Lecture Transcript: An Introduction to the History of Aboriginal Sailors of Hudson Bay

[Note: As of 07/01/2011, I discovered WordPress was not publishing this page properly — huge chunks were missing — I am attempting to find and rectify the problem … and maybe I have managed to do so … code, it’s always gremlins in the code … N.]

Slide 1:


Slide 2: map: I. The North: ‘at sea’ in History?


I titled this lecture an introduction, because when most people hear that this is my area of interest, they react with surprise — some have made the pun that they’re “all at sea” on the topic. So, I’m guessing that for many of you this will be an introduction to the idea that there were Aboriginal sailors, on ships, in Hudson Bay.

Although I suspect things will change, historical maritime activity off Canada’s Northern Seaboard has not been studied overmuch — in comparison with research devoted to more southerly Canadian coastlines — and with research into activity in the Arctic Archipelago and Northwest Passage.

As you can see from the maps: The North is a region extending from about 54° north latitude ( the upper margin of the “fertile belt” of the Prairie West), through to the Arctic Circle — the approximate limit of the midnight sun — at 66° 33′ 39″ north of the equator.[1]

After the creation of Canada in the 19th century, attention in Southern and Central Canada — the seat of the new Dominion government — was predominantly focused on land and east-west expansion aided by railroads. A view that was commonplace, in published opinion pieces,[2] was that the North was a region of icy “waste lands” where there was little appreciable activity.[3] For at least a century, Canadians were pre-occupied with the course of development in the more heavily populated Southern regions, and — not surprisingly — what went on there has got the most attention in the history books. Not that all historians thought this was okay — there have been studies that plainly state the goal of rectifying that imbalance.[4]

It’s still the case, however, that If the majority of past actors living and working in the North have been marginalized in Canadian histories — then the actors living and working off Northern shores have been doubly so.[5]

It seems to me that a lot of what one finds when doing historical research depends on what one is looking for. So my guess is, that the lack of studies about Aboriginal sailors of Hudson Bay stems from another set of 19th century assumptions: the idea that when it came to contact between Aboriginal peoples of northern North America and newcomers from Europe, Aboriginals were passive recipients of an active European influence:

Slide 3.

replacement slide

[“First Meeting Between the Norsemen and the Natives,” in The History of Our Country: From the Discovery of America to the Present Time, by Edward Sylvester Ellis (Cincinnati: Jones Brothers, 1900), From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E178.E48. http://jeroenarendsen.nl/pics/Norsemen-natives.jpg and C.W. Jefferys, “Jacques Cartier makes friends with the Huron-Iroquois at Quebec, 1635,” in H.B. Hawthorne, “Enter the European,” part IV of Among the Indians of Canada series, The Beaver34, no. 1 (Summer 1954): 3, http://resource.canadashistory.ca/media/pdf/34-1-954-Sum-p3-7.pdf. Original drawing entitled “Cartier meets the Indians of the St. Lawrence,” dates to between 1911-1942, prepared for the Picture Gallery of Canadian History, vol. 1 [3 vols. 1942-1950] (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1942), 74, was one of Jeffry’s imaginatively reconstructed images of Canadian history. The work is now part of the Imperial Oil collection. Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1972-26-1394, Copyright: Expired; see also http://cwjefferys.ca/id/671 for Jeffry’s introduction to the illustrations.]

The idea seems to have been that Europeans were sailors; Europeans had ships and boldly sailed them. Aboriginal people watched — and the twentieth-century textbook illustrations shown on the slide [above] imply that they watched from shore. [see the Europeans’ ships in the background?]

Slide 4:


[See image in William Gilbert, “Guy not Gosnold: a correction,” Post Medieval Archeology 41, no. 2 (2007), 265. Note the red dot on the map in the slide above indicates the contact point.]

Older artwork, closer in time to the events portrayed, suggest Aboriginal people were actually quite active themselves. This scene is taking place in Newfoundland. The illustration is meant to be read as a narrative: We can see the ship sailing in [this is one ship, shown in different places at different parts of the narrative, not multiple ships], we can see a Beothuk village, and, having seen the ship, that the people have taken an animal skin and fashioned a flag. They’ve jumped into their boats and paddled out to meet the ship — waving the flag.

[In answer to a question about the illustrator: His name was Matthäus Merian,  the illustration was printed in Dreyzehender Theil Americae (De Bry, 1628). And yes, this method of visual narration was common at the time, but no, I don’t think he invented it. Merian worked for, and married into, a famous publishing family, the De Brys. Merian most likely would have been following conventions of longstanding that they used in decorating maps and illustrating texts in their atlases &c.

