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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 5, 2003 - Issue 84


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Early Copper Mining History In the Lake Superior Basin (Part 4)

[From the Jesuit Relation of 1669--70.]
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

[Extract of a letter from Beauharnois to the French Minister. MS. in archives of Ministère des Colonies, Paris; pressmark, "Canada, Corresp. gén., vol. 71, c. 11, vol. 38."]

You will see, Monsignor, by the Extract from the Letter of the Sieur De la Ronde dated the 17th February last which I Had The honor of Sending you on the 14th August, by the report made to me by the Sieur Charly See Ange which I also Had the honor of Sending you on the 4th September with the private declaration made to me by the Miners And by what Monsieur Hocquart And I have the honor of Writing to you, that four Copper Mines have Been found in the Tonnagane River and the Rivière Noire, which they state to contain an abundance of ore. They are to have the honor, Monsignor, of reporting to you thereon and of bringing you some marcasite from those mines.
Annexed hereto is a Statement of the distribution of the licenses.
I remain
Quebec, October 4th, 1739.

[Extract from a letter of La Ronde, commandant of Point Chequamegon, to Beauharnois, dated Feb. 17, 1739. MS. in archives of Ministère des Colonies, Paris; pressmark, "Canada, Corresp. gén., vol. 71, c. 11, vol. 102."]

Monsieur--I have sent to conduct the miners to the Tonagane River, with orders to explore all those that issue from that region, and empty into Lake Superior. They found in the fork of the river Masses of Copper in clayey and Sandy Soils, and they said that these Masses Were only fragments that had come from the Mountains. They found three Mines of this Metal in the Rocks, of which two are on the River St. Anne, which is Seven Leagues distant from the Tonagane, to the west-southwest. They said that they Were similar to those in their own country, that is to say, good and rich; and that there is one of the two in which they believe that silver can be found, though they do not guarantee This; even if there is none, the Copper will prove good [Note: This appears from the location to be the present Iron River, although no early maps have been found with this designation; but in one authority Iron River is spoken of as the "river where silver may be found." The reports of the early geologists, also, indicate that some silver was found in this region. See Foster and Whitney (op. cit.)--Ed.]. They say that these Mines are better than Mountains of pure Copper, because the furnace will be run constantly, bee aura the expense of Cutting the Copper is Considerable, and they Will produce marcasite [Note: This word appears several times in connection with the copper mines. It means iron pyrites. La Ronde, as lie says, not being familiar with minerals, has probably used this word without knowing its meaning. It has been translated into "ore." "Mineral," etc., according to the sense of the sentence. Monsieur Oboltki, our [Quebec] mining engineer, has kindly looked over my translation of the part regarding the mines. --Crawford Lindsay, translator.]  in melting it; The Mines, they say, are at the end of the Lake [Note: The expression here, "an bout du Lac," means where the lake ceases and the river begins; that is, at the mouth of the river.--Ed.]; the country is fine, the woods very favorable, and the Waterfalls in the River are very well adapted to furnish power for their furnaces.

The Third mine is on the Black River, right on the shore of the Lake, where they have found the same advantages as on the other River. It is fifteen leagues from Tonagane, toward the same Point of the compass.
I have had the Miners take specimens of Ore in several sacks, which they are to show you. They wish to carry them off to their country, saying that we have no one in Canada capable or assaying them.

When the ice melts, I will Send my son to Tonagane with the Miners to explore the right branch, where there is a Cliff which has a Vein of Copper of which I have gotten a Piece. I am persuaded, Monsieur, that this News will give you pleasure.

[Letter of La Ronde to the French Minister, dated Oct. 18, 1739. Source, same as proceeding document, but vol. 65, c. 11, fol. 166.]

Monsignor--I thought that I could not avoid leaving my post of Chagouamigon to bring back to Quebec the German Miners whom you were good enough to send me for the purpose of seeking the Copper Mines that were thought, beyond a doubt, to exist around Lake Superior and in other places, for, previous to their arrival, several masses of almost virgin Copper were found in various Places, such as have already been presented to you.
You will observe, Monsignor, by the continuation of my journal, which I have the honor of sending you, the careful searches that I caused them to make and the Description of the four different Mines that we have found, specimens of Ore from which I have handed to Messieurs de Beauharnois and Hocquart to be sent to you with the Labels indicating the Places where they were found, so that you may, Monsignor, order Assays to be made to ascertain which are the richest, in order that I may thereby decide upon the steps that I should take to have them thoroughly Worked, If they be worth the trouble. These Miners assure me that they are as good as any of those that are worked in Germany. They will also have the honor of Describing them to you themselves, for I am sending them back to France with that Object, after having fully remunerated them; but Experience will always be the best test.

