Sir Alexander Mackenzie was born at Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland in 1764. Mackenzie’s father Kenneth and his uncle John made their way to New York colony not long before the American Revolution began. During the war, they served as Loyalists in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York. Because of the war, Alexander was sent to Montreal in 1778. Shortly after, in 1779, he began to work in the fur trade. At first he was a clerk in a Montreal counting house, but he was soon sent out to work in the field as a trader. He worked for the XY company and then later the North West Company; where he was quite successful. Although he did well as a fur trader, he also had an interest in exploring.
There a two primary explorations done by Mackenzie. The first is the 1789 Mackenzie River expedition to the Arctic Ocean. Mackenzie started his journey at Fort Chipewyan hoping to discover a navigable route that would lead to the Pacific Ocean. He did not end up finding the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, but rather the passage to the Arctic Ocean. Mackenzie was presumably very disappointed by this, seeing as he went on to name the river the “Disappointment River”; which was later renamed Mackenzie River. Mackenzie returned to Great Britain in 1791 in order to study longitude. Upon his return to North America in 1792, he began his second exploration; which had the same objective as the first: to reach the Pacific Ocean. He was accompanied by two aboriginal guides, his cousin Alexander MacKay, and six Canadian voyageurs. Leaving from the Peace River west of Fort Chipewyan, Mackenzie finally reached the Pacific coast. As far as it is known, he was the first European to cross North America coast to coast, North of Mexico. Mackenzie died March 12th, 1820 from Bright ’s disease.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie had close ties with Glengarry. He had several family members who were residents of Glengarry County but he also had direct liaisons with the county. He contributed a bell to the Presbyterian Church at Williamstown, which is still in use to this day, and he also had a pew that was reserved for his use.
This Bible may have once belonged to Alexander Mackenzie and was given to his natural daughter, Maria, who was born c.1806. Maria has been unaccounted for in the published history of Alexander Mackenzie, because of the lack of documentation and possibly her parentage. This Bible was passed down through generations as an heirloom. It was graciously donated to the Nor’Westers and Loyalist museum by Ken Hawkins in 1986.
Dictionary of Glengarry Biography by Royce MacGillivray, 2010
originally published on norwestersandloyalistmuseum.ca on August 17th 2013