Imagens das páginas

sion of York Fort, which they called Fort Bourbon, from 1697 to 1714. In a petition of the company to Charles II in 1682, protection had been asked against a threat of the governor of Canada, De la Barre, of an assault upon its posts. In petitions by the company to the Lords Commissioners of Trade in 1697 and 1698, it asks that the French may not be allowed to travel or trade “beyond the midway betwixt Canada and Albany Fort, which we reckon to be within the bounds of our charter.” The French am

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

bassador, in answer to a memorial in 1699, asserted the claims of his sovereign to the whole bay on the north, which he insisted was comprehended within the limits of the grants to his subjects. In the previous expeditions of the French, with Indian allies, against the early bay posts, the assailants had crossed the height of land between Canada and James' Bay. The expedition of Admiral la Perouse against the two principal forts of the company in 1782, was a bold and effective blow, which there seems to have been not even an attempt to parry or to avenge. It was a year in which the smallpox was making most devastating havoc among the Indians of the interior. Perouse appeared off York Fort with a fleet of three ships on the 8th of August. The fort was a strong one, of stone, and had been forty years in building, at very heavy expense, having been planned and superintended by Robson, in 1742. It had forty cannon, and abundant ammuni

1 Papers relating to the claims of France, in British Documents, Reports of Committees, vol. xv. pp. 374 et seq.

* [Fac-simile of a part of the map in Joseph Robson's Hudson's Bay (London, 1752). — Ev.]

, tion and provision. But it was held by only thirty-nine men, when its complement would have been four hundred. Not the slightest resistance was offered to the fleet. The officer at the post at once surrendered. The commander pulled down the British flag and held out one of his own tablecloths. The fort was sacked, plundered, and devastated, a vast quantity of

[graphic][merged small]

valuable peltry being carried off by the fleet. On the 21st of August the same unresisted capture was made of Churchill Fort. This had sixty men and twelve Indians, thirteen cannon, twelve swivel-guns, all sorts of small arms, abundant provisions, and a fresh-water rivulet running through it. The commander went out with a white flag, and the French officer waved his handkerchief. The fort was plundered and burned, the inmates surrendering as prisoners. It had been held by the English unmolested since the peace of Utrecht. This, however, was the last time that a French flag waved from an English fort at the north.

Such, without mention of many other acts of hostility, was the assured

1 See Critical Essay. * [This view of the company's chief factory follows a print in the European Mag., vol. xxxi. (June, 1797). It stood on Churchill River, near its mouth. – Ed.]

and defiant spirit of the subjects of one “Christian prince,” as shown in repeated bold and successful acts of opposition to what were regarded as trespasses of Englishmen on territory which was not admitted to be the property of the monarch who had generously made a gift of it. The martial method of dealing with the matter was as fully conformed to the “law of nations" as were the charter ways of disposing of other people's property.

One very great, perhaps we might on the whole call it an almost compensating, advantage accrued in the long run to the interest of the Hudson's Bay Company after the close of its warlike collisions with the French. It

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

was under the methods and training pursued by the French fur hunters and traders that there was provided for their English successors a breed of men most essential to the skilful and profitable conduct of the fur trade, whose characteristic aptitudes for the service will be again referred to. From the first coming of different European nationalities to this continent, and all along through their presence and their rivalries here, it was very evident that the qualities of Frenchmen secured to them in various ways the attachment, alliance, and intimate confidence of the Indians, while the relations of the English with the natives were always cold and distant, seldom friendly, never cordial. The voyageurs and bushrangers, whose services were indis* (Fac-simile of a part of A draught of Churchill River, in Robson's Hudson's Bay (London, 1752). — Ed.]

pensable for such enterprises as the Bay Company pursued, were trained entirely by the Canadians. It was only after they had become thoroughly skilled in their needful work, throwing into it all their woodcraft, their wild impulses, and their reckless enthusiasm, that they were ready to enter into the employ of the Bay Company. Its youthful servants from the Orkneys, however ardent, athletic, or courageous, would have been no substitute for French half-breeds.

