Maine Historical Society header
Maine Historical Society header

Archive Record

  • Email This Page
  • Send Feedback
Title David Thompson letter to Anthony Barclay; Kingston
Date Nov. 12, 1822
Description 1 letter; 9 pages + 1 envelope
People Thompson, David, 1770-1857
Search Terms International Boundary Commission
Treaty of Ghent
Scope & Content 1822_Nov_12
Kingston 12th Novr. 1822

Dear Sir/
On the 5th Novr we arrived at York, and
received from Mr. Billings the duplicate of your letter
dated Newport, Rhode Island Sepr 19. 1822. which is
the only letter that has come to hand since last march.
The engaging of an Interpreter, and 2 In
dians, is certainly an exercise of discretionary power
not expected this season. But to penetrate to the Height
of Land, and beyond it; and to join accurate informati-
on of the direction and sources of the branchs of the
interior River, and their connection with the head wa
ters of the Lake of the Woods absolutely requires them
or we may pass years in exploring the numerous
ramifications of the many rivers of a country so
mountainous and extensive. My cedar canoe is
invaluable upon the Great Lakes, but too large to exa-
mine brooks of 3 & 4 yds width, with a few inches of water.
But as a meeting is to take place, it will among
other things serve to explain as well, what has been
done, as what is to be done.Every exertion
has been made by me to gain a sight of the transit
instrument, and will be continued; it cannot, it
must not be lost, and if Mr. Pomainville has not
found it at Amherstburgh, the first thing to be done,
in my opinion, is to bring Mr. Stevenson before a Justice
and there oblige him to make oath and affidavit of
where he placed that instrument. If he ever re-
ceived thes instrument it ought to have been fresh in
his memory in august 1821, when, I arrived at Am-
herstburgh and in company with him, sought it in
the Kings Stores; he could then give me no account of it.
to me it is a strange matter. I had drawn out
the rough draught of a very long letter, which I shall
abridge, as a great part of it is much fitter for con-
sideration than a letter.

end p1
begin p2

On the 2nd August the weather having moderated,
we left Fort William, and the next day arrived at the
Great carrying Place: the path was very much obstruc-
ted with a profusion of wild herbage and willows, which
render the carrying very tiresome, and it was not until
the 9th Aug. at 8 AM we got all over to the Pigeon River.
The length of this carrying place is 8 1/4 statute miles
very hilly and stony.Our indian guide wish-
ed to remain at the Lake and we were obliged to carry
his canoe over to induce him to come with us and in
case he should leave us, we procured from him all
the information he possessed of the country, and a rough
map of it: this, with Mr. Sayes and my own knowledge
of the country rendered us in a manner independent
of him. While at the SE end of the Carry-
ing Place, a respectable and intelligent chief, called
the Spaniard and his band came to us; their coun-
try and hunting grounds are near halfway to the
river St. Louis, and about the irregular ridge of
land that produces the head waters of the Rivers to
Lake Superior, and the Lake of the Woods. By
means of Mr. Sayer, I conversed part of two days
with them; they gave me the names of fifteen
considerable rivers, from St. Louis to the Pigeon
River inclusive; all of whose head waters, approxi-
mate to those of the head waters of the Lake of the Woods.
And they fully confirmed my opinion, that the
heights of land of the least distance between the head
waters, are those of the branches of the River St. Louis
and the west forks of the Rainy Lake River. and
between the Arrow Rivulet, and the waters that de-
scend to Lake Kaseiganagah (Lake full of Islands).
Having again got our canoes into good or-
der, in the afternoon we embarked, proceeded up the
Pigeon River to the Partridge carrying place 436 yds
On the 10th August we continued up the Rapids

end p2
begin p3

passing several small streams, mostly from the Sto?
ale of whose sources are at a short distance, and are
unnavigable. - Aug 11th we carried over the Ford
Carrying Place of 1974 yards, and passed the Fowl
Lake to the Moose carrying place of 721 yds (In your
map the Fowl Lake is called the Goose Lake) Crossed
the Moose Lake, near the end of which we left the old
route of the canoes on the left, and unloaded in a small
bay. We had now a range of hills to carry over. Early
on the morning of the 12th the men got their axes in order, and
under the charge of Mr. Sayer cleared the carrying place
of wood, it was a mere forest; having never been practised
by white men, its length 4401 Yds of high ridge which
we had to ascend and descend. On the 13th at 3 PM got
everything over and embarked on the Arrow Rivulet, led
the canoe up the rapids until even when we camped
on a carrying place of 331 yards, a thick wood, with
many fallen trees which we cleared. Aug 14th we con-
tinued up shoal rapids to another carrying place
of 1000 yds like the last requiring heavy labor to clear it.
This leads to the Arrow Lake a fine body of water of 15 miles
in length, at the end of which we put up on a carry-
ing place of 133 yds. Our guide did not join us, and
we saw no more of him. Aug 15th we carried over
and entered Rose Lake (by the Indians Mud Lake)
in this Lake we again joined the old canoe route,
and always continued in it. Passing this Lake
of 5 miles, we carried 24 yds along the current, now
dwindled to a very shoal brook of 3 to 4 yards width
this led to a narrow lake of 1/2 miles, at the end of which
we carried 376 yards, the Arrow Brook being too shoal
this brought us to the East Lake of the Height of Land
of 3 miles, over which we passed to the Height of Land.
This is a rocky Isthmus of 458 yards, crossing it, found
ourselves on the shore of the West Lake of the Height of Land
crossing this Lake 1/2 mile, we follow its outlet, a small
River, with scarce any current to the Red Lake a bold

