Life Story of Pierre Radisson: A Novel (Part 3)

Chapter Thirty-two

Gifts of French Merchandise

            The next day the “principall Persons” came together for more gift giving though it was now their turn to give gifts of merchandise to the natives. They approached with much solemnity as Radisson spoke to the interpreter:

            “We came from the other side of the great salted lake, not to kill you but to make you live, and to acknowledge that you are our brethren and children who we will love as our own.” Radisson then handed them a kettle as the first gift.

            “We encourage you in all your undertakings. We like the kind of man who generously defended themselves against all their enemies. We, as masters of peace and wars, will dispose the affairs that will bring universal peace all over the earth.[1] This time we will not go and force the nations that are yet to submit to our will, but rather we will see the neighboring countries in peace and unity. The Christinos are our brothers. We have frequented them many winters, and have adopted them as our children and took them under our protection, so that we should send them ambassadors. I myself could make them come here to conclude a general peace. We are sure of their obedience to us, and that the first one to break the peace would be their enemy and would reduce them to powder with our heavenly fire. We have the word of the Christinos as well as yours, and our thunders[2] will serve us to make war against those who will not submit to our will and desire. Our desire is to be good friends, and to go make war with the upper nations who we have not yet met.” The second gift was six hatchets.

            “We oblige you to receive our propositions, as likewise the Christinos, to lead us all into a great unity of peace, which is to be celebrated at the death’s feast and banquet of kindred. To continue your wars with the Christinos is not the means to see us again in your country.” The third gift was 24 knives.

            “We thank you for giving us a free passage through your country.” The fourth gift included: “6 gratters, 2 dozen of awles, 2 dozen of needles, 6 dozens of looking-glasses made of tine, a dozen litle bells, 6 Ivory combs, with a litle vermillion.”[3]

            Radisson gave the good old man who handed him the pipe a hatchet, and to the elders he gave each a blade for a sword. The two maidens who served them were given two necklaces, which they put around their neck, and two bracelets. “The last guift was in generall for all the women to love us and give us to eat when we should come to their cottages.”[4] Everyone there at last gave them a great Ho! Ho! Ho!, which was their way of saying thank you. Then the other natives that were with them began giving their gifts.

            These gifts and speeches showed a remarkable fortitude and confidence in their mission to boldly declare that their enemy should now be their ally because Radisson and his partner had lived with them and had made peace with them. Assuming the posture of ‘master of peace and war,’ Radisson did not lay back and do nothing, but rather he took the initiative to establish peace in the entire region. Not only that, he says that now those nations in the upper regions of the north is their new enemy. Radisson’s speech to these natives from the wild plains was risky because it would seem that they could become angry with these demands and kill these hairy-faced men, but instead their pleas were heard and followed. Radisson’s genius as an ambassor and peacemaker is remarkable in this instance so great were the risks and so great the ripple effect could be. His knowledge of the ways of the natives of the New World can be seen in how his gifts had a soothing effect of tonic and hope that made it difficult for them to refuse.

            It was a master stroke by the Frenchman that would change the course of history.

            A group of a 50 men were dispatched to go to the Christinos to warn them of what they had done. Radisson left with this party and after three days of travel, was greeted with much demonstrations of friendship. There was so much meat there in their fort[5] that Radisson compared its quantity of meats to Paris and London. They feasted and danced and sang, and received gifts of all sorts of meat and grease that would require 20 men to carry. “The custome is not to deface anything that they present,” so he humbly accepted all the gifts and took them with him back to the feast of the dead. They were given sleds as there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground. On the way back they crossed a frozen lake with the sun shining fiercely as they crossed, giving Radisson a bad case of snow blindness that severely affected him for seven or eight days after their return.

            In the meantime about 1000 people had arrived at the feast, mainly consisting of these “two redoubted nations” that had been so long at war with one another. This coming together in peace was done with gusto and enthusiasm, or in Radisson’s words, “executed with a great deale of mirth… There weare playes, mirths, and bataills for sport, goeing and coming with cryes; each plaid his part. In the publick place the women danced with melody. The yong men that indeavoured to gett a pryse, indeavoured to clime up a great post, very smooth, and greased with oyle of beare and oriniack grease.”[6] The stake that the young men climbed was about 15 feet high. Whoever climbed to the top, found and kept a knife as the prize.

            The food at this feast was made to eat, and so “to honnour the feast many men and women did burst.”[7] Those who were returning from the visit to the Christinos approached in a warlike posture. This was done to weed out any of those present at the feast who had not accepted the terms of peace, or in the Frenchman’s words: “This was to discover the enemy by signs; any that should doe soe we gave orders to take him, or kill him and take his head off.”[8] All communication was done through gestures and nodding. It was a serious exercise, done to the beat of earthen drums that were filled with water and covered with deerskins. The elders held sticks with “bomkins” filled with small rocks that made a rattling noise.

            Everyone there at the feast gave and received gifts with pride, as they brought those items that were the most exquisite to show what their nation could achieve. They also brought the bones of the dead to honor them. Each sang in their own tongue, including Radisson and Groseilliers. The Indians listened intently to their songs that they sang in French. The Christinos, in front of their old enemy the Nadoneseronons, gave the Frenchmen 300 beaver robes.[9]

Chapter Thirty-three

The Nation of the Beef

            Adhering to their promise to the Nadoneseronons (Sioux), they went with them to their country, which was “seaven small Journeys from that place.”[10] (Radisson and Groseilliers had made a similar promise to the Christinos for the following spring). When they arrived he was amazed to see upwards of 7000 men in a village with cabins covered with skins.[11] Here it is best to read the explorer’s own words:

[The men] have as many wives as they can keepe. If any one did trespasse upon the other, his nose was cut off, and often the crowne of his head. The maidens have all maner of reedome, but are forced to mary when they come to the age. The more they beare children the more they are respected. I have seene a man having 14 wives. There they have no wood, and make provision of mosse for their firing. This their place is environed with pearches which are a good distance one from an other, that they gett in the valleys where the Buffe use to repaire, uppon which they do live. They sow corne, but their harvest is small. The soyle is good, but the cold hinders it, and the graine very small. In their country are mines of copper, of pewter, and of ledd. There are mountains covered with a kind of Stone that is transparent and tender, and like to that of Venice. The people stay not there all the yeare; they retire in winter towards the woods of the North, where they kill a quantity of Castors, and I say that there are not so good in the whole world, but not in such a store as the Christinos, but far better.[12]

            They remained there with the nation of the beef for six weeks.[13]

            (This is in the year 1659, or 217 years before General George Armstrong Custer’s Last Stand. It is likely that Radisson and Groseilliers are between the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers. Their grace, mutual respect and gift giving laid the foundation of all future encounters between the Plains Indians and the Europeans. If one is ever wondrous as to why the Plains Indians were so welcoming to this new race of people, perhaps one is best to flip through the pages of history and read how these two men, particularly Pierre-Esprit Radisson, were able to act in such a courteous and benevolent manner, which was the first impression that was handed down from generation to generation until the concerted thrust westwards that occurred following the American Civil War. There are many references throughout North American history of those who wondered how the Plains Indians were in possession of European goods when they themselves thought that they were the first white men so far west meeting these tribes of natives. In so many history books it is written that these products of European origin came with the first French fur traders. True, there were many Frenchmen who traded early in the history of the New World with Indians far west of the 13 colonies, but never are they mentioned by name, except perhaps a handful. And this handful of names came with trade goods many, many years after this first pair. The names of the first with whom the prairie tribes acquired trade goods were Radisson and Groseilliers, also known to English historians as ‘Radishes and Gooseberries.’)[14]

After their six-week visit with the nation of the beef, they left for their camp in the nation of the Sault where they still had some of their merchandise buried near the three-walled fort by Lake Superior. The trip was long and arduous with the added booty from their trading with the Nadoneseronons. Since the spring was warming up, there were lots of moose to kill so there was no problem with starvation. Radisson, Groseilliers and a native from the nation of the Sault killed more than 600 moose during their trip to the shores of the lake. (It sounds like hyperbole, but with the high number of mammals roaming around this part of the country, it was possible).

Having so much to carry they were helped when a company of about 20 Sault they met assisted them with their bundles, which cut down the pain and suffering of travel with so much stuff. When they finally arrived in Wisconsin they found about 20 cottages full. They were able to retrieve the merchandise that they had buried the previous fall, but they were uncomfortable with the notion of keeping all their goods with the Sault Indians there. As Radisson philosophizes, “the occasion makes the thiefe.” They heard that there were some Octanaks close by who had built a fort “on the point that formes the Bay.”[15] There was still some ice on the lakes and some snow on the ground but not so much that they required their snowshoes. Regardless, they went with all speed to the fort. They used sleds to transport their booty. “We overloaded our slide[16] on that rotten Ice, and the further we went the Sun was stronger, which made our Trainage have more difficultie. I seeing my brother so strained, I tooke the slide, which was heavier then mine, and he mine. Being in that extent above foure leagues from the ground, we wunke downe above the one halfe of the legge in the Ice, and must advance in spight of our teeth. To leave our booty was to undoe us. We strived so that I hurted myselfe in so much that I could not stand up right, nor any further. This putt us in great trouble.”[17] Radisson had worn himself out completely and could not continue to travel. He removed the wet clothes and then covered himself in dry clothes, hunkered down between the two sleds and Groseilliers left for the Octanaks. They were only about 2 leagues[18] away from the camp. So Radisson was left there with all the booty alone in the hands of God. Groseilliers made it to the Indian camp and the natives, seeing them in such “extremitie,” took advantage of the situation and asked them for promises before they would help.

The Frenchmen promised whatever they asked.

For eight days Radisson wavered on the threshold of death, so tormented that he believed he would never recover. He couldn’t sleep. The Octanaks and his brother-in-law Groseilliers helped by rubbing his legs with the hot oil of bears and keeping his thighs and legs well tied. Radisson did recover his strength after the ordeal, and then was flooded by the natives at the camp to find out more about this new nation who traded such goods as they had. He was made to promise that he would guide them to the nation of the beef village where they could conduct “weighty buissinesse” despite still recovering from his brush with death.

Chapter Thirty-four

Acting as Guide for the Octanaks

            Radisson led a company of Octanaks to the village of the Nadoneseronons far inland from where they were at the shores of Lake Superior. They marched for two days until on the third day “the sore begins to breake out againe, in so much that I could goe no further.”[19] Radisson was acting selflessly as a guide to these natives but despite this they left him there alone and continued on their way. Helpless and sick, he mused on the difference between those natives who lived on fish versus those who lived on meat: “You will see the cruelties of those beasts, and I may think that those that liveth on fish uses more inhumanities then those that feed upon flesh…”[20]

Nevertheless Radisson persevered and went onwards weak and “lame,” using the sun as his only compass. It was still cold out as there was snow covering the ground but it was rock hard so he couldn’t decipher any tracks that he could follow. He was also defenseless, since he had no hatchet nor gun nor knife, and carried less than ten pounds of food. In this invalid state he limped for five days, melting snow in his “cappe” and stopping when he found old cabins where he could protect himself a little from the cold. One night he feel asleep with the fire blazing when it caught on fire with some branches that were being used as a roof. Since his snow shoes and shoes and socks[21] were so close to the fire and were at risk of going up in smoke, he flung them away from the fire, far into the snow. Once he had successfully battled and put out the fire, he was forced to trek outside into the snow naked in the dark, starved and half-frozen. Pondering this event in retrospect as he wrote his journals, Radisson muses: “But what is it that a man cannot doe when he seeth that it concerns his life, that one day he must loose? Yett we are to prolong it as much as we cane, and the very feare maketh us to invent new wayes.”[22]

On the fifth day as he was walking he heard a sound that he thought was a wolf. He stopped and listened but soon realized it was a man. The natives had, once they arrived at their destination, been looking for him for fear that the bears had devoured him. The man approached, saluted Radisson and then demanded to know if it was him. They sat down and the native asked if he had any food.

“Yes,” he replied and took out the remainder of his victuals, being no bigger than the size of his fist. Without a word, the native ate it all, without asking or offering any to Radisson.

“Are you hungry?” he then asked.

“No,” he replied, lying, showing that he was stout and resolute. The guy took out his pipe and tobacco and then about 20 pounds worth of food from his sack. Radisson ate what he could eat and then gave the rest back to the man.

“Have courage. The village is not far off.”

When they arrived at the village, he learned that his group who had left him behind, arrived only the day before. More arrived in canoes, which included Groseilliers and a company of Christinos that had arrived after Radisson had departed as guide for Octanaks. They spoke about Radisson being left behind and they agreed that henceforth they “resolved to cover our bussinesse better, and close our designe as if we weare going hunting, and send them before; that we would follow them the next night, which we did, and succeeded, but not without much labor and danger; for not knowing the right way to thwart the other side of the lake, we weare in danger to perish a thousand times because of the crums of Ice.”[23]

They crossed a lake 15 leagues wide in their boat but when they arrived at night they didn’t know whether to turn right or left on the shore as there was no one around. It is vague where exactly they are at this point when they encounter “tents” and smoke coming from them. Christinos came out to meet them in their boats, and brought them to their cottages “like a couple of cocks in a Basquett.”[24]

From here Radisson and Groseilliers then went with all possible haste to the “great river.”[25] It was here where they found an old cottage demolished and battered with bullets. They were told the two nations were responsible for this destruction: the nation of the wolf and the nation of the long-horned beast. It was here, most likely in the north of Lake Michigan where it meets Lake Huron that the natives told them of “particularities” of Europeans, which indicated that other Europeans had made it this far (Marquette). But now that Radisson and groseilliers had reached so far west there was now to be a steady flow of the more adventurous coureur de bois who reached Lake Huron, trading with the Christinos and Hurons in the area.

Chapter Thirty-five

Hudson’s Bay

That summer, after having met and traded with the powerful plains Indians in the spring after the Feast of the Dead, Radisson and Groseilliers – now laden with goods for trade – finally pursued their ultimate purpose of their trip: to meet the tribes who knew the way to the northwest passage that lay to the north. Weathered, strengthen and now prepared to travel to the northern shores of Lake Superior, Radisson’s company moved from island to island on their way from northern Lake Michigan to the St. Mary’s River waterway to the upper lake of Lake Superior. Having polished and sharpened their skills travelling by canoe and hunting for their food, the Frenchmen found it easy to find fish and ducks to eat. Here there was no shortage of food. They were well received wherever they went. Moving swiftly and efficiently in their canoes, they paddled their way to the northern shores of Lake Superior where tribes came to hunt for the summer months from the northern reaches of the Hudson’s Bay. Finally they are in the place where they can take the long Albany River to Hudson’s Bay where it connects to the Saguenay River that leads down to Tadousack – the oldest French settlement on the St. Lawrence River. As far as the crow flies, the distance along the Albany River to James Bay and then down the Saguenay River to Tadousack is shorter than the way Radisson and Groseilliers had traveled via the Ottawa River-French River route to the Great Lakes via the St. Mary’s river stretch to Lake Superior.

 As Radisson and his brother-in-law learned more and more about this new route to New France via the northern waterways, they became aware that once they portaged onto the Albany River the current was moving swiftly towards Hudson’s Bay because of the spring runoff so their traveling speeds were advantageous for them, and thus if they chose to paddle down the Saguenay River to Tadousack the currents would be much less because it would be late summer. But they learned about the fierce nature of the tribes who lived in the northern territory of the Saguenay River and were warned rather emphatically that it was too dangerous for Frenchmen to travel these parts. Nor deterred because they both knew of the extreme importance of finding the northwest passage for wealthy European businessmen, they chose to traverse the long flowing Albany River to go to the Hudson”s Bay. They traded with their native allies to take them to the saltwater sea in the north where the beaver pelts were big.

Radisson remarks that the natives who lived in the area in northern Superior had a great store of cows. “The wildmen kill them not except for necessary use.”[26] Radisson writes: “We went further in the bay to see the place that they weare to passe that summer. That river comes from the lake and empties itselfe in the river of Sagnes,[27] called Tadousack, which is a hundred leagues in the great river of Canada, as where we weare in the Bay of the north.”[28] There they left their “marks and rendezvous.” It was here where the natives that were with Radisson and Groseilliers insisted that they should by no means land on the shores of the Saguenay River since the tribes in this area were “treacherous.” Radisson made a note in his journal that these Indians told them that so that they would be the ones who would be enriched by trade and not he and Groseilliers. Ultimately he never found out if this was the case, but he rationalizes that “envy raigns every where amongst poore barbarous wild people as att Courts.”[29]

Choosing not to encounter these dangerous people, the natives they were with made a map for them. As Radisson writes:

 They made us a mapp of what we could not see, because the time was nigh to reape among the bustards and Ducks. As we came to the place where these oats growes (they grow in many places), you would think it strang to see the great number of ffowles, that are so fatt by eating of this graine that heardly they will move from it. I have seene a wildman killing 3 ducks at once with one arrow. It is an ordinary thing to see five [or] six hundred swans together. I must professe I wondred that the winter there was so cold, when the sand boyles att the watter side for the extreame heate of the Sun. I putt some eggs in that sand, and leave them halfe an houre; the eggs weare as hard as stones.

The wild game on the shores of the Hudson’s Bay was plentiful. They hunted and explored the area and then, when the cold started encroaching they didn’t take the Albany River back to Lake Superior but another river back to the upper lake.

We passed that summer quietly, coasting the seaside, and as the cold began, we prevented the Ice. We have the commoditie of the river to carry our things in our boats to the best place, where weare most bests.

It was a region of the world full of dangers for Radisson. The Indians in these parts around James Bay were a wandering nation. He writes:

In winter they live in the land for the hunting sake, and in summer by the watter for fishing. They never are many together, ffor feare of wronging one another. They are of a good nature, and not great whore masters, having but one wife, and are [more] satisfied then any others that I knewed. They cloath themselves all over with castors’ skins in winter, in summer of stags’ skins. They are the best huntsmen of all America, and scorns to catch a castor in a trappe. The circumjacent nations goe all naked when the season permits it… They have the same tenents as the nation of the beefe, and their apparel from topp to toe. The women are tender and delicat, and take as much paines as slaves. They are of more acute wits then the men, ffor the men are fools, but diligent about their worke. They kill not the yong castors, but leave them in the watter, being that they are sure that they will take him againe, which no other nation doth. They burne not their prisoners, but knock them in the head, or slain them with arrows, saying it’s not decent for men to be so cruell. They have a stone of Turquois from the nation of the buff and beefe, with whome they had warrs. They polish them, and give then the forme of pearle, long, flat, round, and [hang] them att their nose. They [find] greene stones, very fine, att the side of the same bay of the seas to the norwest.[30]

On their way back to Lake Superior along this other river they encountered a tribe called ‘Neuter.’ They spoke the same tongue as the Sioux and the Cree Indians, and were friends of both. They had never met Frenchmen before and didn’t know what they wanted from them because they had not encountered their merchandise before. When Radisson told them they could give them French merchandise such as pots to cook with and knives to cut with and axes to chop with they were overjoyed. They agreed to bring them these things before they continued up the river to take them back to Lake Superior.  

            When Radisson and Groseilliers arrived back on the shores of the upper lake it was already winter but they were able to spend the winter “with a Company of the fort, who gladly received us,” These natives also resolved to go to the French colony to re-supply since their equipment was sparse after the Feast of the Dead the previous year, which they blamed Radisson and Groseilliers. They soon had problems with these natives. “They blamed us, saying we should not trust any that we did not know. They upon this asked if we are where the trumpetts are blowne. We sayd yea, and tould that they weare a nation not to be trusted, and if we came to that sea we should warre against them, becaus they weare bad nation, and did their indeavour to tak us to make us their slaves.” These were likely natives who came from a lake in the north, wintering on the northern shores of Lake Superior because of the abundance of food.

            In the spring there came a company of men who had come from the elders in the nation of the beefe. They brought Radisson and Groseilliers furs to entice them to visit them once again. They gave these ambassadors gifts in return for their new friends who lived on the Great Plains in teepees and hunted buffalo. And it was with one of these Sioux ambassadors that they experienced a unique reaction to a picture Groseilliers carried with him. Radisson writes:

          I cannot omitt [a] pleasant encounter that happened to my brother as we weare both in a cottag. Two of the nation of the beefe came to see us; in that time my brother had some trade in his hands. The wildmen satt neere us. My brother shews unto them the Image which [re]presented the flight of Joseph and holy mary with the child Jesus, to avoid the anger of herod, and the Virgin and child weare riding the asse, and Joseph carrying a long cloake. My brother shewing that animal, naming it tatanga, which is a buffe, the wildmen, seeing the representation of a woman, weare astonished and weeps, pulls their haire, and tumbles up and downe to the fire, so continued half an houre, till he was in a sweat, and wetted with his tears the rest of the wildmen that weare there. One of them went out of the cottage. My brother and I weare surprized; thought they might have seene a vision, ffor instantly the man putt his hands on his face, as if he should make the signe of the crosse. Now as he came to himselfe, he made us understand, ffor I began to know much of their speech, that first we weare Devills, knowing all what is and what was done; moreover, that he had his desire, that was his wif and child, whome weare taken by the nation of the beefe foure years agoe. So he tooke the asse for the nation of the beefe, the Virgin mary for the picture of his wife, and Jesus for his son, and Joseph for himselfe, saying, “There am I with my long robe, seeking for my wife and child.”[31]

            It was then during this exchange with these ambassadors from the Sioux that Radisson was told about “an other Lake which is northerly of their countrey.”[32] Bigger than all the rest, he was told that the upper end was always frozen where all the fish were. The people there never traded with those in the south. There is a river that is warm and so deep and black that there is no bottom, and it would take over 40 days if one was to navigate it. He was told that these people who live there in this lake far north “make warrs against the birds, that defends and offends with theire bills that are as sharpe as sword.”[33]

            These Indians declared that they would join Radisson and Groseilliers if they went north to these peoples and made trade with them. The Frenchmen were warmed by this declaration of loyalty and solidarity.

            “All men of courage and valor, let them fetch commodities and not stand lazing and be a beggar in their cabin,” they said to Radisson. “It is the way to be beloved of women, to go and bring them wherewithal to be joyful.”

            The two Frenchmen and the Sioux exchanged gifts to one another and declared their loyalty, and since it was spring and the time Radisson and Groseilliers were returing to New France, the Cree also declared their desire to return with them to the east to trade. It was granted to them. Radisson estimated that around 400 canoes of Cree descended on them full of beaver pelts for them to trade in New France.

            They exchanged gifts to further establish the bond of loyalty among them as they made a pact to go east to New France. Indians brought furs to trade with the French directly to barter for merchandise while Radisson and Groseilliers returned with booty after several years of trade in the west. There were some Christinos there too who joined them with more boats, which made their company consist of about 700. Never had there been so many Indians on their way to the colony of Frenchmen for the purposes of trade. Radisson counted about 360 boats in the group, with as many as seven on one boat and as few as two in others. The boats were laden down with beaver skins that the Cree had hunted in the north, so they were bigger than those from the south. When they departed the women waved goodbye stark naked. Radisson at first was embarrassed at their indiscretion, but then realized the rationale behind the custom. He realized that the woman bore all to entice the men to return safely and to fight bravely as they now had an image in their minds that would stick and provide strength when faced with adversity and hardship in travel and warfare. The women stood as a lure for the men to return as fast and with as much as they could carry.

            Radisson describes the event of their departure and addresses the size of the Cree’s canoes:

           Att their retourne the biggest boats could carry onely the man and his wife, and could scarce carry with them 3 castors, so little weare their boats. In summer time I have seene 300 men goe to warrs, and each man his boat, ffor they are that makes the least boats. The company that we had filled above 360 boats. There weare boats that caryed seaven men, and the least two. It was a pleasur to see that imbarquing, ffor all the yong women went in stark naked, their hairs hanging down, yett it is not their coustoms to doe soe. I thought it their shame, but contrary they thinke it excellent & old custome good. They sing a loud and sweetly. They stood in their boats, and remained in that posture halfe a day, to encourage us to come and lodge with them againe. Therefore they are not alltogether ashamed to shew us all, to intice us, and inanimate the men to defend themselves valliantly and come and injoy them.[34]

Radisson and Groseilliers then departed for the European colony far to the east on the St. Lawrence River with their booty and the information they now had about the sea to the north and a passible route to India.

            At this point in the narrative it is worth noting that this was surely the most profitable exploration in the New World at the time. Radisson and Groseilliers had penetrated so deeply into this new world and had not only made new relationships with peoples who had never seen a European before, they were returning with beaver pelts that would profit the French colony and keep it afloat. Furthermore they now had firsthand knowledge of the geography and peoples north of the Great Lakes and had reached the salt water sea of the north that could be the way to the Orient and open up new trade routes that would connect the east to the west and usher in a new era of world trade and international relations. Radisson and his partner Groseilliers were now – at this point in history around 1660 – the most successful explorers in the New World having traveled farther than anyone else in history in North America. They were 200 years before Lewis and Clark and 200 years before Livingston and Stanley, trekkers into a new land who had learned the language and customs of a wild people who ate their victims in war and who valued bravery and war to the extent that Europeans were in extreme danger when encountering them for the first time. Europe was in a state of constant religious wars with nations attacking neighbouring nations and were about to face almost complete decimation with the bubonic plague about to overtake Europe and kill one-third of the population. The Virginia colony was only a few decades old and the Europeans had yet to reach far inland to the west. Only Radisson and Groseilliers had achieved more than anyone who had come before them.

            And upon their return, the information they brought with them, would usher in a new era of exploration into this new continent that would change world history.

Chapter Thirty-six

The Return to New France

            After the first two days of travel they arrived at what they called “the River of the Sturgeon” because of the copious volume of sturgeon they could catch there.[35] They accumulated provisions and remained for two weeks, beefing up their rations for the long journey east. According to his own estimates, they caught over a thousand sturgeons here on this river. But just after leaving this place they ran into a small group of Iroquois that had camped there all winter. It was far from their traditional homeland since it was on the west side of Lake Huron. They determined that there were seven of them with only one boat, and when they encountered them they fled into the woods, pursued by the natives that were part of Radisson’s company. But it was all in vain because the Iroquois escaped. The pursuers returned with some booty as the Iroquois had left in such a hurry. A gun, a hatchet and a kettle were part of the winnings.

            The fallout of this was immense as it provoked a deep fear into those natives with Radisson’s group. A council was called and it was decided they would return to their homes and go east to trade with the French the following year. “This vexed us sore to see such a fleete and such an opportunity come to nothing, foreseeing that such an other may be not in tenne years. We weare to persuade them to the contrary, but checked soundly, saying we weare worse then Ennemyes by perswading them to goe and be slained.”[36] In the end they returned to the River of the sturgeon where everyday they heard more news about the enemy in those parts. Twelve days passed until Radisson called a council and made his feelings known.

            “My friends believe me when I say that since there are so many of us in our group the Iroquois will likely flee when they see us, just as what has just happened. I assure you you will gain valuable merchandise from the French and that you should remain brave and cheerful for the journey.”

            His argument was persuasive enough except the Christinos decided to turn back. Radisson noted that they were spooked by the fact that the Iroquois’ boats were made of a different material than their own.

            They made good time. “We thwarted those 2 great lakes with great pleasur, having the wind faire with us.[37] It was a great satisfaction to see so many boats, and so many that never had before commerce with the ffrench. So my brother and I thought wee should be wellcomed. But, O covetousnesse, thou art the cause of many evils!”[38] It was true that they were bringing many new traders to engage in commerce with their fellow countrymen but it was also true that their welcome by the governor of New France (Jean de Lauzon) was anything but warm. In fact the governor’s reception would have profound repercussions for both Radisson and Groseilliers as well as for the destiny of Canada. Ultimately, it could be argued, the French would ultimately lose their foothold in the New World because of this governor’s reaction to Radisson and Groseillier’s return after so many years exploring and trading in the name of France.

