HASSALL, THOMAS, Chipewyan interpreter, guide, Methodist lay preacher, and teacher; b. c. 1811; m. 13 Feb. 1841 Elizabeth —,and they had a number of children; d. 11 Sept. 1844.
In 1823, at Fort Churchill (Churchill, Man.), the Reverend John West persuaded the subject’s father, a hunter, to send the boy to the Red River settlement (Man.) to be educated by David Thomas Jones at the Anglican mission. He attended the mission school for eight years; on 24 June 1827 he was baptized by Jones and named after Thomas Hassall of Lampeter, Wales, who had recommended Jones for a missionary posting. In 1831 young Thomas entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Two years later he was engaged as interpreter for the Arctic expedition of Commander George Back*. Hassall travelled with the expedition as far as Lake Athabasca, where Back reported that “being unaccustomed to speak his native tongue, he was not altogether adapted for the first introduction of a party amongst the Indians.” Hassall remained at Fort Resolution (N.W.T.) and Fort Reliance and rejoined the expedition in the spring of 1834 for its return to Norway House (Man.).
Hassall remained with the HBC until the coming of Methodist missionaries to the northwest in 1840. Robert Terrill Rundle* arrived at Norway House in June of that year and James Evans followed in August. Hassall immediately associated himself with the new mission. On 20 August he was chosen to be a witness at the marriage of Benjamin and Margaret Sinclair, and in September 1841 the Hassalls’ daughter, Margaret, was baptized by Evans at Cumberland House (Sask.). Evans made Hassall the interpreter and schoolmaster at Norway House, and as a result of his care the school was “in a prosperous state,” Evans reported to the London Missionary Society in July 1844. “He is indeed an indefatigable and useful auxiliary to the Missionary, and deserves my highest commendation. His qualifications, piety, and unremitting labours and anxiety to promote the interests of the cause of God, and to instruct the natives, together with the fact that he speaks English well, French tolerably well, Cree fluently, and Chippewayan, (not Ojibaway, but an entirely different language,) to which nation he belongs, and amongst whom he has been already very useful, – have induced me to grant him a licence as a Local Preacher in this Territory.” Although it was not uncommon for natives to be made class leaders, few were licensed by the Methodists as lay preachers, in part because of a shortage of funds to pay them. Hassall was the only one so named in the northwest at the time; Henry Bird Steinhauer* and Benjamin Sinclair were licensed later.
On 1 Aug. 1844 Evans, Hassall, and three others left Norway House in an urgent effort to reach the Athabasca country before a Roman Catholic priest, Jean-Baptiste Thibault*, disturbed the loyalties Evans had established among the Indians. On 11 September, when they were within three days of Île-à-la-Crosse (Sask.), Evans was preparing to shoot some ducks from their canoe. “The piece went off and Alas! lodged its contents under poor Thomas’ left shoulder. He looked around, sunk down, and was no more.”
PABC, Add. mss 635. PAM, HBCA, D.5/12; E.4/1a: f.64. SOAS, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc., corr., North America, Hudson’s Bay territories, William Mason to secretaries, 20 Aug. 1844. UWOL, Regional Coll., James Evans papers, box 4734, items 115, 189–91, 213. George Back, Narrative of the Arctic land expedition to the mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean in the years 1833, 1834, and 1835 (London, 1836), 56, 89, 281, 465. James Evans, “Extract of a letter from the Rev. James Evans, general superintendent of the Wesleyan missions in the Hudson’s-Bay territories, dated July, 1844,” Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 68 (1845): 414. R. T. Rundle, The Rundle journals, 1840–1848, intro. and notes G. M. Hutchinson, ed. H. A. Dempsey (Calgary, 1977). Boon, Anglican Church. G. [M.] Hutchinson, “British Methodists and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1840–1854,” Prairie spirit: perspectives on the heritage of the United Church of Canada in the west, ed. D. L. Butcher et al. (Winnipeg, 1985), 28–43. Nan Shipley, The James Evans story (Toronto, 1966).