Canada, Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: Scottish-Canadian Fur Traders


During the lowland clearances and even before, members of our family emigrated to the American Colonies, usually via the Ulster plantations. In the New World, they soon got a reputation as hardy individuals who could survive and more importantly prosper, even with everything the new country threw at them.


The Canadian TV series The Frontier chronicled the fur trade between the years of 1763 and 1779 in Canada/Rupert’s Land. In the series itself, Carruthers are represented by Katie Magrath, playing Elizabeth Carruthers, in the first two seasons, and by Peter O’Meara as Peter Carruthers, the husband in the first series. Interestingly this is the name of the hereditary Chief of Carruthers, Peter Carruthers of Holmains.

According to ‘Frontier’ fan page, Carruthers and Co. is a fur trading business in the series based in Montreal that was founded by Peter Carruthers. It is one of the larger scale operations in the fur industry in North America and a recognizable brand in all of Montreal that rivals that of Samuel Grant’s.

Peter Carruthers was the owner of the Carruthers and Co., a fur trade business based in Montreal that was rivals with the Low River Company  owned by the Brown Brothers Douglas, Cedric and Malcolm.

Elizabeth Carruthers was the wife of Peter Carruthers, who was the owner of Carruthers and Co., a fur trade business based in Montreal that rivals that of Samuel Grant’s company. Since the demise of her husband, Elizabeth had ascended to becoming owner and sole proprietor of Carruthers and Co., which she ran with such efficiency that matched the power of Grant’s with the help of her servant Josephette DaCosta.

After the death of her husband Peter, whom she harbors no actual feelings of love for, Samuel Grant had hoped to have Douglas Brown attempt to arrange a meeting with Elizabeth and him, expecting the possibility of buying out her husband’s business. Grant’s vying for Carruthers and Co. was proven to be a failure, as he miscalculated Elizabeth’s personality, who he expected her to be nothing but a grieving widow only to discover that she had pure ambition to bring Carruthers and Co. the sole leader of the fur trade. But to secure her future in an industry that is otherwise “not for women”, as Grant had stated, she would spring out Malcolm Brown from debtor’s prison, who she would “marry” for the purpose of being nothing but a figurehead in Carruthers and Co., while also granting Elizabeth majority ownership of the Browns’ Low River Company.

Mercurial and shrewd, Elizabeth’s characters matched step for step with that of Grant’s, as she too made use of threats and even sabotage to uproot Grant’s influence in Montreal, especially when French investor Marquis de Beaumont had arrived in Montreal for business, to which both Carruthers and Co. and Samuel Grant had warred for.

Although her initial perspectives of the Brown Brothers was low, especially after Malcolm’s disappearance to Fort James and having to remarry Douglas, it was evident that her attitudes to the Browns, Douglas especially, was shifting; after the Browns had sabotaged the tanning vats of Carruthers and Co., Douglas had openly admitted to wrongdoing and even went to great lengths to correct his and Malcolm’s plot by having Grant’s meeting with Marquis de Beaumont sabotaged by proving his complicity in the incident. After winning the Marquis’ interest with Carruthers and Co., Elizabeth would then develop a type of romantic feeling for Douglas, to which the two would copulate in Elizabeth’s private chambers. 

In her final offensive against Samuel Grant, she would have Grant’s bodyguard Cobbs Pond arrested for the murder of Bertrand Bernard. Taunting Grant on how she managed to foil his inevitable plot to bribe the magistrate by going to several and how she had Cobb arrested, Grant would become greatly incensed to the point in which his anger boils to murderous hatred, especially after Elizabeth had assaulted and injured him with a glass bottle. Grant would murder Elizabeth by bludgeoning her to death with a statue, a scene which his “ward” Clenna Dolan would arrive to and insist on discarding her body in the alleyway to avoid suspicions. After Elizabeth’s body was discovered by the authorities and by Douglas, the latter would become inconsolable, proving that he had truly seen Elizabeth as a lover and not a partner.

