DUCHARME, DOMINIQUE (baptized François), fur trader, militia officer, office holder, and justice of the peace; b. 15 May 1765 in Lachine, Que., second son of Jean-Marie Ducharme* and Marie-Angélique Roy, dit Portelance; d. 3 Aug. 1853 in Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), Lower Canada.
Dominique Ducharme came of a distinguished family that had been present in New France from the mid 17th century. Residing at Lachine, a centre of recruitment for the western fur trade, the Ducharmes naturally became involved in that activity at an early date. Dominique’s father made a comfortable living from the business, which enabled Dominique to attend the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal from 1780 to 1786. But the boy possessed his father’s independence of spirit, and, his course completed, he too entered the fur trade. By 1793 he had at least one clerk, William McKay*, in his service on the Menominee River, which flows into Green Bay (Wis.), and possibly a second, his elder brother, Joseph. The following year, at La Baye (Green Bay), he brought out his younger brother Paul from Montreal also to act as a clerk. In 1793 Ducharme had paid two barrels of rum to two Indians for land on both sides of the Fox River at the Kaukauna rapids, thus gaining control of the portage around them and of the lower Fox. He built a house on the land and settled there. In 1794 he and another trader, Jacob Franks, obtained from the Menominee Indians “for value received,” a 999-year lease on a total of 1,200 acres on both sides of the Fox at La Baye; at the time Ducharme already possessed a concession on one side of the river beside one of the leased lots. He may have continued to engage in the fur trade in the west for the next 15 years; certainly he acquired a working knowledge of several native dialects.
Ducharme eventually returned to the Montreal area, settling at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. On 26 June 1810 he married Agathe de Lorimier, daughter of Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume de Lorimier*, resident Indian agent at Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). On 21 July 1812, after war broke out with the United States, Ducharme was commissioned a lieutenant in the Pointe-Claire Battalion of Militia. A cousin, also named Dominique, became an ensign in the same unit the following day, and it was possibly his uncle Dominique who had been appointed a captain at Lachine in the 2nd Battalion of Montreal Militia in 1811. In May 1813 Ducharme was ordered to the Niagara frontier, Upper Canada, in command of a party of Six Nations Indians from Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes and Saint-Régis. On 24 June, after Laura Secord [Ingersoll*] had informed Lieutenant James FitzGibbon* of a planned American attack on his outpost at Beaver Dams (Thorold), Ducharme’s scouts located the American force of some 500 men. Ducharme, by then a captain, reported its position to FitzGibbon and, with 300 of his Indians, joined later by about 100 Mohawks under Captain William Johnson Kerr*, he attacked the Americans from woods in the rear of their position. After three hours of fighting an enemy they could not see, and terrified by the war whoops issuing from the woods, the Americans surrendered to FitzGibbon on his arrival with just 46 men as reinforcements. According to Ducharme’s later account, confirmed in large part by FitzGibbon, it was his warriors, not Kerr’s Mohawks or FitzGibbon, who had engineered the victory.
Returning quickly to Lower Canada, Ducharme was placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry* de Salaberry; for his participation in the battle of Châteauguay on 26 October he was later awarded a medal and clasp. His relations with the rigorous Salaberry were not always happy. On one occasion, according to the journalist Pantaléon Hudon, Ducharme’s Indians tracked down and captured six deserters from Salaberry’s unit; they were court-martialled and, on the lieutenant-colonel’s orders, shot. Ducharme, who regarded such punishment as too severe for amateur soldiers with family and farm concerns in the area, never forgave Salaberry and told him that he would have helped the men to escape had he known the fate that awaited them.
After the war Ducharme returned to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, where, about 1816, he was appointed interpreter for the Indian Department, with all the duties of a resident agent. In November 1819 he received a commission of the peace, subsequently renewed until at least 1828. In November 1821 he was appointed commissioner for the trial of small causes at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. As political tensions in Lower Canada rose steadily in the 1820s and then dramatically in the 1830s [see Louis-Joseph Papineau*], he became increasingly alarmed by the possibility of armed revolt, which he considered pure folly. In 1837 he was sent to Saint-Benoît (Mirabel) to inspect the militia, a delicate task under the circumstances. After the inspection he breakfasted with the men, but the friendly tone of the conversation deteriorated over politics. When one man branded him a chouayen (a term of derision applied by the Patriotes to government supporters) for not giving up his commissions, Ducharme, who had a fiery temper even at 72, challenged him to a duel, but the challenge went unanswered. In late November a contingent of Patriotes, led by Amury Girod* and Jean-Olivier Chénier*, arrived at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes to commandeer muskets and cannon. After the force had found only a few small arms and powder in a Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse and had been denied arms by the Indians, it confronted Ducharme, who angrily refused to produce any weapons and urged the insurgents to return to their homes. Two weeks later, however, upon learning of the rebel defeat, Ducharme’s humane concern again came to the fore, and he made his way to Saint-Eustache, where he evidently helped some of the rebel survivors escape. He was clearly content with the political status quo, but was not prepared to see men he knew, even though they had attempted the violent overthrow of legitimate authority, arrested for treason.
Ducharme’s last years were spent in the quiet obscurity of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, where he continued as interpreter, reporting to the secretary of the Indian Department, Duncan Campbell Napier*. Ducharme’s active career had spanned nearly 70 years. A small, wiry man of great physical strength, he was representative of a whole generation of Indian Department employees in the early 19th century, men who, by their involvement in the Indian trade, usually spoke several dialects and acquired an understanding of native customs. They linked Britain’s military and trade policies of the 18th and early 19th centuries with the peace-time priorities of the post-1815 period.
PAC, MG 24, B2; RG 4, B37, 1; RG 8, I (C ser.), 230, 257, 688b, 825, 1168, 1171, 1202, 1695; RG 10, A3, 495; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 255, 262, 281, 349, 354, 357, 362, 639. Quebec Gazette, 30 July 1812. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal (ville et comtés), 1792–1867 . . . (Montréal, 1943), 344, 346–50. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 170–71, 214, 217–18. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Pierre Berton, Flames across the border, 1813–1814 (Toronto, 1981). Maurault, Le collège de Montréal (Dansereau; 1967), 189. Benjamin Sulte, Histoire de la milice canadienne-française, 1760–1897 (Montréal, 1897). “La bataille de Beaver-Dam,” BRH, 11 (1905): 341–44. Pantaléon Hudon, “Le capitaine Dominique Ducharme,” Rev. canadienne, 15 (1878): 420–30, 531–44. Joseph Tassé, “Un épisode de la guerre de 1812,” Rev. canadienne, 7 (1870): 753–55.