Joseph Adams/Adems/Adames

By 1714, correspondence to and from Hudson Bay indicated that an apprentice of the Hudson’s Bay Company was anxious about his status. Joseph Adams had been assigned to the Company in 1705. On 5 May that year, he was ” fitted out by the Parish of Woodford, Essex, and bound to serve the Company until he should become 24 years of age, when he would receive ‘2 shutes of Apparrell’.”[1]

By 1712 Joseph had spent seven years as an apprentice and wanted to know when his term of service should be up, so sent a letter via ship from Albany to the Governor and Committee in London. The Governor and Committee’s answer, brought by ship the following year, informed Anthony Beale, Adam’s superior at Albany, that it was not his term of service that determined when he would be free, but his age.

The problem was that no one was certain how old Joseph Adams was. The Committee asked Beale if he might supply an estimate. In 1714, Beale expressed the view that “we do suppose him to be 18 years of age as near as we can guess so that he has six more years of service.” For its part, the Committee claimed to have confirmed that the ‘Register at Woodford’ had recorded Joseph’s baptism on 4 May 1700. Joseph was not necessarily an orphan, but apparently his parents — William and Katharine Adams — had not fared well. On 12 November 1704 Joseph had been placed under the care of Overseer of the Poor, with a weekly allowance of two shillings. The next year the young pensioner was “bound to Captain Nicholson” — a HBC mariner.

It is certain that from that time onward Joseph spent some time at sea, first because he arrived in Hudson Bay, and second because by 1722 he was commended there as a ” brisk, sober, industrious” slooper.[2] Whether he had worked as a deep sea voyager between England and North America more than once before being assigned to Albany Fort is presently unknown — as a Company servant he would have been expected to work any transatlantic passages taken aboard HBC vessels. Whatever information Company records might have held regarding the particulars of his service, the 18th-century Committee continued to be uncertain of Joseph’s actual birth date.[3]

Joseph continued to express his concern. In 1719 Henry Kelsey at York Fort wrote to the Committee on 19 June informing them that Joseph was “disconsolate” at having been informed that the Committee judged he had 5 years left in service and he had, therefore, requested a copy of his indenture.[4] Whether he received it or not, he appears to have been amenable to the idea of continuing as a Hudson’s Bay Company servant — but he wanted his contract updated to reflect his experience. On 24 May 1722 The Committee wrote directly to Joseph:

“Wee Received your Letter of ye 30th August last, wherein you write us that ye Govr. & Councill thought you to be 23 Years old in 1720, so by consequence must be out of your time as last Year, & having discours’d Mr Maclish, do believe it may be true, & upon his recommendation do agree to entertain you in our Service from ye 11th Sepr. last, at ye rate of ₤16 p. ann. as likewise to allow you ₤10 for Cloths at ye Expiration of your time … wee would have you … at youe leisure time, learn to write, wherby you may be capable of Perferment.[5]

Joseph spent the season 1723-1724 in England, and must have applied himself to learning the literate arts for he was able to sign his name to Company account books, though the spelling is inconsistent. His signatures varied from Josh. or Joseph, with Adams, or Adems until he fixed on his preferred spelling Adames as of 1726. He was also awarded ‘Perferment.’ By the 1730s Joseph had been made a governor and during that decade he married, after the custom of the country, “an Indian mate described as being of ‘ye blood Royal’.”[6]

Adams sailed for England with his three year old daughter Mary in 1737. He died shortly after arrival in London.

See Mary Adams.


[1] K.G. Davies, ed., with A.M. Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 1703–40(London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1965), 3 n.1.

[2] Ibid., 79.

[3] Ibid., 3 n.1, Researchers of the Hudson’s Bay Record Society were unable to locate a record of the baptism of Joseph Adams “in the Register for St. Mary’s Church, Woodford, Essex, although there are entries concerning other children born to William (a labourer) and Katherine Adams.”

[4] Ibid., 76.

[5] Ibid., 79 n. 4.

[6] Sylvia Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties”: Women in Fur-Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670–1870 (Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer Publishing, 1980), 29.

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