            The wind was behind them as they moved east atop the water so that they constructed small sails to bolster their speed. Radisson was already concerned at the fact that they had lost those two weeks when the Christinos pulled out of the journey. They soon reached the portages of the French River where it met the Lake of the Castors, the area where Groseilliers had had a shipwreck some years before. They spotted enemy boats here that had been left on the riverside, which put great fear into the hearts of the natives that were with them. It was here where they later learned a group of 17 Frenchmen and four Algonquin Indians settled in wait to destroy the Iroquois that paddled this part of the river in order to protect their own booty they had earned in trapping and trade.

            Radisson’s group arrived at the “Long Sault” eight days after a battle that came to be known as “the Frenchmen Massacre at Long Sault.” Radisson records in his journals some details about what had happened the week before. The Frenchmen were destitute for supplies themselves, having guns for example but little gunpowder. These Frenchmen thought themselves already conquerors wince they had traveled so far from the safety of the colony of New France without any mishaps or battles with the enemy, so they dug in and endeavored to wipe out the Iroquois fore guard who threatened to attack them and steal their bundles. Sure enough after the first battle the Iroquois found themselves too weak and all were killed except two, who escaped and went to get 200 more of their men.

            The French, seeing that the odds had changed, took the advice of their Algonquin allies and built a fort. Seeing their brethren slain, the Iroquois sent for 600 more men from the lower country to beef up their ranks and surround the 20 men in the fort. Those that the French had killed had their heads cut off and put on the end of staves that were put all around the fort. Despite the extreme imbalance in numbers, for two days and nights the French held them off with good shooting and well-used armor.[39] When the 600 men showed up, there was fierce fighting until the four Algonquins[40] with the Frenchmen surrendered themselves, knowing that they should expect severe torture since they had not been captured in battle but had given up. The Iroquois were known to torture those who did not fight to the end more bitterly than those captured from the field of battle wounded or otherwise. As Radisson wrote: “The hurrons seeing such a company submitted to the ennemyes, but are like to pay for their cowardise, being in their hands weare tyed, abused, smitten, and burned as if they weare taken by force, ffor those barbarous weare revenged on their boanes as any was wounded or killed in the battaille.”[41]

            In the end, these 21 men resisted against 800 men for five days, but overall battled a total of seven days including the two-day battle against the 200 men at the beginning. They ran out of water despite digging a hole. Finally the Iroquois used armor and forced a breach in the defenses. The French made a bomb using gunpowder in a barrel but unfortunately it fell back into the fort and exploded, thus ending their resistance. The enemy then entered the fort and killed all the Frenchmen save one, who was taken as prisoner and tied to a stake and tortured. Finding a pistol he shot himself beside his comrades. The captured Algonquins were tortured and burned at the discretion of the Iroquois, but some did escape and made it back to New France. This was how Radisson was to learn about the event upon his arrival in New France. Seeing the burned-out fort and the destruction surrounding the battlefield, he was sure that this battle and the subsequent massacre saved their own lives.[42]

            But there was worry still as Radisson knew the way the Iroquois thought, and therefore believed that despite the victory in battle they may be spoiling for another fight being all blown up with pride and confidence. Radisson even believed that they could attack Montréal itself being so full of bluster from their victory in war. They immediately built a fort for themselves and used some of the existing fort structure for protection and to discuss what they would do. The natives with Radisson debated whether to return to their own country seeing that so many Frenchmen had been killed here at the fort, but instead they sent two canoes forward, light and without any bundles to scout for enemy boats and be able to outrun them if they found any. They were only about 30 leagues[43] from Montréal.

            The Iroquois had lost many men in the battle with the doomed Frenchmen so they had decided to leave the river and not concern themselves with any more returning Frenchmen. Thus they discovered when they departed at nightfall that the going was smooth and were tremendously relieved when they reached a point at sunrise where they could see the island of Montréal in the distance. As prearranged, guns were shot by those two boats that had gone ahead, signally a safe journey to Montréal. They were all greatly relieved to hear the gunshots and to finally reach the safety of the French outpost after such a long journey. It was the end of August 1660.

Chapter Thirty-seven

The French Governor’s Revenge

            The group remained in Montréal for three days until they went to Three Rivers. The Indians who had accompanied Radisson and Groseilliers asked them if they should join them at Three Rivers[44] but Radisson thought better of it since he thought that the Iroquois may have seen them arrive in Montréal and they may be lying in wait to ambush these Indians. They didn’t mind one way or another since they were very happy with the reception they had by the French. They had received what they wanted through trade and thus went on their way back to their homeland without staying over the winter. The reception of Radisson and Groseilliers on the other hand, was an extreme disappointment for them both. As Radisson records of the group’s reception: “Well, as soon as their businesse was done, they went back again very well satisfied and wee very ill satisfied for our reception, which was very bad considering the service wee had done to the countrey, which will at another time discourage those that by our example would be willing to venture their lives for the benefit of the countrey, seeing a Governor that would grow rich by the labours and hazards of others.”[45]

            The governor, who is never explicitly named in the journals,[46] was ending his stint as governor in New France and desired some money to “better maintain his coach and horses at Paris.”[47] Seeing that Radisson and Groseilliers had a considerable sum and pulling rank that they had left years earlier without his permission, he decided to throw Groseilliers in jail as well as fine them both. When they wanted to build a home in Three Rivers, he charged them 4000 pounds to do it, assuring them that they would get their coat-of-arms above the door, and a further 6000 pounds were to be paid to the country, “saying that wee should not take it so strangely and so bad, being wee were inhabitants and did intend to finish our days in the same country with our Relations and Friends.”[48]

            But this was not all. The governor was determined to milk as much from the two Frenchmen as he could. As Radisson records it: “But the Bougre did grease his chopps with it, and more, made us pay a custome which was the 4th part, which came to 14000 pounds, so that wee had left but 46000 pounds, and took away 24000 pounds. Was not he a Tyrant to deal so with us, after wee had so hazarded our lives…”[49] This is typical of Radisson’s love for understatement. It should be noted here that in many scholarly texts, it is believed that they amount of wealth Radisson and Groseilliers brought into New France at this point in its young existence essentially saved it from folding due to lack of money to run it. If they had saved her from bankruptcy and eventually from closure, then this money would have been funneled back into the country. But according to Radisson, the governor levied fines and other customs payments to extort money for himself, filling his own coffers in order to retire in style in Paris. It is more reliable to rely on the firsthand account of Radisson here on this matter.[50]

            It is understandable why Radisson should be so angry by the treatment by the governor upon his return. He was likely expecting a pat on the back, as he was given by many of his fellow Frenchmen. Radisson makes a point of recording what the average Frenchman said to him on his return:

“In which country have you been?”

“From whence do you come? For we never saw the like.”

“From whence did come such excellent castors?”

“Since your arrival is come into our magazin[51] very near 600,000 pounds Tournois of that filthy merchandise, which will be prized like gold in France.” Their furs were better than the French had ever seen before, and they had ventured farther inland than any European ever in history. This is only 50 years after the establishment of Jamestown in Virginia, yet Radisson and Groseilliers had gone as far as present-day Wisconsin and Minnesota. They had established friendly relations with the native tribes in that area, and were the first white men to ever meet the Indians of the Great Plains. And for this they were fined, and one thrown in jail. It’s no wonder that Groseilliers decided he would seek justice back in France. And so started a longer journey that they both thought would turn out in their favour.

Chapter Thirty-eight

Seeking Justice

            It took Groseilliers more or less half the year to go to France for the justice he sought before returning unsatisfied to New France. “There he is in France; he is paid with fair words and with promise to make him goe back from whence he came; but he feeing [sic][52] no assurance of it, did engage himselfe with a merchant of Rochell, who was to send him a Ship the next spring.”[53] So Radisson’s fur trading partner and brother-in-law returned to the French colony in the New World on a fishing boat and was left on “the Isle d’eluticosty”[54] where Radisson met him. He was thinking that he would also go to France but once Groseilliers had updated him on what he had been told in France, he chose to remain in the New World.

He did however speak to a Jesuit father who told them “that wee should not find what wee thought to find, and that he had put a good order, and that it was not well done to distroy in that manner a Country, and to wrong so many Inhabitants.” Encouraged by the padre to take it on the chin, Radisson was also told to leave Groseilliers since his designs were pernicious. Frustrated by the situation, Radisson was at a loss. The injustice of how the French were treating him left him free to look at selling what merchandise they had not to the French but to the English on Cape Breton. That was when they made their way to St. Peter on the island of Cape Breton.

According to Radisson’s recollection of this juncture in their lives, they traded with a Monsieur Denier for some “Originack skins; from thence to Camseau where every day wee were threatned to be burned by the French; but God be thanked, wee escaped from their hands by avoiding surprize.”[55] It is unclear why the French were itching to burn Radisson and Groseilliers since Monsieur Denier is a Frenchman. It is most likely that despite doing business with a fellow Frenchman, Cape Breton was a British possession and thus the charge of disloyalty was the most obvious reason for the French anger. But it became worse when they moved to Port Royal,[56] the British stronghold in the New World in the area. “And in that place my Brother told me of his designe to some and see New England, which our servants heard, and grumbled and laboured underhand against us, for which our lives were in very great danger.”

This is the first explicit mention of going over to the English, or at least going to the British colony in the New World. It was to trade but also it was to find a financial backer to find a route via the sea to reach the great bay in the north.[57] It was in Port Royal where ships docked in the harbor a few days after their arrival. The captains of the ships and those financiers were eager to hear of Radisson and Groseilliers’ desire to sail north to access a huge untapped forested area where the beaver pelts were of superior quality. They told the British of what they had heard from the Cree Indians who knew of these vast lands and their riches all around Hudson’s Bay. Sensing a good investment and seeing that both Frenchmen were men of action rather than those who talked a good game but never did anything, they arranged in the spring to take a ship north along the northeast coast of North America to see if they could find this passage into the great salt water bay.

Articles were drawn up and they departed. They reached the entry to Hudson’s Bay[58] but went no further. However “the season of the yeare was far spent by the indiscretion of our master…”[59] The captain of the ship made it known that it was only equipped with supplies for only four months and that he had “neither Sailes, nor Cord, nor Pitch, nor Towe, to stay out a winter.”[60] The ship therefore returned from its place of origin at “great losse of goods and hope, but the last was not quite lost.” They were awarded two other ships for the next year and a second voyage.

Since at this point it was not the time of the year to depart north again, one of the ships went fishing to the “Isle of the Sand”[61] where they were to fish for bass.[62] True to form for the intrepid Frenchmen, they hit bad weather and the ship was lost but the men were saved. Not only was it another flirtation with his own mortality, but it was a profound loss as the loss of the ship meant that they journey north would not happen. The merchants were discouraged so much that they took Radisson and Groseilliers to court. “They went to law with us to make us recant the bargaine that wee had made with them. After wee had disputed a long time it was found that the right was on our side, and wee innocent of what they did accuse us.”[63] This brush with the law didn’t take away any of their enthusiasm and determination.

In fact since they were found not guilty of any infractions, there was another agreement made when “the Commissioners of the King of Great Brittain arrived in that place, and one of them would have us goe with him to New Yorke, and the other advised us to come to England and offer our selves to the King, which wee did.”[64] It was here, during the summer of 1664 that began another strange-yet-true chapter in Pierre Radisson’s life. Far from the deep wilderness of the New World’s forests and war parties of the Iroquois, Radisson now began in earnest to reach Hudson’s Bay with the backing of the English crown. The end result of this effort was to forever change the face of the New World and perhaps the destiny of a people.



The Relation of a Voyage made by Peter Raddisson, Esquire, to the North parts of America, in the years 1682 and 1683.


Portrait of Radission about this time

Chapter Thirty-nine

Meeting the King of England

            Strange and incredible as it sounds, Radisson, having now changed his allegiance from the French to the British, left the woods of North America and entered the royal courts in Britain. It was a time when the Bubonic Plague was at its peak in England, where the streets of London were littered with the dead and the dying. It was one extreme to the other; from the unspoiled and dramatic beauty of Mother Nature – the Garden of Eden – to the creaking and decrepit aches of decay in an old world made by man, beset by an unknown disease that struck indiscriminately and unmercilessly. Not only was there the Plague, there was the Great Fire of London too. In a word, Radisson went from makeshift huts made of sticks and branches to the clean sheets and soft mattresses of Windsor Castle.

            A note should be made here at how important this change of allegiance was as seen from world history. After the treatment of the two Frenchman by the governor of New France, they went to the chief rivals of the French for possession of the New World and its riches, namely the fur trade. There are records that state that Radisson and Groseilliers could have just as easily sided with the Dutch in New Holland, but for circumstances and timing they ended up building a relationship with the ever-ambitious English. Both Father Paul Ragueneau and Marie de L’Incarnation – two perspicacious individuals at this time in history – both record the likely possibility that this new relationship between the two French traders and the British was the crucial and decisive factor that led to the British conquest of New Holland in the New World in 1664.[65] With Radisson’s intimate knowledge of the geography of present-day New York State, as well as his knowledge of the natives and their culture and their travel routes, he may have provided the English with the pertinent information that enabled them to overtake Dutch possessions in the area, and thus ending any influence the Dutch had in the New World.

            This upper hand, given to the British by these two French renegades, could be said to have ultimately culminated in the British conquest of Canada in 1763.

            In true Radisson form, even the journey to England in August 1665 was entangled by adventure. The war between the Dutch and the British for supremacy on the seas was at its height during this time, so when the ship carrying Radisson and Groseilliers crossed the Atlantic it was captured by a Dutch vessel and looted. Any papers that were found by the Dutch on the ship were thrown in the water and the crew were taken as captives to Spain. This was important because on this voyage Colonel George Cartwright carried with him “all the original papers of the transactions of the Royal Commissioners, together with the maps of the several colonies.” Radisson was noted as being busy in his preparations with his meeting of the king and therefore in possession of his own accounts of ideas and information about finding a northwest passage to Hudson’s Bay and thus direct access to the lucrative and untapped markets of beaver and other furs. It is more than likely that the Dutch captain discovered some of these papers and thus brought the idea to the attention to his superior upon his arrival in the Netherlands. Proof of this lies in a Dutch delegation arriving in England during Radisson’s stay there, imploring the two Frenchmen to guide a Dutch team north to where they believed the beaver pelts to be. This also likely contributed to the King sanctioning the expedition in the name of competition and claiming this yet-to-be-discovered land for Britain.

