Biographical Notes
Peter Skene Ogden

Peter Skene Ogden was born sometime in 1794 in Quebec, Canada. One of his forbearers, John Ogden, had arrived in Long Island in 1640. The Ogden family prospered during their first century in the New World and John Ogden's great grandson, David Ogden, was serving as a judge during the run up to the American Revolution. Both David Ogden and his son, Isaac were outspoken opponents of the Stamp Act and espoused strong revolutionary sentiments. Isaac, a widower and lawyer in Newark, New Jersey, married Sarah Hanson, the daughter of a prominent family with landholdings on the Hudson River in New York. Sarah's family were supporters of the revolution but Sarah was an ardent Loyalist. As events leading up to the revolution unfolded, Isaac and his father had second thoughts about the approaching cataclysm and late in 1776 both joined the British Loyalist Party. During the revolution, David and Isaac, together with their families, moved to New York then under the control of the British Army. In 1783, when the British were finally driven out of New York, both families fled to England. In 1788 Isaac was appointed Judge of the Admiralty Court in Quebec, Canada. By the time that the family moved to Canada, Sarah and Isaac had seven children. In 1791 another daughter was born and in 1794 their last child, Peter Skene Ogden, was born.

Twenty five years before the Ogden family arrived in Quebec, the Treaty of Paris transfered sovereignty over Canada from France to England. The country was still largely unexplored wilderness and Europeans and Americans were still in search of a trans-continental water passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Isaac was influenced by Peter Pond's belief that the Northwest Passage existed in Canada's western wilderness. One of the most important sources of revenue in the country was derived from the fur of wild animals. Soon after Peter's birth, Isaac was transferred to Montreal to be Judge of the Puisine Court. Peter grew up on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and was thus exposed to the all important fur trade during his formative years. His father wanted him to pursue a career in law and had him tutored accordingly, but Peter was more interested in the mysteries of the wilderness than what he perceived to be the boredom of a life in law.

Montreal was the home of the North West Company (NWC), at the time an arch rival of the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Both organizations were chartered by the King to trap furs in the vast Canadian wilderness. As he grew up, Peter identified with the NorWesters and accepted the view that they were the natural enemies of the HBC. As a teen Peter attempted to gain employment with the North West Company but they had no opening for him. Instead he succeeded in getting a job as clerk in John Jacob Astor's warehouse in Montreal. In April 1810, William McGillivray hired him as clerk for the NWC post at Fort Ile a la Crosse, three thousand miles to the west in Canada's vast wilderness. The seventeen year old was delighted and deported himself well during the long and difficult journey to his new home. One of his duties at Ile a la Crosse was to harass the nearby HBC post. He took to his duties quickly and by late-October his name was appearing in written complaints in the HBC reports to their headquarters. In 1817 his name was associated with "lawless acts" in connection with the fighting over the Red River Colony and one court deposition by an HBC clerk accused him of the murder of an indian.

In 1819 Colin Robertson arrived in Ile a la Crosse with a bill of indictment against Ogden for murder. The year before Ogden had already fled across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River and on to the NWC post at Fort George (previously Astoria) thus evading Robertson. On his way to Fort George, Ogden was attacked by Indians and, while there, participated in the Cowlitz massacre of a small village of Indians. Ogden was present when HMS Blossum arrived at Fort George with the American Special Commissioner, J.B. Prevost, to take the post from British control in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty ending the War of 1812. Following the departure of the Blossum and Prevost, day to day activities resumed with the NWC still in defacto control of the fort. Ogden remained posted there until the spring of 1820 when he was assigned to take charge of the NWC post at Fort Thompson in New Caledonia (British Columbia). In the fall of 1820, at the age of twenty-six, he was made a partner in the North West Company and received one share in it. With him at Fort Thompson was his Cree wife from Ile a la Crosse and their two young sons - Peter and Charles. In 1821 the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company agreed to stop their internecine battles and merge into one company under the HBC banner. In the merger only three former NWC personnel were declared to be persona non grata in the new company. One of them was Ogden.