The second series of agitations and conflicts which involved the Hudson's Bay Company in vexatious and intense hostilities were substantially an entail or consequence of the primary wrong, the workings of which have just been discussed. The root of the difficulty was the grant by a charter from the king of England, with rights of monopoly for possession and traffic, over a vast and vaguely defined territory, encumbered, at least, by prior claims of French monarchs and their subjects. We have seen that the French in Canada asserted their rights, assured by a half century's earlier occupancy and improvement of the territory, and never relinquished. The French consequently had always dealt with the agents of the Bay Company as trespassers and intruders, and had plundered and destroyed its posts. On the cession of Canada by France to England, in 1763, its inhabitants became British subjects. These new British subjects very naturally believed that they acceded to certain rights of the soil and of opportunities and means for obtaining a livelihood which had been enjoyed and improved by them while they were French subjects. As a matter of course, therefore, they plied with increased vigor the only lucrative trade which their wilderness surroundings opened to them. Only a slight capital was necessary to conduct it as operated by individual enterprise; but associated means and efforts largely increased its facilities, and enabled partners to operate at extended distances. As will soon appear, a very energetic company was formed in Canada for the fur traffic, which speedily was met by rivalry from a similar company, while both alike, with all individual traders, were brought into direct and bitter antagonism with the chartered monopolists. Before a summary statement is given of these rival operations and of the method by which they were compromised, reference must be made to other hostile movements against the company in resistance of its monopoly and its secret policy, which were set in action also by British subjects, but of another class, residing in England, and having in view other objects than simply that of the fur trade.

We must remind ourselves of that alluring aim and passion of all the earliest as well as of the most recent navigators to this hemisphere, and of their royal patrons, to find a water-way through this island, archipelago, or continent, whichever it might prove to be, to Cathay in India. Columbus died in the belief that he had reached the coast of Asia without passing intervening lands; but it was not long before the presence of such intervening lands was patent, and the great problem of a navigable water way through them demanded a solution. In 1540 the king of France made a grant of Canada to Cartier as un des bouts de l'Asie.” Lachine, on the St. Lawrence, near Montreal, perpetuates by its name the fancy of Champlain, that that place was the starting-point by the Ottawa for entering the coveted water-way to China. Prince Rupert and his associates had obtained their charter as the “Governor and Company of Adventurers in England,” under the plea that their object was “the discovery of a new passage into the South Sea.” Many Englishmen, from motives of gain of various kinds, and from higher motives, were eager to have that discovery made, and even to venture their own property and lives in the enterprise. Joint-stock companies were formed to advance it. Parliament had offered a reward of £20,000 for the verification of the belief that such a passage was a reality. But soon the surprising and astounding fact came to the knowledge of the generous adventurers, that the privileged company, holding its royal patent, instead of seeking to advance its avowed and pledged object, neglected all effort and enterprise in that direction, and, worse than that, opposed, obstructed, and thwarted every independent movement to effect an object which in honor and obligation it should have been foremost to advance. The company was likewise pledged " to find some trade for furs, minerals, and other considerable commodities." It stayed by the furs. Hudson's Straits were believed to open to rich mineral regions, and were known to hold treasures of the sea. The whole zeal of the company, not given to its own traffic, was spent upon warning off all adventurers from risking themselves in such barren, desolate, and in hospitable regions. The meanness and rapacity of the company aroused against it an intense hostility among English mariners and merchants. This resulted in a petition to the lords in council in 1749, exposing the mischievous monopoly and policy of the company as having used its privileges to obstruct the noble objects it was intended to advance. The petitioners sought to be incorporated, with similar rights of land and water over the regions adjacent to those of the company for advancing discovery and trade. An explanation is given on a later page of the means by which this, like all the other public impeachments of the company, failed of its object.2

The policy of prohibiting exploration and settlement was in the case of the Hudson Bay Company pursued by a breach in their covenanted obligations and in the interest of their own monopoly. The company may be said to have been goaded and shamed into patronage of its first enterprise of exploration one hundred years after the date of its charter. Reports had been circulated by some wandering Indians from the north, near the Arctic circle, of a vast and navigable river in a region rich with furs and with minerals. The resident governor of the company was moved to address the managers in England with the proposal of an expedition for

1 [The history of the search for the Straits of 2 See the reference in the Critical Essay to the Anian, as this supposed passage was called, is work of Arthur Dobbs. given in Vol. II. – ED.) VOL. VIII.


« AnteriorContinuar »