Life Story of Pierre Radisson: A Novel (Part 4)

Chapter Forty-eight

“I should compasse my dessigne”

            Radisson, happy to be back at his “house,” was relieved to see that Groseilliers had been diligent with ensuring it was an abode that could withstand a cold winter. They were secure. With the Indians as their allies, and with the English still in disorder and still not caring to take the time and be informed of Radisson’s wanderings, he felt confident that he would suffer no harm during the deep freeze. However he was more and more perturbed that the HBC Governor Bridgar

          But as it might happen that the Governor Bridgar might have notice[d] that the New England Interloper was in the same river hee was, & that in long running hee might discover the truth of all that I had discoursed & concealed from him, & also that hee might come to understand that wee had not the strength that I boasted of, I thought it fit to prevent Danger; & the best way was to assure my self of the New England ship in making myself master of her; for had Mr. Bridgar ben beforehand with mee, hee would have ben too strong for me, & I had ben utterly unable to resist him; but the question was how to effect this businesse, wherin I see manifest difficultys; but they must bee surmounted, or wee must perish.[1]

            So Radisson focused on battling the English for the business of establishing trade, and let Groseilliers take care of the “House & of the Traffick.” Once the ice froze over, Radisson sent his men every other day for a fortnight to see what state the Company’s ship was in from being frozen in the ice.

          At length they told me shee lay a ground neer the shoare, the creek wherin she was to have layn the Winter being frozen up, which made me conjecture shee would infallibly bee lost.[2]

            In due course, Radisson kept his word and sent two of his men to help safeguard the young Guillem at his fort but he learned from his people that the young Captain intended to deceive him. Mr. Bridgar’s ship had sent two men to see if they could find where Radisson had described where the fort was, as well as see if they could find any shipwrecks of any English ships. Young Captain Guillem, still identified as a Frenchman, sent two of his men to receive the boat from the Company’s ship but the two men from the Hudson Bay Company were frightened and ran away. Returning to Mr. Bridgar’s ship they told him that there was a fort and a French ship closer to them than Radisson had told them.

          Upon this information, Mr. Bridgar sent 2 men to pass from north to south, to know if it were true that wee had 2 Shipps besides that which was at the Island. Wherof being advised by my people, I sent out 3 severall ways to endeavor to take the 2 men Mr. Bridgar had sent to make this discovery, having ordered my people not to doe them any violence. My people succeded, for they found the 2 poore men within 5 leagues of our House, allmost dead with cold & hunger, so that it was no hard matter to take them. They yielded, & were brought unto my habitation, where having refreshed them with such provisions as wee had, they seemed nothing displeas’d at falling into our hands. I understood by then the orders Mr. Bridgar had given them for making the Discovery, which made me stand the more close on my Gard, & to use fresh means to hinder that the Governor Bridgar should not have knowledge of the New-England Interlopers.[3]

Radisson sent Bridgar provisions, which he was in dire need despite making an effort to hide his situation. As if to assuage his pride, Bridgar sent letters of thanks to Radisson with his men when the supplies arrived, assuring Radisson that he would in no way interrupt his trade nor would he send his men to Radisson’s fort. It confirmed that Bridgar still regarded young Guillem’s fort as Radisson’s and was thus still unaware of the presence of a New Englander in Hudson Bay right under his nose. But the turning point came when Radisson learned from Bridgar’s two men that the Company ship was “stay’d to peeces” in the ice by the creek. Old Captain Guillem, his lieutenant and four seamen drowned but 18 other crewmen survived the ordeal. It was when he heard this information that Radisson decided to visit Bridgar again and observe his actions.

I brought him 100 Partridges, & gave him some Powder to kill fowle, & offer’d him my servis. I asked where his shipp was, but hee would not owne shee was lost, but said shee was 4 leagues lower in the River. I would not press him any farther in the businesse, but civilly took our leave of each other.[4]

            On the way back, Radisson decided it was time to execute his “designe” of taking control of young Guillem’s ship.

          …I went unto the Fort in the Island also, to see what past[5] there, & to endeavor to compasse the designe I had laid of taking the Shipp & fort, having since discovered by letters intercepted, that young Guillim intended to shew me a trick & destroy me. Being come to the fort in the Island, I made no shew of knowing the losse of his father, nor of the Company’s ship, only I told young Guillim his father continued ill, & did not think safe to write him, fearing to discover him. Afterwards I desired hee would come unto our habitation; & so I returned without effecting any more that day.[6]

            Eight days later, Radisson returned to visit Governor Bridgar.

            “You don’t take sufficient care to preserve your men,” he said to Bridgar. “I have two of your men at my fort right now, who told me about the loss of your ship.”[7] Radisson sighed, trying to show compassion to his English competitor. “I will assist you and will send you your two men and whatever else you need.”

          I also offer’d him one of our Barques,[8] with provisions requisit to convey him in the Spring unto the bottom of the Bay, which hee refused. I assured him of all the servis that lay in my power, treating him with all civility could bee for the Esteeme that I ever bore unto the English nation. As for Mr. Bridgar, I had no great caus to bee over well pleased with him, being advised that hee spake ill of mee in my absence, & had said publickly unto his people that hee would destroy my Trade…[9]

            Radisson stayed with Bridgar two days, with a real intent to serve him but full well knowing that he was no longer is a position to hurt Radisson and the French plans to dominate trade in the area.

            It was during this time that Radisson chose to call on young Guillem again at his fort.

          When I arrived at the fort, I told young Guillim his father continued ill, & that hee refer’d all unto me, upon which I said unto him touching his father & of his resolution, hee earnestly desired I would goe back with him & take him along with me, disguised as before, that hee might see him; but I disswaded him from this, & put in his head rather to come see our habitation, & how wee lived. I knew hee had a desire to doe soe, therefore I would satisfy his curiosity. Having, therefore, perswaded him to do this, wee parted next morning betimes. Hee took his Carpenter along with him, & wee arrived at our habitation…

            Radisson’s account in his journals reads:

          I continued a whole month at quiet, treating young Guillem, my new guest, with all civility, which hee abused in severall particulars; for having probably discovered that wee had not the strength that I made him believe wee had, hee unadvisedly speak threatning words of me behind my back, calling me Pyrate, & saying hee would trade with the Indians in the Spring in spight of me. Hee had also the confidence to strike one of my men, but I connived at it. But one day discoursing of the privilledges of new England, he had the confidence to speak slightly of the best of Kings, whereupon I called him pittyfull Dogg for talking after that manner, & told him that for my part, having had the honour to have ben in his majesty’s servis, I would pray for his majesty as long as I lived. Hee answered mee with harsh words that hee would return back to his fort, & when hee was there, that would not dare talk to him as I did. I could not have a fairer opportunity to begin what I designed. Upon which I told the young foole that I brought him from his fort & would carry him thither againe when I pleas’d, not when hee like. Hee spake severall other impertinencys, that made me tell him that I would lay him up safe enough if hee behaved not himself wiser. Hee asked me if hee was a prisoner. I told him I would consider of it, & that I would secure my Trade, seeing hee threatened to hinder it. After which I retired & gave him leave to bee inform’d by the Englishman how that his father & the company’s ship were lost, & the bad condition Mr. Bridgar was in. I left a french man with them that understood English, but they knew it not. When I went out, young Gwillim bid the Englishman make his escape & goe tell his master that hee would give him 6 Barills of Powder & other provisions if hee would attempt to deliver him out of my hands. The Englishman made no reply, neither did hee tell me of what had been proposed unto him. I understood it by my Frenchman, that heard the whole matter, & I found it was high time to act for my owne safety.[10]

            Radisson, now with the young New Englander as his prisoner, was in a position to take the fort. He asked his men to fire the locks that they had placed around their own small fort to defend them from possible attack. Young Guillem, seeing the fire and not knowing what Radisson was doing, panicked because he thought they were about to kill him. He tried to run away but Radisson prevented him and “freed him of his feare.”

            Radisson learned that night that of the two men he had left with the New Englanders at the fort, one of his men had returned without his orders. This angered Radisson that his men had disobeyed him but more so that he had one less man within the fort to aid him in his plan. It was Radisson’s wish to lay “his dessgine so as to make more use of skill & policy than of open force.”

The next morning Radisson made an unwelcome comment.

“I’m going to take your ship and fort,” he said.

“If you had 100 men you could not take the fort,” Young Guillem replied angrily. “My men will kill 40 of your men before they could come near the palisade.” He wasn’t discouraged at the young man’s bravado.

“How many men do you have the fort?” he asked, trying to take advantage of Guillem’s haughtiness.

“Nine,” he replied. Radisson smiled.

“Choose the like number of mine, I being one of the number. I don’t need anymore than nine men to take your fort. I will give you a good account of your fort and of your ship. I would not have you experience the shame by being present to see what I will do.”

The Captain proceeded to choose from among Radisson’s men the eight that would accompany Radisson to the fort. Radisson was the ninth man to go on this expedition. He brought along one of Mr. Bridgar’s Englishmen to witness to this business.

            Arriving a half a league from the fort, Radisson left Bridgar’s Englishman with one of his Frenchmen with strict orders not to stir. At the same time he sent two men directly to the fort while he and five men waited and watched what happened to the two Frenchmen going to the fort. Three armed Englishmen stopped the two Frenchmen.

            “Do you have any letters from our master?” they asked the Frenchmen. They answered according to Radisson’s instructions he had previous given them.

            “Your master Captain Guillem is coming with Radisson,” they replied. “But being weary, they stayed a bit behind.” The Frenchmen pulled out some brandy and shared some with the Englishmen, who were needed back in the fort. The five of them left for the fort.

            Radisson describes his plan of overtaking the fort: having one of his men inside the fort to secure the front door and then the three of them could put blocks of wood to keep the door open so that he and his men could enter. But all this great “dessigne” was never put to the test because as things turned out, he simply walked into the fort “before thos that were appointed to defend it were aware.” Perhaps it was when the guards were changing.

The lieutenant was startled to see Radisson.

“Where is my master? It’s high time to appear and act.”

“It matters not where your master is,” Radisson said. “Tell me what men you have and call them out.” Radisson’s men entered the fort all together.

“The cause of my coming lieutenant is that I intend to be master of the fort, and that it is too late to dispute. So bring me the keys to the fort and all its arms, and tell me if you have any powder in your chests, and how much.” They didn’t argue against these demands and brought Radisson their arms but their chest had no powder.

I took possession of the Fort in the name of the King of ffrance, & from thence was conducted by the Lieutenant to take possession of the ship also in the same name, which I did without any resistance…[11]

Radisson noted that Guillem’s men were rejoicing at the change of power and gave air to their complaints that their master had let them down and had not provided for them enough. And it was during this rejoicing and general good rumbling that a Scotchman escaped and ran to Mr. Bridgar.

But a Scotchman, one of the crew, to shew his zeale, made his Escape & run through the woods towards Mr. Bridgar’s House to give him notice of what pas’t. I sent 2 of my nimblest men to run after him, but they could not overtake him, being gon 4 hours before them. Hee arrived at Mr. Bridgar’s house, who upon the relation of the Scotchman resolved to come surprise me.

In the meane while I gave my Brother notice of all that past, & that I feared a Scotchman might occasion some troble that had got away unto Mr. Bridgar, & that I feared I might bee too deeply ingag’d unless hee presently gave me the assistance of 4 men, having more Enlish prisoners to keep than I had French men with me. I was not deceiv’d in my conjecture. At midnight one of our Doggs alarm’d our sentinel, who told me hee heard a noise on board the ship. I caus’d my People to handle their armes, & shut up the English in the cabins under the Gard of 2 of my men. I with 4 others went out to goe to the shipp. I found men armed on board, & required them to lay downe their arms & to yeeld. There was 4 that submitted & some others got away in the dark. My men would have fired, but I hinder’d them, for which they murmur’d against me. I led the prisoners away to the fort & examin’d them one after another. I found they were of Mr. Bridgar’s people, & that hee was to have ben of the number, but hee stay’d half a League behind to see the success of the businesse. The last of the Prisoners I examin’d was the Scotch man that had made his escape when I took the fort; & knowing hee was the only cause that Mr. Bridgar ingadg’d in the businesse, I would revenge me in making him afraid.

I caus’d him to bee ty’d to a stake & told that hee should bee hang’d next day. I caus’d the other prisoners, his comrades, to bee very kindly treated; & having no farther dessigne but to make the Scoth man afraide, I made one advise him to desire the Lewtenant of the fort to begg me to spare his life, which hee did, & easily obtain’d his request, although hee was something startled, not knowing what I meant to doe with him.

            With the Scotchman freed, the four men sent by Groseilliers arrived and he was now in position to resist Bridgar.

Chapter Forty-nine

Overtaking the English

            Having just taken the fort and ship from young Guillem and the New Englanders, and still in search of gunpowder to secure their new acquisitions, Radisson and his crew chose to write Bridgar a belligerent letter in which he stated a variation of the situation.

          …I wrote unto him & desired to know if hee did avow what his men had don, whom I detain’d Prisoners, who had Broke the 2 Dores & the deck of the ship to take away the Powder. Hee made me a very dubious answer, complaining against me that I had not ben true unto him, having concealed this matter from him. Hee writ me also that having sufficient orders for taking all vessells that came into those parts to Trade, hee would have joined with me in seizing of this; but seeing the purchas was fal’n into my hands, hee hoped hee should share with mee in it.[12]

            But for the letter’s bluster, Bridgar’s reply was an open and friendly one, an olive branch to a fellow trader who would assist Radisson in this “expedition” if he had known about it.

From the three prisoners Radisson had of Bridgar’s men, he learned that they had hidden five or six pounds of gunpowder. Perhaps using some of the torture techniques learned from his stay with the Iroquois, Radisson was able to make them confess where the powder was hidden. Once found, he was able to secure the fort. Four Englishmen from the fort were sent to the French camp run by Grosielliers and the three Bridgar men were let go with a supply of tobacco. Radisson kept their arms.

“I bid you to tell Bridgar that if I had known he had wanted to take part in the expedition, I would have taken measures to include him,” said Radisson.

After the fort was secured with the discovered gunpowder, and having confiscated the arms of his men, it was time for a visit to Mr. Bridgar’s. He arrived with 12 of his men “in a condition of ruining him if I had desire of it.”

I came to his House & went in before hee had notice of my coming. Hee appeared much surpris’d; but I spoke to him in such a manner as shewed that I had no intent to hurt him, & I told him that by his late acting hee had so disobliged all the ffrench that I could not very well tell how to assist him. I told him hee had much better gon a milder way to work, in the condition hee was in, and that seeing hee was not as good as his word to me, I knew very well how to deall with him; but I had no intention at that time to act any thing against Mr. Bridgar. I only did it to frighten him, that hee should live kindly by me; & in supplying him from time to time with what he wanted, my chief ayme was to disable him from Trading, & to reduce him to a necessity of going away in the Spring.[13]

Groseilliers had made it known very plainly to his brother-in-law that he better disarm them all for their greater security or else he “would forsake all.”[14] It was also the same feeling among the Frenchmen, that they were in peril unless all were disarmed, including Bridgar. Radisson decided to only take two of Bridgar’s men instead of four he had promised to lessen the load of preserving the men through the winter.[15]

“I will give you powder and anything else I can within my power,” he said to Bridgar.

“What score of muskets do you have remaining?” he asked.

“Ten, but of them eight are broken,” replied Bridgar. So Radisson took the eight spoiled guns and gave him his own gun, promising to mend the guns. Bridgar handed over his pocket pistol to Radisson, telling him he knew well enough that he intended to disarm him. Radisson refused his pistol, and even offered his own pistols to Bridgar.

“I don’t intend to disarm you. I intend to take away your bad arms and to give you good arms instead.”

Some days later, after Radisson had transfered the lieutenant of the fort to the French camp, he learned from his French guard at the fort that Bridgar had broken his promise and visited the fort. The guards were quick to act, took Bridgar and his two men into the fort, fed them bread and brandy and kept Bridgar, sending the other two away. His man also informed Radisson that Bridgar “seemed very much trobl’d at his being stopt, & acted like a mad man,” so he promptly left for the fort.

            Mr. Bridgar was indeed “in a sad condition, having drank to excess. It took some effort on the part of the Frenchman who commanded the fort from killing Bridgar for his belligerence.  

          Hee spoke a thousand things against me in my hearing, threatning to kill me if I did not doe him right. But having a long time born it, I was at length constraint to bid him bee quiet; & desirous to know his dessignes…[16]

            Radisson had seen smoke and fires when he crossed the river to get to the fort, and was suspicious that Bridgar’s men were up to something.

            “Are any of your people to come?” he asked Bridgar. He told him about the smoke he had seen near the river.

            “Yes,” he replied. “I’ll show you what I can do. Some 14 men will be coming, plus the two men you sent away full of brandy.” Radisson smiled confidently.

            “I know you do not have so many men, having let so many of your men perish for want of meat, for which you should be accountable.” Considering the circumstances, Radisson surmised: “I’m not afraid of your threats.”

            The next day no men appeared at the fort, so on the following day Radisson took Bridgar to his own habitation “whereunto hee see it was in vaine to resist.”

          I assured him that neighter I nor any of my People whold goe to his House in his absence, & that when hee had recreated himself 10 or 15 Days with mee at our habitation, hee might return with all freedom againe unto his House.[17]

            During this time at Radisson’s camp, some of Bridgar’men committed some “disorders” so he planned to go to the fort and then to Bridgar’s camp. He asked Bridgar to join him the following morning after he had finished his business at the fort so he could “rectify some disorders committed by his people in his absence.”[18] They were to meet at a point close to Bridgar’s house but due to bad weather, Radisson – who arrived first – was forced to go inside Bridgar’s house and confront his men.

          As Soon as I was enter’d, the men beseech’d me to have compassion on them. I blam’d them for what they had don, & for the future advised them to bee more obedient unto their master, telling them I would desire him to pardon them, & that in the Spring I would give passage unto those that would goe home by the way of ffrance.[19] Mr. Bridgar arrived soon after me. I beg’d his pardon for going into his House before hee came, assuring him that I had still the dessigne of serving him & assisting him, as hee should find when hee pleas’d to make use of me, for Powder & anything else hee needed; which also I performed when it was desir’d for me, or that I knew Mr. Bridgar stood in need of any thing I had. I parted from Mr. Bridgar’s habitation to return unto our own.[20]

Radisson still had all the cards: the fort, the gunpowder, the arms, the French fort and the alliance of the local natives for trade. Seemingly he had succeeded to defeating the mighty British at the Great Game in the far northwest of the New World.

An image of what the fort at York Factory would have looked like

Chapter Fifty

“We will not be found liars”

            Radisson assigned eight of his men to guard Bridgar for fear of him doing mischief during the night. The following day more Indians arrived. Since bringing provisions as was their custom, when they saw Radisson had English as prisoners, they admired the hostages they had at their camp. Bonded as allies, they regarded the English as their enemies. They wanted to kill the English because they were Radisson’s enemy and as per their bond, they would happily oblige the French.

