Hudson Explores Hudson Bay Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hudson’s explorations established the main water route to northwestern Canada, a route that would be exploited throughout the next two centuries for trade and settlement. His expeditions would lead indirectly to the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company, arguably the most successful and most powerful of all privately chartered European colonial corporations.

Summary of Event

On April 27, 1610, Henry Hudson Hudson, Henry and a crew of twenty-three men, including his son, embarked from London in the ship Discovery to search for the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia. Bold and determined, Hudson had made several earlier attempts to locate the Northwest Passage. Among these was a voyage in 1608 for the Dutch that resulted in the exploration of the Hudson River when his crew lost confidence in his plans to sail through Hudson Strait. On the 1610-1611 expedition, his final voyage to the New World, Hudson established the existence of Hudson Bay; the Hudson Strait, which is the main conduit to Hudson Bay; and James Bay, the southern appendix to Hudson Bay. Others, including Martin Frobisher, Frobisher, Martin had made earlier, less conclusive attempts to explore the territory, but Hudson was the most successful. [kw]Hudson Explores Hudson Bay (beginning June, 1610) [kw]Hudson Bay, Hudson Explores (beginning June, 1610) Exploration and discovery;Beginning June, 1610: Hudson Explores Hudson Bay[0570] Canada;Beginning June, 1610: Hudson Explores Hudson Bay[0570] Hudson Bay, exploration of Exploration;France of Hudson Bay Canada;French exploration of Hudson, Henry Frobisher, Martin Chouart des Groseilliers, Médard Juet, Robert Radisson, Pierre Esprit Rupert, Prince

An artist’s rendering of Hudson making contact with Native Americans during his expedition. The explorer is shown introducing Canadian Indians to alcohol.

(Gay Brothers)

Over the next three months, Hudson and his crew sailed north from London past Iceland and Greenland, arriving in Ungava Bay in June, 1610. They entered the strait and were in the bay proper at the end of June. By September, they had pushed south and begun to explore James Bay, still desperately persisting in the belief that they could find the Northwest Passage. Following the eastern coast of James Bay, the decision was made to winter on the southern shores, near the mouth of the Rupert River. Hudson and crew passed an uncomfortable and fractious winter, troubled by too few provisions and unexpected cold. The arrival of spring found the crew uncertain of Hudson’s leadership and unwilling to trust his promises of an immediate return to England. They mutinied in June, 1611, led by Robert Juet, Juet, Robert and Hudson, his son, and seven sailors, including several sick crew members, were placed in an open boat and set adrift. Hudson and the others were never seen again, and they are believed to have died soon afterward. Only eight of Hudson’s crew returned to England six months later, carrying with them Hudson’s records, including a fragment of his logbook. Four of these men were tried and acquitted by the Admiralty for their part in the mutiny.

Several times between 1612 and 1616, the Discovery returned to Hudson Bay, with crews that included some of Hudson’s men, to retrace Hudson’s route, confirm his findings, and look for survivors. Other explorers—Robert Bylot Bylot, Robert and Luke Foxe Foxe, Luke (1631) and Thomas James James, Thomas (1631)—would follow Hudson’s route, trying yet again to find the elusive passage to Asia. However, permanent European settlement of the area would not begin for more than fifty years. The bare and heavily forested regions of the Canadian Shield would prove somewhat inhospitable to Europeans, and their main settlements continued to be in the area of the Saint Lawrence River Valley and the coastal regions to the east.

Native settlement in the area of Hudson Bay, however, was fairly extensive. Ringing Hudson Bay to the north and on the east and west sides were the Inuit Inuits . To the south, the Cree Crees , an Algonquian people, made their home, and to the west lived the Chipewyan. The company undoubtedly encountered native peoples on this voyage, especially the Cree, in whose territory the company camped for the winter. Hudson’s hope to rely on native peoples for food through the winter failed, however, which is why food was so scarce in the 1610-1611 winter. In addition, it seems that the crew was fatally attacked while retreating through the strait after the mutiny, and several crew members were lost.

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Ultimately, the English would settle Hudson Bay, drawn to brave the harsh winters by the lucrative fur trade. While the fur trade Trade;furs had begun in the early part of the sixteenth century as a subsidiary to European coastal fishing, by century’s end the seemingly insatiable European demand for furs guaranteed the independence of the trapping industry. Furs, trade in Competition between the Dutch and the French in the Saint Lawrence region proved the profitability of the industry but also left some areas nearly depleted of animals. The English, eager to stake their share in the fur trade, sought their own opportunity in the northwest.