            In Radisson’s journals he only touches on this event briefly, likely not aware of the long-term ramifications of his brush with the Dutch at sea. He only, in his usual panache for understatement, mentions that during their journey to England they were “taken by the Hollanders, and wee arrived in England in a very bad time for the Plague and the warrs.”[66] Not only did he have his own papers confiscated and destroyed, but also those of the captain of the ship and the military leaders who were acting as liaison for the French with the King. This would not have had the same importance at the time rather than that of viewing history 350 years in the future. Radisson would not have known that there was a Dutch delegation that was lobbying for his expertise. The English would have sheltered them from hearing about it. A new and direct route to vast untapped lands was at stake, priceless information for any colonial power.

            So from the colony of New England in Cape Breton to the ship named The Charles captained by Benjamin Gillam, and the subsequent crossing of the Atlantic and capture by the Dutch, Radisson only stated in his journals that they made it to England and then avoided London because of the Bubonic Plague. Instead, after leaving Spain for the shores of England, Radisson and Groseilliers went to Oxford where King Charles II was staying to keep himself safe from the disease raging in London. According to Radisson, it was George Cartwright[67] who spoke to the King on their behalf. As Radisson writes: “Being at Oxford, wee went to Sir George Carteret, who spoke to his Majestie, who gave us good hopes that wee should have a ship ready for the next spring, and that the king did allow us 40 shillings a week for our maintenance, and wee had chambers in the Town by his order, where wee stayed three months. Afterwards the King came to London and sent us to Windsor, where wee stayed the rest of the winter.”[68] No doubt Radisson, as a colorful character with the adventures and scars to prove his unique history, was a hit in the royal court where he was able to generate interest both in his own desire to find the northest passage as well as to attain new possessions for the crown in the New World.

            King Charles II was enthralled with his tales and apparently at his request encouraged Radisson to write down all his adventures in a journal for posterity.[69]

            According to outside sources rather than from Radisson’s own hand, Radisson and Groseilliers landed in England on October 25,1665. King Charles II with his court opened parliament and the courts of law on September 25th of that year, and then left Oxford on January 27th, 1666. It was sometime after this move away from Oxford that a Dutch statesman by the name of DeWitt, who was also the Grand Pensionary of the States of Holland, found out about the plans of Radisson and Groseilliers from the captain of the Dutch ship. He sent an emissary to England to entice the two Frenchmen to come over to the Dutch side. A man by the name of Sir John Colleton brought up the matter to Lord Arlington in a letter that was dated November 12th. As it turned out, the emissary sent by DeWitt was a man named Elie Godefroy Touret, who claimed wrongly that he was a nephew of Groseilliers.[70] This assertion was found to be false and so on the 21st of November a warrant was issued to the Keeper of the Gate House, London, “to take into custody the person of Touret for corresponding with the King’s enemies.”[71] Touret was a native of France but had been living in England without means. As noted by one Monsieur Delheure, he “always held Touret in suspicion for calling himself his nephew, and for being in England without employment, not being a person who could live on his income, and had therefore avoided his company as dangerous to the State. Has heard [sic] Touret say that if his uncle Groseilliers were in service of the States of Holland, he would be more considered than here, where his merits are not recognised, and that if his discovery were under the protection of Holland, all would go better with him.”[72]

            The character of Touret is not important, but what is important is that there was sufficient interest generated by the Dutch to send an emissary to their enemy at the time, which was not missed by some high-ranking men of power within the British establishment. It could only serve to help and strengthen the Frenchmen’s cause.

            The Dutch made an assault on England and prevented the ship earmarked for the Hudson’s Bay campaign from leaving in 1667. The Hollanders blocked the Thames River and so the departure was put forward for another year. Presumably it was during this year, the second year Radisson and Groseilliers were in England while he lived in the castle of the King of Great Britain, when Radisson wrote up his adventures from his experiences.

            He also prepared for the journey to Hudson’s Bay, securing supplies and mapping out the route. The war with the Dutch raged and gave him more time to prepare and write. It is noted that both the Dutch and the French made attempts to sail to Hudson’s Bay to establish a fur-trading fort with the native tribes of the north but both were unsuccessful. The colonizing nations of Europe were now aware of the potential riches that lay northwest of New France and all were eager to be the first to stake their claim. The race for the furs of the north was now very much on, as well as the race to find the Northwest Passage.

            It was Prince Rupert, son of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I, who was the one who believed that the venture would be profitable and good for England.[73] The English Ambassador to France arranged the meeting between Radisson and Groseilliers and the prince. It was Prince Rupert who arranged financing of the trip with several noblemen and gentlemen, who were to become the founders and executive board of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Two ships were procured: the “Eaglet” and the “Nonsuch.” But again due to the continuing war with the Dutch, and the various ongoing currents within England (such as the Bubonic Plague and the fallout from the Great Fire of London), the voyage was to take place in the year 1668 during the third year of the Frenchmen living in Britain.

Chapter Forty

First Journey into Hudson’s Bay

             “The thirde yeare wee went out with a new company in 2 small vessells, my Brother in one and I in another, and wee went together 400 leagues[74] from the North of Ireland, where a sudden great storme did rise and put us asunder. The sea was soe furious 6 or 7 houres after that it did almost overturne our ship, so that wee were forced to cut our masts rather then cutt our lives; but wee came back safe, God be thanked, and the other, I hope, is gone on his voyage, God be with him.”[75] The journey, which departed Gravesend in Britain on June 3, is recorded by a number of chroniclers and thus it is well known that Radisson’s ship – the Eaglet – turned back to England because of the fierce storm, but the Nonsuch with Groseilliers aboard, made it to the bay of the north after four months. There, the English under the guidance of Groseilliers, established a fort they called Charles Fort on a river they called Rupert River in James Bay, named after Prince Rupert. The captain of the ship “Nonsuch” was Zechariah Gillam, who recorded in the ship’s log: “[We] passed thro Hudson’s Streights, and then into Baffin’s Bay to 75 deg. North, and thence Southwards into 51 deg., where, in a river afterwards called Prince Rupert river, He[76] had a friendly correspondence with the natives, built a Fort, named it Charles Fort,[77] and returned with Success.”[78] The fort consisted of a log house and an underground storage for beer and meat as well as a stockade for ammunition and guns.

There, on James Bay, they established something called “a League of Friendship” with the Cree peoples, something that was based in local tradition that Groseilliers knew from his previous travels with Radisson. It was designed to foster good relations between the European traders and the local natives in the area, which established an official trading partnership. The crew stayed the winter, capitalizing on Groseilliers’ experience in the New World’s harsh winters. They hunted for food to store for the winter. Soon the spring arrived and with it about 300 local natives to trade.

            About the disappointment of this voyage for Radisson, he writes: “I hope to embarke myselfe by the helpe of God this fourth yeare, and I beseech him to grant me Grace and to make me partaker of that everlasting happinesse which is the onely thing a man ought to look after.”[79] Radisson, back in England, had to wait until the following year to undertake another journey to northern Canada.

            During the summer of 1669 Radisson waited patiently for the safe return of his brother-in-law and the news of their success. On October 10, the Nonsuch docked in the harbor with more than 1300kg worth of furs. Despite the fact that the net profits of the journey were negligible, it proved that quality furs could be obtained from the north via Hudson’s Bay and that with further preparations and more men and more forts, the fur trade could very well become a lucrative trade. With the Legue of Friendship established by Groseilliers, the future of trade in the north became a beacon of hope for British investors, many of whom were devastated and tired of the fires and plague in London. These investors that chose to put their money into this enterprise soon became known as “the Company of Adventurers.”

            When Gillam and Groseilliers returned, Radisson and Groseilliers applied to the king for a royal charter. As Captain Gillam recorded in his journals, the Frenchmen “applied themselves to Charles II. for a patent, who granted one to them and their successors for the Bay called Hudson’s Streights.”[80] The King of England furnished the patent that has the date of “the 2d of May, in the twenty-second year of Charles II., 1670.” In this charter it stated that Prince Rupert and 17 others would be “the true and absolute Lordes and Proprietors of the territory.” The name of this new company was the Hudson’s Bay Company, and it had as its original three goals: to find a passage to the west, to explore for minerals, and to trade for furs. The Hudson’s Bay Company gave the Company of Adventurers a trade monopoly over the entire drainage basin of Hudson Bay. The company would soon control 3,848,722 square kilometers, an area that is roughly 40 percent of the size of modern-day Canada. For many years it was called Rupert’s Land.

Chapter Forty-one

Employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company

            There is a period of about 15 years where there is no direct record of Radisson’s exploits as recorded by his own hand. From his aborted journey to Hudson’s Bay in 1668 until the year 1682, when he has changed his allegiance back to the French, there is no account. However, the events of his life are quite well known by historians as it is during this time that he became intimately connected to important events in history. Gone are the detailed descriptions of his life among the fierce Mohawks during his captivity and the valuable adventures inland that stand alone in their accuracy and importance as the first contact between Europeans and the North American Indians.

            This present work follows as closely as possible the events of Radisson’s life as recorded in his journals because his journals are the best source of information about his life and travels, so this period of his life lacks the personal insights and detail that characterize the previous chapters. This being said, the events of his life during this 15-year period do not pale in comparison in their importance or degree of daring as his earlier adventures. Indeed the same fervor and courage that served him throughout his young life are still employed with the same zeal as before except the events are larger and more significant, as if they’re being played out on the world stage.

            It is clear that the events of the day, such as the race for control of the New World, were directly affected by Radisson’s ambitions, both for profit and for the establishment of relations between the native tribes on North America and the Europeans. It is as if nationalism, whether it be French or English, did not matter as much to him as it did to go forth and be the first to build a fort in the untamed wilderness of the north. For Radisson, adventure was its own reward rather than patriotism or profit. He was not ignorant of their importance in his own life as they were used as underwriters for him to make these journeys and to achieve these feats that still boggle the mind of men to this day.

            One such manuscript from the time describes the events of the founding of Hudson’s Bay, which is described as “an answer of the Hudson’s Bay Company to a French paper entitled Mamoriall justifeing the pretensions of France to Fort Bourbon.”[81] The British captain Gillam writes:

          The French in this paper carrying their pretended right of Discovery and settlement no higher then the year 1682, and their being dispossessed in 1684. Wee shall briefly shew what sort of possession that was, and how those two actions were managed. Mr. Radisson, mentioned in the said paper to have made this settlement for the French at Port Nelson in 1682, was many years before settled in England, and marryed an English wife, Sir John Kirke’s daughter, and engaged in the interest and service of the English upon private adventure before as well as after the Incorporation of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1667, when Prince Rupert and other noblemen set out two shipps, Radisson went in the Eagle, Captain Stannard commander, and in that voyage the name of Rupert’s River was given. Again in 1668 and in 1669, and in this voyage directed his course to Port Nelson, and went on shore with one Bayly (designed Governor for the English), fixed the King of England’s arms there, and left some goods for trading. In 1671 three ships were set out from London by the Hudson’s Bay Company, then incorporated, and Radisson went in one of them in their service, settled Moose River, and went to Port Nelson, where he left some goods, and wintered at Rupert’s River. In 1673, upon some difference with the Hudson’s Bay Company, Radisson returned into France and was there persuaded to go to Canada. He formed severall designs of going on private accounts for the French into Hudson’s Bay, which the Governor, Monsr. Frontenac, would by no means permit, declaring it would break the union between the two Kings.”[82]

            Gillam, in answering the question of French possessions in Hudson’s Bay, gives us a basic overview of the events and exploits of Radisson during this time. It mentions Radisson wintering at Fort Charles at Rupert River, and his establishing other trading posts, such as the one at Moose River[83] and Port Nelson.[84] And it brings up his “difference” with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which is significant. In 1674, Radisson and Groseilliers wanted to explore farther but the HBC wouldn’t let them. Radisson told his nephew that the cause of their discontent was a “refusal that showed the bad intention of the Hudson’s Bay Company to satisfy us.” They met a French priest who convinced them to represent France. After four years with the HBC, they left the Company of Adventurers and went back to France where the King of France, Louis XIV, forgave them for working with the English. The French asked that they return to New France and try to take possession of those British trading posts for France. The governor of New France did not support this venture and thus began a new round of trouble for the Frenchmen.

            Despite this return to the French, Radisson remained married to the daughter of Sir John Kirke he had married in 1673, despite the fact that she refused to move out of the British Isles. In effect, Radisson and Groseilliers were now at war with the British and aimed to take control of the forts they had helped to build.

            When Radisson recounted in his journals the years between 1668 to 1682, he gave his own version of why these events transpired. He stated that he and his brother-in-law undertook several voyages “for the Gentlemen conserned in the Hudson’s Bay Trade, relating to the Comers of Bever skins,” but that they did have “just cause of dissattisfaction” to make them “retire into France.”[85] In Radisson’s own words:

          I have no cause to believe that I in the least deserve to bee taxed with lightness or inconstancy for the Imployments wherein I since ingaged, although they were against the Interests of the said Company, for it is sufficiently known that my Brother nor myself omitted nothing that lay in our power, having both of us severall times adventur’d our lives, and did all that was possible for Persons of courage and Honour to perform for the advantage and profit of the said Company, ever since the yeare 1665 unto the yeare 1674. But finding that all our advise was slighted and rejected, and the Council of the other persons imbrac’d and made use of, which manifestly tended to the ruin of the settlement of the Beaver Trade, and that on all occasions wee were look’d upon as useless persons, that deserved neither reward nor incouragement, this unkinde usage made us at last take a resolution, though with very great reluctancy, to return back into France; for in the maine it is well knowne that I have a greater inclination for the Interest of England that for that of ffrance, being marry’d at London unto an Honorable family, whos alliance had also the deeper ingadged me in the intrest of the Nation.[86]

            It is more of his characteristic understatement here that rings true because he did risk his life several times on voyages to Hudson’s Bay and in the establishment of forts in the north. But the most revealing statement in this passage that explains these years is the apparent lack of respect and appreciation he received from the British. Perhaps it was his years among the North American Indians that had given him such a sensitive meter with respect to fair treatment by others for the sacrifice and courage he expended in the achievement of his adventures. To feel used is a natural reaction when others blatantly don’t give back the respect deserved at the end of an arduous journey.

