Agnes Christina Laut.

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

. (page 19 of 50)
Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 19 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


chanting the death song of the winding sheet, and
the scream of the hungry were-wolf borne to their ears
in the storm — can better be imagined than described.

311



Digitized by



Google



The Conqicest of the Great Northwest

Why did not they try to escape? Possibly, because
they were weakened by famine and scurvy. Surely
Bering's Russians managed better when storm cast
them on a barren island while they were searching
this same mythical passage. They drifted home on
the wreckage. Why could not these men have tried
to escape in the same way? In the first place, they
did not know they were only twelve miles from the
main coast. Cast on Marble Island in the storm
and the dark, they had no idea where they were,
except that it was in the North and in a harbor
facing east. Of the two last survivors, one seemed
to be the armorer, or else that surgeon who was to
receive £50 for the extraordinary dangers of this
voyage, for he was constantly working with metal
instruments to rivet the planks of his raft to-
gether. But he was destined to perish as his com-
rades. When his companion died, the man tried to
scoop out a grave in the sand. It was too much for
his strength. He fell as he toiled over the grave and
died among the Eskimo tents. So perished Captain
Kjiight and his treasure-seekers, including the veteran
Bailey — as Hudson had perished before them — taken
as toll of man's progress by the insatiable sea. Not
a secret has been wrested from the Unknown, not a
milepost won for civilization from savagery, but some
life has paid for the secret to go down in despair

312



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Old Captain Knight Beset by Gold Fever

and defeat; but some bleaching skeleton of a name-
less failure marks where the mile forward was won.
The lintel of every doorway to advancement is ever
marked with some blood sacrifice.

Whalers in 1726, saw the cannon and anchors
lying at the bottom of the harbor, also casks with iron
hoops — ^that were to bring back the gold dust.
Heame, in 1769, could count where the graves had
been scraped up by the wolves, and he gathered up
the skeletons along the beach to bury them in a com-
mon grave. Latterly, oddly enough, that island was
the rendezvous of Northern whalers — ^where they
came from the far North to bury their dead and set
up crosses for those who lie in the sea without a
grave. It was known as Dead Man's Island*

After giving an account of three wrecks in four
years, I hope it may not seem inconsistent to say that
I believe the next century will see a Hudson's Bay
route to Europe. What — ^you say — after telling of
three wrecks in four years? Yes — what Atlantic port
does not have six wrecks in ten years? New York
and Montreal have more. If the Hudson's Bay
route is not fit for navigation, the country must make
it fit for navigation. Of telegraphs, shelters, light-
houses, there is not now one. Canals have been dug
for less cause than the Upper Narrows of Hudson

313



Digitized by



Google



The Conquest of the Great Northwest

Straits. If Peter the Great had waited till St. Peters-
burg was a fit site for a city, there would have been
no St. Petersburg. He made it fit. The same
problem confronts northwest America to-day. It is
absurd that a population of millions has no seaport
nearer than two thousand miles. Churchill or York
would be seaports in the middle of the continent.
Of course, there would be wrecks and difficulties.
The wrecks are part of the toU we pay for harnessing
the sea. The difficulties are what make nations great.
One day was the delay allowed the fur ships for the
straits. Who has not waited longer than one day
to enter New York harbor or Montreal?

Meanwhile, moneybags at home were counting
their shekels. A wild craze of speculation was sweep-
ing over England. It was a fever of getting-some-
thing-for-nothing, floating wild schemes of paper
capital to be sold to the public for pounds, shillings
and pence. In modem language it would be called
"wild-catting." The staid "old Worthies"— as the
Adventurers were contemptuously designated — ^were
caught by the craze. It was decided on August 19,
1720, to increase the capital of the Company from
;£3i,5oo to £378,000 to be paid for in subscriptions
of 10 per cent, installments. Before the scheme had
matured, the bubble of speculation had collapsed.

314



Digitized by



Google



Old Captain Knight Beset by Gold Fever

Money could neither be borrowed nor begged. The
plan to enlarge the stock was dropped as it stood —
with subscriptions to the amount of £103,950 paid
in — ^which practically meant that the former capital
of ;foi,Soo had been trebled and an additional 10
per cent, levied.