The map shown in the slide above is a detail of a copper engraving by Johanne van Keulen, “Map of Newfoundland and eastern New France highlighting the fishing banks, ca. 1687,” which can be viewed at Canadian Museum of Civilization, http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/lifelines/licoe01e.shtml

On the implications of the visual discourse that marks cartography you might take a look at Ken MacMillan, “Sovereinghty, ‘More Plainly Described’: Early English Maps of North America, 1580-1625,” The Journal of British Studies 42, no. 4 (October 2003): 413-447.]

Slide 5:


[focus in on detail of above]

And — here’s what We’re looking for — contact taking place among seafarers, offshore. And look closer — John Guy is rowed to shore in a Beothuk boat. Once onshore, a Beothuk man first gives Guy a gift, then he reciprocates. [there’s the flag again — looks like the men who went out in the boats are the men in charge of negotiating the contact.]

  • The history told here attests — not only to an active Aboriginal participation in contact scenarios — but to a seaward dimension in that participation.

This was as true of Aboriginal people of the North and Hudson Bay as it was of the people of Newfoundland.

Slide 6:


Painting by John White showing the skirmish between the Inuit and Frobisher’s men, original held by the British Museum. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization, online exhibit www.civilization.ca/…/frobisher/fr57702e.shtml. Note the blue dot on the map indicates the point of contact.]

II. Early Aboriginal Seafarers of the North

Among the best remembered and first recorded, (in English), instances of contact in the North were those between Inuit of Iqaluit [‘many fish’ in Inuktitut; Frobisher Bay in English], on Baffin Island, and Martin Frobisher’s crew.[6] In 1576 and 1577, Martin Frobisher transported Inuit of Baffin Island to England. The first, a male ‘hostage,’ taken aboard the Gabriel with his kayak, died within weeks of  landing. The following year, a second man along with a woman and her infant were taken. They sailed to Bristol, but died within months of arriving.[7]

Note the flotilla of Inuit watercraft in the background.

These encounters were not, however, likely to have been the first times Inuit had met sailors from elsewhere —

slide 7:

there were the Norse …

[19th-century illustration, “First Meeting between the Norsemen and the Natives,” by Aaron of Kangeq, Greenland, based on Inuit historical accounts, or, see Aaron of Kangeq, Inuit discover the Norse Settlers,” http://www.greenland-guide.dk/leif2000/default.htm. See also http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/1137.html]

Note who has the boat in Kangeq’s visual account

— and there were whalers — By the early 1400s the Basque (the first commercial whalers to work at a factory scale) were sailing north to Iceland and Greenland (Europeans ate a lot of whale meat and had pretty much depleted their own off-shore stocks by then).

[See “Sailors on the back of a whale, which they imagine to be an island,” detail; “from Konrad Gesner’s Historia Animalia Liber IV (2nd edition, 1604).” Image and note courtesy of James L. Matterer, Medieval Woodcuts Clipart Collection, Gode Cookery Website, http://www.godecookery.com/clipart/clart.htm.]

These early encounters between peoples were just as likely — perhaps more likely — to have taken place at sea as on land

● Because, for North Americans, as for Europeans, seas were sites of communication.

Slide 8:

The Inuit, after all — from time immemorial — spent a lot of time off-shore harvesting food.  In addition to kayaks, they had large boats, umiaks (shown in the petroglyphs and in the later illustration) in which they went whaling.

Slide 9:


And the umiaks served on trade voyages and for seasonal re-locations — the boats held up to 20 or so people. They were useful boats, excellent technology, that survived exposure to European technology. By 1900, they were outfitted with sails — and soon they were fitted with outboard motors. Though the variety of Inuit-owned boats increased as non-indigenous technology was adopted and adapted, umiaks were still being built in the Hudson Bay area as late as 1960.

Slide 10:


While Aboriginal people of Hudson Bay were seafarers in their own right, they also worked as seafarers for commercial concerns in Hudson Bay – on projects organized for whaling and trading.

Historically, the HBC was the largest incorporated institution to employ maritime workers on that great inland sea — Hudson Bay — and its in associated waters: James Bay, Hudson Strait, and to some extent, Ungava Bay and Foxe Basin.

