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The conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 online

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giddy course, that danced the Stuart's oflF the throne.
Mr. Young was a man of fashion as well as a mer-
chant, so famous for amateur acting that he often
took the place of the court actors at a moment's
notice.

These were Radisson's associates, the French-
man's friends when he came to London fresh from
the wilderness in his thirtieth year with the explora-

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What Became of Radisson?



tion of the North and the West to his credit. None
knew better than he, the money value of his dis-
coveries. And Radisson knew the way to this land.
By the lifting of his hand, he CQuld turn this wealth
into the coffers of the court adventurers. If the fur
trade was a gamble — ^and everything on earth was
gamble in the reign of Charles — Radisson held the
winning cards. The gamesters of that gambling age
gathered round him like rooks round a pigeon, to
pick his pockets — ^politely and according to the codes
of good breeding, of course — and to pump his brain
of every secret, that could be turned into pounds
sterling — ^politely, also, of course. Very generous,
very pleasant, very suave of fair promises were the
gay adventurers, but withal slippery as the finery of
their silk ruffles or powdered periwigs.

Did Radisson keep his head? Steadier heads
have gone giddy with the sudden plunge from wil-
derness ways to court pomp. Sir James Hayes,
Prince Rupert's secretary, declares in a private docu-
ment that the French explorer at this time ^^dduded
the daughter of Sir John Kirke into secretly marry-
ing him," so tliat Radisson may have been caught in
the madcap doings of the court dissipations when
no rake's progress was complete unless he persuaded
some errant damsel to jump over the back wall and
elope, though there was probably no hmdrance in

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the world to ordinary lovers walking openly out of
the front door and being married properly. The
fact that Radisson was a penniless adventurer and a
Catholic, while his bride was the daughter of a rich
Puritan, may have been the explanation of the
secrecy, if indeed, there is any truth at all in the
rumor repeated by Hayes.

For seven years after he came to London, the love
of wilderness places, of strange new lands, clung to
Radisson. He spent the summers on Hudson Bay
for the Company, opening new forts, cruising up the
unknown coasts, bartering with new tribes of Indians,
and while not acting as governor of any fur post,
seems to have been a sort of general superintendent,
to keep check on the Company's oflScers and prevent
fraud, for when the cargoes arrived at Portsmouth,
orders were given for the Captains not to stir with-
out convoy to come to the Thames, but for ^^Mr. Rad-
isson to take horse^^ and ride to London with the secret
reports. During the winters in London, Sir John
Robinson of the Tower and Radisson attended to
the sales of the beaver, bought the goods for the next
year's ships, examined the cannon that were to man
the forts on the bay and attended to the general bus-
iness of the Company. Merchants, who were share-
holders, advanced goods for the yearly outfit. Other
shareholders, who owned ships, loaned or gave ves-

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sels for the voyage. Wages were paid as money came
in from the beaver sales. So far, Radisson and his
associates were share and share alike, all la)dng the
foundations of a future prosperity. Radisson and
his brother-in-law drew from the beaver sales during
these seven years (1667-1673) £287, about $2,odo
each for living expenses.

But now came a change. The Company's ships
were bought and pdd for, the Company's forts built
and equipped — all from the sales of the cargoes
brought home under Radisson's superintendence.
Now that profits were to be paid, what share was
his? The King had given him a gold chain and
medal for his services, but to him the Company owed
its existence. What was his share to be? In a word,
was he to be one of the Adventurers or an outsider?
Radisson had asked the Adventurers for an agree-
ment. Agreement ? A year passed, Radisson hung
on, living from hand to mouth in Tendon, re-
ceiving £10 one month, £2 the next, an average of
$5 a week, compelled to supplicate the Company
for every penny he needed — a very excellent arrange-
ment for the Gentlemen Adventurers. It compelled
Radisson to go to them for favors, instead of their
going to Radisson; though from Radisson's point
of view, the boot may have seemed to be on the
wrong leg. Finally, as told in a preceding chapter

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the committee met and voted him "£ioo per ann.
from the time of his arrival in London, and if it shaU
please God to bless this company with good succesSj
they wiU then resume the consideration of Mr. Radr
issonJ^ One hundred poimds was just half of one
per cent, of the yearly cargoes. It was the salary
of the captains and petty governors on the bay.

