The Man from Maskinonge

On June 27, 1839, a man named Pierre Trotochaud entered the United States from Canada (according to a “Declaration of Intent” filed ten years later to become an American citizen). Pierre was born in Maskinonge, Quebec around 1815. Maskinonge, located between Montreal and Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River, was one of the communities where the fur trading companies recruited voyageurs, at least in the early days of the fur trade. Whether or not this practice still was occurring in Pierre’s day, furs were still being moved along the St. Lawrence and opportunities to work in the fur trade were still available to young men looking for adventure.

Unfortunately, the location where Pierre entered the U.S. is not known and could have been any number of places. However, having read up on the history of the Great Lakes region at that time, and having identified the places where Pierre later showed up in and around Minnesota, I think there are three main ways Pierre could have entered the country.

One was at Ft. Michilimackinac, which was an important port of entry for the fur trade at that time. Michilimackinac was located on an island in Lake Huron, at the mouth of the St. Marys River, which flowed out of Lake Superior. Trade goods moved through Michilimackinac, up the St. Marys to Sault Ste. Marie and on to Lake Superior. Trade goods and people were moved across Lake Superior largely by small boats called bateaux, which were wooden, approximately 40 ft long and rowed by a crew of 5 or more. Occasionally these boats were fitted with sails. Birch back canoes were also still in use, mainly for shorter trips along the coasts.

In those days, the American Fur Company dominated the fur trade in the Great Lakes region and had its headquarters at La Pointe on Madeleine Island off the southern shore of Lake Superior. The company had docks, warehouses and stores located in La Pointe. According to the journals of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, approximately 800 people called Madeleine Island home in 1832. Schoolcraft estimated that only about 150 members of the population were Ojibwe. With the exception of a handful of “white” employees of the fur company, the remaining population were “half breeds”. These were the sons and daughters (and grandsons and granddaughters) of unions between mostly French Canadian men and Ojibwe women. Such marriages were encouraged by fur company officials and if not encouraged, at least tolerated by Ojibwe leaders to facilitate trade.

If Pierre did not come through Michilimackinac, it is possible he arrived in Minnesota by steamboat. In those days, the head of navigation on the Mississippi was St. Peter’s Landing, below Fort Snelling. He could have boarded a steamboat in Prairie du Chien, a fur trading center on the Wisconsin side of the river, or perhaps he boarded at St. Louis, also a major trading center. Many other French Canadians who entered the US at that time landed at St. Peters.

This brings us to the third theory of Pierre’s arrival. He may have relocated from the Red River Colony, traveling what would soon become one of the Oxcart Trails. French and Scottish Canadians were recruited to settle the colony, located near present-day Winnipeg, by Lord Selkirk and others, beginning in the early 1800s. Floods, grasshopper plagues, isolation and other problems made life in the Colony very difficult and led to many of the settlers returning to eastern Canada or emigrating into the US.

Whether Pierre arrived by land or by water at St Peters, he would have found a few makeshift dwellings around the fort and not much else. The inhabitants were mainly French Canadian and mixed blood hunters, trappers and traders. Around that time the US Army began its efforts to move all civilians off the post property. The Army was concerned about a possible Indian attack, did not completely trust the mixed bloods and did not want their dwellings to provide cover for attackers. In 1840, the Army finally removed the remaining squatters by force and burned their buildings. One of those forced out was “Pigs Eye” Parrant, who was just getting his tavern business started. The place downstream from the fort where he relocated was the beginnings of a village originally named Pigs Eye, which later became St. Paul.

Regardless of how Pierre came to what is now Minnesota, it seems clear that he was involved in the fur trade. Given he was about 24 years old, it is possible he began working when he was much younger, perhaps in a warehouse back in Canada. That may have led to a similar job at La Pointe. Alternatively, he may have met and gone to work for one of the major players in the fur trade, who were often conducting business in and around Fort Snelling. These would have included Henry Sibley, William Morrow Rice (who also arrived at St. Peters in 1839), and others.

His work in the fur trade led to meeting a mixed-blood woman from Sandy Lake named Angeline who would be his wife.

