LAMOTHE, JOSEPH-MAURICE (baptized Maurice-Joseph), fur trader, militia officer, and Indian Department official; b. 16 March 1781 in Montreal, only son of Joseph Lamothe and Catherine Blondeau; d. there 5 Feb. 1827.
Joseph-Maurice Lamothe’s ancestors migrated to New France in the late 17th century and occupied civil and military positions. His father distinguished himself during the American Revolutionary War as a courier, carrying dispatches to Governor Guy Carleton* in 1775 while Quebec was besieged by American forces [see Benedict Arnold*; Richard Montgomery*]. From 1793 the elder Lamothe served with the Indian Department as an interpreter at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.) and then as resident agent at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), near Montreal.
Joseph-Maurice’s maternal uncle was the fur trader Maurice-Régis Blondeau*, and it was doubtless through Blondeau’s connections that in 1801 he obtained a posting as a clerk to Pierre Rastel* de Rocheblave in the New North West Company (sometimes known as the XY Company) [see John Ogilvy*]. Initially stationed at Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.) and Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.), Lamothe travelled as far west as the Peace River country. Rivalry was acute between the New North West Company and its older, better established competitor, the North West Company. In 1803 a NWC trader assaulted Lamothe, who shot and killed him. Though never charged with a crime, and later exonerated of any blame, Lamothe worried about the affair for years. Among those who supported him morally during this difficult time were the fur trader John Haldane*, who dismissed the matter as a “rascally business,” and Blondeau, on whose recommendation Lamothe returned to the Montreal area about 1807.
Lamothe’s knowledge of Indians, gained in the western trade, and his father’s influence with Sir John Johnson obtained for him, shortly after his arrival in Montreal, the post of assistant to his father, whom he ultimately succeeded as resident agent at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. His administrative diligence impressed Governor Sir James Henry Craig*; in 1810 Craig circulated a request for information on all Indian bands in the Canadas, and Lamothe was one of the few officials to reply fairly promptly. In early 1812, supported by Johnson, Lamothe petitioned Craig’s successor, Sir George Prevost*, for the position of resident agent of the Indian Department at Montreal; the appointment and a posting in the department as captain “to the Indian Warriors” were made effective 25 March 1812. Lamothe was also commissioned a captain in Montreal’s 3rd Militia Battalion on 8 April.
Early in the War of 1812 Lamothe and his Indians were attached to the Voltigeurs Canadiens under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry and were used to gather intelligence on American troop movements. When Major-General Wade Hampton invaded Lower Canada in the autumn of 1813, Lamothe was directed to shadow his army and ascertain its probable route. The forces of Hampton and Salaberry clashed at Châteauguay on 26 Oct. 1813; Lamothe and his group of Abenakis, Algonkins, and Iroquois were deployed at the right front of the Canadian line, and were thus involved in some of the fiercest fighting. They acquitted themselves with distinction, and Lamothe received a personal commendation for his part in the battle and for his pursuit of the Americans during the two following days.
The British command had already considered sending Lamothe to the upper Great Lakes because of his familiarity with the region. Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe*, commander of the troops in the Montreal district, was reluctant to let him go, claiming that “La Mothe is the only efficient officer here to act with the Indians and cannot well be spared. “None the less, on 9 July 1814, he departed from Lachine in command of a brigade of canoes bound for Michilimackinac. In the northwest he again acquitted himself with distinction, performing what Johnson later termed “a very hazardous service . . . in an officerlike manner.”
Paradoxically, Lamothe’s absence in the northwest caused him to be missed when honours and awards were distributed to officers of the Indian Department after the war; worse still, he lost his captaincy. He petitioned for redress, supported by his superiors, and was eventually granted his proper seniority and allowances and restored to permanent rank in the department effective 25 Oct. 1816. He resumed his post at Montreal about that year and continued to serve the Indian Department efficiently. In 1824 he was involved in a survey of Algonkin and Mississauga Ojibwa claims in the Ottawa valley.
On 1 Feb. 1813 Lamothe had married Josette Laframboise in Montreal. They had five children, and his growing family may have contributed to financial difficulties that Lamothe apparently faced by 1823. A general order to purchase and wear the department’s new green uniform with black facings and gold buttons may have been a factor as well. He died suddenly on 5 Feb. 1827 at age 45. His widow was granted a pension on the same basis as those provided to widows of regular army officers.
Lamothe’s career had been a significant, if minor, one. As a fur trader he had gained a knowledge of native dialects and of the northwest that was greatly appreciated in the Indian Department; as a courageous and able officer he had contributed significantly to the British cause during the War of 1812; and as an efficient administrator he had strengthened the operations of the Indian Department in Lower Canada after the war. In addition, Lamothe’s brief life has an aura of romantic adventure that adds to the interest of his story.
ANQ-M, CE1-51, 16 mars 1781, 1er févr. 1813, 8 févr. 1827. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 112: 273–83; MG 19, A12; RG 8, I (C ser.), 256: 135–36; 257: 316; 680: 54–56, 332; 1168: 294; 1218: 184; 1219: 126; 1224: 56–57; RG 10, A1, 487; A3, 488; 494; B3, 2368, file no.74316; 10019; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 349, 358. Quebec Gazette, 26 June, 14 Aug. 1817; 13, 20 Dec. 1821; 24 July, 4 Sept. 1823. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 169, 214, 217. T.-M. Charland, Histoire des Abénakis d’Odanak (1675–1937) (Montréal, 1964), 324. Benjamin Sulte, La bataille de Châteauguay (Québec, 1899); Histoire de la milice canadienne-française, 1760–1897 (Montréal, 1897). Léon Trépanier, “Guillaume Lamothe (1824–1911), “Cahiers des Dix, 29 (1964): 145.