Red River Ancestry
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(Last Updated: March 28, 2013)


John Charles SAYER was born around1800. His father, John SAYER SR (1750-1818), born in England, was a Nor'Wester, an employee of the North West Company (NWC), and had been a Courier de Bois.  His mother, OBEMAU-UNOQUA (Nancy), was a full-blooded Ojibway woman, daughter of the great Chief BIGFOOT (he died around 1780, before born). His uncle was WAUB-O-JEEG, also a famous Ojibway War Chief, who died in 1793 when Charles was about eight years old. ** MORE ABOUT JOHN SAYER SR


In 1797 John Sr. dissolved his Sayer & Co.and joined the NWC as a shareholding partner. He was at Fort St Louis (near modern day Superior) during the winter of 1797-98.  In 1799, the NWC partners reach an impasse and Alexander McKENZIE joined the splinter group he had created, the new XY Company.  John SAYER SR replaced Joseph LaPRAIRIE with Joseph REAUME (b.1750) of the same trade territory (Folle Avoine).


On July 5, 1802 John SAYER SR signed an agreement extending the XY Co. - NWC coalition and giving him two shares in that company. XY Company (the New NWC) canoes departed from the north shore of Lake Superior at Grand Portage. Loaded with European goods to supply the "Folle Avoine", or "wild rice" region, they followed the lakes and rivers. At Fort Folle Avoine they built a trading post near the Old NWC traders who had preceded them. They remained for two winters, trading with the Ojibwa He had John Charles move there to "curb the Generosity of Joseph REAUME & Joseph LaPRAIRIE". By about 1804 John Sr. was about 12 miles away, building a post at Snake River (1804-05 re his Snake River Journal). 


John Charles and his Ojibwe Wife Marie or Marguerite



(Yahoo Minniesota map base with place names added by G.N. Still)

Fort Folle Avoine, located on the Yellow River between Webster and Danbury
Fort Lac la Pluie (or Rainy Lake House) is located just a few miles to the northeast of Fort Frances
Situated between the Red River and Fort William, Lac la Pluie was a meeting place for
traders from Montreal in the east and those from the Athabasca country to the west.


It is very difficult to accurately determine the names and birth dates of some of John Charles’ children. Much of my information is based on the excellent research done by Wayne Jones who has spent many years researching SAYER genealogy. ** Here is the link to his website: WAYNE’S PLACE

By about 1803 John Charles had an Ojibwayan wife named Marie or Marguerite. His first child, Pierre Guillaume was born around that time. Wayne Jones states “Various authors have claimed that Pierre Guillaume was the son of the original John SAYER who was born in 1750 and was a partner in the North West Company. I have been unable to establish this fact and have come to the conclusion that he was the son of John Charles and the grandson of the original John SAYER.”


In November of 1804 the NWC and XY Co merged and William McGILLIVRAY (1764-1825) took command.


In 1805, John SAYER SR. took his allotted furlough to the Ottawa River in Lower Canada and became attached to a lady named Elizabeth McPHERSON


Association with James LEITH


In 1806-07 James LEITH (1777-1838), a wealthy Scotchman and a shareholding partner in the NWC, wintered at Folle Avoine John Charles is later referred to as a clerk and Interpreter under LEITH. It was around this time that son George was born.


In 1807, the name of Fort Kaministiquia was changed to Fort William (situated to the northeast of Grand Portage as shown on the above map), after William McGILLIVRAY, Chief Director of the NWC. Fort William would become the centre of operations for the Nor'Westers. They had a network of trading posts throughout the region around Lake Superior and west as far as Rainy Lake (Lac la Pluie).


By 1809 John SAYER SR, almost 60 yrs old, had retired and was then a resident on the Island of Montreal.


Around 1810 son James SAYER was born.


Arrival of Lord SELKIRK’s Red River Settlers
John Charles at Lac la Pluie


In 1811 John Charles was at Fort Lac la Pluie (Rainy Lake) when that fall the first group of Lord Selkirk’s Red River Settlers arrived at York Factory under the leadership of Governor Miles MacDONELL (1767-1828), bound for Red River. It was in 1812 that they first arrived at the Forks of the Assiniboine and Red rivers to begin establishing the Kildonan Settlement. SELKIRK had the backing and support of the HBC.


