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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter II - The Founding of British Interests in North Western America


Tin: Dream of a North-West Passage—C'abot, Froibisher, Davis, Hudson, Button, James, and Other Explorers—Career of Radisson and Groseilliers—Charles II. Interested in the Commercial Exploitation of Hudson's Bay—Prince Rupert, and the Experimental Expeditions—Gillam Builds First British Fort in North Central America—Granting of H. B.. Co.'s Charter—Territory Subsequently Affected—Provisions of the Charter—Shareholder's Oath.

The founding of British interests in that portion of America in which Saskatchewan lies was the practical outcome of an impractical dream. Ever since it had been realized that Columbus was in error in supposing that he had reached the eastern limits of India, the most adventurous spirits of Europe had fostered the hope of discovering a waterway to Asia through or around the American continent. Englishmen devoted themselves chiefly to the endeavor to find such a passage by way of the Arctic Seas and the vast archipelago of the North.

It will be remembered that in the reign of Henry YII., John and Sebastian Cabot, nominally in the employ of the English King, reached the American mainland. The letters patent under which they served indicate the valuable nature of the encouragement at first offered by Princes to those who were to double their empires for them. The document informs us that Henry VII. granted to his "beloved John Cabot, citizen of Venice, to Lewis, Sebastian and Santius, sones of the said John, full and free authority, leave and power upon their own proper costs and charges to seek out, discover and finde, whatever isles, countries, regions or provinces of the heathen and infidels, which before this time have been unknown to all Christians." Incidentally, one-fifth of Cabot's net gains was to go to his royal patron. However, as Cabot took possession of Cape Breton Island in the name of England, he received from King Henry a special reward of £10. In a second voyage John Cabot made the first serious attempt to find a northern passage to Asia. For centuries thereafter the enterprise was pursued with extraordinary persistency and at enormous financial loss to its various promoters.

Almost sixty years after Cabot's preliminary voyage. Captain Martin Frobisher continued the search for the passage to Cathay and India, sailing west and north with thirty-five men. distributed among a ten-ton pinnance and two other toy ships of about twenty or twenty-five tons each. This sturdy old mariner, under the encouragement of Queen Elizabeth, twice renewed his attempt ( 1577-1578). Seven years later the great task was in the hands of John Davis, who also made three attempts, and narrowly missed the discovery of Hudson's Bay.

This important feat, however, was reserved for Henry Hudson. His famous voyages fall within the period of 1607 and 1611. In the first of these expeditions he pierced the northern seas as far as 60° north latitude and discovered the polar drift, subsequently utilized by Hansen. His crew consisted of ten men and his own little boy. and their adventures were terrific in the extreme.

When he made his second voyage, only three members of the old crew re-enlisted. This time he attempted to find the desired waterway by skirting the coasts of Norway and following the current. As usual, the outward voyage continued until the inevitable mutiny occurred, whereupon Hudson returned home.

The Dutch East India Company, however, immediately invited Hudson to make another voyage and under their auspices. For obvious reasons it was possible to secure but few except the most desperate characters to serve on these expeditions. Hudson's crew consisted of Lascars. Buccaneers, Asiatics, two Englishmen of his old crew and his own sou. The unfortunate commander was soon all but helpless in the hands of this motley crowd. He was forced to change his route, to abandon the search for the northern passage and sail southward along the .American coast. It was as a result of this mutiny that Hudson became the discoverer of New York harbor and Hudson's river. On his return Hudson and his fellow Englishmen were commanded by the Government not to go on such an expedition again, but to stay at home and serve their country!

Nevertheless, in 1610 Hudson set out on his fourth and last voyage. The financial expense was borne largely by private members of the Muscovy Company, which had sent Hudson forth in 1607 and 1608. After spending a month in the straits since then known by his name, he ultimately entered and was the first definitely to explore that vast inland sea, which was to form a waterway, if not to China, to a region probably of more immediate importance to the reader. Of course, the men mutinied, but Hudson wintered in the bay. Agnes Laut thinks it was at the mouth of the Moose River, though it is more general!) supposed to be off the Nelson. When spring returned half his crew were ill with scurvy and the mutineers seized the ship, marooning Hudson, his son and eight sick men in an open boat. Such was the price that this heroic explorer paid for his fame and for the addition he made to the world's store of knowledge.

Coldly in splendor descends
The Arctic evening. The waste
Of desolate waters, thy sea,
Washes its desolate shores;
And on its far reaches, a sail,
Lonely, outcast and forlorn;—
Like solitary bird with wing
Wounded and broken, and spent,
Seeking in vain its nest
On some dim, oceanward crag:—
Glimmers a space, and is gone.

