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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter IV The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England


Radisson and Groseilliers found all avenues to trade closed against them in Quebec, but the irrepressible energy of the men would not permit them to remain inactive very long, and the stern and varied experiences of their lives had taught them unlimited resourcefulness and perseverance. They seem to have gone to Acadie and induced some merchants there to lit out a small vessel and freight her with goods for barter with the natives living on the shores of Hudson Bay; but storms wrecked the little craft, and the reduced fortunes of the promoters of the scheme were further diminished by the loss. Soon after this misfortune Groseilliers, undiscouraged by his reverses, went to New England, hoping to secure capital there through the influence of relatives of Radisson's wife. He was not successful, for the New England people had little wealth; but he met a certain Captain Zachary Gillain, owner and master of a little vessel called the Nonsuch, who was much interested in the scheme of trading to the bay and who was destined to be closely connected with Groseillier's history for several years. Groseilliers also met Messrs. Nichols, Carr, Cartwright, and Maverick, members of a commission sent out by the home government to inquire into colonial affairs, and some of these gentlemen advised him to seek capital in England. After consultation with Radisson it was decided that their chances would be better in their native country, and so in 1665 the brothers-in-law sailed to England and crossed thence to France.

They received scant encouragement in Paris. Their appeal against the fine levied on them by the colonial authorities was unavailing; -and too many people in high places were interested in the monopolies which existed in New France to give two colonial traders, unknown and semi-barbaric in appearance, any chance to secure capital for a rival company. Months passed, their money dwindled, and the prospects of the men, who had been partners m so many successes and misfortunes, seemed poor indeed. Just at the lowest ebb of their fortunes Colonel Carr, whom Groseilliers had met in Boston,came over to Paris, and through his influence the Frenchman was introduced to some members of the British legation there. "Writing to Lord Arlington, Colonel Carr said that while in New England he had heard from the two Frenchmen of the great quantity of beaver fur to be obtained on the coast of Hudson Bay, that he had verified their accounts, and that he thought the finest present which could be made to the English king was to send the two men to him. Finally the ambassador wrote a letter to Prince Rupert, introducing Groseilliers, and the two adventurers crossed to London.

The ambassador's letter was written in May, 1667, but the first interview with Prince Rupert did not take place until June 4. owing to some inury which confined the prince to his room. A second meeting, at winch Lord Craven, S r John Robinson, and Mr. John Portman, the goldsmith, were present, took place on June 7; and a week later Groseilliers and Radisson had an interview with the leading characters in these interviews presented strange contrasts. There was the indolent and pleasure-loving king, handsome, brown-faced, and exquisite]. dressed who checked his own propensity for telling stories in order to listen to tales new and strange. There was Prince Rupert, son of the king ot Bohemia and the daughter of James h the handsome cavalier, who had been such a conspicuous figure in the Civil War as commander of the royal cavalry. When that struggle ended m the establishment of the Commonwealth, Prince Rupert took a portion of the fleet and still kept up the fight for the royal cause at sea. But Cromwell's strong hand soon made further resistance hopeless, and then the prince, with a few vessels, took to privateering on the Spanish Main. We would probably call it piracy now, for his crews showed little partiality and plundered any ship worth overhauling, regardless of the flag she flew. When the Restoration brought the Stuarts back to England, Prince Rupert returned too and lived the life of a retired gentleman for several years, occupying his time in scientific pursuits. The prince had wandered far and had had many adventures by land and sea, but we can imagine his silent interest as he listened to accounts of experiences more unusual than his own.

On the other hand were the two coureurs des bois whose lives had been passed in the, wilds as remote as possible from courts and royal princes. There was Groseilliers, with complexion darkened by exposure and outdoor life and face made old by the experiences crowded into the preceding twenty-five years, the man who made the plans for the partners, earnest and confident because he was sure of the facts on which his latest and greatest plan was based. And there was Radisson, full of restless energy and versatile in expedients for carrying out the plans of the senior partner. lie was more talkative than the elder man, and although he had received a good education in his youth, he preferred the costume and manners of the wilderness to the dress and conventions of more civilized life. His face, too, was browned by sun and wind, and his hands bore marks of the torture inflicted by the Iroquois in his youth. Captain Godey, an attache of the British embassy in Paris, wrote of Radisson a few years later: "Radisson himself was apparelled more like a savage than a Christian. His black hair, just touched with grey, hung in wild profusion about his bare neck and shoulders. He showed a swart complexion, seamed and pitted by frost and exposure in a rigorous climate. A huge scar, wrought by the tomahawk of a drunken Indian, disfigured his left cheek. His whole costume was surmounted by a wide collar of marten's skin; his feet were adorned by buckskin mocassins. In his leather belt was sheathed a long knife."