Radisson probably had his own opinion of a con-
tract that was to depend more on the will of Heaven
than on the legal bond of his partners. He quit
England in disgust for the French navy. Then
came the raids on Nelson, the order of the French
Court to return to England and his resumption of
service with the Hudson's Bay Company up to the
time Iberville drove the English from the bay and
French traders were not wanted in the English
service.

For changing his flag the last time, such abuse was
heaped on Radisson that the Hudson's Bay Company
was finally constrained to protest: ^^that the said
Radisson doth not deserve those ill names the French
give him. If the English doe not give him all his
Due, he may rely on the justice of his cause.^^

Indeed, the English company might date the be-
ginning of the French raids that harried their forts
for a hundred years from Radisson's first raid at
Port Nelson; but they did not foresee this.

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The man was as irrepressible as a disturbed
hornets' nest — break up his plans, and it only seemed
to scatter them with wider mischief. How the
French Court ordered Radisson back to England
has already been told. He was the scapegoat for
court intrigue. Nothing now was too good for
Radisson — ^with the English. The Adventurers pre-
sented him with a purse ^^for his extraordinary ser-
vices to their great liking and satisfaction.^^ A dealer
is ordered "to keep Mr. Radisson in stock of fresh pro-
visionSy^ and the Company desires ^'that Mr. Rad-
isson shaU have a hogshead of claref^ presumably
to drown his memory of the former treatment. My
Lord Preston is given a present of furs for pursuad-
ing Radisson to return. So is "Esquire Young,"
the gay merchant of Comhill, who was Radisson's
best friend in England, and Sir James Hayes, who
had been so furious against him only a few months
before, begs Monsieur to accept that silver tankard
as a token of esteem from the Adventurers (£io 4s,
I found it cost by the account books.)

Only one doubt seemed to linger in the minds of
the Company. In spite of King I^uis' edict for-
bidding French interlopers on Hudson's Bay, secret
instructions of an opposite tenor were directing
Iberville's raiders overland. If Radisson was to
act as superintendent on the bay, chief counciUor

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at Port Nelson, the Company must have bonds as
well as oath for his fidelity, and so the entry in the
minute books of 1685 records: "i4/ this committee,
Mans. Pierre Radissan signed and sealed the cove-
nants with the company y and signed a bond of ;£2,ooo
to perform covenants with the company, dated 1 1 May.
. . . Dwelling at the end of Seething Lane in
Tower Street:'

I think it was less than ten minutes from the time
I found that entry when I was over in Seething Lane.
It is m a part of old London untouched by the Great
Fire running up from the famous road to the Tower,
in length not greater than between Fifth and Sixth
Avenues, New York. Opening off Great Tower
Street, it ends at Crutched Friars. At the foot of
the lane is the old church of All Hallows Barking,
whose dial only was burned by the fire; at the top,
the little antiquated church of St. Olave Hart's,
whose motley architecture with leaning walls dates
from the days of the Normans. If Radisson lived
"a/ the end of Seething Lane,'' his house must have
been just opposite St. Olave Hart's, for the quaint
church with its graveyard occupies the entire left
comer. In this lane dwelt the merchant princes of
London. Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Navy,
who thought his own style of living "mighty fine"
— ^as he describes it — ^preening and pluming himself

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on the beautiful panels he had placed in his man-
sion, must have been a near neighbor of Radisson's;
for in the diarist's description of the fire, he speaks
of it coming to Barking Church "at the bottom of
our lane." But a stone's throw away is the Tower,
in those days commanded by Radisson's friend, Sir
John Robinson. The Kirkes, the Colletons, Griffith
the dandy of the balls, Sir Robert Viner, the rich
Lord-Mayor; Esquire Young of Comhill — all had
dwellings within a few minutes' walk of Seething
Lane.

The whereabouts of Radisson in London explain
how the journals of his first four voyages were lost
for exactly two hundred years and then found in the
Pepys Collection of the Bodleian Library. He had
given them either directly or through the mutual
friend Carterett, to his neighbor Pepys, who was a
keen collector of all matter appertaining to the navy,
and after being lost for years, the Pepys Collection
only passed to the Bodleian in recent days.

