Not every coupling was a happy or legitimate one
In 1798, “James”, son to Cuthbert Grant, Indian trader, was baptized at age seven years. His mother is listed as unknown on the baptismal records. That same year, “Hannah”, daughter of Peter Grant, merchant, aged about three years, was also baptized. The mother was listed as “unknown”.
Baptisms like these raise some very serious moral and social questions that were discussed in an 1887 history of the Scotch Presbyterianism in Canada:
It is argued by some that it was to the credit of these Scotch traders that they cared enough for their half-breed offspring to bring them to Montreal, from the Red River region to solicit baptism for them. This was opposed to the French voyageurs, who on the other hand, for the most part left their half-breed children with their Indian mothers who brought them up after their own fashion.
The passage further discusses the issue, stating that between the two, the Scotch were to be commended above the Frenchmen, but that the church certainly overlooked their unlicensed fornication, such as the fact these newly “Metis” children were born out of wedlock (by and large) as there were no marriage ceremonies, as there were no clergymen in the Red River region or the west who could have sanctified these unions. Certainly, these Indian women were joined to these merchants in all simplicity and fidelity, and counted themselves wives according to “custom of the country”.
To all intents and purposes these were considered marriages—at least according to the old law of Scotland. This being so, in many instances this leads us to another question: what became of these “wives” when the traders left the Indian country and returned to Montreal? Were they dealt fairly by, in being abandoned, as the records may be supposed to imply that they were? To be certain, a few of the traders brought their Indian wives east with them, but, as a rule, these women were abandoned without receiving the tender consideration from their Scotch partners that was due to the mothers of their children.
In many cases, the traders themselves didn’t see their Indian “wives” as legitimate. Many returned east and remarried European women once their fortune was made.
In one particularly famous case, the question of the validity of a “custom of the country” Indian marriage, was argued in a court of appeals on September 7, 1879, which declared a man named John Connolly the lawful son of William Connolly, who was married in the custom of the country to Suzanne, the daughter of a Cree Chief, without religious rites. Notwithstanding this “marriage”, William Connolly married afterwards another woman, Julia Woolrich, daughter of James Woolrich a wealthy dry goods merchant. He did so while his Indian wife was still alive.
Adapted from A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, St. Gabriel Street, Montreal by Robert Campbell (1887)
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities