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Peter Warren Dease: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Peter Warren Dease

EA-Biography
(Genevieve N. Shipman)

PETER WARREN DEASE

Peter Warren Dease (1788-1863), fur trader and explorer, was born at
Michilimakinac, Canada, on January 1, 1788, the fourth son of Dr. and Mrs. John
Dease. His brothers, John and Charles, were engaged in the fur trade which he
also entered in 1801, when he joined the X Y Company.
A brief mention of the status of the fur trade is necessary at this point.
Following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1763, when Canada became British, the inde–
pendent traders along the St. Lawrence westward multiplied to the point where
the various firms were exhausting fur-bearers and each other. The Hudson's Bay
Company was not involved in this trade war for they were staying close to the
shores of the Bay. In 1793, however, the independents merged to form the North
West Company. They called themselves Nor'Westers and were dubbed "Master Pedlars"
by men of the Bay. Testifying to its individualistic character, shares were not
sold on the open market but were given as rewards to young ambitious clerks, thus
(as it was said) encouraging them to use fair means or foul to increase their in–
comes by increasing company profits. The business was managed from Montreal and
all agreements were temporary. Anyone, clerk or partner, could leave at the end
of his three-year contract and go fur-trading on his own.
Alexander Mackenzie [q.v.] was such a Nor'Wester. Dissatisfied with the long
and costly haul from the Athabasca District (in which he was stationed) to Montreal,
he sought a route to the Pacific Ocean which would permit goods to be brought around
Cape Horn to supply the western trade. His first voyage, in 1789, was down the

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

great river which now bears his name but which he called River of Disappointment
because it led not to the Pacific but to the Polar Sea. He next explored the
Peace River, passed height of land of the Rockies, traveled down the Fraser and reached
the Pacific in 1793. Filled with a sense of accomplishment, he believed that
the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company could profitably merge.
To Simon McTavish, the Montreal agent, such a proposal meant disaster for,
with union, furs would be diverted to the Hudson's Bay outlet at York Factory,
and Montreal as headquarters would cease to exist. The disagreement between the
two men was strenuous and at the end of his contract Mackenzie left the Nor'Westers
and joined with other disgruntled "Pedlars" to form the X Y Company. This was
civil war, fought in miniature it is true, but none the less bitter on that ac–
count. The situation was resolved in 1801 by the death of McTavish when the warring
factions composed their differences and Mackenzie became the head of the stronger
North West Company.
Thus, after employment by the X Y Company for less than a year, Dease be–
came a Nor'Wester. His rank or position with the X Y's does not appear to be
known.
Throughout his life, it seems to have been the lot of Dease to be thrown in
with personages more illustrious than himself and, in their printed works at least,
to be shown up poorly in comparison. He wrote nothing himself, so far as has yet
been discovered, and few wrote about him except as part of their own preoccupations.
Thus, from Thomas Simpson's Narrative we learn, as incidental intelligence,
that Dease had been in the northern Mackenzie District in 1817 and again in 1819
for the purpose of making peace between the Eskimos and the Loucheux Indians. He
seems not to have been particularly successful, for sporadic hostilities continued.
In the northwest, in what year we do not know, he met and married Elizabeth Chouinard,

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

a half-caste, by whom he had eight children. The one thing about Dease that
needs no explaining is that he was a family man, devoted to Elizabeth and to
their children and, as was to be evidenced later, to his grandchildren, his
nephews, his nieces and, indeed, all of his relatives.
By 1821, competititon between the strengthened Nor'Westers and the expand–
ing Hudson's Bay had brought about a situation where the divergent interests
must unite or retire in defeat from the fur trade. The rivals therefore united,
retaining the name of the Hudson's Bay Company, its London managerial structure,
and its system of traderships and factorships, also its home rule through annual
Councils composed of the governor and the chief factors which decided such local
affairs as promotions, rates of pay, leaves of absence, and the general conduct
of the business.
At the union, net profits of the Company were divided into one hundred
equal shares, forty of which went to chief traders and factors. They were further
subdivided so that each factor received two and each chief trader one. Says Mackay,
"The new partners, 25 chief factors and 28 chief traders, were the Commissioned
Gentlemen, the very fibre of the Hudson's Bay Company. They were the men who
set traditions of loyalty, courage and personal integrity which gave prestige
to the Company throughout the 19th century. Had they been the motley handful
of unscrupulous men 'without a soul above a beaver skin,' as someone later charged,
the destiny of British North America would have been different."
In the appointment, the Nor'Westers fared better than the men of the Bay,
receiving 15 chief factorships and 17 traderships. Peter Dease and his brother
John were among the Nor'Westers receiving the traderships. This indicates that
both men had excellent records for, in the reorganization, many duplicate or un–
profitable posts were to be discontinued, so the parcelling out of commissions
was a delicate affair.