Slide 11: (map)


III. Aboriginal seafarers and HBC:

The HBC maritime component was central to its early activity. Company servants didn’t just sail the ship in and land — if the documents are read for living arrangements as opposed to trade activity (social history rather than economic), it is clear that ships and boats were how the servants got around from place to place, and ships were often where they lived.  (and things stayed that way for a long time — even after the Company had established ports with warehouses and living quarters ashore).

The first Aboriginal individuals of Hudson Bay recorded as having voyaged any distance aboard an HBC ship were seven men, picked up in July of 1671 by the master and commander of the Wivenhoe, Charles Bayly. [Ships associated with the enterprise had arrived previously  — in 1668 and 1670.] While exploring the coastline, by ship, from  Albany River to Cape Henrietta Maria, Bayly “spy’d a great Smoak [sic],” on a point of land. He sailed to it, found 7 men “in distress”, and, presumably according to their wishes, sailed them to Equon. On arrival, they found a community where “There had been a great Mortality … and several were starv’d to Death for want of Food.” It is not clear whether any of the seven men stayed with the ship, although within a week of the incident Bayly reportedly ordered a “Washahoe, or New Severn Indian,” [italics in source] who had been acting as pilot, to be put ashore because “he hated so much to see the Compass, that he was very troublesome to the Crew.”[8] This did not spell the end of engaging Aboriginal individuals as coastal pilots — and sailors — rather, it became a practice of longstanding.

The 1st recorded transatlantic crossing made by Aboriginal individuals on HBC ships occurred in 1675. There is very little information about the voyage. Two men embarked for London. Only one name was recorded — ‘Prince Attash,’ aboard the Prince Rupert. The other man, aboard the Shaftesbury, died before reaching England.[9]

Slide 12: (James Bay shoreline, a contemporary ship, a coffee house)


Attash was described as “a very Losty man [sic: lusty]” — in London he was furnished with attendants and new clothes, he apparently met Prince Rupert, visited with Pierre Radisson, and stayed at the homes of various other Company mariners.[10] [Prince Rupert and Radssion were both sailors] Attash returned to Hudson Bay on the outward voyage of 1676.[11][12] His impressions are unknown.

Nevertheless, his visit indicates the Company felt it was important to include, within their circle, Aboriginal intermediaries who could enhance cross-cultural communication for the purpose of forwarding trade — and their circle was not restricted to landsmen.

● Along with continuing to engage Aboriginal coastal pilots and sailors — The HBC continually sought people to fill the intermediary role aboard ships — including aboard transatlantic ships — to negotiate trade with Inuit in Hudson Strait on the way into the Bay.

Slide 13: (Inuit trade in Hudson Strait)


One of the earliest known such intermediaries: was Charles ‘the slave.’[13] In 1738, HBC ship’s captain, Christopher Middleton, arranged to engage the boy within the Company’s maritime division to act as an interpreter in the Hudson Strait whalebone trade.[14] The ‘slave’ status seems to have arisen from his having been purchased, two years earlier, for “1 lb. Brazil tobacco, 1 gallon brandy, and 1½ yards of blue broadcloth,” from a group of people identified in the Albany post journal as “Indians.” Apparently they had captured fifteen children in a raid on Inuit “of the East Main.” [meaning the east coast of Hudson Bay].[15][16]

Charles’ original name is unknown — once aboard ship he seems to have exchanged slave-hood for an apprenticeship.

Slide 14 (ships)


He spent the years 1738 to 1740 aboard the ship Hudson’s Bay with Captain Middleton – who was an educated master, a Fellow of the Royal Society celebrated for his “contributions to the theory and practice of navigation.”[17]

In 1741, Charles transferred to the Seahorse to serve as ship’s boy under Captain George Spurrell, a senior ships’ master among HBC mariners who later became a member of the London Committee.[18] If Charles’ career was advancing, it came to an abrupt end. At some point, during or after the homeward crossing of his first engagement under Spurrell, he died, probably from contracting the ‘epidemic fever’ that was decimating London that year.[19]

The sparest of details remain of who Charles was and of his service at sea, and none remain of time spent in-between HBC voyages. This is true of many of the ‘boys’ trained aboard HBC ships — their stories are not well known, though it is apparent that  HBC captains did  take them on — especially ‘pauper children’ of anywhere from about 9 to 14 years old. They would apprentice for about 7 years, after which they would be released, ‘with a new set of cloths.’

One notable example, from among Charles’ contemporaries, was Moses Norton. He makes an interesting study for a number of reasons — one being that his Aboriginality is disputed — though I take him to be more northern North American than not. [and you can check my reasoning for that online].

