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The Sacking of Pembina

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

During the fall of 1811, Lord Selkirk tasked a group of settlers under the command of Capt. Miles McDonnell with creating a new agricultural settlement within his new land grant. As this party was reconnoitering they met with a party of French traders and Ojibwe and Cree Indians who were in the employ of the Northwest Company. The Selkirk group explained their goal to the party, and were immediately told that they were trespassing. The Indians insisted that the Selkirk group immediately evacuate back to their settlement. McDonnell, feeling emboldened, refused to abandon his mission, and the Frenchmen lost their temper, a shot was fired, and a combat ensured that ended in the utter rout of the Selkirk forces. McDonnell then retreated up the Red river to the forty-ninth parallel where he found a location to his liking. He rallied his group and they decided they would found a settlement there – creating a fort he named Fort Daer (at where is now modern day Pembina, North Dakota).

This small settlement was on rather tenuous footing. The Northwest Company was keen to find any pretext to drive the settlers out, and the Ojibwe and Cree were resentful of a white settlement encroaching on their traditional campsite. The small settlement focused on farming and tried their best to avoid the wrath of their potential enemies, but their presence was viewed as an encroachment that disturbed the fur trade in the Pembina region.

During the summer of 1813, Duncan Cameron and Alexander McDonald of the Northwest Company worked very hard to sow dissention at Pembina. They worked hard to bring some of the Scotsmen over to their side, and created enough disturbance that Captain McDonnell issued a proclamation that all lands and resources – including furs and animals – within the Pembina region were the sole property of Selkirk. To enforce his declaration, McDonnell sent a small posse, armed with a cannon, to enforce his decree. As the posse approached the Northwest company post at Pembina, they noticed that it was undefended, so McDonnel’s men raided it of provisions under the pretext that they were going to be illegally traded. This action was seen as a declaration of war by the Northwest Company.

In the summer of 1814 another 150 settlers arrived at Pembina, and the Northwest Company withdrew from the area to gather allies within the Native and Half-breed community. By the winter the increased settler population at Pembina created a food scarcity and the Northwest Company seized the opportunity to start harassing the settlement.

This constant harassment led Captain McDonnell to issue an order in the spring of 1815, giving the Northwest Company six months to leave the region or face action. Undeterred, the Northwest Company and a group of company connected half-breeds concealed themselves near Fort Daer on June 10th. They opened fire, killing four settlers and they rushed forth to seize the fort’s cannon. Outmanned and outgunned, McDonnell surrendered to the Northwest Company agent and his settlers were escorted by a friendly group of Ojibwe to the Selkirk Settlement at Winnipeg. The half-breeds subsequently burned Fort Daer to the ground.

Lord Selkirk eventually gathered more troops and escorted the settlers back to Pembina in the spring of 1816. The settlement remained a point of contention until 1823, when Pembina was mapped to be within the territory of the United States. Selkirk withdrew his people and most of the settlers, and the area was soon taken over by Half-breeds and Ojibwe.


REFERENCE: Goodspeed, W. A. (1904). The province and the states: History of the Province of Louisiana under France and Spain, and of the territories and states of the United States formed therefrom. The Western Historical Assoc.

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Trish Short Lewis
Trish Short Lewis
Jun 01, 2023

Fantastic telling of events, Kade! I hope you’ll consider a longer and more full telling of Pembina area history! You have a great talent for it.

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