Moses Norton

‘Finding’ Moses

Stories about the career of Moses Norton illustrate the problems that attempting to ascribe a fixed ‘identity’ may present in historiography about HBC sailors. First, the term ‘identity’ is problematic.[1] I use the word here to mean ‘affiliations and affinities that might serve in ascribing a character type.’ As James D. Fearon has noted, “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 identities in ways that may have little, if anything, in common with how past people perceived relations or defined associations.  Second, attempting to  determine a set of attributes for Moses Norton proves difficult because little in the way of verifiable personal information about him has survived. Where documented information is sparse, historiographical speculation may flourish. In this description, I address previous historiographical imaginings by reconsidering Moses in light of what is known about the seafaring aspects of his life. Admittedly, my arguments are no less speculative than those of my precursors. They do, however, demonstrate that considering off-shore experience to be a defining association in the lives of past actors associated with the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade adds dimensionality to their stories.

Birth of a Sailor

An early reference to Moses Norton suggests that he, along with his contemporary Charles ‘the slave’, 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.”[2]

Print, “Mr. Samuel Hearne, Late Chief at Prince of Wales’s Fort, Hudson’s Bay,” dated 1 August 1796. Source: Library and Archives Canada / Bibilothèque et Archives Canada (R9266-3032) Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.

According to Hudson’s Bay Company documents, in 1744 Moses Norton apprenticed, for a term of seven years, to Captain George Spurrell, who was at the time in command of the Prince Rupert [II] (and who was carrying a Letter of Margue against French shipping — see online discussion of HBC boatswain Samuel Mawhood; National Archives HCA 26/4/52 – Records of the High Court of Admiralty: Prize Court: Registers of Declarations for Letters of Marque). Judging by patterns of past seafaring practice in England, Moses was probably eleven to fourteen years old at the time.[3] The Company, however, did not preserve a record of his age.

By way of conjecture, various historians have estimated that Moses was born as early as the 1720s and as late as 1735. That there is not a HBC record of his parentage or place of birth is 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.[4]

A Sailor’s Son

Moses was the son of a sailor. His father, designated by one commentator “Captain” Richard Norton, had also begun his HBC career through an apprenticeship at age thirteen.[5] He had sailed to Hudson Bay under Captain Richard Harle/Harley aboard the Union frigate in 1714, experiencing the “tedious passage”described by HBC Captain James Knight, and witnessing the surrender of possession of Hudson Bay by the French governor Nicolas Jérémie in accord with the terms of the treaty of Utrecht.[6] Although subsequently Richard’s apprenticeship was principally a land-based one, his duties also took him to sea.

In 1721, Richard sailed north, as “Lingister” [sic: interpreter] with HBC mariner Henry Kelsey in the Prosperous hoy.[7] 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, Norton, accompanying HBC sloop master John Scroggs in the Whalebone, again reported wreckage assumed to be from the Albany. He is also credited with locating skeletal remains of the shipwrecked crew.[8]

By 1730, Richard 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 in 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.[9]

McCliesh’s recommendation likely reflected a close relationship already formed, because, once in England, Richard Norton married Elizabeth, McCliesh’s daughter. In doing so, Norton not only became the son-in-law to one mariner, but brother-in-law to another – Captain Coats being the husband of McCliesh’s other daughter, Mary.

Richard Norton returned bayside to an appointment as chief factor at Churchill in 1731. Indications are that his wife Elizabeth did not leave England to accompany him aboard the Hannah, which was commanded by their brother-in-law Captain Coats. However, another member of their newly expanded family network 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 to the Bay 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 Captain George Spurrell – possibly to serve in the place of the boy Charles ‘the slave’, he having died about the same time as Richard (both individuals probably succumbed to the epidemic fever that raged from 1741 to 1742).[10]

“John Boydell’s view of the riverside at Limehouse in 1751 shows respectable houses and shipyards crowding onto the riverfront.” Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, public domain File:P1160371 0a.JPG. Richard Norton described himself as ‘of Limehouse’ in a will dated 1738. Prior residents of no small reputation in seafaring circles included Sir Humphery Gilbert who ventured to Newfoundland to claim it for England, and Captain Christopher Newport wealthy privateer, Master in the Royal Navy, and founder of Jamestown in America.

