The "Adventurers of England" on Hudson Bay - A Chronicle of the Fur Trade in the North (Volume 18 of the Chronicles of Canada)
by Agnes C. (Agnes Christina) Laut
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Chronicles of Canada Series

Thirty-Two Volumes Illustrated

Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton

Chronicles of Canada Series



2. THE MARINER OF ST MALO By Stephen Leacock.


3. THE FOUNDER OF NEW FRANCE* By Charles W. Colby.

4. THE BLACKROBES* By J. Edgar Middleton.


6. THE GREAT INTENDANT By Thomas Chapais.

7. THE FIGHTING GOVERNOR* By Charles W. Colby.


8. THE GREAT FORTRESS* By William Wood.

9. THE ACADIAN EXILES* By Arthur G. Doughty.


11. THE WINNING OF CANADA By William Wood.


12. THE INVASION OF 1775* By C. Frederick Hamilton.

13. BATTLEFIELDS OF 1812-14* By William Wood.


14. PONTIAC: THE WAR CHIEF OF THE OTTAWAS* By Thomas Guthrie Marquis.









22. THE RED RIVER COLONY* By Louis Aubrey Wood.

23. THE CARIBOO TRAIL* By Agnes C. Laut.


24. THE 'FAMILY COMPACT'* By W. Stewart Wallace.


26. THE TRIBUNE OF NOVA SCOTIA* By William L. Grant.






31. ALL AFLOAT By William Wood.

32. THE RAILROAD BUILDERS* By Oscar D. Skelton.


Note: The volumes marked with an asterisk are in preparation. The others are published.

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A Chronicle of the Fur Trade in the North


Agnes C. Laut

Toronto Glasgow, Brook & Company 1914

Copyright in all Countries subscribing to the Berne Convention














PRINCE RUPERT Frontispiece From the painting in the National Portrait Gallery.






THE LAST HOURS OF HUDSON 18 From the painting by Collier.

JOHN CHURCHILL, FIRST DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH 42 From the painting in the National Portrait Gallery.

ON THE HAYES RIVER 58 From photograph by R. W. Brock.


A CAMP IN THE SWAMP COUNTRY 120 From a photograph.



Thirty or more years ago, one who stood at the foot of Main Street, Winnipeg, in front of the stone gate leading to the inner court of Fort Garry, and looked up across the river flats, would have seen a procession as picturesque as ever graced the streets of old Quebec—the dog brigades of the Hudson's Bay Company coming in from the winter's hunt.

Against the rolling snowdrifts appeared a line, at first grotesquely dwarfed under the mock suns of the eastern sky veiled in a soft frost fog. Then a husky-dog in bells and harness bounced up over the drifts, followed by another and yet another—eight or ten dogs to each long, low toboggan that slid along loaded and heaped with peltry. Beside each sleigh emerged out of the haze the form of the driver—a swarthy fellow, on snow-shoes, with hair bound back by a red scarf, and corduroy trousers belted in by another red scarf, and fur gauntlets to his elbows—flourishing his whip and yelling, in a high, snarling falsetto, 'marche! marche!'—the rallying-cry of the French wood-runner since first he set out from Quebec in the sixteen-hundreds to thread his way westward through the wilds of the continent.

Behind at a sort of dog-trot came women, clothed in skirts and shawls made of red and green blankets; papooses in moss bags on their mothers' backs, their little heads wobbling under the fur flaps and capotes. Then, as the dog teams sped from a trot to a gallop with whoops and jingling of bells, there whipped past a long, low, toboggan-shaped sleigh with the fastest dogs and the finest robes—the equipage of the chief factor or trader. Before the spectator could take in any more of the scene, dogs and sleighs, runners and women, had swept inside the gate.

At a still earlier period, say in the seventies, one who in summer chanced to be on Lake Winnipeg at the mouth of the great Saskatchewan river—which, by countless portages and interlinking lakes, is connected with all the vast water systems of the North—would have seen the fur traders sweeping down in huge flotillas of canoes and flat-bottomed Mackinaw boats—exultant after running the Grand Rapids, where the waters of the Great Plains converge to a width of some hundred rods and rush nine miles over rocks the size of a house in a furious cataract.

Summer or winter, it was a life of wild adventure and daily romance.

Here on the Saskatchewan every paddle-dip, every twist and turn of the supple canoes, revealed some new caprice of the river's moods. In places the current would be shallow and the canoes would lag. Then the paddlers must catch the veer of the flow or they would presently be out waist-deep shoving cargo and craft off sand bars. Again, as at Grand Rapids, where the banks were rock-faced and sheer, the canoes would run merrily in swift-flowing waters. No wonder the Indian voyageurs regarded all rivers as living personalities and made the River Goddess offerings of tobacco for fair wind and good voyage. And it is to be kept in mind that no river like the Saskatchewan can be permanently mapped. No map or chart of such a river could serve its purpose for more than a year. Chart it to-day, and perhaps to-morrow it jumps its river bed; and where was a current is now a swampy lake in which the paddlemen may lose their way.

When the waters chanced to be low at Grand Rapids, showing huge rocks through the white spray, cargoes would be unloaded and the peltry sent across the nine-mile portage by tramway; but when the river was high—as in June after the melting of the mountain snows—the voyageurs were always keen for the excitement of making the descent by canoe. Lestang, M'Kay, Mackenzie, a dozen famous guides, could boast two trips a day down the rapids, without so much as grazing a paddle on the rocks. Indeed, the different crews would race each other into the very vortex of the wildest water; and woe betide the old voyageur whose crew failed of the strong pull into the right current just when the craft took the plunge! Here, where the waters of the vast prairie region are descending over huge boulders and rocky islets between banks not a third of a mile apart, there is a wild river scene. Far ahead the paddlers can hear the roar of the swirl. Now the surface of the river rounds and rises in the eddies of an undertow, and the canoe leaps forward; then, a swifter plunge through the middle of a furious overfall. The steersman rises at the stern and leans forward like a runner.

'Pull!' shouts the steersman; and the canoe shoots past one rock to catch the current that will whirl it past the next, every man bending to his paddle and almost lifted to his feet. The canoe catches the right current and is catapulted past the roaring place where rocks make the water white. Instantly all but the steersman drop down, flat in the bottom of the canoe, paddles rigid athwart. No need to pull now! The waters do the work; and motion on the part of the men would be fatal. Here the strongest swimmer would be as a chip on a cataract. The task now is not to paddle, but to steer—to keep the craft away from the rocks. This is the part of the steersman, who stands braced to his paddle used rudder-wise astern; and the canoe rides the wildest plunge like a sea-gull. One after another the brigades disappear in a white trough of spray and roaring waters. They are gone! No human power can bring them out of that maelstrom! But look! like corks on a wave, mounting and climbing and riding the highest billows, there they are again, one after another, sidling and lifting and falling and finally gliding out to calm water, where the men fall to their paddles and strike up one of their lusty voyageur songs!

The Company would not venture its peltry on the lower rapid where the river rushes down almost like a waterfall. Above this the cargoes were transferred to the portage, and prosaically sent over the hill on a tram-car pulled by a horse. The men, however, would not be robbed of the glee of running that last rapid, and, with just enough weight for ballast in their canoes and boats, they would make the furious descent.

At the head of the tramway on the Grand Rapids portage stands the Great House, facing old warehouses through which have passed millions of dollars' worth of furs. The Great House is gambrel-roofed and is built of heavily timbered logs whitewashed. Round it is a picket fence; below are wine cellars. It is dismantled and empty now; but here no doubt good wines abounded and big oaths rolled in the days when the lords of an unmapped empire held sway.

A glance at the map of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts will show the extent of the fur traders' empire. To the Athabaska warehouses at Fort Chipewyan came the furs of Mackenzie river and the Arctic; to Fort Edmonton came the furs of the Athabaska and of the Rockies; to Fort Pitt came the peltry of the Barren Lands; and all passed down the broad highway of the Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, whence they were sent out to York Factory on Hudson Bay, there to be loaded on ships and taken to the Company's warehouses in London.

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Incidentally, the fur hunters were explorers who had blazed a trail across a continent and penetrated to the uttermost reaches of a northern empire the size of Europe. But it was fur these explorers were seeking when they pushed their canoes up the Saskatchewan, crossed the Rocky Mountains, went down the Columbia. Fur, not glory, was the quest when the dog bells went ringing over the wintry wastes from Saskatchewan to Athabaska, across the Barren Lands, and north to the Arctic. Beaver, not empire, was the object in view when the horse brigades of one hundred and two hundred and three hundred hunters, led by Ogden, or Ross, or M'Kay or Ermatinger went winding south over the mountains from New Caledonia through the country that now comprises the states of Washington and Oregon and Idaho, across the deserts of Utah and Nevada, to the Spanish forts at San Francisco and Monterey. It is a question whether La Salle could have found his way to the Mississippi, or Radisson to the North Sea, or Mackenzie to the Pacific, if the little beaver had not inspired the search and paid the toll.



Though the adventurers to Hudson Bay turned to fur trading and won wealth, and discovered an empire while pursuing the little beaver across a continent, the beginning of all this was not the beaver, but a myth—the North-West Passage—a short way round the world to bring back the spices and silks and teas of India and Japan. It was this quest, not the lure of the beaver, that first brought men into the heart of New World wilds by way of Hudson Bay.