The place where Radisson lived shows, too, that
he was no backstairs sycophant hanging on the favor
of the great, no beggarly renegade hungry for the
crumbs that fell from the tables of those merchant
princes. It proves Radisson a front-door acquaint-
ance of the Gentlemen Adventurers. Sir Christo-
pher Wren, the famous architect who was a share-

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holder in the Hudson's Bay Company at this time,
thought himself well paid at ;^2oo a year for super-
intending the building of St. Paul's. Radisson's
agreement on returning to the Adventurers from
France, was for a salary of £50 a year, paid quar-
terly, £50 paid yearly and dividends — ^running as
high as 50 per cent. — on £200 of stock — making in
all, practically the same income as a man of Wren's
standing.

Second-rate warehouses and dingy business oflSces
have replaced the mansions of the great merchants
on Seething Lane, but the two old churches stand
the same as in the days of Radisson, with the massive
weather-stained stone work uncouth, as if built by
the Saxons, inner pillars and pointed arches showing
the work of the Normans. Both have an antique
flavor as of old wine. The Past seems to reach for-
ward and touch you tangibly from the moldering
brass plates on the walls, and the flagstone of the
aisles so very old the chiseled names of the dead
below are peeling off like paper. The great mer-
chant princes — the Colletons, the Kirkes, the Rob-
insons, Radisson's friends — lie in effigy around the
church above their graves. It was to St. Olave's
across the way, Pepys used to come to hear Hawkins,
the great Oxford scholar, also one of the Adventurers
— ^preach; and a tablet tells where the body of Pepys'

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gay wife lies. From the walls, a memorial tablet to
Pepys, himself, smiles down in beplumed hat and
curled periwig and velvet cloak, perhaps that very
cloak made in imitation of the One worn in Hyde
Park by the King and of which he was — as he writes
— "so mighty proud." The roar of a world's traflSc
beats against the tranquil walls of the little church;
but where sleeps Radisson, the Catholic and alien,
in this Babylon of hurrying feet? His friends and
his neighbors lie here, but the gravestones give no
clue of him. Pepys, the annalist of the age, with his
gossip of court and his fair wife and his fine clothes —
thought Radisson's voyages interesting enough as a
curio but never seems to have dreamed that the
countries Radisson discovered would become a
dominant factor in the world's progress when that
royal house on whose breath Pepys hung for favor
as for life, lay rotting in a shameful oblivion. If the
dead could dream where they lie forgotten, could
Radisson ^believe his own dream — that the seas of
the world are freighted with the wealth of the coun-
tries he discovered; that ^^the country so pleasant y
so heautijtd . . . so fruitful . . . so plen-
tiful of all things^^ — as he described the Great North-
west when he first saw it — is now peopled by a race
that all the nations of Europe woo; that the hope of
the empire, which ignored him when he lived, is now

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centered on "that fair and fruitful and pleasant
land" which he discovered?

For ten years Radisson continued to go to the bay,
Esquire Young acting as his attorney to draw the
allowance of ;£ioo a year and the dividends on ;^2oo
stock for Radisson's wife, Mary Kirke. The min-
utes contain accounts of wine presented to Mr. Rad-
isson, of furs sent home as a gift to Mistress Radisson,
of heavy guns bought for the forts on the advice of
Mr. Radisson, of a fancy pistol delivered to Monsieur
Radisson. Then a change fell.

The Stuarts between vice and folly had danced
themselves off the throne. The courtiers, who were
Adventurers, scattered like straws before the wind.
The names of the shareholders changed. Of Rad-
isson's old friends, only Esquire Young remained.
Besides, Iberville was now campaignmg on the
bay, sweeping the English as dust before a broom.
Dividends stopped. The Company became embar-
rassed. By motion of the shareholders, Radisson's
pension was cut from j^ioo to £50 a year. In vain
Esquire Young and Churchill, the Duke of Marl-
borough, now governor of the Company, urged Rad-
isson's claims. The new shareholders did not know
his name.

These were dark days for the old pathfinder. He
must have been compelled to move from Seething

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What Became of Radisson?



