Manitoba History: ‘Covenant Servants:’ Contract, Negotiation, and Accommodation in Hudson Bay, 1670-1782

by Scott Stephen
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 60, February 2009

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Throughout its long first century (1670-1782), the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) drew its labour force almost entirely from the competitive labour “market” of early modern Britain, with the movement of men to and from the Bay reflective of the domestic labour mobility of the period. The relationship between the London Committee and their employees was that of master and servants, heavily influenced by the circumstances of trading in Hudson Bay. Men at all levels of the Company hierarchy could try to shape the reality of their HBC experiences, but did so in terms of commonly accepted ideals. The Committee and their servants all understood the nature of ideal master-servant relationships, but they also had experience of the realities of life in various kinds of social and economic households. The Company’s servants internalized and practised the expected values of deference and submission, but did so without abandoning or deferring their own self-interest; indeed, they could use their mastery of the language to advance their own interests.

Eighteenth-century HBC servants seem to resemble later industrial wage-earners, in that they sold their labour for cash and were provided with most of the tools and raw materials with which they worked. [1] However, the terms of their service also invite comparisons to “pre-industrial” domestic servants or servants in husbandry (agriculture), though the length of service was much longer in Hudson Bay. Bayside servants’ relationship with their employer was based not entirely on contract, but contractual obligations were the most visible aspects of that relationship. [2] Underlying them was the much older institution of the patriarchal household-family, which served as the fundamental social unit on the shores of Hudson Bay (as in Britain). [3] Although membership changed, that institution maintained continuity over time.

The rodent hunt. Governor James Isham drew a crude but effective illustration of the 18th century beaver hunt along Hudson Bay. Bayside service provided the opportunity for private trapping or trading with the proceeds split between the employee and the company or with the captain of the supply ship.
Source: E. E. Rich & A. M. Johnson (eds.), James Isham’s Observations on Hudsons Bay, 1743, and Notes and Observations on a Book Entitled A Voyage to Hudsons Bay in the Dobbs Galley, 1749. Toronto: Champlain Society for the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1949, page 148.

Signing On

Early modern employment contracts were economic, social, and even moral covenants. The term “covenant” was used in the HBC through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Committee’s minutes of 27 February 1684 referred to “9 of the Covenant Servants” at Port Nelson (later known as York Fort). In mariner Daniel Lane’s testimony in a 1684 legal case, he described himself as “a Covenant Servant of the Hudsons Bay Company.” A 1688 letter to Port Nelson mentioned a new form of contract, and a marginal note summarized this paragraph of the letter as “new Covenants for Servants Sent.” The earliest known surviving contracts (1776) began, “I … do hereby Covenant and Agree to and with the Governor and Company.” [4]

In general, service contracts in early modern Britain set out what the employee and employer could expect from one another in terms of remuneration and behaviour. This usually included (explicitly or implicitly) binding the servant to serve the master for a specified period of time and to obey his reasonable commands, while binding the master to maintain the servant for the duration of the contract and to pay the agreed wages (whether or not there was daily work, and whether or not the servant remained fit for work). These contractual terms were reinforced in the HBC by an Oath of Fidelity taken by all employees. On Christmas Eve 1718, for instance, each servant at York swore:

I do hereby Engage myself by Oath to Use my uttmost Power With fidelity and Courage to defend the Intrest of the Hudsons Bay Comp[an]y against all Enimies either forrain or as Our Nation And will Obey all Such lawful commands as the Govr or Chief factor Shall Impose upon me and in my Station Shall Endeavour the Defending keeping & Secureing all the Rights & Priveledges of the foresaid Comp[an]y against all oppossers whatever & this I Will do without any discontent or Cowardize to the Utmost Perrill of my Life.

Further I do hereby Oblige myself not to have any Dealing Trade Traffick or Commerce with Any Natives lying being or Inhabiting in any part within the fores[ai]d Comp[an]ys Charter unless I shall be orderd so to by the Govr or Chief factor in being & if I should know any Person or Persons that shall drive any Private Trade their Names I will Detect the Commodities so traded I will discover to the Govr or Chief Factor & in Case I shall be found guilty of any Clandastine or private trade or abeting or Coniveing with any other Person or Persons in Perloining or Confiscate any of the afores[ai]d Comp[an]ys Goods to my own or any other Person or Persons Use then & in Case I will Remitt not only Such Wages as Shall be due to me from the sd Compy but will be answerable for all Damages that Shall arise thro my Neglect or Breach of any of the Above Mentioned Articles.

