Magnus Birston (1) was born in South Ronaldshay, Orkney, about 1769. He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1790 and spent the first 15 years of his service in the York Factory Inland District (2), working either as a labourer or on the boats. From 1814-1820, he was an Outpost Master at Oxford House. For the following two years, he was Assistant Trader at Island Lake. In 1821 he retired to Red River where he farmed at the Lower Rapids. He died there in 1837 and was buried in St. John’s churchyard.
During his years with the Company, Magnus had a “country wife” (3) with whom he had at least five children: Miles, Catherine, Alexander, James, and William. The Red River census records indicate that there was another daughter, but a record of her baptism has not been found. It is difficult to pinpoint the ages of the children as the baptisms were performed at Red River, but the children were born prior to the time the family moved to the settlement. Magnus died at Red River in 1837. There is no further record of his wife.
Magnus’s sons, Alexander-20765 and James-20766, left the settlement with their wives and children for the Oregon Country in 1841 under the leadership of James Sinclair. His eldest son, Miles-20947, went to the Oregon Country in 1853 according to information given on a US census. It is possible that he went in 1854 with the second group of people which James Sinclair led to the area.
(1) Brother of Alexander Birston (20710)
(2) Employment details from HBCA biographical sheet
(3) The name Nancy has been ascribed to Magnus’s wife by some researchers. However, when the children were baptised, their mother was simply referred to as “an Indian woman”.