          They [the Indians] admired to see the English that wee had in our House, & they offer’d us 200 Bevor skins to suffer them[21] to goe kill the rest of them; but I declar’d unto them I was far from consenting thereunto, & charged them on the contrary not to doe them any harm; & Mr. Bridgar coming at instant with one of his men unto our habitation, I advised him not to hazard himself any more without having some of my men with him, & desir’d him, whilst hee was at my House, not to speak to the Indians. Yet hee did, & I could not forbeare telling him my mynde, which made him goe away of a suddain.[22]

            Here, during the cold days of late October they were visiting Radisson and Groseilliers just before the winter to reaffirm their allegiance. They told Radisson they did not like seeing the English there because they were their enemy because they were the enemy of the French. They had watched the English and had made sure they had not attacked Radisson, and wanted to do harm to the English. Wanting to prevent an Indian attack against the English, Radisson spoke thus:  

            “Having hindered them from hurting me,” Radisson said to his allies, “I am satisfied with our bond together. But if the English are still here in the spring, then you may kill them. I promise you that.”

            “You have given us presents to make your enemies ours,” they said to Radisson. “And said we might be able to kill them on your behalf if they are still here in the bottom of the bay, which they still are.”

            “Yes, I did,” replied Radisson.

            “Well then,” they said. “We will not be found liers.” This show of comraderie and allegiance went along way to prove their honour, but for Radisson there were nuances and potential ramifications of killing the English.

            “Your friendship to us shows by your desire to do mischief with the English,” he said delicately. “I love you as I do my own Frenchmen, but I will handle the English in our own way. The English will not harm you. If they do I will kill them with my own hands.” These words seemed to satisfy the chief.

            Then Radisson said: “I do wish I had more goods to trade with you but I did not know I would meet you to trade with, but I promise when I return again I will have goods of great value for you and your people.”

            “Will these goods help us destroy our own enemies, like your weapons?” he asked, pointing at Radisson’s pistol.

            “Yes. I will bring goods that will make your people stronger against your enemies. I give you my word as your ally.” With this information the natives left them at their fort well satisfied, knowing that they beaver pelts they would bring them next year would be rewarded with valuable goods that only the French could provide.

            Radisson’s English prisoners witnessed this exchange with the local natives and were impressed with how he handled them. To the English, they could see Radisson was a seasoned pro, not only able to speak their language but also fluent in their customs and etiquette.

            Now, in the spring of 1683 with the ice now breaking up, crossing the river was halted until the ice fully melted, so Radisson decided to send his nephew inland to visit with the Indians to give them an update on what was happening and that they had succeeded in conquering their enemies.

            The bad weather caused flooding and the blocks of ice that broke against the rocks were now being pushed up, threatening Radisson and Groseilliers’ ships. They were notified by a sentinel of the worsening situation.

          Wee hasted unto the river side & see what the sentinell told us, & great flakes of Ice were born by the waters upon the top of our litle Hill; but the worst was that the Ice having stop’t the river’s mouth, they gather’d in heaps & were carry’d back with great violence & enter’d with such force into all our Brooks that discharg’d into the River that ‘twas impossible our vessells could resist, & they were stay’d all to peeces. There remained only the bottom, which stuck fast in the Ice or in the mudd, & had it held 2 hours longer wee must have ben forst to climbe the trees to save our lives; but by good fortune the flood abated.[23]

Radisson and Groseilliers had put their ships 10 fathoms[24] above the water level.

But this incident caused them to worry about the safety of the only remaining ship: the New England Interloper. The Indians told Radisson’s group that the water on the Nelson River where the New England ship lay was more dangerous, and that they didn’t think the ship would survive the onslaught of ice.

But Mr. Bridgar having heretofore related unto me alike accident hapned in the River Kechechewan in the Bottom of the Bay, that a vessel was preserv’d by cutting the Ice round about her, I took the same cours, & I have reason to thank mr Bridgar for this advice; it sav’d the vessel.

            The ship was driven ashore by the force of the ice and remained there undamaged.

            In order to fulfill his promise to the Hudson Bay Englishmen being held under his control, Radisson set out to rebuild his ship using the lone surviving piece from the ship: the bottom. This ship would be used to transport the Englishmen out of Hudson Bay.

            He visited the ship’s construction several times, giving the men orders, which the English performed better than the French. From here he went to Mr. Bridgar’s place.

          I took the shipp’s Boat & went down to Mr. Bridgar’s habitation, & looking in what condition it was, I found that 4 of his men were dead for lack of food, & two that had ben poyson’d a litle before by drinking some liquer they found in the Doctor’s chest, not knowing what it was. Another of Mr. Bridgar’s men had his Arm broke by an accident abroad a hunting [trip].[25]

             Radisson supplied Bridgar and his remaining men with Brandy and vinegar and linens and some other provisions they required, but when it was delivered to one of Mr. Bridgar’s men Radisson was startled to hear the man taunting and threatening him, telling him that an English ship would be arriving any day now that would take them all home. Undaunted by this threat, knowing Bridgar was not in a postion to harm him, Radisson decided to finish his trade business as soon as possible, which he did.

            Radisson went to great pains to provide services for Bridgar and his men, such as providing cordage and all “stuff sufficient to sheath his shallup,”[26] but Bridgar once again went back on his word and took his shallup and went towards the fort on the island within musket-shot when Radisson was at his own camp. They approached under the pretence of wanting some gunpowder. Bridgar was forced to anchor far off the shore crossing the Hayes River, and the French commander of the fort sent his small boats out to Mr. Bridgar, who was taken into the fort alone.

            The next day when Radisson arrived, he learned from the commander that the carpenter of the New England ship had come in and spoke to Bridgar. The commander had guards observe the discourse, but it was the Scotchman that told him “hee was not come thither with any good intention.”[27]

          I did suspect that Mr. Bridgar had a dessign to make some surprise, but I was not much afraid by reason of the care & good order I had taken to prevent him.[28]

            Radisson showed up at Bridgar’s house.

          I taxed him on breach of promise, & tould him ther should bee no quarter if hee offered to doe soe any more, & that therefore hee should bee no quarter if hee goe for the Bay (as soone as ever the Ice did permit) in the vessell that wee had left, it being so agreed on by our french men, assuring him I would furnish him with all things necessary for the voyadge. He appear’d much amaz’d at the compliment I made of him, & hee told me in plaine terms that it must bee one of thes 3 things that must make him quit the place, – his master’s orders, force or hunger.[29]

            Afterwards, Bridgar asked that if the Indians from the Severn came,[30] would Radisson arrange a meeting with him. Radisson promised him he would try, doing his best to calm the Englishmen until the ships were ready to sail back to New France after they had traded with the natives.

Chapter Fifty-one

Trade with the Natives

            Radisson and Groseilliers had a discussion about what their next move was, and decided to burn their fort. It was too precarious to manage the French fort on Hayes River as well as the English fort at York Factory on the Nelson River. 

…having consulted my Brother-in-Law, wee resolved that ‘twas best to burn the fort in the Island & secure Mr. Bridgar, thereby to draw back our men & to ease us of the care of defending the fort & of the trouble of so many other precautions of securing ourselves from being surprised by Mr. Bridgar. The crew of both our vessells made an agreement amongst themselves to oppose our dessigne of giving our ship unto the English for their transportation. It was necessary at the first to seeme to yeeld, knowing that in time wee whould master the factions. It was the master of my Bark that began the mutiny. The chief reason that made me seem to yeeld was that I would not have the English come to know of our Divisions, who happly might have taken some advantage of it…[31]

            Radisson put Bridgar in the custody of his nephew and told him that once he had put all the things in the fort onto his vessel, he would burn the fort.

          I told Mr. Bridgar’s people that not being able to supply them any longer but with Powder only, [32] & being redy for my departure to Cannada, it was necessary that those that intended to stay should speak their minds, & that those that desired to go should have their passage. I demanded their names, which they all told me except 2.[33]

            Radisson brought his ship to anchor right beside Bridgar’s house and took the goods on board. When he departed heavier in the water, he ran into some Indians eager to trade at the mouth of the river. Radisson records in his journal:

          They would have had my Brother-in-Law to have rated the Goods at the same prizes as the English did in the bottom of the Bay,[34] & they expected also I would bee more kind unto them. But this would have ruined our trade; therefore I resolved to stand firm in this occasion, because what wee now concluded upon with these Salvages touching comers would have ben a Rule for the future. The Indians being assembled presently after my arrival, & having laid out their presents before me, being Beavor’s tailes, caribou tongues dry’d, Greas of Bears, Deere, & of Elks…[35]

            The chief of the Indians let Radisson and Groseilliers know what they thought about how things had been going.

            “You men that pretend to give us our lives, will not you let us live? You know what beaver is worth, and the pains we take to get it,” said the chief. “You still say your selves are our brethren and yet you will not give us what those that are not our brethren will give.[36] Accept our presents, or we will come see you no more, but will goe unto others.”

            They were both silent for a while after hearing this from the Indians, so the Indian chief asked Radisson for his reply. The man had adopted Radisson into his family as his son, so the words were serious and needed to be addressed carefully. Knowing that their welfare depended on his answer, he tried to appear resolute when he spoke.

            “To whom will thou have me answer? I heard a dog bark; let a man speak and he shall see I know to defend myself; that we love our brothers and deserve to be loved by them, being come hither a purpose to save your lives.” Radisson rose, drew his dagger and then took the Indian chief by the hair. “Who are you?” he demanded.

            “Thy father,” the chief replied.

            “Well, if thou art my father and dost love me, and if thou the chief, speak for me. Thou are master of my goods,” said Radisson. “This dog that spoke but now, what doth he hear?[37] Let him begone to his brethren, the English in the Bay. But he need not go so far. He may see them on the island,” intimating to the Indians that he had overcome the English.

            “I know very well,” he continued to his Indian father, “what woods are, and what it is to leave one’s wife and run the danger of dying with hunger or to be killed by one’s enemies. You avoid all these dangers in coming unto us. So that I see plainly it is better for you to trade with us than with the others, yet I will have pity on this wretch, and will spare his life, though he has a desire to go unto our enemies.” Radisson motioned for one of his swords and it was brought to him.

            “Here, take this,” he said, “and begone to your brethren, the English. Tell them my name and that I will go take them.”[38] He took Groseilliers by the arm to take their leave but they were stopped by his Indian father.

            “You are men,” said the chief. “You force nobody. Everone is free. Me and my nation will hold true unto you. And I will persuade the nations to come to you as we have already done, from the presents you have sent to them through us. I desire that you accept our gifts and that wee can trade at our own discretion.”

            Now with the bond between the two secure, Radisson turned his wrath to the ‘dog’ that he presented to sword to, who was highly displeased. He looked at the man in the eye when the native spoke.

            “I will kill the Assempoits if they come downe unto us,” said the Indian.

            “I will march into your country and eat Sagamite out of the head of your grandmother.” Radisson knew that this threat was extremely distasteful amongst the Indians. At exactly that instant Radisson called for his gifts to be brought forward, which included three fathoms of black tobacco.[39] Radisson looked back at the insulted Indian.

            “You should go smoke in the country of the tame wolf women’s tobacco,” Radisson said to him. He invited the others to feast. Trade was conducted and concluded and the Indians left home well satified.

Chapter Fifty-two

Departure for Quebec

            Once trade was finished with the natives, Radisson went to Bridgar’s where he took an inventory of what was left, and then went to the fort with Bridgar where Radisson’s nephew had been tasked with burning down the fort. Radisson was relieved to see that it was actually Bridgar who set the fort on fire.[40]

            After assessing the transportation situation and spending time with the New England men, Bridgar requested to build a deck on the shallup. Bridgar was obstinate, saying that if “the shallup were but well decked and fitted, I would willingly venture to go in her unto the Bay, rather than to accept of my passage for France in one of your vessels.”[41] Radisson offered him all that he required, furnished the materials and oversaw this construction.

As this was being done, he returned to his habitation and consulted the young Captain Guillem about the ships.

“Being an Englishman,” he said to Guillem, “what would you prefer? Would you rather give your written consent to put Mr. Bridgar in possession of your ship, or would you rather I should carry her to Quebec?”

“Do not deliver us unto Mr. Bridgar,” Guillem and his men earnestly entreated Radisson. “We will get better usage of the French than the English.” Radisson conferred with his brother-in-law, who left it up to Radisson’s discretion.

Returning to the shallup and Bridgar, Radisson spotted smoke on the other side of the river where the ship was anchored offshore from the fort. He crossed the river and found that it was his Indian father.

            “I am very happy to see you father,” said Radisson. “I invite you to go aboard. If you come at my request, my nephew will treat you civilly and they will fire the great gun on your arrival. You can eat and I will make you a present of biscuits and two fathoms of tobacco.”

            “You are a fool to think your people would do all this without orders.” So Radisson wrote with a piece of coal on the rind of a tree and gave it to him to carry aboard. The chief obliged and was fed on the ship after presenting the bark to the ship’s captain.

          Hee, seeing that All I said unto him was punctually perform’d, was much surpris’d, saying wee were Divells; so they call thos that doe any thing that is strange unto them.[42]

            However, Radisson came to learn that Mr. Bridgar had entered discourse with the Indians despite his promise to the contrary. But worse than this, Bridgar had said that the French were “ill people” and that “he would come and kill us, and that he would traffic with them more to their advantage then the French. He told them he would give them six axes for a beaver skin and a fowling-peece for five skins.”[43]

            Radisson, having removed and inventoried everything from Bridgar’s house, burnt it down. He had along with him three Englishmen and one Frenchmen, but it were the Englishmen who he relied on more because they responded well to being treated kindly. And here in the life story of Pierre Radisson a strange thing happened. On his way back from the burning down of Bridgar’s winter house, he ran into a storm that put his life in danger. He writes in his journal:

          What I did at this time doth shew the great confidence I put in the English; for had I in the least distrusted them, I would not have ventur’d to have gon 11 Leagues from my habitation with 3 English & but one of my owne french men to have fired Mr. Bridgar’s House. Wee were very like to bee lost in returning home. I never was in so great danger in all my life. Wee were surpris’d with a suddain storm of wind neere the flats, & there was such a great mist that wee knew not where wee were.[44]

(It’s extraordinary that a benign task such as this put this man’s life in the most danger of his life, knowing the battles, torture and hardships and starvation this man had endured in his 50 years of living).

            Radisson left his nephew, Jean Baptiste Groseilliers, to carrying out the trade in his absence until his return.

          I left 7 men with him & the absolute command & disposal of all things; which being don I caused our furrs to bee put on board & the ship to fall down to the mouth of the river to set saile the first faire wind.

            During preparations for their departure to Quebec, Bridgar, after sailing between some rivers and assessing the ice in the bay, had second thoughts about leaving so early in the season. The day set for departure, July 20, Bridgar came to Radisson’s ship to load some last-minute supplies.

            “The site of such vast quantities of ice as is in those seas makes me afraid to venture myself in so small a vessel,” said Bridgar. “It’s too rash an action for me to set forth on so great a voyage in such a small boat.” Thinking Radisson would insist on taking him to France, Bridgar asked anyway. “Would you give me passage in your ship?”

            “You will be very welcome,” he replied. “I intend not to force you to anything but only to quit this place.” Since Radisson already had more Englishmen than Frenchmen on his ship, they agreed for Bridgar to take passage in Groseillier’s ship.

            Finally they weighed anchor and left Port Nelson on July 27th, 1683, but after only eight or nine leagues, a storm blew that forced all three ships to take cover in a nearby bay.

          …wee were forced to enter into the Ice & used all our Endevor not to bee farr from each other. The Bark,[45] tacking to come, cast her Grapers[46] on the same Ice as wee fastned unto. Shee split to peeces, so that wee were forced to fend presently to their help & to take out all the goods was on board her, & to lay them on the Ice, to careen, which wee did with much difficulty. Wee continued in this danger till the 24 of August. Wee visited one another with all freedom; yet wee stood on our gard, for the Englishman that wee found the beginning of the winter in the snow, remembering how kindly hee was used by me, gave mee notice of a dessigne the Englishmen had that were in the Bark, of cutting all the Frenchmen’s throats, & that they only waited a fit opportunity to doe it. This hint made us watch them the more narrowly. At night time wee secured them under lock & key, & in the day time they enjoy’d their full liberty.[47]

            When the goods had been transferred, Bridgar wanted to take the fixed Bark back to the Nelson River. When Radisson spoke to Groseilliers, he was not much against it but others were. But soon Radisson had secured the consent from all and Bridgar would take the Bark, until one of the Englishmen who had become particularly loyal to Radisson, was requested by Bridgar to join him. When the Englishman agreed, Radisson grew skeptical and suspicious of his intentions. It was very conceivable that Bridgar and his men could sail back to overcome the Frenchmen still there, led by Jean Baptists Groseilliers. Also, the Englishman who had been so close to him knew much of his business so it could prove useful to Bridgar. When it all was considered, Radisson chose to take Bridgar with him to Quebec.

            When Bridgar learned of Radisson’s resolution, the Hudson Bay Governor wasn’t happy.

… hee flew into great passion, espetially against me, who was not much concerned at it. Wee caus’d him to come into our vessel, and wee tould his people that they may proceed on their voyage without him, and hee should come along with us; after which wee took in our graple Irons from off the Ice, seeing the sea open to the westward and the way free’d to saile. Wee were distant about 120 leagues from the bottom of the Bay when wee parted from the Bark, who might easily have got ther in 8 days, and they had Provisions on board for above a month, vizt, a Barill of Oatmealle, 42 double peeces of Beef, 8 or 10 salt gees, 2 peeces of Pork, a powder Barrell full of Bisket, 8 or 10 pounds of powder, & 50 pounds of short. I gave over & above, unknown to my Brother-in-Law, 2 horns full of Powder & a Bottle of Brandy, besides a Barrill they drank the evening before wee parted. I made one of the new England seamen to goe on board the Bark to strengthen the crew, many of them being sickly.[48]

            Taking advantage of favourable winds, they sailed all the way to the Hudson Straits before they ran into a problem arising from “the negligence or the ignorance of one of our French pilots and seamen.”[49] A storm of wind and snow drove them into a bay “from whence we could not get out.”

          Wee were driven a shoare without any hopes of getting off; but when wee expected evry moment to be lost, God was pleased to deliver us out of this Danger, finding amongst the Rocks wherin wee were ingad’d the finest Harbour that could bee; 50 shipps could have layn there & ben preserv’d without Anchor or cable in the highest storms.

            They remained anchored in this bay for two days, refitted their ship and then again found favourable winds to Quebec, where they arrived at the end of October.

Chapter Fifty-three

Radisson’s Reception by the French

            The first thing he did upon his return was visit Monseuir La Barre, Governor of Canada, to give him an account of what he had done. La Barre saw it fit to hand back the New England ship to Guillem with the insurance that they would no more trespass in the Hudson Bay.[50] Bridgar on the other hand, chose to embark to New England with young Guillem despite Radisson’s warnings that it would take a long time to find safe passage back to England. Radisson suggested that he go to Rochelle in France on a ship ready to set sail. (It was a long time to pass before Bridgar made it back to England). When it came time for Bridgar to go his own way, Radisson notes in his journal”

We parted good friends, & hee can beare me witnesse that I intimated unto him at that time my affection for the English Intrest, & that I was still of the same mynde of serving the King & the nation as fully & affectionately as I had now serv’d the ffrench.[51]

They had survived their situation and conflicting loyalties in the far north and had maintained a degree of dignity with respect to one another, and Radisson had not forgotten the power that this man had as a partner in the Hudson’s Bay Company. But more than all that, it was likely that now, being back in civilization, they both realized what they had endured and survived together against such odds.

