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GRANT, WILLIAM, fur trader, merchant, and office holder; b. 1743 in Kirkmichael, Scotland, son of John Grant and Genevieve Forbes; m. 27 Feb. 1787 Marguerite Fafard, dit Laframboise, in Trois-Rivières, Que., and they had five children; d. 20 Nov. 1810 near William Henry (Sorel), Lower Canada.

William Grant, usually known as William Grant “of Three Rivers” to distinguish him from William Grant of Saint-Roch and from at least two other contemporaries of the same name, came from a large family which had many members active in the fur trade during the early decades of British rule. He arrived in the province of Quebec soon after the conquest. In 1767 he was a resident of Montreal and was already involved in the fur trade as a merchant. He pursued this career for almost 20 years, on his own as well as with associates, in the region southwest of Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) and in the vicinity of lakes Superior and Nipigon. His public life does not seem to have had the same importance; his only appointment appears to have been as justice of the peace for the District of Three Rivers in 1792.

In 1767 Grant and Richard Dobie were sent the proposals of the merchants of Michilimackinac concerning the reorganization of the fur trade in order that they might be examined and then forwarded to London, England. For the next ten years nothing is known of Grant’s activities. In 1777 he stood surety for Ezekiel Solomons when the latter dispatched a canoe with £250 worth of merchandise to Michilimackinac. The next year he and Solomons were issued two permits allowing them to send five canoes bearing goods valued at £1,650 to Lake Nipigon; Grant himself wintered at Michilimackinac. Prior to 1777 he was also in business with John Grant, Dobie’s son-in-law; the arrangements governing the partnership, which was dissolved in 1780, are unknown.

During the 1780s Grant continued to be active in the fur trade. He regularly obtained permits and often wintered in the pays den haut. He was particularly interested in the region around Lake Superior, to which he sent a canoe loaded with £50 of goods in 1780, and in the hinterland of Michilimackinac, to which he forwarded four canoes and a cargo worth £2,000 in 1781, four canoes bearing £3,500 of goods the next year, and five canoes valued at £5,000 in 1783. In 1782 he had formed an association with Gabriel Cotté* to trade at the posts on Lake Nipigon and on the Pic River (Ont.). The partners agreed to supply trade goods and share profits on an equal basis. In 1785 Alexander Shaw, who had been in the employ of Grant and Cotté, entered the partnership and the three men agreed to divide profits and losses equally. The arrangement seems to have lasted only one year.

From 1780 to 1786 William Grant rarely stood surety for other traders; he posted a single bond in 1782. He was then working with Dobie who played an important role in Grant’s career during these years. Dobie was usually one of the financial backers for Grant’s expeditions and he acted as outfitter for the partnerships Grant formed with Cotté and with Shaw. In the late 1780s Grant obtained numerous trade permits for Michilimackinac (by then located on Mackinac Island, Mich.). He forwarded four canoes with £2,800 of trade goods in 1786, two canoes valued at £450 the following year, and a single canoe worth £200 in 1788; he is known to have wintered there in 1786 and 1790. During the same period, he seems to have taken a more active interest in the commercial aspect of the trade; he collaborated with Dobie in outfitting a whole network of fur traders and he acted as a bondsman with him. Their informal association ended in 1788 when Dobie entered into partnership with Francis Badgley*.

This experience, and his professional and social ties with Dobie, were to prove extremely useful to Grant during the final phase of his career in the fur trade. In 1791 he joined with Étienne-Charles Campion*, a Michilimackinac trader, and Samuel Gerrard*, a Montreal merchant and Dobie’s relative by marriage, in establishing the firm of Grant, Campion and Company, which was destined to play an important role in the trade southwest of the Great Lakes and in the Timiskaming region. Grant was responsible for overseeing the firm’s general operations while Campion handled the trade “with the Indians in the pays d’en haut” and Gerrard kept the books. Grant and Campion each received three-eighths of the profits while Gerrard took the remaining quarter.

The company seems to have taken over the fur-trading network previously supplied by Dobie. It provided trade goods to various Michilimackinac merchants as well as to traders throughout the region extending from Lake Superior to the Mississippi. It hired voyageurs, paid their wages, and sold the furs consigned to it, in either Montreal or England. The firm was also directly involved in the fur trade at Michilimackinac, where Campion was very active, and in the Timiskaming region where it seems to have held exclusive trading privileges and was represented by Charles Phillips.

