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McLEOD, JOHN, fur trader; b. 1788 in Stornoway, Scotland; d. 24 July 1849 in Montreal.

John McLeod entered the Hudson’s Bay Company in Scotland as a writer (clerk) in 1811, the early part of his career being very much connected with the fledgling Red River colony (Man.) founded by Lord Selkirk [Douglas*]. He helped to recruit men in the Hebrides before sailing in July as part of the advance party for the settlement. Forced to winter at York Factory (Man.), McLeod, travelling with Governor Miles Macdonell*, did not reach Red River until the summer of 1812. For the next few years he was active in establishing posts in the southern part of present-day Manitoba, including Turtle River (1812–13) and Portage la Prairie (1813–14), but he spent every summer at the slowly growing colony. Having been given charge of the HBC’s operations at Red River in 1814–15, he tried to defend the colony from attack by Nor’Westers and Métis in June 1815. Although it was virtually disbanded, he and three others stayed, salvaging what they could. Later that summer, McLeod strengthened the company’s fort at Point Douglas (Winnipeg) and worked with Colin Robertson to re-establish the settlement. Then, after wintering at a post several hundred miles to the west, McLeod went to the HBC establishment at Pembina (N.Dak.), where he assisted in a raid on the North West Company’s post led by Robert Semple*, the new governor of the Red River colony. McLeod did not witness the further destruction of the Red River settlement in June 1816, however, because he was conducting several Nor’Westers prisoner to Norway House (Man.)

In 1816–17 he was given charge of the English River district, at Île-à-la Crosse (Sask.). There he met such strong opposition from the Nor’Westers, led by Samuel Black, that by April he was forced to seek refuge at Fort Carlton. Later that season McLeod was arrested by the Nor’Westers for his participation in the confiscation of their property at Pembina. He went to Montreal in the summer of 1817 to stand trial and help defend Lord Selkirk’s interests. The case against him being dismissed, McLeod returned to Red River in 1818 in charge of a large brigade, which included a group of French Canadian settlers and the first Roman Catholic missionaries, Sévère Dumoulin* and Joseph-Norbert Provencher*. The ensuing season he was again given charge of the English River district. In the spring of 1819, during a visit to Fort Carlton, he married à la façon du pays Charlotte, a daughter of HBC officer John Peter Pruden* and his native wife. McLeod remained in the English River district for several more years, spending a number of winters at Buffalo Lake (Peter Pond Lake, Sask.). He acquitted himself well, being described by Colin Robertson in 1819 as “a brave interested little fellow.” With the union of the HBC and NWC in 1821, he was given the rank of chief trader in the new concern.

McLeod spent the next season at Green Lake, south of Île-à-la-Crosse, where his first son, Malcolm, was born. In the fall of 1822 he took his wife and two small children across the Rocky Mountains, having been given charge of the Thompson River district, with headquarters at Thompson’s River Post (Kamloops, B.C.). He contributed to the HBC’s opening up of the lower Fraser, journeying to the river’s mouth in 1823, but his overall management of the district did not impress Governor George Simpson*, who visited the Pacific slope in 1824–25. He found McLeod wasteful, intimidated by the Indians, and preoccupied with family concerns, and he engineered the trader’s removal from the region. Although given a furlough in 1825, McLeod appears to have spent it in the Indian country and did not leave for the east until early in 1826, most of his family having been sent ahead with the fall brigade under Chief Factor James McMillan*. After struggling through deep snows in the Rockies, McLeod and young Malcolm were surprised to find the rest of the family at Jasper House (Alta). They had spent the winter snowed in near the Yellowhead Pass, where in February Charlotte had given birth to a second daughter.

In the summer of 1826 McLeod took charge of Norway House and oversaw the substantial rebuilding of this post. The Anglican missionary David Thomas Jones performed a church marriage there for the McLeods in August 1828. McLeod, who showed considerable concern for the education and welfare of his family, took his two eldest sons to school in Scotland when on furlough in 1830–31. Upon his return he found himself relegated to the comparatively unimportant charge of the Saint-Maurice River district in Lower Canada, with headquarters at Weymontachingue. It is obvious from Simpson’s entry in his “Character book” during this period that in the governor’s opinion McLeod remained a mediocre officer, “well meaning” but “quite a clown in address” and so confused and deficient in talent that he “should consider himself fortunate in his present situation which is more valuable than a man of his abilities could reasonably aspire to in any other part of the World.” Nevertheless, McLeod appears to have managed the trade of the district well, in spite of the encroachments of petty traders. He remained in this charge for the rest of his career, feeling increasingly ill used at the company’s continual denial of a chief factorship. McLeod believed that he deserved such a promotion and needed it because of the expenses he incurred in educating his children. His wife and five minor children (they had three sons and six daughters in all) were left in straitened circumstances when he died suddenly of cholera in 1849, apparently while still in the HBC’s service. Malcolm McLeod, who became a lawyer in Montreal, always felt that his father deserved more recognition for the role he had played in the early history of western Canada. He carefully preserved his father’s papers, which contain an extensive correspondence with fellow traders in Rupert’s Land.

Sylvia Van Kirk

A volume of extracts from John McLeod’s journal, 1811–16, describing the journey from Stornoway and the establishment of the Red River settlement, was compiled and annotated by his son Malcolm. The manuscript is in the John MacLeod papers, PAM, MG 1, D5, and has been published as “Diary, etc., of chief trader, John MacLeod, Senior, of Hudson’s Bay Company, Red River settlement, 1811,” ed. H. G. Gunn, N.Dak., State Hist. Soc., Coll. (Bismarck), 2 (1908): 115–34. McLeod’s original journal has not been located, but an electrostatic copy of it is in his papers at the PAM.

ANQ-M, CE1-130, 25 juill. 1849. PABC, Add. mss 635, box 4, folder 116, John McLeod to Donald Ross, 1 March 1848; 1249, box 2, folders 7, 13, 15; E/E/M22, Malcolm McLeod, Life of John McLeod Sr. PAC, MG 19, A23. PAM, HBCA, A.10/27: 513–13d; D.5/10–42. Univ. of Birmingham Library, Special Coll. (Birmingham, Eng.), Church Missionary Soc. Arch., C, C.1/0, letters and journals of William Cockran. HBRS, 1 (Rich); 2 (Rich and Fleming); 30 (Williams). Ranald MacDonald, Ranald MacDonald, the narrative of his early life on the Columbia under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s regime . . . , ed. W. S. Lewis and Naojiro Murakami (Spokane, Wash., 1923), 100, note 89. George Simpson, Fur trade and empire: George Simpson’s journal . . . , ed. and intro. Frederick Merk (rev. ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1968). [H. G. Gunn], “The MacLeod manuscript,” N.Dak., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 2: 106–14.

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Cite This Article

Sylvia Van Kirk, “McLEOD, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcleod_john_7E.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/mcleod_john_7E.html
Author of Article:   Sylvia Van Kirk
Title of Article:   McLEOD, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   June 16, 2024