Lane, for a petition describes him as in the Parish of
St. James "in a low and mean condition" in great
want and mental distress lest his family should be
driven to the poorhouse. It was at this period three
papers were put on file that forever place beyond
dispute the main facts of his life. He filed a suit
in Chancery against the Company for a resumption
of his full salary pending the discontinuance of divi-
dends. He petitioned Parliament to make the con-
tinuance of the Company's charter dependent on
recognition of his rights as having laid the founda-
tions of the Company. And he took an oath regard-
ing the main episodes of his life to be used in the
treaty of peace with France. A fighter he was to
the end, tiiough haunted by that terrible Fear of
Want which imdermined his courage as no Phantom
Fright ever shook him in the wilderness. No doubt
he felt himself growing old, nearly seventy now with
four children to support and naught between them
and destitution but the paltry payment of ;£i2 ids a
quarter.

Again the wheel of fortune turned. Radisson
won his suit against the Company. His income of
£ioo was resumed arid arrears of ;)£i5o paid. Also,
in the treaty pending with France, his evidence was
absolutely requisite to establish what the boundaries
ought tabe between Canada and Hudson Bay; so the

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Adventurers became suddenly very courteous, very
suave, very considerate of the old man they had
kept standing outside their office door; and the com-
mittee of August 17, 1697, bade ^^the secretary take
coach and fetch Mr. Radisson who may be very useful
at this time as to affairs between the French and the
Company.^^ The old war horse was once more in
harness. In addition to his salary, gratuities of £10
and £S and £20 "for reliable services" are found
in the minutes. Regularly his £50 were paid to him
at the end of each year. Regularly, the ;£i2 los
were paid each quarter to March 29, 17 10. When
the next quarter came round, this entry is recorded
in the minute book:



"Ait A Comitte the 12/A July 171
"The Sec is ordered to pay Mr. Radisson^ s widow as
charity the sum of six pounds.^^

Between the end of March and the beginning of
July, the old pathfinder had set forth on his last
voyage.

But I think the saddest record of all is the one
that comes nineteen years later:

"24 Sept. 1729 Att A Comitte —
" The Sec. is ordered to pay Mrs. Radisson^ widow of Mr.
Peter Esprit Radisson^ who was formerly employed in the
company s service^ the sum of i^io as charity, she being
very ill and in very great want, the said sum to be paid
her at such times as the Sec. shall think most convenient.^^

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Whai Became of Radissonf



This was the widow of the man who had explored
the West to the Mississippi; who had explored the
North to Nelson River; who had twice saved New
France from bankruptcy by the furs he brought from
the wilderness, and who had laid the foundations of
the most prosperous chartered company the world
has ever known.



Notes on Chapter XIV. — It need scarcely be explained that
the data for this chapter are all drawn from thousands of sheets
of scattered records in Hudson's Bay House, London. Within
the limits of this book, it is quite mipossible to quote all the
references of this chapter. Details of Radisson's early life are
to be found in * 'Pathfinders of the West. ' ' One of Radisson's peti-
tions has been given in a former chapter. Another of his pe-
titions runs as fellows :

•*Copy of Peter Esprit Radisson's peticon to ye Parleamt.
presented ye nth of March 1697-8.

•*To ye Hon'ble the Knights Citizens & Burgesses in Parli-
ament Assembled

•*The Humble Peticon of Peter Esprit Radisson Humbly
sheweth

**That your petitioner is a native of France, who with a
brother of his (smce deceased) spent many years of their youths
among the Indians in and about Hudson's Bay, by reason
whereof they became absolute masters of the trade and lan-
guage of the said Indians in those parts of America

•*That about the year 1666 King Charles the Second sent
yr. Pet'r and his said brother with two ships on purpose to
settle English colonies & factories on the sd. Day, wh. they
effected soe well by the said King's satisfaction tnat he gave
each of them a gold chain & medell as a marke of his Royale
favour & reconmiended them to the Comp'y of Adventurers of
England Trading imto Hudson's Bay to be well gratified and
rewarded by them for their services aforesaid.

"That smce the death of yr. Petr. Brother, the sd. compy
have settled on your Petr: six actions in the joint stock of ye
sd. compy and one hundred pounds per annum during yr. Petr:
life

"That your Petr is now 62 years of age (being grown old in
the compys service) & hath not reed any Benefits of the sd. six

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shares in the compys stock for more than 7 years last past &
hath had nothing but the sd. 100 pds. Per annum to maintain
himself e and four small children all Dome in England

**That during the late Reign a Price was set upon your Petr
head by the French & several attempts were made upon him
to assassinate him & that for none other reasons but for quittting
his owne country & serving the compy.