Slide 15:


The whole thing hinges on whether one believes an account which states Norton was an “Indian” born at York Factory or not.

At any rate, Moses’ father died on the same voyage as Charles in 1741, likely of the same cause.

Subsequently, in 1744, Moses Norton apprenticed, for a term of seven years, to Spurrell, then in command of the Prince Rupert. [20] [21]

Slide 16:

Moses serves as an example of how family ties and social circles overlapped and reinforced each other in the maritime component of the HBC — seafaring was ‘integrative’ in that sailors of different geographical and cultural origins worked together [This pattern was the norm throughout the ‘Atlantic World’]. And seafaring families often combined — geographical origin, cultural origin, all sorts of other things that might have mattered to landed people, or to people nowadays, don’t seem to have mattered to sailors as much as whether or not they married someone who understood sailors.

Moses came from a seafaring family — his father, Richard Norton, began his HBC career through an apprenticeship at age thirteen, and had sailed on coastal voyages, and then married a daughter of mariner Thomas McCliesh of York Fort, whose other daughter had married Captain William Coats [who sailed ships in convoy with Spurrell and Middleton — and Isbister — and there were other Nortons who sailed the Bay — And the London Committee thought they were all in cahoots — trading on their own accounts].[22].[23]

But to return to Moses: after serving aboard the Prince Rupert to and from Hudson Bay from 1744 to approximately 1751, he 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. [who had married Charles ‘the slave’s’ captain’s — Christopher Middleton’s — daughter]

Moses then served officially in landward stations, though he continued sea voyaging. In 1760 and 1761, he sailed to and from England. On his return 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.”[24] In 1768, he again sailed for England. And after his return, he started a black whale fishery out of Churchill, at “much effort and expense,” although the Company abandoned the project in 1772, as too difficult and expensive to conduct — they knew furs, not whale oil.[25]

And, sometime during this period, Moses’ daughter, Mary ‘Polly’ Norton, formed a romantic liaison with the aforementioned Samuel Hearne [26].[27] who was a sailor, having served a naval apprenticeship from age eleven or twelve, during the Seven Years War, 1757–1763

[and who drew this picture (bottom right corner) of a couple strolling the shores of Hudson Bay at Churchill].

Seafarers of renown mingled among those of Hudson Bay enlarging their social circles

— William Wales, was one — an “eminent” mathematician, astronomer, and navigator who observed the transit of Venus, 1768–1769 [a world-wide scientific event], at Prince of Wales’ Fort while it was under Moses’ command; became a good fried of Hearne’s; and accompanied Captain James Cook [also a Fellow of the Royal Society] on his second voyage around the world, 1772–1775.[28]

Moses didn’t live long enough to learn details of the voyage. He died at Churchill in 1773. His will granted, in mariner fashion, “ten Gallons of English Brandy to be equally divided amongst all hands.”[29]

There are later examples of Aboriginal sea captains of Hudson Bay as well,  including Captain Robertson Sinclair and Captain William Kennedy:

Slide 17:


Colin Sinclair was born at Norway House, Rupert’s Land, in 1816, to HBC Chief factor William Sinclair and Nahoway. When his father became ill he was relocated to York Factory with his family, were he stayed after his father died, to about age 6 — at which time he sailed to Orkney to attend school. The popular view is that this separation from family must have been wrenching, especially for Colin’s mother. It is worth considering, however, that Nahoway would have known a number of people who had left for distant shores long before Colin sailed — including her husband, three other sons, as well as her son-in-law, daughter, and granddaughter. Nahoway had also experienced the return of loved ones from over the sea and may well have expected Colin to return in a few years.

He didn’t. According to his own account, he liked the sea. He was in contact with seafaring relatives while at school, and on graduating at about 14 years of age, Colin apprenticed as a ship’s boy. At 18 he served as a sailor three years — apparently on North Atlantic voyages which included runs into Hudson Strait and Bay. He then qualified as a navigator at the University of Edinburgh and ran sealing voyages out of Newfoundland for several years, after which he entered the India and China trades as part owner of a ship. By 1840 he was captain and sole owner of the ship, but nine years later gave up deep sea sailing to become harbour master of San Francisco when his crew deserted to join the California Gold Rush.[30]

Slide 18:


Captain William Kennedy’s story is similar. He was born in 1814 to Chief factor Alexander Kennedy and Aggathas, and went to Scotland for an education, at age 9.[31] He returned to North America to work for the HBC from 1838 to 1846, in Ungava Bay and along the Labrador coast, aboard coastal vessels. By 1848 he was sailing as independent fisher and master of a vessel on Lake Huron. Then, from 1851 to 1856 he commanded two sailing expeditions to the Arctic in search of Sir John Franklin. Over the course of these voyages, aside from sailing from New York to Liverpool, Aberdeen, and London, he had ranged so far as to winter in the Arctic, sail round the Horn, and harbour his ship at Valparaiso.[32] He won a commendation from “the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” as “one of the intelligent travellers” of Northern waters.

