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SOLOMON (Solomons), WILLIAM, clerk and Indian Department interpreter; b. 28 May 1777 in Montreal, son of Ezekiel Solomon and Elizabeth Dubois; d. in Penetanguishene, Upper Canada, and was buried 27 Jan. 1857.

William Solomon was the fourth child of a German Jewish merchant who had come to New France from Berlin during the Seven Years’ War and acted as a supplier to the British army. Following the conquest, Ezekiel Solomon, one of the first non-French fur traders to penetrate as far as the upper Great Lakes, spent part of each year in the interior and the remainder at Montreal, where William apparently received some education. By the mid 1790s William was working in the interior as an employee of the North West Company, and he evidently lived for some time with his parents on Mackinac Island (Mich.). There he and an Ojibwa girl, Agibicocoua, had an illegitimate daughter, who was baptized on 28 July 1796. In 1797, 1799, and 1800 he fathered three other illegitimate children. Shortly thereafter he appears to have married Marguerite Johnston, who had been born on Mackinac Island. They were to have ten children.

Solomon supported his growing family by working at Michilimackinac, on Mackinac Island, as a clerk for the merchant Joseph Guy and occasionally by doing some interpreting, since he had learned several Indian languages. In 1809 his father died, leaving him land on Mackinac Island and on the mainland at Saint-Ignace (Mich.). Though Mackinac had been turned over by the British to the United States in 1796, in accordance with Jay’s Treaty, Solomon felt no strong loyalty to the Stars and Stripes. After war broke out between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, a force assembled by Captain Charles Roberts* swiftly descended upon Mackinac Island and captured the fort and town for the British on 17 July, the first military action of the war and a source of some satisfaction to Solomon. By February 1814 he had secured a position with the Indian Department as an interpreter at 4s. 6d. per day.

Since the number of British soldiers at Mackinac Island was small, their Indian allies were vital for their survival. When the Americans attempted to recapture the island in 1814, it was the Indians who swung the battle in favour of the British. The Americans never took Mackinac, but under the Treaty of Ghent it was returned to the United States. In July 1815 the British, under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McDouall*, withdrew their forces. The following month they settled on nearby Drummond Island and Solomon and his family accompanied them. Solomon was provided with a government lot on which he built a home for his family and established a small farm. His duties were to make out requisitions for provisions and to order the repair of the Indians’ guns.

Along with Jean-Baptiste Assiginack* and a few others, Solomon was one of the interpreters kept on at Drummond Island as part of the peace-time garrison, which included the Indian Department establishment under the superintendence of William McKay*. Though characterized somewhat harshly by John Askin, an official in the department, in January 1816 as “a sober man” who could not interpret at Indian councils but who “may answer about a post to see an equal distribution of Provisions,” Solomon did in fact interpret at various councils. As well, when the Indians of the Upper Lakes flocked to Drummond Island to receive the presents which the British doled out to ensure their loyalty, Solomon probably participated in distributing the goods. In 1816, when the Indian Department was reduced, he lost his job. He was reinstated, however, on 29 May 1821.

The British were not to remain long on Drummond Island, for when the border between Upper Canada and the United States was surveyed, it was found to be American territory. Once again the garrison, including Solomon, David Mitchell*, and other Indian Department officials, was forced to move, this time to Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay, where a British naval establishment had already been located. In late 1828 a brig was chartered to move the forces, but when it proved too small Solomon was instructed to charter a schooner as well. He did not accompany it, however, since he had been ordered to spend the winter at St Joseph Island, where he had lived briefly in 1825, in order to inform the Indians about the British move. In all, the families of between 75 and 100 soldiers, voyageurs, and small traders came from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene, which Lewis Solomon, a son, described as “then mostly a cedar swamp, with a few Indian wigwams and fishing shanties.”

