Being a HBC Sailor: Making Mutable Class, ‘Race’/Culture, and Gender

What studying the history of seafaring makes evident – and what climate change, if projections are accurate, should make increasingly evident in the future – is that the past was a different place from the present. Additionally, by virtue of their historically contingent experience, sailors in Hudson Bay from 1508 to 1920 were a different set of people than exists now. Yet, for analysis of experience to yield understanding, points of commonality between the past and present must be posited. Historiographically, understanding past experience requires looking for commonality in terms of essentialisms that make sense in the present, or conversely, using current essentialisms to make sense of the past as precedent to now – take such categories of analyses as class, gender, and ‘race’ for example.[1] If commonalities are not established, change and continuity cannot be assessed. This is one reason why histories have been liable to revision: as constructed and imagined, historiography as a practice exposes essentialist thinking, thus allowing historians to critique previous narratives that purported a special knowledge of the ‘truth’ about the past.[2]

This essay highlights the constitutive nature of historical understanding at the same time that it makes a point about the transitory nature of being a sailor. In keeping with the observations of maritime historians such as Daniel Vickers, David Alexander, and Eric W. Sager, it shows that seafaring as an occupation filled finite portions of individuals’ lives, it was not a continuous state of being for a peculiar cohort of human beings.[3] Whether characterized as ‘iron men’ or wet workers, sailors had lives complete with birth, death, and complicated biographical paths in between. Historian Sean Cadigan has observed about mariners of North America’s Eastern Seaboard: “Most seafarers worked for short periods of their lives in deep-sea trades; they otherwise worked in a variety of related trades ashore, or within the contexts of much more household-like, small-scale production in fisheries or coastal trading.”[4] Sailors who transitioned to working ashore in Hudson Bay worked in support of the fur trade – sometimes in occupations associated with transport, sometimes as managers of other people’s labour. Nevertheless, regardless of career paths, having worked at sea seems to have been a defining experience for many – as a popular nineteenth-century saying put it “once a sailor, always a sailor.”[5]

While being a sailor of Hudson Bay imparted some commonality of experience with coworkers, being human ensured each HBC sailor’s experience was unique. The nature of surviving records means it is seldom possible to interrogate directly the feelings, ideas, and impressions of sailors about themselves, or about the people they met, because HBC sailors do not ‘speak’ through the medium of their own records for themselves. It is possible, nonetheless, to arrive tangentially at an appreciation of sailors’ experiences. To do so in this essay, I first apply two theoretical axes of analyses – class and ‘race’/culture (the latter phrase defined below)  – to describe the political-economic and socio-cultural contexts of HBC sailors. I then examine writings about sailors as historical agents, focusing on three individuals to illustrate the ways in which the affiliations and affinities – including gender – by which sailors might be classified, or by which they may have classified themselves, were made and remade.[6]


To begin by addressing class: for the purpose of my argument, and following E.P. Thompson, I acknowledge that a distinction exists between the terms ‘class’ and ‘status.’ While the latter is defined as a category determined according to hierarchical classification, class is held to be a relational, historical phenomenon with a cultural as well as an economic basis for formation.[7] In terms of political-economic theories of historical materialism, the salient relation — between the nautical workforce and the Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] members who directly appropriated the value created by labour — was one that evinced paternalism. HBC structuring maintained the appropriation of value and the distribution of profit while it accommodated employee negotiations within a corporate culture that business analysts of the present have characterized as “family.”[8] The Company bore the cost of “social overhead” – for example supplying food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and communication with geographically distant family members – in return for an agreement from workers to behave as loyal servants with the best interests of the corporate “household” in mind.[9] The terms of HBC contracts classified all mariners – free and bound, from captains or ships’ masters down to apprentices or boys – as servants.[10]

Despite differences of rank and status aboard ship, maritime servants of the Company belonged to a similar socio-economic ‘class[ification]’ by landward norms, in that there were vertical, often familial, ties that interconnected individuals of different working ranks, and, while ashore, they lived in similar enclaves where their paths crossed socially.[11] The London Committee – “whose bread they eate and whose wages they take [sic]” – was distinctly different. Its members, deemed by royal charter the “sole Proprietors of the Country, and of the Capital employed in the Trade,” were titled, wealthy, or related and socially connected to such people in the upper echelons of English society.[12] Although numbers and degrees of participation varied, typically the Committee was restricted to eight or nine individuals, all of whom resided in London, one of whom acted as governor and another as deputy governor. From 1670, the HBC Governor and Committee in London enjoyed:

the direcion of the Voyages of and for the said Company and Provision of the Shipping and Merchandizes thereunto belonging and alsoe the sale of all merchandizes Goodes and other things returned in all or any the Voyages or Shippes of or for the said Company and the mannageing and handleing of all other business affaires and thinges belonging to the said Company [sic].[13]

To 1920, the Committee expanded the capital at their command by selling shares to smaller investors.[14] Despite the marked difference in privilege and power between the Committee and its servants, clear expression of consciousness, on the part of the HBC maritime workforce, of class existing as a separation between capital and labour – an apprehension that might serve in historical analysis as a marker of change – was remarkably absent. Thus, while industrialization and consciousness of class became a reason for conflict on numerous fronts in England in the nineteenth century, the HBC remained somewhat of an anomalous anachronism in terms of corporate structuring and industrial history. It officially retained its chartered monopoly status to 1870, and its master/servant approach to management beyond 1920. Historians E.E. Rich and Edith I. Burley have shown that “‘subpolitical’ traditions,” analogous to the “right to riot in resistance to oppression” – such as mutinies to avoid naval impressment, and petitions to protest unsafe conditions, or to demand changes in provisioning – were evident.[15] In practice, between 1670 and 1920, the HBC master/servant relation “was not stable but in flux.”[16]

Nevertheless, when viewed through Company records that track servants’ behaviour while under contract, HBC sailors appear to have behaved as though they were “working people who were not part of the industrial proletariat,” nor “a class-conscious, politicized stratum of workers.”[17] Whatever their private thoughts and activities, or their public behaviour when not working for the HBC, the record base indicates that the ordering of mariners’ hours while in Company service rested on a pre-stated, pre-understood acceptance of a working relationship replicated at all scales in the hierarchical organization. On HBC voyages between 1670 and 1920, the circumstances of maritime workers – including officers who ‘owned’ the labour of, and collected the remuneration due apprentices – though open to amelioration, were not of their own making.[18]


To turn to ‘race’/culture, the phrase, as used here, is defined in the limited sense of an artefact of human social behaviour: a product of social reproduction whereby communities create distinct and observable cultural markers of society, including traditions, languages, and material products – distinctions commonly associated with ‘race’ in discourses framed by, and about, nationalist and imperialist ideologies.[19] As such, the following observations on culture and contact illustrate how, in the past and in discourses about the past, North Americans who were culturally distinct from Europeans may be thought of as ‘already’ seafarers, communicating as workers in informal economies, prior to being formally recognized or engaging as sailors qua HBC sailors. For North Americans, as for Europeans, seas were sites of communication.

As established in Heterogeneity and HBC Seafarers, 1508-1920, the movement of seafarers aboard HBC ships from 1670 to 1920 was not unidirectional and neither was the seaborne transport of norms, customs, and values. HBC voyaging was predated by ventures possibly dating as far back as 1508. This circumstance, along with the existence of variety in the transitional space that was the ship, and time spent between points of contact with land, largely interrupted and ruled out the possibility of direct transmission of binary, or oppositional socio-cultural forms across the Atlantic. Additionally, although the prosecution of trade projects between 1508 and 1920 connected landward nodal points, activity and outcomes were not confined to land. ‘Pure’ or dichotomized, instances of contact or confrontation between groups of different cultures – Cree and English for instance – if they occurred at all, did not necessarily take place ashore at either end of a voyage.[20] Variety aboard ship meant that nominally ‘English’ representatives might be culturally French, or of cultures of the Nordic regions, or of any port in the Atlantic world for that matter.[21] In addition, contrary to conventional representations of first contact, along the Northern Seaboard, a variety of initial contacts among all manner of culturally informed individuals took place off shore.[22]

Some of these seaborne encounters were foundational to the HBC institutional trade project. For example, ships’ logs and journal entries record exchanges on the water in Hudson Strait between Inuit people of Baffin Island and seafarers out from England. These confirm meetings between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ worlds well before HBC ships made land Bayside – both during the period studied and on individual transatlantic voyages.[23] Further, the journal entries affirm these offshore meetings took place between individuals who had varying degrees of prior experience encountering people from outside of their ‘home’ worlds. There are also records that attest to a wide variety of meetings and exchanges – including boardings – taking place virtually mid-ocean between vessels from a range of North American and European ports. While some encounters were friendly, some were hostile.[24] The existence of variety along the ocean arc, over time and at any given time, meant that past people negotiated a spate of differences along its course on an ongoing basis. The breadth of the ocean arc meant that some negotiations took place aboard ship well away from shore, while yet the mobility of seafarers meant that some of their negotiations took place on a shore, and sometimes many miles inland from any shore.

The fact that the North American, European, and elsewhere-born could and did meet on water establishes a point they held in common: historically, people took to the sea, they taught their children how to do so and passed on information about what to expect. From 1670 to 1920, sailors did not spring into being upon joining the HBC workforce. Individual HBC sailors – European and North American alike – each had a past path, complete with political-economic and socio-cultural contexts that occasioned their engagement. Historians have generally reduced the reasons that a person might opt to become a sailor to a combination of opportunity born of constraint and personal ‘natural inclination.’ In other words, no other readily available way of life provided as promising an opportunity for securing livelihood over the long-term, and, some seafarers simply liked sailing. Perhaps they enjoyed the challenge, perhaps the company: in some communities, going to sea did not sever emotional bonds with family and friends so much as reinforce them. In places where seafaring was a common occupation, sailors were able to serve with friends and relatives and follow the orders of “men they knew or knew about.”[25] Spouses who went to sea avoided separation from partners. Thus, at the individual and community level, seafaring was a means of maintaining communication.[26]

Arriving at a full understanding of the past contexts and reasons for the life paths of HBC sailors is difficult. Sailors, as relatively anonymous, mobile, and shifting in affiliation, resist determination as historical subjects. Their proclivities are difficult to posit because Company employment records do not afford a reliable means of classifying sailors in and of Hudson Bay according to racialized, cultural, or locational criteria that might help define basic patterns of difference and similarity – to distinguish, for example, ‘Europeans’ from ‘North Americans.’[27] Such categorization requires relying on sources that supply information on familial origins and these too present problems – not the least of which are incompleteness and ambiguity.

