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The Prairie Provinces
Chapter III. The Rivalry of French and English on Hudson Bay


The treachery of Groseilliers and Radisson had the effect of rousing the French in Canada to action, Denonville, the governor, anxious to cheek the trade of the English 011 Hudson Bay, determined to make a general attack upon the Company’s forts from the land side. He had no difficulty in finding among the daring spirits of the time a suitable leader, in the person of Chevalier de Troyes. The latter was fortunate in securing as his lieutenants the three sons of a French nobleman, Charles le Moyne, the eldest of whom, Sieur d’Iberville, afterwards became even more famous than his commander.

In the spring of 1085, these daring Frenchmen were ready to set out. Reaching the Long Sault in April, they proceeded up the Ottawa in canoes, and made their way to James Bay, completing the entire journey in three months. The Moose River fort was made the first object of attack, and, as the Company’s servants were better fitted for trading than for fighting, a surrender soon followed. De Troyes took possession “in the name of His Most Christian Majesty Louis XIV.” From Moose River de Troyes sent d’Iberville to the mouth of Rupert’s River to seize an English ship which was there riding at anchor. This task successfully accomplished, d’Iberville joined his leader in an attack upon Fort Rupert, the garrison of which was only too glad to surrender. Elated by their success, the French set sail in the Company’s ship for Fort Albany, the sole remaining post on the lower part

of the bay. The governor at Fort Albany, after withstanding a two days bombardment in which only one man was hurt, agreed to give up the post to the enemy. De Troyes was anxious to complete his success by making a descent upon York Factory, oil the Nelson River, but the distance, two hundred and fifty leagues, forced him to abandon the idea. In August, he and d’Iberville returned to Montreal, taking with them fifty thousand beaver skins.

(Treat as had been the success of de Troyes, it was still incomplete as long as Fort Nelson remained in the hands of his rivals. So anxious were the French to gain this northern post, which could be easily reached by the Indians, and from which trade with the other points could be cut off, that they offered to give all the forts on James Bay in exchange for control of the Nelson. Failing to arrange an exchange, d’Iberville, in 1694, sailed from Quebec in command of a small fleet, and, at the end of an uneventful voyage, dropped anchor off the mouth of the Nelson. After a stubborn resistance the English surrendered, and the French flag was hoisted over the fort, to which was again given the name of Bourbon. After spending the winter here, d’Iberville returned to Quebec, leaving the fort in charge of a small force of men. Not long were the French to remain in peaceful possession, for a year later they were forced to surrender to two ships sent out by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Fort Nelson had now come to be regarded as the commanding position on the bay; and. in 1697, its

occupants witnessed the deadliest struggle of the war between the French and English. In this year the French, bent upon a complete conquest of the bay, sent out a fleet of four ships, the largest, the Pelican, carrying d’Iberville, who was in command. Almost at the same time four of the Company’s ships set sail from Plymouth. The English fleet entered the strait only a few days in advance of the French. D’Iberville, on board the Pelican, managed, to slip past his rivals, and was the first to reach the mouth of the Nelson. Here he waited anxiously two days for the remainder of his fleet to come up, and Anally caught sight of three ships, which he hailed with delight, thinking them his own. Great was his disappointment to find that they carried the English flag; but, nothing daunted, he prepared his single ship for action. Then followed a desperate encounter, in which the French commander won for himself an enviable reputation for seamanship and courage. When the smoke of battle cleared away, one English ship remained, one having been sunk, and another having escaped. The French victory was made decisive by the surrender of the only remaining English ship. With night came a violent storm, which drove the two ships on shore. Here, in the morning, the shipwrecked Frenchmen gladly welcomed the approach of their other ships, which had with difficulty weathered the gale. Desperate as was their condition, d’Iberville’s men made preparations for bombarding the fort, which . Governor Bailey refused to surrender. So persistent, however, was the attack of the French, to whom in their wretched plight failure meant untold hardships, that Bailey was forced to submit, although he did so with all the honors of war. Thus Fort Nelson was again in the hands of the French, and again became known as Fort Bourbon.

In the very year of d’Iberville’s victory at Fort Nelson there was concluded the Treaty of Ryswick, which for a short time put an end to the struggle. The treaty stated that each nation should retain the possessions which it had held at the outbreak of the war (1690, an arrangement which left to England only one post on the bay,—Fort Albany.

Almost immediately, however, the two nations were at war again in connection with the Spanish Succession. The Peace of Utrecht, which again restored harmony, was more favorable to English interests. It was agreed that the French should leave the bay within six months, and arrangements were made for the appointment of a commission to settle upon a boundary between French Canada and the British possessions on Hudson Bay. Although the Company failed to recover from France a settlement of its claim for damages done to its forts in time of peace, yet it was now free to resume, undisturbed, its trade with the Indians. For the next half century the returns from the fur trade made up for all the losses caused by the long struggle between France and England.


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