York Fort America
Jurat Coram me
Decbr 24 1718
Henry Kelsey Govr [5]

Several of the phrases used here are found in HBC contracts more than fifty years later, reflecting continuity in the London Committee’s expectations of its servants.

Service contracts were more rigid in law than in practice, and could be broken with cause and/or with mutual consent. [6] The eighteenth-century conception of the master-servant relationship appears somewhat contradictory: while still seeing the relationship as a family one (a view inherited from the later Middle Ages), it acknowledged the mutual obligations involved as basically contractual. Masters may have been seeking the best of old and new labour relationships, clinging to the image of servants as unfree while profiting from an increasingly free and mobile population of wage workers. However, the servant’s unfree status was often more than just an image, and the early modern employment contract certainly involved submission and subordination. [7] Evidence of men’s experiences of these relationships in Hudson Bay supports British historian Patrick Joyce’s argument that both workers and employers made sense of new values and circumstances in terms of older notions, and thus that new market ideologies operated within the context of older paternalistic language. [8]

The earliest surviving HBC contracts were signed in 1776. [9] The exact content of earlier contracts is unknown, although a set form certainly existed from at least the 1680s (and probably earlier). In 1688, the Committee mentioned sending Governor Geyer and his Council at Port Nelson “a New forme of Contracts for our Servants,” but gave no details. [10] At Albany in 1757, when Robert Temple felt the need to remind his men of their contractual obligations, he “took the Contract & read to them beginning at I do oblige my Self to Stay according to the aforesaid limited time & so on.” [11] Surgeon John Agnew’s 1776 contract may not have differed very much from earlier forms, considering how similar the phrasing is to the 1718 Oath of Fidelity quoted above:

I John Agnew Surgeon of Wighton in the Shire of Galloway Aged about 19 Years do hereby Covenant and Agree to and with the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, Trading into Hudson’s-Bay, and their Successors to serve them for the Term of Three Years, to commence from the Time I shall arrive at Hudson’s-Bay: (unless sooner recalled by the Committee of the said Company) after the rate of Forty Pounds p Year And to have Wages out and home as given to the Surgeons of the Ship those years; And if I intend to return at the Expiration of this Contract to give Notice to the Committee of the said Company the year before; But if no such Notice be given to stay another Year if required at the same Wages, and under the like Terms, Agreements, Provisions, Penalties, and Forfeitures as in this Agreement mentioned; And during my Voyage to Hudsons Bay and in my return to the Port of London, I will not quit or Desert the Ship in which I shall be ordered to embark, on any Account whatsoever without the Leave and Permission of the Commander of the Said Ship, in Writing; And, will do the Duty of Watch and Ward aboard the Said Ship and will Obey all such Orders and Instructions as shall be given me by the Commander of the said Ship. And to Ship myself upon the first Vessel or Ship that the Committee of the said Company shall Order me to imbark in, that shall go, or is bound for Hudson’s- Bay; where I oblige myself to stay according to the aforesaid limited Time, and to do, and perform such Labour and Work, and obey such Commands as the Governor in Hudson’s Bay, or chief Factor there, shall impose upon me. During my being in the said Company’s Service, I will, with the utmost Hazard and Peril of my Life, in my Station, with Courage and Fidelity, maintain and defend the said Company’s Factory and Factories, Territories, Rights, Privileges, Goods and Properties, against all Enemies whatsoever, either Foreign or of our own Country: and to the utmost of my Power, will cause the same to be maintained and defended by all others, according to the Duty of my Service: And I will in all Things submit myself to the Commands and Discipline of the Governor or Commander in Chief for the said Company, and all other my superior Officers, by his Directions. And during my Abode there, I will not directly or indirectly Trade to or from any Place within the Limits of this Company’s Charter, for my own particular Account, or for any other Person or Persons, save only for the said Company, in any Furrs, Skins, or other Commodities whatsoever, with the Indians, or with any other Nation inhabiting or trading in or about Hudson’s-Bay. And that whatsoever Commodities I shall Trade for there, or get into my Possession, shall be only in Trust, and for the sole Use and Benefit of the said Governor and Company and their Successors. Any Person that shall drive any private Trade, I will endeavour to hinder, their Names I will detect, the Commodities so Traded for I will discover, as much as in me lies, to the Governor in the Bay, and the Committee of the said Company for the Time being. And in Case I the said John Agnew shall make any Breach or Default of, or in Performance of all, or any the aforesaid Covenants, Agreements, or Things, then I and my Executors and Administrators will not only forfeit and lose all Wages, Salary, and Monies, as by Virtue of this Contract, or otherwise, shall be due to me, or them, from the said Governor and Company, or their Successors, which I do hereby enable them to detain to their own Use and Benefit; But also I and my Executors and Administrators will, for every such Breach or Default, also forfeit and pay to the said Governor and Company the Sum of Eighty Pounds of lawful Money of England, over and above all Damages that may arise, or happen to them, by Reason or Means of such Breach or Default. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my Hand and Seal this Fifteenth Day of May in the Year of our Lord God 1776.