Case in Point #1: knowns, unknowns, and Charles ‘the slave’

Ambiguity due to incomplete records infuses the story of Charles, “the slave,” who may have been among the first individuals native to the shores of Hudson Bay to train as a sailor aboard a transatlantic HBC ship – initially, in his case, to mediate as shipboard interpreter.[28] In 1738, Richard Staunton, in charge of Moose Fort, informed the London Committee that “Upon the request of Captain Middleton I have sent your slave home, the Escomay boy, he [Middleton] saying how serviceable he will be in informing them relating to the trade in the Straits relating to the whalebone.”[29] Staunton’s reference may be to “a Young Eskemoe Boy” recorded as purchased at Albany Fort two years earlier at the cost of “1 lb. Brazil tobacco, 1 gallon brandy, and 1½ yards of blue broadcloth,” from a group of “Albany and Moose River Indians.” As reported by the Albany post journal, the child’s slave status originated when a party of fifty “Indians” captured fifteen children in a raid on Inuit “of the East Main” during which five men and fifteen women were killed.[30] While according to its commercial records the Company did not officially engage directly in slave trading, comments in journals refer to other Aboriginal individuals ‘entertained’ in that capacity from as early as 1712.[31] Company records designate the slave boy at Moose ‘Charles.’ His original name is unknown. Whether he was identical to the child bought at Albany or not is also unknown. Charles apparently spent the years 1738 to 1740 voyaging to and from Hudson Bay aboard the Hudson Bay [V] as a de facto apprentice of Middleton – an educated master, having been elected fellow of the Royal Society for “contributions to the theory and practice of navigation” in 1737.[32] In 1741, Charles transferred to the Seahorse [I] to serve as ship’s boy under Captain George Spurrell. The posting suggests Charles was advancing. Spurrell was a senior ships’ master among HBC mariners. By that year he had nineteen years experience in commanding voyages to the Bay, and apparently was possessed of considerable influence and money – on retirement from the sea in 1756 he became a member of the London Committee.[33] Charles’ career came to an abrupt end, however. At some point, during or after the homeward crossing of his first engagement under Spurrell, he apparently died – virtually innominate, details of his death, like those of his origin, service at sea, and status as an HBC employee, left to historiographical inference.[34]

Case in Point #2: inference, identity, and Moses Norton:

Stories about the career of one of Charles’ contemporaries, Moses Norton, illustrate more concretely the problems that attempting to ascribe a fixed ‘identity’ may present in historiography about HBC sailors.[35] References in the historical record to Moses Norton’s HBC career imply that he, along with Charles, was among the first native-born of Hudson Bay to train as HBC sailors. According to Samuel Hearne’s “real” testimony regarding the “character” of his commanding officer at Churchill from 1771 to 1773, Moses Norton was an “Indian,” the son of Chief Factor Richard Norton, and “born at Prince of Wales’s Fort.”[36] In 1744, Moses Norton apprenticed, for a term of seven years, to Spurrell, then in command of the Prince Rupert[II]. Judging by patterns of past seafaring practice in England, Moses was about eleven to fourteen years old at the time. The Company, however, did not preserve a record of his age. By way of conjecture, various historians have estimated that he was born as early as the 1720s and as late as 1735. There is not a HBC record of his parentage or place of birth – a circumstance that has led to irresolvable debate. Historians such as E.E. Rich and Richard Glover accept Hearne’s testimony and assume that Moses was Richard Norton’s biological son by a woman native to the area serviced by Fort Prince of Wales. Sylvia Van Kirk judges that he was not born of an Aboriginal woman. Either way, what Moses Norton’s record does establish is that he was a sailor ‘of’ Hudson Bay. To begin with, if Richard Norton was his father – biological or adoptive – as otherwise dissenting historians agree was the case, then Moses belonged to a seafaring family.[37]

The father, Richard Norton, had also begun his HBC career through an apprenticeship, at age thirteen. He had sailed to Hudson Bay aboard the Union frigate in 1714, experiencing the “tedious passage”described by James Knight.[38] Although subsequently his was principally a landward apprenticeship, Richard Norton’s duties also took him to sea. In 1721, he sailed north, as “Lingister” [sic: interpreter] with Henry Kelsey in the Prosperous hoy.[39] On their return, they reported sighting bits of wreckage, possibly from the Albany and the Discovery – two vessels under Knight’s command that had vanished two years earlier. In 1722, Richard Norton, accompanying John Scroggs in the Whalebone, again reported wreckage assumed to be from the Albany. By 1730, Richard Norton had served under mariner and chief factor, Thomas McCliesh at York Fort. If Norton had not already made the acquaintance of Captain William Coats, he did so that year. On 16 August, McCliesh reported to the London Committee that

We have according to orders discharged the underwritten who are now on board the Hannah frigate, Captain Coats commander, ready to sail the first opportunity, vizt. Mr Richard Norton, who has behaved himself with honesty and fidelity to the best of my knowledge since he has been here.[40]

In England Richard Norton married Elizabeth, McCliesh’s daughter, thus becoming son-in-law to one mariner and brother-in-law to another – Captain Coats.[41] Richard returned to an appointment as chief factor at Churchill in 1731. Indications are that Elizabeth did not leave England to accompany him aboard the Hannah, which was commanded by their brother-law. However, another family member may have: a sailor, also named William Coats and possibly the captain’s son, was aboard to work passage. Considering that Richard Norton hired on the sailor William Coats to serve at Churchill, Norton probably spent as much time with seafaring McCliesh and Coats relatives after marrying as he did with his formal spouse.

Richard sailed to England in 1735 and made the return voyage in 1736 – again apparently without his wife. He sailed back in 1741 – by some accounts, he took his son Moses to England for an education that year. Richard Norton died shortly after arrival in London in 1741. With or without his knowledge, arrangements were made for Moses Norton’s apprenticeship to Spurrell – possibly to serve in the boy Charles’ stead, he having died about the same time. The Nortons and Spurrells were not strangers. In 1731, Spurrel had captained the Mary [III] to Churchill in company with the two William Coatses and Richard Norton on the Hannah. Both Captain Coats and Captain Spurrell routinely sailed to Churchill, and it was Spurrell, apparently with Charles in company, who transported Richard Norton and possibly Moses, to England in 1741.[42] Beyond these connections, the Company seems to have suspected that more than familial closeness tied together the McClieshes, Nortons, Coatses and Spurrells. Amid general accusations “relating to spiritous liquors being brought privately out” on HBC ships, McCliesh, Richard Norton, Spurrell, and Captain Coats were, at various times, all compelled to deny knowledge of smuggling or any other “indecencies” prohibited in their contracts and those of the servants under their management.[43]

Any suspicion with respect to Richard Norton’s service did not preclude Moses’ integration into the Company’s workforce. From existing records, it is evident that after serving aboard the Prince Rupert [II] to and from Hudson Bay from 1744 to approximately 1751, Moses Norton was mate of the Churchill sloop on coastal voyages, for three years, from 1753. During this time, he served under chief factor and former HBC transoceanic and coastal mariner Joseph Isbister. Like his father, Moses then served officially in landward stations, though he continued sea voyaging. In 1760 and 1761, he sailed to and from England, and from 1761 to 1764, he captained sloops sent out from Churchill to expand trade and search for the Northwest Passage – in 1762 “discovering Baker Lake and sailing around it in a cutter.”[44] In 1768, he again sailed for England. After his return in 1769, Moses instituted a black whale fishery out of Churchill, at “much effort and expense,” although the Company abandoned the project in 1772, the reasons given being “the lack of skilled men, inadequate boats, and the short season.”[45]

Like his father, and like his superior, Isbister, who had married Captain Middleton’s daughter, Moses had a formally sanctioned wife – Sarah – who apparently lived in England. Moses was also reputed, by Samuel Hearne, to simultaneously have at least one country wife at Churchill. A woman known as Meo,See,tak,ka,pow, may have been the adoptive or biological mother of Moses’ daughter, Mary ‘Polly’ Norton. Hearne eulogized Mary at length in his reminiscence. His portrayal of her as a woman who “would have shone with superior lustre in any other country,” and the word ‘wife’ in the “epitaph” he wrote for her, has led to the conjecture that if she was not already Hearne’s country wife before she died, then he had intended to marry her.[46] If so, he would have perpetuated a paternalistic custom of longstanding within seafaring circles, the marrying of a superior’s daughter.[47] It would also indicate that like his father’s and his chief factor’s personal networks, Mose Nortons’ social network preserved ties with the seafaring world – in his case, notable ones. His subordinate/son-in-law Hearne was after all a sailor, having served a naval apprenticeship from age eleven or twelve, 1757–1763, during the Seven Years War, and having engaged with the HBC as a seaman. Hearne’s inland mapping – “regarded as a very important contribution to geography,” that “remained the only source of knowledge of much of Canada’s Northland” for one hundred and thirty-nine years – was the accomplishment of a naval veteran possessing  skills learned at sea for fixing latitude and longitude.[48] Hearne also maintained friendships with seafarers such as William Wales, whom he met at Churchill. Wales, “one of the most eminent mathematicians, astronomers and navigators of the day,” accompanied Captain James Cook on his second voyage around the world, 1772–1775, after having observed the transit of Venus, 1768–1769, at Prince of Wales’ Fort, while it was under Moses Norton’s command.[49]

Having lived bayside and having held bayside family ties for some four decades, Moses died at Churchill in 1773. His will granted, in mariner fashion, “ten Gallons of English Brandy to be equally divided amongst all hands.”[50] Outwardly, on the basis of Hearne’s decidedly unsympathetic portrait, Moses Norton’s depiction in historiography is less than flattering. Dubbed a “notorious smuggler” by Hearne, historians likewise have impugned Norton’s integrity – though engaging in private trade sets Norton with, rather than apart from, contemporary HBC mariners who cooperated with each other to avoid detection by the London Committee.[51] While Rich’s history of the HBC praised Moses for “uncommon energy and perception,” later historians either do not acknowledge Norton’s accomplishments, decry him for failures that might well be attributed to others, or accord credit for his actions elsewhere. Yet, his exploration of the Hudson Bay coast is as noteworthy as any pursued by his contemporaries. He was not responsible for hiring whaling masters or crews that on arrival in the Bay proved inept – they were contracted an ocean away.[52] The authority of his ‘skin map’ – “probably the oldest extant skin map from the Subarctic” – is as firmly established by its inscription that it was “laid down” by Moses Norton and “bro’ Home by him anno 1760 [sic]” as any endorsement that attributes maps to his contemporaries.[53] He deserves some credit for having conceived, argued for, and overseen Hearne’s famous journey that presaged a momentous shift in the Company’s attention inland, including credit for having pushed a reluctant Hearne to complete it. That Norton sent a gift of live moose to add to King George III’s game collection in Richmond Park is a point of interest, not cause for reproach.[54]

Nevertheless, Hearne’s disparaging comment that Norton lived “in open defiance of every law, human and divine”; his assertion that Norton purposely sabotaged Hearne’s first two forays inland; and his allegation that Norton disciplined refractory members of his household with threats of “poison,” have been interpreted by latter day commentators as meaning Norton was prone to “crazy planning,” murder, and incest.[55] Past actors, however, lived with a different set of understandings than exist today and the meaning of terminology differed as well. If Norton was ill-tempered, paranoid, and prone to violent outbursts, during a period before his fatal illness might have explained such behaviour, he was not the only eighteenth-century mariner with the rank of officer said to have been so. Van Kirk, for example, notes of Joseph Isbister, that:

being a powerful, quick-tempered man, he frequently resorted to physical force to punish those who were refractory or careless. On Christmas day, 1743, he chastized a man for ‘Caballing’ by knocking him down so hard he broke his leg. To another servant, who had neglected his duties while drunk, he applied six lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails.[56]

The threat of corporal punishment necessarily existed where prisons did not. As HBC masters and officers, on ship and ashore, like their naval counterparts were outnumbered by those in their charge, ultimately discipline devolved to threats of death. As well, terms such as Hearne applied against Norton’s character were commonplace in Company parlance when describing individuals, particularly mariners, who acted according to their own inclination and engaged in private trade, smuggled alcohol, and slept where they pleased with whom they pleased – in tents outside the posts’ palisades rather than the men’s house inside for example.[57] To assume that rhetoric confirms event is spurious. Only one term applied by Hearne clearly distinguishes Norton from other HBC officers of his time, that of ‘Indian.’ The term appears to denote a statement of heritage, rather than a xenophobic slight, as Hearne openly praises other individuals so designated.

