Jean Baptiste Sylvestre

Jean Baptiste Sylvestre’s Narrative

I was born at Mackinaw on All-Saints’ day in 1813, the second year of the American War. My father’s name was Jean Baptiste Sylvestre, who went up with the North-West Company, became a soldier in the British army and fought at Mackinaw. He received his discharge, moved to Drummond Island with the troops, and started business as a fur trader. He came from the North-West to help the British, and joined the force at St. Joseph Island. My mothers’ maiden name was Angelique McKay, a half-breed woman of Scotch descent, whom my father married at Mackinaw, where she was drowned when I was about two years old. Just before Mackinaw was given up to the Yankees my mother left in a small sailboat with a company of young people to visit Manitoulin Island, and was only a few yards from the shore when the boom shifted, and, striking my mother on the forehead, knocked her overboard, and she was drowned. The officers and men of the garrison assisted in dragging the lake for her, and did all they could to find her but her body was never recovered. After moving to Drummond Island in 1816, my father brought me to Nottawasaga River in a large birch bark canoe, with some Indians, on our way to Montreal, to leave me with my grandfather. We went up the river, crossed the portage to Hewson’s Point, Grassi Point, Roache’s Point, where we met a lot of Indians, then to Holland Landing and on to Newmarket. There were only a storehouse and two small log huts at the landing. My father made arrangements with Mr. Roe, merchant at Newmarket, who sent me to school, and then I engaged to drive team for him and make collections all over the country. I met a party of young people in Georgina and played the fiddle all night for them while they danced. My father came to Newmarket with his furs. He met tribes of Indians in the west clothed in deer and rabbit skins 1 and who had no axes, knives or iron instruments. He traded among the Muskoka lakes and at Sylvestre’s Lake in Parry Sound. He took me with him on one trip. We got short of provisions, and he sent two Indians out for more. They got drunk and did not return. Father was obliged to eat moss from the rocks and kill our little dog to save our lives. At last we reached the Narrows, near Orillia, where Francis Gaudaur, a half-breed, lived. Captain Laughton and my father came from Holland Landing across Lake Simcoe to the Narrows, down the Severn River to “Baushene’, (Waubausbene), thence to Penetanguishene to see the channel.

Jean Baptiste Sylvestre
Jean Baptiste Sylvestre

When they arrived at Penetanguishene Bay the Drummond Islanders were camped on Barrack’s Point, in wigwams made of poles covered with cedar bark. My father traded with Gordon, who settled on Penetanguishene Bay long before the troops moved from Drummond Island. William Beausoleil came before him and settled on Beausoleil Island. I was with the party who brought Colonel Jarvis, Colonel Sparks and Lady Jameson down from Manitoulin Island to Penetanguishene in birch-bark canoes. We stopped at Skull Island, where there was a large pit in the solid rock filled with skeletons. Mrs. Jameson asked someone to get a skull for her, and Thomas Leduc went down and got one. They put it in the canoe near my feet, and I told them to take it away. Mrs. Jameson kept it in the canoe with her. We took her to Coldwater, where an ox-team and wagon was procured, and she was driven to Orillia (the Narrows), where she boarded a vessel for Holland Landing, thence on to Toronto. I once took the wife of Colonel Jarvis in a canoe, with two Indians, from Coldwater to Beausoleil Island and Penetanguishene to visit the Indians. She returned by the old military road to Kempenfeldt Bay, and across to the Landing home. I recollect seeing Sir John Franklin at Newmarket in 1825. I hauled the oak timber from Lanigan’s Lake to build the Penetanguishene, the first steamer built here, near the site of McGibbon’s mill. Mr. Morrison had the contract for building the first Indian houses on Beausoleil Island. Mr. Roe had the contract for supplying provisions to the garrison at Penetanguishene. He hired twenty-two teams from the Davidites 2 , near Sharon. I drove one team, and they followed each other at intervals of one hour, going from the landing across the ice, through the old military road to Penetanguishene and the barracks. I was with Mr. Longhouse in Vaughan for two years, and with Captain Strachan for three seasons hunting on Lake St. Clair. Two of the vessels sunk here in Penetanguishene harbor (Scorpion and Tigress) were American schooners captured at the Détour by Adjutant Keating and his men. William Robinson built the first mill at the head of the bay, now owned by Copeland. Andrew Mitchell was the first postmaster at Penetanguishene. Serpent River got its name from a perpendicular rock at its mouth, on which a huge serpent is neatly carved. I went with Colonel Sparks, Colonel Jarvis and several Government officers on a trip round the lakes hunting for the rebel Mackenzie. My brother-in-law, Lewis Solomon, and several French-Canadians went as assistants. We went up to Manitoulin and the Sault, around by Mackinaw and down to Sarnia, Detroit and Malden, then down Lake Erie to Buffalo. The Americans said, “If he were hidden anywhere there, they would give him up”. We went down the Niagara, portaged round the falls, and went round the head of Lake Ontario, Hamilton, then down to the Credit to see the Indians, and so on to Toronto. 3 One of the Government officials expressed himself very strongly, saying, “They had no business spending money on such a trip.” Lady Jameson had been up to Lake Superior, and had been brought down from the “Sault” by some of our people of the North-West Company to Manitoulin Island, where she was taken in charge by Colonel Jarvis and his party. I often stopped with Capt. T. G. Anderson, Indian superintendent at Manitoulin. I was at Baushene (Waubaushene) when Mackenzie’s Rebellion broke out in 1837. We lived at Coldwater, where my father died at the age of seventy-one years. I married Rosette Solomon, daughter of William Solomon, Government interpreter to the Indians.

McKay, Solomon, Sylvestre,

Fur Trade,

Osborne, Alexander Campbell. The Migration of Voyageurs from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene in 1828. Volume 3 of Papers and records. Ontario Historical Society. 1901.

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  1. Some branch or tribe of the Beaver Indians of Peace River or Mackenzie River.[]
  2. The Children of Peace (1812–1889) were a Upper Canadian Quaker sect under the leadership of David Willson, known also as “Davidites”, who separated during the War of 1812 from the Yonge Street Monthly Meeting in what is now Newmarket, Ontario and moved to the Willson’s farm. Their last service was held in the Sharon Temple in 1889.[]
  3. An expedition (perhaps this one) to intercept W. L. Mackenzie in 1837, is mentioned in the Narrative of John Monague, of Christian Island. See Transactions of the Canadian Institute, Fourth Series (1892), vol. 3, p. 4.[]

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