Whatever other ties might have existed among families associated with the HBC (living as neighbours in Limehouse for example), it is plain that seafaring activity ensured that the Nortons and the Spurrells were not strangers. In 1731, Spurrel had captained the Mary [III] to Churchill in company with the two William Coatses and Richard Norton aboard the Hannah. Both Captain Coats and Captain Spurrell routinely sailed to Churchill, and it was Spurrell, apparently with Charles ‘the slave’ in company, who had transported Richard Norton and possibly Moses, to England in 1741.[11]

Beyond these encounters, the Company seems to have suspected that more than familial closeness bound the McClieshes, Nortons, Coatses, and Spurrells. Amid general accusations “relating to spiritous liquors being brought privately out” on HBC ships, Thomas McCliesh, Richard Norton, George Spurrell, and William Coats the captain were, at various times, all compelled to deny knowledge of smuggling or any other “indecencies” that were prohibited in their contracts and in those of the servants under their management.[12]

Moses the HBC Sailor

Any suspicion with respect to Richard Norton’s service did not preclude his son 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, in company with Captain William Christopher (who, incidentally, had first engaged with the HBC in 1756 to “To proceed to Richmond Fort etc etc,” under Captain William Norton), Moses captained sloops sent out from Churchill to expand trade and search for the Northwest Passage. In 1762 he “discovered Baker Lake and sailed around this large lake in the Strivewell, 3 to 5 August.” He concluded, “Certain and Shure,” that there was “no Passage to the Western Oc[e]an in this Hudson Bay,” and informed the London Committee as much. They awarded him £40 for his voyaging.[13]

In 1768, Moses again sailed for England. After his return in 1769, he instituted a ‘black whale’ fishery out of Churchill, at “much effort and expense.” The whales referred to would have been adult bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus). According to eighteenth-century reports, these were abundant off the northwest coast of Hudson Bay.[14] The Company, however, abandoned the project in 1772, the reasons given being “the lack of skilled men, inadequate boats, and the short season.”[15]

“Arctic whaling in the eighteenth century. The ships are Dutch and the animals depicted are Bowhead Whales.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Marriages of Moses

In the same manner as his father — and that of his superior, Joseph Isbister, who had married Captain Christopher Middleton’s daughter, Judith — Moses had a formally sanctioned wife. He must have married while in England in 1760, as the existence of a wife is mentioned for the first time that year in a letter from the Committee to Moses informing him that money had been paid to her “as you desired.”[16] Little else is known of her, however, other than her name was Sarah, she apparently stayed in England, and was named executrix of his will. Despite this marriage, like his mentors of the previous generation, Moses was also reputed — by Samuel Hearne — to simultaneously have at least one country wife at Churchill. Although no direct link has been established, it is possible that a woman by the name of ‘Meo,See,tak,ka,pow,’ recorded in Moses’ will as an “aunt” to his daughter, Mary ‘Polly’ Norton, was actually her mother, in either an adoptive or biological sense. At any rate, Mary was clearly born at Churchill of an Aboriginal woman.

The Daughter of Moses

Samuel Hearne eulogized Mary Norton 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.[17] If so, he would have perpetuated the same paternalistic custom evident in Richard Norton’s, William Coats’, and Joseph Isbister’s marrying choices — and perhaps Moses’ as well — the custom of longstanding within seafaring circles of marrying a superior’s daughter.[18]

By whatever circumstances the match between Mary ‘Polly’ Norton and Samuel Hearne had come about, from Moses Norton’s vantage point, their marriage would have maintained his connection to seafarers — just as had been the case with his father’s, and his chief factor’s, personal networks. Indeed, through Hearne as subordinate and son-in-law, Mose Norton’s social network stood to preserve rather notable ties with the seafaring world.

The Son-In-Law of Moses

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.[19]

Hearne also maintained friendships with seafarers such as William Wales, whom he met at Churchill. After observing the transit of Venus, 1768–1769, at Prince of Wales’ Fort, while it was under Moses Norton’s command, 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.[20] Thus Moses perhaps came to have a double, if removed, connection to Cook: reputedly Norton’s former sailing partner William Christopher was a personal friend of Cook [but see Geoff King, “Were William Christopher and James Cooke friends?“].