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

The first expedition of John Franklin, 1818-22, had suffered greatly through
the inexperience of its own officers primarily but also through the before-union
trade war tactics of the rival companies which deliberately placed obstacles in
Franklin's path. Dease obviously had no part in this and, in fact, must have won
Franklin's approval for, in the introduction to the Narrative of the Second Ex–
pedition
(1825-27), Franklin writes: "A residence in the northern parts of America,
where the party must necessarily depend for subsistence on the daily supply of
fish, or on the still more precarious success of Indian hunters, involves many
duties which require the superintendence of a person of long experience in the
management of the fisheries; and in arrangement with of the Canadian voyagers and
Indians: we had many opportunities during the former voyage, of being acquainted
with the qualifications of Mr. Peter Warren Dease, Chief Trader of the Hudson's
Bay Company, for these services, and I therefore procured the sanction of His
Majesty's Government for his being employed on the Expedition."
Franklin knew, or thought he knew, what he was doing. George Simpson [q.v.],
now Governor of the Northern Department for the Company and soon to be made Governor–
in-Chief, must have concurred or else he would have found excellent reasons why
Dease would not be available, the "sanction of His Majesty's Government" notwithstand–
ing. Preparations for the expedition were lengthy and Simpson had his own ways
of conveying his sentiments. Many of Franklin's earlier misadventures were due
to the trade war; but that war was now over and this time the impression made by
the Hudson's Bay Company upon the British government had to be good.
It had to be more than just good. The traders, on the whole, were resentful
of British naval expeditions which called upon them for many services, sometimes
strained their resources, and upset the normal tenor of the trade. For this reason,
men of the Bay discounted anything in a published narrative which cast reflection

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

on one of their number, saying that the naval officers "would take none of the
blame to themselves." Therefore, it was prudent to provide such expeditions with
men about whom even the most amateurish explorer must write favorably.
The objects of the second Franklin expedition were to explore the Arctic
coast from Mackenzie River to Icy Cape, under command of Franklin; and to explore
the coast between the Mackenzie and Coppermine rivers, under command of Dr. John
Richardson. As a corollary, H.M.S. Blossom , under command of Captain Frederick
William Beechey, would round the Horn and meet Franklin at Bering Strait, while
Richardson would try to connect with Captain Edward Parry, who was exploring the
Northwest Passage through Prince Regent Inlet.
Dease passed the winter of 1824-25 at the Big Island of Mackenzie and arrived,
on July 27, 1825, at the southwest extremity of Great Bear Lake with 15 Canadian
voyageurs , Bealieu, an interpreter, and four Chipewyan hunters. Several Dog Rib
Indians were on the spot and he took immediate steps to procure a supply of dried
meat for winter use of the expeditoon, as well as fresh meat for current consump–
tion.
Franklin, Richardson, George Back and E.N. Kendall left Liverpool on February
16, 1825, landed in New York March 15th, proceeded thence by various stages to
the shores of Lake Huron where canoes for their northern voyages were waiting.
They traveled down Slave River to Great Slave Lake, thence down the Meckenzie
River, arriving at Fort Norman August 7th. Since the weather was favorable,
Franklin and Kendall and their party started northward on August 8th, and on the
10th arrived at Fort Good Hope which was in charge of Dease's brother Charles.
On August 16th, they reached the Arctic Sea. They returned to Good Hope and
journeyed thence to the new establishment set up for them by Peter Dease, which
had been named Fort Franklin, though Franklin himself had thought of it and sub–
sequently referred to it as Fort Reliance. Richardson was already there, having