John Agnew

Sealed and Delivered in
the Presence of Us;
Henry Jefferys
Edward Lascelles [12]

Special conditions could be negotiated orally, particularly in the early years. For instance, in May 1680, smith and armourer Thomas Coleman engaged for Hudson Bay for three years at 30s per month “and his wife to have halfe his Wages in his absence.” [13] In 1690, the Committee granted George Geyer £10 “you say was formerly promised by Sir James Hayes whereof though no mention can be found in our Bookes yet that is allowed you.” [14]

One striking aspect of HBC contracts is their temporal length. Contracts of three to five years were the norm throughout this period, much longer than other early modern workers usually spent in the employ of a single master. Most workmen on building projects, for instance, were paid by the day and employed either by the day, by the piece, or by the project. Servants in husbandry worked alongside day labourers and usually took leave of their masters after one year. [15] Donald Woodward has found evidence that the town council in Hull (and probably elsewhere in northern England) employed labourers and/or craftsmen on retainer: he identified 16 “trusted labourers” at Hull between 1652 and 1679 who served the council for four or more years, but such long-term servants seldom worked more than 150 days a year for the council. [16] Uncertain and irregular employment was a pattern in almost all trades: in 1747, for instance, The London Tradesman described stonemasons as “idle” four months of the year, bricklayers five or six months, and jobbing tailors three or four months. [17]

Three or four year terms were the norm in the late seventeenth century HBC; five-year contracts were rare in the early days. [18] After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, five-year contracts became the norm, particularly for labourers. [19] Exceptions included apprentices, who were usually indentured for seven or eight years; surgeons, who almost invariably engaged for three years; and mariners, who generally served three- or four-year terms. Even there, however, the Company usually sought longer contracts when possible: in 1767, William Lockey was appointed master of the Whale sloop for three years, “though Five Years would have been more agreeable” to the Committee. [20]

Part of the reasoning behind long-term contracts was logistical: given the expense and trouble of transporting men to and from Hudson Bay, the Company did not wish to ferry them back and forth any more than necessary. Longer terms also reduced the need for constant efforts at recruitment and increased the proportion of reasonably experienced servants who (presumably) knew what they were doing. Most importantly, long-term contracts were an important way to maintain wage stability. The expiration of a man’s contract was the only point at which he could negotiate for higher wages, so the Committee was eager to limit those opportunities. The Committee chastised John Favell at Moose in 1764 for offering newly-recruited blacksmith John Pittway an extra £10 per annum for acting as armourer in addition to his regular duties: “We highly disapprove of any Servants requering an Advance of Wages for doing business which his Station necessarily qualified him for—especially until his first Contract is expired and his Merit is known.” [21] Keeping labour costs as low as possible was critical: if the concern was going to survive, the Committee needed to find the most economical sources of everything, including labour and its accompanying overhead. [22]

Signed, sealed, delivered. This contract with HBC employee William Carr was completed on 12 June 1783. In it, he agreed to “… oblige myself to stay according to the aforesaid limited time, and to do, and perform such labour and work, and obey such commands as the Governor in Hudson’s Bay, or Chief Factor there, may impose upon me.” A wedge-shaped notch cut into the lower, right corner of the page was folded back on a blob of red sealing wax to signify the legality of the document.
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Servants Contracts, A.32/3.

