An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 5, 2003 - Issue 84
Early Copper Mining History In the Lake Superior Basin (Part 4)
1670: DABLON'S ACCOUNT OF COPPER MINES AT LAKE SUPERIOR.
[From the Jesuit Relation of 1669--70.]
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
NEW MINES NEAR LAKE SUPERIOR
will see, Monsignor, by the Extract from the Letter of the Sieur De la
Ronde dated the 17th February last which I Had The honor of Sending you
on the 14th August, by the report made to me by the Sieur Charly See Ange
which I also Had the honor of Sending you on the 4th September with the
private declaration made to me by the Miners And by what Monsieur Hocquart
And I have the honor of Writing to you, that four Copper Mines have Been
found in the Tonnagane River and the Rivière Noire, which they
state to contain an abundance of ore. They are to have the honor, Monsignor,
of reporting to you thereon and of bringing you some marcasite from those
[Extract from a letter of La Ronde, commandant of Point Chequamegon, to Beauharnois, dated Feb. 17, 1739. MS. in archives of Ministère des Colonies, Paris; pressmark, "Canada, Corresp. gén., vol. 71, c. 11, vol. 102."]
Monsieur--I have sent to conduct the miners to the Tonagane River, with orders to explore all those that issue from that region, and empty into Lake Superior. They found in the fork of the river Masses of Copper in clayey and Sandy Soils, and they said that these Masses Were only fragments that had come from the Mountains. They found three Mines of this Metal in the Rocks, of which two are on the River St. Anne, which is Seven Leagues distant from the Tonagane, to the west-southwest. They said that they Were similar to those in their own country, that is to say, good and rich; and that there is one of the two in which they believe that silver can be found, though they do not guarantee This; even if there is none, the Copper will prove good [Note: This appears from the location to be the present Iron River, although no early maps have been found with this designation; but in one authority Iron River is spoken of as the "river where silver may be found." The reports of the early geologists, also, indicate that some silver was found in this region. See Foster and Whitney (op. cit.)--Ed.]. They say that these Mines are better than Mountains of pure Copper, because the furnace will be run constantly, bee aura the expense of Cutting the Copper is Considerable, and they Will produce marcasite [Note: This word appears several times in connection with the copper mines. It means iron pyrites. La Ronde, as lie says, not being familiar with minerals, has probably used this word without knowing its meaning. It has been translated into "ore." "Mineral," etc., according to the sense of the sentence. Monsieur Oboltki, our [Quebec] mining engineer, has kindly looked over my translation of the part regarding the mines. --Crawford Lindsay, translator.] in melting it; The Mines, they say, are at the end of the Lake [Note: The expression here, "an bout du Lac," means where the lake ceases and the river begins; that is, at the mouth of the river.--Ed.]; the country is fine, the woods very favorable, and the Waterfalls in the River are very well adapted to furnish power for their furnaces.
Third mine is on the Black River, right on the shore of the Lake, where
they have found the same advantages as on the other River. It is fifteen
leagues from Tonagane, toward the same Point of the compass.
When the ice melts, I will Send my son to Tonagane with the Miners to explore the right branch, where there is a Cliff which has a Vein of Copper of which I have gotten a Piece. I am persuaded, Monsieur, that this News will give you pleasure.
[Letter of La Ronde to the French Minister, dated Oct. 18, 1739. Source, same as proceeding document, but vol. 65, c. 11, fol. 166.]
thought that I could not avoid leaving my post of Chagouamigon to bring
back to Quebec the German Miners whom you were good enough to send me
for the purpose of seeking the Copper Mines that were thought, beyond
a doubt, to exist around Lake Superior and in other places, for, previous
to their arrival, several masses of almost virgin Copper were found in
various Places, such as have already been presented to you.