The Death of Moses

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.”[21]

Posthumous Portraits of Moses

The story of Moses Norton took an unflattering turn after his death. Samuel Hearne apparently held an intense dislike for his father-in-law, expressed in an extended footnote in his Journey to a Northern Ocean.

Outwardly, on the basis of Hearne’s decidedly unsympathetic portrait, Moses Norton’s depiction in historiography is less than flattering. Having been dubbed a “notorious smuggler” by Hearne, historians seem to have been generally disposed to impugn Norton’s integrity.

It is worth keeping in mind, however, that engaging in private trade sets Moses Norton with, rather than apart from, contemporary HBC mariners who, on the whole, cooperated with each other to avoid detection by the London Committee while engaging in private activities — commercial and personal — that were at odds with Company policy.[22] From the perspective of HBC mariners then, ‘integrity’ might well have been judged according to a different measure.

While historian E.E. Rich’s history of the HBC praised Moses Norton for “uncommon energy and perception,” and J.B. Tyrrell, in editing Hearne’s text, described Moses as “a man of much more than ordinary intelligence and strength of character,” for the most part 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.[23]

“Moses Norton’s draught of the Northern Parts of Hudsons Bay Laid Down on Ind’n Inform’n & Brot Home By Him [facsimile]. Scale not given. In: John Warkentin and Richard I. Ruggles. Manitoba Historical Atlas : a Selection of Facsimile Maps, Plans, and Sketches from 1612 to 1969. Winnipeg: Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, 1760, p. 88. As reproduced by, Winnipeg: Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba,” (though the source apparently attributes the written script on the map to James Knight). Source: Manitoba Historical Maps,

Yet, Moses’ 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 who on arrival in the Bay proved inept – they were contracted an ocean away.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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. Sylvia 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.[28]

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.[29]

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 may well have been intended as a statement of heritage, rather than a xenophobic slight, as Hearne openly praises other individuals so designated.[30]

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.[31]

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.[32] 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.

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.[33] Nevertheless, Captain Middleton’s prior recommendation that Charles ‘the slave’ be trained to serve, along with the Company’s funding of Charles while apprenticing for both Middleton and Captain Spurrell, suggests that placing children native to Hudson Bay in maritime service was an accepted practice much earlier.

A formal statement of policy on employing children born in Rupert’s Land of Aboriginal mothers may only have come about when the volume of such hirings had reached levels that required the London Committee to clarify its position. Alternately, it is possible the policy was drafted to encourage officers stationed ashore to apply what was already a maritime practice.

George Stubbs, oil portrait, “The Moose,” 1770 — presumably a commission at least partly inspired by the animals shipped to England by Moses Norton in 1767.

An example of such responsive rather than pre-emptive ruling on the part of the Committee can be taken from Norton’s moose shipping incident of 1767. 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.”[34]

Van Kirk also points out that Moses’ will named Susannah Dupeer as his mother – her name suggesting European origin.[35] As numerous instances in the history of mariners with the Hudson’s Bay Company attest, however, having a European-derived name — ‘Charles’ for example — does not preclude an individual from being native to North America.

There is a possibility that Moses Norton has been unfairly maligned. There is also the possibility that his accomplishments and the relative normalcy of his behaviour — when compared to contemporaries in HBC service who had worked as mariners and who belonged to seafaring social networks — have been overlooked in favour of finding fault with his Aboriginality. The practice of ‘othering’ on the basis of imagined heritable difference has been a practice too common during a regrettable phase in Canadian history and historiography when ‘blood’ was assumed to determine fitness for appreciation or approbation by the nation and posterity.

As for arguments in favour of painting Moses ‘white’, I have to wonder why they are necessary. The fact remains that, to date, nothing is known for certain as to his parentage. He may well have been ‘Indian’ as Hearne asserted. Perhaps Moses was a foundling ‘discovered in the reeds’, perhaps an orphan of Cree parents, Dene parents, Inuit parents, or parents of some other Aboriginal heritage. Perhaps he was Richard Norton’s son by an Aboriginal woman whose father had been of French heritage and was known as Dupeer. There were French sailors and labourers in Hudson Bay from 1694-1714 with Jérémie after all. It is entirely reasonable to assume that some among them formed liaisons with women of the country and had offspring.

But, when it comes to telling stories about Moses, the list of ‘might have beens’ could be endless.