end p3
begin p4

body of water, after passing about half of it, we camped.
augst 16th Early we set off, and at the end of this Lake
followed down a series of Rapids and small lakes
the Rapids having 5 carrying places whose length
amount to 822 yds. and camped in Lake Kaseigangah.
This day we met several families of Indians
all in a starving state, subsisting upon berries. I
gave them a little provisions, ammunition and
tobacco: they gave us all the information they
could, but it amounted to little more than we al-
ready knew. Since we entered Rose (or Mud
Lake) this route being the old road for the North
West canoes was familiar to Mr. Sayer and myself
and so is all the rest of the road to the Lake of the
Woods. When we camped we fired several shots in
case Indians were near, and about 10 pm 2 canoes came
to us, they informed us that this Lake sent out two Rivers
the Upper River is that which the canoes always fol-
lowed to Lac La Croix, in which, centres all the routes
followed by the North West canoes, and well known
to us. The other is the larger River, which directs its
course northerly and falls into the Sturgeon Lake of
the New Road (see your map) whose stream runs into
Lac la Croix and to the Lake of the Woods. I request-
ed one of them to guide me to the Sturgeon Lake by this
River, they replied, they had never been themselves, they
had heard the sound of the high fall which goes out of
this Lake, that the river was not much practised, having
awkward rocky rapids with several lakes and finally
it was not their country. Finding nothing could be
done with these young men. Aug 17 we set off and went
a few mmiles further in the Lake Kaseiganagah, when
Mr. Sayer pointed out the place he thought the River left
the Lake, we could hear no sound of a fall tho' a fine
calm day. The season was advanced and no
object

end p4
begin p5

object before me worth my farther attention for this year
I gave Mr. Sayes what provisions I could spare, &c &c
and the letter of instructions (as inclosed) and he set off
to join his family. It is but bare justice to him, to
inform you that he rendered me essential service
with zeal and intelligence. It being new moon
I had no means to ascertain my longitude except
by the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites which were very
rare, as he was too near the sun. On the 19th two eclip-
ses were to happen, both visible. I therefore now has-
tened back to the Height of Land to observe these
eclipses, and camped there on the 18th. The next day the
19th was a day of variable weather. Cloudy weather
prevented me observing an eclipse of the 2nd satellite at
midnight, but at 3 am of the 20th I observed a fine Im-
mersion of the 1st satellite of Jupiter, which gave the
longitude of this remarkable place 90-38-15 west
and its latitude 48-6-51 North by 3 min. observa-
tions of the sun and stars, and 1? on the east side
of this carrying place or Isthmus. During this
time the assistant with the men carefully made the
curcuit and survey of the west lake of the Height of
Land, paying great attention to every brook, or rill
that came into, or went out of it. August 20th
at 9 1/2 AM we left this carrying place and made the
circuit of the East Lake of the Height of Land, but
not even a rill was found to run into the Lake, and
the Arrow Brook its only discharge. Most of these
Lakes, surrounded with high rocky hills from 4 to
800 ft. high, receive their water from springs in them-
selves, and the foot of the hills has water everywhere
oozing out. We now made the best of our way
for the Great Carrying Place; and late in the evening
came to Mr. Ferguson and Party, camped at the east
end of the Arrow Lake, where they had been two days.
We gave him every information, he wished to enable
him

end p5
begin p6

him to find the Height of Land, and the next morng
separated. On the evening of August the 24th
we arrived at Lake Superior, having since the 3 of
of August, surveyed 94 miles, cut down 3 1/2 miles
of woods, and carried our canoe and canoe 28 1/3
miles on our backs, over a very rude rocky and
hilly country, besides frequent loading and un
loading. the men were very much fatigued.
The next day we proceeded towards Fort
William foggy weather. On the 26th we resumed our
stations for ascertaining as well as we could the
positions of several Islands, and continued to
near fort William: a gale of wind springing up
we took shelter there. we now prepared for
our journey to the Falls of St. Maries; what
we left we put in good order, and found that we
placed under the care of the Hudson's Bay Compy
Provisions for full two months for 10 persons pr day
including about 24 gallons of spiritous liquors
at the same time I made several enquiries of Mr.
Alexr Stuart relating to procuring provisions, freight &c
into the interior country for the service of the survey
his answers were given in writing of which I send
you a copy, but too decisive of what we have to ex-
pect from the Hudson's bay Coy. I requested
Mr. Stuart not to have their vessel laid up until
the return of Mr. Ferguson, in case he should visit
Isle Royale. August 30th we left Fort William
and continued our surveying operations to the Point
of Thunder Hill when we took our last view of
Isle Royale. The same evening 31 a heavy gale
of wind from NE with rain came on and we lay
3 days weather bound: afterwards this whole
a
month was little else than ^ succession of heavy
gales, with high waves and a very heavy surf.
Sepr 6th snow fell along the Heights of the Lake.