On this twice-trebled capital of £103,950, divi-
dends of 5 per cent, were paid in 1721 ; of 8 per cent,
in 1722; of 12 per cent, in 1723 and '24; of 10 per
cent, from 1725 to 1737, when the dividends fell to
8 per cent, and went up again to 10 per cent, in 1739.
From 1723, instead of leaving the money idle in the
strong box, it was invested by the Company in bonds
that bore interest till their ships came home. From
1735, the Bank of England regularly advanced money
for the Company's operations. Sir Bibye Lake was
governor from the time he received such good terms
in the French treaty. The governor's salary is now
£200, the deputy's £150, the committeemen £100
each.

It was in February, 1724, that a warehouse was
leased in Lime Street at £12 a year, the present
home of the Company.

In four years, the Company had lost four vessels.
These were replaced by four bigger frigates, and
there come into the service the names of captains
famous on Hudson Bay — Belcher, and Gk)ston, and

315



Digitized by



Google



The Conquest of the Greai Northwest

Spurell, and Kennedy, and Christopher Middleton,
and Coates, and Isbister, with officers of the names of
Inkster, and Kipling, and Maclish, and MacKenzie,
and Gunn, and Clement. Twice in ten years, Cap-
tain Coates is wrecked in the straits, on the 26th of
June, 1727, outward bound with all cargo and again
on the frigate Hudson^ s Bay in 1736, when '^we
sank,^^ relates Coates, ^^less than ten minutes after
we were caught by the iceJ^

From being an apprentice boy traveling inland
to the Indians, Richard Norton has become governor
of Churchill, with an Indian wife and half-Indian
sons sent to England for education. Norton receives
orders, in 1736, once more to explore Chesterfield
Inlet where Elnight had perished. Napper on The
Churchill J sloop, and Robert Crow on The Musquash
carry him up in the summer of 1737. Napper dies
of natural causes on the voyage, but Chesterfield
Inlet is found to be a closed arm of the sea, not a
passage to the Pacific; and widow Napper is votqd
fifty guineas from theCompany. Kelsey dies in 1729,
and widow Kelsey, too, is voted a bounty of ten
guineas, her boy to be taken as apprentice.

In 1736, Captain Middleton draws plans for the
building of a fine new post at Moose and of a stone
fort at Eskimo Point, Churchill, which shall be the
strongest fort in America. The walls are to be six-

316



Digitized by



Google



Old Captain Knight Beset by Gold Fever

teen feet high of solid stone with a depth of twenty-
four feet solid masonry at base. On the point op-
posite Eskimo Cape, at Cape Merry, named after
the deputy governor, are to be blockhouses ten feet
high with six great guns mounted where watch is to be
kept night and day.

Moose will send up the supply of timber for
Churchill, and the Company sends from London
sixty-eight builders, among whom is one Joseph
Robson, at £25 a year, who afterward writes furious
attacks on the Company. Barely is Moose com-
pleted when it is burned to the ground, through the
carelessness of the cook spilling coals from his bake
oven.

Two things, perhaps, stirred the Company up to
this unwonted activity. Spies were coming overland
from St. Lawrence — French explorers working their
way westward, led by La V^rendrye. ^^We warn
you^^^ the Company wrote to each of its factors at this
time, ^'meet these spies very civily btU do not offer
to detain them and on no account suffer such to come
within the gates nor let the servants converse with
them, and use all legal methods to make them depart
and be on your guard not to teU the company s secrets.^^

Then in 1740, came a bolt from the blue. Cap-
tain Christopher Middleton, their trusted officer,
publicly resigned from the service to go into the

317



Digitized by



Google



The Conquest of the Great Northwest

King's navy for the discovery of a Northwest Passage
through Hudson Bay.

Notes on Ckafter XVI.— Of Baffin's Land, Dr. Bell, who
personally explored Hudson Bay in 1885 for the Dominion Gov-
ernment, says: "These ancient grounds probably contain rich
placer gold m the valleys of the streams. The mica mines of
Baffin's Land were being mined in 1906.

The name of the captain, who perished with Knight, is our
friend Bailey of the Iberville siege; not Barlow, as all modem
histories copying from Heame and 1749 Pari. Report give.
The'minutes of the H. B. C. show that Barlow is a misprint for
Berley, and Berley for Bailey, which name is given repeatedly
in the minutes in connection with this voyage.

