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DUCHARME, JEAN-MARIE, fur trader and politician; b. 19 July 1723 in Lachine (Que.), son of Joseph Ducharme and Thérèse Trottier; m. there first 3 Aug. 1761 Marie-Angélique Roy, dit Portelance; m. there secondly 3 Feb. 1789 Françoise Demers, dit Dumé; d. there 20 July 1807.

Jean-Marie Ducharme’s birthplace was the embarkation point of canoes bound for the west, and his father was a farmer who engaged in the fur trade. It is not certain when Jean-Marie entered the trade himself but by the 1750s he was described as a “skilful voyageur.” The first official record of his business activities dates from 1752, when he sent a canoe of merchandise to the Illinois country; however, as his subsequent career reveals, he had little regard for formalities such as permits, and he may already have been involved for some time. When traders from Pennsylvania moved into the Ohio valley, Governor Ange Duquesne* de Menneville of New France launched a military expedition to occupy the upper reaches of the river. Ducharme assisted Claude-Pierre Pécaudy* de Contrecœur’s forces as a courier in 1754 and helped construct Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pa) in 1755. During the fall of 1755 he supervised a group of men bringing supplies to the fort from the Illinois country. Later Ducharme resumed his trade, sending a canoe to the Illinois in 1757.

By the winter of 1762–63, Ducharme had shifted his operations to the vicinity of La Baye (Green Bay, Wis.) and accommodated himself to the British merchants who had moved into the region following the conquest of New France. When an Indian uprising erupted in the Great Lakes area in 1763 [see Madjeckewiss], the British military immediately prohibited the transporting of gunpowder and ammunition into the interior. Ducharme, willing to defy the law for profit, took several canoes of ammunition up the Ottawa River route to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) and La Baye in August. Stories were being circulated among the Indians of the region that France had sent its forces to reconquer Canada, and Ducharme tried to counter such rumours. British merchants in Montreal were enraged, however, by his profitable journey. In October 1764, on his return to Lachine, they petitioned Lieutenant Governor Ralph Burton* to have him arrested. Slipping by a detachment of soldiers sent to apprehend him, Ducharme fled. The soldiers seized his furs, hidden in a neighbour’s cellar, and found his four canoes in an orchard. Some time later he was apprehended, convicted, and imprisoned in Montreal, but through the intervention of Governor Murray* he was given a relatively mild punishment. Years later, Ducharme’s exploit still rankled with Indian Department official Christian Daniel Claus*.

When peace came back to the Great Lakes, Ducharme once again turned to the Illinois country, as trade licences of 1769 and 1772 indicate. He centred his trade in Cahokia (Ill.), but westward across the Mississippi were rich lands controlled by the Spaniards, who excluded traders of other nations. Tempted by the potential of commerce with the Little Osages along the Missouri River, Ducharme took two canoe-loads of merchandise into the territory under cover of darkness in October or November 1772. When Spanish authorities at St Louis (Mo.) learned of his presence, they were appalled. The Little Osages had given them particular trouble and all trade had been prohibited. A Spanish detachment under the command of Pierre de Laclède Liguest was sent out in February 1773 to apprehend the intruders. It encountered them on 11 March and tried to get them to surrender peacefully. Refusing, Ducharme provoked an exchange of gunfire in which he was wounded in the thigh. He returned the fire and then fled with his Iroquois servant. His crew surrendered, and his canoes, furs, and merchandise were confiscated and taken to St Louis. Word of the affair sped eastward where it was much talked about.

Ducharme himself returned to Montreal and, undaunted by his adventure, obtained a licence on 13 May 1773 to trade at La Baye or the Mississippi. For the next two years he continued in business, purchasing most of his supplies from Jean-Louis Besnard*, dit Carignant, in Montreal.

The outbreak of the American revolution did not at first hinder trade. However, while Ducharme was spending the winter of 1775–76 with his family at Lachine, Richard Montgomery*’s army captured Montreal. Ducharme remained neutral, but he did sell the Americans supplies. Though he later helped expel the invaders, British authorities put him in jail for having furnished them with food.

By 1777 Ducharme was once again active in the Indian trade and the following year took two canoes to Prairie du Chien (Wis.). At this time he probably had another clash with the Spanish authorities. His son Paul recalled that Jean-Marie was imprisoned by the Spaniards during 1778 or 1779 and threatened with execution. Only by proving he had ransomed Spanish captives from the Indians did he obtain his release. In 1779 the American success against Henry Hamilton*’s forces at Vincennes (Ind.) caused grave uncertainty among the traders at Michilimackinac. Consequently 32 of them, including Ducharme’s cousin Laurent*, pooled their resources on 1 July 1779 in a general store to be managed for the common good. Jean-Marie Ducharme was one of the largest partners, contributing two canoe-loads valued at 30,000 livres in all. He was also appointed one of the enterprise’s managers. At that time his place of residence was listed as “the Mississippi.”

