Compiled by Stephenie Flora
The Hudson's Bay Company was founded in eastern Canada in 1670 and for over a century dominated the fur market in that area. Ironically this great English company was the work of two Frenchmen, Pierre Radisson and Medard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers (aka des Groseilliers) who had tried for years to get the French government to support them in their efforts to develop the fur trade in the Hudson Bay region. Finally they turned to England and won a charter from King Charles II. The headquarters of the Company was in London. The Canadian operations were conducted by a number of forts scattered throughout the Hudson Bay region.
In 1775 the North West Company entered the scene and for about 50 years after that the company engaged in fierce competition for the fur trade. After some bloody battles between them, the British government intervened and insisted that they settle their differences. In 1821 the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company agreed on a deed of partnership. Under the terms of this agreement, the name of the North West Company was dropped and that of the Hudson's Bay Company was retained. This gave the Hudson's Bay Company a monopoly all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, over the northern half of the continent.
For three years they used Fort George as headquarters for its Pacific operations. In 1824 the Company abandoned this site and constructed a new post on the north side of the Columbia River, 100 miles from the mouth of the Columbia. This post was called Fort Vancouver. The new post was less vulnerable to attacks from hostile ships approaching the Columbia and was better situated for securing provisions and engaging in the fur trade. (This post remained in use by the Company until 1860 when it was turned over to the U.S. Army.)
While it was the policy of the Hudson's Bay Company to discourage American settlements in the Oregon country, Chief Factor John McLoughlin always treated trappers, traders, and later emigrants courteously. He often gave supplies and assistance which caused him considerable trouble with his superiors.
The Hudson's Bay Company planned its operations with two aims in mind. One was to make a profit. The other was to win the disputed territory for the British. The Company, in an attempt to win the the Indians over to their side, set up some of their posts near tribal locations so that it could maintain communication with the Indians. The Company also offered a wide variety of goods to the Indians to keep them satisfied. Another of the Company's policies intended to discourage the American trade was to trap an area so thoroughly that American trappers and traders would feel like it was not worth their while to enter the area.
Some of the records for the Hudson Bay Company were transcribed and published by the Hudson Bay Record Society and are available in most large university libraries. If you do not have access to a location with these publications, inquire at your local library about interlibrary loans. The original records are now located at the Hudson Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
For additional information also see Hudson Bay Museum Collection . To explore the history of the Hudson Bay Company visit the new HBC Heritage website.
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