While surviving records give no indication that the question of ‘race’ mattered materially to Norton’s career advancement, it seems to have mattered to historians. The historiographical implication that Norton’s example showed ‘Indians’ to be bad business administrators, has been somewhat displaced by a later argument that ‘Indians’ never were administrators of HBC business.[58] What both arguments miss is that Norton’s career figures as one more example of a seafarer rising from a lowly station – including boys of beggarly origin – to become a HBC chief factor.[59] Equally significantly, if Hearne is to be accorded authority at all, then the fact that he designated Moses an ‘Indian’ strongly indicates that regardless of biological antecedents, by Norton’s time, there were HBC sailors who were more Northern North American than not.

Historian Sylvia Van Kirk disputes Moses’ North American origins citing 1794 as the date that the Committee officially stated that children born in North America to Company servants could be employed in HBC service.[60] Nevertheless, Middleton’s prior recommendation that Charles be trained to serve, along with the Company’s funding of Charles while apprenticing for both Middleton and Spurrell, suggests that placing children native to Hudson Bay in maritime service was an accepted practice much earlier. A formal statement of policy may only have come about when the volume of such hirings had reached levels that required the London Committee to clarify its position, or, possibly, to encourage that officers stationed ashore apply the maritime practice. An example of responsive rather than pre-emptive ruling on the part of the Committee can be taken from Norton’s moose shipping incident of 1762. Moses sent the animals to England on his own initiative. A year passed before the London Committee drafted a directive stipulating posts were to “send no more livestock home.”[61]

Van Kirk also points out that Moses’ will named Susannah Dupeer as his mother – her name suggesting European origin.[62] As numerous historical instances attest, however, having a European-derived name does not preclude an individual from being native to North America, whether male or female. As the popular story of Isabel Gunn, also known as John Fubbister, further illustrates, in the past as well as the present, outward appearances might be deceiving. Particularly in records created to “serve the official purposes of other people … in an institutional context,” names as signifiers have the potential to confound as readily as confirm historical hypotheses.[63] For example, as examination of references pertaining to Gunn/Fubbister show, early nineteenth-century HBC lore presented names as imprecise markers of an apparently mutable construct of gender: having a man’s name did not necessarily mean a working seafarer was male.


There are many versions of Gunn’s story, including one related by Charles Napier Bell in 1889 in his description of the manuscript journal of Alexander Henry, a trader of the NWC, and presumably the author of the original eyewitness account of the 1807 exposé of Isabel’s ‘true identity.’ The story holds that Gunn donned the name and clothes of a man to work passage aboard the Prince of Wales to York Factory in 1806, and to sail from there to Albany by coastal shallop. Subsequently, as a servant of that post, she reputedly maintained her disguise, until, after having voyaged well inland as crew of a boat brigade, in the throes of childbirth she admitted to the deception. Bell avowed, “She was sent home to the Orkneys, and I am informed became, with her daughter, public characters, and were known as vagrants, under the name of the ‘Norwesters’.”[64]

One problem the various stories present is that although the general theme is consistent – a woman in men’s garb proves a competent worker, but her supposed gender is invalidated, with unhappy consequences – significant details are not. Accounts penned after Bell, for example, describe the child as a son, named James Scarth.[65]

A second problem is the story’s resemblance to the various versions of contemporary and enduringly popular songs, plays, and novels about ‘a brisk young sailor’ who turned out to be a woman intent on pursuing her lover across the seas.[66] Even the play on words associated with Isabel’s story suggests invention – her child being the ‘Son of a Gunn.’[67]

The third problem, as with other HBC seafarers, is the record base. Where documents do exist and confirmation of Isabel’s story might be expected, it is not found, the documents are not in their original state, or their contents are inconsistently reported.[68]

Further, ‘eyewitness’ testimony traces back to individuals whose motives are somewhat suspect. Bell, for example, insists his sources were reputable and the story was proof that the first “white woman” to bear a child in the West was English, not French.[69]

Nor do traces of Isabel Gunn’s fortunes in Orkney census records support allegations that she, or her child, necessarily suffered ignominy when they returned, via HBC ship, to the Orkneys. It appears Gunn was not a ‘girl’ in 1806, but approximately twenty-six years old. James Scarth, baptized as her son at Albany in 1808, was living in a house with Isabel Gunn in Stromness and attending school at age fourteen. His mother also appears to have found gainful employment throughout her life. If she died a ‘pauper,’ she did so indoors at the ripe old age of eighty-one, in which case the appellation indicates she had no heritable estate at the time, not that she was homeless.[70]

It seems unlikely that the versions of James Scarth’s North American birth that historiography currently purports accurately reflect the path project intersections that led to its event. Evidence to support the stories about Isabel Gunn is largely circumstantial and tenuous, strong documentary links are absent. Nevertheless, Gunn, whether officially a servant or not, got to Hudson Bay somehow. Between 1508 and 1920, she and other women may well have taken advantage of mutable understandings of gender to experience the HBC ocean arc as sailors. It is undeniable that “As long as there have been ships women have sailed. They have done so as workers, wives, prostitutes, slaves, consorts and cross dressers.”[71] For years that HBC ships’ logs and crew lists are missing, so are passenger lists. As Committee suspicions levelled against seafaring Nortons, Coatses, and McClieshes indicate, as long as mariners kept their initiatives informal and off the record, clandestine behaviour to which the Company objected, but over which it had no direct control, might take place. Historians such as Van Kirk, Jennifer S.H. Brown, and Burley have established that servant agency in the paternalistic HBC saw women present in factories ashore where they were not supposed to be.[72] Similar subterfuge may have taken place at sea. Instances, about which the Company had no direct knowledge, remain instances about which historians are without knowledge. As historian Dianne Dugaw has pointed out, stories, such as that about Gunn, were not popular in the past because they had curiosity value, but because they resonated with the actual experiences of ordinary people. The existence of the Gunn/Fubbister story suggests a past awareness that people of the Northwest were seafarers, and possibly an awareness that women were aboard HBC ships without Committee knowledge. It is also possible – as argued by Dugaw with respect to practices in other maritime contexts – that as long as a recruit showed up in the appropriate attire and proved willing and able to perform the tasks assigned, HBC ship captains did not question a sailor’s gender: it was not an essential concern.[73]


Applying categories of analysis such as gender, ‘race’/culture, and class to HBC sailors reveals ambiguous ‘identity’ may lead to ambivalent historical standing. How people determined affiliation and affinity changed over time. Understanding the notions of generations’ past is an interpretative, equivocal exercise. Consideration of sailors as active agents of communication complicates both notions of historical ‘identity’ and histories of contact at intercontinental as well as interpersonal scales. The complexity of the past, because incommensurable with hegemonic notions of subsequent periods, might be among the reasons that sailors’ experience has not been included in (meta)narratives assigning singular trajectories to land-based groups imagined along imperial, national, or ethnically described lines of ‘race’/culture.[74] The stories about ambiguous characters such as Charles, Moses Norton, and Isabel Gunn, make more sense, and such seafarers’ contributions to historical process are more evident, when landward paths and seafaring contexts are understood as related rather than separate. Recounting the use these three individuals apparently made of opportunities to take to the sea illustrates how work aboard ship offered, and to some extent delivered, an escape from both socio-cultural and socio-economic confines. Charles, though he may have only exchanged one form of ‘slavery’ for another, by becoming a seaward apprentice moved into a position of waged labour where his origins, had he lived, would not necessarily have prevented his attaining a position of authority over others. For Norton, seafaring social connections and work experience, combined with an intimate knowledge of the North and of Northerners, allowed him the freedom to determine the degree to which his ‘household’ at Fort Prince of Wales accorded with ‘Native’ or ‘European’ conventions, while following his own ideas about what achieving personal comfort and fulfilling personal ambitions might be. Gunn, whether her identity was kept secret from her immediate cohorts, only the London Committee, or perhaps only historians, had an opportunity to labour in a ‘non-traditional’ role that afforded better wages than were available to her otherwise. Undertaken in a paternalistic, pre-industrial workplace, seafaring with the HBC, though a transitory occupation, allowed servants some leeway in crossing gendered and racialized lines, national and cultural lines, and socio-economic status lines. As the following chapter underscores, it also allowed latitude, for individuals who crossed the boundary that the ocean sea posed to landsmen, to effect transition towards and away from North American permanence.

[1] Daniel Vickers, “Beyond Jack Tar” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 50, no. 2 (April 1993): 418, notes “Twentieth-century historians are far more preoccupied [than previous scholars] with topics such as class, race, gender, and economic policy – all of which have contemporary resonance.” Margaret Creighton and Lisa Norling, eds., Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700–1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), vii, point out “such seemingly natural categories as gender, race, class, and age” are constructs “used to explain inequality and to assert domination in a range of political, economic, and social relationships.” See, on analytic constructs, Joan Acker, “Class, Gender, and the Relations of Distribution,” Signs 13, no. 3 (spring 1988): 47379, on gender and class in Marxist and feminist analyses of ‘women’s place’ in political-economic structure; Rosemary Crompton, “Class theory and gender,” The British Journal of Sociology 40, no. 4 (1989): 56587, on theoretical dichotomies as dualities of structure. Arguing for concentrating on agency and structuration, she points out that “one of the difficulties in making a way through … the tangled undergrowth of debate on gender and class theory is that different contributors are working with different definitions of ‘class’, although this fact is not always acknowledged”; Robert Miles, “Recent Marxist theories of nationalism and the issue of racism,” British Journal of Sociology 38, no. 1 (1987): 2443; and Elizabeth Jameson, “Introduction,” Making Western Canada: Essays on European Colonization and Settlement, ed. Catherine Cavanaugh and Jeremy Mouat (Toronto: Garamond Press, 1996), ixxix, describe race and nation as interconnected and socially reproduced “ideas or categories,” with histories that lend the appearance of ‘natural’ origin to the related ideologies of racism and nationalism; Thomas C. Holt, “Marking: Race, Race-making, and the Writing of History,” American Historical Review 100, no. 1 (February 1995): 120, notes the power and tenacity of explanatory schemes in historiography; Patrick Wolfe, “Land, Labor, and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race,” American Historical Review 106, no. 3 (June 2001): 866905, connects constructions of race to control of access to land-based production.

