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In the late 18th, early 19th century four Mackenzie brothers left the Highlands of Scotland to enter the furtrade in North America, their cousin Alexander having come ahead to "blaze a trail". The brothers were from Coigach, in Lochbroom Parish, at the far north and west of Ross and Cromarty. The subject of this file, Nancy "Matooskie" Mackenzie, was daughter of Roderick, one of those brothers.

The family had been Tacksmen (principal tenants) of Achiltibuie in Coigach from 1740, and suffered through the Rebellion of 1745 when Roderick Mackenzie of Achiltibuie, gt-grandfather of Matooskie, was forced to call out his subtenants as a Lieutenant in his cousin the Earl of Cromarty's Jacobite Regiment. At that time Roderick's older brother, Alexander Mackenzie of Keppoch, and cousin, John Mackenzie of Ardloch, threatened to hang him, and stole the farm's black cattle as incentive.

Roderick was pardoned after the Rebellion, and returned to Coigach to find much of the district laid waste by government forces in retribution. Roderick and Katherine rebuilt, and raised seven children there including their eldest son, Matooskie's grandfather, Alexander Mackenzie.

Achiltibuie, from Isle Tanera,
  photo courtesy of Dave Warburton, see his webpage;

Roderick of Achiltibuie's wife Katherine was a daughter of the third Laird of Ballone, and a notably strong character, a touching story is recorded in the book "Ship's of the '45" of her meeting French cadets searching to rescue Bonny Prince Charlie. Following collapse of the Rebellion she was fleeing from island to island in Lochbroom with her eight year old son Alexander (grandfather of Matooskie), evading British Marines terrorizing the populance, worried for her brother and husband, both captured Jacobite officers, though both later pardoned.

After Roderick's death in 1762 Katherine held onto Achiltibuie until 1767. She then fought a prolonged battle by petition against being deprived of the Tack, but ultimately lost to Lieutenant Daniel MacKenzie from Lewis, one of many young officers released from the army on half pay in 1763 at the end of "the French and Indian War".

By then Katherine's eldest son Alexander, grandfather of Matooskie, had started his own young family at Achiltibuie. Born 1737, he was an adventurous type, and had spent sometime apprenticed in the south of Scotland learning modern farming methods, returning to Achiltibuie after breaking an arm.

On losing Achiltibuie in 1767 the families were shifted to the much less desirable, and more "primitive" farm of Dalpolly on the north side of Coigach.

"Finfish" fish farm on the River Polly, site of the Mackenzie home at Dalpolly from 1768.
Photo courtesy of Undiscoverd Scotland, see their file at

Though not documented, I think at that time Alexander's second son, Roderick, born about 1761, was sent to stay at Stornoway with the family of the prominant merchant Kenneth MacKenzie, a brother of his mother. At Stornoway was a noted Parish School and Roderick was later a scholar and historian of some note. Reinforcing the probability that Roderick was at Stornoway is the lifelong friendship he had with his cousin, Kenneth's son Alexander. The friendship was noted as starting in Scotland, and Alex with his family went to America in 1774 as a twelve year old.

Young Roderick's grandmother Katherine remained at Dalpolly till at least 1799 as Tacksman, but his father Alexander moved his own growing family to a more comfortable farm at Achnaclerach in neighbouring Contin Parish.

Photo of the current home at Achnaclerach, taken 2008 by descendant David Ford.

David notes:

"Beautiful country, but I wouldn't want to try to make my living from it."
The Falls of the Cleric, a little way down the road.

David notes:

"for which the farmstead was named according to the museum in Inverness."

The family maintained it's interests in Lochbroom over the following decades, with Roderick's older brother Murdoch later becoming the principal Merchant and Postmaster at Ullapool, and Murdoch's son eventually regaining Tack of Achiltibuie.

Roderick's cousin Alexander did well in America, after a rocky start landing at New York as the Revolution began.

British troops landing at New York in 1777,
three years after arrival of Alexander Mackenzie

Alexander was sent to Montreal where he finished his education and entered the fur trade. Ten years after Alex, in 1784, Roderick followed to Canada, and began his own career in the fur trade as Alexander's clerk, then spent his first winter 1786–87 in the woods at Snake Lake in what is today Saskatchewan.

The following year Roderick was sent by the North-West Company to found Fort Chipewyan, in what is now northern Alberta. An important trading post at the confluence of major rivers, though remote, it is today the longest occupied community in the province, and was known as "Athens of the North", for the library, first in western Canada, that Roderick established there.

Fort Chipewyan
Fort Chipewyan,
from file "The Fur Trade", on webpage
"Canada's First Peoples", see

Roderick became a noted historian and ethnologist, among his honours was "Fellow of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen".

