The scene changes to the home of the
founder of the Colony. The Earl of Selkirk is living at his interesting
seat—St. Mary's Isle, and letter after letter arrives which has taken
many weeks on the road, coming down through trackless prairie, across
the middle and Eastern States of America and reaching him via New York.
These letters continue to increase in being more and more terrible until
his island home seems to be in a state of siege.
St. Mary's Isle lies at the mouth of
the Dee on Solway Frith, opposite the town of Kirkcudbright. Here in
1778 Paul Jones, the so-called pirate in the employ of the Revolutionary
Government in America, had landed, invested the dwelling with his men,
and carried away all the plate and jewels of the House of Selkirk. The
Old Manor House of St. Mary's Isle, with its very thick stone wall on
one side, evidently had been a keep or castle. It was at one time given
to the church and became a monastery, then it was enlarged and improved
to become the dwelling of the family of the Douglasses, which it is to
But now the far cry from Red River
reverberated across the Atlantic. The startling succession of events of
1815 reached the Earl one after another. It was late in the year when he
made up his mind, but taking his Countess, his two daughters and his
only son, Dunbar, a mere boy, and crossing the ocean he heard, on his
arrival in New York, of the complete destruction by flight and expulsion
of the people of his Colony. About the end of October he reached
Montreal, but winter was too near to allow him to travel up the lakes
and through the wilds to Red River.
The winter in Montreal was long, but the
atmosphere of opposition to Lord Selkirk in that city, the home of the
Nor'-Westers, was more trying to him than the frost and snow. His every
movement was watched. Even the avenues of Government power seemed by
influential Nor'-Westers to be closed against him. An appeal to Sir
Gordon Drummond, the Governor-General, could obtain no more than a
promise of a Sergeant and six men to protect him personally should he go
to the far West, and the appointment of himself as a Justice of the
Peace in Upper Canada and the Indian Territory was grudgingly given.
The active mind of his Lordship
occupied the time
of winter well. He planned nothing less than introducing to the banks of
Red River a body of men as settlers, who could, like the returned exiles
to Jerusalem, work with sword in one hand and a tool of industry in the
other. The man of resource finds his material ready made. Two mercenary
regiments from Switzerland which had been fighting England's battles in
America had just been disbanded, and Lord Selkirk at once engaged them
to go as settlers, under his pay, to Red River. From the commanding
officer of the larger regiment these have always been called the "De
Meurons." From these two regiments—one at Montreal and the other at
Kingston—he engaged an hundred men, each provided with a musket, and
with rather more than that number of expert voyageurs started in June
16th, 1816, for the North-West. The route followed by him was up Lake
Ontario to Toronto, then across country to Georgian Bay and through it
to Ste. Sault Marie. At Drummond Island, being the last British garrison
toward the West, he got from the Indians news of the efforts of the
Nor'-Westers to involve them in the wars of the whites. The Indians had,
however, resisted all their temptations. Lord Selkirk again overtook his
party and passed through the St. Mary's River into Lake Superior.
Here a new grief awaited him.
Two canoes coming from Fort William
brought him the sad news about Governor Semple and his party being
killed at Seven Oaks, as it did also of the second expulsion of the
Colonists. Lord Selkirk had been intending to go west to where Duluth
now stands and then overland to the Red River.
He now changed his plans and with true
Scottish pluck headed directly to Fort William. Here assaults, arrests
and imprisonments took place. It is needless for us to give the details
of this unfortunate affair, except to say that the seizure of the Fort
brought much trouble afterwards to the founder.
Moving some miles up the Kaministiquia
River Lord Selkirk made his military encampment, which bore the name of
"Pointe De Meuron."
Plans were soon made for the spring attack
on Fort Douglas.
In March, stealthily crossing the
silent pathways for upwards of four hundred miles and striking the Red
River some where near the international boundary line, the De Meurons
came northward and made a circuit towards Silver Heights. There, having
constructed ladders, they next made a night attack on Fort Douglas, and
being trained soldiers easily captured it, and restored it to its
rightful owner, Lord Selkirk.
On May day, 1817, Lord Selkirk, with his
body guard, left Fort William and following the water-courses arrived at
his own Fort in the last week of June. Fort Douglas was the centre of
his Colony, and there he was at once the chief figure of the picture.
None of the Selkirk Settlers' descendants
who are living to-day saw him in Fort Douglas, but a number who have
passed away have told the writer that they remembered him well. He was
tall in stature, thin and refined in appearance. He had a benignant
face, his manner was easy and polite. To the Indians he was especially
interesting. They caught the idea that being a man of title he was in
some way closely connected with their Great Father the King. Because of
his generosity to them in making a treaty, they called him "The Silver
Chief." He was the source of their treaty money.
It is said that some of the last party to
reach his Colony had seen him at Kildonan in Scotland, where he had
visited them, and encouraged them in their departure for the Colony.
His first duties were to the unfortunate
settlers, who had been brought back from Jack River.