The NWC and the HBC had of course been in fierce competition for many years. The Nor’Westers were strongly opposed to the increasing influx of settlers into what they considered their domain. They would do whatever they could to make things difficult for them. They purposefully encouraged opposition from the Indians and Métis buffalo hunters of the region. Settlement would cause the already diminishing buffalo herds to move away. During the winter of 1813-14, John PRITCHARD (1777-1855), under orders of John WILLS (1775-1815), both in the employ of the NWC, bought up most of the provisions available at the Forks and sent them off to their fort at La Souris (SE of Brandon House). This of course created a shortage for the Settlers. The NWC would later claim they needed pemmican as food supply for their voyageurs.


Cuthbert GRANT and a Métis Rebellion


On Jan 81814, anticipating the arrival of yet another large group of settlers and seeking to solve the colony’s food problems once and for all, Miles MacDONELL countered PRITCHARD’s actions by issuing his historic Pemmican Proclamation. This was the spark that ignited an outright Métis Rebellion that would be led by Cuthbert GRANT (1796-1854).



On June 7, 1815 GRANT established a Métis camp on the west bank of the Red River, four miles downstream from Point Douglas, the colony’s headquarters and his harassment an intimidation continued with intensity. He and his men began to harry the settlement, stealing horses and ploughs, and there were exchanges of fire between the Métis and the remaining settlers resulting in the death of one of the Governor MacDONELL’s men. The Governor himself was taken prisoner and soon taken back to Canada for "trial" by Nor’Wester emissaries. Peter FIDLER (1769-1822), the HBC surveyor, then took temporarily command of the colony. To protect the settlers, on June 25, FIDLER capitulated under an agreement consenting to the complete evacuation of the colony to Norway House. The house of the Governor, a mill, and the other buildings which the settlers had begun to build upon their lots were all set on fire and destroyed.


In July of 1815 Colin ROBERTSON (1783-1842) of the HBC arrived on the scene, led the banished group of settlers at Norway House back to Red River and managed to regain control by the time Robert SEMPLE (1777-1816) arrived with another group of settlers as the new Governor of Assiniboia. Due to the food shortage, SEMPLE and his settlers were forced to continue on to Pembina where they would spend the winter.


Arrival of Lord SELKIRK
The Seven Oaks Massacre


By the winter of 1815-16 Lord SELKIRK himself, having learned about the settlement troubles, was in Montreal preparing a rescue mission. He recruited an army of Swiss and German soldiers from the De Meuron Regiment who were overwintering in the city. In June of 1816 SELKIRK and his soldiers departed for the west, first stopping at Sault Ste Marie to reconnoiter.


John Charles becomes involved in the Rebellion


On June 16, 1816, John Charles was stationed at Lac la Pluie as a clerk, still under the command of James LEITH, when Archibald Norman McLEOD (1760-1837) arrived there from Montreal along with several other partners of the NWC, on their way to Red River to “assist in defending the rights of their Company there.”John Charles would later testify that he assisted McLEOD by recruiting Indians who would participate in the cause of the Nor’Westers. John Charles himself however apparently did not accompany them when the next day (June 17) 16-20 Indians set out with McLEOD for Red River.On June 19, 1816, McLEOD was involved in the Seven Oaks Massacre at Red River, resulting in the death of Governor SEMPLE and 20 of his men killed on Frog Plain (Kildonan). Cuthbert GRANT then took Fort Douglas, and once again demanded the settlers be evacuated.


On Aug 12, 1816 Lord SELKIRK and his soldiers arrived at Fort William where they proceeded to arrest all of the NWC Partners who were present, including William McGILLIVRAY.


In the fall of 1816, Lord SELKIRK, Captain D'ORSONNES and his Des Meurons mercenaries had advanced as far as Lac La Pluie and the post was surrendered to therm. Later Miles McDONNELL joined them.  On Nov 8, 1816, John Charles signed a Deposition for Lord SELKIRK at Fort William relating to his part in the events that had occurred at his fort.




In 1817 Lac La Pluie NWC Post was regained by the NWC. The HBC also maintained a post by the same name nearby. According to the HBC records, John Charles (27 yrs old) worked at Sault St Marie that year as well.