This treatment was manifest also in the lack of remuneration he and Groseilliers received from the HBC. Indeed finances were part of the lure back to France. Radisson recounts: “At the time my Brother-in-Law and I were dissatisfy’d with the Hudson’s Bay Company, wee were severall times invited by the late Monsieur Colbert to return back for france, with large promises that wee should bee very kindly entertain’d. Wee refused a great while all the offers that were made us; but seeing our businesse went wors and wors with the company, without any likelihood of finding any better usage, at last wee accepted the offer that was made unto us, of paying us 400 Lewi-Dors redy money, of discharging all our Debts, and to give us good Employments. These conditions being agreed upon, wee passed over into france in Xber, 1674.”[87] The fact that Radisson had debts is revealing in that the company was most likely showing some profits even at this point in its young existence. Being used and underpaid played heavily on the two Frenchmen so the move back to the country of their birth can be understood.

            This is the first mention by Radisson of his marriage to his British wife, which undoubtedly made this move more complicated for him. Radisson married for the second time sometime between 1666 and 1673 to the daughter of Sir John Kirke, one of the original founders of the Hudson’s Bay Company. According to record, Sir John Kirke subscribed 300 pounds to the common stock in 1670, and was therefore one of the seven members of the committee of management of the company. Many years later, when Radisson retired on a small pension from the HBC, it is very likely that his father-in-law was instrumental in getting him a permanent pension of 1200 livres a year.

            Radisson regrets the trouble and pain caused to her by his defection back to France: “…all my friends know the tender love I had for my wife, and that I declared unto them how much I was troubled in being reduced to the necessity of leaving her.”[88]

Chapter Forty-two

Joining the French Navy

            Radisson and Groseilliers’ return back to France included its share of rebukes and resistance. When they arrived in Paris they were greeted by a Monsieur Colbert who “reproached us for preferring the English Intrest before that of ffrance; but having heard our defence, and observ’d by what wee said unto him of our discoverys in the Northern parts of America, and of the acquaintance wee had with the Natives, how fit wee might bee for his purpos, hee soon assur’d us of his favor and protection, and also of the King’s pardon for what was past, with an intire restoration unto the same state wee were in before wee left france, upon condition that wee should employ our care and industry for the advancement and increas of the comers of the Beaver Trade in the French Collonies in Canada.”[89] They each received 400 pieces of gold and had their debts paid off, as well as had letters of pardon and restoration from King Louis XIV “to employ the greatest of our skill and industry with the natives, for the utility and advancement of the Beaver Trade in the french Collonies.”[90] But this employment was not to come.

Problems with employment stemmed from Radisson’s marriage to the daughter of Sir John Kirke. The French were suspicious of her remaining in England. And they were aware that she was the daughter of one of the founders of the company that they were now competing against through the use and application of Pierre Radisson. Monsieur Colbert made many excuses as time passed until he was confronted. Finally it was suggested to Radisson that he should bring his wife to France, but he could only say that it was not in his power to force her to move to France. He told Colbert that her father prohibited her from leaving the country so there was very little he could do. Colbert made it clear that in order to have the full confidence of the French, he must try everything in his power to have her move from England otherwise there would be resistance to his full acceptance to the French side.

In the meantime Colbert asked Radisson and Groseilliers to return to Canada to present themselves to the Count de Frontinac, the Governor of New France. Monsieur Colbert wrote a letter to the Governor of France on their behalf asking Governor Frontinac how best to utilize the two returning Frenchmen to expand French power and control in the growing fur trade. 

Their reception in Quebec was not as rosy as it was in Paris. There was jealousies and resentments against both of them for many knew what they had done with the British at the expense of the French in the New World. “Wee found that jelosy and interest which some Persons had over those that had the absolute command, at that time, of the Trade in Canada, and whos Creatures were Imploy’d for new Discoverys, ordered things so that the Count de Frontinac, the Governor, took no care to perform what wee had ben promis’d hee should have done for us; so that finding myself slighted, I left my Brother-in-Law with his family in Canada, and returned back again for France, intending to serve at sea in the fleet.

It is here when the two intrepid adventurers part for a lengthy period of time, with the elder Groseilliers understandably exhausted and desiring to remain with his family in Three Rivers. Radisson however, who was desirous of nothing but new things, made no scruple about further exploring the world and joining the French navy. As incredible as it sounds, he did join the navy and sailed for many years to far-off French colonies, which included French Guinea and the Island of Tobaga.[91] Radisson skips over these years in his journals, but in his usual understatement he mentions another brush with death when “wee suffer’d shippwreck at the Isle D’ane, from which being escaped, I returned with the rest of the Army unto Brest, in the moneth of July, having lost all my Equipage in this disaster.”[92]

Having survived shipwreck with the French fleet, the Vice Admiral and the “Intendant” wrote to court in his favor and “upon the good character they were pleas’d to give of me, I receav’d a gratuity of 100 Louis D’ors[93] upon the King’s account, to renew my Equipage.” Granted reimbursement and being told if he were to remain in the navy that he may one day have the command of his own man of war, he decided instead to ask permission to return to England to try to have his wife move to France. He didn’t want to put in the time necessary for him to become captain of a ship in the French navy, so instead he wanted to maximize his chances of lucrative employment by importing his wife from England. He was given permission to travel to England for this endeavor and was even given a further 100 gold pieces to cover the expenses of his voyage. In all, Radisson served four years with the French navy.

He arrived in London on July 4th, 1679 and immediately met with his father-in-law to discuss the order of business. Under no circumstances would Sir John Kirke part with his daughter to France no matter what Radisson said. He argued that only with her would he be able to earn his fortune that awaited him if he could only bring his wife to France. Instead he asked Radisson to write to his friends in France concerning some outstanding business he had with some French officials over in New France. It was old business[94] but still unresolved, and with a sum in the neighborhood of 34,000 pounds, it was important that it was dealt with. Radisson agreed to do this on his behalf.

Radisson also took the opportunity to visit the “Gentlemen” at the Hudson’s Bay Company to see if they wanted his services again, but much to his disappointment he was not wanted. “I found no likelyhood of effecting what I so much desir’d, therefore I return’d into France and arrived at Brest the 12th of 8ber, 1679.”[95] He told the Vice Admiral of what had transpired in England and was instructed to give an account to his patron the Marquis De Signelay of the old business still outstanding with Sir John Kirke. This was most unfortunate for Radisson as he was told by the Marquis that “hee knew very well what an Inclination I had still for the English Intrest, saying with all that I must not expect any confidence should bee put in mee, nor that I shold not have the least Imployment, whilst my wife stay’d in England.”[96] As long as his English wife remained in the British Isles, he was “revil’d.”

Despite this the Marquis agreed to speak to his father, Monsieur Colbert, regarding Radisson’s affairs, who in due course reiterated more or less the same sentiments as the Marquis. He was ordered to discuss his situation with Monsieur Bellinzany, his chief agent of trade, who would “farther inform me of his intentions.”[97] Bellinzany was the one who could best instruct Radisson on how he could contribute to the betterment of France, and in particular “to make the best advantage of our Discoveries and intreagues in the Northern parts of Canada, to advancing the Beaver Trade, and as much as possible might bee to hinder all strangers from driving that trade to the prejudice of the French Collonies.”[98]

In Paris he met with Monsieur Bellinzany, who reiterated what had been said to Radisson by Colbert. It was agreed with Chesneau that the best course of service was to use “all my skill and industry in drawing all the natives of thos Northern parts of America to traffick with and to favor the French, and to hinder and dissuade them from trading with strangers, assuring me of a great reward for the servis I should render the state upon this account, and that Mr. De La Chesiiay[99] would furnish me in Cannada [sic] with all things necessary for executing what dessignes wee should conclude upon together to this intent.”[100]

After this discussion with Bellinzany, Radisson visited with Monsieur Chesneau who was in Paris. “Wee discours’d a long time together, and after severall inquiry’s of the state of the countrys that I had most frequented, having communicated unto him my observations, hee propos’d unto me to understake to establish a treaty for the Beaver trade in the Great Bay[101] where I had ben some years before upon the account of the English.” They talked for two days after which it was decided that Radisson once more should go to England to bring his bride to France and “also at the same time to inform myself what shipps the Hudson Bay Company intended to fit out for those parts.”[102] Despite this second job of spying on the company he helped found, Radisson still hoped for a sympathetic reception by those running the company. “I performed this second voyage for England with remainder of hopes to find the Gentlemen of the Company something better inclin’d towards me than thay had ben formerly; but whether they then looked upon me as wholly unnecessary for their purpos, or as one that was altogether unable to doe them any harm, I was sufferr’d to come away without receaving the least token of kindnesse. All the satisfaction I had in the voyadge was that Prince Rupert was pleas’d to tell me that hee was very sorry my offers of servis was so much slighted.”[103]

Radisson resolved to keep his chin up and not be dejected at this coldness, and returned to France only to find that Monsieur Chesneau had departed Paris for New France. Not to be deterred, Radisson took it upon himself to travel to the New World again to track him down and put this previously discussed plan into action. He thus talked to Monsieur Colbert and informed him of his plans. Colbert approved of what he was planning to do in the service of France and told him to be careful in its execution. Radisson then went to the Society of Jesuits at Paris. They had an interest in the beaver trade in the New World as well and therefore supplied him with the funds for his trip back to North America. He took a ship at Rochell and arrived in Quebec on “the 25th of 7ber, 1682.”[104]

Chapter Forty-three

Loyal to the French Back in New France

            Upon his arrival on French shores in the New World, Radisson promptly found Monsieur Chesneau, who was happy to see him again. There in Quebec they reaffirmed their plans to establish trade in the north. But Radisson’s history with the governor in New France was to soon prove an obstacle once again. Chesneau, who was “privy unto the Court Intrigues, and fully acquainted with the mesures wee were to use in this enterprize, hee took me along with him unto the Governor’s house, and ingadg’d me to demand his assistance and such orders as wee should stand in need of from him [sic] for the carrying on our Dessigne. But the Governor spake unto us in a way as if hee approved not of the businesse; whereupon La Chesnay demanded a Pass for me to return back unto Europ by the way of New England, in a vessel belonging to the Governor of Accadia, which was at that instant at Quebeck, and redy to saile in some short time.”[105]

            Once the formalities were over, Chesneau and Radisson focused their efforts to ready the boat and prepare for a journey not to Europe but to the north to undertake their designs of establishing a dominant French presence around Hudson Bay for the purposes of trading for beaver pelts. It was agreed that of all the beaver acquired on the voyage north Radisson would keep one-quarter of it all as profit “for my care and paines, and the danger I expos’d myself unto in making the setlement.”[106]

Groseilliers, who was still in Quebec, was called upon to come along in their voyage north, and he was also given a similar deal in profit sharing. But the Governor, who appeared to be showing his own power of governing in his own realm, insisted that three men accompany Radisson on his mission because he doubted that he was going to return to Europe. Knowing that Radisson was headstrong and believed so thoroughly in his vision of establishing a profitable trading settlement in the north, the governor was correct in his belief that his ship would be used to go north rather than back east. The Governor chose to ignore the true purpose of insisting that three men be crew on the ship, instead stating that these men were there to help on the voyage rather than to report back to him of what the rogue Radisson did.

Radisson, ever aware of such intrigues, chose as one of these men a kinsman of his own: John Baptista Des Groseilliers. He knew the man as fluent in many native tongues and a man well-versed in the ways and culture of the natives of Canada. He provided 500 pounds of his own money for the voyage and thus showed his belief and conviction in the enterprise. The other crew consisted of Peter Allmand who was the pilot[107] of the ship, and John Baptista Godfry who was also fluent in native languages.

The ship left Quebec on the 4th of September, 1682 on the “Governor of Accady’s vessel, having my orders to bee redy the Spring following, at the L’isle perse, hallow Isle, at the entrance of the River Saint Lawrence, unto which place La Chesnay was to send me a vessel well Equipp’d and fitted according to agreement for Executing the dessigne.”[108] After arriving on the island on November 26th, Radisson and his crew of three wintered on the island.

In the spring the vessel reached the harbor there but was not as good as was promised. The ship was “only an old Barque of about 50 Tunns with an Equippage but of 12 men, thos with me being comprised in the number.”[109] It was easy to be discouraged but with the arrival of Groseilliers and 15 men in a ship of 30 tons carrying much-needed equipment and goods for the trip north, they jointly resolved to persevere in their enterprise and prepare as well as they could, which included convincing the crew that the ship was worthy to travel 900 leagues north in “boisterous seas” where there was also the hazard of floating ice. Radisson and Groseilliers prevailed and the crew, seeing how dedicated and expert they were in preparations and know how, consented to join them to Hudson’s Bay.

The two Frenchmen agreed to follow each other as closely as they could up the northeast shores of Labrador to the Hudson Strait, and so they departed on July 11th, 1683.

Chapter Forty-four

Journey to Hudson’s Bay for France

After only 11 days at sea, having just past the straits along the eastern shores of Newfoundland, the crew on Groseilliers’ ship mutinied. They refused to put themselves in such obvious danger as they passed ice flows that could very easily wreck their small ship. They also didn’t like the notion of “ingadging in unknown countreys where they might be reduced to want Provisions in the Winter.”[110] Radisson and Groseilliers had to use all their skills at persuasion to change their minds, using threats and promises. Their cause was helped by the sighting of another ship at 57 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude on the coast of Labrador. It was a sighting that caused them to come together to protect them from being overtaken since they were not equipped to withstand an attack should the other vessel be a British ship.

The sail of this other vessel turned towards them but Radisson and Groseilliers had previously agreed not to stop until they had reached Hudson Straits so they tacked and “recover’d under the shoar, and so out of Danger.” The ship didn’t follow them to the shore and they lost sight of it about two hours before nightfall.

