As part of my research into John Larlee and his time at the Hudson’s Bay Company, I ordered some microfilm from the Manitoba Government Archives. The microfilm contained correspondence and you can learn a lot about a person from their own words, written or oral, and from what others say about them.
I had discovered John’s life as a Couer de Bois a few years ago and now I knew how his life in North America started out. What this new information provided was an insight into how circumstances can so dramatically affect a person’s future. If one thing had been just a little different, I might not be here writing about him right now. What is emerging is a man of integrity and fairness who might have been used as a scapegoat in absentia.
When John Larlee arrived at York Factory on June 20, 1759, he had been travelling all winter from Montreal. I don’t know why he would be in Montreal – he had no license to trade and there was the danger of being conscripted to fight against the English. Whatever his reason he found himself stripped of everything he owned – “goods” valued at 2500 livres (the antecedent to the Franc and probably equivalent to a little over £100 Sterling) – and placed in irons for two days. “On submission” he was released and he “determined to throw himself into the arms of the English as he knew he could not receive worse treatment here than there.” By the time John arrived at York, he had managed to accumulate another four bundles of furs (I have no idea how much that would have been but perhaps valued around £50). He was also suffering from the effects of travelling on foot in the extreme cold of the winter.
He was placed at Albany Fort on probation and from what I can glean really wanted to benefit the HBC by tapping into the Indian trade that had previously gone to the French. He knew those natives well and seemed confident that he could significantly increase the trade at Albany and also at Moose if they chose to place him there (where he felt he could be of better use). Unfortunately, the Company never acted on any of his recommendations and trade declined. He wasn’t offered a contract and ended up leaving in 1762. By that time he might also have heard about the lands being opened up in Nova Scotia. In 1763, long after John had gone and trade still hadn’t increased in Albany or Moose, he was blamed for the loss of trade due to “harsh” treatment of the natives.