Regardless of the many unknowns surrounding people and events in his life, and regardless of his heritage, the existence of Moses Norton made a difference to the way Canadian history was made. For that reason he could not be entirely ignored within Canadian historiography, nor is he likely to be entirely forgotten. Ironically, Samuel Hearne’s cryptic comments have picqued curiosity and generated controversy enough to ensure that interest recovering the story of the ‘real’ Moses Norton will not soon fade.

[1] See Norma Hall, “Interpreting Identity: A Case Study of Semantic Paradox in Red River Historiography,” Parts I-V, in which I argue that identity is a word so loose in definition that more often than not, using it leaves an author open to misinterpretation. See also James D. Fearon, “What is Identity (As We Now Use the Word)?” unpublished paper, (3 November 1999) (accessed 1 April 2010), 10.


[2] Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay, to the Northern Ocean. Undertaken by Order of the Hudson’s Bay Company, for the Discovery of Copper Mines, the North West Passage &c. In the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, & 1772 (London: Printed for A. Strathan & T. Cadell, 1795), 62 n.1. The reprint, Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771, and 1772, edited by J. B. [Joseph Burr] Tyrrell (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1911) has the same footnote on page 107; the reprint edited by Richard Glover (Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada, 1972), has the same footnote on page 39.

[3] On the usual age of  apprentices, see Roland Pietsch, “Ships’ Boys and Youth Culture in Eighteenth-Century Britain: The Navy Recruits and the London Marine Society,” The Northen Mariner 14, no. 4 (October 2004): 11-24,; and Roland Pietsch, “Recruitment,” Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History online,; also Glover, “Introduction,” Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort, vii–viii; also Brown, Strangers in Blood, 25; and Sylvia Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties,” 10–11, who 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 other examples of child apprentices, Davies and Johnson, Letters from Hudson Bay, 3 n.1, 33, 63, 76 n.1.

[4] Sylvia Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography online, 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.

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; Christie Harding, “A Visit to Old Fort ‘Prince of Wales’ on the Bay,” The Beaver 1, no. 6 (March 1921): 8, describes Moses as “a full-blooded Indian”; Robert Watson, “A Company Indian,” The Beaver 11, no. 1 (June 1931): 220, is of the opinion that Moses “was not a full-blooded Indian”; Richard Glover, “Moses Norton (ca. late 1720s–1773)” Arctic 35, no. 3 (September 1982): 440, asserts that Moses’ mother was “a Cree woman”. Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB, avers “He was definitely not an Indian”; see also 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, for further examples of lack of consensus

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.” It is worth keeping in mind that 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; further, 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.”

[5]Arthur Dobbs quoted in J.B. Tyrell, “Editor’s Introduction,” A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay, to the Northern Ocean (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1911), 10, according to Tyrrell’s interpretation, Dobbs seems to be highlighting Richard Norton’s seafaring experience by referring to him as Captain Norton. As there were other Nortons who sailed for the HBC [see note immediately above], it is possible that Dobbs was conflating personages.

[6] See Johnson, “Norton, Richard,” DCB; Brown, Strangers in Blood, 25, 33; Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties,” 10–11. Also James Knight, letter, York Fort, 19 September 1714, Letters from Hudson Bay, 34–35.

[7] 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.

[8] 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. On discovering human remains see Stuart Houston, Tim Ball, and Mary Houston, Eighteenth-century naturalists of Hudson Bay Volume 34 of McGill-Queen’s Native and Northern series (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2003), 79,

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

[10] See Daniel Cox, Observations on the epidemic fever of the year 1741: To which are added several new cases, as examples of the benefit arising from the cool method, in the cure of this fever, in its several stages, The second edition corrected (London : printed for W. Meadows, and T. Cox; and R. Wellington, 1742).

[11] 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.

[12] 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. Spurrell was, however, not a stranger to disputes hingeing on the veracity of his statements as a captain, see “John Flanegan, Deception … forgery, 28th April 1743,” ref. no. t17420428-21, The Proceedings of the Old Baily, London’ Central Criminal Court, 1674 to 1913, 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.