I take the liberty, Monsignor, of sending you a statement of all my services since 1687. If I am fortunate enough to secure your kind attention to them, you will observe, Monsignor, how painful it is for me that I should have been completely overlooked. If my continual application to the faithful performance of my duties during 53 years has not profited me, I implore you, Monsignor, to take, steps to enable my present long service to benefit my Children, who will always make themselves worthy of the honor of your protection, whenever you may be pleased to confer advancement on them. The eldest is a man 27 years of age who is a second Ensign; the second is 23 years old [Note: These were Philippe and Pierre François Paul. The elder son was still ensign in 1748, and returned to Chequamegon in that year. Apparently, he retired as ensign on half-pay. The younger was made ensign in 1742, and lieutenant in 1753, being killed at Quebec in 1760. --Ed.], a Cadet with aiguillettes since that rank has been established in Canada, and who left last spring for the war.

All these just reasons lead me to hope, Monsignor, that you will listen favorably to the requests of a father who is still prepared to shed the last drop of his blood in the service of the King and who has always inspired all his Children with the same sentiments.

I remain with very profound Respect, Monsignor, Your very humble and very obedient servant,
La Ronde Denys
Quebec, October 18th, 1789.

Continuation of the Discovery of the Mines by Monsieur de la Ronde Denis.

1736 On my arrival at Quebec, I reported my discovery to Monsieur The Marquis do Beauharnois, and I begged him, jointly with Monsieur the Intendant, who was going to France, to ask Monsignor, The Comte de Maurepas, to send out skilled Miners from the Mining country to find the main lode for we found only masses of virgin Copper in rich, red, and sandy soils. Monsieur the Intendant took with him about 500 pounds in the King's ship, and Monsieur the general sent a piece weighing about 80 pounds by a ship that sailed for Havre do grace.

1737 I went back to my post, pending the arrival from France of the Skilled Miners whom I had asked for. This did not prevent my making searches for mines on all the Rivers, during the autumn, winter and spring. I found nothing but masses of Copper. Had I had any knowledge of Minerals, I should certainly have had no need of Miners.

1738 I returned in my vessel to Sault Ste Marie, and I intended during The Voyage to land on The island where the virgin, Copper is said to be [Isle Royale]; but I encountered a gale from the West south West, which veered round to West North West, and the sea was as high as on the banks of New Found land. I decided to scud under my Foresail, for I could carry no other Sail. I certainly ran 250 leagues in two days and a half. When I reached Sault Ste Marie, I was never more surprised than when I learned that eight days before two German Miners, father and son, had passed through there on their way to join me at Chagouamigon, so that I might take them to the places where I had found those Masses of Copper. I remained quietly at Sault Ste Marie awaiting their return.

I was nevertheless uneasy for I saw no one who could take them there. When they returned at the end of a month, I asked them what they had seen and they told me that they had found nothing but nodules of Copper (this is what we call Masses), but no main lode. I told them that they must reembark with me. Thereupon they said that Copper was not found in earth but in Reek. I replied that they had come from too great a distance to allow of their returning so soon; that I would find Rocky bluffs for them in the neighborhood where we could certainly discover the main lode; which I did.

When I reached Chagouamigon I found war raging more fiercely than ever between the Sauteur of my post and the Sioux of the Lakes. I decided to remain at my post to endeavor to restore peace between those two nations, and I sent my eldest son with six Frenchmen and two savages in a good Canoe propelled by eight paddles to take the Miners to the Tonagane River. They found in the bottom of that River some more Nodules of Copper, but no Mines.

On leaving this River they entered the River Ste Anne six leagues to the West of Tonaga. At its entrance they found two Copper Mines; one to the right, the other to the left, which they state to be as good as any mines in their country, and that the waterfalls are very good for supplying the motive power for the furnaces; that the land is very well fitted for Cultivation and the timber very suitable for Building forts, Houses, Magazines, and forges; while the stone is excellent for furnaces.

On their return they found, six leagues farther to the west in the Rivière noire [Black River], a mine that they report to be very good; and they returned to pass the winter at the fort.

1739 Early in the spring a savage named l'Esperance, the bastard son of a Frenchman, showed me a piece of copper that he had taken from a Rock at the Tonagane River about a gunshot from the great Mass of Copper that lies there, and which the Miners saw.

When the ice had melted, I sent my son with a Canoe Manned by six French and two Savages to examine the said Rock. They reported that this Rock was a very good mine. Consequently this makes four that they know of. I brought them back in my vessel to Sault Ste Marie.