After much discussion it seemed that success would crown the persistent efforts of the, two Frenchmen, for several of the gentlemen who had heard their proposals decided to fit out a tentative expedition to Hudson Bay. It was too late to dispatch ships in 1667, but on June 3, 1668, the Nonsuch, under Captain Gillam, and the Eaglet sailed away from Gravesend bound for the hay. Radisson went on the Eaglet, but she met with bad weather and was forced to return to England without completing her voyage. Groseilliers went on the Nonsuch, which reached the bottom of the bay on September 29 and cast anchor in the mouth of a stream which was named Rupert's River. Under Groseilliers' direction a small fort was built which he named Fort Charles. The French trader set to work at once to gain all possible information about the country and to win the friendship of the natives. When spring arrived, the Indians came down to trade; and in June Captain Gillam turned the prow of his little vessel towards England, carrying a fair cargo of furs. Groseilliers remained at the fort to make sure of a larger supply of furs for the next season.

One day in August, 1669; Groseilliers and his few companions in Fort Charles were surprised by the report of a cannon. They hoped that it an nounced the return of the Nonsuch. It was not that vessel, but it brought Radisson and good news. The gentlemen who were backing the venture were so well satisfied with the results of the voyage made by the Nonsuch that they had decided to form a company and apply for a royal charter, Prince Rupert having promised his influence to secure it. Although drawn up in 1669, it was not until May 2, 1670, that the charter granting corporate rights to "The governor and adventurers of England trading to Hudson's Bay" received the signature of King Charles II.

This great trading corporation, since known as the Hudson's Bay Company, received such gifts and privileges and was endowed with such powers that it became a veritable imporium in imperio. The company was given the sole right to trade in all waters lying within Hudson Strait and in all lauds drained by streams flowing into those waters, not already possessed by other British subjects or the subjects of any other Christian prince, all the minerals in these lands, and all the fish in the streams and coastal waters. The members of the company were made "lords and proprietors of the same territory, limits, and places * * * the same to have!; hold, possess, and enjoy * * in free and common soccage, and not in eapite or Knight's service, yielding and paying yearly to us (the king), our heirs and successors, for the same, two elks and two black beavers, whensoever and as often as we, our heirs and successors, shall happen to enter "into the said countries, regions and territories hereby granted. The company was given power to build forts and ships and man and arm them, to make laws for the management of its affairs and the government of the empire granted to it, to establish courts, to levy fines, and to send prisoners to England for trial or punishment. The charter also promised that the government would prevent other persons than members of the company from trading in the company's territory, and it gave the company power to seize these people and their ships and to send them to England. Thus, at the stroke of a pen, the company was given a territory more than half as large as Europe and made almost absolute ruler over it. Royal muniticence could hardly go further.

The charter appointed Prince Rupert as the first governor of the company and named Sir John Robinson, Sir Robert Vyner, Sir Peter Colleton, Air. James Hays, Mr. John Kirke, Air. Francis Wellington, and Air. John Portman as the first executive committee. The other members of the company mentioned in the charter are the Duke of Albemarle, Earl Craven, Lord Arlington, Lord Ashley, Sir Edward Hungerford, Sir Paul Neele, Sir John Griffith, Sir Edward Cateret,  Mr William Prettyman and Mr John Fenn. Prince Rupert was chosen as M, William Pretyman Duke of York was elected annually until he bacame king when he was succeeded by John Churchill, afterwards Duke of Marlbourgh.

A few days after the charter was signed, its ship, the Prince Rupert sailed' with a cargo for the fort at the mouth of Rupert's River. Radiston and Groseillier, who had returned in the fall of 1669, were on hoard and they were accompanied by Mr. Charles Bailey, the company's governor of its dominion, henceforth known as Rupert's Land. In the fall of 1673 Governor Bailey learned that French traders from Quebec were alienating the sympathies of the Indians preparatory to diverting the trade in furs from his tort and that the natives planned to attack it. Its defences were strengthened, but no attack was made. However, in the spring the Indians reported that a French post had been established at the mouth of the Moose River, and Groseilliers advised the governor to build a fort there too. This was done. Later in the season the arrival of Father Albanel and his party from Quebec warned the governor that the French were likely to prove keen competitors for the fur trade on Hudson Bay, and so he built a fort at the mouth of the Albany River in 1675.