[2] Thomas L. Haskell, review, “Farewell to Fallibilism: Robert Berkhofer’s Beyond the Great Story and the Allure of the Postmodern,” History and Theory 37, no. 3 (October 1998): 354, 363, describes dealing with essentialisms in ‘conventional’ historiography as one of the “juggling acts that we humans have always performed in trying to make sense of the past.” The ‘post modernist critique’ decries the exercise for “masking the representational as referential.” See also Joan Wallach Scott, “History in Crisis: The Other’s Side of the Story,” American Historical Review 94, no. 3 (June 1989): 68092; Peter Burke, ed., New Perspectives on Historical Writing (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991), 26, 1011; Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (New York: Routledge, 1991); Sara Mills, Discourse (New York: Routledge, 1997), 2930; Pat Hudson, History By Numbers: An Introduction to Quantitative Approaches (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1618; also George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 714.


[3] Alexander, David. “Literacy among Canadian and Foreign Seamen, 18631899,” in Working Men

Who Got Wet: Proceedings of the fourth conference of the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project, July 24–July 26, 1980, ed. by Rosemary Ommer and Gerald Panting (St. John’s: Maritime History Group, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1980), 32; Judith Fingard, Jack in Port: Sailortowns of Eastern Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 45; Eric W. Sager, Seafaring Labour: The Merchant Marine of Atlantic Canada, 1820–1914 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989), 3, 4, 6, 5354; Vickers, “Beyond Jack Tar,” 42224, notes “as Jesse Lemisch first suggested thirty years ago … Jack Tar as a conceptual type is a simplistic and effective tool for exploring the social relations that structured maritime life,” but that “seafaring was a stage in life” and that “most mariners spent less than a decade at sea and returned to land by the age of thirty”; Daniel Vickers and Vince Walsh, Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 4; and Creighton and Norling, Iron Men, Wooden Women, viiiix; Chapter Fourteen, this thesis, 361 n.42, on Richard McKay’s career; also Isaac Land, “Tidal waves: the new coastal history,” Journal of Social History (spring 2007): 74143, on recent constructions, that, though meant to “redeem sailors from the parochial constraints of maritime historiography,” nevertheless abstract ‘the sailor’ as an “an impressive protagonist” and “international nautical proletariat” that, “however colourful and interesting,” was “so different from other people” that collectively “sailors are irrelevant to historians who do not focus on maritime historiography.” He posits “the oceanic model itself”, or “emphasizing the sea-going vessel” may be faulted for causing “intellectual trouble,” more bothersome than worthwhile. Eric W. Sager, “Employment Contracts in Merchant Shipping: An Argument for Social Science History,” in On the Case: Explorations in Social History, ed. Franca Iacovetta and Wendy Mitchinson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 4964, suggests the greater difficulty is common in social history: staggering numbers of mobile people did not leave conspicuous or comprehensive paper trails of their own making.

[4] Sean T. Cadigan, “‘But for the loves of the fishes’: Maritime labour and ecological culture in nineteenth-century Newfoundland,” in Maritime labour: Contributions to the History of work at sea, 1500–2000, ed. Richard Gorski (Amsterdsam: Aksant, 2007): 105. See also Glynn R. Barratt, “Whalers and Weavers,” The Beaver 57, no. 3 (winter 1977): 5459.

[5] “Recent Travels,” The Atlantic Monthly 24, no. 141 (August 1869): 260; W. Clark Russell, “Jack’s Courtships; A Sailor’s Yarn of Love and Shipwreck,” Longman’s Magazine 3, no. 13 (November 1883): 2; Nevada State Journal (26 August 1887): 3, and Chicago Daily Trib (5 February 1909) D1, cited at “Re: ‘Once a Dodger, Always a Dodger’,” Listserv 14.4 < bin/wa?A2= ind0505C&L=ADS-L&P=11320> (accessed 1 March 2009); Joseph Conrad, Typhoon, and Other Stories (Doubleday, Page and Company, 1921), 190. The phrase is double edged – in some cases it is used to suggest seafaring as an experience left indelible memories, in others that the occupation was inescapable. See also Richard Mackie “McKay, Joseph William,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Online edition [DCB] <; (accessed 2004–2008); and Robert Watson, “‘Captain’ Cotter of Cumberland,” The Beaver 9, no. 2 (September 1929): 260–61.


[6] Frank Tough, review of Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline, and Conflict in

the Hudson’s Bay Company, 17701879, by Edith I. Burley, Manitoba History, no. 37 (spring/summer 1999), 49, observes that setting such a context is an important means of avoiding “the problems of social history disconnected from political economy”; see also Robert C.H. Sweeny, “Understanding Work Historically: A reflection prompted by two recent studies of the fur trade,” review of Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline and Conflict in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 17701879, by Edith I. Burley, and Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific, by Richard Somerset Mackie. Labour/Le Travail 41 (Spring 1998): 24749.

[7] Carolyn Podruchny, “Unfair Masters and Rascally Servants? Labour Relations Among Bourgeois, Clerks and Voyageurs in the Montréal Fur Trade, 17801821,” Labour/Le Travail 43 (spring 1999): 4748, supplies a taxonomy of status among landward fur trade personnel. She notes, that regardless of scale in the HBC management hierarchy, supervisors/managers and their subordinates “accepted their positions as rulers and ruled,” and subordinates “could challenge the substance and boundaries of their jobs and loyalty to their masters without contesting the fundamental power dynamics.” She ascribes this to an operational hegemony: a “belief in the legitimacy of paternalism.” See E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), 2, 9, 11, 13, 21, who handles the heterogeneity and fluidity of his subject (working people) by identifying relational spaces between human beings as the defining site of his object, to understand how ‘classes’ of working people became the ‘working class’ in England. His study is geo-culturally as well as temporally specific. It does not appear he set out to create a universally applicable ‘law’ about the making of class, though clearly he regarded the agency of past actors as given and determinant. His organization of evidence suggests that factors worth considering when looking at class in other contexts include communication – it is apparent that the kind of communication that was possible mattered – land as a resource, culture as a resource, and fear. These factors appear to have worked in conjunction, intersecting in non-linear relation, to facilitate the formation of an oppositional class relation.


[8]Ann M. Carlos and Stephen Nicholas, “Agency Problems in Early Chartered Companies: The Case of the Hudson’s Bay Company,” The Journal of Economic History 50, no. 4 (December 1990): 873; Ann M. Carlos and Stephen Nicholas, “Managing the Manager: An Application of the Principal Agent Model to the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Oxford Economic Papers new ser., 45, no. 2 (April 1993): 255. See also Ann M. Carlos and Stephen Nicholas, “Theory and History: Seventeenth-Century Joint-Stock Chartered Trading Companies,” The Journal of Economic History 56, no. 4 (December 1996): 91624; Gary Spraakman and Alison Wilkie, “The development of management accounting at the Hudson’s Bay Company, 16701820,” Accounting History 5 (2000): 5984; Scott B. Stephen, “Masters and servants: the Hudson’s Bay Company and its personnel, 16681782,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2006), vii, 39. Burley and Stephen show that for the HBC overall, relations of authority resembled those of a sixteenth-century pre-industrial household.

[9] Tough, review of Servants of the Honourable Company, 49, notes that for “a transport system owned by a monopolist, the social overhead is a vital aspect of the relationship between labor and management. The provision of these social overheads by the company, and the fact that [meeting] the employee’s daily needs …[was] dependent upon the company’s tools … [or provisioning] entered into the relations of authority.” See also H. Clare Pentland, Labour and Capital in Canada, 1650–1860 (Halifax: James Lorimer & Company, 1981), 44; Edith I. Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline, and Conflict in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1770–1879 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997), passim; Paul Craven and Tom Traves, “Dimensions of Paternalism: Discipline and Culture in Canadian Railway Operations in the 1850s,” in On the Job: confronting the labour process in Canada ed. Craig Heron, Robert H. Storey (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986), 69; Podruchny, “Unfair Masters and Rascally Servants,” passim; and Sweeny, “Understanding Work Historically,” 249.

[10] R[obert]. W[atson]. “The Indentured Apprentice,” The Beaver 11, no. 1 (June 1931): 22627; Carlos and Nicholas, “Agency Problems,” 874; Richard I. Ruggles, “Hospital Boys of the Bay,” The Beaver57, no. 2 (autumn 1977): 411. Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company, 5556, notes that before and after the merger with the NWC in 1821, HBC “officers were in fact highly paid and privileged servants.” Further, a Deed Poll of 1834 affirmed they were “subject to dismissal just like ordinary workers.” Carlos and Nicholas, “Managing the Manager,” 24647, note managers of suspect performance were subject to recall and interrogation in London as well as disciplining by demotion, transfer, forfeiture of salary, and loss of jobs. They were also rewarded, “through salary increases, gratuities, and commendations.” See also Michael J. Broyles, “‘The Master’s Measure:’ Remunerative Patterns for Hudson’s Bay Company Captains, 17261736,” The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord 8, no. 3 (July 1998): 3, on the forfeiture of seafarers’ wages by ships’ captains.

[11] See Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company, 2, 16, 2029, 141; Carlos and Nicholas, “Managing the Manger,” 244; and Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980), 3233.

[12] Spraakman and Wilkie, “The development of management accounting,” 6162. “Changes in Company’s Organization,” The Beaver 5, no. 4 (September 1925): 167. “British North America circa 1823,” The Atlas of Canada website < britishnorthamerica1823/4> (accessed 7 January 2009). See also Deidre Simmons, Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 1314, 1920; and Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History (1930; revised ed. 1956; reprinted, with revised foreword, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970), 124, on the initial arrangement of the Committee and its early modification; E.E. Rich, The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670–1870, vol. I (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1958), 5253; and Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870–71, Being a History of Rupert’s Land (The Hudson’s Bay Company Territory) and of the North-West Territory (Including the Pacific Slope) (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1939), 29, 5657, 5960, 6265.

[13] Hudson’s Bay Company, “Royal Charter for Incorporating The Hudson’s Bay Company, A.D.

1670,” (London: Hudson’s Bay Company, 1949), lines 1047.

[14] See Chapter Four, this thesis, 8081 n.18; Adam Smith, quoted in Ann M. Carlos and Stephen Nicholas, “Agency Problems,” 854, characterized “the directors of such companies” – meaning charter companies that enjoyed monopolies of access for resource extraction – as “the managers rather of other people’s money than their own.”