4 thoughts on “The Man from Maskinonge

  1. From 1832 to his death in 1873, my g-g-grandfather JB Trotochaud lived in & around Mackinac Island, the center of civilization for the USA for much of the northern Great Lakes. He was married 4 times, 3 times on the island itself. The first 3 wives died of unknown causes, one family legend says one fell out of a canoe and drowned. He worked either as a fisherman or as a carpenter/builder. I never found any evidence he was ever a voyageur, although other writers have claimed he was – without evidence. Census records and Baraga’s diary support my claim. In 1834 JB placed his then youngest daughter in the care of Mackinac Island traders Ed and Agatha Biddle when that wife / mother died. No day care then for a single father to use! 9 Jun 1836 JB was married for the 4th and last time to Sophie Anaquet at St. Anne’s on Mackinac Island. In the summer 1838, future Indian missionary Rev. Peter Dougherty reported on a trip along NW coast lower Michigan & Grand Traverse Bay:
    “There are [white]men, several, at Mackinack who are talking of going in to the [Grand Traverse] Bay to take up lands, out of the limits of the reservation, however, most of them are men of good morals. One is a carpenter, and one a blacksmith.” I believe Dougherty was referred to JB, who did in fact move to Little Traverse Bay and buy land from an Indian there in 1851.
    It is also possible that Pierre like JB was a skilled laborer and not a voyageur. I know JB was on the Island in 1836, and he is again mentioned as living in Michilimackinac County in the 1850 US Census. Most likely JB was on the Island in 1839 also – and could very well have had Pierre, his (presumed) cousin twice over stay with his family while Pierre made his way west.
    Also please note This happened in Canada and some Americans from the Detroit area crossed the water into Canada to participate also. I don’t have the reference any more – but there was a Trotochaud who sided with the rebels & whose name appeared on a petition to the British government for a redress of grievances. Some of the rebels were killed in the fighting, some were hanged, some were transported to British penal colonies, and I think it more than likely some of the rebels left Canada to join the great Republic just to the south. Perhaps the young Pierre was also a rebel against the Queen’s government & left for greener pastures (so to speak). Yet another JB Trotochaud – another cousin of my g-g-grandfather, identical name – also disappeared from Canada records at about this time & a man with the same name appeared in Minnesota also.


    • I’ve thought about doing some research at Mackinac to see if Pierre came through there – seems to be the likely entry point to the US for him. I’ve looked into the 1837 Rebellion but couldn’t find much on the names of the rebels.


      • I wish I had noted the info on the Trotochaud name found on a petition in 1837, but I didn’t, and I haven’t found anything like that since. Pierre’s motivation for leaving British territory is just an educated guess on my part, unless new information turns up.
        Another son of Pierre’s presumed parents Joseph Trotochaud and Louise Trudelle is yet another Jean Baptiste Trotochaud, born 12 April 1808 in Maskinonge. He too disappears from Canadian records between 1840 and 1850. The St. Paul Cathedral in Ramsey, 28 Jan 1850 shows a marriage between John Baptiste Traticheau and widoe Louise Godeau. The 1857 territorial census showed a John
        Turtleshow age 51, born in Canada, wife Louisa age 50 born in Minnesota and daughter Louisa age 11 born in Minnesota. This JB may have served in the 5th MN infantry regiment during the Civil War despite his advanced age — the recruiting officers did not check birth certificates & had to take a man’s word for his age. Trotecheand (or Trotechaud) Jean B. Co. D, 5th Minnesota Infantry Regiment, enlisted & discharged as private. Started 15 Jan 1862 at age 40, discharged 5 May 1863 for disability.
        5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment: Trotecheand Jean B. Co. D, 5th Minnesota Infantry Regiment
        Captains: John Vander Horck, Hermann Muehlberg
        Company D was recruited primarily from Carver and Ramsey counties. The company moved to Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory, March 15-29, 1862, for garrison duty there (with a detachment at Georgetown till August 20) till November, 1862. [Jean B was discharged 5 May 1863 for disability] Action at Fort Abercrombie June 20 1862.. Defense of Fort Abercrombie September 3-26. Actions with Sioux Indians September 3-6 1862.. Company ordered to join Regiment and joined at Germantown, Tennessee, February 14, 1863.
        This Jean B Trotochaud born 1808 seems too old to have served, but it’s possible. Pvt Jean B Trotecheaud didn’t last a year in the service, possibly because he was too old to keep up the younger men.
        One unresearched source here: a possible Civil War veteran’s pension record for this JB Trotochaud at the US National Archives in DC. Records are free for the viewing if you show up in DC in person & $80 or more if you order the xeroxes made and mailed to you. I don’t know if this JB has such a record, most likely he did due to his discharge for disability. Pension files sometimes include details about in-laws and other family relations, and sometimes personal letters from relatives are included in the file. You don’t know until you look at the record. Very few pension files have been digitized & published so far. The National Archives may get that done in some future century.
        The 1870 US Census shows a John Tholeshar, age 63 Centerville, Anoka County, MN, occupation hunter, born in Canada, with Louise, 63, keeping house, born in Columbia, and John age 28, no occupation. I think this refers to JB Trotochaud b. 1808.
        1 Nov 1873 the government land office shows 160 acres, S11, T 142N , R 26 MN land record issued to a John Baptiste Trotochaud, don’t know if father or son. The deeds, titles at the county court house might shed light on this.
        1880 US Census shows John Troticheau, age 74, same locale as 1870, laborer,, presumed wife Lizette, same age, keeping house, with a boarder named Antoine Gobin, laborer. I don’t know what happened to the younger John listed in 1870.
        In 1889 there is a record of a military headstone issued for a man with a name similar to JB’s.
        I found a 1914 reference to a “Peter Tudochert” in Co. A, 4th Regiment Minnesota in Civil War, alternate name Mah – quah. Pierre might also have enlisted in Union forces, don’t have more details than that. The Peter that was murdered in 1869 is too young to have served, I think. If this Peter has a National Archives pension file, there might be something useful in it.


  2. I have a copy of the newspaper article describing Peter Trotochaud’s murder. Murdered by an Indian named Art. A time later, when Art returned to his camp, he was probably killed as the Chief ordered that should he return, he should be shot.


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