[In response to an observation that people such as Captain Colin Sinclair and Captain William Kennedy were ‘not Aboriginal’ because they acted like Europeans: 1) I include Métis along with First Nations and Inuit under the rubric Aboriginal, in accord with the Canadian constitution, and 2) the people I refer to, as examples of Aboriginal sailors, were classed as Métis/First Nations/Inuit (though with other terms) during their lifetime — by themselves, by their communities, and by officials of their time. 3) In my view they were not so much ‘acting like Europeans,’ as they were being seafarers — adopting the appropriate dress, terminology, and mindset for being at sea, which was something that everyone who ventured there had to do (it was expected and demanded), no matter where they originally hailed from. The people I am discussing in this lecture sailed on British ships, so they adhered to British nautical convention. If they had sailed on Chinese ships, I believe they would have adopted Chinese nautical convention. That would not, in my estimation, have meant they could no longer be classified as North American Aboriginal people. 4) As far as how they lived ashore goes, my argument is the same — adopting landward conventions in order to participate in a society anywhere in the world does not automatically wipe out an individual’s heritage (particularly when, within that society, one’s heritage is counted as a facet of one’s identity). For an in-depth examination of my position with respect to identity ascription and avowl see “Admitting Enigmatic Identities,” and “Interpreting Identity: A Case Study of Semantic Paradox.”]

Kennedy and Sinclair were not the only native-born of the Hudson Bay region to work at sea for whom records of origins and careers exist.

The biographies worked up for the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, for example, give a glimpse of the sea-going activities of others:

Slide 19:


There are records for Sowanas, a boatman at York Factory; William Swanson, an apprentice at Moose Factory who became a coastal slooper on the Pacific coast; George Spence, a sloop’s mate and pilot at York who would have worked with Sowanas.

You will note that for some individuals there might be very little information — for others much more. And there are a significant number of others

Slide 20: animation – all the workers’ histories from HBC archives piling up


Even a cursory look through what biographical information is readily available shows that, as most Canadians are well aware, Aboriginal people handled inland watercraft –  from canoes, york boats, and barges, to river steamers. But it is also apparent that they worked at sea: there are pilots; coastal and transatlantic sailors in Hudson Bay and on the Pacific slope. In the Columbia District these sailors, surgeons, and ships’ masters served on months’-long voyages around the Horn to England — enroute they might stop in Hawaii, San Francisco, or Jamaica. And there are fascinating stories among them —

Slide 21:


Angus Bethune, who sailed to China, and became the grandfather of Norman Bethune who did the same.

Or …

Slide 22:


… Ranald Macdonald — a grandson of a Chinook harbour pilot Chief Comcomly — Ranald managed not only to work his way by sea to Japan — he wrote a book describing his experience.

[In answer to a question asked about the monument to Ranald in Nagasaki Japan: It turns out that it is in fact of fairly recent vintage — the dedication ceremony took place in 1998. See “Friends of MacDonaldhttp://friendsofmacdonald.com/?tag=deshima and “Native American in the Land of the Shogun:Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan,” http://www.jai2.com/RM.htm.]

Before moving on to describe what life at sea was like for Aboriginal sailors — we’ll take a short break for a change of pace:

1. So that you can have a look at small collection of material bits — example of the kinds of things a historian might run into, and seek to explain — a stash of items kept by a Manitoba family with Aboriginal heritage, including:

— a sketch of a clipper ship in an early twentieth century Autograph album, with various letters, and obituaries;

— a book with a story about Captain Colin Sinclair and notations in the margins.

— A pair of earrings, and a trivet.

— A photo album displaying, among other things, water-borne transport in the North.

The challenge they present being: to try and figure out what sort of story lies behind these objects

— And, by the way, these were the objects that led me to look for Aboriginal sailors in Hudson Bay.

2. And while those are circulating, I’d like to check and see if there are questions so far.

[In response to a question on whether Ranald Macdonald can properly be described as as ‘Westerner’ (on the slide above), which implies ‘Westerner European,’ if I am also classifying him as Aboriginal.