The account of Bering's efforts to find the Straits of Anian
and of his similar fate will be fotmd in '* Vikings of the Pacific,**

All the printed accotmts of Knight's disaster say he win-
tered at Churchill in 1719-20. This is wrong, as shown by the
uaprinted records of H. d. C. He sailed at once for the North.
All printed accounts — except Heame's — give the place of dis-
aster as the west end of Marble Island. This is a mistake. It
wms at the east end as given in the French edition of Heame.
Heame it is, who gives the only account of Bailey's defense of
Albany in 1704, only Heame calls Bailey, Barlow, which the
records show to be wrong.

An almost parallel wreck to that of Knight's took place at
Gull Island on Newfoundland twenty-five years ago. A whole
shipload of castaways perished on a barren island in sight of
tkeir own harbor lights, only in the case of Gull Island, the
castaways did not survive longer than a few weeks. They lived
under a piece of canvas and subsisted on snow-water.

It was not till 17^1 that Knight's Journals as left at Churchill
were sent home to London. They cease at 1719.

Richard Norton first went North by land in 17 18. His next
trip was after Knight's death; his next, by boat as told in this
chapter.

In 1723, Samuel Hopkins was sent home in irons from Albany
for three times absconding over the walls to the woods without
Governor Myatt's leave. Examined by the committee, he
would give no excuse and was publicly dismissed with loss of

318



Digitized by



Google



Old Captain Knight Beset by Gold Fever



wages. Examined later privately, he was re-engaged with
honor — ^which goes to prove that Myatt may have been one
of those governors, who ruled his men with the thick end of an
oar.

At this period, servants for the first time were allowed to go
to the woods to trap and were given one half the proceeeds of
their htmt.



319



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER XVII

1 740-1 7 70

THE COMPANY^S PROSPERITY AROUSES OPPOSITION —
ARTHUR DOBBS AND THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE
AND THE ATTACK ON THE CHARTER — ^NO NORTH-
WEST PASSAGE IS FOUND BUT THE FRENCH SPUR
THE ENGLISH TO RENEWED ACTIVITY

FOR fifty years, the Company had been paying
dividends that never went lower than 7 per
cent, and generally averaged 10. These
dividends were on capital that had been twice trebled.
The yearly fur sales yielded from ;£2o,ooo to ;£3o,ooo
to the Adventurers — twice and three times the orig-
inal capital, which — it must be remembered — ^was
not all subscribed in cash. French hunters had been
penetrating America from the St. Lawrence. Bering
had discovered Alaska on the west for Russia. La
V^rendrye had discovered the great inland plains
between the Saskatchewan and the Missouri, for
France. It was just beginning to dawn on men's
minds what a vast domain lay between the planta-
tions of the Atlantic seaboard and the Western Sea.
It was inevitable that men should ask themselves

320



Digitized by



Google



The Company's Prosperity Aroiises Opposition

whether Charles II. had any right to deed away for-
ever that vast domain to those court favorites and
their heirs known as the Hudson's Bay Company.
To be sure, Parliament had confirmed the charter
when the Stuart House fell; but the charter had
been confirmed for only seven years. Those seven
years had long since expired, and the original stock
of the fur company had passed from the heirs
of the original grantees to new men — stock specu-
lators and investors. With the exception of royalty,
there was not a single stockholder of the Hudson's
Bay Company by 1740, who was an heir of the orig-
inal men named in the original charter. Men asked
themselves — had these stockholders any right to hold
monopoly against all other traders over a western
domain the size of half Europe? The charter had
been granted in the first place as a reward for efforts
to find passage to the South Sea. What had the
Company done to find a passage to the Pacific?
Sent Knight and his fifty men hunting gold sands in
the North, where they perished ; and dispatched
half a dozen little sloops north of Chesterfield Inlet
to hunt whales. This had the Adventurers done to
earn their charter, and ever since sat snugly at home
drawing dividends on twice-trebled capital equal
to 90 per cent, on the original stock, intrenched
behind the comfortable feudal notion that it was

321



Digitized by



Google



The Conquest of the Great Northwest

the manifest design of an All Wise Providence to
create this world for the benefit of the few who can
get on top and exploit the many to the profit of the
aforesaid few.

We, whose modem democracy is working ten-
fold worse injustice by favors to the few against the
many, must have a care how we throw stones at that
old notion. Feudalism in the history of the race —
had its place. It was the system by which the
bravest man led the clan and ruled because he was
fittest to rule as weU as to protect. Of all those
rivals now yelping enviously at the Company's privi-
leges — ^which could point to an ancestor, who had
been willing to brave the perils of a first essay to
Hudson Bay? We have seen how even yet the
Company could obtain servants only by dint of
promising bounties and wives and dowries; how the
men under command of the first navigators balked
and reared and mutinied at the slightest risk; how —
in spite of all we can say against feudalism — it was
the spirit of feudalism, the spirit of the exclusive
favored few, that faced the first risks and bought
success by willing, reckless death, and later fought
like demons to hold the bay against France.

