Prince Attash (1675)

Wenceslaus Hollar, etching, Seventeenth-century English ship, printed in J.J. Ussher, Annales (London, 1654). Source: “What role did the Isle of Wight play in the early colonisation of America in the 17th century?”

The first recorded transatlantic voyage from Hudson Bay to England entered into by Aboriginal individuals occurred in 1675, under arrangements negotiated with sailing governor Charles Bayly as early as 1673.

The reference base is not clear on the identities of, or stories about, the two men who embarked for the voyage. Only one name, ‘Prince Attash,’ attached to the individual aboard the Prince Rupert[I] with Captain Zachary Gillam (originally of Boston), remains. The anonymous man aboard the Shaftesbury (a.k.a. Messenger), which was under the command of Captain Thomas Shepard/Shepherd, died before reaching England.[1]

Historian E.E. Rich, observed, “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.” For his part, historian Arthur S. Morton assumed the man known as Attash in London was identical to the man named Attash of Rupert River who had made Bayly’s acquaintance in 1670.[2]

“Detail of painting from 1666 of the Great Fire of London by an unknown painter, depicting the fire as it would have appeared on the evening of Tuesday, 4 September from a boat in the vicinity of Tower Wharf. The Tower of London is on the right and London Bridge on the left, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance, surrounded by the tallest flames.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On arriving in England’s waters, the two HBC ships put into the harbour at Deal in Kent — the Shaftesbury arriving 24 September; the Prince Rupert the following day.[3] Details of Attash’s stay in England are sparse. The city of London had experienced a serious and depopulating plague  a decade earlier, and his arrival was also post the ‘Great Fire of London‘ of 1666. Presumably any tour of that city would have shown some remnants of devastation  in evidence along with the newness associated with rebuilding.

[Digital Urban,, has made it possible for you to download the kml file to fly into the 1666 map overlay in Google Earth here, and the 1690 kmz file here. Read more: and]

Sir John Kirke apparently oversaw Attash’s visit “most of the time,” although he also resided with “Captain Tatnum, a servant of the Company.” Possibly, this was James Tatnam/Tatneham (assuming the spellings apply to the same individual), who had served as a sailor abroad the Nonsuch in 1668 and was promoted to Master on later Company voyages.[4] Attash also appears to have spent a fair amount of time  in the company of another HBC seafarer/governor, John Abraham.[5]

The expense of the visit, including the furnishing of an attendant and new clothes for Attash,  amounted to “₤86, 18s. 11d,” and was borne by the HBC.[6] Described by “one of Joseph Williamson‘s news agents” as “a very Losty man,” [sic: lusty] Attash survived his adventure, returning to Hudson Bay on the outward voyage in the spring of 1676.[7]

Source: William H. Ukers, All About Coffee, Project Gutenburg eBook no. 28500 (4 April 2009), p. 60,

If the appellation ‘Prince’ indicates Attash was not taken to Europe as a slave, it also indicates the London Committee did not accord him a social or political station higher than that of Company governor, Prince Rupert. Historian Grace Lee Nute reported the two princes met, noting Attash “was given to Prince Rupert.” HBC records do not specify in what rounds of amusement Attash might have participated. His account does show that along with John Kirke, Captain Tatnum, and the Captain’s wife, others were reimbursed for expending money on him, including “Monsr. Radison” [sic: Radisson, John Kirke’s son-in-law] and Captain Gillam.[8] Perhaps some one among them had taken Attash to see Lord George Berkeley’s “Strange and Wonderful Elephant,” advertised as on exhibit “at the White Horse Inn over against Salisbury Court in Fleet Street, at which place there is provided accommodation for the Nobility, Gentry and Commonalty for that purpose.”[9]

The ledger listing Attash’s account does not contain entries that suggest he was exhibited as a curiosity. Historian E.E. Rich opined “No doubt he was brought over, as other chiefs were brought before and after his time, in order that, being suitably impressed, he might become a useful intermediary with his people.”[10] Attash’s own perceptions of his purpose and impressions of his overseas visit are unknown.

Prince Rupert, portrait dated 1670. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

That the Company went to the expense of sailing Attash to England indicates that engaging people adept at circumventing language barriers, interpreting behaviours, and enhancing cross-cultural communication for the purpose of forwarding trade was an early consideration and not restricted to encounters ashore. If the historical context of the fur trade is to be fully understood, then there is a seaborne component to take into account.

Additional resources:

Natural Resources Canada, “Familiarization with Inadequately Known Areas in Hudson Bay and James Bay 1668 to 1689,” The Atlas of Canada, with notes on 17th century voyages in Hudson Bay and link to illustrative map.

View of the Rupert River. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

An idea of the sort of London, and stories about the city’s recent past, that Attash would have been introduced to:

“Great Fire audio tour introduction,” posted to You Tube by museumoflondon 29 March 2010.

“Great Fire audio tour stop 1,” posted to You Tube by museumoflondon 29 March 2010.

Links to continuation of video tour, “Great Fire audio tour,” stops 2 – 8:









[1] E.E. Rich, with A.M. Johnson, Copy-book of letters outward &c.: begins 29th May, 1680 ends 5 July 1687 (Toronto : Champlain Society, 1948), 352, cites as a record of the death, London, the Public Record Office, S.P. Dom., Charles II, 373/174.

[2] E.E. Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company 16791684, First Part, 1679–82 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1945), xviii, n.1, and n. 2. 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.

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

[4] Morton, History of the Canadian West, 79; Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, First Part, 10, 31,  34, 116, 341, 374; and Scott P. Stephen, “Masters and Servants: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Its Personnel, 1668-1782,” Ph.D. dissertation (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2006).

[5]Rich, with Johnson, Copy-book of letters outward, 370.

[6] Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, First Part, xviii n.3, 310. Nute, Caesars of the Wilderness, 152.

[7] Nute, Caesars of the Wilderness , 152. George R. Hamell, “Mohawks Abroad: The 1764 Amsterdam Etching of Synchenecta,” in Indians and Europe: an interdisciplinary collection of essays, ed. Christian F. Feest (U of Nebraska Press, 1999), 184, notes that not until 1765 did the British House of Lords pass two resolutions disseminated by the Lords of Trade about bringing Aboriginal people from North America to England: first, “the bringing from America of any of the Indians … without proper authority … may be of dangerous consequence … in the colonies”; second, “That 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,” 383–402, in Indians and Europe, indicate the directives did not put an end to the arrival of ‘Indians’ or exhibitions of ‘exotic others,’ but presumably those on display had a greater sense of what they were doing and some determination of how things were done.

[8] Nute, Caesars of the Wilderness , 152. Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, First Part, 310.

[9] the City Mercury’s edition of November 2, quoted in “The Strange and Wonderful Elephant,” Mercurius Politicus (5 November 2008),

[10] Rich, Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, First Part, xviii n.3, 310.


One Response to Prince Attash (1675)

  1. Pingback: Sheppards of Harbour Grace District & misc records | Newfoundland Family Histories

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