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    Peter Warren Dease

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0223                                                                                                                  

    (Genevieve N. Shipman)


            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

    002      |      Vol_XV-0224                                                                                                                  
    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


            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,

    003      |      Vol_XV-0225                                                                                                                  
    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.

    004      |      Vol_XV-0226                                                                                                                  
    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–

    (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

    005      |      Vol_XV-0227                                                                                                                  
    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–


            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

    006      |      Vol_XV-0228                                                                                                                  
    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

    007      |      Vol_XV-0229                                                                                                                  
    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.

    008      |      Vol_XV-0230                                                                                                                  
    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

    009      |      Vol_XV-0231                                                                                                                  
    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.

    010      |      Vol_XV-0232                                                                                                                  
    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

    011      |      Vol_XV-0233                                                                                                                  
    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–


            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

    012      |      Vol_XV-0234                                                                                                                  
    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

    013      |      Vol_XV-0235                                                                                                                  
    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


    014      |      Vol_XV-0236                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. Shipman: Peter Warren Dease


    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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