SUTHERLAND, JAMES, HBC inland trader and master; b. c. 1751, probably in the Orkneys (U.K.); d. 29 April 1797 at Brandon House (Man.).
James Sutherland was recruited, probably in the Orkneys, by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the summer of 1770 to serve at Prince of Wales’s Fort (Churchill, Man.) for five years at £8 per annum. There he worked under Moses Norton and probably met Samuel Hearne. When his term of service ended in 1775 he refused to renew his contract for the same wages and so was ordered back to England by the London committee. The company, however, was firmly committed to inland expansion by the 1770s and was anxious to recruit inland traders. Sutherland, by then a resident of the London parish of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, was re-engaged on 5 Feb. 1777 for £12 per annum “to Travel from . . . [Fort Albany, Ont.] to any parts inland for the better Discovery of the Country and improving the Trade.”
Sutherland’s subsequent career was one of steady service and rise through company ranks. After nine months at Albany he was appointed in 1778 to serve under John Kipling, master of Gloucester House (Washi Lake, Ont.), a post which had been established the previous summer as part of the company’s inland development program. In 1784 Sutherland, who was by then second at Gloucester, explored the route to Lake Nipigon and Pishocoggan Lake (Lake St Joseph). Two years later he set out from Gloucester, with John Richards and some Indians, for Lac Seul, returning on 3 Aug. 1786 after an arduous 53-day journey. In 1789 he was appointed second at Osnaburgh House and in August 1790 he continued the company’s westward expansion by establishing a post on Red Lake (Ont.). In October Duncan(?) Cameron, a rival fur-trader from Montreal, arrived and built a post within 100 yards of Sutherland. The two traders spent a pleasant winter exchanging visits and celebrating various anniversaries together. Sutherland left Red Lake for Osnaburgh in the spring of 1791 with 2,400 made beaver in furs, a good return for a new post with established competition.
The endeavours of the inland traders were carefully noted by the London committee. In 1792 it informed the chief of Albany that, being particularly pleased with “the conduct and assiduity” of Sutherland, it was appointing him to the Albany council. That same year Sutherland, who was by now earning £40 with a £10 gratuity annually, built Eschabitchewan House on Lake Burdingno (Ball Lake, Ont.), and the next year he established Portage de l’Isle on the Winnipeg River near its junction with the English River (Ont.). He took charge of Osnaburgh in October 1794 at a salary of £70 per annum. Despite strong competition from the Canadian pedlars, he managed to secure a good share of the trade. In 1796 he was appointed master of Brandon House and arrived there on 13 September. By April of the next year, however, he was reported “very sick” and died the same month. He left an estate that consisted of £1, 050 in consolidated Bank of England annuities.
James Sutherland was employed during a period when the company, actively competing with the Nor’Westers, had need of his dexterity with canoes, his ability to live off the land, his diplomacy with the Indians, and his willingness to undergo physical hardship. He was a religious and tolerant man, and his lack of prejudice enabled him to live in harmony with rival traders. Sutherland was eminently suited to serve the company during this highly competitive period of its history.
HBC Arch. A.1/45, ff.34d–35; A.5/4, f.27; A.6/11, f.101d; A.6/12, f.32d; A.6/15, ff.14, 16d, 17, 52d; A.11/4, f.68; A.11/14, f.136d; A.11/15, ff.6, 16; A.16/6, p.58; A.16/11, ff.76d–77; A.30/2, f.21d; A.32/3, f.14; B.3/a/74, ff.ld, 26; B.3/a/97, ff.46d–49; B.3/b/33, f.31; B.22/a/4, ff.12, 36d–37d; B.42/a/80, f.4d; B.64/a/1; B.78/a/2; B.78/a/11; B.78/a/14; B.155/a/1; B.155/a/3, f.35d; B.155/a/10, ff.14, 15, 35; B.166/a/1; B.177/a/1. Five fur traders of the northwest . . . , ed. C. M. Gates ([2nd ed.], St Paul, Minn., 1965). Journals of Hearne and Turnor (Tyrrell). Morton, History of Canadian west. Rich, History of HBC.