Mary Sarah ‘Sally’ McDermott Mactavish

[under construction]

Mary Sarah ‘Sally’ McDermott was born c. 1829 at Norway House to Andrew McDermott and Sarah Mary McNabb, who raised her in the Roman Catholic faith.

In 1858 she married William Mactavish, 21st Chief of Clan Mactavish, and a Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] servant from 1833 and Governor of Assiniboia from 1858 to 1869.

She died 27 September 1875.


As the ‘First Lady’ of Red River at the time of the Resistance, Mary Sarah ‘Sally’ McDermott Mactavish lived with her husband, William, their young sons, Andrew Dugald (about 3 yrs old), and James William (about 8 yrs old), and their twin daughters Mary Letitia and Florence Anne (about 7 years old), in the Governor’s House at Upper Fort Garry during the formation and operation of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia. Sarah’s eleven-year term as hostess at Upper Fort Garry was longer than that of any previous governor’s wife. Her husband was well-liked throughout the settlement.

popular governor

Governor Mactavish,” Nor’-Wester (1 November 1861), 2. See also “Governor Mactavish’s Departure,” New Nation (20 May 1870), 2, for a equally complementary description of his career as Governor.

Given Sarah’s family ties to a number of members of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia (not to mention extensive ties in Red River Settlement as a whole), the assertion in Canadian historiography that her husband was the prisoner of Louis Riel — who was Sarah’s nephew-in-law — is perhaps an overstatement. Her husband was certainly confined to the fort over the winter, as he was terminally ill with tuberculosis. William continued, however, to hold the position of HBC governor, and, to the best of his ability, to act in that capacity throughout the Resistance. At no point was he, or any member of Sarah’s household, shifted from the family’s residence while the provisional forces occupied the fort. There is compelling evidence that William was more sympathetic to settlers who undertook the course of resistance than not. Through Sarah’s network of relations, he could not help but be aware of their grievances — as well as those of settlers who adopted alternative stances.

[As Brian Gallagher has observed: “Indeed, the marriages of Hudson’s Bay Company officers into the family of Andrew McDermot, the wealthiest of the free-traders in Red River, formed the core of an oligarchy still influential long after Confederation. Brian Gallagher, “A Re-examination of Race, Class and Society in Red River,” Native Studies Review 4, nos. 1 & 2 (1988): 25.]

Sarah departed the settlement for Scotland with her husband and family aboard river steamer International on 15 May 1870 [New Nation (20 May 1870)]. They travelled to New York, where William Mactavish was interviewed by a newspaper reporter [See “Governor MactavishNew Nation (16 July 1870)]. Sarah and travelling party boarded a ship at the Port of New York bound for Liverpool. Sarah’s husband survived the ocean passage, but died, at age 55, on 23 July 1870, two days after their arrival at the port in England [See “Death of Governor Mactavish,New Nation (13 August 1870)].

William’s will was proved by Sarah, who was named as executrix, in the Principal Registry of Her Majesty’ Court Probate on 18 May 1871. At the time, her address was 29 Lower Phillimore-place, Kensington, Middlesex County. This was the home of her sister-in-law, Florence Mactavish (48 years old), and was a very respectable address, outside of the city of London proper at the time.

Details about her subsequent whereabouts are unknown, though apparently she died in 1875, at approximately 46 years of age. Her children survived, grew to adulthood and married — at least two returned to Manitoba.

[See “England and Wales Census, 1871.” For a notice to creditor’s of William Mactavish’s estate, see The London Gazette, 13 June 1871. See also details of the children’s marriages below.]


Sarah McDermot’s mother, Sarah Mary McNab, was born c. 1802 at Beren’s River to Thomas McNab and Mary Jane, a Saulteux woman. Sarah Mary McNab married Andrew McDermot and they moved to Red River Settlement c. 1821.

[See Scrip affidavit for McDermot, Sarah; born: May 10, 1802; wife of Andrew McDermot; father: Thomas McNabb (Métis); mother: Mary McNabb (Indian); claim no: 1716; scrip no: 10618; date of issue: Sept. 20, 1876; amount: $160 =]

• Sarah McDermot’s grandfather, Thomas McNab (born c. 1781), was the son of Dr. John McNab (chief at Albany Fort, York Factory, and Fort Prince of Wales), and Jane, a woman of Hudson Bay.