end p6
begin p7

Sepr 20th 1 thrs 36 at even 28 freezing very hard Sepr 22
thrs 24 bitter cold; ground froze hard.
Sepr 29th much weather beaten we arrived at the
falls of St. Maries. Sepr 30th a cold stormy day, put
everything in order. Oct 1 thrs 23 very cold - two
of my men who had gone down to the village and
been drinking all night; refused to embark; I could
not afford at this season to wait 3 days for them to
get sober. Therefore left them, and came on with
4 men; this month was still more stormy than
September: These 3 years past have been re-
markable for drought; frequent and long calms
and very heavy gales of wind when they did hap-
pen. This year the waters have risen, as of on
sudden, and continued as if by some occult
cause: the winds a constant gale mostly SSE
often severe, yet without extreme violence.
Lake Huron proved as unpropitious as Lake Su-
perior, and it was the 25 Oct. before we entered the
Notawasuaga River. On the 26 we arrived in the
evening at the carrying place, and Nov 1 at Hol-
land Landing within 36 miles of York and here
thank God our miseries found an end.

From the 20th Oct the snow lay on the ground
the trees were loaded with it; and for 12 days
scarce an hour passed that the snow did not
pour down on us. The canoe was loaded with
it and ice. At night when we camped; we had to
clean it away the best we could, and beat it off
our tents. Whenever weather bound along
the shores of Lake Superior and Huron, we appli-
ed ourselves as closely as we could to put our rough
maps in order, bring up our journals; field notes
&c &c. but a linnen tent, on a stormy beach, sha-
ken by the wind, and pelted by the rain and snow
is

end p7
begin p8

is but an uncomfortable place for such work.
At the Falls of St. Maries the Americans are about 300
in the pay of their Government. Whisky is in? plenty
the country is kept in a state of intoxication, several
have already lost their lives.
Mr. Ferguson's Party consisted of Mr. Whistler
Assistant Mr. McKay Interpreter, engaged at the
Falls of St. Maries at salary of 300$ pr year and
8 men engaged for the year - in all 11 persons.
You request me to inform you of my re-
turn, thatyou may appoint a time and place
to meet you immediately; I believe neither of
us expected my return would be so late in the
season; and before I can receive an answer from you
and arrive at the place appointed it will be
near christmas; tried and harrassed as I am;
I shall endeavour to act up to what I think
your intention. I hope to arrive at my house
by the 16th or 17th of this month; it will take the
following week to make a connected sketch
of the survey most interesting to you; I shall
expect, please God, to leave my house on the 26th
for Montreal; and without delay make the
best of my way to Albany, and probably be there
about the 1 or 3 December, when a letter ad
-dressed to me, in care of Mr. Bamman, Eagle
Tavern will inform me of your place of meeting.
The Lake Champlain steam boats are said not to
approach St. Johns within 30 miles; on account
of their having been seized. Accounts from Sac-
ketts Harbor, say, their roads are completely
broke up, so that I do not know what road to
take, and the season is closing fast to cold weather.

end p8
begin p9

I shall take that road to Albany which will best
ensure my arrival there, my own house is the
nearest to it, by the west side of Lake Champlain.
If any letter from you can reach me before the
26th it will direct me at once to the place of meet-
ing. I shall bring with me Gen. Porter's letter.
As I arrived here only today at noon, and
early the morrow morning the Sacketts Harbor
mail closes, by which this letter is conveyed
I cannot send you a duplicate to Newport
but now write you a short letter directed to
that place, and inclose the copy of a letter in-
tended to be sent to Genl Porter, in answer to
his letter, and assertions of Mr. Ferguson: but
which will not be sent, until I have your
opinion thereon. And I have no copy of
the greatest part of this letter, it is wrote you
late at night offhand. My son and the men
are off for Montreal, and I remained to take
advantage of the mail for the U. States.
I am
Sir
with respect
Your obedient Servant
David Thompson

Anthony Barclay Esqr







Admin/Biographical History This compiled collection includes papers from Thomas Barclay (1753-1830), his son, Anthony Barclay (1792-1877), John Ogilvy (d. 1819), Ward Chipman (1754-1824), Ward Chipman, [Jr.] (1787-1851), David Thompson (1770-1857), Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow (1814-1901) and others related to the determination of the boundary between Canada and the United States. Materials include government documents, correspondence, maps, surveys, diaries and Indian deeds related to the determination of the boundary between Canada and the United States, particularly of the years of the St. Croix Commission, 1796-1812, the Commissions appointed after the Treaty of Ghent, 1814-1838, and the Commissions under the Treaty of Washington, 1842. Papers of diplomats appointed by the British and American governments include the correspondence of explorers who surveyed the boundary zones and of several other diplomats, political officers and aids who became involved in the arbitration of the border. The explorations around the Island of St. Croix by Robert Pagan and Native American Francis Joseph Neptune, and a map by Chief Wasp of the Ojibway tribe in the vicinity of Ontario and Minnesota are noteworthy.