            Ten days later, after he had first visited with Monsieur La Barre, a man-of-war arrived from France carrying soldiers and a letter from Monsieur Colbert.[52] Radisson was summoned to speak with Monsieur La Barre.

            “He writes that those who parted last year to make discoveries in the northern parts of America, either return or return soon,” said Monsieur La Barre.

            “Why is that?” asked Radisson.

            “Monsieur Colbert desires you or Groseilliers to give the court an account of what you have done, and of what settlements might be made in those parts. You must forthwith prepare yourself to go satisfy Monsieur Colbert in this business.”

          I willingly accepted the motion, & left my business in the hands of Monsr. De La Chenay, although I had not any very good opinion of him, having dealt very ill by me; but thinking I could not bee a looser by satifying the prime Minister of state, although I neglected my owne privat affaires, I took leave on Monsr. La Barre, & imbark’d for france with my Brother-in-Law, the 11 9ber, 1683, in the frigat that brought the soldiers, and arrived at Rochell the 18 of Xber, where I hear of the death of Monsr. Colbert; yet I continued my jorney to Paris, to give the Court an account of my proceedings.[53]

          I arriv’d at Paris with my Brother-in-Law the 15th January, wher I understood ther was great complaints made against me in the King’s Councill by my Lord Preston, his Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary, concerning what had past in the River and Port Nelson, and that I was accus’d of having cruelly abused the English, Robbed, stoln, and burnt their habitation; for all which my Lord Preston demanded satisfaction, and that exemplary punishment might bee inflicted on the offenders, to content his majesty. This advice did not discourage me from presenting myself before the Marquiss De Signalay, & to inform him of all that had past betwixt the English and me during my voyadge. Hee found nothing amiss in all my proceedings, wherof I made him a true relation; and so farr was it from being blamed in the Court of france, that I may say, without flattering my self, it was well approved, & was commended. I doe not say that I deserv’d it, only that I endeavor’d, in all my proceedings, to discharge the part of an honnest man, and that I think I did no other. I referr it to bee judged by what is contain’d in this narrative, which I protest is faithfull & sincere; and if I have deserved the accusations made against me in the Court of ffrance, I think it needlesse to say aught else in my justification; which is fully to bee seen in the Relation of the voyadge I made by his Majesty’s order last year, 1684, for the Royal Company of Hudson’s Bay; the Successe and profitable returns whereof has destroyed, unto the shame of my Ennemys, all the evell impressions they would have given my actions.[54]

            The ending to the fifth voyage ends with Radisson revealing the manuscript was written for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in effect referring to the French who slandered his name as his enemies. It foreshadows the events that unfold at the beginning of the final chapter in Radisson’s journals: his defection back to the Company, and his successful establishment of trading forts throughout the Hudson’s Bay basin, therefore securing England’s hold on the gateway to the west.



Relation of the Voyage of Peter Esprit Radisson, Anno 1684.


Chapter Fifty-four


            When Radisson and Groseilliers had arrived in Paris, they were already planning their return to northern Canada, preparing ships and gathering all things needed for the journey back to Hudson’s Bay. But before they could leave for another journey they first waited on the French court to make a ruling on whether Radisson would receive back “every fourth beaver skin that the very Christian King took for the customs duty, which had been promissed to me in consideration of my discoveries, voyages, and Services…”[55] He had hoped to yield a profit from his trading for the French crown, more than what he had made from his first voyages with Hudson’s Bay Company the previous decade.

            But this was not all Radisson’s problems upon his return to France. The Minister Extraordinary for the King of England at the Court of France, Lord Preston, was persistent in his accusations of crimes committed by Radisson against the Royal Hudson’s Bay Company. His enemies took great care in supporting these “enormous crimes” while Radisson’s friends came to his aid. But after a while, the waiting and the talking and the extreme skepticism that was created when digesting exactly what Radisson had done in Port Nelson, Radisson became impatient.

          Although at last no longer able to suufer any one to tax my conduct, I considered myself obliged to undeceive each one. I resolved at length within myself to speak, to the effect of making it appear as if my dissatisfaction had passed away. For that effect I made choise of persons who did me the honor of loving me, and this was done in the conversations that I had with them upon the subject. That my heart, little given to dissimulation, had avowed to them, on different occasions, the sorrow that I had felt at being obliged to abandon the service of England because of the bad treatment that I had received from them, & that I should not be sorry of returning to it, being more in a condition than I had been for it, of rendering service to the king and the nation, if they were disposed to render me justice and to remember my services.[56]

It’s extraordinary to ponder what Radisson was doing at this point at his return in 1684. He had – almost single-handedly – taken control of the beaver trade at Port Nelson from the British – a river system that stretches west along the Nelson River to the North Saskatchewan River that reaches the Rocky Mountains at the boundry of Alberta and British Columbia. As a penalty for not believing him and appreciating the dangers, risks and accomplishments he endured and achieved, Radisson is threatening them directly to give all that he gained back to the English. There is no silent hand he is playing here; it is his frank, head-on bluntness with the French Court and the King of France that was in play during this time. Either not seeing or not appreciating the vast ramifications of such a change of power in the west of the New World, history would prove these ramifications to be valid, and the French nation would lose perhaps its greatest undeveloped jewel in its history: what would one day become Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia – incalculatable wealth from natural resources and living space for its peoples. And all of this was decided when Radisson was in Paris, giving his account of the events to the French hoping to be treated honourably and justly.

It was an awesome threat that was in no way hidden from the French by Radisson.

(Also of note here is the question of whether Radisson is being too sensitive to this question of respect and believability. It is true that he valued the native Amerian ways of respect and honour to the point where he is fluent in its etiquette and nuances such that he has been able to secure alliances with tribes hitherto with no contact with Europeans. This extreme emphasis on respect and honour might be the fly in the ointment here in his dealings with the politicians and leaders in the French court, notorious for its culture of cunning powergrabbing, backstabbing and guile).

          I spoke also several times to the English Government. I had left my nephew, son of Sieur des Groseilliers, my brother-in-law, with other Frenchmen, near Port Nelson, who were there the sole masters of the beaver trade, which ought to be considerable at that port, and that it depended upon me to make it profitable for the English. All these things having been reported by one of my particular friends to the persons who are in the interest of the Government, they judged correctly that a man sho spoke freely in that manner, & who made no difficulty in letting his sentiments be known, & who shewed by them that it was possible to be easily led back, by rendering justice to him, to a party that he had only abandoned through dissatisfaction, I was requested to have some conferences with these same persons.

          I took in this matter the first step without repugnance, & upon the report that was made to my Lord Preston of things that we had treated upon in the interviews, & of that of which I claimed to be capable of doing, I was exhorted from his side of re-entering into my first engagements with the English; assuring me that if I could executed that which I had proposed, I should receive from His majesty in England, & from His Royal Highness of the Hudson’s Bay Company, & from the Government, all kinds of good treatment & an entire satisfaction; that, moreover, I need not make myself uneasy of that which regarded my interests, this minister being willing himself to be charged with the care of me, to preserve them, & of procuring me other advantages after that I should be put in a position of rendering service to the King his master. They represented me again that His Royal Highness honoring the Hudson’s Bay Company with his protection, it would pass even on to me if I would employ upon it my credit, my attentions, & the experience that I had in the country of the North, for the utility & the benefit of the affairs of that Company, in which His Royal Highness took great interest.[57]

            Of course it was the King’s cousin, Prince Rupert who was spearheading the Hudson’s Bay so King Charles II had a special interest in the Company, but without a doubt those advisors to the king familiar with maps and colonial geopolitics would inform him of its crucial significance for the British to secure their hold on the northern half of North America. And in no way less important was the notion of Manifest Destiny: that idea that the Anglo-Saxons believed were their destiny as prophecied in the Old Testament of their inheritance of power among the descendents of the twelve sons of Jacob, that their “descendants will become great nations.”[58] The English could see that Radisson had proven his worth time and time again, and that he had the proven skills to be instrumental in expanding their business and power. And they had Bridgar’s testament that Radisson had indeed acted with honor throughout the winter by helping keep him supplied when his men were dying, and that his escort across the Atlantic in Radisson’s ship was more due to circumstance with the ice in the Bay, and not open hostility and capture of an Englishman by a Frenchman.

            To further push him towards changing his allegiance from King Louis XIV to King Charles II, Radisson received some letters in Paris from a man named Ecuyer Young, a man with interest in the Hudson’s Bay Company. In these letters Radisson was assured of a good reception, and that his interests would be taken care of. These letters, plus the continual insistance of Lord Preston, were enough to make him decide that he would return to the English for good.

            Radisson informed very few around him of his decision, preferring instead to carry on as before to as not to cause suspicion. Lord Preston was aware, as well as some of Radisson’s friends and household, as well as some others who knew of his plan.

          I took care to save appearances from suspicion by the danger in which I exposed myself, & up to the evening of my departure I had some conferences with the ministers of the Court of France, & the persons who there have the departments of the marine & commerce, upon some propositions of armament, & the Equipment of the Ships destined for my 2nd voyage.[59]

                        Radisson’s departure date was set for the spring of 1684, but even up to that day, incredibly there was still no suspicion of his defection to the British crown.

          …those with whom I was obliged to confer daily by order of the Ministers of France never doubted in the least of my discontinuing to see them, I told them that I was obliged to make a little journey into the country for some family business, & I could be useful to them during that time by going to London, where I arrived the 10th of May.[60]

            One wonders how the French could not have seen the possibility that Radisson would make true his threats to go over to the English during this trip. Regardless, his abandonment of the French at this time made Radisson’s change of allegiance “the talk of the two nations.” England would become the home of Pierre Radisson for the next 26 years – the rest of his life.

Chapter Fifty-five

Honoured Agreements by King and Company

            When Radisson arrived in London, he went to see Ecuyer Young and Chevalier Hayes, both of whom were involved with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

          [They] gave me a good reception in showing me the joy that they felt at my return, & in giving me such assurances that I should receive on their part & on that of their company all manner of satisfaction. I then explained fully to them the nature of the service that I expected to render to His Majesty, to the Company, & to the Nation, in establishing the Beaver trade in Canada & making those to profit by it who were interested, to the extent of 15 to 20,000 Beaver skins that I hoped to find already in the hands of the French that I had left there, that would cost to them only the Interest that I had in the thing, & the just satisfaction that was owing to the French who had made the trade for them.

          These gentlemen having received in an agreeable manner my prosition, & wishing to give me some marks of their satisfaction, did me the honour of presenting me to His Majesty 7 to His Royal Highness, to whom I made my submission, the offer of my very humble services, a sincere protestation that I would do my duty, that even to the peril of my own life I would emply all my care & attention for the advantage of the affairs of the Company, & that I would seek all occasions of giving proof of my zeal & inviolable fidelity for the service of the King, of all which His Majesty & His Royal Highness appeared satisfied, & did me the favour of honouring me with some evidences of their satisfaction upon my return, & of giving me some marks of their protection.[61]

            Here it is evident that the price for his defection and employment is the pledge to lay down his life in defence of the crown and in the honouring of the agreements. Assuming the King and Queen were aware of the potential power that lay at their hands through this mustachioed and hardened man before them, the ceremony must have been a poignant occasion.

          After that I had several conferences in the assembled body, & in particular with the gentlemen interested in the Hudson’s Bay Company, in which I made them acquainted in what manner it was necessary for them to proceed there for establishing to the best advantage [for] the Beaver trade in the Northern country, the means of properly sustaining it, & of ruining in a short time the trade with foreigners,[62] & to that end I would commence by becoming master of both the fort & the settlement of the French, as well as of all the furs that they had traded for since my departure, on the condition that my influence would serve to convert them, & that my nephew whom I had left commandment in that fort & the other French would be paid what would be to them their legitimate due.[63]

            When the “gentlemen of honour and probity” of the Hudson’s Bay Company considered Radisson’s propsal and compensations, they readily agreed and set to task Radisson to fit and furnish the ships for the execution of the voyage. Radisson accepted the commission “with the greatest pleasure in the world,” leaving eight days later.

          …I took leave of the gentlemen of the Company in giving them fresh assurances of the good success of my voyage if God did me the favour of preserving me from the dangers to which I went to expose myself; of which they appeared so well satisfied that the Chevalier Hayes dared not flatter himself of the advantage that I promissed to him, that they should get from 15 to 20,000 Beavers that I hoped to find in the hands of the French, said, in embracing me, that the company would be satified if I had only 5,000 of them there.[64]

            Radisson departed for Port Nelson in a ship named The Happy Return on May 17th, 1684 from Gravesend in the company of two other Hudson Bay ships. They were to join Radisson to aid in his purpose.

Chapter Fifty-six

Arriving in Port Nelson as an Englishman

            Taking advantage of favourable winds, Radisson’s journey west to Button Bay[65] proved to be smooth and without notable blemish until The Happy Return was separated from the other two Company ships while sailing through the Husdon Straits. Radisson’s ship veered south 40 leagues[66] because the ice.

          …I began to doubt of succeeding in my enterprise by the apprehension that I had that the 2 ships having arrived sooner than ours the men who were inside would not hazard themselves to take any step which could at all do them any damage. Under this anxiety, knowing the necessity that there was that I should arrive the first, I resolved to embark myself in a shallop that we had brought to be employed in any service that might be necessary. I ordered the captain to equip it, and although but little more than 20 leagues from Port Nelson, I put myself on board with 7 men, and after 48 hours of fatigue, without having been able to take any rest because of the danger that there was to us, we found by the breadth of Hayes river,[67] which having recognized, at last we touched land at a point north of the river, where we landed with an Englishman who spoke good french, whom I wished to make accompany me in order that he might be the witness of all that I did.

After having come to land I recognized by certain marks that my nephew, having heard the noise of the cannon of the English ships, had come to the place where we landed to know if his father or myself were arrived, and that he had himself returned [to his fort] after having recognized that they were English shipps. These same marks gave me also to know that he had left me further away from those that I had given him since I had established him for Governor in my absence.[68]

            He decided not to go farther afield to search for his nephew because he still did not know what was going on with the other two English ships. He set forth in his shallop “to go and learn some news.”

            In Radisson’s own words:

          I encouraged for that purpose the 7 men who were with me, who were so diligent that in spite of a contrary wind and tide we arrived in a very little time at the mouth of that great and frightful river of Port Nelson, where I had wished to see myself with such impatience that I had not dreamed a moment of the danger to which we had exposed ourselves. That pleasure was soon followed by another; for I saw at anchor in this same place 2 ships, of which one had the glorious flag of His Majesty hoisted upon his main mast, that I recognized to be the one that was commanded by Captain Outlaw when the one in which I was passed had been separated from the 2 others. At the same time I made the shallop approach & I perceived the new Governor[69] with all his men under arms upon the deck, who demanded of us where our shallop came from, and who we were. Upon that I made myself known, & I went on board the ship, where I learned that the one which was alongside was an English frigate that had abandoned to retire themselves for fear of being insulted by the French & the savages; but that having been met with by Capt Outlaw going out of the bay, he had returned, having learned that I had thrown myself into the service of England, and that I came into the country to re-establish there everything to the advantage of the nation.

          My first care after that was of making myself informed of what had passed between the English and the French since my departure & their arrival. By what the English told me I judged that it was proper to risqué everything to try to join my nephew as soon as possible, & the men that I had left with him; in fine, of endeavouring to reach them by kindness, or to intercept them by cunning, before they received the shock upon what design I came for what was of extreme consequence. Thus without waiting for the arrival of the ship in which I had come, I resolved to embark myself upon the same shallop, which was named “The Little Adventure…”[70]

            His seven men were replaced with fresh men led by Captain Gazer, but they could not sail because of the contrary wind and the currents. When they landed back on shore Radisson chose to go by land to his nephew, as it could not wait. The peril was too great. He sought “the place where I should find the marks of my nephew, which should make me recognise the place where he was & his condition.”[71] He left with Captain Gazer and an Englishman who spoke French, moving all night until the next morning.

          …being arrived at the place where I had told my nephew to leave me some marks, which having taken up, I learned that he & his men had left our old houses & that they had built themselves another of them upon an island above the rapids of the river Hayes. After that we continued our route until opposite to the houses which had been abandoned, where I hoped that we should discover something, or at least that we should make ourselves seen or heard by firing some reports of the gun & making of smoke; in which my attempt was not altogether vain, for after having rested some time in that place we perceived 10 canoes of savages, who descended the river.

          I believed at first that it would be probable they had there some French with them; that my nephew would be able to send to discover who were the people newly arrived, which obliged me to tell Captain Gazer that I should go down to the bank of the river to speak to them; that I prayed him to await me upon the heights without any apprehension, & that in a little while he would be able to render evidence of my fidelity for the service of the Company. I was at the same moment met by the savages, & from the bank of the river I made then the accustomed signal, to the end of obliging them to come towards me; but having perceived that they did not put themselves to the trouble of doing it, I spoke to them in their language, for to make myself known; which done, they approached the bank, & not recognizing me,[72] they demanded of me to see the marks that I had;[73] which having shown them, they gave evidence, by their cries & postures of diversion, the pleasure they had of my arrival.[74]

            The Indians told Radisson that his nephew and the other Frenchmen were four leagues away above the rapids on Hayes River.

            “Your nephew was expecting his father Groseilliers too,” said the Indians.

            “He has arrived. He will see his father in a few days,” said Radisson.

            “We did not recognize you.”

            “That is okay,” he replied. “We have always loved you as our brothers.” The Indians nodded. “Here are some marks of my amity.” The Indians thanked him, and then promptly apologized for not recognizing him, and for trading with the English.

          …they thanked me in begging me to not be angry for that which, by counsel, they had been trading with the English, nor of that when I found them going to meet their captain, who had gone across some woods, with 20 men, to the English ships, to procure some poder & guns, which they did; that their laying over for a month, in awaiting for me, had compelled them, but that since I had arrived they would not go on farther, & that their chief, whom they went to inform of my arrival, would speak more of it to me. As I had occasion for some one among them to inform my nephew that I was in the country, I asked of all of them if they loved the son of des Groisille, & if he had not some relation among them; upon which there was one of them who said to me: “He is my Son; I am ready to do that which thou wishest,” & at that moment, he having landed, I made him throw his Beaver skin on the ground, & after having called Captain Gazer, I spoke in these terms to this savage in the presence of all others:

          “I have peace with the English for love of you. They & I from henceforth shall be but one. Embrace this captain & myself in token of peace. He is my new brother, & this one thy son. Go at once to him to carry this news, with the token of peace, & tell him to come to see me in this place here, whilst the savages of the Company go attend me to the mouth of the river.”