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

surveyed Great Bear as far as the influx of Dease River.
To say that Franklin's first glimpse of the fort was disappointing is to
express it mildly. "Mr. Dease was determined in the selection of the spot on
which our residence was to be erected, by its proximity to that part of the lake
where the fish had usually been most abundant. The place decided upon was the
site of an old fort belonging to the North-West Company, which had been abandoned
many years; our buildings being required of a much larger size, we derived very
little benefits from its materials. The wood in the immediate vicinity having
been all cut down for fuel by the former residents, the party was obliged to
convey the requisite timber in rafts from a considerable distance, which, of
course, occasioned trouble and delay."
The buildings were habitable "but wanting many internal arrangements to fit
them for a comfortable winter residence." They were arranged to form three sides
of a square, officers in the center, men on the right, the interpreter's quarters,
blacksmith shop, and meat house on the left. They were enclosed by stockading
built from the old Nor'West buildings.
There were 50 in the establishment, 5 officers, including Dease; 19 British
seamen,marines and voyageurs ; 9 Canadians, 2 Eskimos, Bealieu, and 4 Chipewyan hunters;
3 women, 6 children, 1 Indian lad, and a few infirm Indians who required temporary
support. The party, reports Franklin, was far too large "to gain subsistence by
fishing at one station only; two houses were, therefore, constructed at 4 and 7
miles distance from the fort, to which parties were sent, provided with the nec–
essary fishing implements." The Dog Rib Indians were sent to hunt but were only
occasionally successful.
Franklin's Narrative reflects his anxiety. In September 1825, he writes:
"To Mr. Dease the charge was committed of whatever related to the procuring and
issuing of provision, and the entire management of the Canadian voyagers and

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

Indians." By December 1st, fisheries were declining but by moving the nets they
were able to secure enough to give each man an allowance of seven fish a day and
each dog two. Intermittent supplies arrived by parties of Indians but, by February
1826, times were anxious indeed. Supplies dwindled and fish, taken out of season,
"afforded very little nourishment, and frequent indisposition was the consequence
with us all."
The Franklin story in its larger implications is told elsewhere in this
Encyclopedia . His account gives little credit to Dease, to whom the management
of provender had been entrusted. However, it must be remembered that Franklin
was a naval officer and his views are not necessarily shared by men of the fur
trade. Alexander Simpson, for instance, characterized that same winter as passed
by the large Franklin party "without much, if any, unusual privation. Fish, ex–
cept during a short period in the dead of winter, were procured in sufficient
abundance at the different fisheries established on the Lake. The hunters sup–
plied them occasionally with fresh venison; and towards spring they received ample
supplies of dried meat. Thus the Pemican and other stores, intended for their
summer voyage, were kept entire." The veterans of the company were rating Dease
higher than did the inexperienced Franklin.
In Franklin's Narrative , we come upon the next mention of Dease in the entry
of June 1, 1826. From this, we must infer one of two things. Either Dease was
not as incompetent as earlier pages of the Narrative suggested or Franklin was
not alert enough to take advantage of many opportunities during the winter and
early spring, when mail and messages arrived, to ask for a replacement. He most
cer t ainly knew, since every one else in the British Admiralty and in the Company
Board of Directors knew, that this time the Company was more than anxious to please
the Government.

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

Franklin is ready to begin his journey north on this June 1st and he is
drawing up instructions for Dease. Though much of these instructions appear
irrelevant here, we quote the section in full for its later implications. "I
next drew up written instructions for the guidance of Mr. Dease, during the
absence of the Expedition, directing his attention first to the equipment and
despatch of Beaulieu on the 6th of August, and then to the keeping the establish–
ment well-stored with provision. He was aware of the probability that the west–
ern party [Franklin's] would meet his Majesty's ship Blossom, and go to Canton in
her. But as unforeseen circumstances might compel us to winter on the coast, I
considered it necessary to warn him against inferring from our not returning in
the following autumn, that we had reached the Blossom. He was, therefore, directed
to keep Fort Franklin complete, as to provision, until the spring of 1828. Dr.
Richardson was likewise instructed, before he left the fort in 1827, on his re–
turn to England, to see that Mr. Dease fully understood my motives for giving
these orders, and that he was provided with the means of purchasing the necessary
provision from the Indians."
Dease next appears in Franklin's Narrative in the entry of September 21, 1826.
Lacking a week of four months, the party had returned to the fort, as was planned
if they did not meet the Blossom and circumstances had not made it necessary for
them to winter on the coast. Says Franklin, "During our absence . . Mr. Dease
had employed the Canadians in making such repairs about the buildings as to fit
them for another winter's residence, but he had not been able to complete his
plans before the arrival of Dr. Richardson's party, through whose assistance they
were furnished shortly after our return. The inconvenience arising from the un–
finished state of the house was a trifle, when compared to the disappointment we
felt at the p o verty of our store, which contained neither meat nor dried fish, and

