Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Grosseilliers had an amazing and almost unbelievable career in Canadian history. Made brothers-in-law by the marriage of des Grosseilliers to Radisson's half-sister, the two eventually formed a partnership. Their early explorations and fur trading were almost legendary and single-handedly pulled a financially-decrepit France out of the red and into the black. However, instead of being rewarded, the two voyagers had their cache of furs confiscated, they were fined for illegal trading, and were thrown into prison for leaving the colony without permission. Fed up with their treatment, Radisson and des Grosseilliers secretly sailed to England where they allied themselves with King Charles II.
Under the British flag, Radisson and des Grosseilliers were instrumental in forming the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 - a company which still exists today. By the middle of the decade, however, Radisson and des Grosseilliers discovered that their usefulness to England had virtually dwindled to nothing and they were convinced to return to France and take up allegiance with their home country once again.
Back in New France and once more acting under the flag of France, Radisson and des Grosseilliers met with heavy resistance by Governor-General Frontenac in taking the trading posts Hudson Bay, which belonged to the British Hudson's Bay Company, as commissioned by the King of France. By controlling the fur trade on Hudson Bay, the French could have enjoyed the rich benefits being enjoyed by the British merchants. Frontenac, however, was convinced that Hudson Bay was a waste of time and effort and concentrated any exploration and fur trade to the west instead. Radisson and des Grosseilliers were still very limited in their explorations and were still subject to heavy duties in any fur trading they managed to do.
Unable to complete their commission to reclaim Hudson Bay, Radisson and des Grosseilliers tried one last time to succeed. The final chapter of their lives was about to begin.
In 1681, Radisson sailed to France where he met with his friend, Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye, whom he had met 2 years earlier. Excited by Radisson's desires to claim the fur trade around Hudson Bay for France, de la Chesnaye formed the Compagnie Française de la Baie d'Hudson (a.k.a Compagnie du Nord, or the Company of the North).
In August, 1682, Radisson and des Grosseilliers set sail for Hudson Bay. They sailed to the southern tip of James Bay and captured Fort Nelson, at the mouth of the Hayes River, from the British. They also managed to capture a trading ship from Boston anchored in the harbour. They then sailed back to France with their ships loaded with furs.
Once again, the French treated Radisson and des Grosseilliers as insignificants, paying them a pittance for their accomplishments and charging them duty on the furs. They had had enough.
Médard Chouard des Grosseilliers - Frustated and infuriated at the deplorable and continuing treatment of their efforts, des Grosseilliers retired to New France where he lived the rest of his days. He died in New France at some time between 1695 and 1698.
Pierre-Esprit Radisson - Unlike his brother-in-law, Radisson would seek one final revenge. Returning once more to England, Radisson switched his allegiance yet another time and signed up once more with the Hudson's Bay Company. From there, he sailed to Fort Nelson and found his nephew, Médard Chouart, in charge of the now-French trading post. It was easy for Radisson to convince Chouart and the Assiniboine Natives to ally with England instead of France. The furs were emptied from the storehouses, loaded aboard ship, and Radisson returned to England.
As a final injustice to him, New France appointed Pierre de Troyes in 1686 with the responsibility of recapturing the French forts and trading posts on Hudson Bay. He was also given the responsibility of capturing Pierre-Esprit Radisson and returning him to France for trial.
In 1687, Radisson became a British citizen. He died in England in 1710 - destitute and virtually forgotten by both of the countries for which Radisson and des Grosseilliers had done so much.
Radisson and des Grosseilliers
Médard Chouart des Grosseilliers
Expedition to Lake Superior
Hudson Bay Company
Back to France
* The Final Chapter *