was born on February 4, 1807, at St. Paul. She was the daughter of Toussaint Laporte and Marguerite Piché.

Jean-Baptiste and Lucie settled a farm in St. Paul in the county of Joliette. In the next 20 years, they purchased, farmed, rented, and sold 17 different farms or parcels of land. Possibly because of this wealth, he carried the title of bourgeois in several documents.

Jean-Baptiste was involved in all kinds of farming including crops of wheat, oats, flax, hay, corn, and peas. He had livestock of cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep.

Several documents can attest to Jean-Baptiste's generosity in lending his money, or renting his properties to others.

From xxxxxxxx yyyyyyyyyyyy's painstaking research into this couple, she has concluded that Jean-Baptiste and Lucie had 17 to 21 children. The children were:


b. 1824
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. few months
** Parents are not confirmed


b. 1825
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 m. July 27, 1842
Stanislas Desrosiers


b. 1826
St. Paul, Joliette, QC


b. January 1827
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. May 30, 1837

Rose de Lima

b. May 1828
 d. October 31, 1828


b. March 15, 1830
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. February 21, 1909
Ste-Anne-des-Chenes, MB
 m. 1851
l’Assomption, Joliette, QC
Julie Amiot (Antoine & Marie Ratel)


b. April 13, 1832
St. Paul, Joliette, QC


b. May 16, 1833
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 m. February 27, 1854
St.Paul, Joliette, QC
Marie Janson dit Lapalme (Medard& Sophie Leduc) from Joliette


b. Nov 2, 1835
St. Paul, Joliette, QC


b. December 16, 1836
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
d. September 24, 1926 
Ste-Anne-des-Chenes, MB
 m. January 7, 1856
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
Denise Amiot (Antoine & Marie Ratel)


b. April 17, 1838
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. November 30, 1838


b. 1839
St. Paul, Joliette, QC


b. June 5, 1840
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. October 26, 1840


b. October 3, 1841
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. March 25, 1937
St. Boniface, MB


b. January 23, 1843
St. Paul, Joliette, QC


b. December 14, 1844
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. May 9, 1845


b. 1848
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. May 9, 1850

Joseph Urgel

b. December 6, 1850
St. Paul, Joliette, QC
 d. 1850


b. 1852
** Parents are not confirmed


b. 1856
** Parents are not confirmed


b. 1859
** Parents are not confirmed

Only seven of the children reached adulthood and married: Elisabeth, Jean-Baptiste, Honoré, Luce, Louis, Rose, and Caroline.

In 1863, the couple retired to the village of Joliette.

Jean-Baptiste died on August 23, 1873, at the ripe old age of 75 yrs old surrounded by his numerous friends and family.

Two of his children, Jean-Baptiste(II), and Louis, eventually retraced their father’s steps and became some of the pioneers of Ste-Anne-des-Chenes, Manitoba in the 1860’s and 1870’s. They became some very prominent citizens of the new province. Most Desautels in Manitoba are descending from our hero, Jean-Baptiste, in addition to many Jolicoeur, Dubuc, Dicaire, Laurin, Lavack, Duhamel, and many other families. I have estimated the number of Jean-Baptiste and Lucie’s descendants in Western Canada to be between 4600 and 7000!!!

Additional Reading

For further reading on the history of the fur trade, the history of Manitoba, and the events of 1816, please consult the following books that I have found fascinating.

Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories; Henry, Alexander, 1739-1824; Little, Brown; Boston, 1901.

The Journal of Alexander Henry the Younger, 1799-1814; Henry, Alexander; Champlain Society; Toronto, 1988-1992.

The Collected Writings of Lord Selkirk; Selkirk, Thomas Douglas; Manitoba Record Society; Winnipeg, 1984-1987

Statement Respecting the Earl of Selkirk’s Settlement Upon Red River; Halkett, John Wedderburn; J. Lane; Montreal, 1818

A Narrative of Occurrences in the Indian Territories; McGuillivray, Simon; B. McMillan; London, 1817

Caesars of the Wilderness; Newman, Peter C; Penguin Books; Toronto, 1987

Company of Adventurers; Newman, Peter C; Penguin Books; Toronto, 1985

Strange Empire; Howard, Joseph Kinsey; William Morrow and Company; New York, 1952.

Manitoba 125, A History Volume One, Rupert’s Land to Riel; Great Plains Publications; Winnipeg, 1993.

The Canadians; Tanner, Ogden; Time-Life Books; Alexandria, VA, 1977.

The Voyageur, Knute, Grace Lee; Minnesota Historical Society; St. Paul, 1955.


Source: Desautels familly in Manitoba

Working for NWC from 1812 to 1817. Stationned at Pembina, then Lake Manitoba, then Lake Winnipeg. (Dictionaire Historique des Canadiens et Metis francais de l'Ouest, p 84, Morice)

Signed a contract to work for the NWC on Jan 10, 1812 to work at "Dependences du Nord-Ouest" for 3 years. He used the name Jean-Baptiste Lapointe.

North-West Company Ledger book has the following:

"Baptiste Lapointe"

"1816 Sundries of Montreal e.r.b. 159.15"

" Cash Paid in Montreal 58.10"

Signed a second contract to work for the NWC on Jan 25, 1816 to work at Fort William for an additional 3 years. He used the name Jean-Baptiste Lapointe. (Notaire J.G. Beek)

Also see : (Revue Canadienne, Vol22, 1886, pp 514-518, 603-607, 642-648)

Witness to the murder of Owen Keveny, Sept 9, 1816. Murder was on the Winnipeg River near Rat Portage. He was a canoeman travelling with a party who had arrested Keveny and were taking him back to Canada. The leader of the party, Charles de Reinhard, wanted to kill his prisonner, but Baptiste Lapointe and Hubert Faye tried to stop him. Instead they left the prisoner on an island to die. Later, Rienhard returned to finish his mission. He and Mainville killed Keveny. Trial in Quebec in 1818. (La Liberte et le Patriote, 2 Feb 1962), (L'Ouest Canadien, 1896, p 355, L'Abbe Dugas) (Hudson's Bay Records Society, vol 2)

He was a witness for Lord Selkirk in Fort William on 21 Oct 1816. (Metis Scrip, Tache Afadavit)

See page 69 of "Precis touchant la colonie de Lord Selkirk sur la Riviere-Rouge." (Tache Afadavit)

Received some land at Red River from Lord Selkirk. (Tache Afadavit.)

He was in Quebec for the trial of Reinhard and Mainville in the summer of 1818.

Got Scholarship from Lord Selkirk for College de L'Assomption. (1818?)

Worked for HBC from 1819 to 1822, stationned at Lac-la-Pluie (HBC archives).

Signed a contract to work for the HBC on May 10, 1819 to work at "Postes qui seront indiques" for 2 years. He used the name Jean-Baptiste Lapointe. (Notaire Nicolas B Doucet)

In the West in 1821. Stationned at Cumberland House. (Desautels History, Therese Gregoire)

There was a LAPOINTE that went to Athabasca in 1815 from Montreal. (Landry History, Societe Historique de St Boniface)

view all 24

Jean-Baptiste (1) Desautels dit Lapointe Desautels-Lapointe's Timeline

March 11, 1797
St Paul, Joliette, Quebec, Canada
March 12, 1797
Joliette, Quebec, Canada
St-Paul, Joliette, (Québec)
January 1827
St-Paul, Joliette, (Québec)
October 31, 1828
St-Paul, Joliette, (Québec)
March 15, 1830
St Paul, Joliette, Quebec, Canada
March 29, 1831
St-Paul, Joliette, (Québec)
April 13, 1832
St-Paul, Joliette, (Québec)