To begin with, in using the term I am playing with a construct: the arbitrary, binary division of West and East that was so popular during the nineteenth century, and that was implicated in the colonial project by Edward Said. (I have done so partly to show-up the construct’s inadequacies — which may seem subversive of me, but is entirely in keeping with the purpose of this lecture, i.e.: to question past, and persistent, representations of Aboriginal people’s historical activities as limited and ‘outside’ of history proper).

1) The characterization ‘Westerner’ is my own, chosen because a)  from a North American perspective, he came from the ‘West,’ and b) from the perspective of his Japanese hosts, he came, geographically speaking, from across seas to the west of Japan.

2) Additionally, from his hosts’ perspectives, I assume he would have been classed as Gaijin, because he was not Japanese, and was gaikokujin (from a foreign country). As a subset of non-Japanese alien peoples, though, it appears to me reasonable to assume he was regarded as a first contact with Western European culture (strands and norms of which did transfer to North America) — my evidence being that he was put to work as a teacher of the English language to the Japanese court (there is no mention of his having been tasked with teaching a North American Aboriginal language).

3) I am underscoring the point that identities are multifaceted. Ranald, like many Métis, received a ‘Western European’ formal education at Red River Settlement, and, in Central Canada and elsewhere was trained in ‘Western European’ commerce-directed (capitalist society) work. Being Métis means having a mix of cultural antecedents to draw on — it was/is not a limiting or limited condition. That Métis individuals have not been ‘outside’ of Western European culture, despite their being Aboriginal, is in fact one of the findings my academic study of the socio-cultural and political-economic development of the Canadian West has led me to — and is a key point of this lecture. Remember, I opened with evidence that Aboriginal people were not passive observers, but were instead active participants in history.

(For a thought experiment: consider Zuan Chabotto/Giovanni Chabbote/Giovanni Caboto/Juan Caboto/John Cabot — can he be identified as a part of the British history of seafaring, because he carried a letter patent from the English court, even though he was simultaneously identified as Venetian and/or Genoese?)]

To Return to the lecture

Slide 23:

IV. The Sailors’ World on the HBC Ocean Arc


So, what if we were seagulls on the mast of a HBC tall ship anchored in the Bay and observed the activity aboard? Or what if, like Attash, we made an ocean crossing? What did Aboriginal sailors of Hudson Bay see as they voyaged the HBC ocean arc: the watery, sparsely populated plain over which they worked. (And they didn’t sail straight across, they had to tack in a zig-zag pattern to catch the wind — the wind was fickle).

At one end of the voyage — the western end — they were bound to see ice — lots of it.

Slide 24:


To travel from Hudson Bay to England at the end of summer, when the ice had mostly melted might take 4 weeks (the average), or it might take a few weeks more. It took longer to get from London (Gravesend actually) out to the Bay. As much as a month to get out of the river and up to the Orkneys, perhaps 3 weeks across the Atlantic,

Slide 25:


and depending on what the ice was like in the spring 3 days to 60 days to clear Hudson Strait.

Slide 26:


And an additional week or three to thread through ice in the Bay and reach a port.

at the other end of the Ocean arc

Slide 27:


— there was the threat of warfare, being forcibly conscripted into the Navy, and the really bad smells of crowded harbours that served as sewers and garbage dumps.

Slide 28:


As Workplaces, Hudson Bay Company ships were relatively small, they had to be to deal with the shallow waters in Hudson and James Bays — so they had confined quarters, with equipment, livestock, and people stored everywhere. [and dogs]

Partly to maintain order in crowded conditions, the space aboard ship was highly structured socially — depending on one’s job there were places you were allowed to be and places you weren’t.

Slide: 29


But, even with these restrictions, there was plenty of opportunity, and time, to mingle with people from ‘all over the globe’. And they exchanged stories, songs, jokes ‘on the foredeck’ — the sailors’ space for working and for relaxing and interacting with passengers — including Aboriginal people [such as the four individuals pictured here] — travelling from place to place in the Bay, oracross the ocean to attend school, take a wedding voyage, or relocate with a spouse who was seeking employment opportunities, or retiring.

Slide 30:


On coastal voyages sailors would see: the port communities ranged round the Bay, and sailors who worked on other company’s ships — There are many illuminating photos and stories available online if you’re interested:

Slide 31:

from the McCord Museum; Glenbow Museum; and there is a really informative website on Inuit Whalers.