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

the party was living solely on the daily produce of the nets, which, at this
time, was barely sufficient for its support."
The reason for the lack of supplies, as advanced by Dease, was the refusal
of the Dog Rib Indians to venture out hunting because they feared the Copper
Indians were lying in wait to attack them. Franklin, however, considered this
a poor excuse, attributable to Indian indolence and apathy. Franklin did not
return to England until June 1827. He does not give Dease further mention but
collapses the entire winter into one chapter with the report that, since events
were about the same as the year before, there was no point in chronicling them.
As said, the Dease side of the story has not been told in print. Perhaps he
reasoned that it was more important to put the buildings in good shape than to
lay up the stores as he had been bidden. By Franklin's instructions, as already
quoted, Dease's party was to remain at Fort Reliance until 1828. That much was
definite. The rest was predicated upon possibilities. Franklin's party might meet the
Blossom and go to Canton. Failing this, they might have to winter on the coast.
Since the party at Fort Reliance was getting along on "the daily produce of the
nets," Dease might well have considered that good buildings came first, as shelter
against oncoming winter when he and his men would be living there while Franklin
was either (a) en route in the Blossom to Canton; (b) wintering on the coast.
Once the structures were finished, Dease, the Canadians, and any likely Indians
could start laying up the stores of provisions, which, under either of the above
eventualities, would not be required for many months, if ever.
Whatever Franklin thought of the matter, the Chief Factors assembled in the
Hudson's Bay Council thought well of the, for they voted Dease one of their number
by reason of his service with the British expedition, In 1831 he succeeded William
Connolly in charge of the New Caledonia district on the Pacific coast.

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

One of the few pieces of direct published information about Dease that this
writer has come upon is a letter from Chief Trader Charles Ross to James Hargrave,
Master at York Factory, dated April, 1832. Ross is writing from McLeod's Lake,
north of the [then] Fort George on the Columbia River: "Our new B--S--[Bourgeois]
Mr. Dease, I found a most amiable, warm hearted sociable man — quite free from that
haughtiness & reserve which often characterises those who have little else to re–
commend them — and if Fortune always favores the Good, he should enjoy an unusual
share of her smiles — So far, however, she has been decidedly adverse to him in
his present station. Last year he was a passive Spectator of prosperous Events —
and thence might naturally anticipate, and was certainly entitled to equal success —
when it came his own turn to act — The Result, however, has not justified any
such expectation."
At about the same time Governor George Simpson describes Dease as "About
45 years of age — very steady in business, an excellent Indian trader; speaks
several of the languages well and is a man of very correct conduct and character;
strong, vigorous and capable of going through a great deal of severe service."
In 1836, the Hudson's Bay company, for reasons which are outlined in the
accounts of George Simpson and Thomas Simpson in this Encyclopedia , decided upon
a northern expedition of its own. Plans were drawn up by Thomas Simpson, who
understood he was to be in command, but Dease was appointed the senior officer.
Again we must rely on the writings of others. Thomas Simpson's Narrative , while
a model of clarity in most respects, refers only to "we" and it is not clear most
of the time whether or not the "we" included Dease.
One important phase of the journey was certainly made without Dease for
Simpson's Narrative states that Mr. Dease handsomely volunteered to stay behind
and secure Simpson's retret. After completing his explorations, Simpson and his

