May 6, 2014

52 Ancestors: William Solomon and His Ojibwa Wife

52 Ancestors: William Solomon and His Ojibwa Wife
Voyageurs: Lewis Solomon on left
I'm writing about my daughter-in-law's 6th great grandfather William Solomon as part of Amy Crow's Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks .

William Solomon was the fourth child of Ezekiel Solomon, a German Jewish merchant who had come to New France from Berlin during the Seven Years' War and acted as a supplier to the British army. Following the conquest, Ezekiel Solomon, one of the first non-French fur traders to penetrate as far as the upper Great Lakes, spent part of each year in the interior and the remainder at Montreal, where William apparently received some education. 

By the mid 1790's William was working in the interior as an employee of the North West Company, and he evidently lived for some time with his parents on Mackinac Island (Michigan). There he and an Ojibwa woman, Agibicocoua, had an illegitimate daughter, who was baptized on July 28, 1796. In 1797, 1799, and 1800 he fathered three other illegitimate children. Shortly thereafter he appears to have married Marguerite Johnston, who had been born on Mackinac Isand. The were to have ten children.

William is the 7th great grandfather of four of my grandchildren and his life story is fascinating. His son Lewis Solomon wrote the following narrative:

My name is Lewis Solomon-spelled L-e-w-i-s-though they call me Louie. I was born on Drummond Island in 1821, moved to St. Joseph Island in 1825, back to Drummond Island again, and then to Penetanguishene in 1829. 

My father's name was William Solomon, Government interpreter. His father, Ezekiel Solomon, was born in the city of Berlin, Germany, came to Montreal and went up to the "Sault." [Sault Ste Marie] My father was appointed Indian interpreter by the British Government and was at Mackinaw during the War of 1812, then moved to Drummond Island with the British forces, and afterwards to Penetanguishene. 

My mother's maiden name was Johnston, born in Mackinaw, where she and my father were married. She died in Penetanguishene. My father received his discharge under Sir John Colborne, retiring on a pension of seventy-five cents a day after a continued service of fifty-six years with the Government, and he died at Penetanguishene also.

When the military forces removed from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene, the Government authorities chartered the brig Wellington to carry the soldiers, military and naval supplies, and government stores; but the vessel was too small, and they were obliged to charter another vessel, and my father was instructed by the Government to charter the schooner Hackett (Alice) commanded by the owner, Capt. Hackett.

My father came to Penetanguishene in another vessel with the officers and soldiers. The rest of the family left Drummond Island the next spring (1829). We started on the 25th of June and arrived at Penetanguishene on the 13th of July, coming in a bateau around by the north shore, and camping every night on the way.

My mother, brother Henry and his wife and eight children, myself, Joseph Gurneau and his wife, and two men hired to assist (Francis Gerair, a French-Canadian, and Gow-bow, an Indian), all came in one bateau. We camped one night at the Hudson's Bay Company's fort at Killarney. We landed at the Barrack's Point, near the site of the garrison, and where the officers' quarters were erected, now occupied as a residence by Mr. Band, the Bursar of the Reformatory. We camped there in huts made of poles covered with cedar bark. 


There were only three houses there: a block-house, the quarters of Capt. Woodin, the post-commander; a log-house covered with cedar bark for the sailors near the shore; and a log-house on the hill, called the "Masonic Arms," a place of entertamment kept by Mrs. Johnson.

William brought the Drummond Island settlers to Penetanguishene. They left Michilmackinac on November 16, 1828. A severe snowstorm slowed their progress and the Brig Wellington with its 91 passengers arrived in Penetanguishene November 28, 1828. He died at Penetanguishene on Jan. 26, 1867 and is buried at the old St. Anne's cemetery beside his wife Marguerite.

There is quite a bit of biographical information on William Solomon, such as the following: 

Solomon supported his growing family by working at Michilmackinac, on Mackinac Island, as a clerk for the merchant Joseph Guy and occasionally by doing some interpreting, since he had learned several Indian languages. In 1809 his father died, leaving him land on Mackinac Island and on the mainland at Saint Ignace (Michigan). Though Mackinac had been turned over by the British to the United States in 1796, in accordance with Jay's Treaty, Solomon felt no strong loyalty to the Stars and Stripes. After war broke out between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, a force assembled by Captain Charles Roberts swiftly descended upon Mackinac Island and captured the fort and town for the British on July 17, the first military action of the war and a source of some satisfaction to Solomon. By February 1814 he had secured a position with the Indian Department as an interpreter at 4s 6d per day.

Since the number of British soldiers at Mackinac Island was small, their Indian allies were vital for their survival. When the Americans attempted to recapture the island in 1814, it was the Indians who swung the battle in favour of the British. The Americans never took Mackinac, but under the Treaty of Ghent it was returned to the United States. In July 1815 the British under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McDouall, withdrew their forces. The following month they settled on nearby Drummond Island and Solomon and his family accompanied them. Solomon was provided with a government lot on which he built a home for his family and established a small farm. His duties were to make out requisitions for provisions and to order the repair of the Indians's guns.

Along with Jean-Baptiste Assiginack and a few others, Solomon was one of the interpreters kept on at Drummond Island as part of the peace-time garrison, which included the Indian Department establishment under the superintendence of William McKay. Though characterized somewhat harshly by John Askin, of official of the department in 1816 as a "sober man" who could not interpret at Indian councils but who "may answer about a post to see an equal distribution of Provisions," Solomon did in fact interpret at various councils. As well, when the Indians of the Upper Lakes flocked to Drummond Island to receive the presents which the British doled out to ensure their loyalty, Solomon probably participated in distributing the goods. In 1816, when the Indian Department was reduced, he lost his job. He was reinstated, however, on May 29, 1821.

The British were not to remain long on Drummond Island, for when the border between Upper Canada and the Unites States was surveyed, it was found to be American territory. Once again the garrison, including Solomon, David Mitchell, and other Indian Department officials, was forced to move, this time to Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay, where a British naval establishment had already been located. In late 1828 a brig was chartered to move the forces, but when it proved too small Solomon was instructed to charter a schooner as well. He did not accompany it, however, since he had been ordered to spend the winter at St. Joseph Island, where he had lived briefly in 1825, in order to inform the Indians about the British move. In all, the families of between 75 and 100 soldiers, voyageurs, and small traders came from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene, which Lewis Solomon, a son described as "then mostly a cedar swamp, with a few Indian wigwams and fishing shanties."


In 1829 William Solomon and his family finally moved to Penetanguishene, although his livestock and implements were lost in a shipwreck on July 12 of that year. He built a home nearby, on lot 105, and continued to work as an interpreter. In 1837 he attended, along with Thomas Gummersall Anderson, Samuel Peters, JARVIS, Jean-Baptiste Assiginack and others, a major Indian conference on Manitoulin Island, which was graphically described by Anna Brownell Jameson ( MURPHY) in her account of travels in Upper Canada. On a longer trip, made in the early 1840's for the distribution of presents, he served as interpreter for a party that included Lord Morpeth, Lord Lennox Jarvis, and 56 voyageurs from Penetanguishene; they visited Manitoulin, Sault Ste. Marie, and Detroit.

Solomon received his discharge on June 30, 1845 and retired on a pension of 75 cents a day, according to his son Lewis. William afterwards moved into town, where he died and was buried in the cemetery of Ste. Anne's Church. Surviving him were a large family and his second wife Josephine Legris, whom he had married late in life.

[Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume viii page 830-31 c. University of Toronto Press]

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