Slide 32:


Review: The Historical Significance of the Aboriginal presence at Sea:

  • It shows Active Aboriginal participation in contact scenarios
  • Because, for North Americans, as for Europeans, seas were sites of communication. Which
    • Complicates ideas about what went on up North — things went on water, not just land, so there is a lot of territory that could yet be  included in Northern History
    • Complicates ideas about what, historically, Aboriginal people did ‘Up North’
    • Complicates ideas about what exactly ‘contact’ represents: the first one was maybe not on shore, & contact was not a one-time instance, but repeated and renewed; it was not necessarily occurring between 2 monolithic cultures, but among individuals with varied experience interacting with many different cultures, over an extended period of time.
    • Complicates how much we think Aboriginal people of the North knew about the rest of the world
    • So, Therefore, it Complicates how we think of Aboriginal contributions to history of development in Western Canada.

I see this as an opportunity for scholars such as yourselves: There remains a lot of Aboriginal history to be researched, written, and debated.

And That concludes my lecture — thank you for your attention.


[1] J. Arthur Lower, Western Canada: An Outline History (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1983), 104.

m

[2] Charles N. Bell, “Navigation of Hudson Bay and Straits,” Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba Transactions, no. 7, First Series (read 1883).

[3] W.L. Morton, ed., “Appendix II: Section 30, The Manitoba Act,” Manitoba: The Birth of a Province (Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society Publications, 1965), 258.

[4] Kerry Abel, and Ken S. Coates, “Introduction: The North and the Nation,” in Northern Visions: New Perspectives in Canadian History, ed. Kerry Abel, and Ken S. Coates (Peterborough ON.: Broadview Press, 2001), 8. See also W.L. Morton, “The ‘North’ in Canadian History,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada 7, fourth series (1970): 40; Richard Diubaldo “The North in Canadian History: An Outline,” Fram: The Journal of Polar Studies 1, no. 1 (1984): 187; Ken Coates, “The Rediscovery of the North: Toward a Conceptual Framework for the Study of the North/Northern Regions,” The Northern Review 12, no. 13 (summer/winter 1994): 15-43. Even though historians such as W.L. Morton argued (in 1960) that “the North was central to the story of Canada,” they have also admitted (as recently as 2001) that the region, “remains a marginal place in the nation’s understanding of its past.”

[5] David Neufield, “Parks Canada and the Commemoration of the North: History and Heritage,” in Northern Visions, 45-76; Mary-Ellen Kelm, “Change, Continuity, Renewal: Lessons from a Decade of Historiography on the First Nations of the Territorial North,” in Northern Visions, 77-90; Shelagh D. Grant, “Inuit History in the Next Millennium: Challenges and Rewards,” in Northern Visions, 91-106.

[6] See Christopher Hall, in Haklyut’s Voyages and Dorothy Harley Eber, Encounters on the Passage: Inuit Meet the Explorers (University of Toronto Press, 2008), stories that preserve Inuit traditions of encounters.

[7] A.J. Dyer, “Aboriginal History of Northern Canada,” Perspectives: the Journal of the Saskatchewan Council of Social Studies Teachers (winter 1978) http://www.usask.ca/education/ideas/tplan/sslp/aborhist.htm (accessed 14 February 2006), also notes that “By the 1750’s, there were 350 European whaling ships anchored off the pack ice between Greenland and Baffin Island, indicating that contact between European and Inuit was made on a fairly regular basis”; Sturtevant and Quinn, “This New Prey,” 61, 62, 68–72, while describing Frobisher’s contacts with Inuit of Baffin, state, “Greenland Eskimos were apparently not met by Europeans, after the Norse, until 1585.”

[8] John Oldmixon, “The History of Hudson’s-Bay, Containing an Account of its Discovery and Settlement, the Progress of it, and the present State; of the Indians, Trade, and everything else relating to it: Being the last chapter of volume I of The British Empire in America, by John Oldmixon (London, 1708),” in Documents relating to the early history of Hudson Bay, ed.  J. B. Tyrrell (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1931), 392, relates the pilot was further described only as having two rows of teeth.

[9] E.E. Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company 16791684, First Part, xviii, n.1, and n. 2, observes, “We do not know who Prince Attash was. He must have been an Indian chief, most likely from the ‘Bottom of the Bay’; but it is useless to try to identify him” … “As is done, for instance, by A.S. Morton.” Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 187071, 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), 67, 79, assumes Attash in London was identical to Attash of Rupert River met by Bayly in the 1670.  E.E. Rich, with A.M. Johnson, Copy-book of letters outward, 352, cites as a record of the death, London, the Public Record Office, S.P. Dom., Charles II, 373/174.