Lord Selkirk gathered the Colonists
on the spot where the church and burial ground of St. John's are still
found. "The Parish," said he, "shall be Kildonan. Here you shall build
and that lot," he said, pointing to the lot across the little stream
called Parsonage Creek, "is for a school." He was thus planning to carry
out the devout imagination of the greatest religious leader of his
nation, John Knox: "A church and a school for every parish."
Perhaps the most interesting episode in
Lord Selkirk's visit was his treaty-making with the Indians. The plan of
securing a strip of land on each side of the river was said to have been
decided to be as much as could be seen by looking under the belly of a
horse out upon the prairie. This was about two miles. Hence the river
lots were generally about two miles long.
His meeting with the Indians was after the
manner of a great "Pow-wow." The Indians are fluent and eloquent
speakers, though they indulge in endless repetitions.
Peguis, the Saulteaux chief, befriended
the white man from the beginning. He denounced the Bois-brulés. He said,
"We do not acknowledge these men as an independent tribe."
"L'Homme Noir," the Assiniboine chief,
among other things, said: "We have often been told you were our enemy,
but we hear from your own mouth the words of a true friend."
"Robe Noire," the Chippewa, tried in
lofty style to declare: "Clouds have over-whelmed
me. I was a long time in doubt and difficulty, but now I begin to see
While Lord Selkirk was still in his
Colony, the very serious state of things on the banks of Red River and
the pressure of the British Government led to the appointment, by the
Governor-General of Canada, of a most clear-minded and peace-loving man
as Commissioner. This appointment was all the more pleasing on account
of Mr. W.B. Coltman being a resident Canadian of Quebec. Coltman was one
man among a thousand. He was patient and kind and just. Though he had
come to the Colony prejudiced against Lord Selkirk, he found his
Lordship so fair and reasonable that he became much attached to the man
represented in Montreal and the far East as a destructive ogre.
The Commissioner's report covered one
hundred pages, and it was in all respects a model. He thoroughly
understood the motives of both parties, and his decisions led to a
perfect era of peace, and moreover in the end to the union of the
Hudson's Bay and Nor'-West Companies.
Lord Selkirk's coming was like a ray
of sunshine to the Colonists of Red River. Being of an intensely
religious disposition, the people reminded him afterwards that the elder
who came out in 1815, who was able to baptize and marry, had been
carried away by main force by the Nor'-Westers to Canada in 1818, so
that they were without
religious services. They always continued to have prayer meetings and to
keep up the pious customs of their fathers. This practise long survived
among them. In repeating his promise of a clergyman, Lord Selkirk
asserted to them: "Selkirk never forfeited his word."
His work done among his Colonists,
he left them never to see them again. He went south from Fort Douglas to
the United States, visited, it is said, St. Louis, came to the Eastern
States, and rejoined in Montreal his Countess and children who had in
his absence lived in great anxiety. One of his daughters, afterwards
Lady Isabella Hope, told the writer nearly thirty years ago that she as
a girl remembered seeing Lord Selkirk as he returned from this long
journey, coming around the Island into Montreal Harbor paddled by French
voyageurs in swift canoes to his destination. His attention was
immediately given to law suits and actions brought against him in the
courts of Upper Canada. These legal conflicts originated from the
troubles about the two centres—Fort Douglas and Fort William—where the
collisions had taken place. The influence of the Nor'-Westers in
Montreal was so great that the U.E. Loyalists of Upper Canada
sympathised with them against the noble philanthropist. Justice was
undoubtedly perverted in Upper Canada in themost
shameless way. Weak in body at the best, Lord Selkirk by his
misfortunes, losses and legal persecution began to fail in health. With
the sense of having been unjustly defeated, and anxious about his
Colonists in Red River, he returned with his family to Britain to his
beloved St. Mary's Isle. He sought for justice from the British
Parliament, but could there get no movement in his favor. A copy of a
letter to him from Sir Walter Scott, his old friend, is in the hands of
the writer, but Sir Walter was himself too ill at the time to lend him
aid in presenting his case before the British public. Heart-broken, he
gave up the struggle. With the Countess and his family he went to the
South of France and died on April 8th, 1820, at Pau, and his bones lie
in the Protestant Cemetery of Orthes.
He had not fought in vain. He had broken
down single-handed a system of organized terrorism in the heart of North
America, for the Nor'-Westers never rose to strength again. They united
in a few years with the Hudson's Bay Company. He established a Colony
that has thriven; he cherished a lofty vision; he made mistakes in
action, in judgment, and in a too great optimism, but if we understand
him aright he bore an untainted and resolute soul.
"Only those are crown'd and
Who with grief have been acquainted
Making Nations nobler, freer."
"In their feverish exultations,
In their triumph and their yearning,
In their passionate pulsations,
In their words among the nations
The Promethean fire is burning."
"But the glories so transcendent
That around their memories cluster,
And on all their steps attendant,
Make their darken'd lives resplendent
With such gleams of inward lustre."