BAILLY, JOSEPH (baptized Honoré-Gratien-Joseph Bailly de Messein), fur trader; b. 7 April 1774 in Varennes (Que.), son of Michel Bailly de Messein and Geneviève Aubert de Gaspé; d. 21 Dec. 1835 in Porter County, Ind.
Joseph Bailly’s father descended from the son of a noble French family who became an officer in the colonial regular troops. His father’s brother, Charles-François Bailly* de Messein, became coadjutor bishop of Quebec. His mother, the daughter of Ignace-Philippe Aubert* de Gaspé, seigneur of Port-Joly, also belonged to prominent families.
By late 1796, just over a year after his father’s death, Bailly was involved in the fur trade at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.). During the next few years he developed an impressive trading network, with posts on the Grand River and at St Joseph (Mich.), Kankakee (Ill.), and Wabash (Ind.). In 1802 he and Dominique Rousseau, possessing licences to trade in American territory, sent a canoeload of goods to Grand Portage at the western end of Lake Superior, but their men were thwarted by Duncan McGillivray* of the North West Company, which occupied the fort there. A legal suit against McGillivray, brought before the Court of King’s Bench in Montreal, was decided in favour of Bailly and Rousseau. This judgement may have been responsible for the North West Company’s decision to move farther inland to an area definitely under British control. In the next two decades, using Michilimackinac as his headquarters, Bailly enlarged his trade network, often visiting Montreal and Detroit to purchase supplies.
Early in the War of 1812, Bailly, acting under the orders of Captain Charles Roberts*, transported goods from St Joseph Island (Ont.) to Michilimackinac. In March 1813 he was asked by Robert Dickson, superintendent for the Indians of the western nations, to recruit Indian warriors for the British, a work he later claimed that he had accomplished with success, notably among the Miamis, Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Kickapoos. His efforts eventually attracted the attention of American troops, who plundered his post and detained him for three months before releasing him on parole. The British detachment that Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McDouall* had sent to search for Bailly brought him back to Michilimackinac and then, ironically, requisitioned a large part of his remaining trade goods. Bailly later claimed £978 in compensation for losses incurred in service to the British government, “to which he was attached as much by principle as by birth.” Before the close of the war he commanded a party of Indians in three engagements against the Americans.
Around 1797, at Michilimackinac, Bailly had married, probably according to the custom of the country, Bead-way-way (baptized Angelique), daughter of trader Patrick McGulpin and an Ottawa woman. The couple had at least six children. Bailly and his wife separated before 1810. Family tradition reports that “she was a secret votary of the Spirit of Darkness.” Bailly, a devout Roman Catholic, tried to convert her, without success. Around 1810 he married, according to the custom of the country, Marie Lefevre, daughter of a trader from the River Raisin, Mich., and an Ottawa woman; she had one child from a previous marriage. The couple would have five children. Both of his marriages gave Bailly additional influence and opportunity in his commercial ventures.
Elizabeth Therese Baird, an early settler on Mackinac Island, described Bailly as well educated, “not gentle, not coarse, but noisy . . . an exceptionally good-natured man, fond of entertaining his friends.” In 1822 he moved his family to a post at the southern end of Lake Michigan, on the north side of the Calumet River near present-day Porter, Ind. His post was the only one on the strategic Detroit–Chicago road, an excellent trading location, where he also set up a chapel for the Indians and other travellers. He owned several thousand acres near by and was known for his hospitality and for his friendly family. By the late 1820s he had a second post, at Baton Rouge, La, which he visited for several months each year, sending skins and furs directly to France.
Bailly, his wife, and the children from each of their marriages received considerable money and land in Illinois and Indiana as a result of the Ottawa treaties of the early 1830s. In addition to his trading posts, Bailly was involved in other business affairs. He owned some shares in the steamboat Michigan sailing out of Detroit, and he plotted the town of Bailly near his post on the Calumet River, but it was never developed. After his death his personal estate was evaluated at $2,600. His children were well educated. Alexis, who had been sent to school in Montreal for a few years, became the American Fur Company agent at Mendota (Minn.) and was elected to the first Minnesota territorial legislature; in 1826 he married Lucie-Anne, daughter of fur trader Jean-Baptiste Faribault*. Another son was sent to the Baptist mission at nearby Niles, Mich., and the entire family used the extensive library that Joseph had accumulated, which included works of history, fiction, and poetry.
Joseph Bailly was one of several Canadians descended from prominent families who became important merchants in the western fur trade. He was also the foremost pioneer of northern Indiana.
[Joseph Bailly’s life was the inspiration for Julia Cooley Altrocchi’s interesting novel Wolves against the moon (New York, 1940), but it makes no mention of either his first wife or his son Alexis, and it depicts him as being in a constant struggle with the nasty “Maurice Rastel” [Pierre Rastel* de Rocheblave]. d.c.]
ANQ-M, CE1-10, 7 avril 1774. Chicago Hist. Soc., L. P. Brock, “Joseph Bailly de Messein, born – Quebec, Canada – 1774; died – Bailly Homestead, Indiana – 1835” (1922). Ind. State Library (Indianapolis), Ind. Division, Joseph Bailly ms coll. PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 88: 13–21. “The Mackinac register,” ed. R. G. Thwaites, Wis., State Hist Soc., Coll., 19 (1910): 110–11, 141. U.S., Congress, Indian affairs: laws and treaties, comp. and ed. C. J. Kappler (2v., Washington, 1904), 2: 353, 374, 405–6. G. A. Brennan, The wonders of the dunes (Indianapolis, 1923). F. R. Howe, The story of a French homestead in the old northwest (Columbus, Ohio, 1907). Otho Winger, The Potawatomi Indians (Elgin, Ill., 1939). E. C. Bailly, “The French-Canadian background of a Minnesota pioneer – Alexis Bailly,” BRH, 55 (1949): 137–55; “Genealogy of the Bailly de Messein family in the United States,” BRH, 56 (1950): 180–95; 57 (1951): 27–38, 77–100. “La famille Bailly de Messein,” BRH, 23 (1917): 193–206, 225–39, 257–74. E. T. [Fisher] Baird, “Reminiscences of early days on Mackinac Island,” Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 14 (1898): 17–64.
© 1987–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Donald Chaput, “BAILLY, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bailly_joseph_6E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Donald Chaput|
|Title of Article:||BAILLY, JOSEPH|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||1987|
|Access Date:||March 28, 2023|