          This savage did not fail to go & inform his son, my nephew, of my arrival & of carrying to him the news of peace between the French & the English, during which we awaited with impatience his descent towards the place where we were; whom, nevertheless, did not arrive until the morrow, about 9 o’clock in the morning. I saw at first my nephew, in a canoe with 3 other Frenchmen, accompanied by another canoe of the savages that I had sent, & which came in advance to inform me of the arrival of my nephew. I promised to this savage & his comrade each one a watch-coat, & returned to them their Beaver skins, with the order of going to join those of their nation, & to wait for me at the mouth of the river. After that, Captain Gazer, the Englishman who spoke French, & myself waded into the water half-leg deep to land upon a little island where my nephew, with his men, would come on shore. He had arrived there before us, & he came to meet us, saluting me, greatly surprised at the union that I had made with the English. We then proceeded all together in his canoe as far as our old houses, where I had the English and French to enter, & whilst they entertained each other with the recital of their mutual hardships, I spoke privately to my nephew…[75]

            Radisson avoided having this discussion in front of the men in order to give a fuller explanation to Groseilliers’ son.         

            “It is within your recollection, without doubt, of having heard your father relate how many pains and fatigues we have had in serving France during several years,” said Radission. “You have also been informed by him that the recompense we had reason to hope for from her, was a black ingratitude on the part of the court as well as on the part of the company of Canada.[76] Having reduced us to the necessity of seeking to serve elsewhere, the English received us with evidences of pleasure and satisfaction. You know also the motives that have obliged your father and myself, after 13 years of service,[77] to leave the English. The necessity of subsisting, the refusal that showed the bad intention of the Hudson’s Bay Company to satisfy us, have given occasion to our separation, and to the establishment that we have made, and for which I left you in possession in parting for France.

            “But you ignore, without doubt,” continued Radisson, “that the prince who reigns in England had disavowed the proceedings of the company in regard to us, and that he had caused us to be recalled to his service, to receive the benefits of his Royal protection, and a complete satisfying of our own discontents. I have left your father in England, happier than we in this, that he is assured of his subsistence, and that he commences to taste some repose; whilst I come to inform you that we are now Englishmen, and that we have preferred the goodness and kindness of a clement and easy king, in following our inclinations, which are to serve people of heart and honour in preference to the offers that the King of France caused to be made to us by his ministers, to oblige us to work indirectly for his glory.

            “I received an order, before leaving London, of taking care of you, and of obliging you to serve the English nation. You are young, and in a condition to work profitably for your fortune. If you are resolved to follow my sentiments I never will abandon you. You will receive the same treatment as myself. I will participate even at the expense of my interests for your satisfaction. I will have a care also of those who remain under my control in this place with you, and I shall leave nothing undone that will be able to contribute to your advancement. I love you; you are of my blood. I know that you have courage and resolution; decide for yourself promptly, and make me see by your response, that I wait for, that you are worthy of the goodness of the clement prince that I serve; but do not forget, above all things, the injuries that the French have inflicted upon one who has given his life to you, and that you are in my power.”[78]

            Jean Baptiste Groseilliers didn’t need any time to ponder what he was going to do.

            “I have no other sentiments but yours,” he said to his uncle. “I will do all you ask of me, but I beg you to help care for my mother. She is French and she will need understanding.”

            “I have not forgotten she is my sister,” he replied. Radisson agreed to care for his sister.

            “I hereby handover power to you my uncle,” said the young Groseilliers, handing him the command that Radisson had given him before he left for Europe. They embraced.

            “You should appear in the assembly of the English and French as satified as you should be, and leave the rest to my management.”

            They both re-entered the house. Radisson stopped one of the Frenchmen.

“Go immediately and inform your comrades that all would go well if they should have entire confidence in me and obey all my orders, which doing they will want for nothing.” It was agreed and Port Nelson was now in the hands of the English.

Chapter Fifty-seven

“Porcupine Head”

            Radisson wasted no time to begin organizing his new domain.

“Inform the natives,” he said to the same Frenchman, “to come to me and work immediately with their comrades to bring back into the house the beaver skins buried in the woods. And to this end to be able to work with more diligence because I will double their rations.” He indicated to the Frenchman to remain a little longer so that the young Groseilliers could accompany him.

“Go and act as his interpreter,” he said to his nephew. “Cross the river with him and then by land go to the north side at the rendezvous point there. It’s the same place where I told the natives to meet me yesterday. I will meet you there too when I make my way by water with Captain Gazer and two other men.”

The young Groseilliers embarked on his mission with the Frenchman and Radisson shortly thereafter descended the river at the mouth, where he found the natives waiting impatiently. There were 30 other canoes there that Radisson had also asked to join them.

We were all together in the canoes of the savages & boarded some ships which were stranded upon Nelson’s River.[79]

            There in that strait he spoke to the Indian chief after Radisson had given him a present.

            “Me and my people will speak of your name to all the nations, to invite them to come to you to smoke the pipe of peace.” The chief’s demeanor changed slightly as he became serious.

            “I blame the English Governor for telling me that Groseilliers had been made to die and that you, Radisson, were a prisoner, and that the Governor had come to destroy what was left of the French,” said the chief. Radisson shook his head.

            “No, this is not true.”

            “The Governor is unworthy of my friendship, as well as those who shared his falsehoods,” grumbled the chief with indignation.

          He offered several times to inflict injuries upon the governor, who endeavoured to justify himself for these things that he had said to them through imprudence against the truth. But the chief savage would not hear anything in his defense, neither of those of the other Englishmen there; all of them were become under suspicion. Nevertheless I appeased this difference by the authority that I have upon the spirit of these nations; & after having made the governor & the chief embrace, & having myself embraced both of them, giving the savage to understand that it was a sign of peace, I said to him also that I wished to make a feast for this same peace, & that I had given orders what they should have to eat.[80]

            Before the feast when there were only the chief and his people, Radisson spoke to him in earnest about the French and the English.

            “The French are not good seamen,” he said to the chief. “They are afraid of the icebergs which they have to pass across if they want to bring any merchandise. Besides, there ships are weak and incapable of resistance in the northern seas.” The chief listened quietly. “But the English! They are strong, hardy and enterprising. They have knowledge of all the seas,[81] and an infinite number of large and strong ships that carry for them merchandices in all weathers and without stoppage.”

            Once Radisson had related the experience, strength and valour of the English, the chief was wise to aquit himself of his earlier opinions of the English, and was then well satisfied. The feast then commenced with all the natives and French dining together.

          The repast being finished, it was a question with me whether I should commence to open a trade; & as I had formed the design of abolishing the custom which the English had introduced since I had left their service, which was of giving some presents to the savages to draw them to our side, which was opposed to that that I had practiced, for in place of giving some presents I had myself made, I said then to the chief of the savages in the presence of those of his nation, “that he should make me presents that I ordinarily received on similar occasions.” Upon that they spoke between themselves, & at length they presented me with 60 skins of Beaver…[82]

            The natives, realizing the change in custom and its meaning, spoke to Radisson as was custom when giving a gift.

            “Accept these beaver skins as a sign of our ancient friendship. We are far removed from our country and have been fasting for several days in coming, and will soon fast during our return. The English gave to all the nations 3 hatchets for a beaver skin, but the beaver is very difficult to kill. Our misery is worthy of pity.”

            “I have compassion for your condition, and I will do all within my power to relieve you,” Radisson replied. “But it’s much more reasonable that you make me some presents rather than I to you because I came from a country very far from here with excellent merchandise. I’ve spared you the trouble of going to Quebec. And as to the difference between the English before and us today, each is his master of that which belonged to him, and at liberty to dispose of it according to his pleasure. It matters very little of trading with them since I have for my friends all the other Indian nations; those were the masters of my merchandises who yielded themselves to my generosity for it. There have been 30 years that I have been their brother, and I will be in the future your father if you continue to love me.

            “But if you harbor other sentiments, I am very easy about the future because I will cause all the other nations around to be called to trade with them my merchandise. The gain that they would receive by the succour rendered to them would put them into a powerful position to dispute the passage to all Indians who dwell in the lands. So by this means, if you do not favour trade with me, you would reduce yourselves to lead a languishing life; a life in which you would see your wives and children die by war or famine, of which your allies – although powerful – will not guarantee your safety because they had neither knives nor guns.”

            It was after this speech that the Indians whole-heartedly agreed to trade with Radisson and to give Radisson and his HBC men their allegiance. Since they had an extreme need for guns and knives, he offered 10 knives for one beaver skin, despite the fact that the King had given him orders to not give more than five. And for a gun he asked for 12 skins, but the Indians insisted on seven and up to ten beavers for a gun, which is what it was before with the English. Radisson agreed with the lower price and the trade was concluded with all manner of good friendship and respect. The chief promised to return in token of his satisfaction, but just as he was leaving, the young Groseilliers arrived. He had just returned from a visit to the chief at a neighbouring nation. The chief, named Bear’s Grease, was still with him.

            “You will not return,” said Radisson’s nephew to the chief about to depart. He drew aside the Indian chief. “I have been informed that you do not love us and that you will return no more.”

            “Who said this you?” he demanded, greatly surprised.

            “It is the Indian called Bear’s Grease.” When the chief and his men heard the name Bear’s Grease, they armed themselves and spoke to one another. Bear’s Grease appeared behind the young Groseilliers.

            “Declare yourself!” said the chief to Bear’s Grease. “Declare yourself of this charge with the firmness of a man with courage.” Bear’s Grease could say nothing in reply.

            Radisson, aware that this conflict had arisen because of the guile of the new Governor sowing discord, stepped in to calm the situation. He explained to the chiefs that the lies were from the man who called himself Governor, but who was no longer in charge. Radisson offered his own thoughts on the matter:

          Jealousy, which prevails as much also among these nations as among Christians, had given place to this report, in which my nephew had placed belief because he knew that the conduct of the Governor[83] towards them had given to them as much of discontent against us all as he had caused loss to the Company; the genius of this people being that one should never demand whatever is just, that is to say, that which one wishes to have for each thing that one trades for, & that when one retracts, he is not a man. That makes it clear that there are, properly, only the people who have knowledge of the manners & customs of these nations who are capable of trading with them, to whom firmness & resolution are also extremely necessary.[84]

            When Radisson “effected their reconciliation” between the two chiefs, one of the chiefs called him “Porcupine Head,” which was the name the Indians had chosen to call him among themselves.[85] The Indians chief and his 100 men finally departed for their country. The next time the chief would return to trade with Radisson he would bring with him more than 100 men. And with him he would bring 13 nations.

Chapter Fifty-eight

The French House

            On the way back from his meeting with the Indians, Radisson and his group went by land to where they had left their canoes and left for Hayes River.

          We had the pleasure of contemplating at our ease the beauty of the country & of its shores, with which the Governor was charmed by the difference that there was in the places that he had seen upon Nelson’s river.

We embarked[86] ourselves then in the canoe just at the place where the French had built their new house, [87] where we found those who were left much advanced in the work that I had ordered them to do, however, very inquiet on account of having no news from my nephew, their commandant, nor of me. They had carried all the beaver skins from the wood into the house & punctually executed all my other orders.

Having then seen myself master of all things without having been obliged to come to any extremity for it, the French being in the disposition of continueing their allegiance to me, I made them take an Inventory of all that was in the house, where I found 239 packages of beaver skins, to the number of 12,000 skins, and some merchandise for trading yet for 7 or 8,000 more, which gave me much satisfaction.

Then I told my nephew to give a command in my name to these same Frenchmen to bring down the beaver skins as far as the place where they should be embarked to transport them to the ships, which was executed with so much diligence that in 6 days eight or ten men did (in spite of difficulties which hindered them that we could go in that place but by canoes because of the rapidity & want of water that they had in the river) what others would have had trouble in doing in 6 months, without any exaggeration. My nephew had in my absence chosen this place where he built the new house that was, so to speak, inaccessible, to the end of guaranteeing himself from the attacks that they would be able to make against him; & it was that same thing which restrained the liberty of going & coming there freely & easily.[88]

            The Indian chief and his 100 men were still on their journey back when they came upen Radisson at his house. Since the tobacco on the ships had been bad, Radisson had not given any to the chief so the chief was here now to get some tobacco. Fortunately his nephew had some good tobacco to spare, which he gave to the chief as a present. But as this was being done, Radisson saw some rejected quantities of another tobacco on the ground beside his house. It appeared it had been thrown there in indignation.

          I turned over in my mind what would have possibly given occasion for this, when the great chief & captain of the savages came to tell me that some young men of the band, irritated by the recollection of that which the English had said to them, that my brother, des Groseilliers, was dead, that I was a prisoner, & that they were come to make all the other Frenchmen perish, as well as some reports of cannon that they had fired with ball in the wood the day that I was arrived, had thus thrown away this tobacco which had come from the English by mistake, not wishing to smoke any of it. He assured me also that the young men had wisked designs upon the English; that he had diverted them from it by hindering them from going out of the house. The Governor, who had difficulty in believing that this tobacco thrown upon the sands was the omen of some grievous enterprise, was nevertheless convinced of it by the discourse of the savage. I begged him to come with me into the house, & to go out from it no more, with the other English, for some time; assuring them, nevertheless, that they had nothing to fear, & that all the French & myself would perish rather than suffer that one of them should be in the least insulted. After which I ordered my nephew to make all those savages imbark immediately, which was done. Thus we were delivered from all kinds of apprehension, & free to work at our business.[89]

            The finesse required to engineer a brand new allegiance to the English cannot be underestimated, especially with young braves wanting revenge from the bond they had established with Radisson before his departure to Europe the previous year. Added to this spicey mix was the lack of dignity of this HBC Governor who was not a man with whom the natives could trust, as he did not understand the customs and values of the natives with whom he expected to trade him beaver pelts. Only the strength of determination and the force of his character had Radisson pulled off this coup that would cause ripple effects in the Manifest Destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race at the expense of his own.

Chapter Fifty-nine

The Murder of the Chief

            Radisson was relieved and had a lot to be happy about. So many possible things could have gone wrong but somehow the chain of command was passed to him with little resistance. With the serious fury of his project over with, it enabled the new Company man to reflect on his achievement, and in doing this realizing the crucial role his nephew had played in its execution.

          In the mean while, I could not admire enough the constancy of my nephew & of his men in that in which they themselves laboured to dispossess themselves of any but good in favour of the English, their old enemies, for whom they had just pretensions, without having any other assurances of their satisfaction but the confidence that they had in my promises. Besides, I could not prevent myself from showing the pleasure that I experienced in having succeeded in my enterprise, & of seeing that in commencing to give some proofs of my zeal for the service of the English Company I made it profit them by an advantage very considerable; which gave them for the future assurances of my fidelity, & obliged them to have care of my interests in giving me that which belonged to me legitimately, & acquitting me towards my nephew & the other French of that which I had promissed them, & that a long & laborious work had gained for them.[90]

            For three days Radisson rested and organized, and then found the time to speak to his nephew Jean Baptiste Groseilliers about the murder of two Englishmen while he was away. Radisson asked an Englishman from the Company to join in the discussion for the company’s records.

            “Some days after your departure,” said young Groseilliers, “in the year 1683, the 27th of July, there were a number of reports of cannon-shots that we heard fired on the side of the great river[91] made us believe that they came from some English ship that had arrived. In fact, having sent 3 of my men to know, and endevour to understand their plan, I learned from them on their return that it was two English ships, and that they had encountered three Englishmen a league from the ships. But my men had not spoken to them, having contented themselves with saluting both. As my primary aim was to discover the English plans, so since my men had done nothing in it, I sent back three others to the point between the two rivers Nelson and Hayes. They met 14 or 15 savages loaded with merchandise, to whom, having demanded from whence they were and from whence they had come. They replied that their nation lived along the river called Nenosavern,[92] which is to the south of Hayes. They had come here to trade with their brothers who were established at the bottom of the bay.[93]

            “My men told them who they were and where they lived, and then begged the savages to come smoke with them some tobacco – the most esteemed in the country. They freely consented, making it appear to my men that they were much chagrined in not having known sooner that we were established near them, giving evidence that they would have been well pleased to have made their trade with us.

            “In continuing to converse upon several things touching trade, my men and the savages arrived together at our house, but then one of the savages said that his men should no go inside yet because he had left something behind. He told his comrades to stay there at the house until he returned, and then he left for the woods to find the lost item. When the savage returned with the item found two days later, he witnessed the good reception I gave to his brothers and he was given some tobacco. But I discovered that this savage had had quite another plan than of going to seek that which he had lost, having learned that he had been heard telling the other savages that he had been to find the English, and that he was charged by them of making some enterprise against us.

            “In fact, this villain, having seen me alone and without any defence, must set himself to execute his wicked plan. He seized me by the hand, and in telling me that I was of no value since I loved not the English, and that I had not paid him by a present for the possession of the country that I lived in to him who was the chief of all the nations, and the friend of the English at the bottom of the bay. He let fall the robe which covered him, and standing all naked he struck me a blow with his poniard[94] which I luckily parried with the hand. I received a light wound, which did not hinder me from seizing him by the necklace that he had around his neck, and throwing him to the ground, which having given me the leisure of taking my sword and looking about, I perceived that the other savages had also poniards in their hands, with the exception of one, who cried out ‘Do not kill the French, for their death will be avenged by all the nations from above, upon all our families.’

            “The movement that I had made to take my sword did not prevent me from holding my foot upon the throat of my enemy. I knew that that posture with my sword had frightened the other conspirators so there was none of them there who dared approach. On the contrary, they all went out of the house armed with their poniards. But some Frenchmen who were near to us, having perceived things thus, they ran in a fury right to the house, where having entered, the savages threw their poniards upon the ground in saying to us that the English had promised to their chief a barrel of powder and other merchandise to kill all the French, but that their chief being dead – for they believed in fact that he was so – we had nothing more to fear, because that they were men of courage, abhorring wicked actions.

“My people, having seen that I was wounded, put themselves into a state to lay violent hands on the savages, but I prevented any disturbance, saying that by that generousity I did not fear the English nor themselves. After which they left us, and we resolved to put ourselves better upon our guard in the future, and of having our savage allies come to our relief.

            “Some days after, these savages, by the smoke of our fires, which were our ordinary signals, arrived at our house. According to their custom, they having been aprised of my adventure, without saying anything to us, marched upon the trail of the other savages, and having overtaken them, they invited them to a feast. They wanted to know from them the truth of things, which having been informed, they knew that the chief wished to assassinate me.

“My adopted brother-in-law[95] spoke to the chief: ‘Thou art not a man, because that, having about thee 15 of thy people, thou hast tried to accomplish the end of killing a single man.’ To which the other replied haughtily, and with impudence, ‘It is true, but if I have missed him this autumn with the 15 men, he shall not escape in the spring by my own hand alone.’

“’It is necessary,’ then replied my adopted brother-in-law, ‘that thou makest me die first; for without that I shall hinder thy wicked design.’ Upon which, having come within reach, the chief whose life I had spared received a blow of a bayonet in the stomach, and another of a hatchet upon the head, upon which he fell dead upon the spot. In respect to the others, they did not retaliate with any kind of bad treatment, and they allowed them to retire will all liberty, in saying to them that if they were in the design of revenging the death of their chief, they had only speak, and they would declare war upon them.