From Fort Chipewyan Roderick saw Alexander off on his two famous voyages of discovery; in 1789 following the third longest river on the continent to the Arctic, now named "the MacKenzie River", and in 1792-3 crossing the Rockies to become the first European to cross North America north of Mexico. Roderick is thought to have written the first third of Alexander's book on his journeys, a history of the fur trade, that book won Alexander his knighthood.

Alexander MacKenzie painted by Thomas 
Lawrence (c.1800)
Alexander MacKenzie painted by Thomas Lawrence (c.1800), courtesy National Gallery of Canada
Roderick MacKenzie
The Honourable Roderick Mackenzie of Terrebonne. Portrait by Berczy about 1811

At Fort Chipewyan Roderick was making his own more domestic discoveries; he found a wife in the area of the Fort. That wife is unidentified to history though likely a Chipewyan, possibly the "June Brown" identified in one not yet checked source as mother of the fourth child. They had four children there; Nancy was eldest, born about 1790, she was also known by her First Nations name; Matooskie. Sylvia vanKirk, author of "Many Tender Ties" suggests that name meant "Object of Pity". The other three children were Anne "Louisa" born about 1793, John born about 1794, and Catherine Margaret "Marguerite" born about 1800.

In 1801 Roderick left the wilderness and settled at Terrebonne near Montreal. He did not bring his native wife, likely she died before then, as two daughters were raised by another trader, John Stuart and his own wife, the son John settling with his father at Terrebonne, and the youngest child also raised at Terebonne, evetually to be married to a prominant Notary, Robert Lester Morrogh.

John Stuart
John Stuart, (1780-1847)
"Father of New Caledonia"
Lieutenant John MacKenzie
Lieutenant John Mackenzie (1794-1871)
portrait by Berczy

son of Hon. Roderick Mackenzie of Terrebonne,
militia officer, and second postmaster of Terrebonne

In 1809 John Stuart took charge of the North West Company's department of New Caledonia, modern British Columbia, he established many trading posts there that have since become major communitys, including Kamloops. Matooskie went there with Stuart's family. That year her sister Louisa married at Fort William to Angus Norman Bethune, a North-West Company Partner, he affectionably called her "Miss Green Blanket". That couple were gt-grandparents of the famous Dr. Norman Bethune, hero to the Chinese.

In 1813 news that the War of 1812 had broken out reached the west coast, with rumours a British ship was en route around the bottom of the Americas, it's goal being to capture Astoria, the American fur trader's colony at the mouth of the Columbia River in what is today Oregon. The Nor-Westers hatched a daring plot in New Caledonia, to sweep down the Columbia in a flotilla of trade canoes and capture Fort Astor. Not only would they strike a patriotic blow, they would use the cover of war to eliminate a competitor and capture the wealth of furs wharehoused at the Fort.

Astoria, as it was in 1813
Public domain picture credited by Wikipedia to
"Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature.
By John B. Horner, first copyright 1919"

John Stuart and Angus Bethune were part of that invasion force, no doubt with Angus's wife Louise Mackenzie, and her sister Matooskie who was then still ward of Stuart. Also along was North-West Company partner John George McTavish who had earlier in the year been a guest at Fort Astor, waiting for a supply ship that did not arrive. Nancy is noted as married first in 1813 in the Columbia River area "a la façon du pays" to McTavish so presumably she was part of the invasion force.

John George McTavish was born either 1780 or 1787 at Dunardy, Argyle, Scotland, died July 1847 of cholera at Lac-des-Duex-Montagnes, Quebec where he eventually retired to. He was part of a large and influential fur trade family, his relative Simon McTavish died at Montreal as the wealthiest man in North America, Matooskie's father Roderick purchasing Terrebonne from Simon's estate. John George McTavish was second son of the Chief of Clan MacTavish. His character at this time is uncertain, some sources note a previous wife, Charlotte Thomas (also daughter of a fur trader and his "Country wife"), had smothered her own two children in grief and anger at being abandoned by him, an earlier wife was noted as abandoned after nine months, however, descendant Susan D'Ambrosio notes;

"Rather than a "bounder and a Cad" he was more like a sailor as he was always on the move, and his seventeen years with Nancy are really rather surprising.".

It was one of the most amicable invasions of the War of 1812, as many of the defenders were relatives or old friends of the invaders, and snuck hampers of food out each evening to feed their besiegers. Two of the Partners in John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company were David and Robert Stuart, cousins of John Stuart. Also in the fort was Matooskie's uncle, Donald Mackenzie. Though not recorded, her wedding most likely happened during McTavish's visit to the Fort in the spring, or in the fall during the siege, with her uncle Donald "paroled" from the Fort to give away the bride.