In this search Henry Hudson led the way when he sent his little high-decked oak craft, the Discovery, butting through the ice-drive of Hudson Strait in July of 1610; 'worming a way' through the floes by anchor out to the fore and a pull on the rope from behind. Smith, Wolstenholme, and Digges, the English merchant adventurers who had supplied him with money for his brig and crew, cared for nothing but the short route to those spices and silks of the orient. They thought, since Hudson's progress had been blocked the year before in the same search up the bay of Chesapeake and up the Hudson river, that the only remaining way must lie through these northern straits. So now thought Hudson, as the ice jams closed behind him and a clear way opened before him to the west on a great inland sea that rocked to an ocean tide.

Was that tide from the Pacific? How easily does a wish become father to the thought! Ice lay north, open water south and west; and so south-west steered Hudson, standing by the wheel, though Juet, the old mate, raged in open mutiny because not enough provisions remained to warrant further voyaging, much less the wintering of a crew of twenty in an ice-locked world. Henry Greene, a gutter-snipe picked off the streets of London, as the most of the sailors of that day were, went whispering from man to man of the crew that the master's commands to go on ought not to be obeyed. But we must not forget two things when we sit in judgment on Henry Hudson's crew. First, nearly all sailors of that period were unwilling men seized forcibly and put on board. Secondly, in those days nearly all seamen, masters as well as men, were apt to turn pirate at the sight of an alien sail. The ships of all foreign nations were considered lawful prey to the mariner with the stronger crew or fleeter sail.

The waters that we know to-day as the Pacific were known to Hudson as the South Sea. And now the tide rolled south over shelving, sandy shores, past countless islands yellowing to the touch of September frosts, and silent as death but for the cries of gull, tern, bittern, the hooting piebald loon, match-legged phalaropes, and geese and ducks of every hue, collected for the autumnal flight south. It was a yellowish sea under a sky blue as turquoise; and it may be that Hudson recalled sailor yarns of China's seas, lying yellow under skies blue as a robin's egg. At any rate he continued to steer south in spite of the old mate's mutterings. Men in unwilling service at a few shillings a month do not court death for the sake of glory. The shore line of rocks and pine turned westward. So did Hudson, sounding the ship's line as he crept forward one sail up, the others rattling against the bare masts in the autumn wind—doleful music to the thoughts of the coward crew. The shore line at the south end of Hudson Bay, as the world now knows, is cut sharply by a ridge of swampy land that shoals to muddy flats in what is known as Hannah Bay.

Hudson's hopes must have been dimmed if not dashed as he saw the western shore turn north and bar his way. He must suddenly have understood the force of the fear that his provisions would not last him to England if this course did not open towards China. It was now October; and the furious equinoctial gales lashed the shallow sea to mountainous waves that swept clear over the decks of the Discovery, knocking the sailors from the capstan bars and setting all the lee scuppers spouting. In a rage Juet threw down his pole and declared that he would serve no longer. Hudson was compelled to arrest his old mate for mutiny and depose him with loss of wages. The trial brought out the fact that the crew had been plotting to break open the lockers and seize firearms. It must be remembered that most of Hudson's sailors were ragged, under-fed, under-clothed fellows, ill fitted for the rigorous climate of the north and unmoved by the glorious aims that, like a star of hope, led Hudson on. They saw no star of hope, and felt only hunger and cold and that dislike of the hardships of life which is the birthright of the weakling, as well as his Nemesis.

What with the north wind driving water back up the shallows, and with tamarac swamps on the landward side, Hudson deemed it unwise to anchor for the winter in the western corner of the Bay, and came back to the waters that, from the description of the hills, may now be identified as Rupert Bay, in the south-east corner. The furious autumn winds bobbled the little high-decked ship about on the water like a chip in a maelstrom, and finally, with a ripping crash that tore timbers asunder, sent her on the rocks, in the blackness of a November night. The starving crew dashed up the hatchway to decks glassed with ice and wrapped in the gloom of a snow-storm thick as wool. To any who have been on that shore in a storm it is quite unnecessary to explain why it was impossible to seek safety ashore by lowering a boat. Shallow seas always beat to wilder turbulence in storm than do the great deeps. Even so do shallow natures, and one can guess how the mutinous crew, stung into unwonted fury by cold and despair, railed at Hudson with the rage of panic-stricken hysteria. But in daylight and calm, presumably on the morning of November 11, drenched and cold, they reached shore safely, and knocked together, out of the tamarac and pines and rocks, some semblance of winter cabins.

Of game there was abundance then, as now—rabbit and deer and grouse enough to provision an army; and Hudson offered reward for all provisions brought in. But the leaven of rebellion had worked its mischief. The men would not hunt. Probably they did not know how. Certainly none of them had ever before felt such cold as this—cold that left the naked hand sticking to any metal that it touched, that filled the air with frost fog and mock suns, that set the wet ship's timbers crackling every night like musket shots, that left a lining of hoar-frost and snow on the under side of the berth-beds, that burst the great pines and fir trees ashore in loud nightly explosions, and set the air whipping in lights of unearthly splendour that passed them moving and rustling in curtains of blood and fire.[1] As anyone who has lived in the region knows, the cowardly incompetents should have been up and out hunting and wresting from nature the one means of protection against northern cold—fur clothing. That is the one demand the North makes of man—that he shall fight and strive for mastery; but these whimpering weaklings, convulsed with the poison of self-pity, sat inside shivering over the little pans and braziers of coal, cursing and cursing Hudson.

In the midst of the smouldering mutiny the ship's gunner died, and probably because the gutter boy, Greene, was the most poorly clad of all, Hudson gave the dead man's overcoat to the London lad. Instantly there was wild outcry from the other men. It was customary to auction a dead seaman's clothes from the mainmast. Why had the commander shown favour? In disgust Hudson turned the coat over to the new mate—thereby adding fresh fuel to the crew's wrath and making Greene a real source of danger. Greene was, to be sure, only a youth, but small snakes sometimes secrete deadly venom.

How the winter passed there is no record, except that it was 'void of hope'; and one may guess the tension of the sulky atmosphere. The old captain, with his young son, stood his ground against the mutineers, like a bear baited by snapping curs. If they had hunted half as diligently as they snarled and complained, there would have been ample provisions and absolute security; and this statement holds good of more complainants against life than Henry Hudson's mutinous crew. It holds good of nearly all mutineers against life.

Spring came, as it always comes in that snow-washed northern land, with a ramp of the ice loosening its grip from the turbulent waters, and a whirr of the birds winging north in long, high, wedge-shaped lines, and a crunching of the icefloes riding turbulently out to sea, and a piping of the odorous spring winds through the resinous balsam-scented woods. Hudson and the loyal members of the crew attempted to replenish provisions by fishing. Then a brilliant thought penetrated the wooden brains of the idle and incompetent crew—a thought that still works its poison in like brains of to-day—namely, if there were half as many people there would be twice as much provisions for each.

Ice out, anchor up, the gulls and wild geese winging northward again—all was ready for sail on June 18, 1611. With the tattered canvas and the seams tarred and the mends in the hull caulked, Hudson handed out all the bread that was left—a pound to each man.

He had failed to find the North-West Passage. He was going home a failure, balked, beaten, thrown back by the waves that had been beating the icefloes to the mournful call of the desolate wind all winter. There were tears in the eyes of the old captain as he handed out the last of the bread. Any one who has watched what snapping mongrels do when the big dog goes down, need not be told what happened now. There were whisperings that night as the ship slipped before the wind, whisperings and tale-bearings from berth to berth, threats uttered in shrill scared falsetto 'to end it or to mend it; better hang at home for mutiny than starve at sea.' Prickett, the agent for the merchant adventurers, pleaded for Hudson's life; the mutineers, led by Juet and Greene, roughly bade him look to his own. Prickett was ill in bed with scurvy, and the tremor of self-fear came into his plea. Then the mutineers swore on the Bible that what they planned was to sacrifice the lives of the few to save the many. When the destroyer profanes the Cross with unclean perjury, 'tis well to use the Cross for firewood and unsheath a sword. Peevish with sickness, Prickett punily acquiesced.

When Hudson stepped from the wheel-house or cabin next morning, they leaped upon him like a pack of wolves. No oaths on Scripture and Holy Cross this break of day! Oaths of another sort—oaths and blows and railings—all pretence of clean motives thrown off—malice with its teeth out snapping! Somewhere north of Rupert, probably off Charlton Island, Hudson, his son, and eight loyal members of the crew were thrown into one of the boats on the davits. The boat was lowered on its pulleys and touched sea. The Discovery then spread sail and sped through open water to the wind. The little boat with the marooned crew came climbing after. Somebody threw into it some implements and ammunition, and some one cut the painter. The abandoned boat slacked and fell back in the wave wash; and that is all we know of the end of Henry Hudson, who had discovered a northern sea, the size of a Mediterranean, that was to be a future arena of nations warring for an empire, and who had before discovered a river that was to be a path of world commerce.

