Excerpt – The French Trader

Summer 1755
Western North Carolina

Jourdain Laborde, the only son of a French trapper and an Iroqouis woman, was born in New France along a creek north of Montreal in 1725. Their cabin, while not immaculate, was one of the largest in the area due to his father’s good business fortunes. He had a knack for successful trade among all the local Indian nations. This included the Nippising, Algonquin, Delaware, Mississauga, Attikamek, Abenaki, as well as Shawnee and Cherokee that ventured north through the Appalachians. His trade routes also took him west along the banks of the Great Lakes to the nations of the Ottawa, Wyandot, Miami and Kickapoo. His mother took care of things around the cabin while he was gone, sometimes for months on end. She tended to the garden, split wood, and any other sundry task which needed to be done. Their meat came from his uncle who when hunting always made sure to ask the Great Spirit for enough to bring to them in addition to feeding his own family.

When Jourdain turned twelve, he began to accompany his father on his travels. Short trips at first, and then as he got older, the journeys became longer until he was away from home with his father throughout most of the year. He enjoyed the business as much as his father, creating a bond that was stronger than the rock in the mountains. Learning quickly, he was allowed to do some of the bartering and trading himself, arranging the prices for the pelts.

Upon return one spring, they could not find his mother. Distraught, they went to her Iroquois village to see if she was visiting her family. Her brother sadly told them she had passed over the winter during a heavy snow. She had come to stay with them for a few days and left to return to the cabin. When they found her a couple days later, they pieced the following together. Though unsure how, she had fallen and broken her leg. Unable to make it to the cabin or back to her village, she had died of exposure in the snow, wind, and freezing temperatures.

Jourdain’s father was beside himself with grief. If he had just stayed close to home, if he had not traveled so far all those years, if he had picked a different way to make a living, maybe she would still be alive, she would not have been alone when it happened. Her death was a severe blow and ripped them both apart.

His father spent all his time at their cabin, never leaving. Days were spent wandering through the now overgrown garden or in haphazard paths around the cabin and in the nearby woods. Rarely speaking, dark circles under his eyes reflected the long nights he was having. Everything had lost its luster and nothing mattered. He lost the battle with heartbreak and died that summer.

The loss of both parents devastated young Jourdain. The pain and emptiness of the cabin was just too much to bear. He packed up what he could on one horse and saddled the other. Against the wishes of his Iroquois relations, he headed south, never to return to the land of his birth. The trade of his father would prove to be a valuable asset.

Down through Virginia and into the Carolinas, trades, predominantly with the Shawnee and Illinois along the mountains, were made for deer pelts which he would then sell to merchants shipping the goods back to Europe. The Cherokee were not, for the most part, very accepting to the French hospitality for their loyalties lay with the English.

At first, it was beads, trinkets, and ribbons which were used as payment to the Indians. However, Jourdain found it was more productive for him to start trading arms. The amount of skins he could obtain for just one gun increased his monetary gain exponentially.

The benefit for the French along the frontier was the Indians using these weapons in fighting the English, holding them at bay and preventing their flow westward. For the most part, the Appalachian nations put their loyalty with New France. Geographically, this was a good buffer between the English colonies and the French. In some places, the English had gained a foothold on the western slopes. The demand for weapons, ammunition and gunpowder rose as the Indians wanted the firepower to stop the encroachment onto their lands. In turn, this assisted the French in keeping a disputed barrier of land between the two European powers.

This demand for weapons is what drove Jourdain, and those like him, to run an extensive arms traffic business. It also put them in harm’s way at times, either from the English or by Indians who thought the constantly changing trade ratios were unfair. Due to the adjusted market value of goods, the number of pelts needed for one rifle might be the same or raise the next time. Many Indians did not understand this discrepancy and in rare instances, the issue digressed to physical confrontation.

This was Jourdain’s world. He traveled as far south as Ft. Toulouse, a French outpost in the easternmost corner of Louisiana located at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. This small garrison consisted of less than 100 Marines and was mainly a trading post. In this area, Jourdain opened up contacts with the Muscogee, Chickasaw, Natchez, Choctaw and a few Cherokee.

It was during the time spent using Ft. Toulouse as his base that Jourdain encountered Sheme-NE-to and Oshasqua, Shawnee brothers who came to his aid during a dispute with some Muscogee concerning one of their business transactions. The disagreement erupted in violence and would have ended in death for the young Frenchman, if not for the sudden intervention of the Shawnee. Instead of his own, the bodies of Muscogee lay lifeless on the ground.

Laborde, as Jourdain came to be called by his new companions, traveled up and down the Appalachians all the way to Virginia. During these trips, they tended to shy west of the Cherokee strongholds in the mountains, extending their journey several days out of the way. The Frenchman came up with a plan which would play right into the fighting now breaking out along the frontiers from New France down to the Carolinas. The Cherokee, not usually amicable to him, would open their collective houses and welcome his guns and ammunition to wage their war against the English.

There was one man who immediately came to mind. He had been introduced to him by Sheme-NE-to at Ft. Toulouse and was told he lived in the area of a Cherokee village. He was known for coming to the fort for supplies, and he was remembered because he was English. Deeper inquiry of his Shawnee friend revealed this Englishman had no love lost for the Cherokee nearby. He could talk for hours about why he hated them, mostly Indians in general. The Shawnee brothers were a special case with him for they had come to his rescue, helping him fend off a Choctaw war party. After that, most of his rants about “those savages” would include the disclaimer, “except those Shawnee brothers”. Sheme-NE-to said they often stayed at the man’s cabin and went hunting with him.

Laborde believed this was the man for the job.
His name was Lamar Hayes.