Resisting Removal: The Annuity Payment of January 1852
In January 1852, a special annuity payment was scheduled to take place at Fond du Lac, an Indian agency near present day Duluth, for those Ojibwe who had not received payment the previous fall. The payment was ordered by Minnesota Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey after a delegation of La Pointe Ojibwe had visited him in St. Paul. By this time, the La Pointe Ojibwe had not received annuities in 1850 or 1851 and were quite dissatisfied with the conduct of their agent, John Watrous.
According to one petition given to Ramsey and dated November 6, 1851, the Ojibwe believed that Watrous, who was a former La Pointe trader, had a close relationship with the traders. They asserted that annuity goods and money were deposited in the traders’ stores and that the traders controlled the agent’s conduct.
The Ojibwe gathered for payment at Fond du Lac in early January 1852. However, just as the Ojibwe asserted, the payment was ruled by the traders. As described by Vincent Roy who attended the January payment, the traders George Nettleton and Clement Beaulieu were given privileged positions and “got most of the money.” He went on to say that, “One stood at one door and one at the other of the payroom and no Indian was allowed to go out until he had paid most of his money to one or the other of them. The chiefs and headmen were bribed to consent to it” (White, The Removal Context, 234).
The agency blacksmith, William E. Van Tassell gave a similar description of the payment. He reported that “at the door of exit just outside the door C.H. Beaulieu was located with a table and papers and some silver change. As the Indians passed out of the door they were stopped by Beaulieu and his assistants and compelled to settle their accounts. Beaulieu took the money. I frequently heard him say on taking the money—Now we are square, the account is all settled” (White, The Removal Context, 234).
In some cases, the Ojibwe received no money at all. This occurred when the traders presented power of attorney for a member of one of the bands which allowed the trader or his clerk to collect the annuity money before it was ever received by the Ojibwe. According to Van Tassell, “from what I saw I think the traders received the greater portion of the money paid the first day . . . The Indians carried away but very little” (White, The Removal Context, 235).
A few months later, after it became obvious that they could get no support from Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey, a delegation of La Pointe Ojibwe traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the President with the hopes of ending such mistreatment.
Read the full text of the November 6, 1851 petition.
Bruce White, “The Regional Context of the Removal Order of 1850,” in Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights,” Compiled by James M. McClurken, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 141–328.