            “After that expedition these same savages – our allies – divided into two parties, and without telling us their intentions, descended to the place where the English made their establishment. They attacked them and killed some of them, of which they then came to inform me, telling me that they had killed a great number of my enemies to avenge me of the conspiracy that they had done me and my brother. They told me they were ready to sacrifice their lives for my service.

“In recognition of their loyalty, I thanked them and made them a feast, begging them not to kill anymore of them, and to await the return of my father and my uncle. They would revenge upon the English the insult which they had made me, without their tarnishing the glory that they had merited in chastising the English and the savages, their friends, of their perfidy. We were nevertheless always upon the defensive, and we apprehended being surprised at the place where we were as much on the part of the English as of those of the savages.

“This is why we resolved of coming to establish ourselves in the place where we are at present, and which is, as you see, difficult enough of access for all those who have not been enslaved as we are amongst the savages, and for still greater security we obliged several among them to pass the winter with us on the condition of our feeding them, which was the reason that our young men parted in the summer, having almost consumed all our provisions.”

Radisson smiled at Jean Baptiste Groseilliers who had grown into a fine young man, strong and able like he had been at his age, and who had put in the time to learn the native language and learn their customs, which had helped him and his men survive in these extreme conditions and far-off location. He leaned forward and put his hand on his nephew’s shoulder.

“Did you have any hardships during the winter? This land can be very unforgiving.”

“During the winter nothing worthy of mention passed, except that some savages made several juggles to know from our Manitou, who is their familiar spirit among them, if my father and my uncle would return in the spring. The Great Spirit Manitou answered them that they would not be missing there, and that they would bring with them all kinds of merchandise and of that which would avenge them on their enemies.”

“Their Manitou was right. We did return and we did bring them merchandise that can improve their lives, like pots and pans and knives and hammers, but also weapons that will ensure their survival from their enemies.” There, in the darkned light of their French House, they looked at one another knowing what they had accomplished and perhaps knowing – to some degree – what it would mean for the control and development of the vast lands that lay to the west.

Chapter Sixty

Poised for Battle

            The next day, at the insistence of Radisson, Jean Baptiste Groseilliers further recount what had happened during Radisson’s time away from Port Nelson, bringing with him an Englishman of the company as a witness.

            “In the spring, April of last year,[96] some savages from the south coast arrived at our new house to trade for guns, but as we had none they went to the English. I afterwards learned that the English made them some presents and promised them many other things if they would undertake to kill me and one of my men who lay wounded.[97] These savages, encouraged by the hope of gain, accepted the proposition and promised to execute it. To that end they found an opportunity of gaining over one of the savages who was among us, who served them as a spy, and informed them of all that we did. Nevertheless they dared not attack us with open force, because they feared us.

            “The Frenchmen who was wounded, had gone by my orders with one of his comrades to the place where these savages – our friends – made some smoked stag meat that they had just killed, and asked them to bring me some of it. But as he went to the savages he saw another stag and in chasing it, fell upon the barrel of his gun. He bent it in such a manner that he could not kill anything with it without before having straightened it, which having done, after having arrived at the place where the savages were, he wished to make a test of it. He fired a shot at some distance from their cabin, but whilst he disposed himself to that, one of the savages from the south, who had promised to the English his death and mine, and who was unknown to several of his comrades amongst the others, fired a shot at him with his gun, piercing his shoulder with a ball.

“He cried out directly that they had killed him, and that it was for the men who loved the French to avenge his death. These savages, who were our allies, went out of their cabins and followed the culprit without his adherents daring to declare themselves. But the pursuit was useless, for he saved himself in the wood after having thrown away his gun and taken in its place his bow and his quiver. This behaviour surprised our allies, the savages, exceedingly, and obliged them to swear, in their manner, vengeance for it, as much against that savage nation as against the English. However, not having enough guns for that enterprise, they resolved to wait until my father and uncle had arrived.

“In the meantime they sent for all the nations who had sworn friendship to my father and you to come to make war upon the English and the savages on the southern coast. It was made known to them that they were obliged to take our side because that they had – at other times – accepted our presents in token of peace and of goodwill.

            “As soon as these other nations had received intelligence of the condition in which we were, they resolved to assist us with all their forces. And in waiting the return of you and my father, they sent two of their young men as a token of their courage. One the most considerable chiefs among these nations was deputized to conduct them. I received them as I ought.

“This chief was the adopted father of my uncle, and one of the best friends of the French, whom I found adapted to serve me to procure an interview with the English, to the end of knowing what could possibly be their resolution. For that purpose I deputized this chief savage towards the English, to persuade them to allow that I should visit them and take their word that they not make me any assault, neither whilst with them nor along the route there, for which this chief stood security. The English accepted the proposition.

“I made them a visit with one of the French who carried the present that I made them, in the manner of the savages, and who received it on their part for me according to custom. We traded nothing in that interview regarding our business, because I remembered that the English blamed everything on the savages. All the advantage that I received in that step was of making a trade for the savages, my friends, of guns which I wanted, although they cost me dear by the gratuity which I was obliged to make to those who I employed there. But it was important that I had in fact hindered the savages, who came down from the country, to pass on as far as the English and trade with them.

“The end of that invitation and that visit was that I promised to the solicitation of the Governor of the English of visiting there once again whith my chief, after which we retired to our house. There I was informed of some discontented savages not to go any more to see the English, because they had resolved either to arrest me prisoner or to kill me. When my chief learned of this, he told me that he wished no more to be security. His word with a nation who didn’t keep its word was pointless.

“This caused us to remain at home, keeping up a very strict guard. At the same time the river Hayes having become free of ice, several detachments of the nations who were our allies arrived to assist us. The Asenipoetes[98] alone made more than 400 men. They were the descendents of the Christionaux[99] of the old acquaintance of you, my uncle, and all ready to make war with the English, but I did not find it desirable to interest them in it directly nor indirectly because I did not wish to be held on the defensive in awaiting the return of my father or of you. Besides I knew there were several other nations who loved the French, more particularly those who would come to our relief at the least signal.

“The chief of the Asenipoetes did not wish us to leave his camp around our house, resolved to await up to the last moment the return of my uncle, of whom he always spoke, making himself break forth with the joy that he would have in seeing him by a thousand postures. He often repeated that he wished to make it appear that he had been worthy of the presents that the Governor of Canada had made to him formerly in giving tokens of his zeal to serve the French.[100]

            “The necessity for supplies which should arrive in their camp partly hindered the effects of that praiseworthy resolution by the chief of the Asenipoetes, causing him to send back into his country 40 canoes in which he embarked 200 of the feeblest and least resolute men. He kept with him a like number of men more robust, and those who were able to endure fatigue and hunger. He made sure they would be content with certain small fruits, which commenced to ripen, for their subsistence, in order to await the new moon, in which the spirit of the other savages had predicted your arrival. They believed this infallible because their superstitious custom is of giving faith to all which their Manitou predicts.

“They remained in that state until the end of the first quarter of the moon, during which their oracles had assured them that my uncle would arrive; but the time having expired, they believed their Manitou had deceived them, and it was determined between them to join us. We separated into two bodies so as to go attack the English and the savages at the south. They resolved to pass the winter with us, and then to burn the English ships in order to remove the means of defending themselves in the spring and of effecting their return. The savages learned that the English had a plan to attack the French, which contributed much to the zeal of their deliberation.

            “These menaces on the part of the English were capable of producing bad effects, the genius of the savages being of never awaiting their enemies, but on the contrary of going to seek them. In this design the chief of the Asenipoetes disposed himself to march against the English with a party of his people. When 10 or 12 persons were seen on the northern side of the Hayes River seeking for those same fruit on which the savages had lived for some time, he believed that they were the advance guard of the English and of the savages from the south, whom he supposed united, who came to attack us. This caused him to make all his men take their bows and arrows, after which he arranged them in order of battle, and made this address in our presence:

“‘My design is to pass the river with two of the most courageous among you to go attack the enemy, and of disposing of you in a manner that you may be in a condition of relieving me or of receiving me. The French will form the corps of reserve, and our women will load in our canoes all our effects, which they are to throw over in case necessity requires it. But before undertaking this expedition, I wish that you make choice a chief to command you in my absence or in case of my death.’

“Which having been done at the moment, this brave chief addressing us said: ‘We camp ourselves upon the edge of the wood with our guns, so as to hinder the approach of the enemy; and then it would be necessary to march the men upon the edge of the water, to the end that they should be in a condition to pass to support or to receive him, according to the necessity.’

“After that the chief passed the river with two men – the most hardened of his troops – who had greased themselves, like himself, from the feet up to the head. Having each only two poniards for arms, their design was to go right to the chief of the English, present to him a pipe of tobacco as a mark of union, and then, if he refused it, endeavour to kill him and make for themselves a passage through his people with their poniards as far as the place where they would be able to pass the river to be supported by their men. But after having marched as far as the place where the persons were who they had seen, they recognized that it was some women, to whom they spoke. They returned upon their steps, and said to us that there was nothing to fear, and that it was a false alarm.”

Women!” exclaimed Radisson. “But what a show of bravery and loyalty by our allied natives. For me it is so great to hear this.” His nephew smiled.

“Indeed, this general proceeding on their part gave us proof of their courage and of their amity in a manner that the confidence that we had placed in their help had put us in a condition of fearing nothing on the part of the English, nor of those there of the savages of the south. We were in that state when God, who is the author of all things, and who disposes of them according to his good pleasure, gave me the grace of your arrival into this country to arrest the course of these disorders, who could come and work for our reconciliation.”

“I am a man of my word Jean Baptiste.”

“Yes, I have always know that my uncle. And now that work so much desired on both sides is accomplished.”

“It depends not upon me that it may not be permanent,” said Radisson. “Live henceforth like brothers in good union and without jealousy.”

“Yes, and as for myself, I am resolved, if the time should arrive, of sacrificing my life for the glory of the King of Great Britain, for the interest of the nation and the advantage of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and of obeying in all thirds you: my uncle.”[101]

Chapter Sixty-one

Saying Farewell to the Natives

            Radisson was grateful for the backstory of what had passed between the French, the English, their Indian Assiniboine allies and the Severn Indians to the south; he now understood what he had walked into. He plainly recognized the need to succour the English, and that the French were in need of some provisions such as guns that only he had the means to provide. He was still busy loading beaver skins into the shallops that would take the skins to the frigate, which discharged them to the ships. Radisson was always present during the work “for the purpose of animating all our men,” who worked with great application until the job was finished.

            Radisson had been given a secret order by the company, leaving it up to his discretion. He had been tasked with retaining in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company his nephew and two other Frenchmen of his choosing, one of which would be the wounded Frenchman who could speak the dialect. They were to remain in the country in his absence.

          In the mean time I resolved to make the proposition to my nephew, believing that after gaining him I should be able easily to add the others also. I caused to assemble for that end 5 or 6 of the savages of the most consideration in the country with the Governor, & for the advantage of the company it was necessary that he should remain in the country. To which he was averse at first; but the Governor having assured him that he would trust him as his own nephew, & that he would divide the authority that he had with him, and myself on my part having reproached him that he was not loyal to the oath of allegiance that he had sworn to me, these reasons obliged him to determine, & he assured me that he was ready to do all that I wished of him, telling him that I left him amongst them to receive in my absence the marks of amity that they had sworn to me, & that they regarded him as the nephew of the one who had brought peace to the nations & made the union of the English & French in making by the same means the brothers of both.

This last success in my affairs was proof to me of the authority that I had over the French & the savages; for my nephew had no sooner declared that he submitted himself to do what I wished, than all the other Frenchmen offered themselves to risk the ennui of remaining in the country, although my design was only to leave but two of them; & the savages on their part burst out in cries of joy in such a manner that I no more considered after that but to put an end to all things.[102]

All our beaver skins having been embarked, I resolved, after having put everything into tranquil & assured state for my return into England, where my presence was absolutely necessary, to make known to the Company in what manner it was necessary to act to profit advantageously the solid establishment that I cam to do & the things which were of indespensible necessity in the country to facilitate the trade with the savages & hindering them from making any of it with foreigners, that is to say, with the French of Canada.[103]

            Then he saw his nephew for the last time at the French House, where he arrived with the end of leaving some Englishmen there. Radisson found a number of savages there who had come to visit with him. Among them was a venerable old man who spoke to him.

            “Porcupine Head,” said the old man, “thy heart is good and thou hast great courage, having made peace with the English for the love of us. Behold, we have come towards thee, old and young, wives and daughters and little children, to thank thee for it, and to recognize thee for our father. We wish to be children and adopt for our son the nephew that thou lovest so much, and in fine to give thee an eternal mark of the obligation that we have to thee. We weep no more henceforth except for the memory of those of whom thou bearest thy name.”

            After the venerable old man had spoken, one of the young people there fell on his knees “as if in a swoon” along with another behind him.

            “Men and women, young men and children, even those who are at the breast, remember this one here for your father,” said the old man. “He is better than the sun that warms you. You will find always in him a protector who will help you in your needs and console you in your afflictions. Men, remember that he gave you guns during the course of the year for you to defend yourselves against your enemies, and to kill the beasts that nourish you and your families. Wives, consider that he gave you hatchets and knives with which you banish hunger from your country. Daughters and children fear nothing more since the one who is your father loves you always. And that he gave you from time to time all that is necessary for you to have your subsistence. We all together weep no more, on the contrary give evidence by cries of our mirth that we have beheld the man of courage.”

            Whereupon they all cried with all their might, weeping bitterly for the last time. “We have lost our father,” they said. Then Radisson looked at his nephew and spoke loudly.

            “Here is the nephew of your father, who will be your son; he remains with you and he will have care of his mothers.” Hereupon all the Indians came forward to be acknowledged by the adoption with some presents. Radisson and the young Groseilliers were also given presents.

          … [They were] covering us with robes of white beaver skins, giving us quantities of beaver’s tails, Some bladders of stag’s marrow, several tongues of the same animal smoked, that which is the most exquisite to eat among them. They also presented us two great copper boilers full of smoked & boiled flesh, of which is called a feast among these nations. After that I said adieu to them, & having given charge in the house what should be embarked in the ship, I went down to the mouth of the River, where Captain Gazer worked to build a fort in the same place where the preceding year Sieur Bridgar had made to be constructed his shallop. It was the most advantageous situation that he had been able to find, & I advised that he should make all the diligence possible; but he had some men who by their delicacy were incapable of responding to his vigilence. I made this observation because I hold it for a maxim that one should only employ men robust, skilful, & capable of serving, & that those who are of a complexion feeble, or who flatter themselves of having protection & favour, ought to be dismissed.[104]

            In this scene it is the end of an era between Pierre Radisson and the native peoples of North America – that early history that was marked by brave coureur de bois who risked their lives to push forth into the unknown wilderness in order to establish relations with hitherto unknown peoples for the mutual benefit of both races, and that would provide the first cause of a change that would create a new history of the New World.

Chapter Sixty-two

The Governor

            Radisson then went to the ships to let the captains know that it was time to set sail, but when he arrived at the ships an Indian came to him and informed Radisson that his adopted father, who had been away at the wars, waited for him at the fort where Captain Gazer was building.

            “I will go to the fort. You may tell my father that I will bring the Governor to make friendship with him and protect him in my absence.” But Radisson had not yet had the consent by the captain, and as it happened, the captain did not wish to go with Radisson. This was a problem.

          … I was for the first time found a liar among the savages, which is of a dangerous consequence, for these nations have in abomination [of] this vice.[105]

            When Radisson arrived at the rendezvous point he was not reproached for not bringing the Governor, but was told that his adopted father was not there; that he had gone away because Radisson had annoyed the native.

          This savage having remembered the obligation to return, although very sad on account of some news that he had learned upon the road, which was that the chief of the nation who inhabited the height above the river Neosaverne, named “the bearded,”[106] & one of his sons, who were his relations, had been killed in going to insult those among the savages who were set to the duty of taking care of the Frenchmen who had been wounded by a savage gained over by the English, after that he had embraced me, & that he had informed me of the circumstnce of that affaire, & the number of people he had as followers, I wrote to the Governor to come to me in the place where we were, to make him know in effect that he must after my departure prevent the continuation of these disorders in virtue of the treaty of peace & of union that I had made in presence of the savages between the French & the English.[107]

            The Governor soon arrived where Radisson had been joined by his adopted father. He presented the Governor to the Indian chief.

            “It is the chief,” said Radisson, “who commands the nation where our fort is built.”

          … I had made him some little presents by Captain Gazer, & that it was also desirable that he make some to him, because I had promised some the preceeding year that I had not given; which the Governor found very bad, & he became irritated even against this chief without any cause for it; except that it might be because he was my adopted father, & I have learned since that he was angry that when I had arrived I had not given any present to a simple savage who served as a spy, who was the son of that chief called “the bearded.” That was a horrible extravagence; for this Governor was inferior to me, & I was not under any obligation to recognize his favor; besides, I had never made any presents but to the chiefs of the nations. Moreover, it was not for our Governor to censure my conduct. I had received some independent orders, which had been given me on account of the outrage that he[108] had committed; but acting for the service of my King and for those of the Company, I passed it over in silence. I saw that it would be imprudent if I should speak my sentiments openly to a man who after my departure should command all those who remained in the country. I contented myself then with letting him know the inconveniences which would happen from the indifference that he affected to have for the chief of the savage nations, & I exhorted him also to change at once his policy in regard to my adopted father; not by that consideration, but because that he was, as I said to him, the chief of the nations which inhabited the place where they built the fort, which he promissed me of undoing. After that I went on board our ship.[109]

            This interaction with the Governor was the first crack that developed to his authority. So near departure, with all the work done, he has only to leave to achieve all. The Governor, not intimate with the customs and nuances of the local natives, had insulted the chief of many nations by giving a gift to someone who stood under his authority, and thus by doing so had insulted the chief. This behavior, of not conforming to those rules and guidelines established by Radisson, posed a great threat to the success of the fort and to the English in North America.

          My nephew, who remained in the fort with the Governor, having learned that the ships were ready to leave, kept himself near me with the French whom I had resolved to leave in Canada, to say adieu to me… My nephew & his interpreter had been solicited to remain in the country to serve the company, & they had consented to it without a murmur because I had charged myself with the care of their interests in England. All that passed in the presence and by the persuasions of the Governor. Nevertheless, behold a surprising change which came to pass by the inconstancy, the caprice, & the wicked behaviour of this same Governor.

I disposed myself to part with the other Frenchmen, when the Governor, having come aboard of the little frigate, caused a signal to be made to hold a council of war.[110]

            Radisson and his captains rendered themselves to the room where the Governor was, while his nephew stayed on the poop deck.

            “Do you have any valid reasons why I should not send back in the ships all the Frenchmen who are in the country?” No one replied, until Radisson spoke.

            “At my departure from England I received a verbal order from the company, in particular from Sir James Hayes, to leave in the country where we are as many of the Frenchmen as I should find desirable for the good and advantage of the company. I have upon that resolved to engage my nephew and his interpreter to remain in it, and I have come for that end, by my attendance, for the consent of the Governor, who demands today that they may be sent back as people who apparently are known to him as suspected. I have always believed, and I believe it still, that their presence is useful in the country and also necessary to the company. It is difficult to be able to overlook these two because they are known to all the nations. It is also upon them that I have relied for the security of the merchandises which are left behind at the houses of the French, because without their assistance or their presence they would be exposed to pillage.

