Beth Bethune (1) was born on the Isle of Lewis, Rosshire, ca 1793. In 1811, he signed a contract for three years with the Hudson’s Bay Company and sailed for Rupert’s Land on the Edward and Ann. (2) He was to be part of an advance work party to make preparations at Red River for the first group of settlers who were to arrive in 1812. The 1811 ships arrived at York Factory too late in the year for the men to start for Red River and they spent a miserable winter at a camp on the Nelson River. In early summer of 1812, a work party of eighteen men set out for Red River under the leadership of Miles Macdonell, reaching the proposed settlement site at the end of August. They did not have time to make adequate preparations for the settlers who arrived at the end of October and the combined group continued south to Pembina where they established Fort Daer and spent the winter. They returned to the Forks in the spring and work proceeded at the settlement. The following winter was also spent at Fort Daer. By the summer of 1814, Beth had fulfilled his three-year contract and returned to his home in Lewis.
In 1815, Alexander McDonell led another group of settlers to Red River. Beth Bethune was recruited to come to the settlement again on a one-year contract. A total of nineteen labourers sailed in a small vessel from Stornoway to Stromness where they boarded the Hadlow. (3) The settlers and colony servants arrived at Red River in the fall of 1815. June 19 of the following year saw the disastrous confrontation with Cuthbert Grant’s men at Seven Oaks. Beth Bethune was one of the men who went with Semple to meet the Métis, but Bethune was fortunate enough to escape unharmed.
After Seven Oaks, the Red River people again fled to the north end of Lake Winnipeg. Alexander McDonell, having received the information that Lord Selkirk was on his way to Red River, was able to persuade the majority of them to remain in the country over the winter and return to the settlement in the spring. Bethune’s one-year contract would have been fulfilled, but he remained in the country.
Beth married Janet Sutherland, (4) probably during the winter of 1816-17, and began life as a colonist. The Bethunes had three sons born at the settlement. In March 1822, Beth drowned in the Red River. His body was recovered and was buried in St. John’s churchyard. In 1824 Janet married Donald McDonald. They had a daughter Mary at the settlement and then moved to West Gwillimbury, Upper Canada, about 1825.
(1) Various spellings: Bethune, Beaton, Beton, Beathon. Beaton eventually came to be the spelling used.
(2) HBCA C.1/323: passenger list of the Edward and Ann, outward bound 1811
(3) HBCA C.1/345: passenger list of the Hadlow outward bound, 1815
(4) Daughter of James “Parson” Sutherland