I sent my vessel back to Chagouamigon under the command of my son, with a cargo of provisions, and I put on beard of it twelve Carpenters and Sawyers to erect Buildings at the River Ste. Anne, where there are two mines, one to the right and the other to the left of the River. The miners claim that they join under the bed of the River. I ordered my son to go there with his workmen as soon as he reached the post of Chagouamigon and to build a very strong fort with Barracks, good Magazines, and a suitable forge at the place where the Miners said that this should be done to take advantage of the water-Falls, and I also ordered him to collect stone for the furnaces.

He also has men for the purpose of making Charcoal, and they are likewise to make Flumes in order to carry water to the furnaces to make blast furnaces of them on the German System. After this I resolved to return [to Quebec] in my Canoes with the Miners.

They told me that all along the Grand River they had found several veins of ore, which they call mother lodes. They say that there is a very good one at the Chaudières 40 leagues from Montreal, and, there is no portage to be made throughout that distance. There is only the Long saut1 up which the canoes have to be taken by Tracking and poling, and in going down the loaded canoes run the rapid in the middle of the river. There are Nipissing savages who live on the spot and who act as pilots. But without making use of that tribe we have very good Frenchmen who are just as skilful as they at this work. I think that a settlement should be established on the River Ste Anne, and that it would be advisable to bring out miners from Germany, founders, Carpenters, and blacksmiths; of these we shall need eight Miners, two founders, a Carpenter, a mason, and a blacksmith, and they must come from the Mines of Germany so that they may be thoroughly conversant with what they have to do, and all should be for the River Ste Anne. With regard to the Charcoal-burners and woodcutters we shall find enough of them in Canada. We shall also require two Additional Miners to be stationed at the Chaudières with four good men from among those salt-smugglers [Note: The Grand River is the Ottawa, then the usual route from Canada to the West. The Chaudières and the Long Sault are localities thereon--the latter, about 45 miles above Montreal, and six miles in length, navigation around it is now secured by means of the Greenville canal. Salt was a government monopoly, and those who were detected smuggling it into France were transported to Canada, and used in manual labor. Nau describes the wretched condition of these transported convicts, in Jes. Rel., lxviii, p. 229.--Ed.]  who come from France, and they should be put at the spot where the lode is to strip it and if it should be a good one, as there seems no reason to doubt, it would be easy to Work it at less expense than that on Lake superior, and we could have as many men there as we would wish owing to the facility with which Provisions could be sent there from the Montreal government.

I must now speak of the Steps to be adopted for working the Mines of Lake Superior, which are near one another.

I shall have to Build a vessel of 80 tons at Detroit, and freight it with provisions and cattle for the Colony at the Mines. I shall bring the said vessel to the foot of the Sault Ste Marie, and I shall re-embark the Effects and cattle in my vessel, which is above the Sault, at a distance of half a league from the other, which I can do both by land and by water.

I have already at that place a mare and two good Horses which are now working at the Mines establishment, and when the cattle arrive The Colony will be flourishing; for there are no better lands nor meadows throughout Canada, and there is an abundance of the same, while the Climate is very mild, the place being on the 46th degree of Latitude [Note: In reality, it is about on the 47° of latitude.--Ed.].

My intention would be on starting from Sault Ste. Marie to go to a River near Machidache, which call be ascended for a distance of about five Leagues and in which there is sufficient water for the vessel of 80 tons that I shall build. In this River there is neither current nor rapid. After this we go by land about eight leagues. The Road is quite practicable for Carts and close to the village of the Missisagués we come to Lake Odontario; the barks on this lake go to la Galette where you take Bateaux du Gent to go down to Montreal, and by this means avoid a portion of Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Herié, which is very shallow and has no harbors [Note: La Ronde is here describing the Toronto portage from Georgian Bay, by way of Matchedash Bay, the Severn River, Lake Simcoe, and the land route to the site of Toronto, where there was a Mississagua village. David Boyle, of the Provincial Museum at Toronto, thinks the river without current or rapid must be Holland River, but that the whole passage is obscure. La Ronde probably reported this from hearsay, rather than actual observation. La Galette was at the exit of Lake Ontario. The phrase "Bateaux du Cent" has given rise to various explanations: Benjamin Sulte thinks that without doubt it meant boats that would carry packages of one hundred pounds weight, the ordinary birch bark canoe holding "pieces de cinquante"--that is, of fifty pounds weight. Crawford Lindsay thinks it is probably intended for "Bateaux des Cente," or "Bateaux de Descente"--those for descending the rapids.--Ed.]. Starting from the Niagara portage at a distance of six leagues there is a Rapid called the
Rapide plat which is not navigable for vessels. We shall also avoid the Niagara portage, which is four leagues in length and in which there are three hills not practicable for Carts. Therefore I see no other Road for bringing down the products of the Mines than by the River I have mentioned, and the said portage may be called Torontaux as there are three on that tongue of land; and by this means a long Journey will be avoided and we shall be saved the necessity of building vessels and consequently considerable expense. [Note: Considerable interest was awakened in Canada by the discovery of these mines. Father Nan wrote to Madame Aulneau, Oct. 12, 1739: "An inexhaustible mine of copper has been discovered on the shores of lake Superior, 700 leagues from here; but the profits will never be very great, owing to the immense expense of transporting the copper." Jes. Rel., lxix, p. 39.--Ed.]

