BATT, ISAAC, fur-trader; b. c. 1725, probably in Stanstead Abbots, Hertfordshire, England; m. there on 18 April 1761 Sarah Fowler; d. summer 1791 in the vicinity of Manchester House (near Pike’s Peak, Sask.).
Isaac Batt first contracted with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1754 to serve as a labourer at York Factory (Man.) for five years at £10 per annum. In the fall of 1758 James Isham*, chief at York, sent Batt and George Potts inland with a group of Indians who had arrived at York with the traders Joseph Smith* and Joseph Waggoner. The trip was evidently a success, for on 29 Aug. 1759 Isham informed the London committee that “Isaac Batt who arrived att the head of 64 Canues Last June, is again Returned inLand.” He added that Batt, who was by now experienced at inland travel and trade, would “Return home” unless he were offered a new contract of £20 annually. The committee’s refusal of his request led Batt to return to England in September 1760. In September 1762, however, he was again at York, still a labourer at £10 per annum but with the promise of a £10 gratuity. By this time Batt was a married man, and during the years 1763–66 £4 or £5 was deducted annually from his wages at his request for the support of his wife Sarah, of whom, however, no later mention is found.
Inland service continued to dominate Batt’s career, and his responsibilities expanded with the growth of the problems associated with the company’s inland trade. In the autumn of 1763 he and Joseph Smith were sent inland with the hope that “they will bring down Strange Indians to trade.” The next year they were instructed to “Prevent Warr among the Natives, and get what Inteligence they could of the Approaches of the Interlopers [rival Canadian traders].” Batt and Smith travelled inland under the personal guidance of leading Indians known at the bayside posts. The loyalty to the company of such Indians, Wapinesiw and Matonabbee being among them, was strengthened by such arrangements, and as Ferdinand Jacobs, chief factor at York, explained to the London committee when urged to stop the custom, “the Individuals they [the traders] go with (who are Leading Indians of the first rank) may take offence and not come down to the Factory, and prevent other Indians from coming down to Trade . . . for they receive a considerable benifit by having these Men in their Families, which if suddenly taken from them, may irritate them to trade their Furrs with the Pedlers.” By 1768 Batt, who travelled inland yearly, had established himself as one of the company’s more influential servants among the Indians in the vicinity of present day The Pas, Man., and was considered “a very honest good Servant.” In 1772, after continued useful service, he received permission to return home for a year and did so that fall.
Batt’s advancement from his return to York in 1773 until his death was slowed by his shortcomings at a time when the conditions and requirements of inland trade were changing. Like numerous other company servants of the mid 1700s, he was illiterate and therefore had to be excused from keeping journals while inland. Younger inland traders such as Matthew Cocking and William Tomison* were not so handicapped. While Batt remained a labourer, canoeman, and steersman at wages never surpassing £20 a year, junior men better equipped to keep records rose to dominate the company’s inland activities. Discouraged by the company’s failure to promote him, he became receptive to the recruiting offers of its competitors. During the 1771–72 season he had been approached by Canadian traders, Thomas Corry among them, who hoped to attract him and Louis Primeau to their side “because they draw the natives.” In 1774, when he was involved with Samuel Hearne, Charles Thomas Isham*, and others in the frustrations of trying to settle “Basqueawe” (The Pas) and Cumberland House (Sask.), he received a new offer. Hearne informed the London committee on 30 June 1775 of its results: “The advantage your honours expected from Isaac Batt’s knowlage of those Part are entirely frustirated by his leaving your Service and entering with the Pedlors.”
Despite his shortcomings Batt was still a useful servant, and his desertion to serve with Joseph Frobisher* and others concerned company officers. Humphrey Marten, chief at York, quickly sent a personal note urging him to return. By the time the letter reached him in October 1776, Batt was receptive, “being tired of the Pedlers.” In the spring of 1777 Frobisher released him from his employ.
Although welcomed back into the company, Batt had diminished his standing by his defection. Marten noted that he was useful in transporting goods and at hunting moose but considered him “too light to have the command at any place.” Cocking described him as “Open as a Scieve.” Despite his detailed report to company superiors on the pedlars’ posts and trade, Batt’s loyalty was no longer taken for granted. His usefulness inland as canoeman, trader, and hunter continued, however, well into the 1780s and was appreciated, as the Cumberland and other inland journals of the time attest. But by 1791 he was “An old Servant – almost worn out.” When Tomison left him at Manchester House on the North Saskatchewan River in May 1791, he described him as “not fitt for any duty, further than one of the Number [of men there].”
In October Tomison returned to Manchester to learn of “the unfortunate end of Isaac Batt, in which he himself [Batt] was highly culpable.” That summer he and some others had gone hunting with two Indian “villians,” taking six horses, two guns, and some supplies. The Indians, “having nothing of their own,” were seeking booty, and while Batt was “handing the Calimet to one, the other shot him through the head,” whereupon they “went off with the whole.” He was the first HBC servant to be killed by Indians in the Saskatchewan area.
Batt was known to have had a native family as early as 1777, and at his death he left descendants in the fur trade country. An associate, James Spence Sr, left legacies to his “Indian Wife Nestichio daughter of the deceased Isaac Batt” and their four children.
HBC Arch. Isaac Batt file; A.1/39, p.306; A.1/42, ff.34, 97–98, 126, 156, 187; A.11/115, ff.16, 22, 24–25, 50, 63, 74, 80, 85, 111, 120, 122, 137, 144, 153, 158, 171, 182; A.11/116, ff.22–23; A.11/117, f.135; A.30/1, ff.62, 79; A.30/2, f.12; A.30/3, ff.15, 38, 62; A.30/4, f.74; A.30/5, f.39; A.32/3, f.229; A.36/12, f.224; B.121/a/6, f.35; B.121/a/7, ff.13–14; B.239/a/72, f.43d. Hertfordshire Record Office (Hertford, Eng.), D/P102 1/3 (Stanstead Abbots register of marriages, 18 April 1761). HBRS, XIV (Rich and Johnson); XV (Rich and Johnson). Saskatchewan journals and correspondence: Edmonton House, 1795–1800; Chesterfield House, 1800-1802, ed. A. M. Johnson (London, 1967).
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Cite This Article
Jennifer S. H. Brown, “BATT, ISAAC,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 10, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/batt_isaac_4E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jennifer S. H. Brown|
|Title of Article:||BATT, ISAAC|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||June 10, 2023|