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 JOHN LYONS (c1786-1875)

(Last Updated: October 17, 2016)


Early Jewish Fur Traders


Ferdinand JACOBS (1713-1783) was probably in England; entered the service of the HBC in 1732.  Although it has been stated that JACOBS was “Canada’s first Jew,” no record of his religion has been traced in the HBC Archives. From the fort journals it is evident that he supported the Church of England. ** MORE ABOUT FERDINAND JACOBS


Rabi Arthur Chiel (my comments in italics): Prior to the British conquest of Canada in 1760 (around the time that Robert LYONS was born), it had been largely French fur-traders who harassed the Hudson's Bay (HBC) in its Indian trade; thereafter it was to be English and Scotch fur-traders who were to constitute their competition. This trade into the interior on the part of Montreal Scotsmen and Englishmen began in 1761, with the issue of a limited number of trading licenses. Among the recipients of such license was Alexander HENRY the ELDER (1739-1824), a native of colonial New Jersey, who was among the first of the traders to arrive at Michilimackinac after the British conquest of Canada.




Contemporaneous with the arrival of Alex HENRY the ELDER at this Great Lakes juncture was that of Ezekiel SOLOMONS (c1735-c1806), a Jewish fur trader of Montreal.


Ezekiel SOLOMONS, originally of Berlin, was a member of the early, colorful group of pioneer Jewish settlers who had arrived in Montreal at about the same time as the victorious English troops. It is quite possible that he and his Jewish compatriots had already had experience in quartermaster work with European armies, for trading among troops was not an unusual vocation with Jews. After banding together with several fellow Jews, even as did the Scotsmen of Montreal, Ezekiel SOLOMONS ventured into the fur trade. Constituting themselves as a film (firm), SOLOMONS, Chapman ABRAHAM, Gershon LEVY, Benjamin LYON, and Levy SOLOMONS, they apportioned among themselves the fur region. They were financed and supplied with goods by Jewish connections in London as well as by contacts in New York. To Ezekiel SOLOMONS fell the responsibility of the territory around Michilimackinac.


By 1771 Ezekiel SOLOMONS was sending canoes into the Nipigon country north of Lake Superior challenging the HBC control of the area drained by the Albany River flowing into James Bay. By the late 1770’s, HBC officials regarded SOLOMONS as the dominant trading figure in the region which makes up most of the present-day northwestern Ontario.


In 1780, one official who was sent to explore the Nipigon country reported that “the trade here in the little north as they call it is Entirely carried on by an Illiterate Jew, one Ezekiel SOLOMON a kind of pedling merchant at Montreal …. he has got an old serjent in partnership with him, one SHAW, who winters this year at Red or Oker Lake”. Another company report a year later referred to SOLOMONS as “master of all the Trading Houses in this part of the Country.” Throughout this period Ezekiel continued to spend his winters in Montreal. The Red Lake post mentioned here was located at the north end of the Albany River system and Lake St Joseph, northeast of Osnaburgh House. At that time the Elder John KIPLING (1724-1794) was in charge of the HBC post at Gloucester House further down the Albany River.


Benjamin LYONS worked with Ezekiel SOLOMONS who was the Master in charge of the region north of Lake Nipigon as far as Red Lake. In 1784, when Edward UMPHREVILLE (born c1755) of the NWC made his journey to find an alternate canoe route from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg, he was guided by information provided by Benjamin LYONS who at that time he described as a merchant residing in Mackinac.


Birth of John LYONS


Albany River Forts

Michilimackinac and Mackinac Island are located just south of Sault Ste Marie
between Lakes Michigan and Huron


John LYONS, a half-breed (his mother an Indian), was born around 1786. We are told that he was a descendant of an early independent Jewish free-trader out of Montreal. His ancestral origins are almost impossible to trace with any degree of certainty. We are also told that his father was Robert LYONS (born around 1760). I would like to suggest a very likely candidate as Robert LYONS’ father (and our John’s grandfather) asthe Benjamin LYON mentioned (and highlighted) in the quote from Chiel’s research (above).


Without any factual documented information to go on, we can only speculate where John LYONS was born and where he grew up. We know his mother was an Indian or halfbreed woman and that his father was Robert LYONS. My guess is that his father worked for Ezekiel SOLOMONS and probably operated one or more of his  trading post in the Albany River region above Osnaburgh (Red Lake). John would therefore have spent at least part of his youth with his father there and/or in the Michilimackinac area. As a young man he obviously became acquainted with the KIPLING family from Gloucester House, downriver from Ezekiel’s domain.