What became of Hudson? A famous painting represents him, with his little son and the castaway crew, huddling among the engulfing icebergs. That may have been; but it is improbable that the dauntless old pathfinder would have succumbed so supinely. Three traditions, more or less reasonable, exist about his end. When Captain James came out twenty years later seeking the North-West Passage he found on a little island (Danby), south-east from Charlton Island, a number of sticks standing in the ground, with the chip marks of a steel blade. Did the old timbers mark some winter house of Hudson and his castaways? When Radisson came cruising among these islands fifty years later, he discovered an old house 'all marked and battered with bullets'; and the Indians told Radisson stories of 'canoes with sails' having come to the Bay. Had Indians, supplied with firearms overland from Quebec traders, assailed that house where nine white men, standing at bay between starvation and their enemies, took their last stand? The third tradition is of a later day. A few years ago a resident of Fort Frances, who had spent the summer at the foot of James Bay, and who understood the Indian language, wrote that the Indians had told him legends of white men who had come to the Bay long long ago, before ever 'the Big Company came,' and who had been cast away by their fellows, and who came ashore and lived among the Indians and took Indian wives and left red-haired descendants. It is probable that fur traders had told the Indians the story of Hudson; and this would explain the origin of this tradition. On the other hand, in a race utterly isolated from the outside world, among whom neither printing nor telegraph ever existed, traditions handed down from father to son acquire peculiar value; and in them we can often find a germ of truth. The legends are given for what they are worth.

There is no need to relate the fate of the mutineers. The fate of mutineers is the same the world over. They quarrelled among themselves. They lost themselves among the icefloes. When they found their way back through the straits all provisions were exhausted. While they were prisoners in the icefloes, scurvy assailed the crew. Landing to gather sorrel grass as an antidote to scurvy, they were attacked by Eskimos. Only four men were left to man the ship home, and they were reduced to a diet of sea moss and offal before reaching Ireland. Greene perished miserably among the Indians, and his body was thrown into the sea. Old Juet died of starvation in sight of Ireland, raving impotent curses. But however dire Nemesis may be, or however deep may be repentance, neither undoes the wrong; and Hudson had gone to his unknown grave, sent thither by imbeciles, who would not work that they might eat, nor strive that they might win, but sat crouching, as their prototypes sit, ready to spring at the throat of Endeavour.

Thomas Button, afterwards knighted for his effort, came out the very next year at the expense of the merchant adventurers—Walstenholme, Smith, and Digges—to search for Hudson. He wintered (1612-13) at Port Nelson, which he explored and named after his mate, who died there of scurvy; but the sea gave up no secret of its dead. Prickett and Bylot, of Hudson's former crew, were there also with the old ship Discovery and a large frigate called Resolution, an appropriate name. Button's crew became infected with scurvy, and Port Nelson a camp for the dead. Then came Captain Gibbon in 1614; but the ice caught him at Labrador and turned him back. The merchant adventurers then fitted out Bylot, Hudson's second mate, and in 1615-16 he searched the desolate, lonely northern waters. He found no trace of Hudson, nor a passage to the South Sea; but he gave his mate's name—Baffin—to the lonely land that lines the northern side of the straits. Novelists are frequently accused of sensationalism and exaggeration, but if, as tradition seems to suggest, Hudson were still alive seven hundred miles south at the lower end of the Bay, straining vain eyes for a sail at sea, like Alexander Selkirk of a later day—with a Button and a Gibbon and a Bylot and a Baffin searching for him with echoing cannon roll and useless call in the north—then the life and death of the old pathfinder are more like a tale from Defoe than a story of real life.

The English merchant adventurers then gave up—possibly for the very good reason that they had emptied their purses. This brings us to the year 1617 with no North-West Passage discovered, and very little other reward for the toll of life and heroism during seven years.

Superficially, when we contemplate such failure, it looks like the broken arc of a circle; but when we find the whole circle we see that it is made up very largely of broken endeavour, and that Destiny has shaped the wheel to roll to undreamed ends. There was no practicable North-West Passage, as we know; but the search for such a passage gave to the world a new empire.



Little Denmark, whose conquering Vikings on their 'sea horses' had scoured the coasts of Europe, now comes on the scene. Hudson, an Englishman, had discovered the Bay, but the port of Churchill, later to become an important post of the fur trade, was discovered by Jens Munck, the Dane. In the autumn of 1619 Munck came across the Bay with two vessels—the UNICORN, a warship with sea horses on its carved prow, and the LAMPREY, a companion sloop—scudding before an equinoctial squall. Through a hurricane of sleet he saw what appeared to be an inlet between breakers lashing against the rocky west shore. Steering the UNICORN for the opening, he found himself in a land-locked haven, protected from the tidal bore by a ridge of sunken rock. The LAMPREY had fallen behind, but fires of driftwood built on the shore guided her into the harbour, and Munck constructed an ice-break round the keels of his ships. Piles of rocks sunk as a coffer-dam protected the boats from the indrive of tidal ice; and the Danes prepared to winter in the new harbour. To-day there are no forests within miles of Churchill, but at that time pine woods crowded to the water's edge, and the crews laid up a great store of firewood. With rocks, they built fireplaces on the decks—a paltry protection against the northern cold. Later explorers wintering at Churchill boarded up their decks completely and against the boarding banked snow, but this method of preparation against an Arctic winter was evidently unknown to the Danes.

By November every glass vessel on the ships had been broken to splinters by the frost. In the lurid mock suns and mock moons of the frost fog the superstitious sailors fancied that they saw the ominous sign of the Cross, portending disaster. One of the surgeons died of exposure, and within a month all the crew were prostrate with scurvy. With the exception, perhaps, of Bering's voyage a hundred years later, the record of Munck's wintering is one of the most lamentable in all American exploration. 'Died this day my Nephew, Eric Munck,' wrote the captain on April 1 of 1620, 'and was buried in the same grave as my second mate. Great difficulty to get coffins made. May 6—The bodies of the dead lie uncovered because none of us has strength to bury them.'

By June the ships had become charnel-houses. Two men only, besides Munck, had survived the winter. When the ice went out with a rush and a grinding, and the ebb tide left the flats bare, wolves came nightly, sniffing the air and prowling round the ships' exposed keels. 'As I have no more hope of life in this world,' wrote Jens Munck, 'herewith good-night to all the world and my soul to God.' His two companions had managed to crawl down the ship's ladder and across the flats, where they fell ravenously on the green sprouting sorrel grass and sea nettles. As all northerners know, they could have eaten nothing better for scurvy. Forthwith their malady was allayed. In a few days they came back for their commander. By June 26 all three had recovered.

The putrid dead were thrown into the river. Ballast and cargo were then cast out. It thus happened that when the tide came in, the little sloop Lamprey lifted and floated out to sea. Munck had drilled holes in the hull of the Unicorn and sunk her with all her freight till he could come back with an adequate crew; but he never returned. War broke out in Europe, and Munck went to his place in the Danish Navy.

Meanwhile Indians had come down to what they henceforth called the River of the Strangers. When the tide went out they mounted the Unicorn and plundered her of all the water-soaked cargo. In the cargo were quantities of powder. A fire was kindled to dry the booty. At once a consuming flame shot into the air, followed by a terrific explosion; and when the smoke cleared neither plunder nor plunderers nor ship remained. Eighty years afterwards the fur traders dug from these river flats a sunken cannon stamped C 4—Christian IV—and thus established the identity of Munck's winter quarters as Churchill harbour.

Munck was not the last soldier of fortune to essay passage to China through the ice-bound North Sea. Captain Fox of Hull and Captain James of Bristol came out in 1631 on separate expeditions, 'itching,' as Fox expressed it, to find the North-West Passage. Private individuals had fitted out both expeditions. Fox claimed the immediate patronage of the king; James came out under the auspices of the city of Bristol. Sailing the same week, they did not again meet till they were south of Port Nelson in the autumn, when Fox dined with James and chaffed him about his hopes to 'meet the Emperor of Japan.' But there was no need of rivalry; both went back disappointed men. James wintered on Charlton Island, and towards the end of 1632, after a summer's futile cruising, returned to England with a terrible tale of bootless suffering.

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While England sought a short route to China by Hudson Bay, and the Spaniards were still hoping to find a way to the orient by the Gulf of Mexico and California, New France had been founded, and, as we may learn from other narratives in this series, her explorers had not been idle.

In the year 1660 two French pathfinders and fur traders, Medard Chouart des Groseilliers and Pierre Esprit Radisson, men of Three Rivers, came back from the region west of Lake Superior telling wondrous tales of a tribe of Indians they had met—a Cree nation that passed each summer on the salt waters of the Sea of the North. The two fur traders were related, Radisson's sister having married Groseilliers, who was a veteran of one of the Jesuit missions on Lake Huron. Radisson himself, although the hero of many exploits, was not yet twenty-six years of age. Did that Sea of the North of which they had heard find western outlet by the long-sought passage? So ran rumour and conjecture concerning the two explorers in Three Rivers and Quebec; but Radisson himself writes: 'We considered whether to reveal what we had learned, for we had not yet been to the Bay of the North, knowing only what the Crees told us. We wished to discover it ourselves before revealing anything.'

In the execution of their bold design to journey to the North Sea, Radisson and Groseilliers had to meet the opposition of the Jesuits and the governor—the two most powerful influences in New France. The Jesuits were themselves preparing for an expedition overland to Hudson Bay and had invited Radisson to join their company going by way of the Saguenay; but he declined, and they left without him. In June 1661 the Jesuits—Fathers Dreuilletes and Dablon—ascended the Saguenay, but they penetrated no farther than a short distance north of Lake St John, where they established a mission.

