Sayer Trial Pierre Guillaume Sayer and 3 other MÉTIS
in the RED RIVER COLONY
were brought to trial on 17 May 1849 in the General Quarterly Court of Assiniboia on charges of violating the HUDSON'S BAY CO's
charter by illegally trafficking in furs. Led by a "committee" or "council" including Louis Riel, pére, 300 armed Métis assembled outside the court. Styled "Chief of the Halfbreeds," a prominent merchant and former free trader, James Sinclair, acted as Sayer's counsel. A jury of 7 English speakers and 5 French speakers heard evidence proving Sayer's guilt but indicating HBC encouragement to itinerant traders in border regions. Following recorder Adam Thom's summation, the jury retired to find the defendant guilty, but it recommended mercy. Chief factor John Ballenden, HBC, satisfied with the verdict, asked that there be no punishment and withdrew charges against the other 3. When Sayer and his supporters emerged "free" from court, gunfire as a feu de joie and shouts of "le commerce est libre" greeted them. To the dismay of the HBC their legal victory dissolved into commercial setback. Henceforth they would have to meet the free traders with effective competition and not with the legal canons of their charter.
JOHN E. FOSTER