Lords of the Northern Forest
The Hudson's Bay Company was one of the central forces moulding the development of the vast tracts of land that today are Canada - but as Barry Gough explains here, the circumstances of its launch in 1670 also reveal much about the commercial forces, personalities and rivalries of Restoration England.
The individuals who established the Hudson's Bay Co any were capitalists, promoters and imperialists. They never possessed the financial power or parliamentary lobby of the East India Company. But their interest in making profits in the fur trade, in discovering a northwest passage, and in undertaking scientific inquiry – in that order of importance – prompted these men to lay the basis of a firm that, by the height of its influence in the early 1840s, was engaged in business throughout most of British North America as well as in the Pacific cordillera south to San Francisco Bay, among the Pacific islands, and in Canton. Today this organisation remains the oldest merchant trading company in the world and the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company on the North American continent and in the English-speaking world.
The founding of the Hudson's Bay Company occurred in that buoyant period of trade ascendancy concomitant with the Stuart Restoration. The decade 1660-70 has been described by Professor Sir Charles Wilson as 'the formative age of the so-called "mercantile system"'. In this period, the aristocracy took part in the affairs of joint-stock companies, the gentry became affluent from commercial profit, and merchants of the principal outports, especially London, grew in wealth to a degree that often over- shadowed that of the landed aristocracy themselves. In this economically expansive and mercantile society, the power of venture capital was increasing; and the transformation of England from mainly an agricultural to largely a commercial nation was well underway.
The Restoration brought into concert two elements: the state on the one hand and private individuals or groups on the other; and this blend was reflected in English economic policy of the late seventeenth century. The skilful combination of private enterprise, government regulation and naval power served to promote national prosperity. Longer voyages, bulkier cargoes, bigger ships and more distant trades accompanied the growth of English export trade in the second part of the century. Traders' capital had to be made available for a sufficient time in order to engage in an enterprise to far-off parts of the globe. Profits from such ventures were often uncertain; accordingly, the investors were usually persons of consider- able wealth who could afford to take a protracted, calculated risk.
In certain distant trades of national significance, the granting of a royal charter to a joint-stock company could keep the degree of risk to a minimum by curtailing the activities of interlopers and rivals. Consequently, the monopoly became an accepted instrument of commercial and colonial expansion in the period 1660-88; and the fortunes of the East India Company, the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Royal African Company rose while those of the old regulated companies, who possessed no close association with government, declined.
It was customary, also, for the monarchy and its attendant councils to direct policies of trade in order to give assurances to investors and to facilitate economic change and expansion. Not surprisingly, we find Charles II, his brother James, the Duke of York, and the king's cousin, Prince Rupert, at the focal point of investment and national policy. Clearly the dual objectives of English mercantilism in the Restoration era were 'profit and power', with the state acting as promoter of economic initiative within the nation.
Three centuries ago, northern and north-western North America was little known to the European. Englishmen had settled in Massachusetts and elsewhere on the Atlantic seaboard, Samuel de Champlain had founded a French colony at the narrows of the St Lawrence River, and French explorers and missionaries had penetrated into the hinterland in the region of the Great Lakes in search of trade routes, Indian alliances, and the conversion of souls. To the north, European navigators, including Henry Hudson who died a chilly death in the bay which was to bear his name, had examined the northernmost reaches of the continent without finding a northwest passage. As of yet these men knew nothing of the long rivers of the interior – the Saskatchewan, the Missouri, the Mackenzie or the Mississippi – which were to serve the fur trade for many years – or of the Rocky Mountains beyond. They did, however, know of the existence of the Pacific. The tantalising idea of finding a route to the fabled Orient told of by Marco Polo relentlessly drove them on to feats equivalent, though much less publicised, to those of our space age. Yet this very search, an integral part of the European reconnaissance of the New World, was to yield up a remarkable new source of wealth in furs.