Choosing to Leave the Service or to Stay in the Bay

Men whose contracts had expired were almost never prevented from leaving the Bay if they so desired, and were required to leave if they did not renew their service. However, men wishing to come home before their contracts had expired were usually only allowed to do so in cases of seriously poor health, domestic concerns at home, or chronic misbehaviour in the Bay. [23] Men without such excuses were told that granting their requests would set a dangerous precedent. [24] Five men who insisted on coming home early from Albany in 1755 had to pay £5 for their passage to and from the Bay: for labourer Thomas Stephens, this represented half a year’s salary. [25] In earlier cases of men coming home before their contracts had expired, the charge was based on the time involved in the passages. In 1685, shipwright William Benson and mariner Ralph Preston came home early from Port Nelson, although both men had only completed one of their contracted four years: they each paid £2.16.0 for their initial passages to Port Nelson, calculated at the rate of 20s per month. [26] That same year, Henry Chambre (Chambray) was allowed to come home at the request of his wife, but his account was charged £2.12.8 for the voyage to Port Nelson in 1684 and £1.12.8 for the voyage home in 1685 (again calculated at the rate of 20s per month), for a total charge of £4.5.4. [27] There is no indication of why Chambre had to pay for his passage both ways while Benson and Preston only paid for their passage out.

Sometimes, servants and/or factors (managers) were uncertain whether or not a man’s time was out. First contracts, and any subsequent contracts signed in Britain, were in the Committee’s hands in London, while contracts signed in the Orkney Islands were brought back to London by the supply ships after visiting the Bay; [28] however, contracts signed in the Bay seem to have remained there. Thus, terms of engagement were not always clear to all parties, especially in Hudson Bay. John Nixon complained from Albany in 1682 that he was not given enough information to reasonably predict his labour needs: “one of the greatest plagues that I have … [is when] the men doe pretend their tymes are out, the trooth of which I am ignorant in, for yow doe not wryt to me how longe they have served, or are to serve, but yow send order for their comeing home, and sendeth me non to supply their places.” [29] Thomas McCliesh Jr (commanding York in 1723 and 1731), James Isham (commanding York in 1737) and Richard Norton (commanding Prince of Wales Fort in 1737) made similar complaints. [30] In 1719, Joseph Adams and John Henson were “Disconsolate” when they were told that they both had several years left in their apprenticeships, and asked for copies of their indentures to be sent to them. [31] In 1722, Joseph Myatt asked that men’s contracts be sent to Albany from London, “for I am inform’d that it is whispered about by some of them that they can return home when they please.” [32]

The expiration of old contracts and the negotiation of new ones often produced tension. Lack of information allowed Nixon’s men to surprise him with wage demands, which he usually had to meet to avoid being shorthanded. [33] Like servants in England, Company servants expected to improve themselves and their position as they grew older, achieving more responsibility and/or higher pay. [34] For some, the hope of such improvement may have prompted them to leave their former masters and enter the Company’s service in the first place. As with other masters, however, the Company was not always able to offer young men the advancement they sought: in such cases, men would usually seek a better position with another master. Thus, servants constituted an unusually mobile group within English and Scottish society: the physical distance between Britain and Hudson Bay was unusual only in its geographical extent. [35]

The Committee consistently tried to minimize such seeking of opportunities for improvement with long-term contracts. In 1723, the Committee took the unusual step of directing that servants whose contracts were expiring, and who refused to re-engage for at least two years, were to come home. Thomas McCliesh Jr at York considered this “the only method” of preventing “our being put to difficulty with the men whose times are expired, by endeavouring to impose upon us by demanding extravagent wages,” but also complained that the Committee had called 11 men home and sent only nine to replace them. [36]

Not all who went home did so because of dissatisfaction. Most men left the service without comment, and there is no more evidence of why they left than there is for why they came. No doubt many simply desired a change. There was nothing to inhibit their mobility; they had few possessions to carry, and their skills could be put to use in other settings. A Bayside factory was just one of many workplaces through which they would pass during their lives.

Home away from home. Joseph Robson’s plans of York Fort and Prince of Wales Fort as he knew them in the 1740s remind us that HBC trading posts were not spacious. Although most men had opportunities to work outside of the fort walls on various tasks, the factories could still act as hothouses for personal conflicts which, in turn, could have prompted them to leave the Company’s service at the earliest opportunity.
Source: Joseph Robson, An Account of Six Years Residence in Hudson’s Bay from 1733 to 1736, and 1744 to 1747. London: J. Payne and J. Bouquet, 1752.