In 1688, an English trading post was established at the opening of the Rupert River by Médard Chouart des Groseilliers Chouart des Groseilliers, Médard , who, with Pierre Esprit Radisson Radisson, Pierre Esprit , sought further funding to develop the venture. The two Frenchmen had first offered their venture to their own government, but France had declined, as their settlement farther south along the Saint Lawrence River was firmly established. For the English, though, this was just the opportunity they had sought. A joint stock trading company was formed in England in 1665, and on May 2, 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company Hudson’s Bay Company[Hudsons Bay Company] received its charter from the English crown. To assure the English presence against the French, the company received a monopoly to trade furs in all the territory drained by rivers that flowed into Hudson Bay. The area covered by the monopoly was named Rupert’s Land Rupert’s Land[Ruperts Land] for Prince Rupert, Rupert, Prince an early supporter of the venture and the first governor of the company. The Hudson’s Bay Company was the primary agent for both settlement and government in Rupert’s Land for almost two centuries.

Significance

The Hudson’s Bay Company was unique among contemporaneous trading companies in the degree of its organization and self-sufficiency, both of which were traceable to its remoteness from London, where the company was chartered. Basic policy and procedures were set in London; an elected governor acted for the company in Rupert’s Land. A series of posts was built at the mouths of important rivers. Each post—part military fortress, part trade town—was led by a chief factor aided by a council of officers. The presence of the company and its success in securing pelts for the European market seem to have raised the ire of the French fur traders along the Saint Lawrence River. For fifty years, the French traders moved westward and upward in their search for beaver and other animals, encroaching on lands claimed by the company. Several times, the French campaigned to capture the English posts as part of their attempts to claim all of North America.

In 1713, the French were forced to recognize English claims to the area as part of the Treaty of Utrecht Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) . The French government completely withdrew from the competition in 1763, when it ceded its holdings in North America at the close of the French and Indian War. Taking its place in competition for furs was an English trading company based in Montreal, the North West Company. Established in the 1760’s by Scottish immigrants to Canada, the North West Company in 1790 challenged the Hudson’s Bay Company, attempting to end the latter’s monopoly. By establishing inland posts and exploring the unexploited western regions of Rupert’s Land, the North West Company gained the upper hand. The Hudson’s Bay Company was forced to respond, and a rivalry for land, loyalty, and furs ensued. The competition culminated in a merger of the two companies in 1821, engineered and approved by the British Parliament, which furthermore extended the territory covered by the original monopoly. Rupert’s Land remained in private hands until 1869, when it was claimed by Canada.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davis, Richard C., ed. Rupert’s Land: A Cultural Tapestry. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press for the Calgary Institute for the Humanities, 1988. Articles covering a variety of subjects relating to exploration and trade in Rupert’s Land.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edwards, Philip. Last Voyages: Cavendish, Hudson, Ralegh. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. A narrative of Hudson’s final voyage, using contemporary accounts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Francis, Daniel, and Toby Morantz. Partners in Fur: A History of the Eastern James Bay, 1600-1870. Kingston, Ont.: McGill-Queens University Press, 1983. A study of the structure of the European fur empire and its impact on native peoples.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Donald S. Charting the Darkness: The Four Voyages of Henry Hudson. Camden, Maine: International Marine, 1993. Reprint. New York: Kodansha Globe, 1995. The author uses Hudson’s original logs to recount his voyages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Krech, Shepard, III, ed. The Subarctic Fur Trade: Native Social and Economic Adaptations. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984. Detailed articles on the effects of the fur trade from the seventeenth century onward.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Millman, Lawrence. “Looking for Henry Hudson.” Smithsonian 30, no. 7 (October, 1999): 100. Describes Hudson’s search for a northwest passage, providing information on the Half Moon’s voyage, the mutiny on Hudson’s final trip, and Hudson’s impact on the fur trade.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shuster, Carl. “Into the Great Bay.” Beaver 79, no. 4 (August/September, 1999): 8. The article, published in the journal of the Canadian National Historical Society, recounts Hudson’s exploration in Canada.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stewart, Gordon. History of Canada Before 1867. Washington, D.C.: Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, 1989. Presents a concise and detailed picture of conflicts and issues in early Canadian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woodcock, George. A Social History of Canada. Markham, Ont.: Viking, 1988. An introductory work on the history of the people of Canada, including the indigenous peoples.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

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