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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company
CHAPTER VI. - FRENCH RIVALRY


The golden lilies in danger—"To arrest Radisson"—The land called "Unknown"—A chain of claim—Imaginary pretensions—Chevalier de Troyes—The brave Lemoynes—Hudson Bay forts captured —A litigious governor—Laugh at treaties—The glory of France— Enormous claims—Consequential damages.

The two great nations which were seeking supremacy in North America came into collision all too soon on the shores of Hudson Bay. Along the shore of the Atlantic, England claimed New England and much of the coast to the southward. France was equally bent on holding New France and Acadia. Now that England had begun to occupy Hudson Bay, France was alarmed, for the enemy would be on her northern as well as on her southern border. No doubt, too, France feared that her great rival would soon seek to drive her golden lilies back to the Old World, for New France would be a wedge between the northern and southern possessions of England in the New World.

The movement leading to the first voyage to Hudson Bay by Gillam and his company was carefully watched by the French Government. In February, 1668, at which time Gillam's expedition had not yet sailed, the Marquis de Denonville, Governor of Canada, appointed an officer to go in search of the most advantageous posts and occupy the shores of the Baie du Nord and the embouchures of the rivers that enter therein. Among other things the governor gave orders "to arrest especially the said Radisson and his adherents wherever they may be found."

Intendant Talon, in 1670, sent home word to M. Colbert that ships had been seen near Hudson Bay, and that it was likely that they were English, and were "under the guidance of a man des Grozeliers, formerly an inhabitant of Canada."

The alarm caused the French by the movements of the English adventurers was no doubt increased by the belief that Hudson Bay was included in French territory. The question of what constituted ownership or priority of claim was at this time a very difficult one among the nations. Whether mere discovery or temporary occupation could give the right of ownership was much questioned. Colonization would certainly be admitted to do so, provided there had been founded "certain establishments." But the claim of France upon Hudson Bay would appear to have been on the mere ground of the Hudson Bay region being contiguous or neighbouring territory to that held by the French.

The first claim made by France was under the commission, as Viceroy to Canada, given in 1540 by the French King to Sieur de Roberval, which no doubt covered the region about Hudson Bay, though not specifying it. In 1598 Lescarbot states that the commission given to De La Roche contained the following: "New France has for its boundaries on the west the Pacific Ocean within the Tropic of Cancer; on the south the islands of the Atlantic towards Cuba and Hispaniola; on the east, the Northern Sea which washes its shores, embracing in the north the land called Unknown toward the Frozen Sea, up to the Arctic Pole."

The sturdy common sense of Anglo-Saxon England refused to be bound by the contention that a region admittedly "Unknown" could be held on a mere formal claim.

The English pointed out that one of their expeditions under Henry Hudson in 1610 had actually discovered the Bay and given it its name; that Sir Thomas Button immediately thereafter had visited the west side of the Bay and given it the name of New Wales; that Captain James had, about a score of years after Hudson, gone to the part of the Bay which continued to bear his name, and that Captain Fox had in the same year reached the west side of the Bay. This claim of discovery was opposed to the fanciful claims made by France. The strength of the English contention, now enforced by actual occupation and the erection of Charles Fort, made it necessary to obtain some new basis of objection to the claim of England.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that a deliberate effort was made to invent some ground of prior discovery in order to meet the visible argument of a fort now occupied by the English. M. de la Potherie, historian of New France, made the assertion that Radisson and Groseilliers had crossed from Lake Superior to the Baie du Nord (Hudson Bay). It is true, as we have seen, that Oldmixon, the British writer of a generation or two later, states the same thing. This claim is, however, completely met by the statement made by Radisson of his third voyage that they heard only from the Indians on Lake Superior of the Northern Bay, but had not crossed to it by land. We have disposed of the matter of his fourth voyage. The same historian also puts forward what seems to be pure myth, that one Jean Bourdon, a Frenchman, entered the Bay in 1656 and engaged in trade. It was stated also that a priest, William Couture, sent by Governor D'Avaugour of New France, had in 1663 made a missionary establishment on the Bay. These are unconfirmed statements, having no details, and are suspicious in their time of origination. The Hudson's Bay Company's answer states that Bourdon's voyage was to another part of Canada, going only to 53 N., and not to the Bay at all. Though entirely unsupported, these claims were reiterated as late as 1857 by Hon. Joseph Cauchon in his case on behalf of Canada v. Hudson's Bay Company. M. Jeremie, who was Governor of the French forts in Hudson Bay in 1713, makes the statement that Radisson and Groseilliers had visited the Bay overland, for which there is no warrant, but the Governor does not speak of Bourdon or Couture. This contradiction of De la Potherie's claim is surely sufficient proof that there is no ground for credence of the stories, which are purely apocryphal. It is but just to state, however, that the original claim of Roberval and De la Roche had some weight in the negotiations which took place between the French and English Governments over this matter.