Grant, Campion and Company was one of the most important firms engaged in the fur trade to the southwest of Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.), Michilimackinac, and Detroit (Mich.) in the early 1790s. With Todd, McGill and Company, Forsyth, Richardson and Company, and Alexander Henry*, the firm entered into negotiations with the North West Company concerning the allocation of trading zones, and in September 1792 the parties agreed not to prejudice one another’s interests. The distribution of shares in the NWC was then modified, with Grant, Campion and Company receiving one of them. However, in November 1794 Grant decided to wind up the affairs of the firm in November of the following year. In a long letter to Simon McTavish, he explained that the precarious state of the fur trade in the area southwest of the Great Lakes, along with violent stomach pains and problems with his eyesight which made writing extremely difficult, had rendered him less and less able to conduct any kind of business. His decision seems also to have been influenced by the knowledge that Britain might soon be compelled to surrender the southwest posts. The partnership was thus dissolved in November 1795. Campion died soon after and Grant’s involvement in the fur trade ended.

William Grant had also engaged in wholesale and retail trading of products imported from Great Britain. He carried on this business first in Trois-Rivières, where he had married in 1787, acquired property in 1788, and brought up his family. While he was active in Grant, Campion and Company, he had a partner based at Trois-Rivières, James Mackenzie, whom he supplied with imported merchandise for the local market; the firm of James Mackenzie and Company was dissolved on 1 Oct. 1796. Grant soon chose a new associate, Claude Laframboise, with whom he remained in partnership until 1800, doing business under the name of William Grant and Company in Trois-Rivières and Grant and Laframboise in Montreal. Grant left Trois-Rivières and in 1801 settled with his family in Nicolet, which was the home of his wife’s brother-in-law, Pierre-Michel Cressé, the local seigneur. He apparently continued to be interested in commerce and spent some years in William Henry before his death. It is possible that his many moves reflected financial difficulties. He seems to have left a very modest estate; following his death, the sale of his effects raised only 2,657 livres.

William Grant was a prominent figure in the history of the fur trade in the 18th century. As both trader and merchant, he contributed to the prosperity and growth of the region southwest of the Great Lakes; he withdrew from the trade on the eve of the surrender of that region’s posts to the Americans following the signing of Jay’s Treaty in 1794. He played an important role in the growing concentration of the fur trade in this area and in the emergence of an opposition to the NWC.

Joanne Burgess

ANQ-M, CN1-29, 10 nov. 1791; CN1-185, 14 janv., 6 févr. 1800; CN1-290, 13 août 1777, 19 avril 1785, 12 avril 1786. PAC, MG 24, L3: 2540–41, 6615, 6643–44, 6651–52, 6765–66, 26285; RG 4, B28, 115: 2248, 2269, 2269A, 2283, 2303, 2312, 2321, 2321A, 2332, 2340, 2343. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Quebec Gazette, 10 Aug. 1780, 31 May 1787, 4 Dec. 1788, 10 Dec. 1795, 13 March 1800. Quebec almanac, 1792–1803. M. W. Campbell, NWC (1973), 92–96. Davidson, NWC, 14. E. E. Rich, The fur trade and the northwest to 1857 (Toronto, 1967), 189–90. W. S. Wallace, “Strathspey in the Canadian fur-trade,” Essays in Canadian history presented to George MacKinnon Wrong for his eightieth birthday, ed. Ralph Flenley (Toronto, 1939), 278–95. Raymond Douville, “Un William Grant trifluvien,” BRH, 47 (1941): 362–65. W. E. Stevens, “The organization of the British fur trade,” Mississippi Valley Hist. Rev. ([Cedar Rapids, Ind.]), 3 (1916–17): 172–202.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Joanne Burgess, “GRANT, WILLIAM (1743-1810),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grant_william_1743_1810_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grant_william_1743_1810_5E.html
Author of Article: Joanne Burgess
Title of Article: GRANT, WILLIAM (1743-1810)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: July 28, 2014