The painting reminded me of Daniel Williams Harmon (1778-1843) of Vermont, who went to work for a fur-trading company in 1800 at age twenty-two, then twenty years later published his Journal of Voyages and Travels in the Interiour of North America. Reprinted many, many times, the first edition was printed in Andover by Flagg and Gould.
Diaries, journals, and memoirs of fur traders of the period are plentiful, but Harmon's was exceptional because it recounted not only his experiences in the Canadian wilderness but also told how and why he decided not to abandon the French-Cree woman he had been living with, along with their fourteen children, when he left the territory and went home. Abandonment was the usual practice, the journal's editor, Reverend Daniel Haskel of Burlington, Vermont, wrote in a preface.
Working from Harmon's longhand manuscript, Reverend Haskel created a narrative he described as “not properly [his] own, nor that of Mr. Harmon, but something between both." Unfortunately, the original is unavailable for comparison; its whereabouts is unknown. Nor could I find a connection between Reverend Haskel and Andover. He was not a seminary graduate, but its missionary aspect may have supplied it. As Reverend Haskel explained, he had hopes that the North West Company, for which Harmon worked, would help fund a Canadian missionary enterprise, adding that some employees actually had contributed several thousand dollars to the cause. Noting that Harmon did not abandon his woman or their children, as fur traders and trappers typically did, he said he thought that those with mixed blood would be more effective than anyone in the education of "Natives," because they knew the language.
Harmon had initially been hired by the company as a warehouseman in Montreal around the time of his twenty-first birthday. He was shortly recruited as a clerk, and expected to be employed as such for seven years. In fact, he stayed for more than double that period of time, and rose up the ranks as he traveled by canoe with his fellow workers into the Northwest territory.
When day was done, the workers liked their drink, and expected everyone to partake. Those who refused were “baptized,” i.e., thrown into the nearest body of water. Haskel, a non-drinker, was somehow left alone to have tea with an “Irish gentleman," but he closely observed the drinking habits of his colleagues and of the indigenous people who worked alongside them.
He witnessed drunk Indians frequently, but at least alcohol didn't turn them into fighters. “Of all people in the world, I think the Canadians, when drunk, are the most disagreeable," he wrote. "Indeed, I had rather have fifty drunken Indians in the fort, than five drunken Canadians.”
Fur trapping afforded much leisure, Harmon reported, perhaps four fifths of his time. Everyone read. Harmon turned to Bible reading and committed his soul to God after his first-born son, George, died. “Resolved, that the scoffs of the wicked, directed against serious religion, shall never have any other effect upon me, than to make me strive the more earnestly, to lead the life of a sincere christian [sic],” he wrote. In time, his woman took up with God and religion, too. That is the reason he didn't leave her behind. Besides feeling that it was his moral obligation, he considered it his duty “to take her to a christian land."