[15] Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, 52, 59. Rich, History, vol. I, 27981, 287, 315, 377, 43738, 56770, 602, 618; Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company, 22, 84, 101, 112, 118, 130, 13536, 138, 14445, 147, 15354, 17475, 177, 179, 18788, 19092, 199, 2037, 21517, 22325, 238. See also HBCA, Search File, Ships, Misc., Compensation, 1689, “Petition of Seamen”, “The Committees Answer to the Same Petition”, “Co. to Gov. Marsh. (Albany) 6th June”, “Coppy of the Instrument given to ye Seamen of the Dering & Hudson’s Bay Friggtt [sic]”; C.1/1027, Ship’s Log, Seahorse, 1757, 24 October; B.42/a/36, Churchill Post Journal, 17501751, 1920 August, 26 August; John Hudspeth, “Journal During Summer in Hudson’s [sic] Bay And of the Voyage home to England,” Journals of John Maule Hudspeth: Hudson’s Bay and the Voyage home to England, 1816, University of Tasmania Library Special and Rare Materials Collection, Australia (unpublished), 7.RS1900/D33 <http:// Journal_1816.pdf> (accessed 7 October 2008); Morton, History of the Canadian West, 28; Dick Wilson, “Below Decks: Seamen and Landsmen aboard Hudson’s Bay Company Vessels in the Pacific Northwest 18211850,” in Papers of the 1994 Rupert’s Land Colloquium, ed. Ian MacLaren, Michael Payne, and Heather Hollason (Winnipeg: Centre for Rupert’s Land Studies, 1997), 30; Fritz Pannekoek, “‘Corruption’ at Moose,” The Beaver: Magazine of the North (spring 1979): 411.

[16] Tough, review of Servants of the Honourable Company, 47.

[17] Ibid., 46. Sweeny, “Understanding Work Historically,” 24547, 250, is concerned that depicting

HBC master/servant relations as “unchanging, but tension-ridden,” does not adequately represent historical changes. Paul Phillips, “Introduction,” in Pentland,  Labour and Capital, xviii, notes that “To [Bryan] Palmer and [Gregory] Kealy, the 1860s mark the transitional decade from the period of primitive accumulation, merchant capital and capitalist handicraft production to that of modern industry, a transition accelerated by the American Civil War. There was, however, no sharp discontinuity between the periods.” See also Sager, Seafaring Labour, 10, 11, 24547.

[18] See “By Ship of Sail to Hudson Bay, 1723: Extract From Sailing Orders and Instructions to Capt. Geo. Spurril, Commander of ye Hudson’s Bay Fregate,” The Beaver 3, No. 10(July 1923): 381; HBCA, C.7/4, Ships’ Miscellaneous Papers, Crew Agreement, Ann (Schooner), 1813, a printed form that sets up the responsibilities of the “Master, Seamen and Mariners” aboard ship; C.7/175, Ships’ Miscellaneous Papers, “Sailing Orders and Instructions,” (n.d.); Chapter Nine, this thesis, 223 n.53, 225 n.59, 233 n.86; Chapter Ten, this thesis, 255 n.62; and sources listed in n.15 above. Tough, review of Servants of the Honourable Company, 50, 49, notes “disruptive problems were associated with transgression of the moral economy and not a challenge to the existence of authority,” the Company had “paramount economic powers … to secure its own future and to regulate the lives of its servants”; Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company, 157, 245, similarly observes, “the conflict that did occur rarely called into question the relations of authority upon which the company was based,” describing servant disruptions as “expressions of an indifference to authority rather than overt challenges to it”; see also Podruchny, “Unfair Masters and Rascally Servants?” as cited n.7 above. Carlos and Nicholas, “Agency Problems,” outline changes in strategies instituted by the London Committee in the course of re-evaluating of its position with respect to control of profit from production of value added by transport to European markets: cancelling “private adventures” for captains and crew by 1672; hiring workers from places other than London by 1702; declaring private trapping illegal in 1770, while raising pay and introducing a bonus system [which it dropped in 1810]; to the end of eighteenth century, requiring managers to post substantial bonds to assure that they would fulfil their contract; paying relatively high salaries to managers so that by 1810 “the opportunity cost of losing one’s job was very high”; awarding commendations and gratuities  that “ranged from 50 to 100 percent of salary”; imposing penalties such as reprimands, loss of posted bonds, denial of promotion while deemed ‘under suspicion,’ demotion, dismissal, refusal to rehire. See also Innis, Fur Trade in Canada, 125, on the early wage structure of HBC seafaring labour.

[19] See “culture,” Oxford English Dictionary online [OED] <; (accessed 6 January 2009), III. 5.a, 6, and esp. 7.a, also 7.b., 7.c.; This chapter, n.1, above; also Umut Özkirimli, Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 25, 56, 71, 191; and D.N. Sprague, “The Cultural Bias of Metis Studies,” review of The New Peoples: On Being and Becoming Métis in North America, edited by Jennifer Brown and Jacqueline Peterson, Prairie Fire 8 (summer 1987): 66–67.

[20] See Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., quoted in Neal Salisbury, “The Indians’ Old World: Native

Americans and the Coming of Europeans,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 53, no. 3 (July 1996): 435, who “demonstrates that the idea of ‘Indians’ as a single, discrete people was an invention of Columbus and his European contemporaries that has been perpetuated into our own time without foundation in historical, cultural, or ethnographic reality”; and, for example, W.L. Morton, review of The Diary of the Reverend Henry Budd, 18701875, ed. Katherine Pettipas, The Beaver 56, no. 3(winter 1976): 58, who assumes geographic ‘isolation’ meant sharply dichotomised contact between cultures took place in HBC territories for a prolonged period of time.

[21] See, Ida Altman, and Reginald D. Butler,“The Contact of Cultures: Perspectives on the Quincentenary,” American Historical Review 99, no. 2 (April 1994): 480–83, for a discussion of the complexities of the contact process – particularly the presence of Africans in the Atlantic world – about which they note “one cannot make full sense of the process and outcome of contact between cultures without a thorough understanding of all the actors involved.” The precise socio-cultural composition of Aboriginal social groups in Western Canada throughout the period examined is unknown. Morton, A History of the Canadian West, 4–5, 7, 11–13; Norma Jean Hall, “A Perfect Freedom: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810–1870,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2003), 54–55; and Margaret L. Clarke, “Reconstituting the Fur Trade Community of the Assiniboine Basin, 1793–1812,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1997), 6, supply arguments that suggest movement and mixing of peoples was a constant, and heterogeneity was as common to groups in North America as it was in Europe.

[22] See, for example, Peter C. Mancall, and James H. Merrell, eds., American Encounters: Natives

and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal (New York: Routledge, 2000), and note that while the process of contact is a theme, first contact is an assumed event. See, for example, Salisbury, “The Indians’ Old World,” 436, who describes first contact as “a single moment in a long history utterly detached from Europe” but leaves the event largely unexamined; also James H. Merrell, “The Indians’ New World: The Catawba Experience,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 41, no. 4 (October 1984): 538, on the importance of recognizing contact as a “subtle cultural processes” rather than abrupt events that owed occurrence to “mere physical displacements.” See Arthur Barlowe, quoted in Giles Milton, Big Chief Elizabeth: How England’s Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000), 61, who describes his shipboard encounters off what is now Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in 1584. See, for example of depictions of contact, Charles William Jeffrey O.S.A., R.C.A., C.S.P.W.C., illustration, in H.B. Hawthorne, “Among the Indians of Canada,” The Beaver 34, no. 1 (summer, 1954): 3, an event on land – in this instance between Cartier and the ‘Huron-Iroquois.’ Also LAC, Charles William Jefferys fonds <> , < public_mikan/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=104460&rec_nbr_list= 104460,16578,16538,2899309,2834857,2900116,2835708,2897200,2835229, 201258> (accessed 19 October 2008), on Jeffreys’ career as an artist interested in presenting historical subjects for a distinctly national historiography. CINE Focus Canada, “C.W. Jefferys: Picturing Canada,” promotion piece <; (accessed 19 October 2008), describes Jefferys as “the first artist to make Canadian history leap off the page and come to life.” See also William Gilbert, “Guy not Gosnold: a correction,” Post-Medieval Archaeology 41, no. 2 (2007): 264–69, on interpreting graphic depictions of contact.

[23] See A.B. Becher, “The Voyages of Martin Frobisher,” Journal of the Royal Geographical

Society of London 12 (1842): 7, 16; Milton, Big Chief Elizabeth, 8, on the encounter between the Trinity

and ‘a boat with savages’ off Labrador in 1536; and William Barr, “The Eighteenth Century Trade between the Ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Hudson Strait Inuit,” Arctic 47, no. 3 (September 1994): 236–37; Chapter Seven, this thesis, 157–58 n.48; and Thomas E. Lee, “On the Trail of the Northmen,” The Beaver 63, no. 3 (winter 1983): 31–38. See also LAC, acc. no. 1970-188-1271, W.H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana “The Hudson’s Bay Company Ships Prince of Wales and Eddystone Bartering with the Eskimos off the Upper Savage Islands, Hudson Strait,” Robert Hood, watercolour, 1819 <http://mikan3.,2836426 > (accessed 9 March 2009).

[24] See, for example, “Marine Disaster: A Whaling Brig Crushed by Ice,” New York Times, dateline Boston (6 November 1863), 1, which reported that “Mr Hoxie, Second Mate, and 6 seamen, part of the crew of the whaling brig Pavilion, of Fair Haven,” after travelling in a ship’s boat from the 4 August to 25 September after abandoning their sinking ship in Hudson Strait off Resolution Island, “fell in with the British bark Ocean Nymph, from London for Hudson’s Bay, which took them on board. On Oct. 2, the Ocean Nymph also fell in with the Captain’s boat, and landed both boat’s crews at St. John’s N.F., Oct. 27.” The “Third Mate’s boat, with six seamen” was lost and “supposed to have foundered.”

[25] Vickers and Walsh, “Young Men and the Sea,” 19. Juan Escalante de Mendoza, cited in Herman, To Rule the Waves, 24. See also, Rediker, “Liberty beneath the Jolly Roger,” 11–15, Dugaw, “Female Sailors bold,” 45–46, Haskell Springer, “The Captain’s Wife at Sea,” 108, 110, 112, 116–17, and Bolster, “Every Inch a Man,” in Iron Men, Wooden Women, 139–40. Herman, To Rule the Waves, 24–25; David Learmonth, “To Labrador by Sail,” The Beaver 78, no. 92 (April/May 1998): 36; Joan Druett, Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea (New York: Touchstone, 1998), 25. HBCA, “Barnes, George (b. ca. 1866) (fl. 1883–1885) ,” Biographical Sheet, demonstrates that evaluating ‘constraint’ versus ‘opportunity’ was individualistic, noting “G. Barne’s family lived at the Pewterers Hall in Lime Street where they held a stewardship, a position that was handed down from father to son. Rather than accept the position, to which he was entitled, Barnes ran away to sea.”

[26] Druett, Hen Frigates, 23–24, 31–33; Sager, Seafaring Labour, 44, 47, 50–52; and Peter E. Pope, Fish Into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Sevententh Century (Chapel Hill : Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 2004),79, who notes that shipping on the North Atlantic meant that “Seventeenth-century North Americans were dispersed but not disconnected, either from one another or from kin and creditors in the Old World.”

[27] Allan Pred, “Place as Historically Contingent Process: Structuration and the Time-Geography of Becoming Places,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 74, no. 2 (June 1984): 280, points out that “people who participate in [historical] process … the participating individuals, without whom there is no such thing as process, are not … thingified, fragmented, and atomized [in the] manner characteristic of conventional human geography and social science. They are not … in one instance solely … producers, in another … residents, in another … consumers, in yet another … perceivers of the environment, and so on. Instead, process participants are integrated human beings. They are people whose thoughts, actions, experiences, and ascription of meaning are constantly becoming through their involvement in the workings of society and its structural properties.”