John LYONS begins his HBC Service in the Albany River District
Marriage to Margaret KIPLING


In 1797 John LYONS entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in the Albany River district as a Labourer - Voyageur. In the years that followed, he frequently travelled with fur trade brigades working out of Martin Falls and Osnaburgh House, often all the way inland to Red River and Brandon House.


Ezekiel SOLOMONS died at Mackinac around 1807.


Around 1807-08 John began a lifelong relationship with Margaret KIPLING, daughter of Nancy, an Indian, and John KIPLING (1724-1794). ** MORE ABOUT JOHN KIPLING


Lord SELKIRK and the Red River Settlers


In 1808 Lord SELKIRK (1771-1820), a large shareholder in the HBC, made plans for the creation of a settlement at Red River by recruiting impoverished Scottish farmers. The HBC thereupon handed over 116,000 sq miles in the valley of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers to him for that purpose (the new District of Assiniboia). 


In 1810 the HBC divided Rupert’s Land into two new jurisdictions, the Northern and Southern Departments. Thomas THOMAS (1765-1828) was appointed Superintendant of the Southern Department (Fort Albany, Moose Factory and Eastmain Factory). William AULD (1770-1830) was appointed Superintendant of the Northern Department (Churchill, York Factory, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan Districts).


North West Company (NWC) shareholders, often referred to as the Nor’Westers, already had a firm control of the fur trade in the interior from Lake Superior right through to the Columbia and Peace River districts with William McGILLIVRAY (1764-1825) at the helm. However, HBC competition was intensifying and the rivalry between the two companies was about to become very bitter indeed.


In June of 1811 Miles MacDONELL (1767-1828) was appointed by the HBC as Governor of the new District of Assiniboia; agent and superintendent for Lord SELKIRK; his main  responsibility: Red River Settlers.


Selkirk Settlers Arrive at the Forks
Peter FIDLER takes charge at Brandon House
The First Métis Rebellion


From its first establishment by the HBC back in 1794 Brandon House was notorious for ill-treatment of its resident workers (almost all half-breed voyageurs) and their families (low salaries, poor housing and scarcity of food and amenities). Prior to the arrival of Peter FIDLER, from 1810 to 1812, Hugh HENEY (b-c1765) had actually precipitated an all-out mutiny through his neglect of the native families under his jurisdiction. These men were already ‘not happy campers’ by the time FILDER arrived; and when he did he was kept so busy dealing with settlers and an impending Métis Rebellion that he had little time to deal with their problems. It is not surprising that they were less than cooperative when the Rebellion began.


By 1812 John LYONS was working as a voyageur (steersman-labourer) in the Winnipeg - Brandon House District. He was referred to as “obstinate but a good worker.”


On August 30, 1812, Miles MacDONELL (1767-1828), the new HBC Governor of Assiniboia, arrived at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers (the Forks) with the first (advance party) of Lord SELKIRK’s settlers. It was too late for any crops to be planted or any other serious improvements to be undertaken, so MacDONELL proceeded to Pembina with the settlers. Around the same time Englishman Peter FIDLER (1769-1822) arrived with his family to take charge of Brandon House and to assist in settling the new settlers by surveying lots and helping them to build houses north of the Forks (Kildonan).


Cuthbert GRANT (1796-1854) and his Métis followers, as well as the North West Company (NWC) leaders were violently opposed to the encroachment of settlers in what they considered their domain. They were determined to drive them out. Part of their strategy was to create a shortage of pemmican and buffalo meat by buying up all that was available and hoarding it away. Governor MACDONALL, unable to provide adequately for the group of settlers he already had, and anticipating the arrival of yet another large party from Churchill in the coming summer, made a fateful decision that would spark a Métis rebellion. On Jan 8, 1814 he issued his historical Pemmican Proclamation, prohibiting the export of provisions of any kind from the limits of Assiniboia without a special license from himself.


Assiniboine River Forts

Birsay Village later became St Francois Xavier


The Sacking of Brandon House
The Seven Oaks Massacre


In 1815-16, during the Rebellion, voyageurs working out of Brandon House included John LYONS, Tom FAVEL and his brother Humphrey FAVEL, John KIPLING (John LYONS’ brother-in-law)); Magnus SPENCE (1755-1845) and their families. All of these men would later become prominent first settlers of Mapleton - Selkirk. They were all essentially Scotch-English half-breed families who suddenly found themselves in the middle of a bitter struggle between their Métis brethren and the settlers who came from the homeland of their own white ancestors. They all had Indian wives, including FIDLER, many of them with family ties from the region of Hudson Bay and they were not entirely unsympathetic with the cause of Cuthbert GRANT and his followers. Peter FIDLER himself was a reluctant participant in the struggles that unfolded, but unlike the others, he was a loyal HBC servant to the end and had been purposely selected by the Company to play the role of an intermediary and peacemaker. This was not the first time he was placed at the forefront of such NWC-HBC turmoil.