The siege ended without a death, not only were both sides friends and relatives, they were primarly businessmen, and struck a deal 16 October, 1813 for sale of the colony and furs. The only human casualty of the War of 1812 on the west coast was an old voyageur whose musket had a flash in the pan during a ceremonial volley in a symbolic battle once the British warship finally arrived. Political casualty was Britain and later Canada's claims on Oregon; the treaty that settled the war would have accepted the sale between fur trade companies as a valid transfer of territory, but the folly of the mock conquest staged by the British Captain allowed the Americans to claim it was captured by act of war, and must be returned.

Many of the Astorians rejoined the North-West Company, and escorted the furs that had been destined for New York to Montreal instead. Stuart was rewarded by being made a full partner in the North West Company. Matooskie's uncle Donald Mackenzie remained loyal to his employer, and was given free passage the following spring through Canada, bringing the sale contract and funds back to a very unhappy John Jacob Astor.

John Jacob Astor (1763-1848)
John Jacob Astor, (1763-1848),
from Wikimedia

Matooskie and McTavish returned from Oregon to what is today western Canada, and over the following seventeen years are noted as having seven children, five of them surviving childhood.

The earliest surviving daughter was Mary, born about 1818 at "Athabaska Rupert’s Land", according to her death registration, that year McTavish was a wintering Partner for the North-West Company at Athabaska. The following year he was captured by his enemies, the Hudson's Bay Company, and sent to England for trial, part of the continuing economic war between the two fur companys. An important event affecting the family as he was acquitted and shipped back to Canada aboard the ship "James Munroe" and on the voyage he struck up a friendship with George Simpson, a rising star in the Hudson's Bay Company who was appointed "governor-in-chief locum tenens" in 1820, and whose later career in charge of the company led to him becoming known as "the Little Emperour".

Sir George Simpson
Sir George Simpson, (1787-1860)

The last four of Matooskie and McTavish's children have christenings at York Factory from 1822, McTavish having been made by his new friend Simpson Chief Factor of that important depot of the Hudson's Bay Company's Northern Department upon the amalgamation of the North-West and Hudson's Bay Companys in 1821. The two unidentified children presumably born sometime 1814 to 1821.

Nancy MacKenzie, "Matooskie", "Madame McTavish", rose in status and respect in fur trade society at York Factory, her father a retired North-West Company Chief Trader, cousin and confidante of the explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie, her uncle Donald Govenor of the Red River Colony and Assiniboia, her uncles Henry and James also prominant in fur trade society, Henry managing business interests at Montreal for the traders in the country. And her husband John George McTavish being in charge of one of the Company's most important posts, best friend of Govenor Simpson, standing in for him in Councils when abroad.

York Factory today
York Factory,
historic site today on the Hudson's Bay shore of Manitoba

That happy time in Matooskie's life came to a halt. McTavish's pal Simpson as well as being a brilliant organizer and tireless traveller was a notorious womaniser. Though married to his own native wife he had "pimps" at every trading post ready to provide young women when he visited. He had been born illegitimate 1786 to another George Simpson, who was later a Merchant at Lochbroom and following the founding of the village of Ullapool by the British Fisheries Society was their representative there (that elder Simpson had at least two illegitamate daughters at Ullapool). Morally not a good role model for McTavish, Simpson determined that though every trader might like "his bit of brown", they should settle down with a European woman.

The two friends in 1830 lied to their half native wifes they were off to England and Scotland on business, true purpose being to find new, white, wifes, McTavish finding a suitable mate in Catherine Turner, daughter of a prominant Scottish Lawyer, Simpson in his eighteen year old cousin, Frances Ramsay Simpson (a noted beauty, Fort Frances in Ontario was named in her honour). McTavish with his new wife did not return to confront Matooskie at York Factory, though they were surprized by daughter Mary at dinner in Montreal. Other fur traders were instructed to inform Matooskie she was "discarded", James Hargrave wrote;

“The first blow was dreadful to witness, but the poor girl is fast acquiring resignation.”

John Stuart, Matooskie's childhood guardian, was then at Fort Alexander in what is today Manitoba, and took her and her daughters in. Corageously he and her uncle Donald MacKenzie, then Govenor at Red River, spoke out against this overturning of society, with its rejection of "country marriages" in a society where few if any Christian Ministers had arrived.

Donald Mackenzie
Donald Mackenzie, (1783-1851),
H.B.Co. Govenor of Red River,
uncle of Matooskie

Stuart angrily wrote to McTavish;

"What could be your aim in discarding her whom you clasped to your bosom in virgin purity and had for seventeen years with you? She was the wife of your choice and has borne you seven children, now stigmatized with ignominy. If with a view of domestic happiness you have thus acted, I fear the aim has been missed and that remorse will be your portion for life. I think it is well our correspondence may cease."

