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Hudson Bay

Hudson Bay was named after Henry Hudson, who explored the bay in 1610 on his ship the Discovery. On this fourth voyage he worked his way around the west coast of Greenland and into the bay, mapping much of its eastern coast. The Discovery became trapped in the ice over the winter, and the crew survived onshore at the southern tip of James Bay.

Sixty years later, after close to three months after leaving England, Captain John Parker sailed the two-masted ketch Nonsuch into Hudson Bay in search of furs and traded for beaver pelts with the Cree. (TheNonsuch was named after the Baronness Nonsuch of Nonsuch Park, Surrey England; she was the mother of King Charles the 2nd's two natural sons.) This led to the founding of the Hudson Bay Company two years later and was instrumental in establish commerce in Western Canada. The British crown awarded a trading monopoly on the Hudson Bay watershed, called Rupert's Land, to the Hudson's Bay Company.

Fifteen months after originally setting out, the Nonsuch slid up the Thames to a dock in London laden with furs. Not a single man had been lost. The expedition confirmed that England could profitably trade for furs through Hudson Bay. Prince Rupert's gamble had paid off.

The Hudson Bay Company

Hudson Bay Company.

Like the United States and many developing countries and companies, The Hudson Bay Company was built by people from around the world with Europeans being first on the scene (after Native Americans): Englishmen, Frenchmen, Irishmen, Scottish Highlanders and Native Americans. They were princes and paupers, explorers and bureaucrats. Admirals and indigenous leaders, Quebec voyageurs and Jesuit priests, Huron trappers and brave young men from the wind-swept Orkney isles.

The Hudson's Bay Company used the "made beaver" as the unit of currency during the fur trade period. A made beaver was a prime beaver skin, flesh removed, stretched, and dried.

Right: Hudson's Bay Company Fort Langley,
Left Bank of Fraser River, Langley Butte in the Distance
By James Madison Alden
Hudson's Bay Company.

The value of all trade goods was based on made beaver plews or pelts. The value of other furs, i.e. otter, fox, rabbit, martin, were valued in terms of made beaver. Eventually, the Hudson's Bay and the North West companies issued tokens. The token value was based on the value of the made beaver.
  • Hudson's Bay Company's bead value for a made beaver
    • six Hudson's Bay beads, which included Padre beads from China
    • three light blue Padre (Crow) beads
    • two larger transparent blue beads.
  • One Ordinary Riding horse
    • 8 buffalo robes
    • 1 gun and 100 loads ammunition
    • 1 carrot of tobacco weighing 3 lbs.
    • 15 eagle feathers
    • 10 weasel skins (Ermine)
    • 5 tipi poles
    • 1 skin shirt and leggings, decorated w/ human hair and quills
  • One Buffalo Robe
    • 3 metal knives
    • 25 loads of ammunition
    • 1 large metal kettle
    • 3 dozen iron arrow points
    • 1/2 yards of calico
  • One fine racing horse = 10 guns
    One fine buffalo horse = several pack horses
    Three buffalo robes = 1 white blanket
    Four buffalo robes = 1 scarlet Hudson's Bay blanket
    Five buffalo robes = 1 bear claw necklace
    Thirty beaver pelts = 1 keg of rum [diluted]
    Ten ermine pelts = 100 elk teeth.

March 20, 1885, The Anglo-American Times. London, Middlesex, United Kingdom

The Hudson Bay Route.

The Hudson Bay route continues to occupy attention. Not only does Manitoba contemplate an ocean highway by Hudson Bay, but a new port there, having a railway railway system to run along the Saskatchewan and Peace Rivers. It is asserted that a railroad from Winnipeg to Hudson Bay and a steam line to Liverpool would bring the wheat of Northern Dakota and Minnesota that way, to the detriment of Chicago, which has led the Journal of Chicago to take up the matter for discussion.

The Hudson Bay Route. 1881 Map.

In one article it seeks to prove that the eastern provinces of the Canadian Pacific would not permit the construction of such a railway; but that is followed by other articles which go to show that the diversion of traffic by Hudson Bay would be very detrimental to the interests of Chicago.

The Dominion Government chartered the Hudson Bay Railroad Co. and supplied it with a large land grant, and has further facilitated the construction by a survey under its own officers, but, says the Journal, the influence of the Canadian Pacific and of the eastern Provinces is more powerful than Manitoba, which can only resort to threats to secede should any difficulties be thrown in the way." It is admitted on all hands that the people of Manitoba favour the project; indeed regard it as affecting in a material way the value of all property in the Province. It is certain that wheat can be grown on the rich lands of Manitoba at a very low rate, so low that no other place in the world could produce the grain cheaper. But the question then hinges on the distance from market. It is asserted that even at the prices ruling in Mark Lane for the past six months, wheat raised in Manitoba can be sold there at a profit. If then by a comparatively short railway haul, the shipment is by a port nearer to Liverpool than is Montreal or New York, no country could compete with the Canadian Northwest; and so long as this advantage lasted, its farmers would do well.

g could be more obvious than the benefit the opening of the Hudson Bay route would confer on the Canadian Northwest but would that be a benefit to the Dominion? would it be a benefit to the Canadian Pacific to the Grand Trunk, and all the powerful carrying corporations of the Eastern Provinces?