The fur trade of New France was strictly regulated, and severe punishments were meted out to those who traded without a licence. Radisson and Groseilliers made formal application to the governor for permission to trade on the Sea of the North. The governor's answer was that he would give the explorers a licence if they would take with them two of his servants and give them half the profits of the undertaking. The two explorers were not content with this proposal and were forbidden to depart; but in defiance of the governor's orders they slipped out from the gates of Three Rivers by night and joined a band of Indians bound for the northern wilds.

The two Frenchmen spent the summer and winter of 1661-62 in hunting with the Crees west of Lake Superior, where they met another tribe of Indians—the Stone Boilers, or Assiniboines—who also told them of the great salt water, or Sea of the North. In the spring of 1662, with some Crees of the hinterland, they set out in canoes down one of the rivers—Moose or Abitibi—leading to Hudson Bay. Radisson had sprained his ankle; and the long portages by the banks of the ice-laden, rain-swollen rivers were terrible. The rocks were slippery as glass with ice and moss. The forests of this region are full of dank heavy windfall that obstructs the streams and causes an endless succession of swamps. In these the paddlers had to wade to mid-waist, 'tracking' their canoes through perilous passage-way, where the rip of an upturned branch might tear the birch from the bottom of the canoe. When the swamps finally narrowed to swift rivers, blankets were hoisted as sails, and the brigade of canoes swept out to the sandy sea of Hudson Bay. 'We were in danger to perish a thousand times from the ice,' Radisson writes, 'but at last we came full sail from a deep bay to the seaside, where we found an old house all demolished and battered with bullets. The Crees told us about Europeans. We went from isle to isle all that summer in the Bay of the North. We passed the summer coasting the seaside.'

Had Radisson found Hudson Bay? Some historians dispute his claims; but even if his assertion that he sailed 'from isle to isle' during the summer of 1662 be challenged, the fact that his companion, Groseilliers, knew enough of the Bay to enable him six years later to guide a ship round by sea to 'a rendezvous' on the Rupert river must be accepted.

The only immediate results of the discovery to Radisson and Groseilliers were condign punishment, disgrace, and almost utter ruin. When they came back to the St Lawrence in the summer of 1663 with several hundred Indians and a flotilla of canoes swarming over the surface of the river below the heights of Quebec, and conveying a great cargo of beaver skins, the avaricious old governor affected furious rage because the two traders had broken the law by going to the woods without his permission. The explorers were heavily fined, and a large quantity of their beaver was seized to satisfy the revenue tax. Of the immense cargo brought down, Radisson and Groseilliers were permitted to keep only a small remainder.

Groseilliers sailed for France to appeal to the home authorities for redress, but the friends of the governor at the French court proved too strong for him and nothing was done. He then tried to interest merchants of Rochelle in an expedition to Hudson Bay by sea, and from one of them he obtained a vague promise of a ship for the following year. It was agreed that in the following spring Radisson and Groseilliers should join this ship at Isle Perce at the mouth of the St Lawrence. So it happened that, in the spring of 1664, the two explorers, having returned to Three Rivers, secretly took passage in a fishing schooner bound for Anticosti, whence they went south to Isle Perce to meet the ship they expected from Rochelle. But again they were to be disappointed; a Jesuit just out from France informed them that no ship would come. What now should the explorers do? They could not go back to Three Rivers, for their attempt to make another journey without a licence rendered them liable to punishment. They went to Cape Breton, and from there to the English at Port Royal in Nova Scotia.

At Port Royal they found a Boston captain, Zachariah Gillam, who plied in vessels to and fro from the American Plantations to England. Gillam offered his vessel for a voyage to Hudson Bay; but the season was late, and when the vessel reached the rocky walls of Labrador the captain lost heart and refused to enter the driving straits. The ship returned and landed the explorers in Boston. They then clubbed the last of their fortunes together and entered into an agreement with shipowners of Boston to take two ships to Hudson Bay on their own account in the following spring. But, while fishing to obtain provisions for the voyage, one of the vessels was wrecked, and, instead of sailing for the North Sea, Radisson and Groseilliers found themselves in Boston involved in a lawsuit for the value of the lost ship. When they emerged from this they were destitute.



In Boston the commissioners of His Majesty King Charles II were reviewing the affairs of the American Plantations. One of the commissioners was Sir George Carteret, and when he sailed for England in August 1665 he was accompanied by the two French explorers. It gives one a curiously graphic insight into the conditions of ocean travel in those days to learn that the royal commissioner's ship was attacked, boarded, and sunk by a Dutch filibuster. Carteret and his two companions landed penniless in Spain, but, by pawning clothes and showing letters of credit, they reached England early in 1666. At this time London was in the ravages of the Great Plague, and King Charles had sought safety from infection at Oxford. Thither Radisson and Groseilliers were taken and presented to the king; and we may imagine how their amazing stories of adventure beguiled his weary hours. The jaded king listened and marvelled, and ordered that forty shillings a week should be paid to the two explorers during that year.

As soon as it was safe to return to London—some time in the winter of 1667-68—a group of courtiers became interested in the two Frenchmen, and forgathered with them frequently at the Goldsmiths' hall, or at Whitehall, or over a sumptuous feast at the Tun tavern or the Sun coffee-house. John Portman, a goldsmith and alderman, is ordered to pay Radisson and Groseilliers L2 to L4 a month for maintenance from December 1667. When Portman is absent the money is paid by Sir John Robinson, governor of the Tower, or Sir John Kirke—with whose family young Radisson seems to have resided and whose daughter Mary he married a few years later—or Sir Robert Viner, the lord mayor, or Mr Young, a fashionable man about town. No formal organization or charter yet exists, but it is evident that the gentlemen are bent on some enterprise, for Peter Romulus is engaged as surgeon and Thomas Gorst as secretary. Gillam of Boston is hired as captain, along with a Captain Stannard. At a merry dinner of the gay gentlemen at the Exchange, Captain Gillam presents a bill of five shillings for 'a rat-catcher' for the ships. Wages of seamen are set down at L20 per voyage; and His Most Gracious Majesty, King Charles, gives a gold chain and medal to the two Frenchmen and recommends them to 'the Gentlemen Adventurers of Hudson's Bay.' Moreover, there is a stock-book dated this year showing amounts paid in by or credited to sundry persons, among whom are: Prince Rupert, James, Duke of York, the Duke of Albemarle, the Earl of Craven, the Earl of Arlington, the Earl of Shaftesbury, Sir John Robinson, Sir Robert Viner, Sir Peter Colleton, Sir James Hayes, Sir John Kirke, and Lady Margaret Drax. Who was the fair and adventurous Lady Margaret Drax? Did she sip wines with the gay adventurers over 'the roasted pullets' of the Tun tavern, or at the banquet table at Whitehall?

Then His Majesty the King writes to his 'trusty and Well Beloved Brother,' James, Duke of York, recommending the loan of the Admiralty ship, the Eaglet, to the two Frenchmen to search for a North-West Passage by way of Hudson Bay, the ship 'to be rigged and victualled' at the charge of 'Dear Cousin Rupert' and his friends Carteret and Albemarle and Craven et al. The 'Well Beloved Brother' passes the order on to Prince Rupert, 'our Dear Cousin'; and the 'Dear Cousin' transmits instructions to Sir James Hayes, his secretary. Sir James badgers the Admiralty Board, and in due time the Eaglet is handed over to Captain Stannard, acting under Radisson. Gillam takes his own plantation ship, the Nonsuch, under orders from Groseilliers.

The instructions to the captains are signed by Prince Rupert, Craven, Hayes, Albemarle, Carteret, Colleton, and Portman. These instructions bid the captains convey the vessels to the place where 'the rendezvous was set up as Mr Gooseberry and Mr Radisson direct, there to raise fortifications,' having 'in thought the discovery of a passage to the South Sea under direction of Mr Gooseberry and Radisson,' and to prosecute trade always under directions of Mr Gooseberry and Mr Radisson, and to have 'a particular [sic] respect unto them with all manner of civility and courtesy.'

Dear old Company! From its very origin it conformed to the canons of gentlemanly conduct and laid more emphasis on courtesy than on spelling. Those curious instructions were indicative of its character in later times. But we quite understand that there was other object in that voyage than the North-West Passage.

The two ships sailed for Hudson Bay in the spring of 1668. In mid-ocean they were driven apart by storms. Gillam's Nonsuch with Groseilliers went on, but the Eaglet with Radisson was disabled and forced to return, and the season was now too late to permit Radisson to set sail again until the following spring.

During the interval of enforced idleness Radisson seems to have diligently courted Mary Kirke, the daughter of Sir John, and to have written the account of his journeys through the wilds of America. It is possible that Radisson was inspired to write these journals by Pepys, the celebrated diarist, who was at this time chief clerk of the Admiralty, and who lived next door to the Kirkes on Tower Hill. At any rate it is clear that the journals fell into Pepys' hands, for they were found two hundred years later in the Pepys collection at the Bodleian Library.

In the spring of 1669, on the recommendation of the king, the Admiralty lent the ship Wavero to the adventurers that Radisson might sail to Hudson Bay. In his eagerness Radisson set out too early. For a second time he was driven back by storm, but, on coming in to harbour at Gravesend, what was his delight to find the Nonsuch back from Hudson Bay with Groseilliers and Gillam and such a cargo of furs from the Rupert river as English merchants had never before dreamed!