[13] Houston, Ball, and Houston, Eighteenth Century Naturalists, 79.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, “Isbister, Joseph,” DCB. See also Geoff King, “Were William Christopher and James Cook friends?” Cook’s Log 31, no. 1 (2008): 6,

[14] See W. Gillies Ross, “Distribution, Migration, and Depletion of Bowhead Whales in Hudson Bay, 1860 to 1915,” Arctic and Alpine Research 6, no. 1 (Winter, 1974): 85.

[15] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[16] Heather Rollason Driscoll, “A Most Important Chain of Connection,” in From Rupert’s Land to Canada, ed. Gerhard J. Ens, Theodore Binnema, and R. C. Macleod (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001), 106, notes the reference: HBCA A.5/1, fo. 36, Letter to Moses Norton, 15 May 1760.

[17] 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 Mary ‘Polly’ Norton’s death.

[18] 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.” A.S. 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, 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.

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

[20] Ibid., xliixliii. See also Helen Sawyer Hogg, ” Out of Old Books-Wales’s Journal of a Voyage in 1768,” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, vol. 42, pp. 153-159.

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

[22] See Pannekoek, “‘Corruption’ at Moose,” 5-11.

[23] Tyrrell ed., Journey from Prince of Waless Fort, by Hearne, 18.

[24] 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): 4-11;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, in which 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, represented there as ‘Holden,’ was likely a Haldane, at least one of whom served as an officer of the NWC.

[25] 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 — perhaps confusing it with their map of 1765 — 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. 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, 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.”

[26] Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140. Norton may have been among the first, but was certainly not the last, to send live animals to Britain from Hudson Bay. Andrew Graham, Observations on Hudson’s Bay, 17, reported that a live moose arrived at London as a gift from Norton to the King in 1767. The animal was a female calf that was subsequently shipped to Richmond — another, a male calf, had died on the ship to England. See Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne, vol. 1, 134; and William Gilpin, Remarks of Forest Scenery, who mention a female moose, tended by the Duke of Richmond, that died the day before Christmas in 1768. George Kenneth Whitehead, The Deer of Great Britain and Ireland, 445, likewise notes a moose went to the 3d Duke of Richmond, at Goodwood. There is potential for confusion about when exactly moose first arrived in England and who received them as gifts, perhaps because several shipments arrived so close together. The Tate Museum, is discussing George Stubb’s painting, in exhibit notes opines, “This painting records the arrival of a bull-moose, a creature brought to England for the first time in 1770, sent as a present to the Duke of Richmond from the Governer-General of Canada. Richmond was interested in breeding the animals domestically. The painting was commissioned by the surgeon and anatomist William Hunter. He probably intended to use the picture as an illustration to a lecture. The large antlers at the bottom left are those of the ‘Irish elk’, an extinct European species which Hunter wanted to compare with the Canadian beast.” Rosemary Baird, Goodwood, Art and Architecture, states that the first moose owned by Richmond (who was the Duke of Quebec) had been a gift from the Governor stationed there in 1766, and that a second  was “acquired” in 1767. Both died. But a different moose, owned by King George III, apparently survived long enough to be given to George Walpole, and by him to Anne, the Countess of Upper Ossory, at Bedfordshire. Moose, at the time were of interest, in scientific circles of the day in Great Britain. There was nothing outrageous about Moses sending them.

[27] 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.

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

[29] 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).

[30] But see Christoph Schubert, “Discourses of Contrast and Deficiency: a Lexicogrammatical Analysis of first Nations Representation in Samuel Hearne’s Journey (1795),” Revue LISA/LISA e-journal 3, no. 2, Views of Canadian Cutures (2005): 29, whose linguistic analysis of the text leads to the conclusion: “Although in some places the text exhibits respect for the First Nations, especially for Matonabbee, the overall attitude of the narrator towards the Natives is of a generalizing and unfavourable kind. Hence, the dissociation from and debasement of the First Nations by means of the discursive strategies employed in Hearne’s Journey serve as a confirmation of European self-confidence. In contrast to the Natives’ alleged deficiencies, the European way of life appears abundant in material, cultural, and ethical respects. Ultimately, the discourses do not only corroborate European preconceptions about Native Canadians, but also provide a justification for European colonization and imperialism.”

[31] 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.”

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

[33] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.

[34] Glover, “Moses Norton,” 140.

[35] Van Kirk, “Norton, Moses,” DCB.


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