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

party rejoined Dease and they traveled back to Fort Norman where they reported
jointly to the Company. Though signed by both men, the report covers only the
doings of Simpson; there is no mention of what Dease was doing while securing
Simpson's retreat. Still it can be read between the lines of the Simpson story
that it was through the joint competence of the two leaders that the journey
of some 3,5000 miles was performed without accident or hardship, an achievement
which General A. W. Greely, most chary of compliments among writers on arctic
exploration, has rated as one of the greatest in the entire history of polar ex–
ploration.
By September 25, 1837, the united party was at winter quarters at Fort Con–
fidence, Great Bear Lake, where they were joined by Dease's wife, his niece, and his
granddaughter. Again for side lights on Dease, we have to rely on Simpson. He
calls him "a good honourable man." He is worthy but "dull and indolent." He is
so engrossed with family affairs that he is prepared to risk nothing. He is "the
last man in the world for a discoverer." He and his followers are a dead weight
upon the expedition. This indictment, of course, was made in private letters
and not in the published Narrative .
However, it seems that Dease was willing enough to subscribe at least to
part of it. He did put his family first. He even threw in the excuse of failing
eyesight! (It so happened that Governor George Simpson's eyesight was failing,
too.) He was, in short, willing to leave further explorations to his bachelor
partner, Thomas Simpson.
Dease was permitted to leave the exploratory field; Thomas was denied his
burning ambition to continue it. As reward for the success of their joint ex–
pedition, which had been under the formal command of Dease but under the active
leadership of Simpson, both men were awarded annuities of £100 a year by the

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

British Admiralty. Thomas did not live to collect his first payment but Dease
collected until his death. It is customary here for those who write about Dease
to say he was offered a knighthood which he refused. So far, no documentary
evidence has been offered to substantiate the statement but, if true, Dease's
refusal is quite in character.
The next mention of Dease is in connection with the death of Thomas Simpson.
The New York American , of August 3, 1840, quotes the St. Louis Bulletin of July
24th: Northern Passage: Lamentable Suicide of one of the Discoverers .
This despatch alleges that the two men returned to York Factory (which, of
course, they did not], set out for England to claim their rewards, disagreed as
to route and separated. All references to Dease in the despatch are inaccurate.
Simpson did travel southward to St. Paul en route to England, not to claim a re–
ward so much as to claim the right to continue his explorations. Dease, obviously
happy to be through with the whole business, did not strive toward Britain for
honors or anything else.
Simpson's Narrative , published posthumously, contains, as an Appendix, a
section on plant life with specimens catalogued by Sir Joseph Hooker and carefully
attributed to Dease. This indicates, which the body of the book does not, what
he was doing, among other things, on the expedition, though Simpson does accord
him one or two casual references. The text of the Narrative did not please some
Company employees, who, presumably, had difficulty in determining, as did this
writer, which man did what — asice, of course, from the few passages noted. John
McLean, in his irritation, summed up what must have been a general feeling, that
if Dease were to be characterized [: ] only as purveyor, then Simpson should be
equally characterized as only the astronomer.
Dease Inlet, Alaska; Dease River, Dease Lake & Dease Creek, B.C.; Dease

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

River and Dease Bay at Great Bear Lake, Mackenzie District, N.W.T; Dease Penin–
sula, Arctic Coast; Dease Point; Kent Peninsula, Mackenzie District; and Dease
Strait, Victoria Land, were so named by various explorers in honor and memory
of Peter Warren Dease.
He was the father of several children by an Indian woman, 1796-1824, and a
number of other children by a French-Canadian woman, Elizabeth Chouinard, who
died in Montreal on November 24, 1873.
Dease retired in 1842 and settled near Montreal where he remained until his
death on January 17, 1863. Evaluating him can puzzle even the experts. If one
takes printed statements only, it would seem that his promotions were the reward
of incompetence. On the other hand, it must be remembered that these promotions
were voted upon and approved by chief factors, each one of whom must have proved
his competence, in more ways than one, to have reached that estate. It is to be
hoped that further releases from the Hudson's Bay Company archives will shed new
light.

EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dease, A. E. Personal communication, March 26, 1950.

Franklin, John Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea
in the Years 1825, 1826, and 1827
. London, 1828.

Hargrave Correspondence, 1821-1823 , ed. with Introduction and notes by G. P.
de T. Glazebrook. Toronto, 1938.

Mackay, Douglas The Honourable Company . Indianapolis and New York, 1936.

McLean, John Notes of a Twenty-five Year's Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory .
London, 1849.

Merk, Frederick Fur Trade and Empire . Cambridge, Mass., 1931.

Pinkerton, Robert E. The Gentlemen Adventurers . Toronto, 1931.

Simpson, Alexander Life and Travels of Thomas Simpson . London, 1845.

Simpson, Thomas Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America
effected by the Officers of the Hudson's Bay Company during
the years 1836-39. London, 1843.

Stefansson, V. Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic . New York, 1938.

Genevieve N. Shipman
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