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Biographical Note

On the era prior to the Cession (1763) very few printed records of the Hudson's Bay Company exist. Most books on the later period—in which the conflict with the North-West Company took place—have cursory sketches of the early era, founded chiefly on data handed down by word of mouth among the servants and officers of the Company. On this early period the documents in Hudson's Bay House, London, must always be the prime authority. These documents consist in the main of the Minute Books of some two hundred years, the Letter Books, the Stock Books, the Memorial Books, and the Daily Journals kept from 1670 onwards by chief traders at every post and forwarded to London. There is also a great mass of unpublished material bearing on the adventurers in the Public Record Office, London. Transcripts of a few of these documents are to be found in the Canadian Archives, Ottawa, and in the Newberry Library, Chicago. Transcripts of four of the Radisson Journals—copied from the originals in the Bodleian Library, Oxford—are possessed by the Prince Society, Boston. Of modern histories dealing with the early era Beckles Willson's The Great Company (1899), George Bryce's Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company (1900), and Laut's Conquest of the Great North-West (1899) are the only works to be taken seriously. Willson's is marred by many errors due to a lack of local knowledge of the West. Bryce's work is free of these errors, but, having been issued before the Archives of Hudson's Bay House were open for more than a few weeks at a time, it lacks first-hand data from headquarters; though to Bryce must be given the honor of unearthing much of the early history of Radisson. Laut's Conquest of the Great North-West contains more of the early period from first-hand sources than the other two works, and, indeed, follows up Bryce as pupil to master, but the author perhaps attempted to cover too vast a territory in too brief a space.

Data on Hudson's tragic voyages come from Purchas His Pilgrimes and the Hakluyt Society Publications for 1860 edited by Asher. Jens Munck's voyage is best related in the Hakluyt Publications for 1897. Laut's Pathfinders of the West gives fullest details of Radisson's various voyages. The French State Papers for 1670-1700 in the Canadian Archives give full details of the international quarrels over Radisson's activities. On the d'Iberville raids, the French State Papers are again the ultimate authorities, though supplemented by the Jesuit Relations of those years. The Colonial Documents of New York State (16 vols.), edited by O'Callaghan, give details of French raids on Hudson Bay. Radisson's various petitions will be found in Laut's Conquest of the Great North-West. These are taken from the Public Records, London, and from the Hudson's Bay Company's Archives. Chouart's letters are found in the Documents de la Nouvelle France, Tome I—1492-1712. Father Sylvie, a Jesuit who accompanied the de Troyes expedition, gives the fullest account of the overland raids. These are supplemented by the affidavits of the captured Englishmen (State Papers, Public Records, London), by La Potherie's Histoire de l'Amérique, by Jeremie's account in the Bernard Collection of Amsterdam, and by the Relations of Abbé Belmont and Dollier de Casson. The reprint of the Radisson Journals by the Prince Society of Boston deserves commendation as a first effort to draw attention to Radisson's achievements; but the work is marred by the errors of an English copyist, who evidently knew nothing of Western Indian names and places, and very plainly mixed his pages so badly that national events of 1660 are confused with events of 1664, errors ascribed to Radisson's inaccuracy. Benjamin Sulte, the French-Canadian historian, in a series of papers for the Royal Society of Canada has untangled this confusion.

Robson's Hudson's Bay gives details of the 1754 period; but Robson was a dismissed employee of the Company, and his Relation is so full of bitterness that it is not to be trusted. The events of the search for a North-West Passage and the Middleton Controversy are to be found in Ellis's Voyage of the Dobbs and California (1748) and the Parliamentary Report of 1749. Later works by fur traders on the spot or descendants of fur traders—such as Gunn, Hargreaves, Ross—refer casually to this early era and are valuable for local identification, but quite worthless for authentic data on the period preceding their own lives. This does not impair the value of their records of the time in which they lived. It simply means that they had no data but hearsay on the early period.

See also in this Series: The Blackrobes; The Great Intendant; The Fighting Governor; Pathfinders of the Great Plains; Pioneers of the Pacific; Adventurers of the Far North; The Red River Colony.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Adventurers Of England On Hudson Bay, A Chronicle of the Fur Trade in the North, By Agnes C. Laut, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1914

 

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