Bargaining to Stay—or to Go Home

Servants consistently preferred short-term contracts, which created more frequent opportunities for negotiating better terms. When John Fullartine at Albany “entertain’d some of the best hands” whose times were out in 1701, they signed one-year contracts, he “not being able to get them to Sign for any longer term.” [37] In 1716, Thomas McCliesh Jr reported from Albany that “Those men whoos time was Expired would by no means Contract for Longer then 2 yeares & some for one year.” [38] Of the 11 Albany men whose times were out in 1740, three (mariners Robert Crystal and John Harrison, and joiner Martin Andrews) were resolved to go home; three (labourers Thomas Miller and Peter Robinson, and tailor William Macklin) requested one-year contracts, four (labourers Peter Isbister Sr and Will Scott, armourer John Greenaway, and cooper/steward William Sinclair) requested two-year contracts; and sloopmaster Joseph Isbister was willing to stay for an unspecified length of time, “asking only that his wages be brought in line with those of other sloopmasters.” [39] Sloopmaster Thomas Mitchell asked for one year at £50 in 1747, and the following year rejected the Committee’s offer of a three-year contract. In 1752, sloop mate Charles Cromartie (who had been apprenticed to Mitchell in 1743) signed a one-year contract at £20 and was reportedly willing to sign a two-year contract if his wages were advanced to £24. [40] An unusual year was 1757, when four of the 11 Albany servants whose times were expiring asked for contracts of three years and one (labourer Thomas Halcro) asked for a four-year contract. [41] Perhaps the recent outbreak of the Seven Years War made Bayside service seem more attractive.

Of course, demands for short-term contracts were not always just bargaining tools for better wages. In 1706, for instance, Anthony Beale reported from Albany that “the men in the Countrey whose times was out not one would stay in a long time by reason there is no sertainty of Ships comeing and at last when I got a fuew to Stay I was forced to give them extravigant Wages.” [42] Some men did not want to stay away from home for too long, lest some misfortune befall their family or friends in their absence: in 1770, for instance, Humphrey Marten warned the Committee, “Your Servants think it very hard to give two Years Notice, as in such a length of time many things may happen which may lay them under great difficulties.” [43] Also, men may have wanted means of escape if tensions within the factory became more than they wished to deal with. [44]

The process of re-engaging men could involve much negotiation and conflict, although the Company’s correspondence and other documents reveal less than they conceal. On one hand, the employee—whether old hand, skilled tradesman, or veteran officer—hoped or expected that the value of his services would be recognized with a new contract and higher pay, though he could never be sure if he was pushing his wage demands too far. On the other hand, the Committee—eager to reward merit but loath to encourage bad habits—hoped or expected that good men would want to remain in their service and be happy with the wages offered them, though they could never be sure if they were striking the proper balance between the cost and efficiency of their personnel. The Committee was aware of the range of influence available to high-ranking servants like factors, stewards, and foremen in early modern Britain. The Company’s directors might have sympathised with William Marshall, a West Indies merchant who in 1774 acquired a 300-acre farm in Surrey and kept a diary of his experiences. He was completely dissatisfied with his servants, and complained that his foreman “all along—has been siding with the men; instead of assisting me to manage them, he has been assisting them to manage me.” [45]

The Bayside factors were intermediaries in this struggle, in some ways representing one side or the other, and sometimes pursuing their own agendas. They relayed the men’s demands to London and in turn relayed the Committee’s replies to the men. The men trusted that their governor portrayed them in a favourable light in his correspondence with London, while the Committee trusted that their governors’ accusations of misbehaviour were warranted and that commendations for good behaviour were not self-serving. Meanwhile, the factors themselves worried that bitter homeward-bound servants might tell malicious tales to any Committee member who would listen. This geographic dimension of communication set the HBC apart from contemporary labour relations in Britain.

Circumstances sometimes stymied the Company’s attempts to keep its servants on long-term contracts. During the early years, for instance, servants were not required (as they were in the eighteenth century) to give one or even two years’ notice of their intention to either re-engage or go home. The earliest instruction that men must give notice appears to be in 1686, but as late as 1722 some men at Albany “whispered … that they can return home when they please.” [46] This placed more power in the men’s hands and more pressure on the factors. In 1682, John Nixon complained that at ship-time “I am no more looked upon... then a cipher, especially when they are in their drink, so that if I command them about their bussiness presently they will hit me in the teeth of their times being out, and that they will goe home.” [47]