I take the liberty, Monsignor, of sending you a statement of all my services since 1687. If I am fortunate enough to secure your kind attention to them, you will observe, Monsignor, how painful it is for me that I should have been completely overlooked. If my continual application to the faithful performance of my duties during 53 years has not profited me, I implore you, Monsignor, to take, steps to enable my present long service to benefit my Children, who will always make themselves worthy of the honor of your protection, whenever you may be pleased to confer advancement on them. The eldest is a man 27 years of age who is a second Ensign; the second is 23 years old [Note: These were Philippe and Pierre François Paul. The elder son was still ensign in 1748, and returned to Chequamegon in that year. Apparently, he retired as ensign on half-pay. The younger was made ensign in 1742, and lieutenant in 1753, being killed at Quebec in 1760. --Ed.], a Cadet with aiguillettes since that rank has been established in Canada, and who left last spring for the war.
All these just reasons lead me to hope, Monsignor, that you will listen favorably to the requests of a father who is still prepared to shed the last drop of his blood in the service of the King and who has always inspired all his Children with the same sentiments.
remain with very profound Respect, Monsignor, Your very humble and very
of the Discovery of the Mines by Monsieur de la Ronde Denis.
On my arrival at Quebec, I reported my discovery to Monsieur The Marquis
do Beauharnois, and I begged him, jointly with Monsieur the Intendant,
who was going to France, to ask Monsignor, The Comte de Maurepas, to send
out skilled Miners from the Mining country to find the main lode for we
found only masses of virgin Copper in rich, red, and sandy soils. Monsieur
the Intendant took with him about 500 pounds in the King's ship, and Monsieur
the general sent a piece weighing about 80 pounds by a ship that sailed
for Havre do grace.
I went back to my post, pending the arrival from France of the Skilled
Miners whom I had asked for. This did not prevent my making searches for
mines on all the Rivers, during the autumn, winter and spring. I found
nothing but masses of Copper. Had I had any knowledge of Minerals, I should
certainly have had no need of Miners.
I returned in my vessel to Sault Ste Marie, and I intended during The
Voyage to land on The island where the virgin, Copper is said to be [Isle
Royale]; but I encountered a gale from the West south West, which veered
round to West North West, and the sea was as high as on the banks of New
Found land. I decided to scud under my Foresail, for I could carry no
other Sail. I certainly ran 250 leagues in two days and a half. When I
reached Sault Ste Marie, I was never more surprised than when I learned
that eight days before two German Miners, father and son, had passed through
there on their way to join me at Chagouamigon, so that I might take them
to the places where I had found those Masses of Copper. I remained quietly
at Sault Ste Marie awaiting their return.
was nevertheless uneasy for I saw no one who could take them there. When
they returned at the end of a month, I asked them what they had seen and
they told me that they had found nothing but nodules of Copper (this is
what we call Masses), but no main lode. I told them that they must reembark
with me. Thereupon they said that Copper was not found in earth but in
Reek. I replied that they had come from too great a distance to allow
of their returning so soon; that I would find Rocky bluffs for them in
the neighborhood where we could certainly discover the main lode; which
I reached Chagouamigon I found war raging more fiercely than ever between
the Sauteur of my post and the Sioux of the Lakes. I decided to remain
at my post to endeavor to restore peace between those two nations, and
I sent my eldest son with six Frenchmen and two savages in a good Canoe
propelled by eight paddles to take the Miners to the Tonagane River. They
found in the bottom of that River some more Nodules of Copper, but no
leaving this River they entered the River Ste Anne six leagues to the
West of Tonaga. At its entrance they found two Copper Mines; one to the
right, the other to the left, which they state to be as good as any mines
in their country, and that the waterfalls are very good for supplying
the motive power for the furnaces; that the land is very well fitted for
Cultivation and the timber very suitable for Building forts, Houses, Magazines,
and forges; while the stone is excellent for furnaces.
their return they found, six leagues farther to the west in the Rivière
noire [Black River], a mine that they report to be very good; and they
returned to pass the winter at the fort.