There was still a lot of ice flowing south so they retired for the night in a harbor to avoid it. They took advantage of this stop to get some fresh water “and some other Provisions at the Coast of the Indians called Esquimos, the most cruell of all the salvages [sic] when they meet an advantage to surprize Persons. Neverthelese, they came to our ship side, and traded with us for some hundred of Woolf skins.”[111] They stayed there in the harbor for two days during which time there was another mutiny, the men refusing to go any farther north.

“I pacify’d the seditious, and having put to sea I order’d our men to preserve the Wood and Water wee had taken on board the best they could, for my Brother-in-Law and I had resolved not to goe a shoare until wee had gain’d our Port, unless wee were chased. Taking advantage of favorable winds, they reached Hudson’s Strait where they sailed west along the north shore where there was a lot of ice. Being so far north and relatively close to turning south for Hudson’s Bay, they were able to hunt a polar bear but it caused some hardship for the crew. Radisson writes: “Some of my Seamen kill’d a white Beare of Extraordinary bigness. They eat of it to such excess that they all fell Extremely sick with head akes and looseness, that I thought they would have dyed out. I was forc’d to give my Brother notice of this accident, and to desire his assistance, so that by takeing Orvietan and sweating they escaped that Danger, but all their skin pell’d off. Wee were inform’d by the Indians that those white Bears have a Poison in the Liver, that diffuses itself through the whole mass of the body, which occasions these distempers unto thos that eat of them.”[112] From his description it can be deduced that Radisson did not eat the bear meat and thus was left unaffected by this affliction, but to lose his crew to such food poisoning would of course have dire consequences for his ship and his survival.

During this time when his men were sick and their skin was peeling off, Radisson and Groseilliers passed Mile Island[113] at the western point of the Hudson Strait and then went northwest from there eight leagues in six hours towards what Radisson calls Cape Henry.[114] There was still floating ice that provided a severe risk of shipwreck, “but God was pleas’d to preserve us.”[115] The ice posed such a threat that Groseilliers stayed behind and let Radisson go forth in the dangerous waters west to the western shores of Hudson’s Bay. Radisson landed on the shore on August 26th, 1683 at the entrance of a river called “Kakivvakiona”[116] by the local Indians. This river and the subsequent settlement is now known as York Factory located at the mouth of the Nelson River.

It should be pointed out here that Radisson and his crew were likely the first Europeans on the western shores of Hudson Bay and at this point in history, the first white men to have gone this far west anywhere in the New World. Historians are in agreement that Radisson and Groseilliers were the first Europeans to reach the western shores of Lake Superior and across the Mississippi River, so when one looks closely at a map you can see that they were – in effect – breaking their own record of going the farthest west of any European in the New World. York Factory is actually in present-day Manitoba, which is just west of the farthest western shores of Lake Superior and the cities of Duluth and St. Paul in Minnesota. Furthermore, this new trading post represented the first established fort for the French in the lucrative northwest, and symbolized the growing conflict between the British and the French for control of what would become Rupert’s Land, roughly 40 percent of the size of modern Canada.

Radisson was 47 years old when he founded York Factory and chose the spot to build the fort. The remains of the original fort can still be seen today although years later a very impressive fort was built across the Nelson River by the British.

In his own words, Radisson described the first tasks of establishing a settlement: “Being enter’d into this River, our first care was to finde a convenient place where to secure our vessells, and to build us a House. Wee sailed up the River about 15 miles, and wee stop’t at a litle Canall, whrein [sic] wee lay our veseells, finding the place convenient to reside at.”[117] On this spot Radisson assigned Groseilliers to lead the building of a house while he and his nephew and one more from his crew took a canoe up the river to look for the local Indians.

In typical Radisson style, they paddled up the river prepared once again to encounter a race of men who had never seen a European before. (The Nelson River is substantially more north than the Albany River to the south that also leads into Hudson’s Bay from Lake Superior). Armed with pistols and rifles, they traveled 40 leagues over eight days without seeing anyone. They paddled up the river through the dense woods without even seeing any sign of human settlements or evidence of human habitation. They only saw pure forest untouched by man. They did see many signs of trees being gnawed at by industrious beavers. So they hunted deer and kept moving west-southwest up the Nelson River. On the eighth day they spotted an Indian who was alone following a deer he was hunting. Radisson and his two mates were reposed on a small island where their canoe was overturned by the water’s edge. From the distance the Indian took them as being from his own tribe and so “hee whistled to give notice of the Beast,[118] that pass’d by to the litle Island not farr off from us. My nephew having first spyed the Indian, told me of it, not mynding the Deere. I presently went to the water side and called the Indian, who was a good while before hee spake, and then said hee understood me not, and presently run away into the woods.”[119]

Radisson was happy to have seen the Indian and was hopeful to meet more to establish good relations for trade, but he was nonetheless cautious that evening as he stayed on guard all night. Early the next morning he moved their canoe to the other side of the water for a quicker get away if need be, and then he built a fire about 100 paces away from where they hid waiting for Indians to appear. Sure enough they spotted nine canoes coming towards them at the point of the little island they were on. Using his experience in such matters, Radisson stood and yelled to them, demanding to know who they were. The approaching natives gave him a friendly reply.

Then Radisson “told them the cause of my coming into their country, and who I was. One of the eldest of them, armed with his lance, bows and arrows, etc., etc., rose up and took an arrow from his Quiver, making a signe from East to West and from North to South, broke it in 2 peeces, and flung it into the River, addressing himself to his companions, saying to this purpos: ‘Young men, bee not afraid; the Sun is favorable unto us. Our ennemys shall feare us, for this is the man that we have wished for ever since the dayes of our fathers.’ After which they all swimed a shore unto me, and coming out of their cannos I invited them unto my Fier.”[120] This must be a unique account of the first meeting between two races of humankind in the Canadian north. Radisson’s poise and calm in this situation was marked by how he remained cool when the chief Indian took his arrow from his quiver. Instead of alarm or shooting first, he waited for the elder to finish his greeting. Establishing peace and understanding at the outset was, needless to say, profound in how it saved lives from warfare and ultimately improved the lives of both races through trade for many years to come.

Radisson’s nephew and the other man were not as accepting and poised as Radisson as they stayed 10 paces away from the Indians, who were well armed.

“Who is your chief commander?” he asked the natives. The man he asked was the chief, who bowed his head.

“He who you are talking to is the chief,” answered a native standing beside him.

Radisson recounts:

“Then I took him by the hand, and making him sit downe, I spoke unto him according to the genius of the Indians, unto whom, if one wall bee esteemed, it is necessary to bragg of one’s vallour, of one’s strength and ablnesse to succour and protect them from their Ennemyes. They must also bee made believe that one is wholly for their Intrest and have a great complesance for them, espetially in making them presents. This amongst them is the greatest band of friendship. I would at this first enterview make myself known.”[121]

Radisson, who was sitting beside the chief, spoke to him in the chief’s own language.

“I know all the Earth; your friends shall bee my friends; and I am come hether to bring you arms to destroy your Ennemys. You nor your wife nor children shall not dye of hunger, for I have brought Merchandize. Bee of good cheere; I will bee thy sonn, and I have brought thee a father; hee is yonder below building a fort, where I have 2 great shipps. You must give me 2 or 3 of your Canoos that your people may go visit your father.”

The chief replied with a long speech, thanking Radisson for his friendship and assuring him that he and all his nation would venture their lives in his service. Then, as per custom, Radisson gave the chief some tobacco and pipes. When he saw that they had a crude piece of flat iron to cut the tobacco, Radisson asked to see the piece of iron and then flung it into the fire. They were all surprised at this but were further confused when Radisson appeared to be weeping. Radisson went through this act and dried his tears as they all watched him, and then told them all he was very much grieved to see his brothers so ill provided for.

“You will want for nothing while I am with you,” he said to the Indians.

He took his sword that he had by his side and gave it to the man who had given him the piece of iron. Then Radisson took a bundle from his canoe that was full of knives and distributed them among them. He made them smoke and he gave them some food. Then, as Radisson wrote in his journal:

“Whilst they were eating, I set forth the presents I brought them, amongst the rest a fowling-peece,[122] with some powder and shot for their chief commander. I told him, in presenting him with it, I took him for my Father; hee in like manner took me to bee his sonn in covering me with his gowne. I gave him my blanket, which I desired him to carry unto his wife as a token from me, intending shee should bee my mother. Hee thanked me, as also did the rest, to the number of 26, who in testimony of their gratitude cast their garments at my feete and went to their canoos and brought all the furr Skins they had; after which ceremonys wee parted.”[123]

The Indians promised to bring three canoes to Radisson before noon, which they did. And they filled them full of beaver pelts and various other skins. Radisson and his two-man company left along the river with the Indians for the fort at the mouth of the Nelson River, where they arrived on the 12th of September much to the delight and happiness of Groseilliers and his crew. Relations with the Indians were well established after this initial meeting.

Chapter Forty-five

Encountering the New Englanders

            It was the same day as they returned to camp and had met with Groseilliers and the remaining crew at the mouth of the Nelson River that they heard the “Great Gunns” of a ship. The accompanying natives with Radisson were curious of what the sound was so Radisson told them that it was the sounds of some of their ships that were three or four leagues in the distance. But “being desirous to bee sattisfyed what it should mean,” Radisson went alone in his canoe to the mouth of the river but didn’t see anything so he thought that he had only imagined the sound. Only later that night, after he had rejoined the group at the new settlement on the Nelson River, were they able to confirm another firing of the great guns. This time Radisson and three men left in canoes to make the discovery. Radisson and his group traveled the dangerous River Kawirinagaw[124] where they saw from a distance a tent on an island. Radisson writes in his own words what then happened:

“I sent one of my men privately to see what it was. He came back soon after and told me they were building a House and that there was a ship; wherupon I approached as neere as I could without being discovered, and set myself with my men as it were in ambush [sic], to surprize some of thos that were there and to make them prisoners to know what or who they might bee. I was as wary as might be, and spent the whole night very neere the place where the Hous stood, without seeing anybody stir or speak until about noon next day, and then I see they were English, and drawing nearer them the better to observe them, I return’d to my canoo with my men. Wee shewed ourselves a Cannon-shott off and stayed as if wee had ben salvages that wonder’d to see anybody there building a House. It was not long before wee were discover’d, and they hollowed unto us, inviting us to goe unto them, pronouncing some words in the Indian tongue, which they Read in a Book. But seeing wee did not come unto them, they came unto us along the shoare, and standing right opposite unto us, I spoke unto them in the Indian tongue and in French, but they understood me not; but at last asking them in English who they were and what they intended to so there, they answer’d they were English men come hether to trade for Beaver.”[125]

Being in such a remote location in the world and with virtually no previous European exploration on the west side of the Hudson’s Bay, it is a strange scene when Radisson then asks the Englishmen who have granted them permission to trade beaver so far north in the great bay of the north, and what commission they had for it. They English said that they had no commission and that they were from New England.

“We have settled here in this country before you for the French Company, and that we have sufficient strength to hinder you from trading,” Radisson said. “We have a fort seven leagues off. I came out here only because I thought your guns were that of a French ship we are expecting here to a river farther north. Furthermore, there are the two ships up river from here that I and my brother commanded, so I think it’s in your best interest to leave from here in your ship and be gone.”

As he spoke to the assembled group of Englishmen on the shore, Radisson’s canoe came very close to the water’s edge and it was then that he recognized the captain of the ship as the son of Captain Guillem that he had sailed with in 1668 on their ill-fated journey to the Hudson’s Bay in the Nonsuch. As soon as Captain Guillem saw that it was the same Pierre Radisson, he was invited to ashore.

I came accordingly, & wee imbraced each other. Hee invited me on board his ship to treat me. I would not seem to have any distrust, but having precaution’d myself went along with him. I caus’d my 3 men to come out of my canoo & to stay ashore with 2 Englishmen whilest I went on board with the Captain.[126]

When Radisson stepped onto the ship, the New England Interloper, he saw they had arranged for some English colours to be set up and the great guns were to be fired.

“It is not needful to shoot any more, fearing leat my men might be alarmed and might do some mischief,” said Radisson.

“Well then why don’t we endeavor to trade with the Indians together?” asked the young captain Guillem.

“I will acquaint my officers of it,” replied Radisson, “and I will use my endeavor to get their consent that you should pass the winter where you will not receive any prejudice, the season being too far past to be gone away. You might continue to build your house without any need of fortifications.”

“Why?” asked Guillem.

“I will secure you from any danger on the part of the Indians, over whom I have absolute sway.”

Before parting Radisson informed Guillem of precisely the number of men he would be attended by when he came to visit him next, giving him to understand that if he came with more men than what was agreed between them, it would be a sure sign his officers had not consented to the proposal of trading together.

Finally, before leaving the captain, Radisson clarified a few points to Guillem.

“I advise you not to fire any guns, and don’t go out of the island for fear of meeting the Frenchmen that I had in the woods. Don’t blame me for any accident that might ensue if you do not follow my advice. Also, the savages have informed me that my ship has arrived to the northwards, so I promise to come visit you again in 15 days and I will tell you farther.”

The captain was very thankful and told Radisson to be mindful of him after which they separated very well satisfied with each other. Radisson was convinced that Guillem believed he had the strength he spoke of. So Radisson resolved to hold the young Captain Guillem to his opinion while at the same time desiring that he be gone. If Guillem persisted to interrupt his trade, Radisson would seize his ship which was a lawful prize since Guillem hade no commission from England or France.

But I would not attempt anything rashly, for fear of missing my ayme; especially I would avoide spilling blood.

Being returned with my men on board my Canoo, wee fell down the River with what hast wee could; but wee were scarce gon three Leagues from the Island where the new England ship lay, but that wee discovered another ship under saile coming into the River. Wee got ashore to the southwards, & being gon out of the Canoo to stay for the ship that was sailing towards us, I caused a Fier to bee made; & the ship being over against us, shee came to Anchor & sent not her Boat ashore that night until next morning. Wee watched all night to observe what was don, & in the morning, seeing the long boat rowing towards us, I caused my 3 men, well armed, to stand at the entrance into the wood 20 paces from me, & I came alone to the water side.[127]

A governor of the Hudson Bay Company at that time was Mr. Bridgar, who happened to be on the ship.

