William McNeill

William McNeill, born in Boston, MA, entered the HBC in 1832 after becoming a well-seasoned mariner, with voyages all over the world. He had an energetic reputation which contributed to his success as a fur-trader and granted him access to the British northwest coast despite his American background. In 1837, he gained command of the Beaver and arguably founded the future site of Fort Victoria alongside James Douglas (the alternative being that it was William Brotchie). Two years later, he was promoted to chief trader and, with that responsibility, necessarily became a British citizen.

After returning from England, McNeill requested transfer to a land-based establishment, putting him in charge of Fort Stikine in 1845. By 1849 he had moved away and established Fort Rupert, but took charge of Fort Simpson in 1851 after traveling to the Sandwich Islands. Writings left by McNeill indicated that he experienced difficulty in cooperating with the local native residents, but found relief in the added power from his promotion to chief trader. McNeill largely remained in Fort Simpson.

McNeill fathered about twelve children, at least nine of which were from his wife Matilda who died in 1850 giving birth to twins. He then married a Martha. Both women were of aboriginal descent, the latter being Kinnahwahlux Nass and the former being Kaiganee Haida. He owned a town lot in Victoria (purchased in 1855) and, later, 205 acres in the district. Though he is sometimes remembered as a difficult man to work with, he also had a generous heart, bringing back oranges from the Sandwich Islands for the Fort Victoria schoolchildren.


  • Anderson, Nancy Marguerite. “William Henry McNeill, and his very old-fashioned conundrums.” Fur Trade Family History. http://furtradefamilyhistory.blogspot.ca/2013/04/william-henry-mcneill-and-his-very-old.html.
  • Evans, Mike. “William Henry McNeill.” BC Metis Mapping Research Project. http://ubc.bcmetis.ca/hbc_bio_profile.php?id=MjExMg==.
  • Newell, G.R. “McNeill, William Henry.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=5152.
Miranda Harvey