Early in the spring a savage named l'Esperance, the bastard son of a Frenchman,
showed me a piece of copper that he had taken from a Rock at the Tonagane
River about a gunshot from the great Mass of Copper that lies there, and
which the Miners saw.
the ice had melted, I sent my son with a Canoe Manned by six French and
two Savages to examine the said Rock. They reported that this Rock was
a very good mine. Consequently this makes four that they know of. I brought
them back in my vessel to Sault Ste Marie.
sent my vessel back to Chagouamigon under the command of my son, with
a cargo of provisions, and I put on beard of it twelve Carpenters and
Sawyers to erect Buildings at the River Ste. Anne, where there are two
mines, one to the right and the other to the left of the River. The miners
claim that they join under the bed of the River. I ordered my son to go
there with his workmen as soon as he reached the post of Chagouamigon
and to build a very strong fort with Barracks, good Magazines, and a suitable
forge at the place where the Miners said that this should be done to take
advantage of the water-Falls, and I also ordered him to collect stone
for the furnaces.
also has men for the purpose of making Charcoal, and they are likewise
to make Flumes in order to carry water to the furnaces to make blast furnaces
of them on the German System. After this I resolved to return [to Quebec]
in my Canoes with the Miners.
told me that all along the Grand River they had found several veins of
ore, which they call mother lodes. They say that there is a very good
one at the Chaudières 40 leagues from Montreal, and, there is no
portage to be made throughout that distance. There is only the Long saut1
up which the canoes have to be taken by Tracking and poling, and in going
down the loaded canoes run the rapid in the middle of the river. There
are Nipissing savages who live on the spot and who act as pilots. But
without making use of that tribe we have very good Frenchmen who are just
as skilful as they at this work. I think that a settlement should be established
on the River Ste Anne, and that it would be advisable to bring out miners
from Germany, founders, Carpenters, and blacksmiths; of these we shall
need eight Miners, two founders, a Carpenter, a mason, and a blacksmith,
and they must come from the Mines of Germany so that they may be thoroughly
conversant with what they have to do, and all should be for the River
Ste Anne. With regard to the Charcoal-burners and woodcutters we shall
find enough of them in Canada. We shall also require two Additional Miners
to be stationed at the Chaudières with four good men from among
those salt-smugglers [Note: The Grand River is the Ottawa, then the usual
route from Canada to the West. The Chaudières and the Long Sault
are localities thereon--the latter, about 45 miles above Montreal, and
six miles in length, navigation around it is now secured by means of the
Greenville canal. Salt was a government monopoly, and those who were detected
smuggling it into France were transported to Canada, and used in manual
labor. Nau describes the wretched condition of these transported convicts,
in Jes. Rel., lxviii, p. 229.--Ed.] who come from France, and they
should be put at the spot where the lode is to strip it and if it should
be a good one, as there seems no reason to doubt, it would be easy to
Work it at less expense than that on Lake superior, and we could have
as many men there as we would wish owing to the facility with which Provisions
could be sent there from the Montreal government.
I must now speak of the Steps to be adopted for working the Mines of Lake Superior, which are near one another.
shall have to Build a vessel of 80 tons at Detroit, and freight it with
provisions and cattle for the Colony at the Mines. I shall bring the said
vessel to the foot of the Sault Ste Marie, and I shall re-embark the Effects
and cattle in my vessel, which is above the Sault, at a distance of half
a league from the other, which I can do both by land and by water.
have already at that place a mare and two good Horses which are now working
at the Mines establishment, and when the cattle arrive The Colony will
be flourishing; for there are no better lands nor meadows throughout Canada,
and there is an abundance of the same, while the Climate is very mild,
the place being on the 46th degree of Latitude [Note: In reality, it is
about on the 47° of latitude.--Ed.].
intention would be on starting from Sault Ste. Marie to go to a River
near Machidache, which call be ascended for a distance of about five Leagues
and in which there is sufficient water for the vessel of 80 tons that
I shall build. In this River there is neither current nor rapid. After
this we go by land about eight leagues. The Road is quite practicable
for Carts and close to the village of the Missisagués we come to
Lake Odontario; the barks on this lake go to la Galette where you take
Bateaux du Gent to go down to Montreal, and by this means avoid a portion
of Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Herié, which is very shallow
and has no harbors [Note: La Ronde is here describing the Toronto portage
from Georgian Bay, by way of Matchedash Bay, the Severn River, Lake Simcoe,
and the land route to the site of Toronto, where there was a Mississagua
village. David Boyle, of the Provincial Museum at Toronto, thinks the
river without current or rapid must be Holland River, but that the whole
passage is obscure. La Ronde probably reported this from hearsay, rather
than actual observation. La Galette was at the exit of Lake Ontario. The
phrase "Bateaux du Cent" has given rise to various explanations:
Benjamin Sulte thinks that without doubt it meant boats that would carry
packages of one hundred pounds weight, the ordinary birch bark canoe holding
"pieces de cinquante"--that is, of fifty pounds weight. Crawford
Lindsay thinks it is probably intended for "Bateaux des Cente,"
or "Bateaux de Descente"--those for descending the rapids.--Ed.].