On June 1, 1816 Cuthbert GRANT and his Métis soldiers pillaged Brandon House. Peter FIDLER discovered that GRANT and his men were working their way down the Assiniboia toward Winnipeg. Peter tried desperately to get the news down to the settlers at the Forks, and he ordered John LYONS to start before midnight, but LYONS got ill that night. He then turned to Thomas FAVEL, who refused to go, so the only one left was his son, Charles, who started out with another man. But as soon as they got across the river the Canadians surrounded them, took their guns, and sent them back. Peter set out himself on June 15, too late to prevent the massacrethat occurred a few days later.


On June 19, 1816 The Seven Oaks Massacre occurred with Governor Robert SEMPLE (1777-1816) and twenty of his men killed on Frog Plain (Kildonan). Cuthbert and the Métis then took Fort Douglas. Settlers who wanted to leave the Red River Settlement were offered protection by GRANT.


Aftermath of the Rebellion
Birsay Village “Orkney Town”


The HBC had to maintain discipline and order; they would not tolerate insubordination and disloyalty from their rank and file. Humphrey FAVEL had already been dismissed on account of his bad behavior toward John McLEOD (1788-1849) who was then in charge of the HBC House (also known as Fidler’s Fort) at the Forks. In August of 1816 John LYONS was dismissed from Company service for refusing to accompany James INKSTER (1773-1854) on a trip to Indian Elbow on the upper Assiniboine. Tom FAVEL was subsequently dismissed from the Company’s service by FIDLER for refusing to accompany him to Jack River (Norway House).


Finally, in the fall of 1817 the Red River Rebellion came to an end when Lord SELKIRK’s de Meuron soldiers recaptured Fort Douglas; Cuthbert GRANT was arrested (but later released) and the Métis were forced to retreat.


John LYONS, along with other displaced and unemployed voyageurs, decided they had had enough of Brandon House. In the winter of 1817-18 they banded together and founded the short-lived Birsay Village, also called “Orkney Town”, down river and west of Fort Douglas or Winnipeg (see map above).


Whooping cough and measles hit the residents of Orkney Town not long after it was established, resulting in several deaths, particularly children. Further misery followed when swarms of grasshoppers destroyed their crops. It was time to move on.


Birsay Villagers become the first settlers at Mapleton


In mid-September of 1819 Orkney Town was abandoned by its original founders. French Métis from Pembina soon began moving in to create the settlement of St Francois Xavier in its place. Many of the Birsay villagers, including John LYONS, moved their families to the vicinity of Sugar Point on the Red River north of Kildonan where they would become the first residents of the Village of Mapleton and where they would remain the rest of their lives.


Union of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company


In 1821 union of the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) occurred, ending years of bitter rivalry for dominance of the fur trade in Western Canada. After the merger, almost 1,300 employees lost their jobs since the single HBC organization that emerged had no need for most of their voyageurs and retired fur traders.


At the time of the HBC-NWC union, (Sir) George SIMPSON (1786-1860) became the Governor of Rupert’s Land. On May 20, 1822, SIMPSON reported to the board of governors of the HBC that he had established a fort at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. He named it Fort Garry (the Upper Fort). Around this fort was to grow the city of Winnipeg.


In 1825 daughter Sophie LYONS (age 17) married in St Boniface to Francois ST DENIS (1787-1883)
Around 1827 daughter Nancy became the wife of Magnus BIRSTON (1811-1875).


Red River Census of 1827: John LYONS, age 42 with a wife; one young son and two young daughters. He had a house and a canoe and has one acre under cultivation. ** Note: This census record only accounts for three children. It appears to be incomplete and/or erratic. My information indicates that by 1827 he had at least five young children still at home: John Jr. (age 11), James (age 10), Mary Anne, Jane (age 5) and Thomas (age 2).


