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Bruce Peel Special Collections Hudson's Bay Company Montréal, QC
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1818 Pierre Pambrun Indictment, Pemmican War

Indictment for Robbery, signed in Montreal, 1818.

Docket reads: "No. 19. King's Bench, Montreal. March Term, 1818. Dominus Rex vs. Pierre C. Pambrun, Jean Bte. Girard, Antoine Robillard, Jean Bte. Lagarde, Frans. Boucher & Benonie Marie. Indictment for Robbery. A True Bill. [signed] Fs. Rolland, foreman. Witnesses: Jean Gab. Lalonde, dt. La Prielle, Jean Bte. Chauvin. Process. fyled 5 March. [signed] N.F. Uniacke, Atty Genl."

From notes provided by the donor: "This original document outlines the charge of robbery against Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun (1792-1841) and his associates (all employees of the Hudson's Bay Company), which took place on the 10th of November 1816. The indictment was officially filed with the Court of King's Bench in Montreal on 2nd of March 1818.

The charge is stated (in essence) as:

'With force and arms at a place called 'Lapuise' the accused men (employees of the HBC) assaulted and endangered the life of Joseph Belcour (trader with the NWC [North West Company]) on the 'highway' aforesaid (Lac des Cedres Rouges), and stole 9 beaver skins, 25 musk rat skins, 2 otter skins, 1 bear skin, 1 keg of gun powder, one sack of lead balls (28 pounds weight), 1 roll of tobacco (65 pounds weight), 9 pairs of woollen blankets, 3.5 yards of scarlet cloth, 14 yards of blue cloth, 21 yards of blue cloth, 6 frocks (commonly called capots made of woollen cloth or molton), 3 figured flannel robes, 1 pound and ten ounces weight of beads, 200 gun flints, 1 piece and one-half piece of broad tape, 1 Indian knife, 3 clasp knives, three-quarters of a pound of vermilion, 1 gimblet, 23 shoemaker's awls, 12 gun worms, and 4 dozen metal rings powder (each listed with values), the goods and chattel of 'certain persons' (i.e., Joseph Belcour, on behalf of the NWC).'

Pierre Pambrun was a long-time employee and servant of the HBC, and was intimately involved in the 'Pemmican War' disputes between the HBC and the North West Company, primarily during the years 1814 to 1816. Pambrun, as witness, provided the courts with his observations and experiences of various skirmishes between the two companies. His evidence was included in published accounts of the trials.

Not much is known about Joseph Belcour, aside from the fact that we know that he was employed by the NWC in 1811 at Athabasca River. Although not stated on the document, we can safely conclude that he was still associated with the NWC during the time of this incident, as the document is written in the style and format of similar indictments brought against the HBC by the NWC. We can also safely concluded that this legal action taken was paid for by the NWC coalition, as part of a larger retaliatory action against the HBC, in the fight for unrestricted access to furs and supplies (i.e., pemmican) in western Canada.

Norman Fitzgerald Uniacke, son of Nova Scotia's Attorney General Richard John Uniacke, was Attorney General of Lower Canada at the time of the 'Pemmican War' hearings. He was a controversial figure, and was criticised for his very superficial acquaintance with criminal law and inadequate knowledge of civil law.

This official document was brought before the courts in Montreal, but did not proceed to completion owing to the fact that the 'Jurisdiction Act' of 1803 did not clearly state the jurisdiction of the courts of Lower Canada. Thus, the 'Indian Countries' fell outside of their area of responsibility. In addition, it was argued that the trials would not escape sympathetic influence of Montreal residents (including lawyers) connected in some way to the NWC. Thus, the trials were moved to York (Toronto), and the legal actions continued in the fall of 1818."