James was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and joined the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) as a trading clerk. He married, Charlot, the daughter of a French Voyager and a princess of the Kootayae Indian tribe. Charlot's skill with native languages and James affable personality, contributed to their excellent relations with local Indian tribes. Although James was noted for his unusual and under appreciated management style, his career spanned 30+ years with the HBC. Induded in their houshold were 15 native slaves, well treated, and crucial to their establishment of Birnie's Retreat, a trading post at the future Cathlamet village site.
As noted in James Birnie's service record, most of his appiontments were in the Columbia River Valley. He settled in the valley and founded the village of Cathlamet, Washington, USA . When the British and Americans settled their dispute over the lower Columbia Valley, it became part of what is now Washington State, USA.
James Birnie was stationed at Port Simpson, B.C., a Hudson Bay fur trading post on the rugged B.C. coast. Originally settled and claimed by Russia, the British considered it as part of their (disputed) Oregon territory. A journal kept at the post recounted the lives of the Tsimshian and the Haida (Indian) clans. 1835:
“The most impressive of all the harbor scenes must have been the annual departure of the canoes for the oolichan fishery on the Nass (River). They assembled during February and early March. Then one day the seagulls would give the signal and the canoes would sweep across the Bay out of sight beyond Birnie Island* . More than seven hundred canoes took part in this flitting which might occupy two or three days. March 08,1835 -
Excerpts courtesy of Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Pioneer Service Record with the The North West Company (Hudsons Bay Company)
NAME: BIRNIE, James PARISH: Aberdeen, SCOTLAND ENTERED SERVICE: 1818 (NWC) DATES: b. 1799-
Outfit Year: (1 June to 31 May) Appointments: HBC Post HBC District
1860 census: Wahkiakum County, Washington: James Birnie, age 65, farmer -
"British Columbia Coast Names..." by Capt. John
T. Walbran, Ottawa, l909 p. 52 (Birnie Island, BC, named after him)
"Fur Trade and Empire," by F. Merk Cambridge, (H.B.C.A. Library FC32l3 M4)
Search File: “Birnie, James” H.B.R.S. Vol. XXX, p. 202. Filename: Birnie, James (1799-
The Family History of James Birnie and Charlotte Beaulieu
A pioneer history has been published by writer Nancy Marguerite Anderson. The chapter on her grandfathers, Alexander Caulfield Anderson and James Birnie, is a fascinating history of the pioneers in the U.S. Northwest.
The book, Beach of Heaven, by Irene Martin. This is a wonderful history of the pioneer families in Wahkiakum County, including our irascible pioneer, James Birnie. (ISBN 0-
The special centennial edition (1846-
We also recommend a visit to the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum and suggest a wee donation to their conservation program.
Contributions by Nancy Anderson, The Dorsey Family, and the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum
NAME: BIRNIE, James PARISH: Aberdeen, Scotland ENTERED SERVICE: 1818 Hudson Bay Company (North West Company), B. 1799 -