[28] See, Kenn Harper, “Oct. 21, 1741 – Almost Anonymous: The Death of Inuk Charles,” 21 October 2005, Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History < opinionEditorial/columns.html> (accessed 18 May 2006).

[29] Richard Staunton and George Henry, letter, Moose Fort, Aug. 1738, in Letters from Hudson Bay, 170340, ed. K.G. Davies with A.M. Johnson (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1965),270; see also Letters from Hudson Bay,23 n.1, 32, 64 n.1, 83; and E.E. Rich, “Staunton, Richard,” DCB. Stauton began his HBC service as cooper at York in 1694. French forces captured and transported him across the Atlantic twice, but he returned to serve at Albany to 1707 when he again crossed to England. He reengaged in 1708 as cooper and steward of the Hudson’s Bay [II], then served landward to 1716, returning to England aboard the Port Nelson. The next year he returned to the Bay as James Knight’s deputy, becoming Chief at Churchill by 1719. His letter of 7 September 1718 to the London Committee “is the earliest surviving letter from Churchill River.” He appears to have served as chief at Churchill to 1722, then transferred to Albany. His whereabouts from 1726–1737 are not clear. In 1737 he was chief at Moose, retiring to England in 1741.

[30] Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 270 n.1; HBCA, B.3/a/24, Albany Post Journal,


[31] See Anthony Beale, letter, Albany Fort, 10 Sept1712, Letters from Hudson Bay, 25, who refers to “the slave” named Poet, in conjunction with London Committee “orders for to entertain two young Indians,” about which he responded, “I shall be sure for to keep two [sic]”; and Anthony Beale, letter, Albany Fort, 2 Aug. 1714, for additional comments on the same; also Alice M. Johnson, “Ambassadress of Peace,” The Beaver 32, no. 3 (December 1952): 4245; Sylvia Van Kirk, “Thanadalthur,” The Beaver 53, no. 4 (spring 1974): 4045; Sylvia Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties”: Women in Fur-Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670–1870 (Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer Publishing, 1980), 66–71, 77. Rich, History, vol. I, 475, 479, 484, 485, 677; Morton, History of the Canadian West, 43, 208; see also Pentland, Labour and Capital, vi, 1–3, on slavery in Canada; and K.G. Davies, The Emergence of International Business, 12001800, vol. 5, The Royal African Company (Taylor & Francis, 1999); HBCA, “Lake, Bibye (Sir) (d. ca. 1744) (fl. 1712–1743),” Biographical Sheet. Although Davies does not link the HBC to the RAC, Sir Bibye Lake, first Baronet, governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1713 to his death in 1743, was also deputy-governor of the RAC, in the slave trade from 1660–1667, and 1672–1752.

[32] Glyndwr Williams, “Middleton, Christopher,” DCB.

[33] Glyndwr Williams, “Spurrell, George,” DCB.

[34] Harper, “Almost Anonymous”; Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay,270 n.1.

[35] The term ‘identity is problematic, here I mean affiliations and affinities that might serve in ascribing a character type to a specific historical personage. See Norma J. Hall, “Contesting Identity: A Confrontation with Semantic Paradox in Historiography,” paper presented to Writing New Histories of Indigeneity and Imperialism: A Workshop (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 21 May 2008), 13, which argues that it is important to recognize conceptual differences between the past and present, noting ‘identity’ is a relatively new term and that “the ambiguity of identity, as word and concept, renders its explanatory value suspect.” Ascribing an ‘identity’ to classify groups for the sake of clarity of description is an act of historiographical construction. See also James D. Fearon, “What is Identity (As We Now Use the Word)?” unpublished paper, (3 November 1999) < activities/confpapers/fearon2.pdf> (accessed 20 January 2005), 10, who notes, “Identity is a new concept and not something that people have eternally needed or sought as such. If they were trying to establish, defend, or protect their identities, they thought about what they were doing in different terms.” Thus, the ‘identity’ of historical subjects is not ‘found.’ Rather, historians imagine them in ways that may have little, if anything in common with how past people perceived relations or defined associations.

[36] Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Waless Fort, in Hudsons Bay To The Northern Ocean

1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 (1795; reprint, ed. Richard Glover, Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada, 1972), 39 n.1.

[37] Sylvia Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB, lists documents pertinent to his career. There are no surviving ships’ logs from before 1751. HBCA, C.1/869, Ship’s Logs, Prince Rupert, 1751, Captain Spurrell’s log, does not include a crew list, or refer to Norton by name. Glover. “Introduction,” Journey from Prince of Waless Fort, vii–viii; also Brown, Strangers in Blood, 25; Sylvia Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties,” 10–11, explain it was common practice for HBC to engage fourteen year old boys, “and younger still,” from the ranks of England’s poor, for seven year terms. See also, for examples, Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 3 n.1, 33, 63, 76 n.1. The question of Moses’s parentage is open to endless conjecture – see Hearne, Journey from Prince of Waless Fort, ed. Glover, 39, and “Introduction,” xi; Richard Glover, “Moses Norton (ca. late 1720s–1773)” Arctic 35, no. 3 (September 1982): 440, who asserts that Moses’ mother was “a Cree woman”. Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB, avers “He was definitely not an Indian”; Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties,” 99, 107; Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson’s Bay, 292 n; Alice M. Johnson, “Norton, Richard,” DCB; Nan Shipley, Churchill: Canada’s Northern Gateway (Toronto: Burns and MacEachern, 1974),15. Brown, Strangers in Blood, 17, 54, 57, 70, 155, notes that, because prior to 1770 the Company “entertained hopes of suppressing or at least discouraging” country marriages and sexual alliances, these were “unlikely to be reported.” Note: There is no hard evidence that Moses was Richard’s biological son – he is not mentioned in Richard’s will, and nothing definitive is known of the Norton family network. There were other Norton men in the Company’s service who apparently were close relatives, including James Norton at Moose; Captain William Norton who sailed HBC ships Hudson Bay and Seahorse beginning 1752 and ending 1763; and Richard Norton, letter, Churchill River, 17 Aug., 1738, Letters from Hudson’s Bay, 249 n.1, refers to Vincent Norton, an apprentice whose “time of apprenticeship had expired,” but about whom Richard observed, “having executed that office ever since he has been here and if your honours shall think proper to continue him at that wages he is willing to serve you for two years longer if not he is desirous to return home next year.”

[38] See Johnson, “Norton, Richard,” DCB; Brown, Strangers in Blood, 25, 33; Van Kirk, “Many

Tender Ties,” 10–11, Richard arrived at Fort Bourbon in Sep. 1714 in time to witness its restoration to the HBC under James Knight, and its renaming as York Fort; see James Knight, letter, York Fort, 19 September 1714, Letters from Hudson Bay, 34–35; and Chapter Eight, this thesis, 173.

[39] Glover, “Introduction,” Letters from Hudson Bay, lvi; Henry Kelsey, The Kelsey Papers, ed. John Warkentin (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1994), 116; Rich, History, vol. I, 448, 450. Despite Committee misgivings over Knight’s disappearance, Kelsey took the Prosperous from York to Churchill, arriving in early July, taking Norton and an unnamed ‘Northern Indian’ aboard. They returned 16 August.

[40] Thomas MacCliesh, letter, York Fort, 16 Aug. 1730, Letters from Hudson Bay, 150. See

Glyndwr Williams, “Scroggs, John,” DCB; R.H.G. Leveson Gower, “Voyages for Discovery of the Northwest Passage,” The Beaver 15, no. 1 (June 1936): 48, who notes Churchill was the base for Captain Scroggs who “set out for a rather fruitless voyage of exploration”; Glover, “Introduction,” Letters from Hudson Bay, xxxviii; Rich, History, vol. I, 447.

[41] See Chapter Six, this thesis, 123.

[42] A.M. Johnson, “McCliesh, Thomas,” DCB; Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay,160–63, 169, letters refer to “William Coats, sailor, entertained in the room of John Maslin, sailor … for 2 years,” who was sent for home by his friends.” It is possible that Coats the sailor was aboard the Mary, under Captain Spurrell; see also, Glover, “Moses Norton,” 440; Shipley, Churchill, 15; Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB. Davies and Johnson, Appendix B, “Ships Sailing Between England and Hudson Bay, 1670–1740,” Letters from Hudson Bay 170340, 190 n.1, 191,220, 308, 340–41, indicates that in 1732 Captain Coats was at Churchill; in 1733 both Coats andCaptain Spurrell were at Churchill; in 1734 both Coats andSpurrell were at Churchill and Spurrell went to York where he was “ordered to accommodate McCliesh ‘in the best manner possible’ … during the homeward voyage”; in 1735 Spurrell was at Churchill; in 1736 Spurrell was at Churchill with Coats and crew, who had lost their vessel in Hudson Strait; in 1737 Coats was at Churchill; in 1738 both Coats andSpurrell were at Churchill; in 1739, 1740 and 1741, Spurrell was at Churchill.

[43] Thomas McCliesh, letter, York Fort, 17 August 1732, Letters from Hudson Bay, 170, 221, 224, 243, in 1732 McCliesh and others began to have to explain themselves to, and defend others from, London Committee allegations of ‘illegal’ communication. McCliesh wrote: “As for the carrying on a correspondence from your factories with persons in London or elsewhere, besides to the Right Honourable Governor, Deputy and the gentlemen of the Committee, is unknown to me, for I protest sincerely it is what I never was guilty of, and have strictly charged all your servants at York Fort not to be guilty for the future of the said crime, likewise caused to be read publicly in our yeard that paragraph in your general letter [sic].” In 1738, Coats and Spurrell wrote from Churchill: “we are apt to think your honours have been abused in being informed that our people have been guilty of drunkenness. it may be asserted for an undoubted truth that our people have behaved in a very sober and orderly manner, there being a particular regard to suppress all indecencies [sic].” Glyndwr Williams, “Spurrell, George,” DCB, indicates that Spurrell suffered no damage to his personal reputation. Glyndwr Williams, “Coats, William,” DCB, notes that in November 1751 “the London committee was informed that Coats had regularly engaged in illicit trade while in Hudson Bay, and after pleading guilty to this charge, he was dismissed. He had been treated generously by the company, with gratuities amounting to £180 over and above his normal salary in the previous two years, but … Within a few weeks Coats was dead. … Coats was a family man of some substance. He had six children, a wife whose father had been an important HBC officer in the 1720s, and three houses – two in East London and one in Durham. His … family home was on Teeside, a nursery of sailors from which three of his fellow captains came.” Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay,209 n.1, 210, 340, adds that “James Norton, presumably a brother of Richard Norton, had gone to Moose Fort in 1734,” aboard the Sea Horse [I] with Captain Christopher Middleton. Apparently he was not easy to handle – “Bevan remarked in his journal on 10 March that he would ‘whip and pickle him if it was not on his brothers & Govr. Macklishes Families Acct.’” He was sent back to England in 1735.

[44] Glover, “Introduction,” Journey to the Northern Ocean, xii; Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB; Glover, “Moses Norton,” 440–41. HBCA, “Isbister Joesph (ca. 1710–1771) (fl. 1726–1756),” Biographical Sheet; and Sylvia Van Kirk, “Ishister, Joseph,” DCB.