M. Colbert, the energetic Prime Minister of France, at any rate made up his mind that the English must be excluded from Hudson Bay. Furthermore, the fur trade of Canada was beginning to feel very decidedly the influence of the English traders in turning the trade to their factories on Hudson Bay. The French Prime Minister, in 1678, sent word to Duchesnau, the Intendant of Canada, to dispute the right of the English to erect factories on Hudson Bay. Radisson and Groseilliers, as we have seen, had before this time deserted the service of England and returned to that of France. With the approval of the French Government, these facile agents sailed to Canada and began the organization, in 1681, of a new association, to be known as "The Northern Company." Fitted out with two small barks, Le St. Pierre and La Ste. Anne, in 1682, the adventurers, with their companions, appeared before Charles Fort, which Groseilliers had helped to build, but do not seem to have made any hostile demonstration against it. Passing away to the west side of the Bay, these shrewd explorers entered the River Ste. Therese (the Hayes River of to-day) and there erected an establishment, which they called Fort Bourbon.

This was really one of the best trading points on the Bay. Some dispute as to even the occupancy of this point took place, but it would seem as if Radisson and Groseilliers had the priority of a few months over the English party that came to establish a fort at the mouth of the adjoining River Nelson. The two adventurers, Radisson and Groseilliers, in the following year came, as we have seen, with their ship-load of peltries to Canada, and it is charged that they attempted to unload a part of their cargo of furs before reaching Quebec. This led to a quarrel between them and the Northern Company, and the adroit fur traders again left the service of France to find their way back to England. We have already seen how completely these two Frenchmen, in the year 1684, took advantage of their own country at Fort Bourbon and turned over the furs to the Hudson's Bay Company.

The sense of injury produced on the minds of the French by the treachery of these adventurers stirred the authorities up to attack the posts in Hudson Bay. Governor Denonville now came heartily to the aid of the Northern Company, and commissioned Chevalier de Troyes to organize an overland expedition from Quebec to Hudson Bay. The love of adventure was beginning to feel very decidedly the influence of the English traders in turning the trade to their factories on Hudson Bay. The French Prime Minister, in 1678, sent word to Duchesnau, the Intendant of Canada, to dispute the right of the English to erect factories on Hudson Bay. Radisson and Groseilliers, as we have seen, had before this time deserted the service of England and returned to that of France. With the approval of the French Government, these facile agents sailed to Canada and began the organization, in 1681, of a new association, to be known as "The Northern Company." Fitted out with two small barks, Le St. Pierre and La Ste. Anne, in 1682, the adventurers, with their companions, appeared before Charles Fort, which Groseilliers had helped to build, but do not seem to have made any hostile demonstration against it. Passing away to the west side of the Bay, these shrewd explorers entered the River Ste. Therese (the Hayes River of to-day) and there erected an establishment, which they called Fort Bourbon.

This was really one of the best trading points on the Bay. Some dispute as to even the occupancy of this point took place, but it would seem as if Radisson and Groseilliers had the priority of a few months over the English party that came to establish a fort at the mouth of the adjoining River Nelson. The two adventurers, Radisson and Groseilliers, in the following year came, as we have seen, with their ship-load of peltries to Canada, and it is charged that they attempted to unload a part of their cargo of furs before reaching Quebec. This led to a quarrel between them and the Northern Company, and the adroit fur traders again left the service of France to find their way back to England. We have already seen how completely these two Frenchmen, in the year 1684, took advantage of their own country at Fort Bourbon and turned over the furs to the Hudson's Bay Company.

The sense of injury produced on the minds of the French by the treachery of these adventurers stirred the authorities up to attack the posts in Hudson Bay. Governor Denonville now came heartily to the aid of the Northern Company, and commissioned Chevalier de Troyes to organize an overland expedition from Quebec to Hudson Bay. The love of adventure was strong in the breasts of the young French noblesse in Canada. Four brothers of the family Le Moyne had become known for their deeds of valour along the English frontier. Leader among the valorous French-Canadians was Le Moyne D'Iber-ville, who, though but twenty-four years of age, had already performed prodigies of daring. Maricourt, his brother, was another fiery spirit, who was known to the Iroquois by a name signifying "the little bird which is always in motion/' Another leader was Ste. Helene. With a party of chosen men these intrepid spirits left the St. Lawrence in March, 1685, and threaded the streams of the Laurentian range to the shore of Hudson Bay.

After nearly three months of the most dangerous and exciting adventures, the party reached their destination. The officers and men of the Hudson's Bay Company's service were chiefly civilians unaccustomed to war, and were greatly surprised by the sudden appearance upon the Bay of their doughty antagonists. At the mouth of the Moose River one of the Hudson's Bay Company forts was situated, and here the first attack was made. It was a fort of considerable importance, having four bastions, and was manned by fourteen guns. It. however, fell before the fierce assault of the forest rangers, The chief offence in the eyes of the French was Charles Fort on the Rupert River, that being the first constructed by the English Company. This was also captured and its fortifications thrown down. At the same time that the main body were attacking Charles Fort, the brothers Le Moyne, with a handful of picked men, stealthily approached in two canoes one of the Company's vessels in the Bay and succeeded in taking it.