From the time of Jacques Cartier's voyages in the 1530s, the fur trade grew from a casual by-product of the cod fishery of north-eastern North America to the basis of the economy of New France. By the 1650s, French traders were in the upper reaches of the Ottawa River and on the Great Lakes in search of new habitats of heaver and new Indian allies; more often than not they were there without the sanction of the Compagnie des Habitans, a group of settlers who held the monopoly of the fur trade under sub-contract from the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France. The Habitans hoped to get maximum profits from the fur trade, and their restrictions forbade unlicensed persons from carrying on an illicit trade with the western Indians.
Those who challenged the Habitans, the coureurs-de-bois or runners of the woods, were often newly-arrived colonists from France. None are more famous than Medard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers, and Pierre Esprit Radisson. The names of these bush-rangers are writ large in Canadian history. 'A more daring pair of international promoters cannot be found in the history of commerce', writes Douglas MacKay in The Honourable Company.
Groseilliers – or 'Mr. Gooseberry' as Englishmen merrily called him, was a man of importance in New France, being the captain of militia in Trois Rivieres. In 1656, he had saved the colony by restoring the fur lifeline in spite of the activities of the Iroquois Indians who sought to curtail French westward expansion, In any case, he preferred the wilderness life. So, too, did his brother-in-law, Radisson, who was likewise born in France, but at an early age made the trans-Atlantic passage and called Trois Rivieres his home. He loved and knew well the life of the Indians, especially the Iroquois. In the 1650s, he roamed among various western tribes, gave aid to survivors at the Jesuit missions in Huronia, and was among the first to examine the upper Great Lakes.
In August of 1659, the brothers-in- law set forth on their great voyage to the west and the commencement of their famous partnership. They ventured into the Laurentian shield in the region of Sault Ste Marie, Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. So abundant were furs, so easy was the trade with the Indians in that region, the Cree and Ojibwa, that Radisson boasted 'We were Caesars, [there] being nobody to contradict us'. It seems doubtful that the two reached James or Hudson Bay on this expedition, although Radisson, in a questionable narrative, later claimed they had done so. In any event, they returned to Montreal on August 20th, 1660, and subsequently arrived at Quebec where they were:
saluted with the thundering of the guns and battrys of the fort. and of the three ships that were then at anchor; which had gone back [sic] to France without castors [beaver skins] if we had not come.
During this expedition, Radisson and Groseilliers conceived of a momentous idea: that a sea access to the interior of the continent by way of Hudson Bay would reduce the transportation problems of the St Lawrence route and circumvent the Indian middlemen. Evidence shows that the fruits of their pelt-seeking expedition saved the colony from economic ruin. However, the jealous governor, d'Argenson, seized their furs, fined them, and, according to Radisson, threw Groseilliers into jail for departing without official sanction. Infuriated, the duo determined to get aid from the enemies and rivals of New France.
How the two Frenchmen were lured to England is still a matter of some doubt. Many years later, Radisson wrote that Colonel Richard Nicoll, then governor of the new province of New York, and 'several other English- men of great Esteeme' persuaded the two to go to the English rather than the French court. One of these distinguished Englishmen may have been Colonel George Cartwright, engaged by the king's brother, the Duke of York, on colonial business. Cartwright thought that in view of the Frenchmen's talk of the much sought-after northwest passage and of potentially rich habitats of beaver, the best 'present' he could give to his king, Charles II, would be to induce Radisson and Groseilliers to go to London.
Arrangements for the two traders to visit Oxford (where the king and court were hiding out from the Plague which was then rampant in London) were made by Robert Boyle, distinguished physicist in the then infant Royal Society. There the coureurs-de-bois were supported by the Restoration courtiers, Sir George Carteret, a key figure in the newly-chartered Royal African Company and a person with extensive naval, commercial, and colonial connections. Carteret had entered the navy as a lad and had risen to high command. He probably knew more about naval administration and shipping than anyone at court.
Through the auspices of Carteret, Radisson and Groseilliers obtained an audience with the king who also became interested in the possibilities of 'the Bay of the North'. To keep their attachment, the king granted the two a pension of forty shillings per week.