But thou wert not outcast.
Great soul of the seafaring blood.
Thou pioneer pilot of dreams,
Thou finder of oceans remote
In the ultimate Empires of man.
Hendrick Hudson, 'tis here
That thou hast graven thy name,
To be a word of great need
In the thoughts of men for all time,
Not in thy mighty stream.
Splendid and vast, of the south,
Where 'twixt its mountainward walls,
It surges beneficent tides
Triumphant and glad, to the main.

But here in thy northern wastes
Of the short red summers of joy
And the long dark winters of dream.
Is the gulf of thy world-fame to be:
Great Englishman! Outfaring soul!
Immortal, with that high band.
Bold Raleigh and Franklin and Drake,
Thy brother pilots: where surges
Heave on the crimson edge
Of ocean's ultimate rim
O'er horizons of vastness and morn.

Here, where thou cried'st,
Sail on! Sail on! sail on! till we come
To the long lost passage; that path
From Europe to furthermost Ind;—
That road once open; when man.
In that rare, golden age of the past,
Did compass all earth in a span
Of Godlike effort and dream.
This road, which thine innermost soul
Knew well earth's seeker must find;—
As find it, he shall, some day;
And prove that high courage, that faith
Which led thee onward, great soul,
Out on thy last drear voyage;—
But left thee forsaken, forlorn,
Betrayed and lost, but not quelled,
Only thy trust in God left,
On those drifts of thy desolate main.

When word reached England of Hudson's fate, Sir Thomas Button was sent to endeavor to find and bring him back home, if, perchance, he and his companions had escaped to land, but no tidings were ever received of the deserted men. Button made careful explorations, but, unfortunately, his diary was never made public. However, from the point of view of our present narrative his expedition was of great importance: he discovered the important Nelson River, which is, in point of fact, merely that portion of the Saskatchewan lying between Lake Winnipeg and the Great Bay.

Into an account of the explorations in Hudson's Bay conducted by Captain Gibbons, Robert Bylot, William Baffin, Captain Hawbridge, Captain Jones, Captain Luke Fox and Captain James, we cannot enter. James explored the hay which consequently bears his name, though it had been entered previously by Hudson himself. James entered upon Carlelon Island where lie built a house. However, his experience was so disheartening that for a generation 110 English expedition re-entered the bay.

Indeed, when at last British interests were to become definitely established upon the shores of Hudson's Bay. it was through the initiative of two Frenchmen, Medart Chouart de Groseilliers and his brother-in-law, Pierre Esprit Radisson.

Radisson had come over from France to Canada in his early vouth and indeed still was but a lad when he was captured and adopted by the Mohawks. After his escape from these undesirable companions, he went overland to the upper Mississippi, with the combined purposes of pursuing explorations and carrying on the fur trade. In these adventurous undertakings Groseilliers was his partner. They visited the Crees and Sioux and heard from the Indians of the Great Bay of the North. Whether they aclually visited Prince Rupert, the organizer and first Radisson, the French adventurer, upon Governor. whose initiative the Company was organized.

it has been a subject of dispute. Among the numerous writers who have discussed the question Professor George Bryce and Agnes Laut may be taken as typical. The former considers the claim of the two Frenchmen invalid, whereas the latter is quite convinced that it is sound. It may be added that other students of the original documents think that it is by a misunderstanding of Radisson's words that he is credited with ever claiming to have readied the Inland Sea, in person, on this occasion.

At all events, the season iii which this northern excursion is said to have occurred was eminently successful from a commercial standpoint, and the adventurers returned to Quebec with a very large cargo of furs. Having escaped with their spoils from the savages, the unfortunate partners now encountered the more serious peril involved in dependence upon the respectable banditti of civilized society. The Governor of Canada found sufficient pretext for confiscating the rewards of their toils and dangers and the young Frenchmen either lied or were expelled to Cape Breton, and thence to Port Royal in Acadia, 1664. They appealed to the Court of France for redress and for aid in conducting an expedition by water to the Inland Sea they are alleged to have visited; and the French Court, in accordance with precedent, promised freely but did nothing. The explorers then went to Boston, where they endeavored to interest merchants and mariners. Captain Zachariah Gillam, indeed, offered his ship, but when he and his French colleagues reached the terrifying Hudson straits, he chose discretion as the better part of valor and returned home. The disappointed Frenchmen then chartered two ships 011 their own account, but this enterprise involved them in more disaster and litigation, and, according to Agnes Laut. one of their ships was wrecked, so their proposed northern journey was again prevented.