A more orderly but (from the Committee’s point of view) no more satisfactory picture emerged from Albany in the early 1700s. On 11 September 1705, the Albany council met to discuss the issue of which servants were to go home on the Hudson’s Bay, which was preparing to depart. Governor John Fullartine reported, “Whereas ye Comp[any] haveing sent so few hands from England this Year & them for the most part very helpless, most of the Old Servants that were in the Country their time being out they stood upon very extravagant Termes & not a Man of them that were good for any thing would condescend to tarry under Seamans Wages which of necessitye we were forced to complye to.” [48] Indeed, of the 18 men listed as re-engaging, not one agreed to less than £24 per annum, more than twice most labourers’ starting wages. Unfortunately, the Hudson’s Bay was unable to leave the Bay that year and had to winter on Gilpin Island, about 30 miles north of Eastmain House: nobody went home in 1705. In July 1706, Fullartine’s successor, Anthony Beale, called the council together again to see which men would stay on and which go home. Like Fullartine, Beale found that “most of the best men, their times being out where for going Home and would not stay unless they had extraordinary Wages, which of necessity we where forced to agre[e] to.” [49] Of the 17 men listed as re-engaging, 11 had re-engaged the previous year and three of these negotiated another raise in salary.

There is no clear evidence from this period of collective bargaining, but the fact that contracts were negotiated only once a year imposed a sort of collectivity on the bargaining process. Even though men’s terms were staggered, they expired in clusters, and short-term contracts increased the size of these clusters. For instance, if a factor had most of his men on three-year terms, he knew that every year about one third of the men would need to be dealt with, whereas five-year terms reduced the number of contracts likely to expire simultaneously. Men knew when a lot of contracts were expiring at once, and when the supply ships arrived they could see how many new men there were, and so could effectively gauge how much leverage they would have in negotiating new contracts for themselves. In 1703, Fullartine lamented that “those of Yor old Servants that are here knowing that ye Country is at Such a pitch, stand upon very high & unreasonable tearms & the worst of them blow’d att 20 lb a year”; he convinced some “to condescend to tarry” by promising them extra provisions (“5 lb of Flower or Meal each man a week”), “without wch not one of them would have tarried this year.” [50] Fullartine was determined to maintain a certain level of staffing for the maintenance and defence of his employers’ interests and property during a period when Albany was the only HBC fort not in French hands. However, he was powerless to stop the men under his command from exploiting their employer’s vulnerable position to improve the terms of their employment, and thereby increasing the cost of maintaining and defending the Company’s interests and property.

The men may have decided among themselves to demand extra rations before they put their wage demands before Fullartine. Indeed, the men’s room and board—whether considered as a non-monetary wage or as a moral and contractual obligation on the part of their employer—were an integral part of their wage demands, and any reduction in the quality or quantity of provisions could be interpreted as a devaluation of their wages (and, perhaps, of their labour). [51] Officers also reacted to what they perceived as insufficient room and/or board. In the late 1760s, Andrew Graham claimed that “the officers’ apartments [at Prince of Wales Fort] are so small, and amongst the men’s, [that it] often causes discontents between the Chief and them, so that few of them stays after the expiration of their first contract, if not sooner returns home.” [52]

Whether men put their demands forward individually, as a whole, or in smaller groups is impossible to tell. Fullartine’s 1703 report focused less on the process of wage negotiation than on proclaiming his loyalty and value to the Company while dodging responsibility for rising costs. Despite his concessions, Fullartine was unable to maintain his desired complement of 40: 14 men went home that year, leaving 35 men and boys. [53] More wage concessions made by Fullartine in 1705 and by Anthony Beale in 1706 could not prevent Albany’s complement from falling to 27 by 1706. [54]

Bayside hands took risks, however, when they tried to exploit the Company’s weakness. For example, they lacked information about changing circumstances at home that affected prospects for higher wages or more benefits. Wartime conditions enabled men to use recruitment difficulties to demand higher wages, but the arrival of peace could take them by surprise and lessen their bargaining power. For instance, although Fullartine and Beale felt that they were at the mercy of their men in this regard at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Beale’s 1714 letter from Albany—written on the very day he learned of the end of Queen Anne’s War—mentioned 28 men whom he was sending home and only two men whom he was engaging or re-engaging. [55] Beale was lowering his wage bill and trimming his garrison to reflect the perceived security of peacetime. [56] In 1764, Albany surgeon William Richards’ request to renew his contract for two years at £48 per annum was refused. Unbeknownst to him, the Seven Years War had ended, and “the General Peace has lowered the price of Wages in every Instance.” He was replaced by Eusebius Bacchus Kitchen at £36. [57]

