GRANT, JAMES, fur-trader; b. in the parish of Kirkmichael, Strathavon (Grampian), Scotland; fl. 1777–99.
James Grant was one of the numerous Grants in the Canadian fur trade after 1763; their relationships are obscure and there were even several James Grants. The subject of this biography may have been related to William Grant* of Montreal, who came from the same parish, although their letters do not suggest any family connection.
James Grant’s name first appears among the fur-trading licences for 1777. He was then trading at the Timiskaming posts, which he seems to have taken over from Richard Dobie* that year. He apparently maintained his interests in the Timiskaming and Rivière Dumoine (Que.) areas for the next 18 years, in partnership with John Porteous until 1783, Daniel Sutherland* until 1786, Richard Dobie until 1791, and Grant, Campion and Company (of which William Grant was senior partner) until 1795. Before 1787 he was also concerned in the Michilimackinac and Illinois trade, sending canoes to Michilimackinac with George McBeath* in 1783 and Daniel Sutherland in 1785 and 1786. McBeath seems to have had an interest in the Timiskaming posts as well.
In all these ventures James Grant was apparently the wintering partner, although just how he divided his time is not clear. In 1783 he may have been at Cahokia (East St Louis, Ill.), but from 1787 until 1793 he wintered at Fort Timiskaming (near Ville-Marie, Que.). By 1793 he was suffering from leg trouble (the symptoms suggest ulcers) and he did not return to the fort that autumn, although he visited the district in the summers of 1794 and 1795. In December 1795, however, McTavish, Frobisher and Company bought the Timiskaming posts for the North West Company and Grant retired.
As early as 1787 Grant was in financial straits. Although he seems to have been an excellent trader, at home in the woods and with the Indians, affable and kindly in disposition, he apparently lacked the managerial qualities necessary for an increasingly complex and competitive trade. It was presumably this defect, combined with advancing age and physical disabilities, that prompted Simon McTavish* to retire him.
The last years of Grant’s life are as elusive as the early ones. According to Dobie, McTavish (“a liberal hearted man as ever existed”) offered him an annuity of £100 on his retirement. In May 1797 Samuel Gerrard*, formerly of Grant, Campion and Company, thought him “as great a Bear as ever,” who “certainly deserves well of the fair Sex whose Service he faithfully adheres to.” A year later Grant was living in Montreal, although Gerrard did not know “whether a NoWest or Tg [Timiskaming] Partner, I imagine neither, but the humble Servant of both.” In March 1799 Grant refused to sign the annuity papers, declaring that the sum was to be paid in sterling, not Halifax currency, but McTavish, Frobisher and Company declined to aster it. No record of Grant’s death has been found.
ANQ-M, Greffe de J. G. Beek, 28, 30 mars 1787. HBC Arch. F.3/1, f.314. Private archives, E. A. Mitchell (Toronto), Cameron family papers, letters of James Grant to Æneas Cameron (mfm. at PAO). Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace), 450. W. S. Wallace, The pedlars from Quebec and other papers on the Nor’Westers (Toronto, 1954).