The formal marriage of John LYONS Sr and Margaret KIPLING is recorded by Anglican Church records as being on Dec 18, 1827 (St Johns Marriages, 1820-1835 #142).  The baptisms of three of their children were recorded at the same time; Mary Anne (born that year), Jane and Tom


Lower Fort Garry


Construction of Lower Ft Garry was begun in 1832. This new fort became an important trading center for supplying goods to northern fur trading posts and packing furs for shipment to York Factory. This would become the social hub for settlers of the region. This was the era when HBC Governor George SIMPSON (1786-1860) still ruled in Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land and Chief PEGUIS (1774-1864) was the leader of the Indian Settlement that would later became the St Peters Reserve.


Mapleton from Hind's Map of 1857

Part of Henry Hind’s Map based on his observations of 1857


A school under Joseph COOK (1788-1848) was opened in 1834 at Sugar Point (32 children attended); the natives were encouraged to build houses and learn to farm. The log school-house (6 x 12 meters) also functioned as a teacher’s residence, and had a loft that doubled as a granary.


Daughter Jane died in 1834. She was only about 12 years old.


In 1835 John KIPLING was recorded on Lot 8 (Mapleton) in what was then St Clements Parish. He had two horses, eight cattle and a farm implement. He had four acres under cultivation. There were eight people in his household. His family was complete now so, assuming six of these people were his children, they would have been Henry (age 2), Miles (age 5), Charlotte (age 8), Thomas (age 10), Mary Ann (age 17) and James (age 18).


 John would have been around 50 years old now, his wife Margaret about 45. They would have no more children.


In 1836 son James married Catherine COOK and daughter Mary Ann married her brother, Charles COOK. They were children of William Hemmings COOK (1768-1846). ** MORE ABOUT WILLIAM HEMMINGS COOK

In 1837 son John Jr. married Margaret GIBSON.
In 1841 son Miles died. He was only 10 years old.
In 1843 daughter Charlotte married George CALDER, son of Nancy LINDSAY and Captain James CALDER (1775-1824). ** MORE ABOUT CAPTAIN JAMES CALDER

In 1846 son Thomas married Charlotte PRUDEN, dauthter of Naney (nee HENRY) CAMPBELL and William PRUDEN (1804-1844). ** MORE ABOUT WILLIAM PRUDEN.


Finally in 1852 the baby of the family, Henry married Mary STEVENS.


Canadian Confederation and a Red River Rebellion
Creation of the Province of Manitoba


On July 1, 1867 the British colonies in North America were united under the British North American Act to become the Dominion of Canada.  Sir John A MacDONALD (1815-1891) was appointed as Canada’s first Prime Minister.


On Oct 11, 1869, Louis RIEL (1844-1885) placed his foot on the surveyors’ chain to tell them their work was finished! This marked the beginning of another Red River Métis Rebellion. When it was all over, RIEL’s Provisional Government accepted the terms of the Manitoba Act andon July 15,1870 Manitoba became the fifth province of Canada, the Canadian Government having acquired the territory previously governed by the HBC


John LYONS was in his mid 80’s when this Rebellion occurred. I’m sure it brought back memories of the first Métis Rebellion in 1816 when he was at Brandon House and Cuthbert GRANT was on a rampage.


The Daily Free Press, Feb 15, 1875: A Centenarian – Mr John LYONS of Mapleton died Friday at the ripe age of 109 years. Deceased was probably the oldest man in the North-West; he remembered when there were only two or three houses in the whole Province, and had seen the buffalo come down to drink at the Red River, between the Lower Fort and this city. Whoever composed this article obviously exaggerated John's age; he was certainly very old, but not that old.


About two months later (April 9) Margaret died.


Please post comments & queries at this link: FORUM DISCUSSING the JOHN LYONS FAMILY


========================== Family Details ==========================



1. 1808 SOPHIA LYONS (m. Francois ST DENIS JR)

2. 1815 NANCY LYONS (m. Magnus "Sandy" BIRSTON)


3. 1816 JOHN LYONS JR (m. Margaret GIBSON)

4. 1817 JAMES LYONS (m. Catherine "Kitty" COOK)

5. 1818 MARY ANN "NANCY" LYONS (m. Charles COOK)


6. 1822 JANE LYONS (Died in infancy, age 12, 1834)

7. 1825 THOMAS LYONS (m. Charlotte PRUDEN)


8. 1827 CHARLOTTE LYONS (m. George CALDER)


9. 1830 MILES LYONS (Died in infancy, age 11, 1841)

10. 1833 HENRY LYONS (m. Mary STEVENS)


========================== Notes & References ==========================


Rabbi Arthur A. Chiel conducted some very good research with regard to the first Jewish fur traders in Quebec (Montreal). Here’s the Link: ** MANITOBA JEWISH HISTORY


For more source information and further discussion and comments I would love to hear from anyone on the Forum of this website.