Radisson and Groseilliers were now at their wits' end. when, to the great good fortune of England, they met Sir George Carteret, Vice Chamberlain -to the King and Treasurer of the Royal Navy, who was visiting America on his Majesty's business. He was profoundly interested in their proposal to open up trade with the natives via the Inland Sea, and advised them to return with him and lay their project before King Charles II of England. on their way across they were captured by Dutch privateers and put ashore in Spain. At last after many further adventures, they reached England, where, through Carteret's influence, they were able to present their scheme to King Charles in person. October 25, i6f>f>. The undertaking appealed strongly to the "Merrv Monarch." who was keenly interested in commerce, and though immediate action was stayed by the plague and London fire, the King instructed James. Duke of York, the Commander of His Navy, to place a vessel at the disposal of the Frenchmen, with a view to undertaking further exploration and the establishment of trade in the Bay.

The King's cousin, Prince Rupert, Duke of Cumberland and Count Palatine of the Rhine, had heavy claims upon King Charles for services both to him and his father, and had, as yet, been unrewarded. He was accordingly given a share in this enterprise and. together with a group of friends, undertook the expenses of wages and victualling. Dutch spies learning of the proposed undertaking' endeavored to bribe Radisson and' his kinsman into deserting the service of England for that of Holland. Failing in this they plotted the ruin of the prestige of the young Frenchmen, by causing them to be prosecuted on a trumped-up charge of counterfeiting. Radisson and Groseilliers were exonerated and H. M. S. "Eaglet." and the "Xonsuch" under Captain Gillam. to whom we have already referred, were chartered for the initial voyage. Groseilliers sailed on the "Nonsuch" and Radisson on the "Eaglet," leaving England in June. i6C>S. The following passages are selected from the sailing orders given to the Captains:

"You are to saile with the first wind that presents, keeping company with each other to your place of rendezvous.3 You are to saile to such place as Mr. Gooseberry"4 and Mr. Radisson shall direct to trade with the Indians there, delivering the goods you carry in small parcels of no more than fifty pounds worth at a time out of each ship, the furs in exchange to stowe in each ship before delivering out any more goods, according to the particular advice of Mr. Gooseberry and Mr. Radisson . . .

'"You are to take notice that the Nampunpeage which you carry with you is part of our joynt cargoes, wee having bought it for money for Mr. Gooseberry and Mr. Radisson to be delivered by small quantities with like caution as the other goods . . .

"You are to have in your thought the discovery of the passage into the South Sea and to attempt it with the advice and direction of Mr. Gooseberry and Mr. Radisson, they having told us that it is only seven daies paddling or sailing from the River where they intend to trade unto the Stinking Lake and not above seven daies more to tbe straight which leads into that Sea they call the South Sea, and from thence but forty or fifty leagues into the Sea itself . . .

"Lastly, we advise and require yon to use the said Mr. Gooseberry and Mr. Radisson with all manner of civility and courtesy and to take care that

"Agnes Laut claims to be the first to show that the initiation of this supremely important enterprise is due to Charles himself and not to Prince Rupert. Conquest of the Great North West. Vol. I. p. 104.

The expedition encountered lierce storms and the vessels were driven apart. Indeed, the Jiaylet, with Radisson on board, was so seriously dismantled that its commander was obliged to return to England. The Admiralty then granted Radisson another vessel, the U'azrro, in which he set sail in March, 1869. Again the northern tempest checkmated his plans and he was forced to return.

Meantime Captain Gillam and Groseillicr had been more fortunate. They entered the bay, took possession of the southern coasts and gave the name of Prince Rupert to a large river emptying into the south cast corner of James Bay, where they also built the first British fort in North Central America, calling it Fort Charles. The Nonsuch left the bay in June, 1669, and was anchored in the Thames when Radisson returned in the Vavcro. A secret application was now made by the promoters of the trading enterprise for the formal issue of a Royal Charter, which was granted in the following May. 1670.

Thus was established one of the most commercial organizations of modern times. "To the Honorable, the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, trading in Hudson's Bay," was entrusted the exploitation and control of the greater part of the American continent. The real extent of the stupendous territory through which they were ultimately to operate was, of course, as yet unknown. As time passed bv, however, their trading posts spread throughout the present Canadian North West, through a vast region south of the Columbia River, extending to California, through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, and even into far away Hawaii."