Without assistance at court and the support of Carteret and other imperially-minded men, the scheme would not have been developed. The men who promoted the plan had a clearness of vision, a spirit of adventure, and a credulity in the art of the possible of an unusual degree. Some seven of them – Antony Ashley Cooper (later the first Earl of Shaftesbury), Sir John and Sir Peter Colleton, Sir George Carteret, the Duke of Albemarle, Lord Arlington, and Lord John Berkeley – nobility and gentry alike – were a group interested in a variety of ventures including the founding of the colony of Carolina, developments in the West Indies (Providence Island and the Bahamas), and a number of speculative matters that came before the Council of Trade and Plantations. These individuals advanced funds of subsistence to Radisson and Groseilliers during the period 1666-68. However, a ship was not sent to Hudson Bay at that time because the Dutch commanded the 'Narrow Seas', in other words held the supremacy of the seas.
Frustration at the delay must have dogged Radisson and Groseilliers in London. It is surprising that they did not turn to France with their project or approach the Dutch court where there was much talk of out-doing the European rivals in Hudson Bay. Loyalty has its price, and their continued 'allegiance' was secured through the skilful actions and financial backing of Carteret, of Prince Rupert, and of James Hayes, Rupert's secretary. Fitting-out a ship for the voyage seems to have been an additional difficulty, and in 1667 an attempt proved abortive because of the lateness of the season.
Eventually, on June 5th, 1668, the Eaglet ketch, a vessel of the Royal Navy of 54 tons, and the Nonsuch ketch, a private vessel of 43 tons, dropped down the Thames. Radisson sailed in the Eaglet; Groseilliers, in the Nonsuch.
The objectives of the voyage were clearly spelled out in the instructions. When the ships reached Hudson Bay, at the direction of Radisson and Groseilliers, the ships were to find a safe harbour, erect fortifications, and trade with the lndians for furs. The officers were to send the Nonsuch home when a cargo was obtained, and to look for minerals, whales and 'sea horse and mors teeth'. Of special note is the following instruction:
You are to have in your thoughts the discovery of the passage into the South sea and to attempt it as occasion shall offer with the advice and direction of Mr Gooseberry and Mr Radisson, or one of them they having told us that it is but seven daies padling or sailing from the River where they intend to trade and Harbour unto the stinking lake and not above seven daies more to the streight wch. leads into that sea they call the south sea and from thence hut forty or fifty leagues to the sea it selfe in all wch, streight it Ebbs and flows by meanes whereof the passage up and downe will be quicke...
Only the Nonsuch made the voyage to Hudson Bay, for a storm forced the Eaglet to return to London. There Radisson spent the winter writing his narrative, which the king had so commanded him to do. Meanwhile Groseilliers was busy in 'the Sea of the North'. The Nonsuch after entering Hudson Bay came into the 'bottom of the Bay', James Bay. She was hauled up into the mouth of the Rupert River to protect her from the ice winter. There her crew constructed Charles Fort (later Fort Rupert in honour of the first governor of the Hudson's Bay Company), shot deer and birds, dug a cellar, and brewed beer. They survived the winter, traded again with the Indians, made sail on June 14th, 1669, and reached Deal on the south-east coast of England and later London in October.
The furs of Hudson Bay found a ready market in London where Thomas Glover, a fur merchant, played an important part in their disposal. These pelts were certainly as fine as any from New England or the St Lawrence region, and they commanded handsome prices. Successive annual voyages were undertaken to Hudson Bay, the first of these by Radisson in 1670, who founded what later became York Factory at the mouth of the Churchill River. Meanwhile, two days after the Nonsuch docked at London, on October 21st, 1669, the interested merchant-adventurers obtained a renewed monopoly of trade in Hudson Bay. Through the pressure of the organiser, James Hayes, along with Rupert himself, the monopoly was put into a charter under the Great Seal of England.