[10] Morton, History of the Canadian West, 79. Rich with Johnson, Copy-book of letters outward, 370. See also Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company 16791684, First Part, 10, 31,  34, 116, 341, 374, which indicates Tatnum might have been James Tatnam/Tatneham, who had served as a sailor abroad the Nonsuch in 1668 and was promoted to Master on later Company voyages.

[11] Grace Lee Nute, Caesars of the Wilderness (1943; reprint, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1978), 152.

[12] Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company 16791684, First Part, xviii n.3, 310. Hamell, “Mohawks Abroad,” 184, notes in 1765 the House of Lords decided for the Lords of Trade that “bringing from America of any of the Indians … without proper authority … may be of dangerous consequence … in the colonies” and, “the making a public shew of Indians, ignorant of such proceedings is unbecoming and inhuman [sic].” Wright, “Travelling Exhibition,” 215–33; King, “Family of Botocudos,” 243–51; Mulvey, “Among the Sag-A-Noshes,” 253–75; and Napier, “Across the Big Water,” 383–02, show the directives did not end the arrival or exhibition of ‘Indians,’ but presumably they had an idea of what they were doing and some say in how things were done.

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

[14] 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.

[15] Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 270 n.1; HBCA, B.3/a/24, Albany Post Journal, 1735–1736.

[16] 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): 42–45; Sylvia Van Kirk, “Thanadalthur,” The Beaver 53, no. 4 (spring 1974): 40–45; 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.

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

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

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

[20] 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.

[21] 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.”

[22] 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.

[23] See Chapter Six, this [my as yet unpublished] thesis, 123.

[24] 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.

[25] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[26] 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.

[27] 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 (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 <http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ballads/ballads.htm&gt; (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.

[28] Ibid., xliixliii. [oops, will have to check this reference TBA].

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

[30] A.H. de Trémaudan, The Hudson Bay Road (14981915) (London and Toronto; J.M. Dent and Sons, 1915), 63; J.A.J. McKenna, The Hudson Bay Route: A Compilation of Facts with Conclusions (Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1908), 4. See, also, Harry Shave, “The Armchair at Seven Oaks,” Winnipeg Free Press (5 Oct. 1963).

[31] Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980), 138.

[32] William Kennedy, A short narrative of the second voyage of the Prince Albert, in search ofSir John Franklin (London: W.H. Dalton, 1853), iii, vii. See also William Kennedy, “Report on the Return of Lady Franklin’s Vessel the Prince Albert, under the Command of Mr. Wm. Kennedy, from the Arctic Regions,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 23 (1853): 122–29; “The Polar Seas and Sir John Franklin,” Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art 1 no 6 (June 1853): 634; “The Arctic Search,” The North American Review 80, no. 167 (April 1855): 333 [scroll down the page to find the article]; “Bellot,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 12, no. 67 (December 1855): 97; McKenna, The Hudson Bay Route, 6; Mary L. Kennedy, “Lieutenant Joseph René Bellot,” The Beaver 18, no. 1 (June 1938): 44;Edward C. Shaw, “Captain William Kennedy, An Extraordinary Canadian,” MHS Transactions 27, ser. 3 (1970–1971 season); E.C. Shaw, “The Kennedys – An Unusual Western Family,” MHS Transactions 29, ser. 3 (1972–1973 season); Edward Charles Shaw, “Kennedy, William,” DCB; [Edward Charles Shaw], Captain William Kennedy (Winnipeg: Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Recreation, Historical Resources Branch, 1985); and HBCA, “Kennedy, Alexander (1781–1832) (fl. 1798–1832),” Biographical Sheet. See also Obituary, “Kennedy, Dr. Roderick,” transcript, J.J. Watson Scrapbooks (1911), Deaths and Obituaries, South Fredericksburgh Heritage website, http://www.sfredheritage.on.ca/deathsobitsA.html (accessed 12 Dec. 2003).

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2 Responses to Lecture Transcript: An Introduction to the History of Aboriginal Sailors of Hudson Bay

  1. Your website: Illustrator Charles W.Jeffries ( (” Cartier meets the Indians of the ST. Lawrence,”) is spelled incorrectly.
    Should be Charles W. Jefferys
    Thank you
    C.W.Jefferys Allen

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