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Home >> From 1600 to 1867 >> Economics & Resources >> Articles/Diaries/Ephemera/Journals

The growth and success of the fur trade depended on the men and women of the First Nations and Métis Nation, while the competition between the HBC and the Northwest Company would forge a new era.

Author: Daniel Williams Harmon
Title: A Journal of Voyages and Travel in the Interior of North America
Copyright Holder: Expired; no restrictions on use.
  -60- Daniel Harmon: Swan River

Daniel Williams Harmon (1778-1843), the son of a Vermont innkeeper, joined the Northwest Company in 1800 and became a "wintering partner" in 1818; however, he left the fur trade the following year, deeply affected by the death of his eldest son, and only returned to NWC service briefly in 1820-21.

This excerpt from his personal journal (which he kept between 1800 and 1819, and published in the U.S. in 1820) describes travelling through the Swan River valley in October of 1800, and page 30 ["Friday 10 Swan River Fort... their employers."] describes the lay of the land and speculates as to why the HBC left the area.

"Friday, 10. Swan River Fort. In the morning we crossed Swan Lake, which is nearly eight miles long, and then entered the Great Swan River. This river is about eleven rods wide; there is a sufficiency of water, and there is no rapid from its mouth to the fort, a distance of twelve miles. The country adjoining, is low, and in many places, swampy, and the soil is rich.

Monsieur Perigné, the superintendant of the fort, has a tolerable kitchen garden. The Hudson Bay people once came here; but it is several years since they abandoned the place. As they have nothing to expect from the Company, but their salaries, they seem, so far as I can learn, to make but little exertion to extend their trade, and, thereby, to benefit their employers."

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Did You Know?
Harmon's criticism of the Hudson's Bay Company's servants -- that they did not exert themselves very much for their employers because they got the same salary no matter how many furs were traded -- has often been repeated by historians.

There is certainly some truth in it, but the early years of the HBC's competition with the NWC provide several examples of men (like William Tomison and Robert Longmoor) who frequently risked their lives for the HBC without demanding (and often without receiving) any extra compensation.