The famous charter of May 2nd, 1670, gave eighteen Adventurers:
the sole Trade and Commerce of all those Seas Streights Bayes Rivers Lakes Crekes and Soundes in whatsoever Latitude they shall bee that lye within the entrance of the Streights commonly called Hudsons Streights together with all the Landes Countryes and Territoryes upon the Coastes and Confynes of the Seas [etc.]..., which are not now actually possessed by any of our Subjectes or by the Subjectes of any other Christian Prince or State.
'They were given fishing rights to 'all Sortes of Fish Whales Sturgions and all other Royall Fishes...' and 'all Mynes Royall, aswell discovered as not discovered of Gold Silver Gemms and pretious Stones to bee found...' within what was called 'Ruperts Land'. In this territory, 'reckoned and reputed as one of our plantations or colonies in America', the Company was to hold the land as 'the true and absolute Lordes and Proprietors' of the enormous territory. For this they merely had to pay yearly 'two Elks and two Black beavers' whenever the king, his heirs or his successors should enter the regions granted, a rather unlikely contingency. Sole trading rights with the Indians who were, of course, the key figures in the fur trade, were allowed, and the Company could exercise powers of governance over the region and defend the same. And at this time was assigned the name of the corporation, 'The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudsons Bay'.
At the time of the granting of the charter, such sweeping imperial powers were not unusual. Like many of its predecessors in English settlement in North America, the Hudson's Bay Company constituted a joint-stock company possessing territorial rights and governing powers in a goodly portion of the continent. The extent of land claimed under the charter was unknown. No one knew that it would reach west to the Rockies, south to near Lake Winnipeg, and south-east almost to Montreal itself. It was known, however, that Rupert’s Land blocked the way of French Canadian expansion to the north and west, and in this sense the Company was an important strategic factor in checking and eventually removing French power in North America. It set out to exploit this northern wilderness with a capital of 10,500 pounds.
Prosecution of the fur trade was the first object of the Company. In order to preserve the territory against a rival claim by the French, in keeping with the dictum that 'prescription without possession availeth nothing', the charter had to state that a real occupation of the territory was planned. A contest for the fur trade and for ownership of the lands soon ensued between the English and the French and was to end in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht confirmed Britain's ownership of the regions around Hudson Bay. This was the culmination of English attempts since the days of John Cabot to dominate the northern reaches of North America. It foreshadowed a conflict between the two great European powers for supremacy in the New World, a struggle which ended in 1763 in Britain's resounding favour.
Certainly, prospects of a Northwest Passage to the Indies led Bristol merchant-adventurers to send Cabot west in 1497. However, he and others found something more lasting than a safe, easy passage to Cathay: staple trades in cod fishing and in furs developed as foundations of the English North American empire. Radisson and Groseilliers supplied the information necessary to develop the fur trade of Hudson Bay, and English enterprise supplied the remaining ingredients.
A scrutiny of the founders' names listed in the charter of 1670 reveals that the Company was dominated at the top by persons experienced in colonial administration and influential in government. Moreover, they held to the sound concept of the interdependence of portions of the empire. At the head of the list of charter members in 1670 is to be found Prince Rupert.
While he may not have been the most dominant person among the charter members in terms of the amount of stock held in 1670 (270 pounds out of a total of 4,720 pounds), Rupert was the focal point of the enterprise. At once concerned with profit and maritime and colonial adventure, he was a patentee of the Royal African Company in 1663. He was also one of the first fellows of the Royal Society, whose membership from its inception in 1660 had been curious about a northwest passage. An amateur metallurgist, Rupert was interested in the improvement of weapons and materials of war, and Radisson's information of copper mines near Lake Superior may have led Rupert to conclude that the region around Hudson Bay possessed metals useful to the realm. Thus we find that the masters of the vessels Nonsuch and Eaglet, sent in 1668, had instructions to collect 'copper and other mineralls of that Country', find 'the Passage into the South Sea', and record data on navigation which the Royal Society sought to accumulate and publish.