In 1829 Solomon and his family finally moved to Penetanguishene, although his livestock and implements were lost in a shipwreck on 12 July of that year. He built a home near by, on lot 105, and continued to work as an interpreter. In 1837 he attended, along with Thomas Gummersall Anderson*, Samuel Peters Jarvis, Jean-Baptiste Assiginack, and others, a major Indian conference on Manitoulin Island, which was graphically described by Anna Brownell Jameson [Murphy] in her account of travels in Upper Canada. On a longer trip, made in the early 1840s for the distribution of presents, he served as interpreter for a party that included Lord Morpeth, Lord Lennox, Jarvis, and 56 voyageurs from Penetanguishene; they visited Manitoulin, Sault Ste Marie, and Detroit.

Solomon received his discharge on 30 June 1845 and retired on a pension of 75 cents a day, according to his son Lewis. William afterwards moved into town, where he died and was buried in the cemetery of St Anne’s Church. Surviving him were a large family and his second wife, Josephine Légris, whom he had married late in life.

David Arthur Armour

ANQ-M, CE1-63, 23 juill. 1769, 18 juin 1777. Arch. paroissiales, Ste-Anne-de-Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.), reg. de baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 1695–1821. Bayliss Public Library, Steere Special Coll. Room (Sault Ste Marie, Mich.), Port Mackinac, records, 1, 20, 22 Oct. 1818; 29 Sept. 1827. Detroit Public Library, Burton Hist. Coll., American Fur Company, day book, 1804–5; ledger, 1803–6; James Henry, Mackinac Store journal, 1802–4; Robert McDouall, orderly book, Drummond Island, 1815–16. Mackinac County Court House (St Ignace, Mich.), Reg. of the post of Michilimackinac, begun 1 June 1785. PAC, RG 1, L3, 465: S 16/45; RG 10, A2, 22, 28–32; A4, 49; 52; 509: 201; A5, 268. St Ann’s Roman Catholic Church (Penetanguishene, Ont.), Reg. of burials, 26 Jan. 1857. Stuart House Museum of Astor Fur Post (Mackinac Island), American Fur Company, letter-book, 11 July 1820, 8 Sept. 1822, 22 Sept. 1824. Joseph Delafield, The unfortified boundary: a diary of the first survey of the Canadian boundary line from StRegis to the Lake of the Woods, ed. Robert McElroy and Thomas Riggs (New York, 1943), 318–21, 461. The John Askin papers, ed. M. M. Quaife (2v., Detroit, 1928–31), 2: 525. Mich. Pioneer Coll. (Lansing), 16 (1890), 23 (1893). Murphy, Winter studies and summer rambles (Talman and McMurray; 1943), 249, 256, 267. U.S., Congress, American state papers . . . in relation to the public lands . . . , ed. Walter Lowrie (5v., Washington, 1834), 4: 810, 819–20, 826–27. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 9 (1882): 202; 18 (1908): 501; 19 (1910): 104–5, 110, 120. “List of the Drummond Island voyageurs,” OH, 3 (1901): 149–66. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 211, 214. Leonard Bacon, Sketch of the RevDavid Bacon (Boston, 1876), 53. E. J. and E. L. Bayliss, Historic StJoseph Island (Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1938), 78, 144–45; River of destiny, the Saint Marys (Detroit, 1955), 135, 318. S. F. Cook, Drummond Island; the story of the British occupation, 1815–1828 (Lansing, 1896). B. F. Emery, Post cemetery, Drummond, Fort Collyer, 1815–1828 (Detroit, 1931), 5–6; The story of fort Drummond (Fort Collyer), the last British stronghold in Michigan, 1815–1828 (Detroit, n.d.), 16–17. I. I. Katz, “Ezekiel Solomon: the first Jew in Michigan,” Mich. Hist. (Lansing), 32 (1948): 247–56. A. C. Osborne, “The migration of voyageurs from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene in 1828,” OH, 3: 123–49.

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Cite This Article

David Arthur Armour, “SOLOMON, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/solomon_william_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/solomon_william_8E.html
Author of Article: David Arthur Armour
Title of Article: SOLOMON, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: September 22, 2014