On June 21, 1817, Lord SELKIRK arrived at Ft Douglas; On July 18 he signed a treaty with the Assiniboine and Cree natives, to ensure their recognition of the colony's ownership of the land in the Red River area. In August Cuthbert GRANT gave himself up to Commissioner William COLTMAN. On Sep 9, SELKIRK set out from Fort Douglas to travel to Montreal via the Untied States territory. The Rebellion was over.


In 1818 John Charles was in Montreal when his father died that year. For some reason however he was not included in John Sr's will. Between 1819 and 1820 he worked at Fort William and returned to Lac La Pluie between 1819 and 1820.   


HBC - NWC Union


In 1821 the 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 the voyageurs and retired fur traders.


Lass, The Uncertain Boundary: As FURGUSON and David THOMPSON (1770-1857) stood ready to launch their separate expeditions before freeze-up in 1822, neither man could have foreseen that the field work would span four successive seasons. - - On Aug 17 he had hired a Fort William trader, John Charles SAYER, to work until June, 1823. SAYER was to obtain information from the Indians about all of the rivers emptying into Lake Superior between Fort William and the St Louis River and about all the streams leading to Rainy Lake. He was also to find out whether the Indians knew of a Long Lake and, if so, to determine its location and extent. THOMPSON instructed SAYER to have Indians draw maps with ashes on birch bark, giving native names of the lakes and streams. The following May, SAYER was to bring the maps to Fort William, where he would meet the British surveying party (FERGUSON) and serve as its guide and interpreter. (HBC bill for supplies furnished at the boundary commission submitted to the Foreign Office, Jan 10, 1827, in PO/5, vol.240, p. 216. Furguson to Porter, Aug 20, 1822, photocopy in Thompson Papers, MHS, original in Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa. SAYER was formerly a clerk for the North West Company in charge of a trading post “in the Countries between the Rainy Lake and the NW coast of Lake Superior,” according to a note Thompson appended to his copy of the letter.) FERGUSON, meanwhile, had experienced a frustrating introduction to the wilderness due primarily to labor problems. By the time he arrived at Fort William, the surveyor was completely disenchanted with his guide and interpreter, claiming he was guilty of either “misconduct or ignorance.” for he had twice misrepresented the nature of the coastline, thereby delaying the voyage.


Fort Gibraltar (of the NWC) is renamed Fort Garry in 1822 and would become known as the "Upper Fort".  HBC replaces the canoe with boats (York boats?) and therefore the Metis with Orkney men.  Complaints followed but the argument was that the Orkney men were cheaper.  Racism would become completely entrenched in the HBC system this decade, with no opposition and Governor SIMPSON wrote, even the Half-Breeds of the Country who have been educated in Canada are blackguards of the very worst description.  This systemic discrimination would invade most business and Government Institutions.  The Company policy is not to employ Natural Canadians in any supervisory position.  I suspect the SAYERs, as hard Nor'Westers, were not much favoured by the take-over and were reduced, at least in the first few years, to labourers’ or boat-men, if employed at all.


Chippewa Treaty of 1826:To Henry SAYER and John SAYER, sons of OBEMAU UNOQUA, each granted one section (in the area of Sault Ste. Marie and St. Mary's river).


A JOHN SAYER (perhaps John Charles) appears on a Montreal Jury List 1832-35 H1758. In 1835-36 there is some evidence (Hargrave correspondence) that John Charles was at the Oxford House, an HBC post approximately half way between York Factory and Norway House on the route taken by York Boats on the Hayes River, Manitoba


John Charles SAYER died on Sep 23, 1838 at Lapointe (WI).


Please post comments & queries about this family at this link: FORUM DISCUSSING JOHN CHARLES SAYER


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


Children re Wayne Jones:
1. c1803 PIERRE GUILLAUME “William” SAYER (m. Josephte FROBISHER)

2. c1810 JAMES SAYER (m1. Margaret “OGABEACHIG”)

3. c1812 GEORGE SAYER (m. Mary Catherine CAPLETTE)

4. 1814 ANNA SAYER
5. 1816 SIMON SAYER (m1. Esther “ASSINATCH”; m2. Elizabeth “KATAK”)

m3. Maria “SAGIMAKWE”)