• Sarah McDermot’s great aunt — Thomas McNab’s sister — Sarah McNab (born c. 1778), had married Thomas Bunn, and was the mother of Dr. John Bunn (Councillor of Assiniboia), and grandmother of Thomas Bunn, Councillor in the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia [see “Family Ties,” Hon. Thomas Bunn (St. Clements)].


Sarah McDermott had 16 siblings:

• James McDermott (1815 – 1868).

• Mary/ Marie McDermott (1816 – 1851), married Richard Lane, an HBC clerk, lawyer, and territorial official in Oregon and Washington. Marie died at Oregon City.

• Helen/ Helena/ Ellen McDermott (1819 – ?), married Thomas Bird. He was born c. 1815/1816 at Norway House to Chief Factor James Bird [HBC career] and Elizabeth Montour, and so was half-brother to Dr. James Curtis Bird who was a councillor in the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia [see “Family Ties,” Hon. Dr. Curtis James Bird, St. Paul’s (Middlechurch)]. Helen and Thomas Bird migrated to Oregon in 1854 as members of their brother-in-law James Sinclair‘s second party of settlers.

• Marguerite McDermott (1821 – ?).

• John McDermott (1823 – ?).

Catherine McDermott Truthwaite

• Catherine/ Kathleen McDermott (1823 – ?), married Thomas Truthwaite Sr. He had been born in 1819 at Norway House to Jacob Truthwaite and Elizabeth Vincent. Together, Thomas Truthwaite and Catherine McDermot farmed lot 105, St. Andrew’s parish, Red River — next to lot 104, the original Truthwaite holding in the settlement. Their daughter, Henrietta Maria Truthwaite eventually married Thomas ‘Young Tom’ Sinclair, who had served as a councillor in the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia [See “Family Ties,” Hon. Thomas Sinclair Jr., St. Andrew’s].

• Thomas McDermott (1825 – ?).

• Henry McDermott (1832 – 1871), married 1st Flora Harriott, a daughter of HBC Chief Factor John Edward Harriott and his 2d wife Anne ‘Nancy’ Rowand.

◊ Nancy Rowand was a daughter of John Rowand Sr. [NWC and HBC]. Her mother is commonly listed as Rowand Sr.’s 2d wife, the “first lady” of Fort Edmonton, Louise/ Lisette/ ‘Shining Star’ Umphreville (aka Josephte Belly), based on Nancy’s baptismal record of 10 September 1838, but may have been the 1st wife, Louise MILLET. [“B88 Nancy Rowand, 1818,” Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest (St. Paul OR: French Prairie Press, 1972), Vancouver 1, page 9. See comment below by Danek Mozdzenski; and discussion thread, Mestisgen-L,]

♦ Louise Umphreveille was the daughter Edward Umphreville and a Cree woman (apparently of the family name Belly/ Belley). Louise had been married previously to Pierre Boshue/ du Boishue dit Berland/ Breland (of Lower Canada), with whom she had as many as six children (three of whom her second husband, John Rowand, adopted).

· Pascal Breland of Red River was one of the children of Louise Umphreville’s first marriage. He married Marie Grant, daughter of Cuthbert Grant Jr. and Marie Desmarais. Pascal and Marie’s son was Patrice Breland, ‘Envoy to the Plains’ of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia. Patrice married Helen Dease — sister to William Dease, leader of the ‘Peace Party’ at Red River, which Gov. William Mactavish refused to arm. [See Objectors to a Provisional Government, 29 Nov. 1869, this site.]

· A second child, Marie-Anne Breland, married Richard Grant. Their son, John Francis ‘Johnny’ Grant, was a supporter of William Dease.

◊ After Flora Harriott’s death Henry McDermott married Sarah Logan, the daughter of Robert Logan and his 2d wife Sarah Anne Smith Ingham.

♦ Robert Logan was perhaps born in the West Indies; he had a NWC and HBC career, and was a member of the HBC Council of Assiniboia.