"That your Fetr: dares not return to his Native country for
the reasons aforesaid : & seeing all his subsistance depends on the
sd. compy & is shortljr to Determine with the life of your Petr
and his four smalle children must consequently fall to be main-
tained by the Alms of the Parish alt ho* the company hath had
many thousand pounds effects by his procurement & some that
he conceives he had himselfe a good tytle to

" Your Petr therefore most humbly prays that this House will
comiserate the condition of jrr. Petr said children, and whereas
he hath now the said six actions 8c £100 only for his life, that
you will Vouchsafe to direct a provisoe in the Bill depending to
grant the sd. annuity to be paid quarterly & the dividends of
the sd. Actions as often as any shall become due to your Petr:
his Heirs for Ever during the joint stock of the said compy

"And yr. Petr shall forever pray

"Peter Esprit Radisson.**

The occasion of this petition by Radisson was when the
Stuarts had lost the throne and the Company was petitioning
for a confirmation of its royal charter by an act of Parliament.
"The many thousand pounds which he conceived himself to
have a title to," refers to 1684, when the French Court com-
pelled him to turn over all the £20,000 in his fort at Nelson to
the English. That beaver had been procured in the trade of
goods for which Radisson and Groseillers and young Chouart
and La Fdrest and De la Chesnay and Dame Sorrell had ad-
vanced the money. As- a matter of fact, the Company never
gave Radisson any stock. They simply granted him tne right
to dividends on a small amount of stock — a wrong which he was
powerless to right as he dared not return to France. It was
during Iberville's raids that the Company stopped paying
Radisson dividends or salary, when he filed a suit against tnem
in Chancery and won it. It is quite true the Company was un-
able to pay him at this time, but then they had their own nig-
l^ardly policy to thank for having driven him across to France
in the first place.

When the Company presented a bill of damages against
France for the raids, Radisson 's evidence was necessary to prove
that the French King gave up all claims to the bay when he
ordered Radisson back to England, so the old man was no

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longer kept cooling his heels in the outer halls of the Company's
Council Room. The bill of damages was made up as follows:
1682 — Port Nelson taken with Gov. Bridgar
& Zechariah Gillam & 5 men per-
ished £ 35,000

1684 — damage to trade at Nelson 10,000

1685 — Per^uana taken with 14 seamen 5,000

loss of life and wages 1.255

1686 — ^forts captured at the bottom of the bay 50,000

loss in trade. 10,000

1 588 — loss of Churchill Captain Bond 15,000

Young — Stimson

cargo to Canada 70,000

1692 — forts lost 20,000

£206.255

The French King had said, "You may rely on me getting
out of this affair," and the bill of damages, however absurdly
exaggerated, was never paid. The French raiders proved an
expensive experiment.

Radisson 's other affidavit was made to prove that the French
had quitted all pretensions to the bav when he was ordered
back to Nelson. The French responded by denying that he
had ever been ordered back to Nelson and by calling him "a
liar," **a renegade," "a turn coat." To tnis, the English
answered in formal memorial: *'The Mr. Radisson mentioned
in this paper doth not deserve the ill names heaped upon him,"
following up with the proof that the French had sent him back
to England.

The real reason that the Company were so remiss to Radisson
in his latter days was their own desperate straits. Besides,
the old shareholders of the Stuart days had scattered like the
wind. Radisson was unknown to the new men, so completely
unknown that in one committee order his wife is spoken of as
Madam Gwodet (Godey) instead of Mary Kirke. >row Madam
Godey was the damsel whom Lord Preston offered to Radisson
in marriage (with a dowry) despite the fact that he already
had a wife — if he would go back from Paris to London. De la
Potherie tells the story and adds that Radisson married her —
another of the numerous fictions about the explorer. This
mass of notes may give the impression that I am a protagonist
of Radisson. My answer is that he badly needs one, when such
staunch modem defenders of his as Drs. Bryce, and Dionne,
and Judge Prudhomme refuse to excuse him tor his last deser-
tion of the French flag. In that case, Radisson was as much a
victim of official red tape as Dreyfus in modem days.

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Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 16 of 50)