Seeing the shallopp come towards me, I spake a kinde of jargon like that of the salvages, [sic] which signify’d nothing, only to amuse those in the boat or to make them speake, the better to observe them, & to see if there might bee any that had frequented the Indians & that spak their Languadge. All were silent; & the boat coming a ground 10 or 12 paces from me, seeing one of the seamen leap in the water to come a shore, I showed him my wepons, forbidding him to stir, telling him that none in the Boate should come a shore until I knew who they were; & observing by the make of the shipp & the habit of the sailors that they were English, I spake in their Languadge.[128]

The seamen who had leapt in the water and who Radisson had hindered to proceed any further, stood still as Radisson still postured in front of them with exposed weapons and said aloud:

“Governor, it is English they spake unto you.” Radisson continued to speak to Governor Bridgar in English, asking him: “Who are you? Who commands the ship? What do you seek here?”

“What has anybody to do to inquire?” someone answered. “We are English.”

“And I am French, and require you to be gone,” replied Radisson. At the same instant he made a sign to his men to appear, so they showed themselves at the entrance to the wood.

Those in the shallopp thinking in all likelihood wee were more in number, were about to have answer’d me in mild terms & to tell me they were of London, that the ship belong’d unto the Hudson Bay Company, & was Comanded by Capt Guillem. I inform’d them also who I was; that they came too late, & that I had taken possession of those parts in the name & behalf of the King of ffrance.

It is Captain Guillem senior – the same captain that Radisson sailed with on the Nonsuch.

The English asserted in strong terms that they had the right to come into these parts, while Radisson stood firm and spoke to the contrary. Then Governor Bridgar said he desired to come ashore with three of his crew to embrace him.

“I should be very well satisfied,” replied Radisson. After mutual salutations they spoke.

“Is this the River Kakiwakionay?”[129]

“No,” said Radisson. “It is not. That is farther to the southward. This river here is called Kawirinagau.”[130]

“Is it not the river where Sir Thomas Button, who commanded an English ship, had formerly wintered?”

“Yes, it was,” Radisson replied, pointing just northwards where he had stayed. That’s when the Governor asked him to go aboard. His crew tried to dissuade him, especially Radisson’s nephew. Using precaution, Radisson took two hostages from those with Bridgar, leaving them with his men. It wasn’t Bridgar he was worried about, it was Captain Guillem he was suspicious of because of his history with the Nonsuch and with the Hudson Bay Company. He was a man who sided with the Company against Radisson in London ten years ago.

I suspected Capt Guillem, having declared himself my Ennemy at London, being of the faction of those which were the cause that I deserted the English Intrest, I went aboard, & I did well to use this precaution, otherwise Capt Guillem would have stop’t me, as I was since inform’d; but all things past very well. Wee din’d together. I discoursed of my Establishment in the country; that I had good numbers of ffrench men in the woods with the Indians; that I had 2 shipps & expected another; that I was building a Fort; to conclude, all that I said unto young Guillem, Master of the New England shipp, I said the same unto Mr. Bridgar, & more too. He took all for currant,[131] & it was well for me hee was so credulous, for would hee have ben at the troble I was of traveling 40 leagues through woods and Brakes, & lye on the could[132] ground to make my Discoverys, hee wold soon have perceived my weakness. I had reason to hide it & to doe what I did. Morover, not having men sufficient to resist with open force, it was necessary to use policy. It’s true I had a great advantage in having the natives on my side, which was a great strength, & that indeed whereupon I most of all depended.

Having stay’d a good while on board I desir’d to go ashore, which being don, I made a signe to my men to bring the hostages, which they had carry’d into the woods. They brought them to the water side, & sent them aboard their ship. I confess I repented more than once of my going aboard. It was too rashly don, & it was happy for me that I got off as I did.[133]

During their discussions onboard, Radisson had promised Mr. Bridgar and Captain Guillem that he would return in 15 days to visit them again.

In the mean time, the better to bee assured of their proceedings, I stay’d 2 dayes in the Woods to observe their actions; and having upon the matter seen their designe, that they intended to build a Fort, I passed the River to the Southwards to return to my Brother-in-Law, who might well bee in some feare for me. But in coming unto him, hee was very glad of what had past, & of the good condition I had sett matters. Wee consulted together what measures to take not to be surpriz’d & to maintaine ourselves the best wee could in our settlement for carrying on our Treaty. Wee endeavor’d to secure the Indians, who promise’d to loose their lives for us; & the more to oblige them to our side I granted them my nephew and another Frenchman to goe with them into the country to make the severall sorts of Indians to come trafick with us, & the more, to incourage them I sent presents unto the chiefest of them.[134]

            Here, in one of the world’s most isolated locations, the French and the English were staring at one another poised to take possession of one of the most lucrative stretches of land for beaver pelts, but more importantly a piece of land that lead to one of the world’s richest farmlands: the prairies. Whoever was to take control of this vast land would secure the means of potentially establishing one of the largest countries in the world. But it wasn’t a simple equation of French versus British since the young Guillem was not commissioned by the British. Therefore Radisson could use him to ward off the mandate of the HBC ship captained by Governor Bridgar.

A map showing the great reach of Radisson’s position at the mouth of the Nelson River

See footnote.[135]

Chapter Forty-six

Fort Building and Posturing for the Prize

            Before he was to return for a visit to the two British ships, Radisson and his crew prepared for winter but ran into some bad luck.   

          Our Company had kill’d 60 Deere, which had ben a great help towards our winter provisions; but by an Inundation of waters caused by great Rains they were all carry’d away. Such great floods are common in those parts. The loss was very great unto us, for wee had but 4 Barrells of Pork & 2 of Beef; but our men repair’d this Losse, having kill’d some more Deere and 4,000 white Partridges, somewhat bigger than thos of Europ. The Indians also brought us Provisions they had kill’d from severall parts at a great distance off.[136]

            Despite this loss, Radisson and five of his men returned to the English ship after ten days to spy on it. Before reaching the fort housing Governor Bridgar and his men, Radisson had to first cross the mouth of the dangerous river Kauvirinagaw, which proved to be “boisterous.” It wasn’t until the 14th day after their last meeting that they were able to cross the mouth of the river safely. They crossed at night and found a spot near the place where Mr. Bridgar lay.

          Wee presently see the ship lay aground on the ooze, a mile from the place where they built their House.[137] Being come neere the ship, wee hailed severall times & no body answered, which oblig’d us to goe towards land, wondring at their silence. At length a man called us & beckn’d to us to come back. Going towards him & asking how all did, hee said something better, but that all were asleep. I would not disturb them & went alone unto the Governor’s house, whom I found just getting up. After the common ceremonys were past, I consider’d the posture of things, & finding there was no great danger, & that I need not feare calling my people, wee went in all together. I made one of my men pass for Captain of the ship that I said was lately arrived. Mr. Bridgar beleev’d it was so, & all that I thought good to say unto him, endeavoring all along that hee should know nothing of the New Englander Interloper.[138] Wee shot off severall Musquets in drinking healths, those of the vessel never being concern’d, whereby I judg’d they were careless & stood not well on their gard, & might bee easily surpriz’d. I resolved to vew them.[139]

            Radisson and his five men then took leave of the HBC Governor and approached Captain Guillem senior’s ship. Still with the weather turbulent and rains and flooding surrounding them, Radisson the Frenchman approached the Englishman in peace.

          Wee went on board to rights without opposition. The Captain was something startled at first to see us, but I bid him not feare; I was not there with any dessigne to harme him; on the contrary, was ready to assist & help him wherin hee should command me, advising him to use more Diligence than hee did to preserve himselfe & shipps from the Danger I see hee was in of being lost, which afterwards happned. But hee was displeas’d at my Counsill, saying hee knew better what to doe than I could tell him. That might bee, said I, but not in the Indian’s country, where I had ben more frequent than he. However, hee desired me to send him som refreshments from time to tme during the winter season, espetially some oyle & candles, of which hee stood in great want, which I promis’d to doe, & performed accordingly.[140]

            So with the Hudson’s Bay Company’s representative Bridgar now living in a house/fort on land and the captain of his ship Guillen Senior now with a good relationship with Radisson, he knew the danger they posed to his purpose there at the mouth of the Nelson River. He would have to do his best to persuade Guillem Junior to join him in thwarting the French from staking claim to these parts despite the fact that Guillem Junior was English and despite the fact that it was his father who captained the HBC vessel.

            According to Radisson, the young Guillem had done a good job constructing the fort. It was well fortified with six great guns. Upon approaching, he fired his musket to give notice of his coming. Landing on a little beach below the guns, a lieutenant greeted him.

            “Congratulations on your safe return. What news?”

            “I found, though not without great difficulty, what I sought. I have come with different men and the captain of the ship I told you was arriving. The other men are from Canada.”[141]

            “Were they 40 devils we would not fear,” the lieutenant replied briskly. “We have built a fort and thus fear nothing.” Despite the lieutenant’s bluster and pride at the new fort, he invited Radisson in but only alone, so he refused. Radisson made it clear he was offended that he would regard him in hostile manner when he came to visit in friendship and goodwill.

            “I want to have discourse with your Captain,” said Radisson, believing that the young Captain Guillem would have more moderation. The lieutenant sent for the Captain, who soon appeared well-armed.

            “You need not be jealous of the fort we have built. It is no prejudice against you Radisson. You can command the fort any time you like. It is not you I fear, it is the English of London. And the savages; I built this fort to defend myself against them too – against all those that would attack me.”

            “I came here not to show any displeasure for building this fort,” he replied. “I came to offer you 20 of my men to assist you. And-“ Radisson spoke gravely. “And to tell you that those men you fear from England have arrived. If you would follow my council,” said Radisson, “I will defend you from all danger.” Radisson offered his services to defend the young Captain, knowing full well what orders the English brought with them. The orders were to secure trading relations with the local Indians and establish a trading post on behalf of the Hudson Bay Company.

            “Also,” he continued, “it’s good luck for you that your father commands the newly arrived ship with a Governor of the English Company for I intend to hinder Governor Bridgar from assuming that title here in these countries wherin I plan to establish the French Company.”

            Radisson was determined to fend off the English and establish a French trading stronghold here at the water road inland to the prairies and the rest of western Canada, however, the truth was that the English, now protected by a fort, had taken control of the mouth of the Nelson River – a strategic location to penetrate deep into the northern Manitoba forests teeming with wild game and beaver. The stakes were high and the stage was set. Against the odds, could Radisson pull it off?

Chapter Forty-seven

Captain Guillem, Father and Son

            Just before he departed from the fort that the young Captain Guillem had built, Radisson made a pact with him.

          Having said thes things to the Captain of the fort, I made him call his men together, unto whom I gave a charge in his presence that they should not goe out of their fort, nor fire any Gunns, nor shew their cullers; that they should cover the head & stern of their ship; & that they should suffer neither ffrench nor English to come near their fort, neither by land nor by Water, & that they should fier on any of my people as would offer to approach without my orders. The Captain promis’d all should be observ’d that I had said, & commanded his men in my presence so to doe, desiring me to spare him 2 of my men as soon as I could, to guard them. I told him that his father, Captain of the Company’s ship, was sick, wherat hee seem’d to bee much trobled, & desired me to put him in a way to see him without any damadge. I told him the danger & difficulty of it; nevertheless, having privat reasons that this enterview of Father & Sonn mught be procur’d by my means, I told him I would use my best endeavor to give him this satisfaction, & that I hop’d to effect it, provided hee would follow my directions. Hee agreed to doe what I advised, & after some litle study wee agreed that hee should come along with me disguis’d like one that lived in the woods, & that I wold make him passé for a french man.[142]

            Sneaking the son to see the sick father was trickier and more serious than perhaps he realized. If the Hudson Bay crew found out that their captain’s son was not sailing under the English flag, there may be some hostility. And why was the captain’s son in alliance with the French fur-trading representative?

            The next morning Radisson sent out some of his men to hunt and they returned at 10 o’clock with 30 or 40 partridge which he took in his canoe, along with a barrel of oil and some candles that he had promised the old Guillem. Radisson chose to leave one of his men at the fort, and then embarked with the young Guillem to go see his sick father.

          The tyde being low, we were forced to stop a mile short of the ship, & goe ashore & walk up towards the ship with our provisions. I left one of my men to keepe the Canoo, with orders to keep off, & coming neere the ship I placed 2 of my best men betwixt the House Mr. Bridgar caus’d to bee built & the water side, comanding them not to shew themselves, & to suffer the Governor to goe to the vessel, but to seize him if they see him come back before I was got out of the ship.

          Having ordered things in this manner, I went with one of my men & young Guillem aboard the ship, where wee againe entered without any opposition. I presented unto Captain Guillem the Provisions I had brought him, for which he gave me thanks. Afterwards, I made my 2 men go into his cabbin, one of which was his son, though unknown to him. I desired Captain Guillem to bid 2 of his servants to withdraw, having a thing of consequence to inform him of, which being don, I told him the secret was that I had brought his sonn to give him a visit, having earnestly desired it of me; & having told him how necessary it was to keep it privat, to prevent the damadge might befall them both if it shold bee known, I presented the son unto his father, who Imbraced each other very tenderly & with great joy; yet hee told him hee exposed him unto a great deale of danger. They had some privat discours togather, after which hee desired me to save my new French man. I told him I would discharge myself of that trust, & againe advised him to bee carefull of preserving his ship, & that nothing should bee capable of making any difference betwixt us, but the Treaty hee might make with the Indians.[143]

            This was his ace, his card he could deal since he had the allegiance of the Indians. Surely emotions were ripe at this moment and Guillem spoke the truth.

            “This ship belongs to the Company,” he said. “As to trade, you have no cause to be afraid on my account, and though I have not but one skin, it did not trouble me. I am assured of my wages from the Company.”

            “You should not suffer your men to scatter abroad,” Radisson warned him, “especially that they should not go towards your son’s fort, which I promised should be observed.”

            While they were in discourse, the Governor heard he was there and joined them on the ship.

            “Your fort must be nearer than I expected, seeing that you returned so speedily.” Radisson smiled.

            “I do fly when there was need to serve my friends, and that knowing his people were sick and wanted refreshments, I would lose no time in supplying them. I would give you part of what my men killed at all times.”