There remained some family connections between Matooskie and McTavish through their children; Sylvia van Kirk notes that at his 1830 marriage "McTavish had made it clear to his new wife that she was expected to act as step-mother to several of his older daughters", presumably including the daughter he brought along on the trip while courting his new wife. Their daughter Mary in 1837 named a son "John George McTavish L. Ross", and their daughter Anne married about 1842 living at "Lake of Two Mountains" (that lake is part of the delta of the Ottawa River where it joins the St. Lawrence above Montreal), where McTavish had his estate since 1835. Also John George's nephew Dugald Mactavish was a witness at daughter Grace's 1842 wedding at Fort Vancouver.

The pressure from John Stuart and Donald MacKenzie forced McTavish and Simpson to scramble and make a settlement for Matooskie and her children. Against her own wishes a marriage was arranged 7 February, 1831 at the Red River Settlement to Pierre LeBlanc, a carpenter, and long time Hudson's Bay Company employee. McTavish paid a £200 dowry, and arranged a week of leave to LeBlanc for courtship duty.

Pierre LeBlanc was chief workman on construction of the new Post at Lower Fort Garry. Govenor George Simpson and his new wife Frances moved into the Fort in the fall of 1832, Matooskie became servant to Govenor Simpson's wife, one of only two mixed blood women allowed into the Fort. Her uncle Donald MacKenzie was often himself at the Fort, as Govenor of the Red River Colony, and literally entered the "bad book" of Govenor Simpson after protesting Matooskie's abandonment.

Fort Garry
This 1858 H.L. Hime photograph of the stone house at Fort Garry
is copied from page 124 of "Many Tender Ties",
credited there to "Public Archives of Canada".

Frances Simpson wrote disparagingly of Matooskie;

“a complete savage, with a coarse blue sort of woollen gown without shape and a blanket fastened round her neck.”

Matooskie and LeBlanc had seven years together and at least four children at Fort Garry. Some sources say they were happy, however Sylvia van Kirk says LeBlanc increasingy became resentful of his stepchildren. Whatever happiness they had ended with a tragic journey from Edmonton House to Fort Vancouver at the mouth of the Columbia River in fall of 1838. The couple with their four children and Matooskie's eldest child from McTavish, Grace, set off with the last trip of the year, "The Columbia Express". Eight days en route their eldest child, Henrietta, took ill and died, and was buried on the left bank of the Athabaska River. Tragedy was to further dog the journey.

map of Columbia Express
Map of the route of the York Factory Express, 1820s to 1840s.
Modern political boundaries shown.

Map by Wikipedia user "pfly",

Late in the day on 22 October, 1838 the overloaded canoe (vessels having been diverted to aid construction of another trading post) was swamped and tipped over in the rapids of the Upper Columbia River at Dalles des Morts ("Rapids of the Dead"). Twelve died in the largest recorded tragedy on the Columbia River. Although Matooskie and Grace survived, the victims included Pierre Leblanc and their remaining three children.

Matooskie and Grace were given a home at Fort Vancouver (modern Vancouver, Washington).

Fort Vancouver in 1845
Fort Vancouver in 1845

In 1842 Grace married at Fort Vancouver to Charles Dodd, captain of the Beaver, first steamship on the west coast, and Matooskie lived with the Dodds for the rest of her life.

The Beaver, First Steamer in the North Pacific

The "Beaver", First Steamer in the North Pacific
from "The Old Oregon Country: A History of Frontier Trade, Transportation, and Travel",
by Oscar Osburn Winther, credited there "Courtesy Donald Bates".

Dodd had impressed Govenor Simpson the previous winter when he inspected the west coast posts, and from 1 June, 1842 had been put in charge of Fort Stikine, an important trading post at the mouth of the Stikine River, where Wrangell Alaska now stands. The Fort had been built in 1834 by the Russians, and leased along with much of South-East Alaska by them to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1840. The family looks to have lived there till 1845, with daughter Mary Grace Dodd born 1843, then moved to Fort Victoria, where Elizabeth Nancy "Ann" Dodd was born in November, 1845.

Wrangell, Alaska by LaRoche, c1897
from Wikipedia

A watercolour of the South West bastion of Fort Victoria,
painted by Sarah Crease, 1860
from Wikipedia

Probably the family not permanently settled then, as their third child, Charles John Dodd, was born 1848 at Fort Simpson.

Fort Simpson in the winter of 1873

By 1851 Charles Dodd, an earnest worker and teatotaller, had become frustrated by the frequent desertion of his sailors for the gold fields, and the drunken brawls that regularly broke out (the head of Fort Stikine he had replaced in 1842 had been shot in a bar fight). He announced his retirement and settled the family at Fort Victoria.

Matooskie died there 24 July, 1851, the very early photograph at the top of this file shows her near the end of her long and event filled life. Her descendants today are scattered around the world, and it is hoped with time more stories will emerge to fill out her story.

This file, and others dealing with history and genealogy of Coigach, links from my homepage at:

Any suggestions for additions or edits please feel free to email me,

Donald MacDonald-Ross, at:

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