♦ Sarah Anne Smith, born c. 1802 in England to a William Smith, had come to the settlement to work as a governess/ schoolmistress at the Red River Academy with Mrs. Mary Lowman (who afterwards married James Bird — their son was  Hon. Dr. Curtis James Bird, St. Paul’s / Middlechurch). Before her marriage to Robert Logan, Sarah Smith had married James Ingham at the settlement, but was widowed.

Anne ‘Annie’ McDermott Bannatyne

Anne ‘Annie’ McDermott (1832 – 1908), who married A.G.B. Bannatyne, “struck the first blow in the struggle for representative government at Red River,” when she whipped ‘Canadian Party’ member, Charles Mair, for spreading gossip and demeaning remarks in the Canadian Press about Métis women. Annie’s husband also served as a councillor in the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia — see Hon. Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne, St. John’s]

• Charles Edward McDermott (1834 – 1864), married Annabella Ross. When Annabella was widowed in 1854, she married  Dr. Curtis James Bird, who would later became the honourable member of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia for St. Paul’s (Middlechurch). At the time of their marriage, Dr Bird was a widower. His first wife was his second wife’s sister, Frances Ross — both were daughters of HBC Chief Trader Donald Ross (born c. 1798) and Mary ‘Molly’ McBeath (born 1 May in Linibul, Scotland) — both daughters were also sisters to Jean/ Jane Ross [see “Untold Lives“], who married missionary James Henry Hunter.

• Andrew McDermott Jr. (1837 – ?), married Ann ‘Nancy’ Truthwaite.

• Miles/ Myles McDermott (1839 – ?), married Guillemine Goulet. She was the daughter of Alexis Goulet and Josephte Savard.

◊ Guillemine’s sister, Sarah Goulet, married Elzear Lagimonière/ Lagimodière, the son of Jean Baptiste ‘La Prairies’ Lagimodière and Marie Harrison.

♦ Jean Baptiste ‘La Prairies’ Lagimodière’s sister, Julie Lagimonière, was Louis Riel Jr.’s mother [see “Lagèmoniere/Lagemodiere Family Ties,” President Louis Riel, Provisional Government of Assiniboia].

♦ Marie Harrison was sister to Thomas Harrison who married Appoline  Lagimodière. They were the parents of Auguste Harrison, a councillor in the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia [see “Family Ties,” Hon. Auguste Harrison, Ste.-Anne]).

• Therese McDermott (1840 – ?).

• Harriet McDermott (1843 – ?), married Alexander Ralph Lillie, who advanced from HBC Apprentice Clerk to Chief Factor during his career.

• Maurice McDermott (1845 – ?).

• Jane Irene/ Mary Jane McDermott (1847 – ?), married Joseph Noel Taillefer, a member of the Wolseley expedition of 1870.


Sarah McDermott was sister-in-law to Letitia Mactavish, who married James Hargrave. Sarah was, therefore, aunt to  Joseph James Hargrave, who also lived at Upper Fort Garry, working as clerk and secretary to his uncle, HBC Gov. of Assiniboia William Mactavish, during 1869 – 1870.


Sarah McDermott and William Mactavish had as children:

•Dr. James William MacTavish was born in 1860; married Agnes Maud Cayley; practiced medicine in Stonewall, Manitoba; and died in 1900, Brighton, England.

• Mary Mactavish and Florence Anne Mactavish, were twins born on 10 February 1861.

Mactavish twinsBirth announcement, Nor’-Wester (15 February 1861), 3.

According to the reminiscences of Harriet Goldsmith Sinclair Cowan, recorded in Women of Red River (1923), 35,  when the bells were hung in the newly constructed St. Boniface Cathedral (the second building, the first having been destroyed by fire in 1860), Mary and Florence along with their brother James were selected by Bishop Taché

to be the godfather and godmothers of the three of them. ‘I remember,’ said Mrs. Cowan, ‘the bells were brought down from the Bay by my uncle Thomas Sinclair in one of his brigades of York boats.

A photograph of “Mary and Flora Mactavish” is archived in the Margaret Arnett Macleod Papers,  University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. It may depict the daughters of Mary Sarah ‘Sally’ McDermott Mactavish, or it might be a picture of their aunts [I have not viewed it].

· Mary Ann Mactavish married widower Henry McDermot, County Inspector R.I.C.

