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Alexander Henry (1739 - 1824) was a Canadian trader, one of the first to travel through the Great Lakes to Michigan, Wisconsin, and beyond, after the French and Indian War.

He wrote a great book called Travels and Adventures of Alexander Henry. In it, he describes the massacre at Michilimackinac during the Pontiac Rebellion; his life was spared by Wawatam, an Algonquin Indian who had adopted Henry as his brother. Henry lived with Wawatam's family for a year, then, as Pontiac's rebellion was suppressed, he returned to being a fur trader.

The regular routine of a fur trader was to travel by canoe into the wilderness, with a crew of French-Canadian couriers du bois. The big canoes carried up to 30 people, with a large cargo of furs and supplies. At a prominent spot along a river, they would build a small fort. Ojibwas or Chippewas, Ottawas and other Algonquin Indians camped nearby, trading beaver fur and buffalo hides for watered down rum, blankets, axes, and cheap trinkets.

Henry's book describes how to spear fish through a hole in lake ice, lacrosse games, torture and cannibalism, eating lichen during a winter famine, buffalo hunts, and several political speeches of the Ojibwa chiefs.

In later years Henry was a founding member of the Beaver Club in Montreal -- an association of Canadian trappers, voyageurs, and traders.

His nephew, also named Alexander Henry and also a fur trader in the same area, kept a monumental journal. Henry the Younger was an odd fish - he doesn't write with the same genial personality as his uncle, but comes off as cold and unfeeling. But his journal tells a detailed story of the life of a trader and of the decimation of the surrounding Native American tribes by disease and alcoholism.

The journal of Henry the Younger fascinatingly describes many of the same people who are in the tribe that adopted John Tanner, a white man who grew up with the Ojibwa and later recorded his life story.

Henry the Younger drowned in a canoe accident on the Columbia River. He was involved in John Jacob Astor's push to open up a fur trading route to Astoria on the west coast and thus to China.

Even in contemporary sources, it is easy to confuse the two Alexander Henrys, both well-known traders and explorers based in Montreal. Between their two journals, I would recommend Travels and Adventures as a good read -- really an adventure story.

See my web site at
to read part of the text of Travels and Adventures

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