The Hudson Bay route would so far injure the Eastern Provinces that they would cease to be the highway to the ocean for heavy transit. To compensate, a portion of the Dominion would fill up rapidly and become wealthy at a speed unprecedented in Canadian history.

As a Province of the Dominion this would tend to strengthen the whole; to supply the general government with ampler ways and means, creating a fine field for settlement for the other provinces, and for Europe and for commerce. As these conditions are not immediate, whereas the loss of Manitoba as a gathering field would be direct and palpable, the first impression made in the Eastern Provinces would naturally be unfriendly to the opening of the new route, for only the farseeing incline to sacrifice the present to the future.

Between allowing the lands of the Canadian Northwest to remain unoccupied and the opening of the Hudson Bay route there could be no question, but that is not the point, for Manitoba continues steadily to fill up, through the low price of wheat and the disappointment many cultivators have experienced therefrom have checked the influx. It is not now the favorite ground it was three years ago; notwithstanding that the Canadian Pacific makes strenuous efforts to attract immigration, settlement is on the decrease, and the boom is at an end.

Fort Yukon, Hudson Bay Company's PostHudson's Bay Trading Post.

Though Hudson Bay may permit of trade for three, four, or even five months in the year there will always be heavy drawbacks. There must remain an uncertainty, an insecurity, the chance of being frozen up, the chance of the straits throughout any one year not being open; the danger of floating bergs. But given a way from Port Chalmers to Liverpool and a means of shipment and traffic, and the finest wheat region of the world becomes available.

Hudson Bay, Canada. 1885 map.Hudson Bay, Canada, 1885 Map.

And what is to prevent men from migrating with the seasons? They can move as easily and as swiftly as do the birds. North America has an advantage in its complete railway system, in its facility for travel, north and south, without a mountain intervening. Why should not the settler of means have a wheat farm in the Canadian Northwest and an orange grove in Florida? Why should he not spend the summer on the Saskatchewan and the winter on the Indian river?

In truth, people are not only beginning to be conscious of the vast advantages North America offers; not the least of which is this power of unbroken travel from north to south, from hot to cold, from winter to summer, from plain to mountain. They feel it, though only in its initial stage, in the carriage of what the tropics product into the frozen regions; but the time is coming when the majority will live in almost perpetual summer, turning their time to account where it can do most good and with the greatest comfort to themselves individually.

By 1800, the Indian country’s networks of trade and diplomacy had long included Europeans. This map above is from the Newberry Library of Hudson’s Bay Company trader Anthony Hendry’s trek from York Factory on Hudson Bay, to the Rocky Mountains.

April 25, 1887, Hamilton Daily Democrat, Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.A.
May 8, 1888, Evening Gazette, Sterling, Illinois, U.S.A.

Going On in Siswasktown Society

White Tailed Eagle. Hudson's Bay. George Edwards.

The brilliant entertainments, given in Siwashtown during the last week are still the theme of much conversation. The dancing academy has been one continuous of binge through the holidays, the festivities being conducted under the auspices of Mayor Kow-ee. In these portly halls were assembled the beauty and fashion of the place, and many were the gorgeous costumes of the more wealthy class of the fair sex, and on not a few of them an elaborate display of extensive jewelry.

Miss Kow-ee-with-a-Ring-in-Her-Nose, daughter of our much, esteemed mayor, leader of Siwashtown society and heiress to her own right to two Auk residences and three canoes, wore a beautiful crown fashioned from hemlock bark and eagle leathers, a bright colored beaded buckskin chemise, high water calico overskirt, and a $10 Hudson Bay Blanket. Hudson Bay blanket thrown gracefully over her shapely shoulders. For jewelry she displayed fourteen tin bracelets; a silver labrette a la shingle nail through her upper lip, and two brass watch chains encircling her brown ankles. Her nose and cheek were painted black, and her arms and limbs, from the knee down, were bare. Her elegant costume and graceful evolutions were the, envy of the fair sex, and she was designated 'the belle of the ball."

The old mayor himself wore upon his head the latest style plug hat encircled with eagle feathers, a military dress coat, flour sack pantaloons, and a pair of rubber boots. His whole bearing was that of one born to command, and he was looked upon with reverence by all. The music, which was furnished by the Siwashtown orchestra, consisting of two drums and five rattles, was rendered in a soul stirring manner.

Alaska Free Press.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

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W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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