Their children were:

· Rory McDermot, “who took a leading part in the Irish Rebellion of 1916.” He married Josephine Brochet and they had eight children. Rory died in 1942.

· Menotan McDermot. Died c. 1912.

· Rita McDermot. Died 1905.

[Source: Basil Morgan O’Connell, “The O’Connell Family Tracts, No. 2,” page 10, pdf, cached at House of,]

· Florence Anne Mactavish appears to have married on 8 July 1890 at or from Frankfort, Cook county, Illinois, to widower Samuel Lawrence Bedson, who died little more than a year later.

[Note: The Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for her husband seems to have substituted the location of Florence’s address or place of marriage for her surname. See also HBCA, “Bedson, Samuel Lawrence (1842–1891),” biographical sheet.]

• Andrew Dugald MacTavish, born 1866. He married Margaret Marie ‘Maggie’ McTavish (daughter of John Henry ‘Jack’ McTavish and Maria Rowand). He died in 1943.

The children of A.D. MacTavish and Margaret M. McTavish were:

· John William MacTavish. Born 1889; died 24 December 1954.

· Andrew Dugald MacTavish. Born 20 December 1890; married Greeba Olivia Lalanna/Laianne ; died 14 February 1970.

· Alexander

· Joseph


Published: 11 November 2012



  1. Hi, Norma,

    Firstly, thank you so, so very much for all this information. I recently saw on the MHS site Robert Logan was indeed born and baptised in Jamaica.

    He is my great-great-great-great-grandad, as is Andrew McDermot.

    Again, my family’s most sincere thanks for this wonderful site.

    Britton Jacob-Schram

  2. Mistake: Nancy Rowland was not the daughter of Lizette Umphreville-Rowland but rather of John Rowland’s first wife Louise Millet

  3. Hello:
    I am a descendant of Thomas McNab and I believe the following statement is a mistake. How could he be the son of Jennie Cook when she was born 13 years after him? I believe that she was in fact married to his brother John not his father. “• Sarah McDermot’s grandfather, Thomas McNab (born c. 1781), was the son of Dr. John McNab (chief at Albany Fort, York Factory, and Fort Prince of Wales), and Jane ‘Jennie’/[Jennifer/Jennier] Cook. Born c. 1794, Jane ‘Jennie’ Cook was a daughter of William Hemmings Cook and one of his three wives — probably Kahnawpawamakan, a Cree woman.”

    Thanks for all of the other interesting information though!

    • Many thanks for catching the discrepancy.

      Norma Hall

      • Hi:

        It looks like you have found lots of new information about Andrew McDermott. Well done!

        Did you find the “List of Catholic Marriages” held by the BC provincial archives at Victoria? It may contain additional information about the McDermott family. It appears to show that he married a metis woman while engaged in a hunt on the plains. Had he married a second time or is there some other explanation? Perhaps there were two Andrew McDermott’s but this seems unlikely.

        Have you found any information about Andrew McDermott’s conversion to the Anglican church in the years before the annexation?

        I’m still thinking about Red River after all these years.

        Brian Gallagher,
        Vancouver, B.C.

      • Good to hear from you Brian, I’ve been an awestruck fan of your work ever since I started researching Red River — it has helped immensely (and still does). I found looking for solid info on Andrew McDermott, the “fertile genius” himself more difficult than I thought it would be. Thanks for the tips, and the questions are intriguing. I will resume looking.


  4. I’m looking for information on Richard Lane, an HBC clerk who married Mary/Marie McDermot, eldest daughter of Andrew McDermot. Upon her marriage, Mary came to Oregon Territory with Richard, bore two children, and died there in 1851. Richard sent the children back to Red River to be raised by Andrew McDermot. I’ve found quite a bit of info in HBC Archives and at Univ British Columbia, but would like to know if there are any personal papers from Richard, Mary, or their children in existence. I’m trying to flesh out Richard’s life.

    Thanks so much for such an informative site.

    Karen Johnson

  5. Error: Mary Letitia and Florence Anne Mactavish, born 13 February (not 10!) 1861. Please read well Nor’-Wester 15 February 1861! Florence Anne,wed Eugene FRANCFORT (not Frankfort!),in Pallanza,Lago Maggiore,Italy,26 August 1882.

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