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b. 24 Feb. 1853 in Halifax


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McDOUGALL, DUNCAN, fur trader; b. probably in Scotland, son of Duncan McDougall, a lieutenant in the 84th Foot, and his wife, – Shaw; d. 25 Oct. 1818 at Fort Bas-de-la-Rivière (Fort Alexander, Man.).

Duncan McDougall’s parents died when he was a boy, and it was presumably through his uncles Angus Shaw* and Alexander McDougall*, both partners in the North West Company, that he entered the firm as a clerk, probably in 1801. In the spring of 1803 Simon McTavish, the NWC’s leading partner, decided to challenge the Hudson’s Bay Company on its own ground, and Duncan McDougall took part in the scheme. A 150-ton schooner sailed to Hudson Bay to meet an overland party from Montreal. While John George McTavish* built Fort St Andrews on Charlton Island in James Bay that summer, McDougall set up a post on what became known as the Fort George River (Grande Rivière, Que.), helped by one John Hester, evidently a native descendant of James Hester, HBC officer at Fort Albany (Ont.) in the 1760s. McDougall’s trade that winter was poor, however, owing to opposition from George Atkinson* (Sneppy), a native-born HBC man with strong Indian ties.

In the summer of 1804 McDougall began building winter quarters at the mouth of Great Whale River (Grande Rivière de la Baleine, Que.), but he was apparently recalled to Charlton Island before the house was finished. He was probably in charge of the Nor’Westers on the Fort George River in 1804–5; certainly he was there in 1805–6 as a rival to HBC men Atkinson and Thomas Alder, who complained of the Nor’Westers’ threats and violence. Neither company gained from the rivalry, and in mid 1806 the Nor’Westers burned their house and departed. In February 1807 HBC officer George Gladman noted that they had “entirely evacuated the Bay.” McDougall left behind two children, George and Anne, whom Gladman listed in the Eastmain post register on 21 Aug. 1808 along with their mother, Nancy Hesther.

McDougall is next on record as one of the ex-Nor’Westers who founded Astoria (Oreg.) on the Columbia River: On 10 March 1810 John Jacob Astor enlisted him, Alexander MacKay, and Donald McKenzie*, among others, as partners in the Pacific Fur Company and on 6 September McDougall sailed from New York City on the Tonquin (Capt. Jonathan Thorn) as Astor’s proxy, reaching the Columbia in late March 1811. He oversaw the building of Fort Astoria that spring, and the sending inland of several trading and exploring expeditions. On 15 July 1811 an NWC party led by David Thompson* arrived for a brief visit. Finding an American post in a region they had hoped to control, the Nor’Westers agreed not to encroach on its trade if the Astorians confined themselves to the west side of the Rocky Mountains.

The position of the Pacific Fur Company proved less secure, however, than the traders of either firm then realized. Only later did news reach McDougall of the loss of the Tonquin and its men, including partner Alexander MacKay, in a conflict with Indians in Clayoquot Sound (B.C.). On 18 Jan. 1812 the Astorians were cheered by the arrival of their colleagues Donald McKenzie and Robert McClellan (McLellan) after an arduous overland journey from St Louis (Mo.), and on 15 February another party of overlanders arrived. Prospects were discouraging, nevertheless, because of supply shortages, illness, and other problems; and McClellan and Ramsay Crooks*, who had been recruited from Missouri River trading ventures, resigned their shares. Then, although Astor’s ship, the Beaver, arrived safely at the post from New York in May 1812, her planned return visit later that year was aborted because of damage suffered during her travel to Russian posts in Alaska.

On 13 Jan. 1813 Donald McKenzie arrived at Astoria from inland, having learned from Nor’Wester John George McTavish that Great Britain and the United States were at war and that a British warship was being sent to the Columbia that spring to block the American trade. McTavish himself arrived at Astoria in September, confirming the news to his old James Bay associate and setting up a large encampment of Nor’Westers near the fort. McDougall, who expected an armed challenge to the American presence and who also, by some accounts, had improper sympathies with his former North West colleagues, commenced bargaining to sell Astoria. On 16 Oct. 1813 an agreement was signed that gave possession of the fort to the Nor’Westers; and on 30 November the Racoon arrived to support British claims. The post was renamed Fort George, and on Christmas Day McDougall accepted his own reinstatement in the NWC.

In the mean time, he had cemented trade ties with the local Chinook chief Comcomly by marrying his daughter on 20 July 1813. Alexander Henry recorded that the transactions associated with the marriage were spread over a considerable period; on 26 April 1814 McDougall paid Comcomly the last of a bride-price of “15 guns and 15 blankets, besides a great deal of other property, as the total cost of this precious lady.”

McDougall became a partner in the NWC in 1816. He remained at Fort George until 16 April 1817, when he left to journey east with Angus Bethune*, Ross Cox*, and others. Upon reaching Fort William (Thunder Bay, Ont.), he agreed to take charge of the Winnipeg River district and travelled there in August. He “died a miserable death,” cause unrecorded, at Bas-de-la-Rivière on 25 Oct. 1818.

McDougall’s will of 28 March 1817 offered a spirited defence of the most questionable phase of his career, his conduct at Fort Astoria in 1813. Leaving all his papers to Alexander McDougall, he affirmed they would show “that I did every thing in my power to do the utmost justice to the trust and confidence reposed in me by John Jacob Astor . . . agreeable to, and in conformity with, the Resolves of the Company passed and signed by my late Associates and myself,” and that they would demonstrate “how much and how unjustly my character and reputation has suffered and been injured by the malicious and ungenerous conduct of some of my late Associates in the late Pacific Fur Company.” Other legatees included two sisters, his maternal aunt and her daughters, and “my reputed or rather adopted son George McDougall.” A codicil of 15 Oct. 1818 added, “Should there be any means of aiding my little Daughter in James Bay I should feel happy.”

Jennifer S. H. Brown

[The author wishes to thank Elaine A. Mitchell for information leading to the use of McDougall’s will.  j.s.h.b.]

ANQ-M, CM1, Duncan McDougall, 26 Sept. 1820; CN1-29, 29 May 1801. AO, MU 842, George Nelson, Tête au Brochet diary, 16 Dec. 1818. PAM, HBCA, A.1/43: f.156; B.59/z/1: 92. PCA, St Gabriel Street Church (Montreal), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 28 Oct. 1812 (mfm. at AO). Les bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest (Masson), vol.1. Gabriel Franchère, Journal of a voyage on the north west coast of North America during the years 1811, 1812, 1813 and 1814, trans. W. T. Lamb, ed. and intro. W. K. Lamb (Toronto, 1969). Washington Irving, Astoria, or anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains, ed. E. W. Todd (new ed., Norman, Okla., 1964). New light on early hist. of greater northwest (Coues), vol.2. Northern Quebec and Labrador journals and correspondence, 1819–35, ed. K. G. Davies and A. M. Johnson (London, 1963). Ross Cox, Adventures on the Columbia River, including the narrative of a residence of six years on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, among various tribes of Indians hitherto unknown: together with a journey across the American continent (New York, 1832). E. A. Mitchell, Fort Timiskaming and the fur trade (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1977). J. U. Terrell, Furs by Astor (New York, 1963).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jennifer S. H. Brown, “McDOUGALL, DUNCAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdougall_duncan_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/mcdougall_duncan_5E.html
Author of Article:   Jennifer S. H. Brown
Title of Article:   McDOUGALL, DUNCAN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   February 24, 2024