The next person listed in the 1670 charter is Christopher, Duke of Albemarle, then working in close conjunction with Rupert with whom he had made early ties fighting for the royalist cause during the Civil War. His colonial and commercial activities included being a member of a committee on Jamaican affairs in 1660, a commissioner for Tangier, a lord proprietor of Carolina, and a patentee in the Royal Fisheries Company. He had marked landed power and, like Rupert, was a member of the Royal Society.
Also associated with Rupert was William, Earl of Craven. Wealthy, landed, and munificent, he had supplied Charles I with money during the Civil War. By the late 1660s he had a number of important connections, being a commissioner for Tangier, a lord proprietor of Carolina, a patentee in the Royal Fisheries Company, a Privy Councillor, and a member of the Royal Society.
More important than Craven in the incorporation of the Hudson's Bay Company was Sir Henry Bennet, Lord Arlington. After 1662 Arlington was Secretary of State, in which capacity he was most concerned with domestic and foreign affairs. As Censor, it was he who first officially licensed for publication Thomas Mun's England's Treasure by Fforraign Trade in 1664, for he agreed largely with Mun's views.
Arlington was probably the makeweight of the emerging Hudson's Bay Company in obtaining the provisional Royal Commission in 1667, the grant in October 1669, and the Royal Charter in 1670.
The fourth and final noble among the Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay was Anthony Ashley Cooper. According to his biographer he was a thorough-going imperialist, and a brief list of his activities bears this out, In late 1660 he became a member of the new Council for Foreign Plantations while already a Privy Councillor and in 1661 he succeeded Clarendon as Chancellor of the Exchequer. During the 1660s he dominated most affairs dealing with trade and plantations in a degree even greater than his ally Arlington. He was one of nine proprietors in the Carolina grant in 1663, and a grantee to the Bahamas in 1670; he had interests in the Barbados and in Guinea; he invested in the Royal African and Royal Fisheries companies, engaged in mining ventures, and was a member of the Royal Society.
Yet these five members who comprised what might be called, for want of a better term, the 'influence group' – Rupert, Albemarle, Craven, Arlington and Shaftesbury – controlled less than a quarter of the stock in 1670. The bulk of it was held by gentry and, to a lesser extent, members of the merchant class. Of the thirteen who complete the list of eighteen names on the Royal Charter only two could be considered landed.
Perhaps the most important of this mixed group of gentlemen seeking new fields for investment was Sir John Robinson. At various times during the 1660s and 1670s he was Member of Parliament, Lord Mayor, Alderman, and Sheriff for the City of London. His administrative experience and ability proved useful to the Hudson's Bay Company, and it appears that he served as the commercial promoter of the Company in the City. Perhaps the best evidence of his importance in the undertaking is the fact that he was the principal shareholder in 1670.
Another prominent person of the City involved in the project as an investor was Sir Robert Vyner, one of the great goldsmith-bankers of the day. His intimacy with the king, to whom he advanced more money than any other creditor, prompted Pepys to write of him: 'lives no man in England in greater plenty, and commands both King and Council with the credit he gives them'. His premises in Lombard Street were the first business headquarters for the General Court of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Vyner was not, as one might suppose, the banker to the syndicate. That function was performed by John Portman, whose name appears last on the Charter of 1670. Likewise a banker-goldsmith, and located in Lombard Street, he also lent money to the Crown. Little is known of his activities in the Hudson's Bay Company apart from the fact that he served as treasurer until May 1672.
Of the remaining ten names in the Charter, only five are sufficiently prominent to deserve more than passing notice. Sir Peter Colleton, the eldest son of the very prominent Barbadian planter Sir John Colleton, served in government circles as a Member of Parliament, a member of councils for trade and plantations, and Keeper of Public Accounts. It is not surprising to find him involved in promoting the Hudson's Bay Company scheme from the beginning because Colleton and his family are to be classified among the leading Restoration imperialists.
