Before he became Governor of the Red River Colony, Alexander Mackenzie's cousin, Donald Mackenzie, was part of the Pacific Fur Company contingent that travelled overland to Astoria in 1811-1812. Initially employed by the North West Company, Alexander McKenzie had switched to join John Jacob Astor's westward enterprise in June of 1810. Accompanied by Wilson P. Hunt, he reached the mouth of the Columbia River, "Haggard, Emaciated and in Rags," on January 18, 1812. Although trained for the ministry, Donald Mackenzie proved himself capable on numerous forays into the Columbia interior, bringing back 140 packs of furs from Okanagan Post and establishing a trading post on the Snake River.

Learning of the War of 1812 from North West Company trader John George McTavish, Donald Mackenzie rode "like Paul Revere" back to Astoria with the important news, reaching his fellow Astorians on January 18, 1813. Soon thereafter, having left England in separate ships, Donald McTavish and John McDonald of the North West Company were sailing towards Astoria, on the Isaac Todd and the Phoebe respectively, intending to take advantage of the situation on behalf of their Canadian company. In Rio de Janeiro, John McDonald switched to the Racoon under Captain Black; forced to winter in San Francisco, the Isaac Todd, with its gen guns and a letter of Marque, would not arrive at Astoria until July of 1814, much too late to see action.

After considerable deliberation and arguments, having been forewarned of the arrival of British ships, the Astorians finally agreed to sell their compound in July of 1813, having been cajoled into doing so by North West Company representatives who had arrived overland. Most of the Astorians left, leaving Donald Mackenzie behind to handle further particulars of a sale with Duncan McDougall

Nine months after leaving London, John McDonald reached his destination of Fort Astoria aboard the Racoon on November 30, 1813, by which time Donald McKenzie and Duncan McDougall had already finalized the sale of the post for currency to be paid in three installments by years' end. McDougall boarded the Racoon and made arrangements for the few remaining Pacific Fur Company employees to be safely removed, or re-employed. Unimpressed, the newly arrived John McDonald of Garth wrote, "The place was not fit to resist anything but savages... Captain Black took a bottle of wine, or perhaps something stronger, broke it against the flag staff, hoisted the Union Jack, and called it 'Fort George.'"

Having made the best of a bad situation, Mackenzie left the Pacific Coast on April 14, 1814, but returned in 1816 as an employee of the North West Company, serving at Fort George (Astoria), Fort William and Spokane House. Responsible for all interior trading posts, Mackenzie would later be praised by historian Hubert Bancroft for his superior character, decision-making and firm, conciliatory peace-making. Employed by the Hudson's Bay Company as of 1821, Donald Mackenzie crossed the Rockies in autumn of 1822, established Chesterfield House and became Chief Factor at Fort Garry on the Red River in 1824, rising to the position of Red River's Governor soon thereafter. He was friendly with David Thompson and fulsomely praised by George Simpson. Despite his 300-pound girth, Mackenzie became known and admired as a highly active administrator who enjoyed a relatively peaceful governance.

Born in Scotland on June 15, 1783, Donald Mackenzie was the brother of Roderic Mackenzie. He married Adelgonde Humbert Droze at Fort Garry in 1825 and had 13 children with her. Mackenzie retired in August of 1833 and died on his estate in Mayville, N.Y. on January 20, 1851.


McKenzie, Cecil W. Donald Mackenzie, "King of the Northwest": The Story of an International Hero of the Oregon Country and the Red River Settlement at Lower Fort Garry (Winnipeg) (Los Angeles, California: Ivan Deach, Jr., 1937; Markham, Ontario: Stewart Publishing & Printing, 2001).

[BCBW 2005] "Forts and Fur"