The Nonsuch had reached Hudson Strait in August of the year before, and the captain, guided by Groseilliers, had steered south for 'the rendezvous' at the lower end of the Bay, where the two French explorers had set up their marks six years before. There, at the mouth of the river named Rupert in honour of their patron prince, the traders cast anchor on September 25. At high tide they beached the ship and piled logs round her to protect her timbers from ice jams. Then they built a fort, consisting of two or three log huts for winter quarters, enclosed in a log palisade. This they named Fort Charles. The winter that followed must have been full of hardship for the Englishmen, but a winter on the Bay had no terrors for Groseilliers. While Gillam and the Englishmen kept house at the fort, he coursed the woods on snow-shoes, found the Indian camps, and persuaded the hunters to bring down their furs to trade with him in the spring. Then, when the wild geese darkened the sky and the ice went out with a rush, preparations were made for the homeward voyage. In June the ship sailed out of the Bay and, as we have seen, had docked at Gravesend on the Thames while the Wavero with Radisson was coming back.

The adventurers lost no time. That winter they applied for a charter, and in May 1670 the charter was granted by King Charles to 'The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay.' The ostensible object was to find the North-West Passage; and to defray the cost of that finding a monopoly in trade for all time was given.

Whereas, declares the old charter, these have at their own great cost and charge undertaken an expedition to Hudson Bay for the discovery of a new passage to the South Sea and for trade, and have humbly besought the king to grant them and their successors the whole trade and commerce of all those seas, straits, bays, rivers, creeks, and sounds in whatever latitude that lie within the entrance of the straits, together with all the lands, countries, and territories upon the coasts and confines of the seas, straits, bays, lakes, rivers, creeks, and sounds not now actually possessed by any other Christian state, be it known by these presents that the king has given, granted, ratified, and confirmed the said grant. The adventurers are free to build forts, employ a navy, use firearms, pass and enforce laws, hold power of life and death over their subjects. They are granted, not only the whole, entire, and only liberty of trade to and from the territories aforesaid, but also the whole and entire trade to and from nations adjacent to the said territories, and entrance by water or land in and out of the said territories.

The monopoly could hardly have been made more sweeping. If the adventurers found other territory westward, such territory was to be theirs. Other traders were forbidden to encroach on the region. People were forbidden to inhabit the countries without the consent of the Company. The Company was empowered to make war for the benefit of trade. The charter meant, in a word, the establishment of pure feudalism over a vast region in America. But in the light of the Company's record it may be questioned whether feudalism was not, after all, the best system for dealing with the Indian races. For two centuries under the Company's rule the Indians were peaceable; while in other parts of America, under a system the opposite of feudalism—the come-who-may-and-take-who-can policy of the United States—every step forward taken by the white race was marked by 'bloody ground.'

Absolutism, pomp, formality, and, let it be added, a sense of personal responsibility for retainers—all characteristics of feudalism—marked the rule of the Hudson's Bay Company from the beginning. The adventurers were not merely merchants and traders; they were courtiers and princes as well. Rupert, a prince of royal blood, was the first governor; James, Duke of York, afterwards king, was the second, and Lord Churchill, afterwards the Duke of Marlborough, the third. The annual meetings of shareholders in November and the periodic meetings of the Governing Committee were held at Whitehall, or at the Tower, or wherever the court chanced to be residing. All shareholders had to take an oath of fidelity and secrecy: 'I doe sweare to bee True and faithful to ye Comp'y of Adventurers: ye secrets of ye said Comp'y I will not disclose, nor trade to ye limitts of ye said Comp'y's charter. So help me God.' Oaths of fidelity and bonds were required from all captains, traders, and servants. Presents of 'catt skin counterpanes for his bedd,' 'pairs of beaver stockings for ye King.' 'gold in a faire embroidered purse,' 'silver tankards,' 'a hogshead of claret,' were presented to courtiers and friends who did the Company a good turn. Servants were treated with a paternal care. Did a man lose a toe on some frosty snow-shoe tramp, the Governing Committee solemnly voted him 'L4 smart money,' or 'L1 for a periwig,' or 'L10 a year pension for life.' No matter to what desperate straits the Company was reduced, it never forgot a captain who had saved a cargo from raid, or the hero of a fight, or a wood-runner who had carried trade inland. For those who died in harness, 'funeral by torch-light and linkmen [torchbearers] to St Paul's, Company and crew marching in procession, cost not to exceed L20'; and though the cost might run up higher, it was duly paid, as in one instance on record when the good gentlemen at the funeral had '2 pullets and a dozen bottles of sack' over it at the Three Tuns.

Perhaps the gay gentlemen of the Governing Committee made merry too long at times, for it appears to have been necessary to impose a fine on all committee men who did not attend 'yt one hour after ye deputy-governor turns up ye hour glass,' the fines to go to the Poor Box as 'token of gratitude for God's so great a blessing to ye Comp'y.'

In February the Governing Committee was always in a great bustle chartering or buying frigates for the year's voyages. Then the goods for trade, to be exchanged with the Indians for furs, were chosen and stored. In the list for 1672 are found '200 fowling pieces and 400 powder horns and 500 hatchets.' Gewgaws, beads, ribbons, and blankets innumerable were taken on the voyages, and always more or less liquor; but the latter, it should be remarked, was not traded to the Indians except in times of keen competition, when the Company had to fight rivals who used it in trade. Secret orders were given to the captains before sailing. These orders contained the harbour signals. Ships not displaying these signals were to be fired on by the forts of Hudson Bay or lured to wreck by false lights. The sailing orders were always signed 'a God speede, a good wind, a faire saile, y'r loving friends'; and the gentlemen of the Committee usually went down to the docks at Gravesend to search lockers for illicit trade, to shake hands and toss a sovereign and quaff drinks. From the point where a returning ship was 'bespoken' the chief trader would take horse and ride post-haste to London with the bills and journals of the voyage. These would be used to check unlading. Next, the sorting of the furs, the payment of the seamen's wages—about L20 per year to each man; then the public auction of the furs. A pin would be stuck in a lighted candle and bids received till the light burnt below the pin. Sack and canary and claret were served freely at the sales. Money accruing from sales was kept in an iron box at the Goldsmiths' exchange, and later in the warehouse in Fenchurch Street.

Trading in the early days was conducted with a ceremony such as kings might have practised in international treaty. Dressed in regimentals, with coloured velvet capes lined with silk, swords clanking, buglers and drummers rattling a tattoo, the white trader walked out to meet the Indian chief. The Indian prostrated himself and presented the kingly white man with priceless furs. The white man kneeled and whiffed pipes and thanked the Sun for the privilege of meeting so great warriors, and through his interpreters begged to present the Great Chief with what would render him invincible among all foes—firearms. Then with much parleying the little furs such as rabbit and muskrat were exchanged for the gewgaws.

Later, the coming of rival traders compelled the Company to change its methods and to fix a standard of trade. This standard varied with the supply of furs and the caprice of fashion; but at first in respect to beaver it stood thus:

1/2 lb. beads 1 beaver. 1 kettle 1 " 1 lb. shot 1 " 5 lbs. sugar 1 " 1 lb. tobacco 1 " 1 gal. brandy 4 " 2 awls 1 " 12 buttons 1 " 20 fish-hooks 1 " 20 flints 1 " 1 gun 12 " 1 pistol 4 " 8 balls 1 "

A wicket would be opened at the side of the main gate of the fort. Up to this wicket the Indians would file with their furs and exchange them according to the standard. Tally was kept at first with wampum shells or little sticks; then with bits of lead melted from teachests and stamped with the initials of the fort. Finally these devices were supplanted by modern money. We may suppose that the red man was amply able to take care of himself in the trade, especially when rivals at other points were bidding for the furs. If the white man's terms were exorbitant and no rival trader was within reach, the Indian's remedy was a scalping foray. Oftener than not the Indian was in debt for provisions advanced before the hunt. If the Indian forgot his debt or carried his fur to a competitor, as he often did in whole flotillas, the white man would have his revenge some season when food was scarce; or, if his physical prowess permitted, he would take his revenge on the spot by administering a sound thrashing to the transgressor. It is on record that one trader, in the early days of Moose Factory, broke an oar while chastising an Indian who had failed in his duty.

Many of the lonely bachelors at the forts contracted marriage with native women. These marriages were entered on the books of the Company, and were considered as valid as if bound by clergy. Sometimes they led to unhappy results. When men returned from the service, the Indian wife, transplanted to England, lived in wretched loneliness; and the children—'les petits,' as they are entered in the books—were still less at home amid English civilization. Gradually it became customary to leave the Indian women in their native land and to support them with a pension deducted from the wages of the retired husband and father. This pension was assured by the Company's system of holding back one-third of its servants' wages for a retiring fund. If a servant had left any 'petits' behind him, a sum of money was withheld from his wages to provide a pension for them, and a record of it was kept on the books. This rule applied even to men who were distinguished in the service.

