SUTHERLAND, GEORGE, HBC master; b. c. 1755, probably in Wick (Highlands), Scotland; fl. 1774–99.
George Sutherland began his career with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1774 as the personal servant of Thomas Hutchins, chief at Fort Albany (Ont.), contracting for five years at £10 per annum. Although he had “received little improvement from Education” his master soon decided he was a promising employee. On 6 April 1777 Hutchins noted that he had sent Sutherland “to the Northward . . . in order to Learn him how to make Remarks in case I should send him inland.” By June Sutherland had gone inland with an Indian named Caupemartissue Winnekee. Eusebius Bacchus Kitchin, chief at Moose Factory (Ont.), believed this man to be from the vicinity of Basquia (The Pas, Man.), and Hutchins in early 1778 expressed hope that, if he were, his guidance would enable Sutherland “to determine the distance of Cumberland House [Sask.] from hence,” an important matter in planning inland posts and trade routes. Hutchins was pleased with Sutherland’s work that year.
Listed as a labourer at £10 a year, Sutherland spent the winter of 1779–80 at Sturgeon Lake (east of Sioux Lookout, Ont.). In July 1779 he left Albany with some Canadians brought by Germain Maugenest into company service. Passing Gloucester House (Washi Lake, Ont.) in late August, they reached Sturgeon Lake in late September to find that Canadian traders had burned Maugenest’s house there because he had absconded with furs and still owed 30,000 livres to Ezekiel Solomons, a Montreal merchant said to direct the local trade [see Lucius Levy Solomons]. While building a new shelter, Sutherland learned all he could from his rivals about their trade and methods and about his remote location. Once a month he recorded in his journal detailed accounts of the pedlars and of his hardships, which included a diet of mice, boiled leather, and other “Nastyness” during late winter. Three of Maugenest’s men died; the rest rejoined the Canadians. Sutherland felt that he had learned to speak the Indians’ language “five times as well as any one down the bay. (my Superiors Excepted),” but his health was damaged and he was gloomy over the presence of pedlars “in Every hole and cornor.”
Back at Albany in the summer of 1780, Sutherland apparently took a year’s health leave. In 1781 he became steward at Albany at £20 a year. In the summer of 1785 he went to Severn House (Fort Severn, Ont.) with the packet, was briefly locum tenens there, and remained the next winter. He was transferred to York Factory (Man.) to aid Joseph Colen* during 1786–87 as “Linguist and trader” at £30, and he compiled for him “A Short Vocabulary of . . . the Northern Indian Language.” In 1793 his salary reached £40.
After a year in Britain, Sutherland joined the York council at £80, taking charge of York during the 1794–95 season while Colen went home to discuss with his employers the difficulties between himself and William Tomison*, chief inland. Colen’s support in London doubtless favoured Sutherland’s appointment to the charge of Cumberland House in 1795–96 and the upper Saskatchewan in 1796–97. Residing at Edmonton House (near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta), Sutherland fostered more cooperative relations with his Canadian rival, Angus Shaw*, than had Tomison. When the Fall Indians visited Edmonton House in December 1796 Sutherland and Shaw issued a joint reprimand to them for their sack of the HBC posts of Manchester House (near Pike’s Peak, Sask.) and South Branch House (near Duck Lake). In mid 1797 Sutherland became the first to use large boats instead of canoes for transport on the Saskatchewan River. Two craft, each of 30 feet, were built, and they proved as useful as similar boats Sutherland had seen employed in the Albany district.
Tomison, hostile to both Colen and Sutherland and to their plans for large boats, had meanwhile visited London and regained the support of the London committee. In late 1797 he took charge once more of Edmonton and the Saskatchewan region. Sutherland was rebuked by the committee for a “rash inconsiderate Letter” to Tomison. He wintered at Buckingham House (near Lindbergh, Alta) on the North Saskatchewan River but, in the summer of 1798, refused Tomison’s request that he stay inland and returned to York. Finding that Tomison had written a “most ungenerous” letter about him, he sent a public response that ended any prospect of their working together. When a letter from the London committee informed him that his brother had died in Jamaica leaving him “some considerable Property,” he took the opportunity to retire.
Once in London, Sutherland convinced the committee of the benefits of using boats along the important inland route to Edmonton House. In May 1799 Tomison and the York council were told to adopt his plan to “diminish the enormous expences of the Company” and ease the scarcity of labour and the management difficulties it brought. Boats, the committee observed, “will require less than half the Number of Men employed at present in Canoes.”
Sutherland had at least two children in Hudson Bay, a daughter who drowned in July 1799 at York Factory and a son, John, who served as an apprentice from 1795 until 1799, when the company granted his father’s request that he join him in England. The Parklands people, a Plains Cree group of mixed origins near Duck Lake, Sask., also trace their ancestry to a George Sutherland employed by the HBC in this period.
HBC Arch. A.6/16, ff.34, 55, 59, 81; A.11/116, f.178; A.11/117, ff.142, 171; A.15/15, p.467; A.30/1, ff.16, 42, 55, 72–73; A.30/2, ff.4, 40; A.30/3, ff.57, 65, 91; A.30/4, ff.23, 49; A.30/5, ff.48, 80; A.30/9, f.39; A.32/3, f.57; A.32/4, f.43; B.135/b/5, ff.24, 35; B.135/b/6, f.23; B.198/z/1, ff.129–36; B.211/a/1; B.239/a/101, ff.97, 98; B.239/f/3, f.15; B.239/f/5, f.11; B.239/f/6, ff.12, 66. Saskatchewan journals and correspondence: Edmonton House, 1795–1800; Chesterfield House, 1800–1802, ed. A. M. Johnson (London, 1967). D. G. Mandelbaum, “The Plains Cree,” American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers (New York), XXXVII (1941), 155–316 (especially 167).