Starting from the Niagara portage at a distance of six leagues there is
a Rapid called the
The following "Relation made by John Adam Forster, father and son," dated 1739, is translated from a transcript in Macalester College library, published in Macalester College Contributions, series 1, No. 4, p. 114.]
They have been to the Tonagua river to visit the rich copper mine from
which specimens have been sent, but they found only one piece of rock
from said mine which could truly contain a thousand pounds weight of copper;
besides, there did not seem to be any absolute indications of a mine at
that place; but in returning toward Lake Superior, at a distance of a
league and a half from there, they found a vein or lode from which this
piece could have been taken, as the vein contained a little pure copper,
in the matrix, from which they cut and carried off as much as they could,
without the proper tools.
could never see a mine, apparently finer, and it is certain that if one
wished to start in the business and invest money there, a great return
in copper might be hoped for.
At Orinial river, five leagues from the first place, they found a fine
appearing slate mine where were five layers, one above another, and many
signs of a copper mine, from which specimens have been sent your Highness,
which will show by assaying whether it is good or not.
the same place is found a vein or lode where copper can be recognized
in the matrix and which is very hopeful.
At Black river, nine miles from there, in the same direction, is found
a good mine of coppery slate in, one layer only, but a foot and a half
deep, which would pay being worked.
4th. At the Lake Nepucin portage there are six veins or lodes, which are magnificent, and although no mine has been remarked, it is highly probable that in working there it would be, found.
LAKE SUPERIOR COPPER MINES
I now proceed to consider the subject of your Lordship's letter and the papers therewith transmitted. And first, as to the ore, I have long since been well assured that there is not only a large quantity of Copper Ore in the Environs of Lake Superior, but that on trials made on Samples of it, some of which I have seen, it has been found extraordinary good and rich [Note: In 1770 Johnson joined a company for the working of these mines, the field partners of which were Alexander Henry, Alexander Baxter, and Henry Bostwick; in England. several prominent noblemen were also interested. Henry details their attempts at mining, and the failure of the scheme in 1773. See his Journal, pp. 217--229; and Wis. Hist. Colls., xii, pp. 37, 38.--Ed.]. I likewise about 3 years ago saw an Estimate of the Expenses of taking up, & transporting &c. the most accessible of that Ore, of which I am well assured there are to all appearances entire Reeks; but this estimate, which I have unluckily mislaid, was, to the best of my Recollection founded on the expectation that it wood. Continue to be obtained with very great ease, and that it could be transported, Refined &c. at rates which from the increased Value of labor &c. in Canada since the reduction of that Country may now be much doubted, admitting that the Vein of Ore would continue equally rich and accessible. I have likewise understood that the Indians themselves would at a very trifling rate procure large quantities of it, to which I may answer that the Indians are a Lazy people, & naturally Enemies to Labor, and therefore it is much to be doubted whether interesting them in it would be attended with advantage, although' the Indians. of that Country can be satisfied on much more reasonable terms than those who are more accustomed to receive favors from Europeans, particularly the French. I have also heard that some persons in Canada did formerly bring away a good deal of Ore from thence, and that they lost by it, but whether this was owing to the Expense of bringing it down, or to bad management I can't say. The River Ottawa being obstructed by 42 Portages, small and great, would much retard & Enhance the transportation of so heavy an article, & give place to the carrying it by the Lakes as the most eligible, notwithstanding the latter are at some seasons very uncertain & the navigation often tedious. The length and severity of the winter at Lake Superior will likewise require consideration both with regard to the provision to be made for those that should remain there & for their Cattle & Beasts of Burthen, and the very low wages of Battoemen & all Laborers in the time of the French when compared with the usual hire at this time, is also a matter that shod. be attended to.
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