A Journal of Voyages & Travels in the Interior of North America, Between the 47th and 58th Degrees of Latitude…

A very long sojourn (1803-1818 or so), by a Christian fundamentalist troubled by sin but trusting in God. Had a common law native wife who is not discussed very much until he finally marries and in reference to children. Tells harrowing tales of native drinking and its consequences, despite the fact that he provided liquor to them. On the death of his son, see p. 238-39.

Preface is by the editor, Daniel Haskel, dated Burlington, VT, Aug 2, 1820, who had edited the book from Harmon’s journals. Harmon was a Partner in the North West Company who traveled extensively (5000 miles) from Montreal to the Pacific during 15 years with the Company and who had promoted a school for inculcating Christian beliefs among the Athabaskans. Harmon served as secretary of the NW Company in his later years.

Harmon himself is engaging in his naiveté, his love of books, his comments about his common law wife and children, and a bit morose in his pious self pitying. Most disappointing is his failure to name any of his “lifeless friends” [books] other than the Bible.

The book includes a map based on MacKenzie and drawn by Arrowsmith, but extensively corrected and claimed to be “the most correct map of the interiour of North American, which has ever been published” (p. viii). The preface also has a section on predominant languages, on missionary needs of the “aborigines,” on the burden of the Métis on the Company and plans for their resettlement on Rainy Lake River. Notes that partners of the NW Company have contributed towards a school bringing “the light of science, and the still brighter light of the Sun of Righteousness” (p. xvii), all directed at the mixed blood children rather than the “wandering savages” (p. xix) because they would have more influence toward religion among the Natives, “having some of the Indian blood circulating in their veins.” p. xii: The souls of the Indians are more valuable than their furs.

The journal proper begins on April 19, 1800, with departure from Montreal of 30 canoes, each holding 3 or 4 tons and manned by 8 or 9 voyageurs.

p. 27: Sunday May 4, 1800: The wind has been so high, during the day, that we could not go upon the water. I have therefore passed the time in reading, and in the society of a fellow-clerk.

p. 30: There seems to be in the blood of the Indian, a kind of predisposition to intemperance.

p. 41-2: The people here pass the Sabbath, much in the same manner as they do, the other days of the week. The laboring people have been employed, during the day, in making and pressing packs of furs, to be sent to Canada. This appears, not as it should be, to me, who have been taught to abstain from labour on the sabbath, and to consider that it should be employed in a religious manner. The people, however, have no scruples of conscience on this subject.

p. 53: Wednesday 3 [Sept 1820]. I have passed the day in reading the Bible, and in meditating on my present way of living and, I must confess, that it too much resembles that of a savage.

p. 55: Sunday Oct. 4… But early this morning, without reluctance, we left the solitary Island, where many a moment of ennui passed over me. As I had no other book, I read during my stay there [Encampment Island] the greater part of the Bible.

p. 65-6, on Dec. 24, 1800 he visits an HBC fort and Mr Sunderland with his native wife who could speak English: I understood, also, that she can read and write it, which she learned to do at Hudson’s Bay, where the company have a school….

p. 74: Saturday, April 4 [1801] Swan River Fort…. While at Alexandria, my time passed agreeably in company with A. N. McLeod, Esq. who is a sensible man, and an agreeable companion. He appeared desirous of instructing me in what was most necessary to be known, respect the affairs of this country; and a taste for reading I owe, in a considerable degree, to the influence of his example…. Happily for me, I have a few books; and in perusing them, I shall pass most of my leisure moments.

p. 76, Saturday, May 2, raining all day: As I have but little business that requires my attention, I employ the great part of my time in reading the bible, and in studying the French language.

p. 88-9, March 6, 1801, after visit to English speakers in Alexandria, who cheered him up: And if I could, it would afford me little satisfaction to converse with the ignorant Canadians around me. All their chat is about horses, dogs, canoes, women and strong men, who can fight a good battle. I have, therefore, only one way left to pass my time rationally, and that is reading. Happily for me I have a collection of good books; and mine will be the fault if I do not derive profit from them. I, also, begin to find pleasure in the study of French.

p. 104, Wednesday May 4 Alexandria: I shall be in a great measure alone; for ignorant Canadians furnish little society. Happily for me, I have lifeless friends, my books, that will never abandon me, until I neglect them first.

p. 109, Dec 27 [1803] after his friends left on an excursion: I sensibly feel the loss of their society, and pass occasionally, a solitary hour, which would glide away imperceptibly, in their company. When they are absent, I spend the great part of my time in reading and writing.

