WAPPISIS (Woodbee, Woudby), a captain of the Home Indians (Crees) at Albany Factory (Fort Albany, Ont.); hanged 21 June 1755.
Wappisis was first mentioned at Albany in 1741. From 1743 to 1753 he received an annual gift of a captain’s coat from the Hudson’s Bay Company in recognition of his influence among the Indians in the vicinity of the post. The fact that he was several times given presents for his friends the Abitibi Indians indicates that he may previously have been at Moose Factory (Ont.), which was nearer their territory. Under the slack discipline of George Spence, chief factor at Albany from 1747 to 1753, Wappisis was permitted – contrary to HBC rules – to enter the factory. When Joseph Isbister* replaced Spence in 1753 he alienated Wappisis by withdrawing the privilege.
In 1754 Wappisis and his two sons, Shanap and Snuff the Blanket, were at Henley House (at the junction of the Albany and Kenogami rivers) where William Lamb, the master since 1751, exercised the same loose discipline as Spence had at Albany. He kept Wappisis’ daughter and Shanap’s wife “at Bed and Board.” The Indian men were angered because Lamb refused to share the post’s provisions with them also. One December morning Wappisis, his two sons, his son-in-law Annssoet, and two other Indians shot Lamb and two men in the house and waylaid the other two Henley men on their way home from trapping. They then ate the provisions and traded the goods.
Isbister first learned that there had been trouble on 6 March 1755, when an Indian reported Henley abandoned and emptied of goods. The factor concluded that there had been a surprise attack by the French. Wappisis, who had threatened death to anyone who told the truth, boldly came to Albany on 28 May to trade. He told Isbister that Henley had been taken in January, and that he and his sons had subsequently seen some “French Indians” there. Isbister was suspicious because of Wappisis’ former behaviour and because of the Home Indians’ unwillingness to talk about the incident. His first informant was a woman who had been a prisoner of the Home Indians. Then on 6 June some Indians from Henley arrived at Albany, and one who had lost three children during the winter because he could not obtain provisions at Henley told Isbister that Wappisis had sacked the post.
The next day the factor invited Wappisis “the land pirate” and his two sons into the fort on the pretext of giving them captains’ coats. “They came in very gaily,” were arrested, and confessed immediately. On 12 June a council of all 24 men at Albany decided that the three should “be hanged untill they are dead, dead, dead for a terour to all the Savage Natives from ever being guilty of the like barbarity in future.” Uncertain of the legality of his actions, Isbister asked Thomas White, chief at Moose Factory, for his opinion. White’s reply arrived on 21 June: “the sooner they are put out of the way the better . . . had the case been with me they would not have liv’d one hour after their convictions.” The three were hanged that afternoon.
The trouble at Henley was the first such incident in the company’s history, and there was alarm at Moose and Albany. According to Isbister the Indians at the latter place accepted the executions since they resented the destruction of the inland post; in recalling Isbister at the expiry of his contract in 1756, the London committee claimed that “the Indians are greatly exasperated at the execution of the assasins. . . .” At Albany a story survives of an Indian who made himself master at Henley, traded like a factor, and served himself pancakes every Friday.
HBC Arch. A.6/9, ff.29–30; A.11/2, ff.165–66, 167–68, 169–69d, 171, 173–74d, 175–76, 182–84; A.11/3, f.6; A.11/43, ff.76, 77–78, 79, 83–83d, 87, 89–89d. HBRS, XXVII (Williams) 253–55. Rich, History of the HBC, I.