The largest fort on the Bay was that in the marshy region on Albany River. It was substantially built with four bastions and was provided with forty-three guns. The rapidity of movement and military skill of the French expedition completely paralyzed the Hudson's Bay Company officials and men. Governor Sargeant, though having in Albany Fort furs to the value of 50,000 crowns, after a slight resistance surrendered without the honours of war. The Hudson's Bay Company employes were given permission to return to England and in the meantime the Governor and his attendants were taken to Charlton Island and the rest of the prisoners to Moose Fort. D'Iberville afterwards took the prisoners to France, whence they came back to England.

A short time after this the Company showed its disapproval of Governor Sargeant's course in surrendering Fort Albany so readily. Thinking they could mark their disapprobation more strongly, they brought an action against Governor Sargeant in the courts to recover 20,000Z. After the suit had gone some distance, they agreed to refer the matter to arbitration, and the case was ended by the Company having to pay to the Governor 350l. The affair, being a family quarrel, caused some amusement to the public.

The only place of importance now remaining to the English on Hudson Bay was Port Nelson, which was near the French Fort Bourbon. D'Iberville, utilizing the vessel he had captured on the Bay, went back to Quebec in the autumn of 1687 with the rich booty of furs taken at the different points.

These events having taken place at a time when the two countries, France and England, were nominally at peace, negotiations took place between the two Powers.

Late in the year 1686 a treaty of neutrality was signed, and it was hoped that peace would ensue on Hudson Bay. This does not seem to have been the case, however, and both parties blame each other for not observing the terms of the Act of Pacification. D'Iberville defended Albany Fort from a British attack in 1689, departed in that year for Quebec with a shipload of furs, and returned to Hudson Bay in the following year. During the war which grew out of the Revolution, Albany Fort changed hands again to the English, and was afterwards retaken by the French, after which a strong English force (1692) repossessed themselves of it. For some time English supremacy was maintained on the Bay, but the French merely waited their time to attack Fort Bourbon, which they regarded as in a special sense their own. In 1694 D'Iberville visited the Bay, besieged and took Fort Bourbon, and reduced the place with his two frigates. His brother De Chateauguay was killed during the siege.

In 1697 the Bay again fell into English hands, and D'Iberville was put in command of a squadron sent out for him from Prance, and with this he sailed for Hudson Bay. The expedition brought unending glory to France and the young commander. Though one of his warships was crushed in the ice in the Hudson Straits and his remaining vessels could nowhere be seen when he reached the open waters of the Bay, yet he bravely sailed to Port Nelson, purposing to invest it in his one ship, the Pelican. Arrived at his station, he observed that he was shut in on the rear by three English men-of-war. His condition was desperate ; he had not his full complement of men, and some of those on board were sick. His vessel had but fifty guns ; the English vessels carried among them 124. The English vessels, the Hampshire, the Bering, and the Hudson's Bay, all opened fire upon him. During a hot engagement, a well-aimed broadside from the Pelican sank the Hampshire with all her sails flying, and everything on board was lost; the Hudson's Bay surrendered unconditionally, and the Dering succeeded in making her escape. After this naval duel D'lberville's missing vessels appeared, and the commander, landing a sufficient number of men, invested and took Port Nelson. The whole of the Hudson Bay territory thus came into the possession of the French. The matter has always, however, been looked at in the light of the brilliant achievement of this scion of the Le Moynes.

Few careers have had the uninterrupted success of that of Pierre Le Moyne D'Iberville, although this fortune reached its climax in the exploit in Hudson Bay. Nine years afterwards the brilliant soldier died of yellow fever at Havana, after he had done his best in a colonization enterprise to the mouth of the Mississippi which was none too successful. Though the treaty of Ryswick, negotiated in this year of D'Iberville's triumphs, brought for the time the cessation of hostilities, yet nearly fifteen years of rivalry, and for much of the time active warfare, left their serious traces on Hudson's Bay Company affairs. A perusal of the minutes of the Hudson's Bay Company during this period gives occasional glimpses of the state of war prevailing, although it must be admitted not so vivid a picture as might have been expected. As was quite natural, the details of attacks, defences, surrenders, and parleys come to us from French sources rather than from the Company's books. That the French accounts are correct is fully substantiated by the memorials presented by the Company to the British Government, asking for recompense for losses sustained.

In 1687 a petition was prepared by the Hudson's Bay Company, and a copy of it is found in one of the letter-books of the Company. This deals to some extent with the contention of the French king, which had been lodged with the British Government, claiming priority of ownership of the regions about Hudson Bay. The arguments advanced are chiefly those to which we have already referred. The claim for compensation made upon the British Government by the Company is a revelation of how seriously the French rivalry had interfered with the progress of the fur trade. After still more serious conflict had taken place in the Bay, and the Company had come to be apprehensive for its very existence, another petition was laid before His Majesty William III., in 1694. This petition, which also contained the main facts of the claim of 1687, is so important that we give some of the details of it. It is proper to state, however, that a part of the demand is made up of what has since been known as "consequential damages," and that in consequence the matter lingered on for at least two decades.

The damages claimed were :—


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