* * * * *

In June 1670, one month after the charter was granted, three ships—the Wavero, the Shaftesbury Pink, and the Prince Rupert—conveying forty men and a cargo of supplies, sailed for Hudson Bay. Gillam commanded the Prince Rupert, Radisson went as general superintendent of trade, and Charles Bayly as governor of the fort at the Rupert river. Gorst the secretary, Romulus the surgeon, and Groseilliers accompanied the expedition. The ships duly arrived at Fort Charles, and, while Bayly and his men prepared the fort for residence and Groseilliers plied trade with the Indians, Radisson cruised the west coast of the Bay on the Wavero. He made observations at Moose and Albany rivers, and passed north to Nelson harbour, where Button had wintered half a century before. Here, on the projection of land between two great rivers—the future site of York Factory—Radisson erected the arms of the English king. The southern river he named Hayes, after Sir James Hayes, Prince Rupert's secretary. The mouth of this river was a good place to get furs, for down its broad tide came the canoes of the Assiniboines, the 'Stone Boilers' whom Radisson had met near Lake Superior long ago, and of the Crees, who had first told him of the Sea of the North.

Radisson returned to England with Gillam on the Prince Rupert, while Groseilliers wintered on the Bay; and it appears that, during the next three years, Radisson spent the winters in London advising the Company, and the summers on the Bay, cruising and trading on the west coast. In 1672 he married Mary Kirke. Sir James Hayes said afterwards that he 'misled her into marrying him,' but there is nothing to show that the wife herself ever thought so. Perhaps Radisson hoped that his marriage to the daughter of one of the leading directors of the Company would strengthen his position. He received L100 a year for his services, but, although his efforts had turned a visionary search for the North-West Passage into a prosperous trading enterprise, he was not a shareholder in the Company.



Every year three ships were sailing to the Bay and returning to England laden with peltry; but in 1672 it was observed by the traders at the fort that fewer Indians than usual came down the river with furs. In the next year there were still fewer. For some reason the trade was falling off. Radisson urged Bayly to establish new forts on the west coast, and at length the governor consented to go with him on his regular summer cruise to Nelson. When they came back to Rupert in August they were surprised to find the fort tenanted by a Jesuit from Quebec, Father Albanel, who handed letters to Radisson and Groseilliers, and passports from the governor of New France to Bayly. The sudden decrease of trade was explained. French traders coming overland from the St Lawrence had been intercepting the Indians. But France and England were at peace and bound in closest amity by secret treaty, and Bayly was compelled to receive the passports and to welcome the Jesuit, as the representative of a friendly nation, to the hospitality of Fort Charles. What the letters to Radisson and Groseilliers contained we can only guess, but we do know that their contents, made the French explorers thoroughly dissatisfied with their position in the Hudson's Bay Company. Bayly accused the two Frenchmen of being in collusion with the Company's rivals. A quarrel followed and at this juncture Captain Gillam arrived on one of the Company's ships. The Frenchmen were suspected of treachery, and Gillam suggested that they should return to England and explain what seemed to need explaining.

The Admiralty records for 1674 contain mention of Captain Gillam's arrival from Hudson Bay on the Shaftesbury Pink with 'a French Jesuit, a little ould man, and an Indian, a very lusty man.' This Jesuit could not have been Albanel, for in the French archives is conclusive proof that Albanel returned to Quebec. The 'little ould man' must have been another Jesuit found by Gillam at the Bay.

The winter of 1673-74 found Radisson and Groseilliers back in England pressing the directors of the Company for better terms. The Governing Committee first required oaths of fealty. Conferences were multiplied and prolonged; but still Radisson and Groseilliers refused to go back to the Bay until something was done. On June 29, 1674, the Governing Committee unanimously voted that 'there be allowed to Mr Radisson L100 per annum in consideration of services, out of which shall be deducted what hath already been paid him; and if it pleases God to bless the Company with good success, hereafter that they come to be in a prosperous condition, then they will reassume consideration.' 'Prosperous condition!' At this time the shareholders were receiving dividends of fifty and one hundred per cent.

Now, in Radisson's pockets were offers from Colbert, the great minister at the French Court, for service in the French Navy at three times this salary. Abruptly, in the fall of 1674, the two Frenchmen left London and took service under Colbert. But now another difficulty blocked Radisson's advance. Colbert insisted that Radisson's wife should come to France to live. He thought that as long as Madame Radisson remained in England her husband's loyalty could not be trusted. Besides, her father, Sir John Kirke, was a claimant against France for L40,000 damages arising out of the capture of Quebec in 1629 by his relatives and its restoration to France in 1632 without recognition of the family's rights. If Sir John's daughter was residing in Paris as the wife of a French naval officer, the minister saw that this dispute might be more easily adjusted; and so he declined to promote the two Frenchmen until Madame Radisson came to France.

In 1679, during shore leave from the navy, Radisson met one of his old cronies of Quebec—Aubert de la Chesnaye, a fur trader. 'He proposed to me,' Radisson says, 'to undertake to establish the beaver trade in the great Bay where I had been some years before on account of the English.' It may be supposed that naval discipline ill-suited these wild wood-wanderers, and after this it is not surprising that we find Radisson and Groseilliers again in New France at a conference of fur traders and explorers, among whom were La Salle, Jolliet, Charles Le Moyne, the soldier with the famous sons, and La Chesnaye. No doubt Radisson told those couriers of the wilderness tales of profit on the sea in the north that brought great curses down on the authorities of New France who forbade the people of the colony free access to that rich fur field. La Chesnaye had introduced the brothers-in-law to Frontenac, the governor of New France, and had laid before him their plans for a trading company to operate on the great bay; but Frontenac 'did not approve the business.' He could not give a commission to invade the territory of a friendly power; still, if La Chesnaye and his associates chose to assume risks, he could wink at an invasion of rival traders' domains. A bargain was made. La Chesnaye would find the capital and equip two ships, and Radisson and Groseilliers would make the voyage. The brothers-in-law would sail at once for Acadia, there to spend the winter, and in the spring they would come with the fishing fleets to Isle Perce, where La Chesnaye would send their ships.

During the winter of 1681-82 La Chesnaye persuaded some of his friends to advance money for provisions and ships to go to the North Sea. Among these friends were Jean Chouart, Groseilliers' son, and a Dame Sorrel, who, like the English Lady Drax, was prepared to give solid support to a venture that promised profit. Thus was begun the Company of the North[2] (la Compagnie du Nord) that was to be a thorn in the side of the 'Adventurers of England' for over thirty years. Frontenac granted permission for two unseaworthy vessels, the St Anne and the St Pierre, to fish off Isle Perce. Strange bait for cod lay in the lockers.

[2] While there are earlier records referring to the Company of the North, this year (1682) is generally given as the date of its founding. Similarly 1670 is taken as the date of the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company, although, as we have seen, it was practically begun three years earlier.

With profound disappointment Radisson and Groseilliers saw at Isle Perce in July the boats which they were to have. The St Pierre, outfitted for Radisson, was a craft of only fifty tons and boasted a crew of only twelve men. Groseilliers' vessel, the St Anne, which carried his son, Jean Chouart, was still smaller and had fifteen men. Both crews consisted of freshwater sailors who tossed with woe and threatened mutiny when the boats rolled past the tidal bore of Belle Isle Strait and began threading their way in and out of the 'tickles' and fiords of the ribbed, desolate, rocky coast of Labrador. Indeed, when the ships stopped to take on water at a lonely 'hole in the wall' on the Labrador coast, the mutiny would have flamed into open revolt but for the sail of a pirate ship that appeared on the horizon. Thereupon Radisson's ships crowded sail to the wind and sped on up the coast. What pirate ship this was may be guessed from what happened three weeks later.

Early in September the two vessels reached the Hayes river, which Radisson had named twelve years before and where he had set up the arms of the English king. Advancing fifteen miles up-stream, they chose a winter harbour. Leaving Groseilliers to beach the boats and erect cabins, Radisson and young Jean Chouart canoed farther up to the rendezvous of the Cree and Assiniboine Indians. The Indians were overjoyed to meet their trader friend of long past years. The white man's coming meant firearms, and firearms ensured invincible might over all foes. 'Ho, young men, be not afraid. The Sun is favourable to us. Our enemies shall fear us. This is the man we have wished for since the days of our fathers,' shouted the chief of the Assiniboines as he danced and tossed arrows of thanks to the gods.

When the voyageurs glided back down-stream on the glassy current, other sounds than those of Indian chants greeted them. The Hayes river, as we have seen, is divided from the Nelson on the north by a swampy stretch of brushwood. Across the swamp boomed and rolled to their astonished ears the reverberation of cannon. Was it the pirate ship seen off Labrador? or was it the coming of the English Company's traders? Radisson's canoe slipped past the crude fort that Groseilliers had erected and entered the open Bay. Nothing was visible but the yellow sea, chopped to white caps by the autumn wind. When he returned to the fort he learned that cannonading had been heard from farther inland. Evidently the ships had sailed up the Nelson river. Now, across the marsh between the two rivers lay a creek by which Indian canoes from time immemorial had crossed. Taking a canoe and three of his best men, Radisson paddled and portaged over this route to the Nelson. There, on what is now known as Seal or Gillam Island, stood a crude new fort; and anchored by the island lay a stout ship—the Bachelor's Delight—cannons pointing from every porthole. Was it the pirate ship seen off Labrador? It took very little parleying to ascertain that the ship was a poacher, commanded by young Ben Gillam of Boston, son of the Company's captain, come here on illicit trade, with John Outlaw and Mike Grimmington, who later became famed seamen, as first and second mates. Radisson took fate by the beard, introduced himself to young Gillam, went on board the ship—not, however, without first seeing that two New Englanders remained as hostages with his three Frenchmen—quaffed drinks, observed that the ship was stout and well manned, advised Ben not to risk his men too far from the fort among the Indians, and laughed with joyous contempt when Ben fired cannon by way of testing the Frenchman's courage.

