FINLAY, JACQUES-RAPHAËL (often referred to as Jaco Finlay), fur trader, guide, and interpreter; b. c. 1768, perhaps at Finlay’s House (near Neepawin, Sask.), son of James Finlay and a Saulteaux; d. May 1828 at Spokane House (near Spokane, Wash.).
Jacques-Raphaël Finlay’s father was a native of Scotland who wintered in the Indian country as a fur trader as early as 1766. Jaco had entered the service of the North West Company by 1798; in 1804 he was commissioned clerk for the newly reorganized company [see William McGillivray]. Two years later he was in charge of an outpost of Rocky Mountain House (Alta) on the Kootenay Plains. He became associated with explorer David Thompson*, who was searching for a suitable pass by which the NWC could traverse the Rockies in order to reach the Columbia River watershed. In 1806 Finlay crossed the pass later named after Joseph Howse* and he cut out a trail and built a canoe for Thompson the following year. Thompson crossed the pass in 1807 but found the trail virtually useless since it was too narrow for his loaded packhorses. The canoe, cached on the banks of the Columbia River near the mouth of the Blaeberry River (B.C.), was found to have been damaged. Finlay does not appear to have been with Thompson at this time, or when Thompson built Kootenae House near Lake Windermere, but he was hunting and trapping in the vicinity, possibly as a free trader.
By 1809 Finlay had penetrated to the Flathead River country of present-day northwestern Montana and northern Idaho and had commenced trading with the Flatheads. He acted as guide for Thompson when the explorer built Kullyspell House (Idaho) on Pend’Oreille Lake that October. The following year Thompson, on his return to Kootenae House, engaged Finlay as clerk and interpreter. Finlay appears to have been an excellent guide and interpreter and is described by Thompson as “a fine half breed.” In the summer of 1810 Finlay, possibly with the assistance of Finan McDonald, built Spokane House at the junction of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers. In 1819 he participated in the Snake River country expeditions south of the Columbia River, led by Nor’Wester Donald McKenzie*. At the union of the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821 neither his name nor those of his sons appeared on the rolls of the HBC, which would seem to indicate that at that time he was probably a free trader and trapper. In mid October 1824 Finlay, the leader of a group of freemen who were watching the Shuswap (Salish) Indians near Jasper House (Alta) in order to intercept their furs before they reached the HBC posts, encountered George Simpson*, governor of the HBC in North America, then on his way to the Columbia district. Simpson deplored the hold the freemen had over the Indians and the fact that, as middlemen, they pushed up the prices of furs. He ordered that no further supplies be granted to freemen such as Finlay unless they stopped trading with the Indians. Perhaps in order to watch Finlay’s activities, but probably also to benefit from his experience, Peter Skene Ogden*, referring to him as Keyachie Finlay, included him among the freemen and HBC servants who left the Flathead Post (Mont.) for the Snake River country in December 1824.
By 1826 the HBC had abandoned Spokane House but Finlay continued to live there. Scottish botanist David Douglas noted on 9 May 1826: “I had for my guides two young men, sons of a Mr. Jacques Raphael Finlay, a Canadian Sauteur, who is at present residing in the abandoned establishment of Spokane, in which direction I was going.” And two days later: “Reached the old establishment at Spokane at eleven o’clock, where I was kindly received by Mr. Finlay.” Finlay had been recommended to him as “a man of extensive information as to the appearance of the country, animals, and so on.” Douglas further noted that Finlay spoke only French, the language of the NWC. He was the father of a large family.
David Douglas, Journal kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America, 1823–1827 . . . (London, 1914; repr. New York, 1959). HBRS, 13 (Rich and Johnson). George Simpson, Fur trade and empire: George Simpson’s journal . . . 1824–25, ed. Frederick Merk (new ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1968). David Thompson, David Thompson’s narrative, 1784–1812, ed. R. [G.] Glover (new ed., Toronto, 1962). Morton, Hist. of Canadian west (Thomas; 1973). J. A. Meyers, “Jacques Raphael Finlay,” Wash. Hist. Quarterly (Seattle), 10 (1919): 163–67.