During the 1840s, members of the British Parliament and the Métis inhabitants of Red River both challenged the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) over Rupert's Land and, more specifically, the Red River area. The Métis, led by Louis Riel Sr., demanded the right to trade freely with American-based competitors of the HBC. In response, Chief Factor Ballenden attempted to assert the company's official control of trade in the colony. With the withdrawal of British regular troops from the colony in 1848, however, the HBC had little means to enforce its will upon the Métis. When Pierre-Guillaume Sayer was brought to court to face charges of trading illegally, some 200 to 300 armed Métis supporters surrounded the courthouse. Although the jury declared Sayer guilty of the charges, mercy was recommended, and Chief Factor Ballenden accepted the verdict and the recommendation. In effect, Sayer was allowed to go free because Ballenden was helpless to enforce the company's will. The Métis recognized in the judgement a tacit admission by the company's chief representative that free trade was now legal in the colony.

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