“Nevertheless I do not pretend to oppose myself to the design that the Governor has put in execution and the proposition that he proposes to make. He is free to undo what he pleases, but he cannot make me subscribe to his resolutions because I see that they are directly opposed to those of the company, to my instructions, and to my experience. On the contrary, I will protest before God and before men against all that he does, because, after what he has said to you, he is incapable of doing what is advantageous for his masters. It was vain that one should have given him good council for he has not the spirit to understand it.”

            This declaration made an impression on the governor, who fortified himself in his resolution.

          [The Governor] begged me to tell the French to embark themselves, without considering that my nephew had not time enough to go seek his clothes, nor several bonds that were due to him in Canada, which remained in the house of the French, and that I had abandoned to him, to yield whatever I was in a condition of giving satisfaction to him, & that in the hope that the Company would set up for him the way exclusively.

          The Council after that broke up; but the Governor, apprehending that the Frenchmen would not obey, wished to give an order to the Captains to seize upon them and put them on board. He had even the insolence of putting me first on the lists, as if I was suspected or guilty of something.[111]

            One of Radisson’s men, Captain Bond, who was witnessing this, spoke in his defense.

            “You should not make a charge of that kind,” said Captain Bond, “as he must be exempted from it, because he remembered nothing in me but much of attachment for the service of his masters, and that they should take care of the establishment that he has made, and of the advantages that will accrue to the company.”

          They obliged the Governor to make another list, and thus finished a council of war held against the interests of those who had given power to assemble them. The persons who had any knowledge of these savages of the north would be able to judge of the prejudice which the conduct of this imprudent Governor would without contradiction have caused the Company. Many would attribute his proceeding to his little experience, or to some particular hatred that he had conceived against the French. Be it as it may, I was not of his way of thinking; and I believed that his timidity & want of courage had prompted him to do all that he had done, by the apprehension that he had of the French undertaking something against him; & what confirmed me in that thought was the precaution that he had taken for preventing the French from speaking to any person since the day of council, for he put them away from the moment that we went away from them. I made out also that he had wanted but the occasion of putting to the sword my nephew if he had had the least pretext; but knowing his wicked designs, I made him understand, as well as the other Frenchmen, that we were to go to England, & that he must not leave the ship, because we were at any moment ready to depart.[112]

            The heartbreak Radisson felt from being confined to Abraham’s ship must have been intense and difficult to accept. One wonders if this Governor Abraham had been instructed ‘off-the-record’ by those in charge of the HBC to dispose all the Frenchmen after Radisson had done all that he had been asked to do – namely establish peace with the local natives with the English for future trade. If not then this act of anti-French discrimination by an upper-class Englishman threatened the delicate thread of peace there in the wilds of North America. Regardless, it marks the end of an era in which Pierre Radisson, one of the original coureur de bois, was a leader among men and a master of diplomacy with the native tribes of the New World. Radisson was now 49 year’s old.

Chapter Sixty-three

To the King and then the Company

            Radisson did his best to reassure the young Groseilliers and the Frenchman that they would be well treated in England and by the Hudson’s Bay Company. He left them on the ship to finalize the last of the supplies to be put onboard, but soon returned to where the ship was anchored.

          … we went to rejoin the ships at the place where they were at anchor, in one of which my nephew and the other Frenchman were staying during this time without having taken the least step, although they were in a condition for any enterprise, because they could easily render themselves masters of the two ships and burn them, having there for both but two men and one boy in each; after which they could also, without danger, go on shore on the south side with the canoes of the savages, who were from the north, and then make themselves masters of their houses and their merchandise, which were guarded by two men; but to go there to them, he made some doubts of all that I had told him, and that it would be ill intentioned to the service of the company, as it was to the Governor. That is why they were not capable, neither those nor the others, after having submitted themselves & having taken the oath of fidelity as they had done.

          At length, after having suffered in my honour and in my probity many things on the part of the Governor, and much fatigue and indisposition of trouble and of care in my person, to come to the end of my design, having happily succeeded, and all that was to be embarked in the ships being on board, we made sail the 4th day of September, 1684 and we arrived at the Downs, without anything passing worth mentioning, the 23rd of October of the same year.[113]

            He had succeeded, but in his return Radisson was rash, which did not serve him in high esteem with the governors of the company.

          The impatience that I had of informing the Gentlemen of the Hudson’s Bay Company of the happy success of my voyage, and our return, and that I had acquitted myself for the service of the King and their own interest in all the engagements into which I had entered, obliged me to mount a horse the same day, to present myself in London, where I arrived at midnight. All which did not hinder me, so the Sieur Ecuyer Young was informed, who was one of those interested, who having come to me on the morrow morning to take me, did me the honour to present me to His Majesty and to His Royal Highness, to whom I rendered an account of all which had been done; and I had the consolation of receiving some marks of the satisfaction of these great princes, who in token gave order to the Sieur Ecuyer Young to tell the company to have care of my interests, & to remember my services.

          Some days after, I went before the Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, to render to it an accound of my conduct, hoping to receive their approbation of my proceeding as the first fruits of the just satisfaction & recompence which was my due; but in place of that I found the members of the Committee for the most part offended because I had had the honour of making my reverence to the King and to his Royal Highness, & these same persons continued even their bad intention to injure me, and, under pretext of refusing me the justice which is due to me, they oppose themselves also to the solid and useful resolutions that are necessary for the glory of his Majesty and the advantage of the Nation and their own Interest.[114]

            Herein Pierre Radisson’s journals end.

            It is dumbfounding for the witness to this man’s life vis-à-vis his courage and forthright honour, that he should be treated in this manner by those in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company – a company Radisson himself founded. But at the same time there is a constant thread of guile and double-crossing perpetrated by the English against this Frenchman of unique talents and history. It is likely those who were investors in the HBC wanted to rid themselves of Radisson because he was a dangerous man – a man capable of turning the tide of history upon his own whims and reason by virtue of his skills as a canoeist, diplomat with the Red Man and through his knowledge of the New World. This was a man capable of taking things on his own shoulders against those orders of the overfed men sitting in their lounge chairs sipping brandy and smoking cigars in front of the fireplace talking strategy of how they could best implement their vision of Manifest Destiny for the Anglo-Saxon race. Pierre Radisson was perhaps their greatest threat to their dreams of establishing the Dominion of Canada for the British, but also their greatest asset. He was a double-edged sword they had used with the cunning that eventually created the biggest and largest empire in the history of the world.

            But what of Pierre Radisson and the remaining years of his life? He was never again to set foot in the New World again. His life there ended when he had established the English in Port Nelson that would flourish for the next 250 years and be the unbeatable foothold in their push into the northwest of North America and prevent the Americans a 100 year’s later from taking the entire Pacific lands up to Alaska. It would lead to the creation of Rupert’s Land – a vast tract of land owned and managed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, much like the East India Company owned and managed and economically exploited India. It would become one of the most powerful companies the world would ever see. They would essentially establish a virtual monopoly on the beaver skin market thus fueling the beaver hat craze that spread throughout Europe in the years to come. It would make the men who ran the company very wealthy men, and fund the British Empire for centuries. But for Pierre Radisson, the one who circumnavigated Lake Superior and acquired the knowledge from the natives that there was a bay in the north from which new lands could be accessed, and who – upon his own initiated overcoming issues of funding as well as allegiance to a country – fulfilled his vision of sailing to this great sea in the north and built with his own hands the trading forts that would establish a toehold in the New World that would enable colonial powers the reach to create a nation that is today one of the great countries of the world. And yet Canada, consisting of both the English and the French, do not claim him as their hero. He has been overlooked and undervalued by historians for centuries because of his switching of allegiance from the French to the English, and then back to the French and then finally back to the English. But this was done so that he might prove that there was a northwest passage to India and that the natives were right in their knowledge that there were vast lands with valuable beaver pelts to be had. He had stickhandled his way around national bias and preferences for the success of his mission that would unfortunately taint his legacy. But today, with Canada one of the most multicultural countries in the world, is it not time to place this man in his rightful position as one of the founders of Canada, and celebrate his life as extraordinary, from his kidnapping at 16 years of age and his adoption in a Mohawk family to his extraordinary years exploring the Great Lakes and meeting the Sioux Indians when he threw gunpowder on the fire and astonished the native tribes of the white man’s powers for centuries?

            Fitting to the greatness of his exploits and his incredible strength to persevere and survive against the odds, Pierre Esprit Radisson lived the remainder of his life in London, forgotten and overlooked by even those Englishmen who he had made wealthy and powerful. He remained loyal to his English wife and eventually died penniless in London in 1710 on a half-pension from the HBC. He was 74 years old.



Pierre Radisson’s Life in Perspective

            Like Sir James Brooke in the jungles or Borneo, Radisson took it upon himself to establish of the land in the name of the king, acting on his own orders and making his own decisions in the successful execution of his campaign, he achieved his task. And yet the outcome of his exploits worked against France when Radisson was ill-treated by the French courts and thus sided permanently with the British and thus handing them the key to the west of the New World.

            Radisson has been misunderstood because of his journals. The first four journals were very difficult to understand because of the poor translation from the French. (The original French journals have been lost). Particularly enjoyable are the last two voyages written in his native French and translated into 19th-century British prose.[115] The first four voyages contain difficult English construction penned by Radisson himself, sometimes incomprehensible. It was my intention to harness the content and details of his narrative without the unnecessary and long-winded digressions that take away from the storyline. The purpose is to make Radisson’s adventures more accessible and readable to the modern reader, to tell a story using his own words handed down to us almost 400 years ago. It is an adventure story but is hampered by the language, the lack of chronology of the events and the blatant misarrangement of some events into the manuscripts themselves, thus causing the reader to go off on a different time and place from the previous paragraph. In this case, the issue of chronology of recorded historical events, I concur with Adams. I have thus rearranged the Dollard Massacre scene to its proper place, rendering a much smoother reading of his return from his third voyage from the Mississippi.

            Confusing passages are summarizes clearly, after checking with secondary sources, maps and the general canon of information known about Pierre Esprit Radisson. With modern technology and the sharing of information via the Internet, I researched all aspects of his life and the places he visited and the people he interacted with during his activites. In some cases there are no ther records, such as his capture by the Mohawks, but even here there are known accounts of his presence at Fort Orange through the memoirs of Father Poncet.[116] This story conveys the immensity of Radisson’s experience in the New World when there was no European settlement farther west than the Appalacian Mountain Range in the south and Montréal in the north.

It is also true that Radisson’s journals were met with skepticism and distrust due to the brutal grammer, spelling, sentence structure, vocabulary and general unreadability and incredible nature of his sufferings and exploits that led many to simply disregard Radisson as a mad voyageur with a vivid imagination. And this is partially why most of the literature written about Radisson and his journals are written for children and young students of Canadian history. He is taught to young children as one of the first adventurers and founder of the Hudson’s Bay Company (which every Canadian child knows like they do snowball fights and hockey), using simple language and fairy tale like storytelling. But when Radisson is read as a serious businessman, explorer, trader, translator, diplomant, sailor, canoeist, etc., of his time in history who chose to record the important events of his life, we discover that contained in his 180 pages of journals pages there is a wealth of information about his times, the people and the Indians. But what we are left with after reading about his life is the extraordinary life he lived. And so it is in this present narrative that I seek to convey to the reader the experiences of this man’s life and how it has impacted the development of the New World and power relations between France and Britain. And he is not only a Canadian hero; he is a North American hero. Much of his early exploring was in upstate New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. To some perhaps Radisson and Groseilliers are in the same caliber as Lewis and Clark – that they are the Lewis and Clark of Canada – but even that would diminish their achievements. Radisson traveled much farther and wider than they, and via water landed halfway across the continent of North America, with nothing but prairies and a rich river valley to paddle west to the Rocky Mountains. Trade with the Cree Indians from the Great Plains was the vital shot in the arm financially for the Hudson’s Bay to survive those early years and spark a new fashion among Europeans: hats made of beaver fur.

            But what is most extraordinary in this man’s life is the extreme hardships he endured in the execution of these long and dangerous journeys into the unknown. How many times had his life been in peril? Right from his teenage years of captivity and torture by the Mohawks, his life was rife with struggle, hardship and overcoming – a strength and mettle that amazes even the most ardent adventurer today. It makes one wonder how he could go from starving and freezing and eating boiled bark and water to survive a Wisconsin winter, to Windsor Castle where he lived with a stipend from the King of England. But even this was not as pretty and without danger as it may seem since it was right in the middle of the Black Plague in England that Radisson arrived, and the same year as the Great Fire of London in 1666. What this man saw in his lifetime needs to be recorded and appreciated, both as a non-fiction document of his achievements and as a testament to a truly extraordinary life.

It is precisely because he left the service of the French crown the second time that shows his heroism: his boundless quest for justice championing his own knowledge of his own extraordinary exploits against a chorus of doubt and suspicion and innuendo by those who had never done more than lift a pencil. Radisson went to the English simply because they honored and justly rewarded Radisson for his accomplishments, and saw in his character the timeless and stainless shine of a man’s integrity. For Radisson, hard work and the truth were his moral pillars, his axes in a life wrought with unexpected trauma and obstacles and danger.

            And finally, when coming to the last pages of the journals, it becomes very clear why the Hudson’s Bay Company kept the journals and had in their best interests not to promote his writings as accurate or objective. Even after 350 years the ending of the journals is still arresting to the witness of his life, his services rendered to the company and the treatment he received from the governors of the Hudson’s Bay. One can only wonder at how Radisson felt near the end of his life, retired on only a half pension from the company, remembering how it all came to pass.


The author of the narratives contained in this volume was Peter Esprit Radisson, who emigrated from France to Canada, as he himself tells us, on the 24th day of May, 1651. He was born at St. Malo, and in 1656, at Three Rivers, in Canada, married Elizabeth, the daughter of Madeleine Hainault. [Footnote: Vide History of the Ojibways, by the Rev. E. D. Neill, ed. 1885.] Radisson says that he lived at Three Rivers, where also dwelt “my natural parents, and country-people, and my brother, his wife and children.” [Footnote: The Abbe Cyprian Tanguay, the best genealogical authority in Canada, gives the following account of the family: Francoise Radisson, a daughter of Pierre Esprit, married at Quebec, in 1668, Claude Volant de St. Claude, born in 1636, and had eight children. Pierre and Claude, eldest sons, became priests. Francoise died in infancy: Marguerite married Noel le Gardeur; Francoise died in infancy; Etienne, born October 29, 1664, married in 1693 at Sorel, but seems to have had no issue. Jean Francois married Marguerite Godfrey at Montreal in 1701. Nicholas, born in 1668, married Genevieve Niel, July 30, 1696, and both died in 1703, leaving two of their five sons surviving.

There are descendants of Noel le Gardeur who claim Radisson as their
ancestor, and also descendants of Claude Volant, apparently through
Nicholas. Among these descendants of the Volant family is the Rt. Rev.
Joseph Thomas Duhamel, who was consecrated Bishop of Ottawa, Canada,
October 28, 1874.

Of Medard Chouart’s descendants, no account of any of the progeny of his son Jean Baptiste, born July 25, 1654, can be found.] This brother, often alluded to in Radisson’s narratives as his companion on his journeys, was Medard Chouart, “who was the son of Medard and Marie Poirier, of Charly St. Cyr, France, and in 1641, when only sixteen years old, came to Canada.” [Footnote: Chouart’s daughter Marie Antoinette, born June 7, 1661, married first Jean Jalot in 1679. He was a surgeon, born in 1648, and killed by the Iroquois, July 2, 1690. He was called Des Groseilliers. She had nine children by Jalot, and there are descendants from them in Canada. On the 19th December, 1695, she married, secondly, Jean Bouchard, by whom she had six children. The Bouchard-Dorval family of Montreal descends from this marriage. Vide Genealogical Dictionary of Canadian Families, Quebec, 1881.] He was a pilot, and married, 3rd September, 1647, Helen, the daughter of Abraham Martin, and widow of Claude Etienne. Abraham Martin left his name to the celebrated Plains of Abraham, near Quebec. She dying in 1651, Chouart married, secondly, at Quebec, August 23, 1653, the sister of Radisson, Margaret Hayet, the widow of John Veron Grandmenil. In Canada, Chouart acted as a donne, or lay assistant, in the Jesuit mission near Lake Huron. He left the service of the mission about 1646, and commenced trading with the Indians for furs, in which he was very successful. With his gains he is supposed to have purchased some land in Canada, as he assumed the seigneurial title of “Sieur des Groseilliers.”

Radisson spent more than ten years trading with the Indians of Canada and the far West, making long and perilous journeys of from two to three years each, in company with his brother-in-law, Des Groseilliers. He carefully made notes during his wanderings from 1652 to 1664, which he afterwards copied out on his voyage to England in 1665. Between these years he made four journeys, and heads his first narrative with this title: “The Relation of my Voyage, being in Bondage in the Lands of the Irokoits, which was the next year after my coming into Canada, in the yeare 1651, the 24th day of May.” In 1652 a roving band of Iroquois, who had gone as far north as the Three Rivers, carried our author as a captive into their country, on the banks of the Mohawk River. He was adopted into the family of a “great captayne who had killed nineteen men with his own hands, whereof he was marked on his right thigh for as many as he had killed.” In the autumn of 1653 he accompanied the tribe in his village on a warlike incursion into the Dutch territory. They arrived “the next day in a small brough of the Hollanders,” Rensselaerswyck, and on the fourth day came to Fort Orange. Here they remained several days, and Radisson says: “Our treaty’s being done, overladened with bootyes abundantly, we putt ourselves in the way that we came, to see again our village.”

At Fort Orange Radisson met with the Jesuit Father, Joseph Noncet, who had also been captured in Canada by the Mohawks and taken to their country. In September he was taken down to Fort Orange by his captors, and it is mentioned in the Jesuit “Relations” of 1653, chapter iv., that he “found there a young man captured near Three Rivers, who had been ransomed by the Dutch and acted as interpreter.” A few weeks after the return of the Indians to their village, Radisson made his escape alone, and found his way again to Fort Orange, from whence he was sent to New Amsterdam, or Menada, as he calls it. Here he remained three weeks, and then embarked for Holland, where he arrived after a six weeks’ voyage, landing at Amsterdam “the 4/7 of January, 1654. A few days after,” he says, “I imbarqued myself for France, and came to Rochelle well and safe.” He remained until Spring, waiting for “the transport of a shipp for New France.”