In the summer of 1673 Groseilliers and Radisson had some disagreement with Mr. Bailey, and as a result Groseilliers resigned his position and made his way from Fort Charles through the woods to Three Rivers, while Radisson returned to London. The latter seems to have been relieved from active employment by the company, although it made him a small allowance for some time. The brothers-in-law felt that they had been unfairly treated by the company which they had helped to form, and after a time they offered their services to France. Their advances were not encouraged, and during the next six or seven years we find them making alternate offers to the company and the French government. In one of his visits to Paris, probably in 1681, Radisson happened to meet La Chesnaye, head of a new trading company operating in New France, the Company of the North, and to him Radisson offered his services. This meeting led to one of the most singular incidents in the early history of the country we now call Manitoba.

Aided by friends, Radisson made his way to Quebec, and soon he, Groseilliers, and La Chesnaye were making plans for a trading expedition to Hudson Bay. Preparations had to be carried on quietly, for it would not do for the representatives of the French government in Canada to have official knowledge of an expedition to a region over which Great Britain and the Hudson's Bay Company claimed absolute control and over which France had at best but a shadowy claim. Late in the autumn Radisson, his nephew, Jean Baptiste Chouart, Pierre Allemand, a pilot, a coureur des bois named Godefroy, and some others went quietly down to Isle Percee in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There they were joined in the following spring by Groseilliers with two very small, old and unseaworthv vessels. Radisson went on the St. Pierre, Groseilliers on the Ste. Anne. Radisson reached the mouth of the Nelson River on August 26, and Groseilliers joined him there the next day.

Groseilliers at once began the construction of a fort on the bank of the Hayes river, which he called Fort Bourbon, and Radisson went np the river to find Indians with whom trade might be carried on. On his return trip the booming of cannon announced the arrival of another ship, and she proved to he the Susan under Ben Gillam, a son of Captain Zaehary Gillam, who had been sent from New England on a poaching expedition to Hudson Bay. Doubtless his father had knowledge of the enterprise, although he probably had no information about the time the Susan would arrive at the mouth of the Nelson. Radisson gravely informed young Gillam that he was trespassing, as the region belonged to France and the trade to the Company of the. North: but he graciously gave the New Englander permission to construct a house in which to shelter his men for the winter. The wily Frenchman explained in detail the strength of his force and the extensive powers conferred on him as the representative of France.

Setting out once more for his own fort, Radisson found another ship coming up the Nelson River. This proved to be the Hudson's Bay Company's ship, the Prince Rupert, commanded by Captain Gillam. The new governor, John Bridgar. was on board, and Radisson soon learned that the party had been sent to construct a fort on the Nelson and spend the winter there. Here was a situation suitable for a stage comedy, j'-and Radisson, as the leading actor, proceeded to play his part with consummate cunning. He repeated to the governor the story he had previously told, young Gillam, with such additional details as his fertile imagination suggested, but professed a desire to do nothing which would disturb the friendship between the two great nations, France and Great Britain The situation was full of latent possibilities; and in case of a clash it would go hard with the French party, since the two British parties would probably combine against it. As yet neither of them knew of the proximity of the other, and it was not until mid-winter that Radisson, in his own dramatic way, brought young Gillam. disguised as an Indian, to his father's ship. Even then the presence of the New England party in the fort, which they had constructed a few-miles up the river, was not revealed to Governor Bridgar.

The winter passed with some exchange of pretended civilities, but when spring approached, Radisson believed the time for action had come. He foresaw that the Prime' Rupert, frozen fast on the mud flats at the mouth of the Nelson, would be crushed by ice as soon as it began to run in the spring, and that the loss of their ship would leave the governor's party at his mercy, if he could prevent Ben Gillam from sending assistance. The Nelson broke up early, and the huge fragments of ice, swept down by the turbulent stream, crushed the Prince Rupert like an egg-shell, several of the crew being drowned in the mad rush of water. Radisson's next move was to invite Ben Gillam to make a visit to Fort Bourbon, and when the young man wished to return to his own fort, Radisson readily found an excuse for detaining him as a prisoner. Nine of the Frenchmen, led by Radisson, then attacked the New Englanders' fort, which was surrendered almost without resistance. It was then an easy matter for Radisson to seize the Susan. One of the men in Ben Gillam's fort had escaped',' and he carried news of its capture to Governor Bridgar in his fort at. the mouth of the river. The governor made an effort to recover the Susan, but was not successful, and then Radisson, having received a few additional men from Groseilliers, retaliated by an attack on the governor's fort. By the most daring strategy the little force of twelve men captured it and carried Governor Bridgar a prisoner to Fort Bourbon. Radisson also carried away a part of the governor's supply of provisions, and subsequently decided to burn the fort to save two French leaders, who played the game so recklessly, now desired to . e rid of their prisoners, and coolly informed them that they might have the St LZ in which to make the voyage home, if they would repair her shattered hull. Fate had left the unfortunate men little choice m the matter, and they set to work at once on their unpromising task.