During the winter of 1779–80 Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair of Michilimackinac received a circular letter from the secretary of state for the American Colonies encouraging him to take offensive action against the Spaniards. Spain had recently declared war against Britain, and by promising a monopoly to traders who helped capture Spanish territory along the Mississippi Sinclair raised an expedition of traders and Indians to attack St Louis. Ducharme became one of the leaders. While Joseph Calvé led a force against St Louis, Ducharme’s group crossed the river and attacked Cahokia, which had surrendered to the Americans in 1778. Though he knew the village intimately, Ducharme’s attack was repulsed, as was the assault on St Louis. Sinclair was infuriated by the expedition’s failure and accused Calvé and Ducharme of treachery. Ducharme was particularly castigated for letting two French prisoners escape. Governor Haldimand gave Sinclair permission to arrest him and send him to Montreal, but the quick-tempered Scot must have calmed down and realized that his charges could not be proved. A couple of years later Ducharme had another encounter with Sinclair, who accused him of trading without a licence and assessed a fine of 22,500 pounds of hay.

Some time after this incident the old trader apparently retired to his farm at Lachine. White-haired and nearly blind, he still walked erect and was active enough to serve Montreal in the House of Assembly from 1796 to 1800. He died at Lachine the day after his 84th birthday. Several sons survived him, including Dominique*, who gained distinction during the War of 1812.

David A. Armour

Clements Library, Thomas Gage papers, American ser., 25: “Summary of Jean Marie DuCharme affairs,” 12 Aug. 1764, in Burton to Gage, 11 Oct. 1764. DPL, Burton Hist. Coll., Thomas Williams papers, petty ledger, 1775–79, Pond and Williams account, 19 July 1774. Soc. d’archiologie et de numismatique de Montréal, 31: “Invoice of two canoes sent to Mr. Jn. Mie. Ducharme for Michilimackinac” (mfm. at PAC). Wis., State Hist. Soc., Abstracts of Indian trade licences in Canadian arch., Ottawa, 1767–76, and consolidated returns of trade licences, 1777, 1779 (transcripts). [L. C. Draper], “Interview of L. C. Draper with Pascal Leon Cerré, St Louis, Oct. 1846,” Mo. Hist. Soc., Coll. (St Louis), 2 (1900–6), no.6: 51–54. “Ducharme’s invasion of Missouri, an incident in the Anglo-Spanish rivalry for the Indian trade of upper Louisiana,” ed. A. P. Nasatir, MoHist. Rev. (Columbia), 24 (1929–30): 3–25, 238–60, 420–39. Mich. Pioneer Coll., 9 (1886): 559–60, 568, 586, 650, 658; 10 (1886): 254, 305–7, 442–43, 585; 19 (1891): 303, 305, 529–30; 27 (1896): 668–69. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), 10: 407. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), 4: 511, 516, 540; 5: 377–80; 8: 841; 12: 1027–28; 13: 622. Papiers Contrecœur et autres documents concernant le conflit anglo français sur lOhio de 1745 à 1756, Fernand Grenier, édit. (Québec, 1952), 209, 215, 303, 370, 372–73. [Wilson] Primm, “History of St. Louis,” The early histories of StLouis, ed. J. F. McDermott (St Louis, 1952), 119–20. “Spain in the Mississippi valley, 1765–1794: I, the revolutionary period, 1765–1781,” ed. Lawrence Kinnaird, American Hist. Assoc., Annual report (Washington), 1945, 2: xxiv, 214–18. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1857): 231–34; 11 (1888): 99; 18 (1908): 161–62, 358–59; 19 (1910): 293. Catalogue de la collection François-Louis-Georges Baby, Camille Bertrand, compil. (2v., Montréal, 1971), 1: 420, 543. Dictionnaire national des Canadiens français (1608–1760) (3v., Montréal, 1958), 1: 437. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’Ouest,” ANQ Rapport, 1930–31: 439; 1931–32: 348. Joseph Tassé, Les Canadiens de lOuest (2v., Montréal, 1878), 1: 341–50. The Spanish in the Mississippi valley, 1762–1804, ed. J. F. McDermott (Urbana, Ill., 1974). F.-J. Audet, “Jean-Marie Ducharme (1723–1807),” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 33 (1939), sect.i: 19–29. A. P. Nasatir, “The Anglo-Spanish frontier in the Illinois country during the American revolution, 1779–1783,” Ill. State Hist. Soc., Journal (Springfield), 21 (1928–29): 291–358. Don Rickey, “The British-Indian attack on St. Louis, May 26, 1780,” MoHist. Rev., 55 (1960–61): 35–45.

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Cite This Article

David A. Armour, “DUCHARME, JEAN-MARIE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ducharme_jean_marie_5E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ducharme_jean_marie_5E.html
Author of Article:   David A. Armour
Title of Article:   DUCHARME, JEAN-MARIE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   December 4, 2023