Though many of the characters are fictionalized, the show is an unflinching and accurate look at a brutal time in early Canadian history, when wealth and power were controlled by a few competing companies, loyalty was sold to the highest bidder, and disputes resolved by the gun.


According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Rupert’s Land as mentioned in the series was a vast territory of northern wilderness surrounding Hudsons Bay. It represented a third of what is now Canada. From 1670 to 1870, it was the exclusive commercial domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the primary trapping grounds of the fur trade.The territory was named after Prince Rupert, the HBC’s first governor.

iu-15HBC was a corporation that occupied a prominent place in both the economic and the political history of Canada. It was incorporated in England on May 2, 1670, to seek a northwest passage to the Pacific, to occupy the lands adjacent to Hudson Bay, and to carry on any commerce here that might prove profitable. It still exists as a commercial company and is active in real estate, merchandising, and natural resources, with headquarters in Toronto. It is the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world.

The company engaged in the fur trade during its first two centuries of existence. In the 1670s and ’80s the company established a number of posts on the shores of James and Hudson bays. Most of these posts were captured by the French and remained in French hands between 1686 and 1713, when they were restored to the company by the Treaty of Utrecht. After the British conquest of Canada (1759–60), increasing competition led the company to build fur


“The Greeting,” by Alfred Jacob Miller. A rendezvous of old friends, mountain style. Miller’s patron William Drummond Stewart, on white horse, wears a Scot’s bonnet in this picture. Walters Art Museum.

Here is a piece by Mr Ronald Watt OBE, ORS, MStJ which appeared in a newsletter, published by the Knight’s of the Most Holy Trinity. It is reproduced here with his kind permission.

The Scottish fur traders arrived in the colonies largely as single men. The Scots were so compatible with the Indians that after 1750, nearly all the fur traders among the Eastern Indians were Highland (& Border ed.) Scots. They soon aligned with Native American women. These marriages facilitated trade because native wives usually taught their husbands their tribal languages.

It was well acknowledged the key roles that native wives played in their husbands’ operations. Historically there were a number of parallels between indigenous American and the Scots. The two groups had much in common. The Cherokee admired the Scots whom they considered fellow warriors.

Each had fought lengthy battles, stretching over centuries, both against one another and against English speaking invaders. Members of both groups being driven from their homelands deepened the parallel. Both were mountain people with proud, independent, warrior societies who gloried in a good fight, rough games and reckless living.
Each had achieved partial, but by no means complete, success in fending off invasions.

As indigenous peoples, their social structures reflected numerous similarities. Each viewed land as essentially a communal resource, not a commodity to be bought and sold for profit. They both identified themselves with bandsor clans, and since chiefdom descended through lineage, each devised a systemflexible enough to allow selection of the bestperson for the job. Both were clan societieswhich considered loyalty to the clan their first obligation.

An Indian’s insistence on vengeance for the killing of a member of his clan was perfectly understood by an 18th century Highlander (or in fact a Borderer) with a similar custom. There were even parallels between their harvest ceremonies. Both cultures were primarily oral, with folklore and stories passed on to the children containing the distilled wisdom of their people.

Finally, the deep wisdom and strength of character that each group has displayed over the centuries has allowed them to endure their calamities with dignity



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1 thought on “Clan Carruthers: Scottish-Canadian Fur Traders”

  1. Yes just here trying to learn if the Carruthers presence in Astoria Oregon around the salmon canning history is the same clan of Carruthers whom I have met, and visit the Carruthers dog park several times weekly. Its located on land donated by Carruthers who live right up the road..Most likely so. But the chapter on canning should be connected here with the canning patent and industrial canning that became so important in NW fisheries of many species. Salmon, tuna, sturgeon..crab and oysters.

    Carruthers restaurant in downtown Astoria..certainly connected to the canners but to the fur traders? Same guys? And when did they naturalize and become American traders/businessmen and leave their European ties?

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