Hudson's Bay Company

Continued search for the Northwest Passage.—Some of the same men who represented the Carolinas now extended English enterprises to the region of Hudson Bay. The English search for the Northwest Passage had not ended with the sixteenth century. Henry Hudson, who in 1609 had explored Hudson River in an attempt to find the passage, made further attempts in the following year. Finding his way in the Discovery through Hudson Strait, he wintered at the southern extremity of Jam

s Bay. He paid dearly for his discoveries, for he was cast adrift by mutinous followers and perished. In Hudson's wake went numerous explorers, backed by syndicates of merchants and sometimes with royal support, still seeking the passage. In 1612 Button crossed Hudson Bay and entered the mouth of Nelson River. At the same time a company was formed to seek the passage. In 1616 Bylot and Baffin discovered Baffin Bay, and in 1631 Foxe made new discoveries in Fox Channel. Denmark also entered the field of northwestern discovery and in 1619-1620 Jens Munck explored Hudson Bay, wintering at Churchill Harbor.

Radisson, Groseilliers, and Gillam.—The primary purpose of the foregoing voyages had been to find a passage to the Far East. They were followed, after an interval, by trading enterprises. The operations of the French fur traders. Radisson and Groseilliers, have been mentioned previously. Having been imprisoned and fined for illicit trading, they left Canada, went to New England, and got up an expedition to Hudson Bay to gather furs. Sailing in 1664 with Captain Zachariah Gillam, they reached Hudson Strait but not the bay. After another failure in 1665, they met Sir George Carteret whom they interested in their project. Going to England, through Carteret's influence they organized a company among whose stockholders were the Duke of York, Prince Rupert, Carteret, the Duke of Albemarle, and the Earls of Craven, Arlington, and Shaftesbury, several of whom were already influential in colonial enterprises. In 1668 the company again sent Gillam to Hudson Bay, where he built Charles Fort on Rupert's River, and traded profitably in furs. The part played by Radisson and Groseilliers in this enterprise became a basis for French claims to the Hudson Bay region.

Hudson's Bay Company Posts. Hudson's Bay Company Posts.

Hudson's Bay Company.—The return of Gillam to London in 1669 was followed by the formation of a new Company. On May 2, 1670, Charles II issued a royal charter to "The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay." The Company was made absolute proprietor with a complete monopoly of all trade of the Hudson Bay basin. The government was centered in a governor, deputy-governor, and committee of seven, who were empowered to make laws and were given judicial and military authority. They lost no time in establishing posts, and by 1685 there were trading houses at Albany River, Hayes Island, Rupert's River, Port Nelson, Moose River, and New Severn.

Trading methods.—Ships were fitted out annually in London with merchandise, and brought back rich cargoes of furs. In contrast with the French traders and with the English of the Atlantic seaboard colonies, the Hudson's Bay Company did not penetrate the interior, but depended upon the natives to bring their peltry to the posts on the Bay. In the spring, therefore, after the break-up of the ice, Crees, Chipewyans, and Eskimos came down the rivers in fleets of canoes laden with furs, traded them for merchandise, and returned for another season's hunt. In London the furs were sold at auction at the Company's headquarters, where the annual fair took on the nature of a social function. Gradually the markets widened, agents being sent to establish trade with Holland, Russia, and other parts of Northern Europe. Profits were large, the dividend in 1690 being seventy-five per cent. of the original stock.

French Rivalry.—The success of the English aroused the jealousy of the French traders in the St. Lawrence Valley, and there ensued a rivalry which constituted one of the important episodes of the intercolonial wars which now occurred. In the contest Radisson, who had aided in the formation of the Company, played fast and loose between the English and the French. Before the end of the century French rivalry in the interior, beyond Lake Superior, did much to shake the "H.B.C." from its exclusive, seaboard policy. By 1691 Henry Kelsey, an employe of the Company, had made an expedition to the Winnipeg district.