            During the discussion, some people were prying in and at one point young Guillem thought he had been discovered. Both father and son now very concerned, Radisson used his uncanny gift to ease the situation.

            “It’s not civil to so narrowly examine my people,” he said in a haughty manner. The young Guillem stood back. “The tide has come in so I will take my leave.” The Governor and the Captain divided the provisions that Radisson had brought to the ship, and then he left with his group to the place where Radisson had left his canoe.

          Wee got into it, & the young Captain admired to see a litle thing made of the whind of a Tree resist so many knocks of Ice as wee met withal in returning.

          Next day wee arrived at the Fort, & very seasonably for us; for had wee stayed a litle longer on the water, wee had ben surprised with a terrible storm at N. W. with snow & haile, which doubtless would have sunk us. The storm held 2 days, & hinder’d us from going to our pretended fort[144] up the river; but the weather being setled, I took leave of the Captain. The Lieut. Would faine have accompanied us unto our habitation, but I sav’d him that Labour for good reasons, & to conceal the way. Parting from the fort, wee went to the upper part of the Island; but towards evening wee returned back, & next day were in sight of the sea, wherin wee were to goe to double the point to enter the River where our habitation was; but all was so frozen that it was almost impossible to pass any farther. Wee were also so hem’d in on all sides with Ice, that wee could neither go forward nor get to Land, yet wee must get over the Ice or perish. We continued 4 hours in this condition, without being able to get backwards or forwards, being in great danger of our lifes. Our cloaths were frozen on our backs, & wee could not stir but with great paine; but at length with much adoe wee got ashore, our canoo being broke to peeces.

          Each of us trussed up our cloaths & arms, & marched along the shoare towards our habitation, not having eat anything in 3 days, but some crows & Birds of prey that last of all retire from these parts.[145] There was no other fowle all along that coast, which was all covered with Ice & snow. At length wee arrived opposite unto our habitation, which was the other side of the River, not knowing how to get over, being cover’d with Ice; but 4 of our men ventur’d in a Boat to come unto us. They had like to have ben starved by the Ice. Wee also were in very great danger, but wee surmounted all these difficultys & got unto our habitation, for which wee had very great cause to give God thanks of seeing one another after having run through so great Dangers.[146]

            It is likely Groseilliers had built the French fort on the modern-day Island of Fortesques[147] on the Hayes River, a smaller and more canoe-friendly river road inland, better for trading with the natives of the region. The Nelson River is big and fast and has several rapids nearing the mouth of the ocean. Radisson’s brush with death returning to the fort describes a narrow river between Fortesques Island and the mainland.

[1] The actual wording of this is: “we are to dispose the affairs that we would see an universall peace all over the earth.”

[2] Guns

[3] Ibid., p. 99

[4] Ibid., p. 99

[5] There were about 600 men in the fort with a lot of baggage.

[6] Ibid., p. 100

[7] Ibid., p. 100

[8] Ibid., p. 100

[9] Radisson made a note that they only brought five of these robes back to the French colony when they returned. Also, this new peace between the Cree and the Sioux is a very important development that changed the course of North American history – all instigated by Radisson and Groseilliers.

[10] Ibid., p. 100-101. To interpret this, one may deduce that it was either seven days of travel or made up of seven portages. But if the nation of the beef were the Dakota/Sioux, then the distance would be roughly from present-day Ashland, Wisconsin to perhaps near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

[11] If this was the first European recording of what life was like among the Great Plains Indians, then his description is significant for its details.

[12] Ibid., p. 101

[13] The reader might take note that Radisson and Groseilliers are the farthest west (Minnesota) of any Europeans in the New World up to this point in history, and the first to meet the mighty peoples of the plains who hunted buffalo for their sustenance.

[14] There is more discussion of how this nickname came about and why later on in this biography, but there is some rationale as to why these names were chosen. The surname “Radisson” is pronounced differently in French (silent ‘N’), which is a sound uncommon in English. Groseilliers is immediately difficult to pronounce to any Englishman, and which happens to literally translate into “gooseberries.” Thus the English referred to these two early fur traders as “Radishes and Gooseberries” for both ease of reference as well as nicknames of endearment, as they were bring an unprecedented amount of wealth into British (not French) coffers.

[15] Ibid., p. 101

[16] That is, sled

[17] Ibid., p. 101

[18] About 9km.

[19] Ibid., p. 102

[20] Ibid., p. 102

[21] That is, ‘rackets,’ ‘shoos’ and ‘stokens’

[22] Ibid., p. 102

[23] Ibid., p. 102

[24] Ibid., p. 103 It is possible that it was during this journey that Radisson, Wisconsin was named in his honour because it lies between St Paul, Minnesota and Ashland, Wisconsin.

[25] It is like the Mississippi River that they took southeast towards Lake Michigan, choosing to portage to a smaller river to reach Green Bay on the shore of Lake Michigan.

[26] It is not know what he means by ‘cow,’ because it cannot mean what we know today as a ‘cow.’

[27] This is what the Saguenay River was called back then in French.

[28] Ibid., p. 103

[29] Ibid., p. 103

[30] Ibid., Fourth Voyage.

[31] Ibid., Fourth Voyage.

[32] Ibid., p. 104

[33] Ibid., p. 105. These birds described as such may be pelicans of long-billed birds such as cranes. The lake referred to here is most likely Lake Winnipeg as they journey to the northern tip of this lake that freezes because it is so shallow would take many days (perhaps as many as 40 days) through what is today called The Lake of the Woods and then up the Red River to Lake Winnipeg.

[34] Ibid., Fourth Voyage.

[35] This river is likely Echo River that drains into the St. Mary River channel just west and north of the North Channel of Lake Huron.

[36] Ibid., p. 105

[37] Canoeing the North Channel take advantage of the constant west winds that create a westerly current along the north shore of Manitoulin Island.

[38] Ibid., p. 106

[39] Radisson calls this armor “bucklers” and is most likely the beaver pelts they had.

[40] Hurons

[41] Ibid., p. 107

[42] The Battle of Long Sault is a famous battle that it remembered as saving the colony of New France. That battle took place over five days in May of 1660 and was led by Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, a 24-year-old commander of the Montreal garrison who had become aware the Iroquois were planning to attack the town and then move on to attack Three Rivers. The battle is considered a turning point on the long-running French-Iroquois wars.

[43] That is, about 150km

[44] According to the Jesuit records of the time there were some 300 Indians in the flotilla with what was described as “heavenly manna” that some believe saved the new colony from economic ruin.

[45] Ibid., p. 108

[46] As stated earlier the governor was Jean de Lauzon who was governor of New France from 1658 to 1661.

[47] Ibid., p. 110

[48] Ibid., p. 110

[49] Ibid., p. 110

[50] He mentions in his journals here that there was a letter discovered that made the governor “blush for shame, not knowing what to say” that he would get money from Radisson and Groseilliers at whatever cost to fund his estate in Paris. (p. 110) The motive is there (the governor ending his contract in New France), and he had the right (both traders leaving for trade without permission), and he would’ve had the power to hide such theft.

[51] That is, store

[52] This should be ‘feeling’

[53] Ibid., p. 110

[54] That is, the large island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence called Anticosti Island.

[55] Ibid., p. 111

[56] Port Royal is today called Annapolis Royale in Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy.

[57] Hereafter Hudson’s Bay

[58] “…entry of Hudson’s streight by the 61 degree.”

[59] Ibid., p. 111

[60] Ibid., p. 111

[61] What is today called Sable Island.

[62] It is worth footnoting that six years after the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670, “the King granted Medard Chouart, Sieur des Grozeilliers, and Pierre Esprit, Sieur des Radison, the privilege of establishing fisheries for white porpoises and seal in the river St. Lawrence in New France.”

[63] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 111

[64] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 111

[65] Marie Guyart de L’Incarnation, Lettres (Richaudeau), II, 293; BN, Melanges de Colbert, 125, Ragueneau to Colbert 7 Nov. 1664)

[66] This reference to war is most likely to the Anglo-Dutch War raging at the time.

[67] In his journals, Radisson refers to the Colonel as “Sir George Carteret,” which when said with the French accent sounds phonetically like the English pronunciation “Cartwright.”

[68] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 112

[69] He wrote four voyages during this time and then the last two 20 years’ later.

[70] They had apparently known each other years before in the Rhinegrave at Maestricht.

[71] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 8-9

[72] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 8

[73] An energetic and fascinating person, Prince Rupert was to become one of the founders of the Hudson’s Bay Company and owner of some of the largest tracts of land in Canada in the early years of the colony.

[74] That is, roughly 2000km

[75] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 112

[76] Groseilliers

[77] Charles Fort was later renamed Rupert House, as it is known today. The River is still called Prince Rupert River. It is in northern Quebec.

[78] Oldmixon, British Empire, ed. 1741, Vol 1, p. 544

[79] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 112

[80] Oldmixon, British Empire, ed., 1741, Vol. 1, p. 545

[81] This was written in 1696-1697. Oldmixon, British Empire, Vol. V, p. 319. Charles Fort was captured and controlled by the French in 1682, after Radisson had switched his allegiance back to France. When it was captured it was renamed Fort Bourbon. The British retook the fort a few years later in 1684.

[82] Oldmixon, British Empire, Vol. V, p. 314

[83] Fort Charles on Prince Rupert River was built on the east side of James Bay while the fort Radisson built a few years later was built on the Moose River on the lucrative west side of James Bay – a settlement called Moosanee. When the British retook Fort Charles it was renamed Fort George, which it is still called today. Also, of note are two settlements inland from James Bay from Fort George that are still called Radisson today – about 100km up river.

[84] Port Nelson was established at the mouth of the Nelson River that leads directly into the heart of the province of Manitoba. It is on the western shore of Hudson’s Bay north of the Mosse River and south of the Severn River to the north. Up river there is a settlement named Gillam after the name of the ship’s captain that is still perating today. The trading Post of York Factory was however used as the primary trading location for the next 200 years as the Hayes River was an easier canoe trip into the interior, reaching Lake Winnipeg. The York Factory trading post is stills standing today.

[85] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 113

[86] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 113-114

[87] Ibid., Fifth Voyage, p. 114

[88] Ibid., Fifth Voyage.

[89] Ibid., p. 114-115

[90] Ibid., p. 115

[91] These present-day countries are French Guiana and the Island of Tobago or Trinidad and Tobago in the Carribean.

[92] Ibid., p. 115

[93] That is, gold pieces.

[94] It was a claim in New France stemming from a deal made in 1633 that involved Sir John Kirke’s brothers Sir Lewis and Sir David.

[95] Ibid., p. 116

[96] Ibid., p. 116

[97] Ibid., p. 116

[98] Ibid., p. 116

[99] That is, Monsieur Chesneau. He was appointed Intendant of Justice, Police and Finance of Canada, Acadia and Isles of Newfoundland in May, 1675. He was a Canadian merchant who at the time was visiting Paris.

[100] Ibid., p. 116

[101] That is, Hudson’s Bay.

[102] Ibid., p. 116

[103] Ibid., p. 116-117

[104] That is, July 1682

[105] Ibid., p. 117

[106] Ibid., p. 117

[107] Captain.

[108] Ibid., p. 117

[109] Ibid., p. 118

[110] Ibid., p. 118

[111] Ibid., p. 118

[112] Ibid., p. 118. Modern-day doctors confirm that eating polar bear liver has a toxic amount of vitamin A that results in hair loss, peeling skin, sickness, tongue turning gray and other nasty ill effects.

[113] According to modern maps, this island could be either Nottingham Island, Mansel Island or even farther west Coates Island, but since the vessel is likely hugging the coast to avoid the strong currents in the middle of the straits, this Mile island is likely Diggess Islands – two islands on the very northwest tip of the mainland before turning south into the Bay.

[114] This island was most likely Coates Island as there is a protected bay where Groseilliers could have been protected from floating chunks of ice.

[115] Ibid., p. 118

[116] This name translates literally as “Let him that comes, go”

[117] Ibid., p. 119

[118] That is, the deer the native was hunting. From the surviving portrait of Radisson we can see he wore his hair long as did the natives, and he was sure to have learned the practicality of deerskin pants and other leather clothes for his protection from the cold and flies. His skin on his face was surely tanned as well having been out at sea for so long. Besides, the native had never seen a European before so he had no reason to think they were different than him.

[119] Ibid., p. 119

[120] Ibid., p. 119

[121] Ibid., p. 119

[122] That is, a shotgun designed to shoot birds.

[123] Ibid., p. 120

[124] As mentioned previously this is the Nelson River, but where the Nelson River meets the great Hudson’s Bay is fraught with currents and sandbanks, which makes taking a canoe out to these open waters a very challenging prospect indeed.

[125] Ibid., 120-121

[126] Ibid., p. 121

[127] Ibid., p. 121-22

[128] Ibid., p. 122

[129] The Hayes River – a better river for a trading post since natives could more easily access Lake Winnipeg via the Hayes River.

[130] ‘Kawirinagau’ means ‘dangerous.’ Also noted elsewhere, he is referring to the Nelson River at York Factory.

[131] That all was current and true.

[132] Cold

[133] Ibid., p. 122-23

[134] Ibid., p. 123

[135] Of note is the fact that the line on the map does not go along the Nelson River but rather the Hayes River just south of it. This is due to the fact that the Hayes River is easier canoeing to reach Lake Winnipeg – the ‘Great Inland Lake.’ The French Fort built by Groseilliers was on an island in the middle of Hayes River a few leagues from the mouth of the Nelson.

[136] Ibid., p. 123

[137] That is, fort.

[138] Incredible to think the HBC Governor still hadn’t seen the non-commissioned ship from New England captained by Guillem Junior.

[139] Ibid., p. 123-24

[140] Ibid., p. 124

[141] That is, from the land where the British and the French had not yet claimed.

[142] Ibid., p. 124-25

[143] Ibid., p. 125

[144] The fort he had told the English he had built.

[145] That is, the birds have long flown south for the winter.

[146] Ibid., p. 126

[147] One can still see the partial remnants of an old fort on this island that lies perhaps 10km from the Bay and about 3km from the British fort that had been built what exists today as York Factory. This impressive building is still standing today.