[Harmon throughout complains about excessive drinking of the natives and Canadians, but keeps giving them spirits.]

p. 124, April 29 in Alexandria [near Fort Pelly, Sask.]: But the most of our leisure time, which is at least five sixths of the whole, will be spent in reading, and in meditating and conversing upon what we read. How valuable is the art, which multiplies books, with great facility, and at moderate expense. Without them the wheels of time would drag heavily, in this wilderness.

[Very frequently Harmon sees his troubles solved ‘by the aid of a kind Providence’ and similar euphemisms.]

In 1805 Harmon was in Cumberland House, near to the quarters of Peter Fidler of HBC. By this time he’d been away for 7 years and unsure of when he would return to civilization and his friends. In 1805 he takes a native female companion and in 1807 had her son, named George Harmon.

p. 161, Oct 3, 1807, Sturgeon Lake: We are in a solitary place, excepting the Natives…. Happily for us, we have a few good books; and in perusing them, we shall pass the greater part of our time.

p. 175, Monday October 10 1809, at Dunvegan where Harmon spent the winter, age 30: We have, also, a provision for the entertainment and improvement of our minds, in a good collection of books. The gentlemen who are to remain with me, are enlightened, sociable, and pleasant companions; and I hope, therefore, to spend a pleasant and a profitable winter.

p. 177, cannibalism by natives of dead relatives: It is reported, that one man killed his wife and child, in order to supply himself with food, who, afterwards, himself starved to death.

p. 180, on July 1809 visits with Mr John Stuart who he says was a thoughtful and reflective reader.

p. 184, May 15, 1810, also at Dunvegan but without such good companions: I shall have no intelligent companion, with whom to converse. But this deficiency will be in a measure supplied by a good collection of books, with which I am furnished. Were it not for this resource, many a dreary day would pass over me.

p. 229, on the life of a trader. May 13, 1813: No other people, perhaps, who pursue business to obtain a livelihood, have so much leisure, as we do. Few of us are employed more, and many of us much less, than one fifth of our time, in transacting the business of the Company. The remaining four fifths are at our own disposal. If we do not, with such an opportunity, improve our understandings, the fault must be our own; for there are few posts, which are not tolerably well supplied with books. These books are not, indeed, all of the best kind; but among them are many which are valuable. If I were deprived of these silent companions, many a gloomy hour would pass over me. Even with them, my spirit at times sinks… [but] A little reflection reconciles me to the lot, which Providence has assigned me, in the world.

p. 232-34, during a period of self-doubt and his acute sense of sin: I, therefore, some time since, commenced reading the Bible, with more attention than I had before done…. I also read all other books that I could find, which treated of the Christian religion. Some excellent notes, respecting the Saviour, in the Universal History, affected my mind much…. [This crisis of faith for Harmon was followed by a series of calamities, the death of his son and relations, etc. by which he decides to keep his woman as his wife, and return with her to his native land (the US).]

p. 248, Wednesday April 26, 1815: I expect to pass the ensuing summer here, having but a few people with me. But, by dividing my time between reading, meditation and exercise, I hope it will pass not unpleasantly, away.

p. 251-2, Harmon makes a set of pious resolutions: Resolved, never to let a day pass, when at home, or when convenient abroad, without reading a portion of the holy scriptures, and spending half an hour or more, in meditating on what I have read; and that the whole of the Sabbath, when it is not in my power to attend publick worship, shall be spent in prayer, reading the bible, or sermons, or some other religious book, in self examination, and in meditating on the eternal world.

p. 257, April 24, 1816: teaches daughter Polly to read English. Usually he spoke in Cree to his children, and to his Métis wife in French.