The Company Clerk

The clerk overseas the voyageurs and the operations according to the Bourgeois' orders
The clerk overseas the voyageurs and the operations according to the Bourgeois’ orders

The Company Clerk is a member of the upper class, often related to one of the partners or recommended by a gentleman of the trade. The position is usually held by young men, some away from home for the first time. This is their chance to begin a career in the fur trade. With hard work and loyalty to the company they look forward to saving and buying into the company to become a partner (Bourgeois) in the Northwest Fur Company in the future.

This is a complex job. Starting a work year at the time of rendezvous, the clerk must assemble the goods ordered for the next winter’s trade and provisions for the post. It is his responsibility to see that the charges for this merchandise are recorded correctly, and that all goods are sorted and protected in packs of approximately ninety pounds for the return trip back into the interior. The packs are of varied goods, so that if one is lost on the trip not all of one item is lost, which could cause great hardship.

The furs that have been brought to rendezvous must be weighed, sorted, and checked, for quality and correct credit applied to the payment of last year’s goods and the profit being recorded to his Bourgeois’ account.

All the winterers must also settle their accounts and receive their allotment of necessary clothing for themselves. If they have bought anything over the winter the price is deducted from their wages, and if anything is left over they can receive “bons” to spend here or drafts to send home. At this time they also sign new contracts for the next year.

This is a complex job. Starting a work year at the time of rendezvous, the clerk must assemble the goods ordered for the next winter’s trade and provisions for the post.

This all needs to be accomplished using a variety of currencies. The lower classes are paid in French currency, francs, livres, louis, and sous. The gentlemen use British currency which is divided into two values Halifax and Sterling. They also used Pounds, shillings, and pense. Also among the mix are the Spanish piasters and because of the inflated prices in the west, a new kind of currency has been issued by the Northwest Company. Scrip valued so as to guarantee a profit.

Upon returning to the interior, the clerk is then in charge of the trading of merchandise to the Native Americans. He grades the beaver pelts and furs according to quality and demand, thus arriving at the worth in goods. The clerk also overseas the voyageurs and the operations according to the Bourgeois’ orders and records all purchases made by the posts residents to be paid at the following rendezvous.

The journal entries of Mr. Kavanagh, a clerk of the White Oak Fur Post, gives us an insight into the daily routine of those who live here.

January 10, 1798
Weather has slowed transportation to a near halt, allowing for only short trips by the voyageurs for wood and meat. Business is becoming most brisk as the weather gets colder and the furs get thicker. Seems the Indian people are most adept at capturing the beaver and muskrats through the ice. Have kept busy in the company store taking in furs. Hope our supplies last until spring.

January 11, 1798
Days go by like weeks and weeks like months. Only civilized company I have had in the past few months is that of Mr Edwards our Bourgeois. Commonly spend evenings playing cards by the fire. He recently commented that “If there was ever a place that man was to be put and forgotten, this would be it.” While I spend most of my days keeping the company accounts, it seems Mr Edwards spends much of his time reading, having been warned to bring plenty of books to study. Has apparently fallen short in this endeavor as he told me over our card game of evening last, that he has read each of his eight books twelve times.

January the Seventeenth 1798
Hunters are keeping us well fed so far this winter because the snow has been lite. Most of the meat supply has been moose although we had not yearned for any particular taste one might desire. I may complain about the boredom here but would have to say this post is located in the middle of the bread basket of the country. With Mr. Edwards guidance and direction this post should not feel the starving time like many will. Because of the heavy trees in this land we are able to keep wide paths shoveled between the buildings. There is seldom an overabundance of wind to drive the snow.

January 20, 1798
Looks like the Orkney woman, Rowena MacEwan, will be spending the remaining winter with us. Her “husband” Basil Blanchette, joined David Thompson’s party on his travels to map the Northwest. Blanchette has entrusted her care to Pascal the engage. She was very helpful last spring when she dug and planted the garden. It produced fine turnips and some yellow beans, that Rowena calls “Indian Woman Yellow Beans” because she acquired them in trade from a native woman to the west of us.
There’s fresh snow on the ground. Days are turning colder and I dread these long nights. Pascal, LaFenier, and Labathe spent the day cutting and dragging firewood into the post, but to hear Pascal tell it, LaFrenier and Labathe were the sorriest two dogs he ever had to work with. When listening to his account was reminded of pascals talent with words. He is often the hero of his own stories. He and Rowena are both quite droll when they tell about their travels. They might prove entertaining during these cold winter nights to come.

January 22, 1798
LaFrenierre reported completing raquettes (snowshoes) for use by the men. Was able to use gut from moose killed by Charbeaux for webbing. Tomorrow will send LaFrenierre and young LeCiel to scout locations of Ojibwe winter camps. Can go en derouine soon thereafter. Weather is holding, Not cold or snowy. He makes good strong raquettes.

February 2, 1798
Constant fighting among the men today. LaFrenierre complained he unfairly has had too much firewood detail. Sent him and old Pascal on hunting trip. Charbeaux, LeCiel and Letannier now gathering wood. Gave them extra Rum ration. Looks like snow. Man from Lax La Pluie is due. Anticipate mail and newspapers. If winter continues it’s course Spring Beaver should be comings early as this a mild winter.

• Read more about the Fur Post’s current clerk, Mr. James MacDonald.