Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson explored and mapped the region around the shores of Lake Superior, and they developed an understanding of the financial potential of fur trading, setting in motion the events that would lead to the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In 1651, Pierre Esprit Radisson moved from France with his family to New France. Shortly thereafter, he was captured by some Mohawk warriors and adopted by an Iroquois woman. Over the next two years, Radisson learned the Iroquois language and customs. Médard Chouart des Groseilliers arrived in New France in 1641 and married Radisson’s half sister, Marguerite Hayet, in 1653. Chouart des Groseilliers was one of the first Frenchman in New France to realize what great riches could be garnered from trade in furs, particularly beaver pelts, around the Great Lakes region. Recognizing the insights that Radisson had gathered about Native Americans and the fur trading business, Chouart des Groseilliers hired him as a partner in 1658 to help him explore and trade furs around the region of Lake Superior
Around the end of August, 1658, Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson organized a group of Frenchmen and some Native Americans to travel to Lake Superior. Radisson kept a journal to document the company’s trip. Although it contains a number of discrepancies and great exaggerations, his journal provides a wealth of information about their travels and experiences. Without obtaining a fur-trading license and permission from the general-governor of New France, Pierre de Voyer d’Argenson,
By early November, 1658, the group of explorers had traveled along the southern shore of Lake Superior to Chequagemon Bay (bordering the northeastern tip of present-day Wisconsin), where they built a small fort and trading post and stayed for nearly two weeks. In late November, they traveled south, passing near Lake Chippewa in present-day northwestern Wisconsin. In that area, they encountered a snowstorm that made it impossible for them to go any farther and prevented them from hunting for food. They made snowshoes to get around, resorted to eating some of their dogs, and spent time with the native Menominees
For about seven weeks, Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson explored the southern and central parts of Minnesota and then returned north to Chequagemon Bay. From there, they explored and mapped the headwaters of the Mississippi River, mapped the Pigeon and Gooseberry Rivers in northern Minnesota, traded furs with the native Sioux
While exploring the western and northern shores of Lake Superior during 1659, Radisson and Chouart des Groseilliers became the first Europeans to travel on Lake Superior. After crossing the northern part of Lake Superior in birch bark canoes, they led their company northward, exploring parts of southern Ontario, Canada. Although they did not reach Hudson Bay on this trip, they passed by James Bay, at the southern end of Hudson Bay.
On their way back to Quebec in early 1660, they encountered a band of Cree and Assiniboine Indians, traveled with them for a large portion of their remaining journey, and learned a great deal from them about the furs and minerals available around Lake Superior, as well as the location of Hudson Bay. While traveling to Quebec, they left about one-fourth of their total cache of furs at trading posts in Montreal and Trois Rivières. On August 24, 1660, Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson arrived in Quebec with the remainder of their valuable furs. During their explorations around Lake Superior, they had successfully traded cheap implements, such as hatchets, knives, and kettles, to Native Americans for furs that could be sold by the French in Europe for great profits.
Upon their arrival in Quebec, Radisson and Chouart des Groseilliers were initially greeted with much cheering and cannon salutes from Fort Saint Louis and from the three ships waiting in the harbor for cargo to return to Europe. Within a short time, however, Governor-General Voyer d’Argenson had them arrested and imprisoned for trading furs west of Montreal without his permission and without a license. Their load of furs was confiscated without any compensation to them. The monetary gain from the furs saved France from a financial disaster. On numerous occasions, Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson tried to convince Voyer d’Argenson to allow either themselves or other Frenchmen to explore and establish trading posts along Hudson Bay but to no avail. Voyer d’Argenson’s decision proved disastrous to France when Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson finally joined the British, which led to the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the dominance of Great Britain in North America.
Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson were the first Europeans to explore the western and northern shores of Lake Superior, the first Europeans to enter Minnesota, the first Frenchmen to see the Mississippi River, and the first Europeans to travel on Lake Superior. They explored and mapped portions of northern Michigan, northern and central Wisconsin, southern and northeastern Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, southern Ontario, and the shores around Lake Superior. They identified the economic potential of the fur trading business around Lake Superior, learned about Hudson Bay from Native Americans, and realized that trading posts established along Hudson Bay would be the key factor in controlling the lucrative fur trade of the Great Lakes region.
When the French declined the offer of Chouart des Groseilliers and Radisson to explore and develop the Hudson Bay area as a conduit for fur trading, the explorers switched their allegiance to the British. Their initiative led to the establishment of The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into the Hudson’s Bay (Hudson’s Bay Company