More difficult to explain is the involvement of Sir Edward Hungerford, a Member of Parliament from 1660 to 1702. Hungerford is best known for his reckless extravagance. At the time of the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company, he was most likely at the height of his fortunes, had funds to invest, and was probably included through the efforts of his brother-in-law, James Hayes, whose prominent role in the company is discussed below. Sir Philip Carteret need be identified here as a charter member less because of his own influence than because of that of his father, whom he obviously represented. Why this knowledgeable person in colonial and naval affairs invested in the Hudson's Bay Company through his son's name is not clear. James Hayes, probably provided the liaison between the court group of the Company and Sir John Robinson and Sir Robert Vyner in the City, and in this capacity was a very important and indeed essential member of the syndicate.
Another important function of Hayes was to arrange for the loan of the Eaglet through the Navy Office. What is more, he probably drafted the 1668 instructions. The fifth in this group of prominent gentlemen stockholders was Sir John Kirke, a royalist during the Civil War, a merchant of London, and a figure with long-standing family interests in the Canadian fur trade.
Judging by the composition of the original group of 'adventurers', it seems that the charter members of the Hudson's Bay Company were dominated more by the motive of 'hope of near-gains than zest in adventure, discovery, and the outdistancing of the French in Canada'. Apparently, the stimulus to participate in the adventure lay in the fact that it was more of an 'attractive gamble than any sort of business calculation' because there were very few of the 'true City sort' among the eighteen founders. Yet owing to the intelligence and information that these astute persons could garner from official sources it would appear that the risks of the founders were kept to a minimum. According to the classifications established by Professor K. G. Davies, by far the greater number of investors in the Hudson's Bay Company were 'small investors', that is, those in possession of stock under $300. Because such an investor usually 'backed his favourite heavily', it can be inferred that for most of the eighteen founders of the Hudson's Bay Company the Canadian project may have constituted their principal trading interest.
In the City, substantial investment in joint-stock companies was attractive to a certain type of politician-capitalist; and this is exemplified in the case of the Hudson's Bay Company where Lord Mayors, Aldermen, Members of Parliament, and Sheriffs were represented. But whether they were from the City or from the court, they sought to increase their wealth, and in this regard they characterised Restoration England. Whereas a century before these investors would have gone into land speculation or kept their estates in order, in the years after 1660, they sought to increase their capital through long distance trading. In thus employing their venture capital, they typified those described by the contemporary, Gregory King as 'greater merchants and traders by sea'.
That said, the founders of the Hudson's Bay Company were politicians more so than City financial promoters, for they held to England's strategy of out-manoeuvring the French in North America, both in trade and discovery. In regards to their scientific aims, it appears that these were commensurate with those of the Royal Society to which seven of the eighteen belonged. All in all, the 'Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay' showed themselves to be representative of their age in every respect: they were Stuart expansionists and capitalists in search of territory and trade. They were successful in that they found both.
Within a decade the stock-holders had changed in name and number. Shaftesbury and Sir Peter Colleton sold off their stock peacemeal; others, Arlington, Carteret and Kirke among them, sold out directly. New investors quickly replaced older ones, some- times for a brief period of time. Among the new breed was Sir Christopher Wren, who took a very active interest in the firm's affairs, held stock worth 1,200 pounds, and served as acting deputy governor. Some of the 'old guard' remained for many years, including Craven, Albemarle and Berkeley.
At the council board these persons had to face frightening realities including surplus pelts, tumbling shares, and lost cargoes, and the daunting prospect of war. The Company's records for its first decade are unclear, but as Professor W. R. Scott suggested in his Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish and Irish Joint-Stock Companies to 1710 (1910), the committee probably scrambled to maintain itself and paid for capital expenditure out of income. Risks to property remained high, both on board ship and in the Bay, and in these circumstances the Company continued to borrow from its own members and from their new banker and treasurer, Sir Robert Clayton, the Lord Mayor, even going so far in such desperate straits in 1680 as to be obliged to pledge their precious charter as security.
