Keeping Loyalty and Regulating Insubordination: Freemen and the Edmonton House Fur Trade, 1821-1828
This paper examines the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Edmonton House Journals and district reports from 1820-1829 to assess the relationship between the HBC and Freemen over the decade immediately following the merger between the HBC and Northwest Company (NWC). I argue that although numbers of Freemen associated with Edmonton House decreased substantially as Freemen moved to the Red River and Columbia River regions after the merger, Freemen associated with Edmonton House provided an essential supply of food and fur that bolstered both the viability and profitability of the post, and served as an invaluable buffer between the HBC and Indigenous peoples. Freemen often moved fluidly between bush and post, procuring food and furs for the fort, at times engaging in contract labour around the fort, or accompanying trapping and exploration missions alongside fort employees. By the end of the decade, it appears that many Freemen were able to eliminate their debts with the HBC and establish more autonomous communities. In the fort Edmonton region, the 1820s can perhaps be viewed as a point of emergence for Freemen communities as they gained greater autonomy from fur trade companies and increased the size of their families. Growth in the independence and size of Freemen bands in the 1820s may be considered as a root of Métis ethnogenesis in the West.