Wednesday, August 5, 2009

William Hemmings Cook, 1766 - 1846

William Hemmings Cook(1) was my gr-gr-gr-grandfather, on the family side we normally think of as the French side. However, he was from England, an officer of the Hudson Bay Company and later one of the patriarchs of the Red River Settlement (the area now Winnipeg). My grandmother, Eliza Renville Jerome was his granddaughter.

When the Hudson Bay Company established their trading posts, they had a rule that their employees should not be married. That was probably to help keep their expenses down. But the officers of the posts disregarded the rule and eventually so did the lower level workers.

One report says: "Prominent HBC officers who practiced polygamy included James Isham, Joseph Isbister, Robert Pilgrim, Moses Norton, Matthew Cocking, and William Hemmings Cook."(2)

He had at least three wives, perhaps four, according to records in the Hudson Bay Archives and other historical documents. It appears that his wives were Cree or Assiniboine Indian women.

The practice of polygamy began to decline as the 1800s neared, and following the merger of the Hudson Bay company and the North West Company marriage contracts became the general rule.

I found it interesting to note that among the family and descendants of William Hemmings Cook are a number of people who were prominent in the work of the Anglican church in Manitoba. His granddaughter, Sarah Sally Cook was the wife of James Settee, the second native ordained as an Anglican priest. She had two brothers in the ministry and another a missionary teacher. This was during a period when there was unusual growth in the acceptance of the faith in that area.

This is just part of his story.

(1) COOK, WILLIAM HEMMINGS, fur trader, settler, and politician

(2)Femmes du Pays: Women of the Fur Trade, 1774-1821, by A. Gottfred