OAKES, FORREST, merchant and fur-trader; d. 1783 in Montreal (Que.).
Forrest Oakes was an English merchant who came to Canada during the period of military occupation. By 1761 he was a partner in the firm of MacKenzie and Oakes, and in September he hired indentured employees in Montreal to go to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) under the leadership of Ignace Pinsonneau, dit Lafleur. Oakes accompanied the expedition and either stayed at Michilimackinac or went inland. In 1762 he was sued at Montreal for debt by Joseph Lamoureux, dit Saint-Germain, who had been hired as a guide in 1761. Oakes was represented at the hearing by Lawrence Ermatinger, his partner from 1763 to 1766.
Oakes’s presence at various places from Montreal to Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.) can be documented, but it is difficult to trace his activities. From 1763 to 1765 he was in the fur trade, probably in the Great Lakes region, but there is no proof that he wintered inland. In 1766 and 1768 he seems to have been in Montreal; in 1767 he appears on the list of licences issued at Michilimackinac and he was probably inland at this time.
From 1767 to 1782 Oakes received trade goods from Ermatinger, now his brother-in-law and his principal outfitter. During this period Ermatinger, in Montreal, forwarded supplies to Grand Portage on an increasing scale, from one canoe with £241 of trade goods in 1767 to canoe-loads worth from £1,300 to £1,700 in the years 1771–73, when Oakes was associated with Charles Boyer. In 1774 Oakes went into partnership with Boyer and Peter Pangman*, and Ermatinger’s extensive shipments the next year were divided into four separate lots with different codes marked on each bale, suggesting that trade was being carried on in four different locations. Oakes came down to Montreal in 1776, but he spent the next two years in Grand Portage. He may have been one of the traders who pooled their stock to send Peter Pond* to the Athabasca country in 1778. In 1779, when his partnership with Pangman and Boyer ended, he became one of the partners who formed the original North West Company, capitalized at 16 shares, of which Oakes and Company held one. Ermatinger forwarded two canoes to Oakes in 1780 and 1781 but only one in 1782, a decline which may reflect the increasing competition from both other Montreal-based traders and the Hudson’s Bay Company as well as the bad state of Ermatinger’s finances. Oakes returned to Montreal from the Great Lakes region in the fall of 1782 and died between 17 April and 24 May 1783.
It is impossible to know how far Oakes travelled inland from Grand Portage. It seems likely that he divided his time between Michilimackinac, Sault Ste Marie (Mich.), and Grand Portage, sending down meticulously prepared indents and provision lists to Ermatinger, arranging for corn shipments from Detroit, keeping track of the wintering partners, and supervising the packaging and shipment of cargo inland and of furs to Montreal. He may have spent his winters comfortably at Michilimackinac or Sault Ste Marie with his Indian wife. He left one son, John Meticamish Oakes, a minor, who may have become John Oakes the silversmith. The fact that Oakes left property in Handsworth (West Midlands), England, suggests that he carne from there.
ANQ-M, Chambre de milices, 5, f.16; État civil, Anglicans, Christ Church (Montréal). BL, Add. mss 35915, f.232. PAC, MG 19, A2, ser.3, 86, 88, 89. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace), 62–66, 439, 489. John Askin papers (Quaife), I, 51, 91, 141, 146, 149–50, 156–57. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’Ouest,” ANQ Rapport, 1932–33, 268. Innis, Fur trade in Canada (1930), 195–219. Daniel Morison, The doctor’s secret journal (Mackinac Island, Mich., 1960), 12–22 A. S. Morton, “Forrest Oakes, Charles Boyer, Joseph Fulton, and Peter Pangman in the northwest, 1765–1793,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XXXI (1937), sect.ii, 87–100.