Throughout this time the governor, Prince Rupert, acted firmly on behalf of the Company, twice putting in a word to the king and signing instructions sent out to Hudson Bay. Sir James Hayes, the deputy governor, remained the key man. He was the committee's link with Prince Rupert. It was he who drafted the key memorials and instructions. He was also the 'fixer,' who arranged with the Admiralty for protection of its shipping against the menace of pirates from the Mediterranean.
Gradually the stock-holders became more and more men of the City and less and less the nobles and gentry who had given the corporation its impetus in the first place. Sir John Clapham, the economic historian, rightly commented that composition of the original adventuring group suggests that 'the dominant motive at the start was less any certain hope of near gains than zest in adventure, discovery, and the outdistancing of the French in Canada.' They were the imperialists of the Restoration. The 'true City sort,' Clapham added, 'thought mainly for profit and were neither very keen nor open-handed speculators'.
The founding of the Hudson's Bay Company ranked as important as the passing of the Navigation Act of 1660, the establishment of the Carolina colony, the capture of New York, the acquisition of Bombay and Tangier, the attempt to create a 'Dominion' in New England, the reorganisation of the East India Company, and the founding of the Guinea Company. With the establishment of this firm to engage in the fur trade of Hudson Bay, the interests of the two parties were united – that of the adventurers for profit and that of the government for the development of trade, to check the French in North America. And along with this, England had opportunities for Arctic discovery and scientific inquiry.
The mystique of the Hudson's Bay Company as empire builders long endured. Perhaps rightly so, for this was empire within empire. While stock- holders speculated on shares in the City the fur traders in the posts at the river mouths of Hudson Bay kept up the traffic as best they could. Gradually they were drawn into the interior, to face the new rivals from the St Lawrence, the 'Peddlers from Quebec', who entered the trade after the fall of Canada in the Seven Years' War. They survived that challenge only to face another. In due course, until the mid 1840s, the Bay traders were locked in a struggle to maintain their monopoly over the northern forest and keep its rivals at a distance.
The corporation endured Parliament's close scrutiny in 185 7 and pre- served its charter against rivals and intrigues. Unlike many another privileged corporation the Hudson's Bay Company did not work out its own destruction. It underwent a massive financial restructuring in 1863, took up the cause of real estate sales and railroad construction, and sold off its holding of Rupert's Land to Canada in 1869. The Restoration imperialists thus left a considerable legacy. As Sir Winston Churchill, the Grand Seigneur of the Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay, expressed it in 1957, in his foreword to the Company's official history written by E. E. Rich: 'Many great merchant expeditions set out in the last four centuries from the shores of these Islands and materially altered the history of the lands to which they sailed. Of these, none was more prominent than the Hudson's Bay Company.'
In the late 1980s the Hudson's Bay Company remained the largest retailer in Canada, operating some 400 stores in four retail groups and continued to be active in real estate, fur trading, mining and transportation, its ancient occupations.
As for Radisson and Groseilliers, they remained in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company until 1675, largely in developing the trade with the Indians and founding fur-trading posts on the Bay. It was Father Charles Albanel, a Jesuit explorer in Hudson Bay, who secured their allegiance to France once more. By the 1690s the two Frenchmen were adventuring again into the Bay, this time in the employ of the Companie du Nord, a Canadian firm. Meanwhile, men in New France such as Aubert de La Chesnaye and Jean Baptiste Colbert had belatedly recognised the value of a maritime approach to the fur-trade of the interior. Expeditions were sent to Hudson Bay, the English posts were burned, and the fur trade secured.
French governmental problems resulted in the ending of the partnership in 1684. Groseilliers now aged sixty-six, returned to Canada and died there in the 1690s. Radisson returned to Hudson Bay in the employ of his old patrons, and seems to have remained with the English company for the rest of his life. Their careers were certainly adventurous and romantic. Their daring exploits in trade and exploration were crucial in the contest between French and England for empire in North America.
Barry Gough is Professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, and author of Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians (University of British Columbia Press, 1984).
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