[45] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[46] Hearne, Journey to the Northern Ocean, 81–82. See Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties, 107, 297;

Brown, Strangers in Blood, 71. The smallpox epidemic of 1782, in compounding displacement occasioned by La Pérouse sacking both Fort Prince of Wales and York Factory, may have led to her death.

[47] Grace Lee Nute, “Radisson, Pierre-Esprit,” DCB, notes that “probably 1672” seafarer Radisson

also married a ‘Captain’s’ daughter. His father-in-law was Sir John Kirke of the HBC, who had “inherited from his father, Gervase Kirke, claim to a considerable part of the north-eastern region of North America.” Morton, History of Western Canada, 57, 65, 72–73, 77, notes John Kirke of Boston, as investor in the Company, signed the Royal Charter. Peter Pope, “Kirke, Sir David,” Oxford Companion to Canadian History Online ORO < t148. e846&srn=1&ssid=922829219#FIRSTHIT> (accessed 7 September 2008), notes a John Kirke was a brother of David Kirke. Great Britain, Public Record Office, William Noel Sainsbury, John William Fortescue, Cecil Headlam, Arthur Percival Newton, Kenneth Gordon Davies, Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series, vol. 12, America and the West Indies, 16851688 (London: H.M.S.O., 1860– [1994]), 643, item 2076, lists the petition of  “Sir John Kirke, Knight to the King,” in which Kirke asserts “In 1628 I and my brother captured Quebec.” On the practice of marrying a superior’s daughter as the subject of song, see broadsheet ballad, “The Golden Vanity, or The low lands low” (London, between 1849 and 1862), Bodleian Library allegro Catalogue of Ballads <; (accessed 7 September 2008); William S. Gilbert, and Arthur Sullivan, “Never Mind The Why And Wherefore,” H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor (1878). Note: various sea shanties also refer to the captain’s daughter – if her name was Charlotte, usually as a harlot, though in ‘Golden Vanity’ she is represented as an award or prize for service. The phrase ‘captain’s daughter’ is also a euphemism for the cat o’ nine tails, implying that the ties that bind also serve to control. Bob Thomson,“The Frightful Foggy Dew,” Folk Music Journal 4, no. 1 (1980): 35–61, notes a similar theme in a context on land – an apprentice seduces his master’s daughter.

[48] Glover, “Introduction,” Journey from Princes of Wales’s Fort, xxii, xxiii.

[49] Ibid., xliixliii.

[50] Hearne, Journey from Princes of Wales’s Fort, xi n.20, 40; Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[51] See Pannekoek, “‘Corruption’ at Moose,” 511.

[52] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB. See also W. Gillies Ross, “Whaling in Hudson Bay, Part I.

1765 to 1772, The Marble Island whale fishery,” The Beaver 52, no. 4 (spring 1973): 411; W. Gillies Ross, “Whaling in Hudson Bay, Part II, 1866–7, Whaling voyage of the Ocean Nymph,” The Beaver 53, no.1 (summer 1973): 40–47; W. Gillies Ross, “Whaling in Hudson Bay, Part III, 1892–97, The voyages of the Perseverance, “The Beaver 53, no. 2 (autumn 1973): 52–59. Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140, supplies a hostile portrait, Van Kirk, attributes this to the “damning character sketch of Norton written by Samuel Hearne.” Bruce Sealy, ed., with Tom Chartrand, Juliette Sabot, Darlene Kemach, George Shingoose, Mark Lussier, and Sheryl Theobald, “The Sinclairs,” in Stories of the Metis (Winnipeg: Manitoba Metis Federation Press, 1973), 19, count Norton as a success; see also Brown, Strangers in Blood, 71; and Edith Paterson, interview, “Canadian History is Exciting Says New Park Superintendent,” Winnipeg Free Press ca. 1 Jul. 1961, Barbara Johnstone, a descendant of Isaac Cowie, credits Norton with fathering Nahoway, mother of Captain Colin Sinclair, although the timeline would indicate the link is impossible, and the story is at odds with the family tradition recorded in W.J. Healy, Women of Red River, Being a Book Written from the Recollections of Women Surviving from the Red River Era (Winnipeg: Women’s Canadian Club, 1923), 160, which suggests her father was more likely a Haldane, at least one of whom served as an officer of the NWC.


[53] HBCA, G.2/8, Moses Norton, “Draught of the Northern  Parts of Hudson’s Bay laid Down on Indn Informn & Brot Home by Him, Anno 1760.” Richard Ruggles, “Exploration From Hudson Bay,” in Concise historical atlas of Canada, ed. William G. Dean, Conrad E. Heidenreich, Thomas F. McIlwraith, and John Warkentin, cart. Geoffrey J. Matthews, and Byron Moldofsky, Concise Historical Atlas of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 6, attribute the drafting of the map to Moses Norton, and describes it as “remarkably comprehensive.” Richard Glover, “Moses Norton,” 440, attributes the work to Idotliazee and Matonabbee, and adds, disparagingly, it “has not the slightest resemblance to the real northern Canada, but nobody then knew any better, so at least it looked impressive.” Barbara Belyea, “Amerindian maps: the explorer as translator,” Journal of Historical Geography 18, no. 3 (1992): 267–77, refutes such Eurocentric assessments; see Chapter Fifteen, this thesis, 382. David Woodward, John Brian Harley, and G. Malcolm Lewis, The History of Cartography: Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies (Totawa NJ: Humana Press, 1998), 137, 141, accord the map importance, and note “There is no doubt that the skin is genuine,” but imply the inscription that credits its manufacture to Norton is suspect, in that the drawing might have been done by the “Chipewyans” Norton interviewed about distant inland geography – without, however, noting that Norton is also the source for the claim that an interview took place. Barbara Belyea, “Inland journeys, native maps,” Cartographica 33, no. 2 (summer 1996): 1 < 404658731&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=65114&RQT=309&VName=PQD> (accessed 30 October 2008), describes Norton as both the author of the map and as “the Metis governor at Churchill.” Further she argues that “Appeal to scientific cartography as a standard by which Native map images are to be understood therefore guarantees that they will be misunderstood,” and that the maps are “graphic forms representing a world view utterly different from that produced by European scientific cartography.”

[54] Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140. See, Chapter Nine, this thesis, 209, Norton may have been among the first, but was certainly not the last, to send live animals to Britain from Hudson Bay.

[55] Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140. Ken McGoogan, “Moses Norton: Esteemed as governor of Prince of Wales Fort, Moses Norton formed an attachment his employee Samuel Hearne couldn’t bring himself to name, says author Ken McGoogan,” The Beaver 82, no. 6 (December/January 2002/2003): 51, who describes himself as “ever eager to rush into territory where professional historians fear to tread,” speculates the phrase “in open defiance of every law, human and divine” is a reference to incest.

[56] Van Kirk, “Isbister, Joseph,” DCB.

[57] See, for example, HBCA, B.42/a/42, Churchill Post Journal, 1753–1754, Ferdinand Jacobs, “A Journal or Diary of ye most Remarkable Transactions Kept at Prince Wales’s Foert Churchill River by Ferdinand Jacobs Chief Factor & Agent at ye Said Fort for ye Honrble. Govr. & Compy. Adeventurers of England Trading into Hudsons Bay [sic]”, which reports that on 29 August 1754 “Philip Hewlet Had the Impudence to tell me the Honble Committee was a “Pack of Dam’d Lyers & Rogues. Here came Jno Savory, Robrt Lowman, Samll Skinner & Wllm Arumidgham & complained to me of ill usage they had rec’d at severall times from Mr. Squire by saying he would kick them to Bed & challenge them to go out to fight, & threatening to Make Spread Agles of them &c &c &c. Mr Wills the Surgeon says he will not stay another winter wth him, the Captn, Mr Squire, Mr Wills, Mr Walker & Mr Bane [McBean] were all present when the above said tradesmen made their complaints. Mr Squire call’d some of the people up in his defence, wch when called to answer, some of them acknowledged what the above said tradesmen had said to be true, others said they was not at those times at home, & others said they knowed nothing of it”; and B.42/a/44,  Churchill River Post Journal, 1754–1755, Ferdinand Jacobs, “CR A Journal of the most remarkable Transactions and Occurrances at Prince of Wales Fort from 7th September 1754 to 13th September 1755 kept by Ferdinand Jacobs Chief Factor,” for Jacob’s reaction to sloop master John McBean who would not sleep in the fort or keep Jacobs informed as to his whereabouts; also Pannekoek, “‘Corruption’ at Moose,” 5–11; Herman, To Rule the Waves, 85; Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company, 171–181; W.O. Douglas, “The Wreck of the ‘Finback’,” Chesterfield Inlet, Chester ‘Then,’ History of Chesterfield Inlet < history_comerlong.htm> (accessed 30 April 2007).

[58] See Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140–41; and McGoogan, for criticisms of the ‘Indian’ Norton. See Van Kirk, “Norton Moses,” DCB, for denial of Norton’s Aboriginality; also Woodward, Harley and Lewis, History of Cartography, 137, 141, who describe Norton only as “a Hudson’s Bay Company official,” so that the legitimacy of the map as an indigenous artefact hinges on whether “Chipewyans” rather than Norton drew it – his job apparently precluding Aboriginality. See also Jennifer S.H. Brown, “Isham, Charles Thomas (known in youth as Charles Price or Charles Price Isham),” DCB, who notes this son of chief factor James Isham and “an Indian woman” who became an officer of the Company, “was probably the first Hudson Bay native, however, to rise that high (the origins of Moses Norton being uncertain),” and that “his colleagues ranked him as English, without making a racial distinction.”

[59] See Rich, History, I, 491; Richard I. Ruggles, “Hospital Boys of the Bay,” 4–11.

[60] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[61] Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140.

[62] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[63] Sager, “Employment Contracts,” 49. For an example of an ambiguous name see HBCA, C.3/20 Portledge Books, 1875, which lists the mate of the Walrus schooner as “Eliz Stephens” – presumably a contraction of Elizear, but conceivably meaning Elizabeth.

[64] Charles N. Bell, “Henry’s Journal,” MHS Transactions no. 37, 1st ser. (read 9 May 1889), <; (accessed 15 April 2006). Barry M Gough, “Henry, Alexander,” DCB, notes that journal held by the Public Archives of Canada, identified as MG 19, A13, is actually a transcript of Henry’s original journal – whereabouts unknown – made by George Coventry about 1824. He notes as well that the sections of the journal published as Alexander Henry (the Younger), New Light on the Early History of the Northwest: The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry,” ed. Elliot Coues (1897; reprint, Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, 1965), 426, is an “adulterated version.” See Alexander Henry (the Younger), The Journal of Alexander Henry The Younger 17991814 vol. I (Toronto: The Champlain Society, University of Toronto Press, 1988), 299–300.

