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The Scottish Nation
Mackenzie


MACKENZIE, DONALD, an enterprising merchant, was born in the north of Scotland June 15, 1783. At the age of seventeen he went to Canada, and joined the great North-west Fur Company, which had been formed at Montreal in the winter of 1783-84, in opposition to the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in their employment he continued eight years.

On the 23d June 1810, articles of agreement where entered into between Mr. Astor of New York, Fr. Donald Mackenzie and other 3 Scots gentlemen, acting for themselves and for the several parties who had agreed, or might agree, to become associated under the firm of ‘The Pacific Fur Company.’

In July 1810, Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Hunt, at the head of a band of adventurers who had engaged in the undertaking, set out from St. Louis, to make the overland route, up vast rivers, across trackless plains, and over the rugged barriers of the Rocky Mountains, to the mouth of the Columbia river. The distance by the route travelled was upwards of 3,500 miles, though in a direct line it does not exceed 1,800.

On arriving at their destination a small fort or trading post was immediately erected on the south bank of the Columbia river, and called Astoria, after Mr. Astor, the originator of the settlement. Besides the fort, it consisted altogether of about half-a-dozen log houses, on the side of a ridge which rises from the river to an altitude of 500 feet. This ridge was originally covered with a thick forest of pines, and the part reclaimed by the first occupants for their settlement does not exceed four acres.

Mr. Mackenzie was placed in charge of a post on the Shahaptan, in the midst of the Tushepaw Indians, a powerful and warlike nation divided into many tribes, under different chiefs. These savages possessed innumerable horses, but, never having turned their attention to beaver trapping, they had no furs either for sale of barter. Game being scarce, Mackenzie, for subsistence, was obliged to rely, for the most part, on horse-flesh, and the Indians, in consequence, knowing his necessities, raised the price of their horses to an exorbitant rate. He was, therefore, both disgusted and disappointed with his situation, and on obtaining information of the breaking out of the war between Great Britain and the United States in 1812, he resolved upon abandoning his post, and proceeding to Fort Astoria.

After a long journey, he suddenly appeared there, with all his people, “way-worn and weather-beaten,” January 16, 1813. Mr. Duncan M’Dougal was then in charge of the establishment. After consulting with Mr. McDougal and other officials there, it was determined to abandon the fort in the course of the following spring, and return across the Rocky mountains. In the meantime Mackenzie went back to Shahaptan, to remove his goods from thence, and buy horses and provisions with them for the caravan, across the mountains. He was accompanied by two of the clerks, Mr. John Reed, an Irishman, and Mr. Alfred Seton of New York. On their arrival they found that the post had been rifled by the Indians, and the goods carried off. Mackenzie was fortunate enough to recover part of the stolen property. He then returned to Astoria, where he arrived, with the other partners, on the 12th of June.

After another consultation, it was resolved, as two of the most influential of the partners disapproved of the design to break up and depart from Astoria, that Mr. M’Dougal should continue to hold it, with forth men, and that Mr. Mackenzie, with four hunters and eight common men, should winter in the abundant country of Wollamut, whence he might be enabled to furnish a constant supply of provisions to Astoria.

On the expected arrival of the frigate Phoebe and Isaac Tod, British ships, Mr. M’Dougal, on the 16th October, entered into an agreement with Mr. M’Tavish, of the North-west Company, to sell him, on their account, the whole stock of furs and merchandise of all kinds, in the country, belonging to the Company of which Mr. Astor was the head. On the morning of the 30th November, the British sloop of war Racoon, of twenty-six guns and 120 men, anchored in Baker’s Bay, near the fort, and its commander, Captain Black, took possession of the place, on the part of Great Britain, and changed the name to Fort George. At the close of the war in 1814, in conformity to the treaty of Ghent, the settlement was restored to the United States, but the property, business and ports, remained in the hands of the North-west Company, under the above-mentioned act of sale by Mr. M’Dougal. On the 4th April following, Mr. Mackenzie, with two of the partners and such of the persons employed at Astoria as had not entered into the service of the North-west Company, set out for New York, across the Rocky mountains. He had converted everything he could into available funds, which he conveyed, through an extensive wilderness, to Mr. Astor, and his friends asserted that to Mr. Mackenzie alone was that gentleman indebted for all that was saved from the ruin caused by the agreement entered into by Mr. M’Dougal with Mr. M’Tavish. The trade in peltries was forthwith engrossed by the North-west Company.

Mr. Mackenzie subsequently exerted himself to secure for the United States the exclusive trade of Oregon, but after a long negotiation with Mr. Astor, and, through him, with Messrs. Madison, Gallatin, and other leading individuals in and out of office. The matter was abandoned, and on the merging of the North-west Company in the Hudson’s Bay Company in March 1821, Mr. Mackenzie joined the latter. He was immediately appointed one of the council and chief factor. “From that time,” says Mr. Irving, “the Hudson’s Bay Company enjoyed a monopoly of the Indian trade from the coast of the Pacific to the rocky mountains, and for a considerable extent north and south. They removed their emporium from Astoria to Fort Vancouver, a strong post on the left bank of the Columbia river, about sixty miles from its mouth; whence they furnished their interior posts, and sent forth their brigades of trappers.”

In August 1825, Mr. Mackenzie married a lady of the name of Adelegonde Humbert, and shortly after he was appointed governor of the Company. At this time he resided at Fort Garry, Red River settlement, where he remained till 1832, in active and prosperous business. At length, having amassed a large fortune, in August 1833 he went to reside in Mayville, Chautanque county, where he spent the remainder of his days. He died January 20, 1851, leaving a widow and fourteen children. One of the latter was by a former wife.


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