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ten amid the scenes above described, and by narrators whose whole range of life and activity was filled by occupations of steady labor and by incidents of romance, is a representation of service in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company.
We have now to present in historical statement and review that continuous series of agitations, controversies, and discussions, with appeals to government and hearings before parliamentary committees, extending through the whole of two centuries, which brought under question the chartered rights of the Hudson's Bay Company and its administration. We may say at the start that, in view of this protracted struggle, one who follows out its stages with a fair recognition of the various and powerful agencies engaged against the monopolists will have cause to wonder at the tenacity of life in the company, the policy and skill with which it thwarted opposition, and its ingenuity in covering its most important secrets; while, through all the period of its existence, with but few interruptions of its pecuniary thrift, it yielded such magnificent profits. The truth is, the company was shielded by powerful patronage. It had friends in high places. Its rights of possession had acquired by lapse of time those prerogatives and immunities which have for Englishmen so attractive and efficient an influence in sanctioning questionable claims, if not even abuses. It was more than once admitted, under official processes concerning the charter, that while neither crown nor Parliament would in modern times confer or concede any such rights or privileges as it bestowed, yet that this wiser lesson of experience could not be carried so far back as 1670 for its application. It was evident that a strong prestige of authority ran down with the charter attaching to it from the royal and princely titles connected with the original and gracious donation. For a long period we find the names of the successive sovereigns leading the lists of the shareholders, as substitutes for the name of Prince Rupert. Not that any one of them had ever paid the price of stock, but the object evidently was to secure a royal dignity for the corporation. The covenanted annual consideration enjoined by the charter of “two elks and two black beavers ” to be returned to the sovereign may have been duly rendered. It would, however, have been generously commuted by the annual douceurs of much higher value which were sure to reach the court. Doubtless many a rich marten or sable, the most precious of all the spoils of the wilderness, passed from the little creatures which had worn the skin to the shoulders of royalty. Tentative steps of inquisition as to the owners and value of the company's stock, at any given time, were baffled by pleas of unsettled accounts of profit and debt, and the assertion that some of the shares had passed by inheritance to women and children, thus involving processes of chancery.
There was much significance in the fact already stated, that so early as only twenty years after the sealing of the charter the company, under the prompting of some misgivings as to its validity, as it had only the sanction
of the crown, had sought and obtained for it a parliamentary confirmation. The draft of the act of confirmation had limited the grant to ten years. The period was reduced by the committee to seven years. A perfect silence is observable as to any measures taken by the company to secure a renewal of this sanction by extension of time or by an indefinite term. We are left to imagine an explanation of this course pursued by the company. By appealing to Parliament it had confessed a consciousness of insecurity, and it must have recognized that the termination of the limited period might bring with it some form of a crisis. We can well understand that the company, in its close councils, under the caution of some shrewd adviser, judged it safest not to invite upon itself any further official attention or scrutiny.
The occasions and incidents which through the whole two centuries of the chartered existence and administration of the company kept it under conflict of open and aggressive warfare, jealousy, rival opposition, business and mercantile antagonism, and official processes by government, may be disposed and treated under three divisions. It may be premised that all these matters of strife were more or less directly the mischievous results of the fact intimated in the opening of this chapter, namely, that that spasmodically generous monarch, Charles II, who made many other similar gifts, in the charter which he granted to Prince Rupert and his associates bestowed lavishly what did not belong to him.
1. The first and the most serious collisions of the company, involving measures of warfare, havoc, and large pecuniary losses, were encountered in consequence of its trespass upon rights claimed by France and French subjects under recognized principles of public law.
2. A second class of vexatious and forcible annoyances and controversies met by the company, sprang from the sturdy and uncompromising opposition of other British subjects to its illegal and grasping monopoly, its utter neglect of the primary object of exploration recognized in its charter, and its policy of intrigue and jealousy.
3. The last series of controversies, which in their resolute and effective agitations brought about a surrender of the charter, were incident to an attempt to plant a resident colony on a portion of its territory.
In dealing with the first of these classifications, we remind ourselves that Charles II restricted the terms of the gift in his charter of “Rupert's Land ” to such territory as should not be held by any other Christian prince or his subjects. By the complacent usage of titles at the time, Louis XIII
. of France was a "Christian prince,” and he had precisely the same claim and rights of possession to the territory of Hudson's Bay as the English monarchs had to regions farther south on the Atlantic coast, -- the rights obtained by sighting the coast and entrance upon the shores. The king of France had by a charter in 1626, forty-four years previous to that of Rupert's Land, conveyed to the Company of New France the region now known as Canada, and the whole region of Hudson's Bay, which had been entered by French navigators. The first European that ever coursed the continent to the Rocky Mountains was a Frenchman, M. Varennes de la
(From Bacqueville de la Potherie. Bellin's map of 1744 is in Charlevoix. Other maps are in Prevost's Voyages, xiv. and xv.; and in the Allg. Hist. der Reisen, vols. xiv. (1756), xvi. (1756), and xvii. (1759). – Ed.]
Verenderye, in 1731. The country was also confirmed to France by the treaty at St. Germain's-en-Laye, thirty-eight years before Prince Rupert's charter. From the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 to the Peace of Paris in 1763,
6 ELLIS'S MAP, 1748.* there had been no distinct boundary drawn between territory claimed by the French in Canada and territory claimed by England in the Bay. But in maps of the time authorized by both parties, the Red and the Saskatchewan rivers were alike recognized as belonging to France, though both rivers drained into the Bay. In the cession of Canada by France in 1763, there was no western boundary assigned to Canada, but the French had claimed to the Pacific. By the eighth article of the Treaty of Ryswick, in 1697, the whole of Hudson's Bay was recognized as belonging to the crown of France, no allusion being made to the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company. By the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, a portion of the shores of the Bay was ceded to England, which only then for the first time could claim undisputed possession. The treaty also protected the rights of the Company of New France. As the English crown did not acquire any of the territory till long after the death of Charles II, of course a charter from him was null. Not only is there abundant documentary and official evidence of the
1 (See Vol. IV.- Ed.] (A section of the New chart of the parts where a northwest passage was sought in the years 1746 and 1747, exhibiting the track of the ships throughout that expedition, which appeared in Henry Ellis's Voyage to Hudson's Bay (London, 1748). — Ed.]
prior and the never abandoned possession of the territory by France, but French subjects invariably took for granted their rights of exploration, hunting, and occupancy over the whole region. The grant of any exclusive privilege in the western territory by the crown of England was a breach of the articles of capitulation with France in 1763. The valleys of the Saskatchewan and the Assiniboin were not entered by the Bay Company till long after the cession of Canada. The French traders had a hundred years the start in many of the company's interior posts. Nor did the French, after they had come to the knowledge of the presence of Englishmen in the Bay, under pretended charter rights, confine themselves to peaceful protests against the intrusion. While the company had as yet planted its posts only on the shores of James' Bay and at the mouth of Churchill and Hayes rivers, the French, by assaults in 1682 and 1686, and again under M. Jeremie, destroyed all the posts except Albany on the former bay, and held posses
* [Fac-simile from a plate in Ellis's Voyage to Hudson's Bay (London, 1748). — Ed.]