It was one Arthur Dobbs, a gentleman and scholar,
who voiced the general sentiment rising against the

322



Digitized by



Google



The Company^s Prosperity Arouses Opposition

privil^es of the Company. Dobbs had been bitten
by that strange mania which had lured so many and
was yet to lure more brave seamen to their death.
He was sure there was a Northwest Passage. Granted
that; and the sins of the fur traders became enormi-
ties. Either they had not earned their charter by
searching the Northwest Passage, or if they had
found it, they had kept the discovery a secret through
jealousy of their trade. Dobbs induced the Ad-
miralty to set aside two vessels for the search. Then
he persuaded Captain Middleton, who had for
twenty years navigated Hudson Bay, to resign the
service of the Company and lead the government
expedition of 1 741-2.

Around this expedition raged a maelstrom of ill
feeling and false accusations and lies. The Com-
pany were jealous of their trade and almost instantly
instructed their Governing Committee to take secret
means to prevent this expedition causing encroach-
ment on their rights. This only aroused the fury of
the Admiralty. The Company were given to under-
stand that if they did not do all they could to facili-
tate Middleton's search, they might lose their
charter. On this, the Company ordered their factors
on the bay to afford Middleton every aid, but judging
from the factors' conduct, it may be surmised that
secret instructions of another nature were sent out.

323



Digitized by



Google



The Conquest of the Great Northwest

When Middleton came to Churchill m July on
The Furnace Bomb and Discovery, he found buoys
cut, harbor lights out and a governor mad as a
hornet, who forbade the searchers to land, or have
any intercourse with the Indians. Taking two
Indians as guides, Middleton proceeded north as
far as 66° — in the region of Rowe's Welcome beyond
Chesterfield Inlet. Here, he was utterly blocked by
the ice, and the expedition returned to England a
failure.

It was at this point the furor arose. It was
charged that the Company had bribed Middleton
with ;£5, coo not to find a passage; that he had sailed
east instead of west; that he had cast the two Indian
guides adrift at Marble Island with scant means of
reaching the main shore alive; and that while winter-
ing in Churchill he had been heard to say, *'That
the Company need not be uneasy, for if he did find
a passage, no one on earth would be a bit the wiser."
The quarrel, which set England by the ears for ten
years and caused a harvest of bitter pamphlets that
would fill a small library — need not be dealt with
•here.

Middleton knew there was no passage for com-
mercial purpose. That the Admiralty accepted his
verdict may be inferred from the fact that he was
permanently appointed in the king's service; but

324



Digitized by



Google



The Company's Prosperity Arouses Opposition

Dobbs was not satisfied. He hurled baseless charges
at Middleton, waged relentless pamphlet war against
the Company and showered petitions on Parliament.
Parliament was persuaded to offer a reward of
;£2o,ooo to any one finding a passage to the Pacific.
Dobbs then formed an opposition company, opened
subscriptions for a capital of ;i^io,ooo in one hundred
shares of £ioo each for a second expedition, and
petitioned the king for a grant of all lands found
adjacent to the waters discovered, with the rights
of exclusive trade. Exclusive trade! There — the
secret was out — the cloven hoof! It was not because
they had not earned their charter, that the Adven-
turers had been assailed; but because rivals, them-
selves, wanted rights to exclusive trade. To these
petitions, the Company showered back counter-
memorials; and memorials of special privileges be-
coming the fashion, other merchants of London, in
1752, asked for the grant of all Labrador; to which
the Company again registered its counter-memorial.

The furor materialized in two things: the expedi-
tion of the Dobbs Company to find the Northwest
Passage in 1746-47, and the Parliamentary Inquiry,
in 1748-49, to look into the rights and workings of
the Adventurers' charter.