The relation of the second journey is entitled, “The Second Voyage, made in the Upper Country of the Irokoits.” He landed in Canada, from his return voyage from France, on the 17th of May, 1654, and on the 15th set off to see his relatives at Three Rivers. He mentions that “in my absence peace was made betweene the French and the Iroquoits, which was the reson I stayed not long in a place. The yeare before the ffrench began a new plantation in the upper country of the Iroquoits, which is distant from the Low Iroquoits country some four score leagues, wher I was prisoner and been in the warrs of that country…. At that very time the Reverend Fathers Jesuits embarked themselves for a second time to dwell there and teach Christian doctrine. I offered myself to them and was, as their custome is, kindly accepted. I prepare meselfe for the journey, which was to be in June, 1657.” Charlevoix [Footnote: Charlevoix’s History of New France, Shea’s ed., Vol. II. p. 256.] says: “In 1651 occurred the almost complete destruction of the Huron nation. Peace was concluded in 1653. Father Le Moyne went in 1654, to ratify the treaty of peace, to Onondaga, and told the Indians there he wished to have his cabin in their canton. His offer was accepted, and a site marked out of which he took possession. He left Quebec July 2, 1654, and returned September 11. In 1655 Fathers Chaumont and Dablon were sent to Onondaga, and arrived there November 5, and began at once to build a chapel. [Footnote: Charlevoix’s Hist. of New France, Shea’s ed., Vol. II. p. 263.]

“Father Dablon, having spent some months in the service of the mission at Onondaga, was sent back to Montreal, 30 March, 1656, for reinforcements. He returned with Father Francis le Mercier and other help. They set out from Quebec 7 May, 1656, with a force composed of four nations: French, Onondagas, Senecas, and a few Hurons. About fifty men composed the party. Sieur Dupuys, an officer of the garrison, was appointed commandant of the proposed settlement at Onondaga. On their arrival they at once proceeded to erect a fort, or block-house, for their defence.

“While these things were passing at Onondaga, the Hurons on the Isle Orleans, where they had taken refuge from the Iroquois, no longer deeming themselves secure, sought an asylum in Quebec, and in a moment of resentment at having been abandoned by the French, they sent secretly to propose to the Mohawks to receive them into their canton so as to form only one people with them. They had no sooner taken this step than they repented; but the Mohawks took them at their word, and seeing that they endeavored to withdraw their proposition, resorted to secret measures to compel them to adhere to it.” [Footnote: Ibid., Vol. II. p.278.] The different families of the Hurons held a council, and “the Attignenonhac or Cord family resolved to stay with the French; the Arendarrhonon, or Rock, to go to Onondaga; and the Attignaonanton, or Bear, to join the Mohawks.” [Footnote: Relation Nouvelle France, 1657 and Charlevoix, Shea’s ed., Vol. II. p 280.] “In 1657 Onondagas had arrived at Montreal to receive the Hurons and take them to their canton, as agreed upon the year previous.” [Footnote: Charlevoix, Shea’s ed., Vol. III. p. 13.] Some Frenchmen and two Jesuits were to accompany them. One of the former was Radisson, who had volunteered; and the two Jesuits were Fathers Paul Ragueneau and Joseph Inbert Duperon. The party started on their journey in July, 1657.

The relation of this, the writer’s second voyage, is taken up entirely with the narrative of their journey to Onondaga, his residence at the mission, and its abandonment on the night of the 20th of March, 1658. On his way thither he was present at the massacre of the Hurons by the Iroquois, in August, 1657. His account of the events of 1657 and 1658, concerning the mission, will be found to give fuller details than those of Charlevoix, [Footnote: Ibid., Vol. III. p. 13.] and the Jesuit relations written for those years by Father Ragueneau. Radisson, in concluding his second narrative, says: “About the last of March we ended our great and incredible dangers. About fourteen nights after we went downe to the Three Rivers, where most of us stayed. A month after, my brother and I resolves to travell and see countreys. Wee find a good opportunity in our voyage. We proceeded three years; during that time we had the happiness to see very faire countreys.” He says of the third voyage: “Now followeth the Auxoticiat, or Auxotacicae, voyage into the great and filthy lake of the hurrons upper sea of the East and bay of the North.” He mentions that “about the middle of June, 1658, we began to take leave of our company and venter our lives for the common good.”

Concerning the third voyage, Radisson states above, “wee proceeded three years.” The memory of the writer had evidently been thrown into some confusion when recording one of the historical incidents in his relation, as he was finishing his narrative of the fourth journey. At the close of his fourth narrative, on his return from the Lake Superior country, where he had been over three years, instead of over two, as he mentions, he says: “You must know that seventeen ffrenchmen made a plott with four Algonquins to make a league with three score Hurrons for to goe and wait for the Iroquoits in the passage.” This passage was the Long Sault, on the Ottawa river, where the above seventeen Frenchmen were commanded by a young officer of twenty-five, Adam Dollard, Sieur des Ormeaux. The massacre of the party took place on May 21, 1660, and is duly recorded by several authorities; namely, Dollier de Casson [Footnote: Histoire de Montreal, Relation de la Nouvelle France, 1660, p. 14.], M. Marie [Footnote: De l’Incarnation, p. 261.], and Father Lalemont [Footnote: Journal, June 8, 1660.]. As Radisson has placed the incident in his manuscript, he would make it appear as having occurred in May, 1664. He writes: “It was a terrible spectacle to us, for wee came there eight dayes after that defeat, which saved us without doubt.” He started on this third journey about the middle of June, 1658, and it would therefore seem he was only absent on it two years, instead of over three, as he says. Charlevoix gives the above incident in detail. [Footnote: Shea’s edition, Vol. III. p. 33, n.]

During the third voyage Radisson and his brother-in-law went to the Mississippi River in 1658/9. He says, “Wee mett with severall sorts of people. Wee conversed with them, being long time in alliance with them. By the persuasion of som of them wee went into the great river that divides itself in two where the hurrons with some Ottanake and the wild men that had warrs with them had retired…. The river is called the forked, because it has two branches: the one towards the West, the other towards the South, which we believe runs towards Mexico, by the tokens they gave.” They also made diligent inquiry concerning Hudson’s Bay, and of the best means to reach that fur-producing country, evidently with a view to future exploration and trade. They must have returned to the Three Rivers about June 1, 1660. Radisson says: “Wee stayed att home att rest the yeare. My brother and I considered whether we should discover what we have seen or no, and because we had not a full and whole discovery which was that we have not ben in the bay of the north (Hudson’s Bay), not knowing anything but by report of the wild Christinos, we would make no mention of it for feare that those wild men should tell us a fibbe. We would have made a discovery of it ourselves and have an assurance, before we should discover anything of it.”

In the fourth narrative he says: “The Spring following we weare in hopes to meet with some company, having ben so fortunat the yeare before. Now during the winter, whether it was that my brother revealed to his wife what we had seene in our voyage and what we further intended, or how it came to passe, it was knowne so much that the ffather Jesuits weare desirous to find out a way how they might gett downe the castors from the bay of the North, by the Sacques, and so make themselves masters of that trade. They resolved to make a tryall as soone as the ice would permitt them. So to discover our intentions they weare very earnest with me to ingage myselfe in that voyage, to the end that my brother would give over his, which I uterly denied them, knowing that they could never bring it about.” They made an application to the Governor of Quebec for permission to start upon this their fourth voyage; but he refused, unless they agreed to certain hard conditions which they found it impossible to accept. In August they departed without the Governor’s leave, secretly at midnight, on their journey, having made an agreement to join a company of the nation of the Sault who were about returning to their country, and who agreed to wait for them two days in the Lake of St. Peter, some six leagues from Three Rivers. Their journey was made to the country about Lake Superior, where they passed much of their time among the nations of the Sault, Fire, Christinos (Knisteneux), Beef, and other tribes.

Being at Lake Superior, Radisson says they came “to a remarkable place. It’s a banke of Rocks that the wild men made a Sacrifice to,… it’s like a great portall by reason of the beating of the waves. The lower part of that opening is as bigg as a tower, and grows bigger in the going up. There is, I believe, six acres of land above it; a shipp of 500 tuns could passe by, soe bigg is the arch. I gave it the name of the portail of St. Peter, because my name is so called, and that I was the first Christian that ever saw it.” Concerning Hudson’s Bay, whilst they were among the Christinos at Lake Assiniboin, Radisson mentions in his narrative that “being resolved to know what we heard before, we waited untill the Ice should vanish.”

The Governor was greatly displeased at the disobedience of Radisson and his brother-in-law in going on their last voyage without his permission. On their return, the narrative states, “he made my brother prisoner for not having obeyed his orders; he fines us L. 4,000 to make a fort at the three rivers, telling us for all manner of satisfaction that he would give us leave to put our coat of armes upon it; and moreover L. 6,000 for 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…. Seeing ourselves so wronged, my brother did resolve to go and demand justice in France.” Failing to get restitution, they resolved to go over to the English. They went early in 1665 to Port Royal, Nova Scotia, and from thence to New England, where they engaged an English or New England ship for a trading adventure into Hudson’s Straits in 61 deg. north.

This expedition was attempted because Radisson and Des Groseilliers, on their last journey to Lake Superior, “met with some savages on the lake of Assiniboin, and from them they learned that they might go by land to the bottom of Hudson’s Bay, where the English had not been yet, at James Bay; upon which they desired them to conduct them thither, and the savages accordingly did it. They returned to the upper lake the same way they came, and thence to Quebec, where they offered the principal merchants to carry ships to Hudson’s Bay; but their project was rejected. Des Groseilliers then went to France in hopes of a more favorable hearing at Court; but after presenting several memorials and spending a great deal of time and money, he was answered as he had been at Quebec, and the project looked upon as chimerical.” [Footnote: Oldmixon, Vol. I. p. 548.] This voyage to Hudson’s Straits proved unremunerative. “Wee had knowledge and conversation with the people of those parts, but wee did see and know that there was nothing to be done unlesse wee went further, and the season of the year was far spent by the indiscretion of our Master.” Radisson continues: “Wee were promissed two shipps for a second voyage.” One of these ships was sent to “the Isle of Sand, there to fish for Basse to make oyle of it,” and was soon after lost.

In New England, in the early part of the year 1665, Radisson and Des Groseilliers met with two of the four English Commissioners who were sent over by Charles II in 1664 to settle several important questions in the provinces of New York and New England. They were engaged in the prosecution of their work in the different governments from 1664 to 1665/6. The two Frenchmen, it appears, were called upon in Boston to defend themselves in a lawsuit instituted against them in the courts there, for the annulling of the contract in the trading adventure above mentioned, whereby one of the two ships contracted for was lost. The writer states, that “the expectation of that ship made us loose our second voyage, which did very much discourage the merchants with whom wee had to do; 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. So they endeavoured to come to an agreement, but wee were betrayed by our own party.

“In the mean time the Commissioners of the King of Great Britain arrived in that place, & one of them would have us goe with him to New York, and the other advised us to come to England and offer ourselves to the King, which wee did.” The Commissioners were Colonel Richard Nicolls, Sir Robert Carr, Colonel George Cartwright, and Samuel Mavericke. Sir Robert Carr wished the two Frenchmen to go with him to New York, but Colonel George Cartwright, erroneously called by Radisson in his manuscript “Cartaret,” prevailed upon them to embark with him from Nantucket, August 1, 1665. On this voyage Cartwright carried with him “all the original papers of the transactions of the Royal Commissioners, together with the maps of the several colonies.” They had also as a fellow passenger George Carr, presumably the brother of Sir Robert, and probably the acting secretary to the Commission. Colonel Richard Nicolls, writing to Secretary Lord Arlington, July 31, 1665, Says, “He supposes Col. Geo. Cartwright is now at sea.” George Carr, also writing to Lord Arlington, December 14, 1665, tells him that “he sends the transactions of the Commissioners in New England briefly set down, each colony by itself. The papers by which all this and much more might have been demonstrated were lost in obeying His Majesty’s command by keeping company with Captain Pierce, who was laden with masts; for otherwise in probability we might have been in England ten days before we met the Dutch ‘Caper,’ who after two hours’ fight stripped and landed us in Spain. Hearing also some Frenchmen discourse in New England of a passage from the West Sea to the South Sea, and of a great trade of beaver in that passage, and afterwards meeting with sufficient proof of the truth of what they had said, and knowing what great endeavours have been made for the finding out of a North Western passage, he thought them the best present he could possibly make His Majesty, and persuaded them to come to England. Begs His Lordship to procure some consideration for his loss, suffering, and service.” Colonel Cartwright, upon his capture at Sea by the Dutch “Caper,” threw all his despatches and papers overboard.

No doubt the captain of the Dutch vessel carefully scrutinized the papers of Radisson and his brother-in-law, and, it may be, carried off some of them; for there is evidence in one part at least of the former’s narration of his travels, of some confusion, as the writer has transposed the date of one important and well-known event in Canadian history. It is evident that the writer was busy on his voyage preparing his narrative of travels for presentation to the King. Towards the conclusion of his manuscript he says: “We are now in the passage, and he that brought us, which was one of the Commissioners called Collonell George Cartaret, was taken by the Hollanders, and wee arrived in England in a very bad time for the plague and the warrs. Being at Oxford, wee went to Sir George Cartaret, who spoke to His Majesty, who gave good hopes that wee should have a shipp ready for the next Spring, and that the King did allow us forty 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.”

Charles II., with his Court, came to open Parliament and the Courts of Law at Oxford, September 25, 1665, and left for Hampton Court to reside, January 27, 1666. Radisson and Des Groseilliers must have arrived there about the 25th of October. DeWitt, the Dutch statesman, and Grand Pensionary of the States of Holland from 1652, becoming informed by the captain of the Dutch “Caper” of the errand of Radisson and his companion into England, despatched an emissary to that country in 1666 to endeavor to entice them out of the English into the service of the Dutch. Sir John Colleton first brought the matter before the notice of Lord Arlington in a letter of November 12th. The agent of DeWitt was one Elie Godefroy Touret, a native of Picardy, France, and an acquaintance of Groseilliers. Touret had lived over ten years in the service of the Rhinegrave at Maestricht. Thinking it might possibly aid him in his design, he endeavored to pass himself off in London as Groseilliers’ nephew. One Monsieur Delheure deposed that Groseilliers “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 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.”

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.” On the 23d of December Touret sent in a petition to Lord Arlington, bitterly complaining of the severity of his treatment, and endeavored to turn the tables upon his accuser by representing that Groseilliers, Radisson, and a certain priest in London tried to persuade him to join them in making counterfeit coin, and for his refusal had persecuted and entered the accusation against him.

To Des Groseilliers and Radisson must be given the credit of originating the idea of forming a settlement at Hudson’s Bay, out of which grew the profitable organization of the Hudson’s Bay Company. They obtained through the English Ambassador to France an interview with Prince Rupert, and laid before him their plans, which had been before presented to the leading merchants of Canada and the French Court. Prince Rupert at once foresaw the value of such an enterprise, and aided them in procuring the required assistance from several noblemen and gentlemen, to fit out in 1667 two ships from London, the “Eagle,” Captain Stannard, and the “Nonsuch,” ketch, Captain Zechariah Gillam. This Gillam is called by Oldmixon a New Englander, and was probably the same one who went in 1664/5 with Radisson and Groseilliers to Hudson’s Strait on the unsuccessful voyage from Boston.

Radisson thus alludes to the two ships that were fitted out in London by the help of Prince Rupert and his associates. The third year after their arrival in England “wee went out with a new Company in two small vessels, my brother in one and I in another, and wee went together four hundred leagues from the North of Ireland, where a sudden greate storme did rise and put us asunder. The sea was soe furious six or seven hours 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.”

Captain Gillam and the ketch “Nonsuch,” with Des Groseilliers, proceeded on their voyage, “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 had a friendly correspondence with the natives, built a Fort, named it Charles Fort, and returned with Success.” [Footnote: Oldmixon, British Empire, ed. 1741, Vol. I. p. 544] When Gillam and Groseilliers returned, the adventurers concerned in fitting them out “applied themselves to Charles II. for a patent, who granted one to them and their successors for the Bay called Hudson’s Streights.” [Footnote: Ibid., Vol. I. p. 545.] The patent bears date the 2d of May, in the twenty-second year of Charles II., 1670.

In Ellis’s manuscript papers [Footnote: Ibid., Vol. V. p.319] has been
found the following original draft of an “answer of the Hudson’s Bay
Company to a French paper entitled Memoriall justifieing the pretensions of
France to Fort Bourbon.” 1696/7.

“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, & 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, & 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 permitt, declaring it would break the union between the two Kings.”

Oldmixon says [Footnote: Oldmixon, Vol. I. p. 549.] that the above-mentioned Charles Baily, with whom went Radisson and ten or twenty men, took out with him Mr. Thomas Gorst as his secretary, who at his request kept a journal, which eventually passed into the possession of Oldmixon. The following extracts give some idea of the life led by the fur-traders at the Fort: “They were apprehensive of being attacked by some Indians, whom the French Jesuits had animated against the English and all that dealt with them. The French used many artifices to hinder the natives trading with the English; they gave them great rates for their goods, and obliged Mr Baily to lower the price of his to oblige the Indians who dwelt about Moose river, with whom they drove the greatest trade. The French, to ruin their commerce with the natives, came and made a settlement not above eight days’ journey up that river from the place where the English traded. ‘Twas therefore debated whether the Company’s Agents should not remove from Rupert’s to Moose river, to prevent their traffick being interrupted by the French. On the 3d of April, 1674, a council of the principal persons in the Fort was held, where Mr Baily, the Governor, Captain Groseilliers, and Captain Cole were present and gave their several opinions. The Governor inclined to move. Captain Cole was against it, as dangerous, and Captain Groseilliers for going thither in their bark to trade. [Footnote: Oldmixon, Vol. I. p. 552.] … The Governor, having got everything ready for a voyage to Moose river, sent Captain Groseilliers, Captain Cole, Mr Gorst, and other Indians to trade there. They got two hundred and fifty skins, and the Captain of the Tabittee Indians informed them the French Jesuits had bribed the Indians not to deal with the English, but to live in friendship with the Indian nations in league with the French…. The reason they got no more peltry now was because the Indians thought Groseilliers was too hard for them, and few would come down to deal with him.” [Footnote: Oldmixon, Vol. I. p. 554.] After Captain Baily [Footnote: Ibid., Vol. I. p. 555.] had returned from a voyage in his sloop to trade to the fort, “on the 30th Aug a missionary Jesuit, born of English parents, arrived, bearing a letter from the Governor of Quebec to Mr Baily, dated the 8th of October, 1673.

“The Governor of Quebec desired Mr Baily to treat the Jesuit civilly, on account of the great amity between the two crowns. Mr Baily resolved to keep the priest till ships came from England. He brought a letter, also, for Capt Groseilliers, which gave jealousy to the English of his corresponding with the French. His son-in-law lived in Quebec, and had accompanied the priest part of the way, with three other Frenchmen, who, being afraid to venture among strange Indians, returned…. Provisions running short, they were agreed, on the 17th Sept, they were all to depart for Point Comfort, to stay there till the 22d, and then make the best of their way for England. In this deplorable condition were they when the Jesuit, Capt Groseilliers, & another papist, walking downwards to the seaside at their devotions, heard seven great guns fire distinctly. They came home in a transport of joy, told their companions the news, and assured them it was true. Upon which they fired three great guns from the fort to return the salute, though they could ill spare the powder upon such an uncertainty.” The ship “Prince Rupert” had arrived, with Captain Gillam, bringing the new Governor, William Lyddel, Esq.