The following "Relation made by John Adam Forster, father and son," dated 1739, is translated from a transcript in Macalester College library, published in Macalester College Contributions, series 1, No. 4, p. 114.]

1st. They have been to the Tonagua river to visit the rich copper mine from which specimens have been sent, but they found only one piece of rock from said mine which could truly contain a thousand pounds weight of copper; besides, there did not seem to be any absolute indications of a mine at that place; but in returning toward Lake Superior, at a distance of a league and a half from there, they found a vein or lode from which this piece could have been taken, as the vein contained a little pure copper, in the matrix, from which they cut and carried off as much as they could, without the proper tools.

One could never see a mine, apparently finer, and it is certain that if one wished to start in the business and invest money there, a great return in copper might be hoped for.

2nd. At Orinial river, five leagues from the first place, they found a fine appearing slate mine where were five layers, one above another, and many signs of a copper mine, from which specimens have been sent your Highness, which will show by assaying whether it is good or not.

In the same place is found a vein or lode where copper can be recognized in the matrix and which is very hopeful.

3rd. At Black river, nine miles from there, in the same direction, is found a good mine of coppery slate in, one layer only, but a foot and a half deep, which would pay being worked.

4th. At the Lake Nepucin portage there are six veins or lodes, which are magnificent, and although no mine has been remarked, it is highly probable that in working there it would be, found.

Hall, Dec. 20, 1768. Reprinted from Documentary History of New York (Albany, 1850), ii, p. 533.]

I now proceed to consider the subject of your Lordship's letter and the papers therewith transmitted. And first, as to the ore, I have long since been well assured that there is not only a large quantity of Copper Ore in the Environs of Lake Superior, but that on trials made on Samples of it, some of which I have seen, it has been found extraordinary good and rich [Note: In 1770 Johnson joined a company for the working of these mines, the field partners of which were Alexander Henry, Alexander Baxter, and Henry Bostwick; in England. several prominent noblemen were also interested. Henry details their attempts at mining, and the failure of the scheme in 1773. See his Journal, pp. 217--229; and Wis. Hist. Colls., xii, pp. 37, 38.--Ed.]. I likewise about 3 years ago saw an Estimate of the Expenses of taking up, & transporting &c. the most accessible of that Ore, of which I am well assured there are to all appearances entire Reeks; but this estimate, which I have unluckily mislaid, was, to the best of my Recollection founded on the expectation that it wood. Continue to be obtained with very great ease, and that it could be transported, Refined &c. at rates which from the increased Value of labor &c. in Canada since the reduction of that Country may now be much doubted, admitting that the Vein of Ore would continue equally rich and accessible. I have likewise understood that the Indians themselves would at a very trifling rate procure large quantities of it, to which I may answer that the Indians are a Lazy people, & naturally Enemies to Labor, and therefore it is much to be doubted whether interesting them in it would be attended with advantage, although' the Indians. of that Country can be satisfied on much more reasonable terms than those who are more accustomed to receive favors from Europeans, particularly the French. I have also heard that some persons in Canada did formerly bring away a good deal of Ore from thence, and that they lost by it, but whether this was owing to the Expense of bringing it down, or to bad management I can't say. The River Ottawa being obstructed by 42 Portages, small and great, would much retard & Enhance the transportation of so heavy an article, & give place to the carrying it by the Lakes as the most eligible, notwithstanding the latter are at some seasons very uncertain & the navigation often tedious. The length and severity of the winter at Lake Superior will likewise require consideration both with regard to the provision to be made for those that should remain there & for their Cattle & Beasts of Burthen, and the very low wages of Battoemen & all Laborers in the time of the French when compared with the usual hire at this time, is also a matter that shod. be attended to.

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