Hudson's Bay Company Beginnings
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Hudson's Bay Company Beginnings
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Hudson's Bay Company Beginnings

In the late 1600's, Britain became a dominant force in the North American fur trade with the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company, which would become one of the largest fur trading companies in the world.
Founded in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company became the largest fur trading company in North America.
Founded in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company became the largest fur trading company in North America.
The company was formed largely because of the actions of two French fur traders - Mdard Chouart des Groseilliers and his brother-in-law, Pierre Esprit Radisson - who defied their homeland and offered England a route to fur riches. In 1659, Radisson and des Groseilliers had travelled to Lake Superior and learned from the local natives about fur-rich lands further north. They wanted to journey to these lands but after repeated rejections in Quebec and France, the Frenchmen took their plans to England.

King Charles II granted Radisson and des Groseilliers an audience and agreed to finance a voyage to Hudson Bay to search for the furs that they described. English commerce was moving rapidly across the world at the time. The British East India Company had been chartered and there was interest in North America; the proposal from these two Frenchmen was ideal.

In 1668, Radisson set out on the Eaglet and des Groseilliers on the Nonsuch.
In good years, native trappers and hunters would unload more than 100,000 animal pelts at Hudson's Bay trading posts. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
In good years, native trappers and hunters would unload more than 100,000 animal pelts at Hudson's Bay trading posts. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Radisson had to turn back, his ship damaged by a storm, but des Groseilliers returned a year later with an impressive cargo of beaver pelts. They told stories of abundant beaver and confirmed that an economical route to the territory had been established.

Convinced of the economic potential, on May 2, 1670 - with a stroke of the royal pen - King Charles II created a monopoly over 3 million square miles of land. The Hudson's Bay Company - the Honourable Company of Adventurers - was born. Charles II granted monopoly trading privileges and mineral rights to all the lands drained by the water flowing into Hudson Bay.
Hudson's Bay trading posts
Hudson's Bay trading posts
It was an area fifteen times the size of Britain.

Company forts were established along the Hudson Bay coastline and the company conducted trade by having the Indians come to them. That strategy passed on most of the costs of transportation to their trading partners.

HBC traders developed a protocol with the natives. The annual trading sessions with the Cree began with the passing of a ceremonial pipe, which the Cree left at the fort to indicate they would return the following year.

There was a ritual exchange of gifts and then they got down to the pragmatic issues of business. The Indians were tough negotiators. "The guns are bad," an Indian trading captain complained.
"Let us trade light guns, small in the hand, and well shaped, with locks that will not freeze in the winter." The armament factories in Sheffield began to forge guns to their specifications. Large kettles that weighed fifteen pounds were dismissed by the Indians as too heavy to transport and were replaced by lighter versions.

The Hudson's Bay Company blanket, manufactured in Oxfordshire had lines woven into it, indicating price. The Indians had long had their own complex trading network, but now a new commercial relationship was established that would last almost two centuries.

Radisson and des Groseilliers weren't among the "Lordes and Proprietors" of the company they helped found; those positions were occupied by armchair adventurers in London who had the ear of the king.
For five years Radisson and des Groseilliers worked for the Hudson's Bay Company, then abruptly returned to their French allegiance.

Des Groseilliers returned to New France and died there.

Radisson flirted with different loyalties for much of his life; embracing and then fleeing the Indians, befriending the English and French by turn. His only real allegiance was to himself. He was able to negotiate in the royal courts of two countries and lived comfortably in the bush among the Indians. He eventually retired to a London suburb and successfully sued the Hudson's Bay Company for an annuity they had promised him. He once claimed to have seen the remains of Henry Hudson, his predecessor, on the shores of Hudson Bay.
Hudson had established the route to Hudson Bay but it was Radisson who realized its commercial potential. He died in 1710, a roguish, decayed gentleman.

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