[65] See HBCA, “Gunn, Isabella (1780–1861) (fl. 1806–1809),” biographical sheet; Malvina Bolus, “The son of I. Gunn,” Beaver 51, no. 3 (winter 1971): 23–26; Sylvia Van Kirk, “Isabel Gunn,” DCB; Sylvia Van Kirk, ‘Many Tender Ties’, 175–77; The date of birth is given variously: for example, as 15 December by Bell, and 29 December by Bolus. In Bell’s account – which he attests is based on a viewing of Henry’s journal and on interviewing persons with knowledge of the event, the infant is a girl. In some accounts the ‘Orkney girl’ who gave birth is anonymous, in others her Christian name is Mary, not Isabel, Isobel, or Isabella, and her surname, if mentioned, may be any variant of Gun or Fubester (possibly: Foubister, Foubester, Fowbuster, Fowbister, FFoubrester, FFoubister, Fovbister, Fowbyster, Fubbister, Fubbester, Forbister and Forbester). Likewise her masculine alias, which is not given in some ‘original’ accounts, if it is accepted as John Fubester, may be any variant of that name.

[66] For example, see Bodleian Library, University of Oxford: Bodlian Library Broadside Ballads, The Allegro Catalogue of Ballads: Firth c.12(235), “Billy Taylor,” ([s.n.] [s.l.] [s.a.]) Firth c.12(330), “A new song called Canada heigho,” (s.n] [s.l.] [s.a.); Harding B 10(13), “A true & lamentable balad call’d Billy Taylor, shewing the fatal effects of inconstancy,” (London: Laurie & Whittle, 1804); Harding B 10(47), “Dicky Day, the cruel cobler. Or, The downfall of miss Nancy Wiggins, To the tune of: Billy Taylor was a brisk young fellow,” (London: Laurie and Whittle, 1806); Harding B 11(673), “Billy Talor,” Comic songs, 2 (Workington: W. Dixon, [s.a]); Harding B 11(2545), “Canada, IO,” (Manchester: J.O. Bebbington, between 1855 and 1858); Harding B11(2920), “Canada, IO,” (London: H. Such, between 1849 and 1862); Harding B 11(3429), “Canada, I, O,” (London: H. Such, Machine Printer and Publisher, between 1863 and 1885); Harding B 20(205), “Billy Taylor,” (London: E.M.A. Hodges, between 1846 and 1854); Harding B 25(195). “Billy Taylor,” (Printer: [s.n.] [s.l.], [s.a.]); Harding B 25(1100), “The life and death of Billy Taylor,” (London: Jennings, between 1790 and 1840). Also Alfred Cellier, “The Old English Ballad, Billy Taylor (A.D. 1790) arranged as a Hornpipe,” Sheet music (New York: Wm. A. Pond & Co., 1881); and Dianne Dugaw, Warrior women and popular balladry, 16501850 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Daniel A. Cohen, ed.,The Female Marine and Related Works: Narratives of Cross-Dressing and Urban Vice in America’s Early Republic (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997);David Cordingly, Women Sailors & Sailors’ Women: An Untold Maritime History (Westminster MD: Random House Adult Trade Group, 2001). See also Stephen Scobie, The Ballad of Isabel Gunn (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1987); Anne Fleming, “Questions for Isabelle Gunn,” Prairie Fire 15, no. 1 (spring 1994): 136–39; Audrey Callahan Thomas, Isobel Gunn: a novel (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 1999); Julie Wheelwright, The Orkney Lad: The Story of Isabel Gunn, Drama-documentary, dir. Anne Wheeler. (CTV/WTN 2001); Hudson’s Bay Company, “The Orkney Lad: The Story of Isobel Gunn,” Our History: People, Women <> (accessed 6 September 2006); Sigurd Towrie, “Isabel Gunn,” Orkneyjar: the heritage of the Orkney islands <http://; (accessed 6 September 2006).

[67] See “Son of a gun,” Appendix C, this thesis. See also Shirlee Anne Smith, “The Steward’s Yarn,” The Beaver 57, no. 4 (spring 1978): 20–23; H.M.S Cotter, “The Ship ‘Prince of Wales’: 1850, Full Rigged Ship in Hudson’s Bay; 1934, New Zealand Coal Hulk.” The Beaver 13, No. 4 (March 1934): 43; and Hudspeth, “Journal During Summer in Hudson’s Bay,” 14 September 1816, for additional examples of story-telling.

[68] As Bolus, “Son of I. Gunn,” 24, 26, suggests, references to the story exist in HBC documents, but no official statement has been found that clearly attests to Isabel Gun adopting a disguise in places where comment would be expected, for example  in the correspondence of John Hodgson, the titular Chief at Albany, or in that of Hugh Heney, Fubbister/Gunn’s reputed superior, or in correspondence to and from the Governor and Committee in London to anyone who may have had direct responsibility for her presence aboard an HBC ship. HBCA, A. 16/7, fo. 59, contains a list of totalled charges made to the account of “Jno. Fubbister Labourer,” from 1806 to 1810. Someone clearly altered the entry at some point after 1810 by penning in “alias Isabella Gun,” and an additional amount – not included in the total – in the space reserved for heading up the columns with the account holder’s name; see photograph, printed in Bolus, “Son of I. Gunn,” 26. For an example of inconsistent reporting see, Bolus, “Son of I. Gunn,” 23–24, who notes that John Fubbister – a.k.a. Gunn – who is listed among those working their passage through Hudson Bay and Straits aboard the Prince of Wales, “alone gave the parish of  St. Andrew’s,” and thus the parish is “the clue to her identification.” Yet, HBCA, J.H.B., “Gunn, Isabel,” Biographical Sheet, lists the parish as Orphir, Orkney, and HBCA, J.H.B., “Foubester, John (b. ca. 1783) (fl. 1806–1826),” Biographical Sheet, assigns the parish of St. Andrews to a different individual, of the same name, who came out at the same time aboard the King George.

[69] Bell  “Henry’s Journal”; also Charles Napier Bell, “The Old Forts of Winnipeg (1738–1927),” Transaction new ser. 3 (May 1927): 28. Bell’s chief source, “The late Donald Murray,” did not arrive in Red River until 1815. Similarly, the unnamed but apparently numerous Selkirk Settlers to whom “the history of this girl was well known,” would not have arrived until several years after the reputed birth of James Scarth to Isabel Gunn at Pembina. See also Barry M. Gough, “Henry, Alexander” DCB; Jennifer S.H. Brown, “Hodgson, John” DCB; Mary Ellen Rowe, “Loisel, Regis (1773? –1804),” Dictionary of Missouri Biography, ed. Lawrence O. Christensen (Columbia, MO.: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 498; HBCA, “Heney, Hugh (fl. 1810–1813)”, and “Vincent, Thomas (ca. 1776–1832) (fl. 1790–1826),” Biographical Sheets, for accounts that indicate the career paths of individuals connected to the story of Isabel Gunn – either as alleged participants in it, or as disseminators of it – collided in a tangle of competition, allegiance, and animosity. Henry, for example, though apparently on cordial terms with some HBC representatives, operated in direct opposition to HBC posts at Brandon and Pembina. John Hodgson, titular head at Albany from 1800 to 1810, but notably absent in England from 1807 to 1808, had longstanding and serious problems with competing traders aligned, through the NWC and the XY Company, with Henry. He had problems as well managing the Albany post, and was dismissed in favour of Thomas Vincent. Hugh Heney, originally with the NWC and trading in the same general area as Alexander Henry, had “quarrelled with them and was obliged to leave them.” From 1809–1810, he was in England, and as master of Brandon in 1810 “Complained of treatment by the Brandon House men since his return from England.” It is notable that Thomas Vincent, not McKay, was in charge of Brandon House 1806–1807; Vincent, not Hodgson, was in charge at Albany from 1807–1809; and Vincent, like Gunn and Heney returned to England in 1809. Vincent is also the source of the story where it occurs in HBC documents. In both instances, he implies Heney, because in charge, was either blind or duplicitous.

[70] HBCA, “Gunn, Isabel,” biographical sheet, gives her date of birth as 10 August 1780. The date and parentage are uncertain however. See, Towrie, “Isabel Gunn,” who notes, “According to an article in The Orcadian dated 18 May 2006, Isabel was born in Tankerness on August 1, 1781, the daughter of John Fubbister and Girzal Allan. Because practically nothing is known of her time in Orkney, I have not been able to verify this date.” The1821 Census of Stromness, indicates that at 41 years of age, Isabel Gunn was living with James Scarth (14 years old and attending school), and Nelly Craig (8 years old and attending school). The 1851 Census of Stromness, indicates that at 70 years of age Isabel was employed as a ‘stocking knitter’ and lived on “Hellyhole Street” [sic: probably Hellihole Road]. The 1861 Census of Stromness indicates that at 80 years of age she was a “stocking & mitten maker” and lived on Main Steet, South End. The Orcadian, (23 November 1861), 3, reports her death, 7 November 1861, at age 81.

[71] Carole Thornton, quoted in “Women and Maritime Communities,” Maritime History @ Hull <; (accessed 10 May 2007), in a précis of her research for “The Role of Women in North Atlantic Shipping, 1845–1905,” Ph.D. diss. See also E.E. Rich, “The Colony of Rupert’s Land,” The Beaver 58, no. 1(summer 1978): 9–12, who outlines the seafaring adventures of ‘Mrs. Maurice,’ who accompanied Henry Sergeant and wife as a maid servant to Chichewan/Albany River in 1683; was wounded in Dec. 1685 during the wreck of the Success, which was apparently caught in the Bay by ice while homeward bound; was captured by de Troyes and Iberville in 1686, put aboard the Colleton for York on a voyage during which twenty out of the thirty aboard died; and who apparently survived to sail home for England.

[72] Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties”; Brown, Strangers in Blood; and Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company,  in establishing that North American women became wives of European men by marrying after the ‘custom of the country,’ without sanction by the HBC, or European clergy, augment what earlier historians had noted –  many Aboriginal women had participated in more informal and less enduring liaisons. See Morton, History of the Canadian West, 82, 306, 349–351, 352, who notes that prior to 1682, “The Committee had … heard that Indian women were debauching its servants, and consuming the provisions of the post,” which suggests Aboriginal women lived as ‘wives’ with Company servants from an early date; and Richard Staunton, and George Henry, letter, Moose Fort, August 1738, in Letters from Hudson Bay, 271, who reported to the Committee that Indian women “was [sic] too common amongst the Englishmen”; also Innis, Fur Trade in Canada, 163.

[73] See Dianne Dugaw, “Female Sailors Bold: Transvestite Heroines and the Markers of Gender and Class,” in Iron Men, Wooden Women, 46–47; also Adele C. Friedman, “The Broadside Ballad Virago: Emancipated Women in British Working Class Literature,” The Journal of Popular Culture 13, no. 3 (1980): 469, who cites “the foremost student of the early broadside ballad,” Hyder Rollins, as the source of the insight.

[74] See Thomas L. Haskell, Objectivity is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 282, 279; this chapter, n.19 above; also Richard Daly, “Being and Becoming in a World that Won’t Stand Still: The Case of the Metlakatla,” Social Analysis 49, no. 1 (spring 2005): 21–44, on the unease that destabilizing ‘identity’ presents to people with vested interests in arguing political rights and recognition according to heritage as defined by state law; and Bruce Curtis, The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 18401875 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 3–4, 16–17, on population as political construct, and implications for historiography.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s