As soon as the rivers were free of ice the Indians came down to trade, much surprised to find the French in possession. However Radisson s specious stories seemed to satisfy them, and a good store of furs was obtained. Some ot the furs were placed on 'hoard the Susan, which sailed away for Quebec, taking Governor Bridgar and Ben Gillam as prisoners. Captain Zachary Gillam with the survivors of the English and New England parties, made nis way as best he could in the patched-up Ste, Anne to a New England port. The remainder of the furs which Groseilliers and Radisson had secured were stored in Fort Bourbon, and young Jean Baptiste Chouart was left in charge until his uncle or his lather returned. But all the furs shipped in the Susan were not destined to reach the men who had fitted out the expedition; for when the vessel arrived at Tadoussac, the brothers-in-law sold a part of her cargo and coolly appropriated the proceeds.

So far as we know, these forts at the mouths of the Hayes and Nelson Rivers were the first trading posts built in the region now included in the province of Manitoba. The winter of 1682-3 marks the commencement of its occupation by white men, and the melodramatic incidents of that winter should not blind us to the fact that from the very beginning of its history two races, differing in blood, language, religion, and ideals, have sought to control the destinies of the country.

The melodramatic element in the earliest history of Manitoba did not disappear when Radisson and Groseilliers landed at Quebec. Their actions savored too much of piracy and wanton injury to a nation with which France was professedly at peace to permit them to pass unnoticed by the government of the colony. So de la Barre, the governor, sent the Susan to her owners, with apologies for her seizure, and allowed Governor Bridgar and Ben Gillam to take passage on her. For various reasons it was not desirable to have Radisson and Groseilliers in the colony, and three weeks after their arrival in Quebec they were smuggled off to France in a returning frigate.

About the time the frigate reached France Captain Gillam arrived in England, and much indignation was expressed by the English people when they heard of the wanton attack made by the two French adventurers on the fort of the Hudson's .Bay Company. The government, however, does not seem to have demanded reparation from France. Perhaps the Hudson's Bay Company did not wish to have the matter pressed, for it seems to have opened negotiations with Radisson for his return to its service; and we find that facile negotiator making terms with the company at the very time he is seeking certain grants from the king of France in return for the service he had rendered that country.

Strange as it may seem, Radisson was once more taken into the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and when its ship, the Happy Return, with her two consorts, sailed from Gravesend on May 37, 1684, Radisson was on hoard. "When Port Nelson was reached, the harbor was filled with ice, and the Happy Return could not get within twenty miles of the shore; but Radisson, in eager haste, took a boat manned by a small crew and, after many hours of dangerous work, made a landing. lie was surprised to find an English frigate in the mouth of the Nelson and with her the Alert, which had brought out the company's new governor, "William Phipps, the season before. The' crews had not landed, fearing the hostility of Indians friendly to the French. Full of anxiety in regard to the position of his nephew and the attitude of the latter to the scheme which he had in mind, Radisson set off with as little delay as possible for Fort Bourbon.

He found that his nephew had left Fort Bourbon and removed to a point further up the river. When the two men met, Radisson proposed that his nephew should surrender the fort and all the furs which he had collected to the English. At first the young man indignantly refused, but finally his uncle's arguments convinced him that no other course was open, and he submitted. The*. fleur de Us, which had floated over the fort for more than a year, was lowered, and the ensign of the Hudson's Bay Company as raised in its place. The fort and its contents were transferred to the new governor; and when the company's ship sailed for England at the close of the season, she carried such a rich cargo of furs that the directors in London rewarded Radisson generously for his treachery to France.

Groseilliers does not seem to have been in the service of the company after this time; but Radisson was employed at intervals for a few years longer, some of which he spent at Fort Nelson as supervisor of trade there. After that neither of these two adventurous men plays any direct part in the history of Manitoba. Yet their indirect influence was to continue. Their energy and daring had found a way from the Great Lakes to Manitoba's prairies; their persistence, had led to the organization of the world's greatest commercial company and its operations on Manitoba's northern coast; and their unscrupulous and piratical acts there helped to provoke war between France and England. Open war was not declared at once; for it is one of the anomalies of history that actual war was sometimes waged between French and English colonies in America, while France and England themselves were nominally at peace.


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