Groseilliers and Radisson, after remaining for several years under the Hudson’s Bay Company, at last in 1674 felt obliged to sever the connection, and went over again to France. Radisson told his nephew in 1684 that the cause was “the refusal, that showed the bad intention of the Hudson’s Bay Company to satisfy us.” Several influential members of the committee of direction for the Company were desirous of retaining them in their employ; among them the Duke of York, Prince Rupert their first Governor, Sir James Hayes, Sir William Young, Sir John Kirke, and others; but it is evident there was a hostile feeling towards Radisson and his brother-in-law on the part of several members of the committee, for even after his successful expedition in 1684 they found “some members of the committee offended because I had had the honour of making my reverence to the King and to his Royal Highness.”

From 1674 to 1683, Radisson seems to have remained stanch in his allegiance to Louis XIV. In his narrative of the years 1682 and 1683 he shews that Colbert endeavored to induce him to bring his wife over into France, it would appear to remain there during his absence in Hudson’s Bay, as some sort of security for her husband’s fidelity to the interests of the French monarch. After his return from this voyage in 1683 he felt himself again unfairly treated by the French Court, and in 1684, as he relates in his narrative, he “passed over to England for good, and of engaging myself so strongly to the service of his Majesty, and to the interests of the Nation, that any other consideration was never able to detach me from it.”

We again hear of Radisson in Hudson’s Bay in 1685; and this is his last appearance in public records or documents as far as is known. A Canadian, Captain Berger, states that in the beginning of June, 1685, “he and his crew ascended four leagues above the English in Hudson’s Bay, where they made a Small Settlement. On the 15th of July they set out to return to Quebec. On the 17th they met with a vessel of ten or twelve guns, commanded by Captain Oslar, on board of which was the man named Bridgar, the Governor, who was going to relieve the Governor at the head of the Bay. He is the same that Radisson brought to Quebec three years ago in the ship Monsieur de la Barre restored to him. Berger also says he asked a parley with the captain of Mr Bridgar’s bark, who told him that Radisson had gone with Mr Chouart, his nephew, fifteen days ago, to winter in the River Santa Theresa, where they wintered a year.” [Footnote: New York Colonial Documents, Vol. IX.]

After this date the English and the French frequently came into hostile collision in Hudson’s Bay. In 1686 King James demanded satisfaction from France for losses inflicted upon the Company. Then the Jesuits procured neutrality for America, and knew by that time they were in possession of Fort Albany. In 1687 the French took the “Hayes” sloop, an infraction of the treaty. In 1688 they took three ships, valued, in all, at L. 15,000; L. 113,000 damage in time of peace. In 1692 the Company set out four ships to recover Fort Albany, taken in 1686. In 1694 the French took York, alias Fort Bourbon. In 1696 the English retook it from them. On the 4th September, 1697, the French retook it and kept it. The peace was made September 20, 1697. [Footnote: Minutes Relating to Hudson’s Bay Company.] In 1680 the stock rose from L. 100 to near L. 1,000. Notwithstanding the losses sustained by the Company, amounting to L. 118,014 between 1682 and 1688, they were able to pay in 1684 the shareholders a dividend of fifty per cent. Radisson brought home in 1684 a cargo of 20,000 beaver skins. Oldmixon says, “10,000 Beavers, in all their factories, was one of the best years of Trade they ever had, besides other peltry.” Again in 1688 a dividend of fifty per cent was made, and in 1689 one of twenty-five per cent. In 1690, without any call being made, the stock was trebled, while at the same time a dividend of twenty-five per cent was paid on the increased or newly created stock. At the Peace of Utrecht, in 1713, the forts captured by the French in 1697 were restored to the Company, who by 1720 had again trebled their capital, with a call of only ten per cent. After a long and fierce rivalry with the Northwest Fur Company, the two companies were amalgamated in 1821. [Footnote: Encyclopaedia Britannica.]

Radisson commences his narrative of 1652 in a reverent spirit, by inscribing it “a la plus grande gloire de Dieu.” All his manuscripts have been handed down in perfect preservation. They are written out in a clear and excellent handwriting, showing the writer to have been a person of good education, who had also travelled in Turkey and Italy, and who had been in London, and perhaps learned his English there in his early life. The narrative of travels between the years 1652 and 1664 was for some time the property of Samuel Pepys, the well-known diarist, and Secretary of the Admiralty to Charles II. and James II. He probably received it from Sir George Cartaret, the Vice-Chamberlain of the King and Treasurer of the Navy, for whom it was no doubt carefully copied out from his rough notes by the author, So that it might, through him, be brought under the notice of Charles II. Some years after the death of Pepys, in 1703, his collection of manuscripts was dispersed and fell into the hands of various London tradesmen, who bought parcels of it to use in their shops as waste-paper. The most valuable portions were carefully reclaimed by the celebrated collector, Richard Rawlinson, who in writing to his friend T. Rawlins, from. “London house, January 25th, 1749/50,” says: “I have purchased the best part of the fine collection of Mr Pepys, Secretary to the Admiralty during the reigns of Charles 2d and James 2d. Some are as old as King Henry VIII. They were collected with a design for a Lord High Admiral such as he should approve; but those times are not yet come, and so little care was taken of them that they were redeemed from thus et adores vendentibus.”

The manuscript containing Radisson’s narrative for the years 1682 and 1683 was “purchased of Rodd, 8th July, 1839,” by the British Museum. The narrative in French, for the year 1684, was bought by Sir Hans Sloane from the collection of “Nicolai Joseph Foucault, Comitis Consistoriani,” as his bookplate informs us. With the manuscript this gentleman had bound up in the same volume a religious treatise in manuscript, highly illuminated, in Italian, relating to some of the saints of the Catholic Church. [Footnote: I am under obligations to Mr. John Gilmary Shea for valuable information.]


[1] Ibid., p. 126

[2] Ibid., p. 126-27

[3] Ibid., p. 127

[4] Ibid., p. 127

[5] That is, ‘passed’

[6] Ibid., p. 127 It is interesting to note Radisson’s tactics here. He plants the seed of the visit by the young Guillem at this point in his “designe,” in what ends up to be a two-part plan.

[7] It is noted in Radisson’s journals that Mr. Bridgar owned the ship.

[8] “Barques,” presumably canoe from ‘birch bark canoe.’ These would be big vessels for this terrain and rough waters in the estuary.

[9] Ibid., p. 127-28

[10] Ibid., p. 128-29

[11] Ibid., p. 130

[12] Ibid., p. 130

[13] Ibid., p. 131

[14] Ibid., p. 131

[15] One of the prisoners went to the fort on the island and the other went to the French camp run by Groseilliers.

[16] Ibid., p. 132

[17] Ibid., p. 132. His casual reference to the act of kidnapping (‘recreating himself for 10 or 15 days’) is, in the context of his life, amusing.

[18] Ibid., p. 132

[19] This is the first mention of the Quioxtic adventure back to Europe that caused such a fuss on both the English and the French sides.

[20] Ibid., p. 132

[21] That is, ‘to give them’

[22] Ibid., p. 133

[23] Ibid., p. 133-34 The spring thaw at the mouth of the Hayes River would be an awesome sight, with massive chunks of ice bundling into huge mounds of ice that could destroy a wooden ship as if it were balsa wood.

[24] A fathom is 6 feet, so the water rose 60 feet or 18 meters.

[25] Ibid., p. 134 Throughout the pages of Radisson’s journal during this winter there is suspiciously very little mention of the suffering the men were enduring in the far north. Seasoned and armed with the skills of an Indian, able to live off the land and endure hardships as a test of manhood and honour, Radisson was the man who supplied the very little he had to the other men throughout the winter. Six dead at Bridgar’s camp is indicative of the suffering these men experienced during the winter of 1683.

[26] That is, ‘all things needed to put a covering on his small boat with a small sail’

[27] Ibid., p. 135

[28] Ibid., p. 135

[29] Ibid., p. 135

[30] From the Severn River, several hundred kilometers south of the Nelson River.

[31] Ibid., p. 136

[32] No more pork, peas, Brandy and bread.

[33] Ibid., p. 136

[34] That is, Captain Guillem’s Company ship that laid aground in the bottom of the Bay.

[35] Ibid., p. 136-37

[36] This is reference to Bridgar’s Englishmen of the Hudson Bay.

[37] It is likely another Indian present and not the chief Radisson is referring to. This is the “dog” Radisson referred to before.

[38] Radisson makes a note in his journal as to why he had to speak this way: “There was a necessity I should speak after this rate in this juncture, or else our trade had ben ruin’d for ever. Submit once unto the Salvages, & they are never to be recalled.”

[39] Roughly 18 feet of tobacco.

[40] Nowhere at the end of his fifth voyage does Radisson give reason for why he was glad to see Bridgar set fire to the fort. Perhaps it was simply relief that he could tell his superiors in New France that in fact it was an ‘Englishman of the Company’ who had committed the crime. It is important to speculate what is going through his mind at this point: the report he would submit to the French government and Louis XIV, as well as how his work in Hudson Bay west was interpreted. Indeed it is this question that would ultimately determine the outcome of the struggle for trade in the northwest and the destiny of Radisson’s life.

[41] Ibid., p. 138

[42] Ibid., p. 138

[43] Ibid., p. 139

[44] Ibid., p. 139 One can also deduce from this that the distance between the English stronghold at the mouth of the Nelson and the French stronghold at the mouth of the Hayes River is 11 Leagues, or about 55km.

[45] The small, modified ship that Bridgar had commanded.

[46] Grappling iron – ‘an iron shaft with claws at one end, usually thrown by a rope and used for grasping or holding.’ American College Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

[47] Ibid.,  p. 140

[48] Ibid., p. 141

[49] Ibid., p. 141

[50] The restoration of the ship back to the New Englanders did not sit well with Monsr. De Seignelay (The secretary of state of King Louis XIV). He wrote to Govr. De la Barre on April 10th, 1684: “It is impossible to imagine what you meant, when of your own authority, without calling on the Intendant, and without carrying the affair before the Sovereign council, you caused to be given up to one Guillin, a vessel captured by the men named Radisson and des Grozeilliers, and in truth you ought to prevent the appearance before his Majesty’s eyes of this kind of proceeding, in which there is not a shadow of reason, and whereby you have furnished the English with matter of which they will take advantage; for by your ordinance you have caused a vessel to be restored that according to law ought to be considered a Pirate, having no commission, and the English will not fail to say that you had so fully acknowledged the vessel to have been provided with the requisite papers, that you had it surrendered to the owners; and will thence pretend to establish their legitimate possession of Nelson’s river, before the said Radisson and des Grozeliers had been there.” New York Colonial MSS., Vol. IX, p. 221.

[51] Ibid., p. 141. This voyage was written in 1685, only two years from this time, when Radisson is employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. His zeal to hammer home this mutual friendship with Bridgar is understandable despite some scholars who agree Bridgar was kidnapped by Radisson and escorted to New France. If Radisson had not returned to the English perhaps his dedication to the ‘English Intrest’ may not have been so zealous at the time.

[52] This is the proper surname of the secretary of state of King Louis XIV, Monsieur De Seignelay, who lived in France.

[53] Monsieur Colbert did not die. A rumor noted by Radisson.

[54] Ibid., p. 142

[55] Ibid., p. 143 The reader should notice the marked improvement of this translation from the French, particularly the sentence structure, vocabulary and spelling. The manuscripts from each voyage have progressed from almost unreadable and undecipherable English to better English in the fifth manuscript, until finally the sixth voyage is the best. Perhaps Radisson employed a Frenchman to translate the fifth into English, and then employed an Englishman to translate into English from the French.

[56] Ibid., p. 143

[57] Ibid., p. 143

[58] Holy Bible, Genesis 48:19

[59] Ibid., p. 144 Radisson uses “2nd” voyage” in the context of returning to the Bay for the French, not the number of times he had sailed to Hudson’s Bay. Speculating at this date the number of times Radisson had sailed to Hudson Bay, it could be asserted that the number would be between six and maybe eight voyages.

[60] Ibid., p. 144

[61] Ibid., p.144 Radisson employed his ways of showing respect, honour and loyalty he had learned from the natives of North America, that was well received in the English court but was not in the French court.

[62] That is, French or any other European power.

[63] Ibid., p. 145 This feat was more than difficult to pull off in Radisson’s situation at this point, since the Frenchmen under his nephew’s control would likely refuse to hand over their hard-won prize in such an unforgiving climate. Radisson planned on using the family blood card with his nephew, but dissension and disagreement would likely arise causing splits and factions to appear as well as ungovernable unrest and conflict. In a word, how could one man take all that was established in Port Nelson for another country six months after he had left?

[64] Ibid., p. 145

[65] Button Island is on the northern tip of where Labrador and Quebec meet between the Labrador Sea to the east and the Hudson Strait to the west. Button Bay is likely what is today called Ungava Bay, sandwiched between northern Quebec and Baffin Island to the north.

[66] Roughly 200km.

[67] This is the first mention of Hayes River in Radisson’s journals by its proper name, a name that is still used today.

[68] Ibid., p. 145-46 It is difficult to ascertain exactly what “marks” his nephew had left to indicate this to Radisson, but it was plain to see that Jean Baptiste Groseilliers had moved the French habitation somewhere else.

[69] Radisson does not name this HBC Governor in his journals. But it was this man who had told lies to the local natives that caused distrust among the Indians of this man’s integrity.

[70] Ibid., p. 146

[71] Ibid., p. 146

[72] It would be rightly assumed that Radisson would be wearing English colors at this point, but not necessarily a uniform. It is true that Radisson had spent four years in the French navy touring the Caribbean and Asia during the late 1670s, but the likelihood of him wearing an English navy uniform is unlikely. The best assumption is a combination of his old sailing gear and some means of minimal identification as now belonging to the English. This posed a potential problem upon his arrival at Port Nelson when he would encounter the French.

[73] This is assumed to be his scars from his torture with the Mohawk Indians.

[74] Ibid., p. 147 One does wonder how robust this greeting would be: do they know Radisson only from the last few years in Hudson Bay or have they heard of the famous Radisson, explorer and trader with the Huron, Ottawa, Sioux, Tobacco, and Pottawattomi Indians throughout the northern half of the New World? Are the marks his scars from surviving two years captivity with the most ferocious of all nations: the Mohawks? One would do right to deduce that likely most of these natives were aware of some things about his life outside Hudson Bay, from his scars and his language to his customs, dress and perhaps the way he built canoes.

[75] Ibid., p. 147-148

[76] This is likely a reference to the Governor of New France, not the Hudson’s Bay Company of the English.

[77] 1663-1676.

[78] Ibid., p. 148 Radisson ends his speech by reminding his nephew that he is in his power, a masterful end by this seasoned salesman.

[79] Ibid., p. 149

[80] Ibid.,  p. 149

[81] This statement carries some weight in this case due to Radisson’s four years in the French navy.

[82] Ibid., p. 150

[83] That is, the Hudson’s Bay Company Governor who had arrived before Radisson in the ship captained by Captain Outlaw.

[84] Ibid., p. 151

[85] It is unknown why the Indians gave him this spirit name although it should be noted the natives of the area believed the porcupine to represent safety and loyalty, like a mother protecting her child. Radisson exuded loyalty and protection for those he loved as is seen throughout his journals. Porcupine Head would be a compliment and a spirit name that conveyed allegiance, loyalty and safety for those he loved. Or it could just mean that Radisson’s hair, now rather thin, had a spikey appearance. Or perhaps a combination of these two possibilities.

[86] That is, disembarked.

[87] This is the first time he refers to the French as “their”

[88] Ibid., p. 151-52

[89] Ibid., p. 152

[90] Ibid., p. 152

[91] The Nelson River

[92] The next major river south of Hayes, today known as the Severn River in northern Ontario.

[93] This would be the trading fort Radisson established in 1671, Fort Rupert in James Bay, the southern tip of Hudson Bay on the east shore.

[94] A dagger with a slender square or triangular blade.

[95] This suggests Radisson’s nephew had taken a native wife, a common practice and practical partnership at the time.

[96] 1684.

[97] This wounded Frenchman could also speak the local dialect.

[98] Asenipoetes, Assinipoueles, Assenipoulacs, and according to Dr. O’CallaghanL Assiniboins, or “Sioux of the Rocks.”

[99] The Cree Indians, old allies of Radisson’s.

[100] Considering Radisson was the first experience with the white man for most of the Indians he encountered during his voyages throughout the Great Lakes and farther west, the “legend” of Radisson must have grown over many generations. The joy here expressed by the Assiniboine Indian is the honour of having been able to help Radisson – and his nephew – in a time of need.

[101] Jean Baptiste’s recounting of what preceeded Radisson’s arrival is from p. 153-57 from the Sixth Voyage. This explained why Radisson encountered so many Indians when he arrived and the relocation of the French house so inaccessible to the water. But the “two murders of Englishmen” is never explained, or can be explained that the “two murders” were in fact the murder of the chief and the shooting of the Frenchmen who fell on his rifle chasing a stag. It took only nine months for this growing disarray under the young Groseilliers’ command to reach this boiling point. In the end, the decision for Radisson to leave his ship in the shallop to reach his nephew proved to be a wise choice.

[102] Ibid., p. 158 It is wonderful imagery to see this: the Indians crying for joy at the loyalty and honor of the Frenchmen serving in their country to provide trade with them.

[103] Ibid., p. 158

[104] Ibid., p. 159

[105] Ibid., p. 160

[106] It may be of some interest here to note that in 1684 very few or most likely no Europeans would have penetrated this far west along the Servern River, or more specifically that the Europeans had not intermarried yet with the local Indians to produce a bearded Indian. In this case, it would be likely the marriage would have taken place in the 1660s at the earliest, which is even before the first Hudson Bay fort established by Radisson at Rupert House. According to Adair, Indians plucked their facial hair with eagle bones that acted like tweezers. Facial hair was regarded as unattractive and thus plucked. Vermillion dye was also applied liberally to the skin because pale skin was regarded as sickly. The deep staining vermillion bronzed in the sun leaving the ink dye as if tattooed on their skin, thus the term “Red Man.”

[107] Ibid., p. 160

[108] About this Governor: he is never mentioned by name in Radisson’s original manuscripts, but a footnote was added in the 19th century when his journals landed in the hands of the British Museum that mentions the Governor by name: John Abraham. “Before Radisson’s arrival, Capt. John Abraham had been to Port Nelson with supplies of stores, & finding Mr. Bridgar was gone, he staid himself, & was continued Governor by the Company in 1684.” Oldmixon.

[109] Ibid., p. 160

[110] Ibid., p. 160-61

[111] Ibid., p. 161-62

[112] Ibid., p. 162

[113] Ibid., p. 162-63

[114] Ibid., p. 163

[115] This is why there are much longer passages from Radisson in the later part of this biographical novel.

[116] Father Poncet was a Jesuit priest who recorded Radisson’s role in saving the French settlement from the Mohawks when he engineered the big feast and spiked the food with bear root – a natural valium that put the would-be killers (the Mohawks) to sleep.

[117] This is the Introduction to Radisson’s journals that I have put here at the end of this work.