Ducharme, Dominique

Dominique Ducharme, soldier, fur trader, office holder (b François Dominique Ducharme at Lachine, Que 15 May 1765; d at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, Que 3 Aug 1853). A fur-trading adventurer and soldier, Dominique Ducharme distinguished himself in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Beaver Dams, where he encountered Laura Secord, and at the Battle of Châteauguay. Ducharme’s reputation among Britain’s Aboriginal allies allowed him to command them in guerrilla warfare against the Americans to great effect. But this unconventional soldier with an independent spirit also bristled under the harsh discipline of the army, and he later collided with his superior officers, most notably Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry, commander of the Voltigeurs.

In the Fur Trade

Ducharme traced his family roots to some of the original settlers of New France in the 16th century. The family settled at Lachine, a hub for the early fur trade that became the family business. Well educated but with a restless spirit, Ducharme sought the adventure of the family trade, and in short order made a name for himself with local fur traders, becoming an expert in several Aboriginal dialects. A shrewd and cunning businessman, he acquired a great deal of regional property and eventually settled his family in Montréal.

The Battles of the War of 1812

When war broke out in the summer of 1812, Ducharme was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Pointe-Claire battalion of militia. In May 1813, he was made a captain in the service of the Indian Department and was ordered to the Niagara Frontier in command of a party of Six Nations warriors from Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes and Saint-Régis. After Laura Secord informed Lieutenant James FitzGibbon about the Americans’ surprise attack at Beaver Dams, it was Ducharme and his Aboriginal warriors who did the reconnaissance and confirmed Secord’s story. Although outnumbered by the Americans, Ducharme and his 300 warriors joined the 100 Aboriginal men under Captain William Johnson Kerr and engaged the Americans’ rear echelons in a guerrilla-style assault from the woods. After a terrifying three hours filled with sniper shots and war cries, the Americans surrendered to FitzGibbon. Dispute remains over who deserves the credit for the success at Beaver Dams, but Ducharme and his Aboriginal warriors are certainly owed their share of the accolades.

Ducharme soon returned to Lower Canada and came under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry to participate in the Battle of Châteauguay in October 1813, part of the American attempt to cut the St. Lawrence and isolate Montréal for a decisive victory. For his actions in combat, Ducharme earned a medal and clasp. From his commander, however, he received little more than scorn. After the battle, Ducharme and his men were ordered to hunt down deserters from Salaberry’s militia units. The deserters were caught and brought back to face justice. They were court martialed, found guilty, and upon Salaberry’s orders, sentenced to be shot. Salaberry was a notorious disciplinarian, but to kill part-time soldiers, men who had dependent families and communities that needed their labour, rankled the spirits of Ducharme. According to a journalist at the time, Ducharme never forgave Salaberry for his barbaric actions.

The Rebellions of 1837

After the war, Ducharme led an engaging life as an interpreter and agent for the Indian Department and a community troubleshooter during the tense period of the Rebellions of 1837. When inspecting a local militia after the failed revolt, he was accused of disloyalty toward his fellow French Canadians. Ducharme, who was 72 at the time, challenged the accuser to a duel. The accuser declined, and Ducharme, the fiery guerrilla fighter and contentious moralist, lived to 1853.

See also First Nations and the War of 1812.

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