In the preamble to the Charter, Charles declared that his "dear and entirely beloved cousin, Prince Rupert." and other gentlemen whose names are recited, "have at their own great cost and charges undertaken an expedition for Hudson's Bay in the North West part of America for the discovery of a new passage into the South Sea and for finding some trade in fur, minerals, and other considerable commodities, and by such their undertaking have already made such discoveries as to encourage them to proceed further in pursuance of their said design by means whereof there may probably arise very great advantage to us and our Kingdom. Accordingly, being desirous to promote all endeavors tending to the public good of our people, to the end that the said Governor and Company of Adventurers of England may be encouraged to undertake and effectually to prosecute the said design . . . we have given . . . and by these presents for us our heirs and successors do give, grant and confirm unto the said Governor and Company and their successors the sole trade and commerce of all those seas, straits, bays, rivers, lakes, creeks, sounds in whatsoever latitude they shall be, that lie within the entrance of the straits, commonly called Hudson's Straits, together with all the lands and territories upon the countries, coasts and confines of the seas, bays, lakes, rivers, creeks and sounds aforesaid, that are not already actually possessed by or granted to any of our subjects, or possessed by the subjects of any other Christian Prince or State, with the fishing of all sorts of fish, whales, sturgeons and all other royal fishes in the seas, bays, inlets and rivers within the premises and the fish therein taken, together to the royalty of the sea upon the coasts within the limits aforesaid, and all mines royal, as well discovered as not discovered . . . to be found . . . within the territories . . . aforesaid; and that the said land be from henceforth reckoned and reputed as one of our plantations and colonies in America, called 'Rupert's Land'; and, further, we do . . . make, create and constitute the said Governor and Company . . . and their successors the true and absolute lords and proprietors of the same territory, limits and place aforesaid . . . yielding and paying yearly to us, our heirs and successors for the same, two elks and two black beavers whensoever and so often as we, our heirs and successors shall happen to enter into the said countries; and ... it shall be lawful to and for them ... to make, ordain and constitute such and so many reasonable laws ... as to them . . . shall seem necessary and convenient . . . and at their pleasure to revoke and alter the same ... as the occasion shall require; . . . And, furthermore, of our ample and abundant grace, certain knowledge and mere motion, we . . . our heirs and successors do grant unto the said Governor and Company and their successors . . . that they and their successors . . . shall forever hereafter have, use and enjoy not only the whole entire and only trade and traffic ... to and from the territory, limits and places aforesaid, but also the sole and entire trade and traffic to and from all havens, bays, rivers, lakes and seas into which they shall find entrance or passage by water or land out of the territories, limits or places aforesaid, and to and with all the natives inhabiting or which shall inhabit within the territories . . . and to and with all other nations inhabiting any of the coasts adjacent to the said territories; . . . and we do grant that neither the said territories . . . nor any part thereof . . . shall be visited, frequented or haunted by any of the subjects of us, our heirs or successors . . . unless it be by the license of the said Governor and Company . . . upon pain that every such person or persons . . . shall incur our indignation and the forfeit and loss of the goods . . . brought into this realm of England or any of the dominions of the same . . . and moreover we do give and grant unto the said Governor and Company, free liberty to make peace or war with any prince or people that are not Christians in any place where the said company shall have any plantations, forts or factories, or adjacent thereto; . . . And we do hereby strictly charge and command all and singular, our admirals, vice-admirals, justices, mayors, sheriffs, constables, bailiffs and all and singular our officers, ministers, liegemen and subjects whatsoever to be aiding, favoring, helping and assisting to the said Governor and Company and their successors . . . and every of them . . . when any of you shall thereunto be required; any statute, act, ordinance, proviso or restraint ... or any other matter, cause or thing whatsoever to the contrary, in any wise, notwithstanding."

Truly, when Charles undertook to give, he did it royally!

This account of the founding of British interests in North Western America, and of the entrusting of them to the Hudson's Bay Company, may very well close with the quoting of the oath taken by the shareholders and their successors:

"I doe sweare to bee True and faithful to ye Govern'r and Comp'y of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson's Bay and to my power will support and maintain the said comp'v and the privileges of ve same; all bve laws and orders not repeated which have been or shall 'be made by ye Govern'r and Comp'y I wil to my best knowledge truly observe and keepe; the secrets of ye said company, which shall be given me 'in charge to conceale, I will not disclose; and during the joint stock of ye said comp'y I will not directly or indirectly trade to ye limitts of ye said comp'y's charter without the Govern'r, the deputy Govern'r and committee. So help me.

In the following chapter we shall recount in part the success and failure of this great experiment in empire-building by means of private commercial enterprise, and see to what extent English sovereignty in the North Western America has been disputed or endangered.


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