The Dobbs galley, under Captain Moore was one
hundred aftd eighty tons; The California j Captain

325



Digitized by



Google



The ConquLCst of the Great Northwest

Smith, one hundred and forty tons; and to the crews
of both, rewards for the discovery of the Passage
to the South Sea were to be given ranging from
£<po for the captains to £200 to be divided among
the sailors. Henry Ellis went as agent for the Dobbs
Company, The name of The California was indic-
ative of where these argonauts hoped to sail. Oddly
enough, that Captain Middleton, whom the Dobbs
forces had so mercilessly belabored — accompanied
the explorers some distance westward from the Ork-
neys on The Shark as convoy against French pirates.
After leaving Middleton, one of the vessels suffered
an experience that very nearly finished Arthur Dobbs*
enterprise. "Nothing had occurred," writes Ellis,
"till the 2ist of June, at night, when a terrible fire
broke out in the great cabin of The Dobbs, and
quickly made progress to the powder room, where
there were not less than thirty-six or forty barrels of
powder besides other combustibles. It is impos-
sible to express the consternation. Every one on
board had every reason to expect that moment was
their last. You might hear all varieties of sea-
eloquence, cries, prayers, curses, scolding, mingled
together. Water was passed along by those who
still preserved their reason, but the crew were for
hoisting out the boats. Lashings were cut, but none
had patience to hoist them out. The shfp was head

326



Digitized by



Google



The Company's Prosperity Arouses Opposition

to wind, the saUs shaking and making a noise like
thunder, then running right before the wind and
rolling, every one on deck waiting for the blast to put
an end to our fears."

The fire was put out before it reached the powder,
but one can guess the scare dampened the ardor of
the crew. Very little ice was met in Hudson Straits
and by August 19, the vessels were at Marble Island.
The season was too late to go on north, so the ships
sailed to winter at York (Nelson) on Hayes River.
Here, the usual quarrels took place with the Hudson's
Bay people — buoys and flag signals being cut down
as the ships ran through the shoals of Five-Fathom
Hole, five miles up Hayes River. A fort called
Montague House was built for the winter on the
south side, the main house being a two-story log-
barracks, the outbuildings, a sort of lean-to, or
wooden wigwam banked up with snow, where the
crews could have quarters. The harbor was frozen
over by October 8. Heavy fur clothing was then
donned for the winter, but in spite of precautions
against scurvy — exercise, the use of spruce beer, out-
door life — four men died from the disease before ice
cleared from Hayes River in June.

It need not be told here that no passage was found.
As the boats advanced farther and farther north of
Rowe's Welcome toward Fox Channel, the hope-

327



Digitized by



Google



The Conquest of the Great Northwest

lessness of the quest became apparent. Before them
lay an ice world, **As gloomy a prospect," writes
Ellis, "as ever astonished mortal eyes. The ragged
rocks seemed to hang above our heads. In some
places there were falls of water dashing from cliff
to cliff. From others, hung icicles like the pipes
of a vast organ. But the most overwhelming things
were the shattered crags at our feet, which appeared
to have burst from the mountains through the power
of the frost — amazing relics of the wreck of nature."
In October of 1747, the ships were back on the
Thames.

If Dobbs' Expedition had found a Northwest
Passage, the history of the Adventurers would close
here. With the merchants of London a unit against
the charter and the Admiralty open to persuasion
from either side, there can be no doubt that the
discovery of a way to China through Hudson Bay
would have sounded the death knell of the Company.
But the Dobbs Expedition was a failure. The
Company's course was vindicated, and when the
Parliamentary Committee of 1748-49 met, affairs
were judiciously and I must believe intentionally
steered away from the real question — the validity of
the charter — to such side issues as the Northwest
Passage, the state of the Indians, whether the coun-

328



Digitized by



Google



The Company^s Prosperity Arouses Opposition

try could be inhabited or not, questions — it will be
noticed — on which no one was competent to give
evidence but the Company itself. Among other
evidence, there was quietly laid on the table the
journals of one Joseph La France, a French wood-
rover who had come overland from Michilimackinac
to Hudson Bay. This record showed that France
was already on the field in the West. La V^rendrye
and his sons were on their way to the Rockies.
Three forts were already built on the Assiniboine.
Such evidence could have only one influence on
Parliament. If Parliament took away the charter
from the Company — declared, in fact, that the
charter was not legal — who would hold the vast do-
main against France? The question of the abstract
right did not come up at all. Does it ever in
international affairs? The question was one for
diplomacy, and diplomacy won. It was better for
England that the Adventurers should remain in
undisturbed possession ; and the Company retained
its charter.

Meanwhile, that activity among the French fur



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 19 of 50)