There was enough to try Radisson's courage the very next day. While gliding leisurely down the current of the Nelson, he saw at a bend in the river the Hudson's Bay Company's ship Prince Rupert, commanded by his quondam enemy, Captain Gillam, sailing straight for the rendezvous already occupied by Ben Gillam. At any cost the two English ships must be kept apart; and at once! Singly, perhaps they could be mastered by the French. Together, they would surely overpower Radisson. It was nightfall. Landing and concealing his comrades, Radisson kindled such a bonfire as Indians used to signal trade. The ship immediately anchored. There was a comical meeting on the Prince Rupert the next morning, at which Radisson represented to the new governor, John Bridgar, who was on the ship with Gillam, that each of his three paddlers was a captain of large ambushed forces. Charity will, perhaps, excuse Radisson for his fabulous tales of a powerful French fort on the Nelson and his disinterested observation that this river had a dangerous current higher up. It appears that Radisson succeeded completely in deceiving the Englishmen. Had they known how helpless he was, with only a few rude 'shacks' on the Hayes river garrisoned by twenty or thirty mutinous sailors, surely they would have clapped him under hatches. But he was permitted to leave the ship, and Bridgar began the preparation of his winter quarters on the shore.

Some days later Radisson came back. His old enemy Gillam was suspicious and ordered him away; but Radisson came again, and this time he brought with him the captain's son, young Ben, dressed as a wood-runner. This was enough to intimidate the old captain, for he knew that if his son was caught poaching on the Bay both father and son would be ruined. One day two of Bridgar's men who had been ranging for game dashed in with the news that they had seen a strange fort up the Nelson a few miles away. This, of course, Bridgar thought, was Radisson's fort, and Captain Gillam did not dare to undeceive him. Then a calamity befell the English winterers. A storm rose and set the tidal ice driving against the Prince Rupert. The ship was jammed and sunk with loss of provisions and fourteen men, including the captain himself. So perished Captain Zachariah Gillam, whom we first met as master of the Nonsuch, the pioneer of all the ships that have since sailed into the Bay in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The wreck of the ship left Bridgar helpless in his rude fort without either food or ammunition, and he at once began to console himself for loss of ship and provisions by deep drinking. Then Radisson knew that he had nothing further to fear from that quarter and he sent food to the starving Englishmen.

Ben Gillam was outwitted through defiantly accepting an invitation to visit the French fort. Gillam visited his rivals to spy on their weakness, and openly taunted them at the banquet table about their helpless condition. When he tried to depart he was coolly told that he was a prisoner, and that, with the aid of any nine Frenchmen Ben chose to pick out from 'the helpless French,' Radisson purposed capturing the poacher's fort and ship. The young captain had fallen into a trap. Radisson had left French hostages at Gillam's fort for his safe return, but these had been instructed to place firearms at convenient places and to post themselves so that they could prevent the sudden closing of the gates. Such precautions proved unnecessary. Radisson walked into the New England poacher's fort and quietly took possession.

A few days later Bridgar, who had learned too late that the fort on the Nelson was not French but English, marched his men up-stream to contrive a junction with young Gillam's forces. When the Hudson's Bay men knocked on the gate of the New Englanders' fort for admission, the sentinel opened without question. The gates clapped shut with a slamming of bolts, and the Englishmen found themselves quietly and bloodlessly captured by the intrepid Radisson.

Meanwhile Groseilliers and his son, Jean Chouart, had been plying a thriving trade. To be sure, the ice jam of spring in the Hayes river had made Radisson's two cockle-shell craft look more like staved-in barrels than merchant ships. But in the spring, when the Assiniboines and Crees came riding down the river flood in vast brigades of birch canoes laden to the waterline with peltry, the Frenchmen had in store goods to barter with them and carried on a profitable trade.

Radisson now had more prisoners than he could conveniently carry to Quebec. Rigging up the remnants of his rickety ships for a convoy, he placed in them the majority of the Hudson's Bay Company and New England crews and sent them south to Rupert and Moose. Taking possession of Ben Gillam's ship, the Bachelor's Delight, he loaded it with a cargo of precious furs, and set out for Quebec with Bridgar and young Gillam as prisoners. Jean Chouart and a dozen Frenchmen remained on the Hayes river to trade. Twenty miles out from port, Bridgar and young Gillam were caught conspiring to cut the throats of the Frenchmen, and henceforth both Englishmen were kept under lock and key in their cabins.

But once again Radisson had to encounter the governing bodies of Quebec. The authorities of New France were enraged when they learned that La Chesnaye had sent an expedition to the North Sea. In the meantime Frontenac had been replaced by another governor, La Barre. Tax collectors beset the ships like rats long before Quebec was sighted, and practically confiscated the cargo in fines and charges. La Barre no doubt supposed that the treaty of peace existing between England and France gave him an excuse for seizing the cargo of furs. At all events he ordered Radisson and Groseilliers to report at once to Colbert in France. He restored the Bachelor's Delight forthwith to Ben Gillam and gave him full clearance papers. He released Bridgar, the Company's trader. His stroke of statesmanship left the two French explorers literally beggared, and when they reached Paris in January 1684 Colbert was dead.

But, though Ben Gillam secured his release from the governor of New France, he did not escape the long hand of the Hudson's Bay Company, who had written from London to Mr Randolph of the American Plantations to effect the arrest of Ben Gillam at any cost. At the same time they sent Randolph a L10 present of silver plate. On reaching Boston, Ben Gillam was duly arrested. He afterwards became a pirate, and his ultimate fate was involved with that of the famous Captain Kidd. Both were sent to England to be tried for crimes on the high seas; and it is supposed that, like Kidd, Ben suffered execution. Bridgar, suddenly freed from all danger, as suddenly regained a sense of his own importance. He made drafts on the Company and set out from Quebec in such state as befitted his dignity, with secretary and interpreter and valet. He rode hurriedly along the old post-road between Boston and New York, filling the countryside with the story of his adventures. Then he took ship to England; but there his valour suffered a sudden chill. The Company had refused to honour his bills. They repudiated his drafts, reprimanded him severely, and suspended him from service for several years. Mike Grimmington and Outlaw and the others, who had been shipped down from Nelson to Moose and Rupert, promptly took passage home to England on the Company's yearly ship. By the time Radisson and Groseilliers reached Paris, Europe was ringing with the outrage involved in their exploits.

Radisson found small comfort in Paris. Possibly Colbert's death had deprived him of a sympathetic protector, and the French court was as reluctant now to interfere with the actions of the colonial authorities at Quebec as it had been twenty years before. After petitioning vainly for consideration, Groseilliers seems to have given up the contest and retired for the remainder of his life to a small patrimony near Three Rivers. Not so Radisson! He was bound to the Old World by marriage; and now international complications came to bind him yet more completely. 'It is impossible,' wrote Louis XIV to Governor La Barre, 'to imagine what you mean by releasing Gillam's boat and relinquishing claim to the North Sea,' At the same time Louis was in a quandary. He would not relinquish the French claim to the North Sea; but he dared not risk a rupture of his secret treaty with England by openly countenancing Radisson's exploit on the Nelson river. Radisson was secretly ordered to go back to the Bay and, unofficially, in his private capacity, restore the Nelson river fur posts to the Hudson's Bay Company. The words of the order in part are: 'To put an end to the differences between the two Nations touching the settlements made by Messrs Groseilliers and Radisson on Hudson's Bay, the said Groseilliers and Radisson shall return and withdraw the French with all effects belonging to them and shall restore to the English Company the Habitation by them settled to be enjoyed by the English without molestation.'

At the very same time that these royal orders sent Radisson to restore the forts, a privateering frigate was dispatched from France to Quebec with equally secret orders to attack and sink English vessels on the Bay. The 'Adventurers of England,' too, were involved in a game of international duplicity. While Mr Young, the fashionable man about town, wrote letters imploring Radisson to come back to England, Sir James Hayes bombarded the French court with demands that the Frenchman be punished. 'I am confirmed,' he wrote, 'in our worst fears. M. Radisson, who was at the head of the action at Port Nelson, is arrived in France the 8th of this month and is in all post haste to undermine us on the Bay. Nothing can mend but to cause ye French King to have exemplary justice done on ye said Radisson.'

On May 10, 1684, Radisson arrived in London. He was met by Mr Young and Sir James Hayes and welcomed and forthwith carried to Windsor, where he took the oath of fidelity as a British subject. The Company, sunk a month before in the depths of despair, were transported with joy and generous rejoicings, and the Governing Committee voted Mr Young thanks for bringing Mr Radisson from France. Two days after Radisson's arrival, Sir James Hayes and Mr Young reported to the Company that Mr Radisson had tendered his services to the Company, that they 'have presented him to our Governor, His Royal Highness, who was pleased to advise he should again be received in service, under wage of L50 per annum and benefit of dividends on L200 capital stock during life, to receive L25 to set him out for this present expedition.' On May 21 Sir James Hayes reported that he had presented Mr Radisson with 'a silver tankard, charged to the Company at L10 14. 0.'

Radisson returned to the Bay on the Happy Return, sailed by Captain Bond. On the same ship went the new governor, William Phipps, who had been appointed to succeed Bridgar, and a boy named Henry Kelsey, of whom we shall hear more later. Outlaw, who had been with Ben Gillam, had a commission for the Company and sailed the Success. His mate was Mike Grimmington, also of the old poacher crew. There was a sloop, too, the Adventure—Captain Geyer—for inland waters.

When Radisson arrived at the Hayes river and told Jean Chouart—who, as we have seen, had been left in charge of the French trade there—of the looting of the fur cargoes at Quebec and of the order from the French king to transfer everything to the English, the young Frenchman's rage may be imagined. He had risked his entire fortune on the expedition from Quebec; but what account did this back-stairs trick of courtiers take of his ruin? Radisson told him that he had been commissioned to offer him L100 a year for service under the English, and L50 each to his underling traders. Jean listened in sullen silence. The furs gathered by the Frenchmen were transferred to the holds of the English vessels, but Jean and his companions evinced no eagerness to go aboard for England. On September 4, just as the sailors were heaving up anchors to the sing-song of a running chant, Phipps, the governor, summoned the French to a final council on board the Happy Return. Young Jean looked out through the ports of the captain's cabin. The sea was slipping past. The Happy Return had set sail. The Frenchmen were trapped and were being carried to England. In an instant, hands were on swords and the ship was in an uproar. Radisson besought his countrymen to bethink themselves before striking. What could five men do against an armed English crew? Once in England, they could listen to what the Company had to offer: meanwhile they were suffering no harm. The Frenchmen sullenly put back their swords. The boat reached Portsmouth in the last week of October. Radisson took horse and rode furiously for London.

If the adventurers had been exultant over his return from France, they were doubly jubilant at his victorious return from the Bay. He was publicly thanked, presented with a hundred guineas, and became the lion of the hour. The Governing Committee on November 14, 1684, three weeks after Radisson's return, voted that he had 'done extraordinary service to the great liking and satisfaction of the Company...the committee are resolved to bestow some mark of respect to the son of Mr Groseilliers and order 20s. a week paid him beginning October 30.' A present of seven musquash skins was now given Mr Young for having induced Radisson to resume his services.

Radisson was requested to make terms with the young Frenchman, but this was not such an easy matter. Some one suggested that Jean Chouart should follow the example of his uncle and marry an English wife. Jean shrugged his shoulders. In a letter to his mother at Three Rivers he wrote: 'I am offered proposals of marriage to which I will not listen. I would leave, but they hold back my pay, and orders have been given to arrest me in case I try. Cause it to be well known that I never intended to follow the English. I have been forced to this by my uncle's subterfuge. Assure M. Du Lhut of my humble services. I will have the honour of seeing him as soon as I can. Tell the same to M. Pere and all our good friends.' To M. Comporte he writes: 'I will be at the place you desire me to go, or perish.' As M. Du Lhut had been dispatched by the Company of the North with the knowledge of the governor of Quebec to intercept Indians going down to the English on Hudson Bay, and M. Pere and M. Comporte were suave diplomats and spies in his service, it may be guessed that the French passed secret messages into the hands of young Jean Chouart in London, and that he passed messages back to them. At all events, from being doggedly resistant to all overtures, he suddenly became complaisant in March of 1685, and took out papers of 'deninization,' or naturalization, in preference to the oath of fidelity, and engaged with the English Company at L100 a year. He was given another L100 to fit him out, and his four comrades were engaged at from L45 to L80 a year. How could the gentlemen of the Company guess that young Jean was betraying them to the Company of the North in Canada, where a mine was being laid to blow up their prosperity?

The Hudson's Bay Company declared dividends of fifty per cent, and chartered seven vessels for the season of 1685—some from a goldsmith, Sir Stephen Evance; and bespoke my Lord Churchill as next governor in place of James, Duke of York, who had become King James II.



The Company now had permanent forts at Rupert, Albany, and Moose rivers on James Bay, and at the mouth of the Hayes river on the west coast. The very year that Churchill was appointed governor and took his place at the board of the Governing Committee, a small sloop had sailed as far north as Churchill, or the River of the Strangers, to reconnoitre and fix a site for a post. The fleet of trading vessels had increased even faster than the forts. Seven ships—four frigates and three sloops—were dispatched for the Bay in 1685. Radisson, young Jean, and the four Frenchmen went on the Happy Return with Captain Bond bound for Nelson. Richard Lucas commanded the Owner's Good Will. Captain Outlaw, with Mike Grimmington as mate, took the big ship Success, destined for Albany. Captain Hume, with Smithsend for mate, took his cargo boat, the Merchant Perpetuana. The Company did not own any of these vessels. They were chartered from Sir Stephen Evance and others, for sums running from L400 to L600 for the voyage, with L100 extra for the impress money. The large vessels carried crews of twenty men; the smaller, of twelve; and each craft boasted at least six great guns. In March, after violent debate over old Bridgar's case, the Committee reinstated him at L100 a year as governor at Rupert. Phipps went as governor to Port Nelson. One Nixon was already stationed at Moose. Bluff old Henry Sargeant, as true a Viking as ever rode the north seas, had been at Albany for a year with his family—the first white family known to have resided on the Bay. Radisson had been reappointed superintendent of trade over the entire Bay; and he recommended for this year 20,500 extra flints, 500 extra ice-chisels for trapping beaver above the waterfalls, and several thousand extra yards of tobacco—thereby showing the judgment of an experienced trader. This spring the curious oaths of secrecy, already mentioned, were administered to all servants. It may be inferred that the Happy Return and the Perpetuana were the heaviest laden, for they fell behind the rest of the fleet on the way out, and were embayed, along with Outlaw's Success, in the icefields off Digges Island in July. It was the realm of almost continuous light in summer; but there must have been fogs or thick weather, for candles were lighted in the binnacles and cabins, and the gloom outside was so heavy that it was impossible to see ten feet away from the decks in the woolly night mist.

Meanwhile the governor at Albany, Henry Sargeant, awaited the coming of the yearly ships. It may be guessed that he waited chuckling. He and Nixon, who seem to have been the only governors resident on the Bay that summer, must have felt great satisfaction. They had out-tricked the French interlopers. One La Martiniere of the Company of the North had sailed into the Bay with two ships laden with cargo from Quebec for the fur trade; and the two Hudson's Bay traders had manipulated matters so craftily that not an Indian could the French find. Not a pelt did La Martiniere obtain. The French captain then inquired very particularly for his compatriot—M. Radisson. M. Radisson was safe in England. One can see old Sargeant's eyes twinkle beneath his shaggy brows. La Martiniere swears softly; a price is on M. Radisson's head. The French king had sent orders to M. de Denonville, the governor of New France, to arrest Radisson and 'to pay fifty pistoles' to anyone who seized him. Has His Excellency, M. Sargeant, seen one Jean Pere, or one M. Comporte? No, M. Sargeant has seen neither 'Parry'—as his report has it—nor 'a Comporte.'

La Martiniere sailed away, and old Sargeant sent his sentinel to the crow's nest—a sort of loft or lighthouse built on a high hill behind the fort—to hoist the signals for incoming boats and to run up the flag. He had dispatched Sandford or 'Red Cap,' one of his men, a little way up the Albany to bring him word of the coming of the Indian canoes; but this was not Sandford coming back, and these were not Indian canoes coming down the Albany river from the Up-Country. This was the long slow dip of white voyageurs, not the quick choppy stroke of the Indian; and before Sargeant could rub the amazement out of his eyes, three white men, with a blanket for sail, came swirling down the current, beached their canoe, and, doffing caps in a debonair manner, presented themselves before the Hudson's Bay man dourly sitting on a cannon in the gateway. The nonchalant gentleman who introduced the others was Jean Pere, dressed as a wood-runner, voyaging and hunting in this back-of-beyond for pleasure. A long way to come for pleasure, thought Sargeant—all the leagues and leagues from French camps on Lake Superior. But England and France were at peace. The gentlemen bore passports. They were welcomed to a fort breakfast and passed pretty compliments to Madame Sargeant, and asked blandly after M. Radisson's health, and had the honour to express their most affectionate regard for friend Jean Chouart. Now where might Jean Chouart be? Sargeant did not satisfy their curiosity, nor did he urge them to stay overnight. They sailed gaily on down-stream to hunt in the cedar swamps south of Albany. That night while they slept the tide carried off their canoe. Back they had to come to the fort. But meanwhile some one else had arrived there. With a fluttering of the ensign above the mainmast and a clatter as the big sails came flopping down, Captain Outlaw had come to anchor on the Success; and the tale that he told—one can see the anger mount to old Sargeant's eyes and the fear to Jean Pere's—was that the Merchant Perpetuana, off Digges Island, had been boarded and scuttled in the midnight gloom of July 27 by two French ships. Hume and Smithsend had been overpowered, fettered, and carried off prisoners to Quebec. Mike Grimmington too, who seems to have been on Hume's ship, was a prisoner. Fourteen of the crew had been bayoneted to death and thrown overboard. Outlaw did not know the later details of the raid—how Hume was to be sent home to France for ransom, and Mike Grimmington was to be tortured to betray the secret signals of the Bay, and Smithsend and the other English seamen to be sold into slavery in Martinique. Ultimately, all three were ransomed or escaped back to England; but they heard strange threats of raid and overland foray as they lay imprisoned beneath the Chateau St Louis in Quebec. Fortunately Radisson and the five Frenchmen, being on board the Happy Return, had succeeded in escaping from the ice jam and were safe in Nelson.

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