The renewal of contracts could also be an opportunity for employees to demonstrate their “devotion” to the Company by not taking advantage of crises with demands for higher wages; such “devotion” could then be rewarded at a later date. The Committee made this explicit in 1690, when they instructed George Geyer not to let any man come home from Port Nelson who could be persuaded to stay:

for the more peaceable & orderly Government of our Factories in this time of Publick troubles [i.e. war with France], our express order is, that none shall Remove their posts or station wherein they are dureing this war … but acquiesce Cheerfully and obediently in their Respective places & Imployments dureing there [these?] troubles or our further pleasure signified, as they Expect our favor or tender our displeasure … ashureing all persons that shall behave themselves modestly & peaceably in their severall places, they shall be sure to find the Companies favor & agreable Rewards according to their merrits. [58]

When informing John Bridgar of his appointment to the command of Moose Fort in 1686, the Committee admitted that “your resting satisfied in our Determination & pleasure will lay some sort of obligation upon us,” and promised to reward merit, diligence, and industry. [59] Likewise, the 1692 order that no men were to be allowed to come home was accompanied by the assurance that “for such whose times are Expired we shall take it kindly of them who stay chearfully & willingly in Our Service & not faile to remember them.” [60]

Some servants placed their trust in the Committee’s future largesse. In 1722, the Committee ordered Thomas McCliesh Jr at York to retain mariner John Wateridge for one more year on reasonable terms: McCliesh reported that Wateridge “has freely consented to tarry at his former wages [£18 per annum] … and has left it to your honours’ generosity to advance his wages next year, in hopes to appoint him gunner.” With McCliesh’s support, Wateridge was appointed gunner at £24 per annum in 1725. [61] However, having achieved the position he sought, Wateridge proved reluctant to commit to a long-term contract. In 1727, the Committee expressed their willingness to retain Wateridge as gunner at York: when asked to sign a contract for three years, he refused, although he was “willing to continue longer in your service from year to year.” The Committee disapproved of this attitude and, when he again refused to sign a long-term contract in 1728, recalled him. By this time, too, Wateridge had lost McCliesh’s patronage: the Governor commented that “it was high time” the gunner was sent home, “having been very unmannerly by reason I seized some [illicit] brandy that came from on board the Mary.” [62] At Prince of Wales Fort in 1740, Richard Norton appears to have had some difficulty persuading chief mason Thomas Kingston to tarry for one year (“that your honours might not be put to a nonplus”) and to rely on the Committee’s promise of “a suitable gratuity to his desert.” However, once Norton came to an agreement with him, Kingston persuaded two other masons to stay on similar terms. [63]

The Committee might accede to men’s demands—or even offer them higher wages or more benefits without being asked—in the expectation that this would produce greater fidelity and industry in the future. In 1740, the Albany Council responded to such encouragement by declaring that “Your Addition to Mr [Joseph] Isbister’s Sallary [i.e. raising it from £40 to £50] is a fresh mark of Your Indulgence to all dilligent Servts and will excite in us a zeal for the future of meriting Your favours.” [64] Sometimes, the Committee tried to entice their senior employees into signing on for long terms. In 1770, James Nicholson at Moose was offered £40 a year if he would engage for at least three years, and Isaac Leask was offered £50 a year as Second at Prince of Wales Fort, in expectation that he would sign a long-term contract. [65] Leask’s superior, Moses Norton, was sent a contract with a blank space for him to fill in the number of years, the Committee expressing their hope that Norton would sign for at least four years. [66]

Of course, this method of encouragement could be misplaced. In 1684, James Walker—who had only been in the service one year but whose father, William, was on the Committee—was named Second at Port Nelson “to shew our readiness to reward the good services which any of those implied [i.e. employed] by us shall doe for the Compa[ny]. and although he is but young in our service we doubt not but he will by his courage, activity & Dilligence answer the good opinion we have conceived of him.” [67] However, Governor John Abraham sent Walker home from Port Nelson on the same ship that brought news of his promotion, charging the young man with being “Quarrelsome etc.” [68]

A more complex example is that of Thomas Phipps Jr, cousin of Committee member Thomas Phipps Sr. In 1682, when the younger Phipps was warehousekeeper at Moose, the Committee raised his salary to £70 and advanced his position in the hierarchy to third in command: the Committee had “received a good Charact[e]r of you” and improved the terms of his employment “to encourage your fidelity & diligence in our Service.” [69] A few weeks after this offer was made, however, young Phipps came under grave suspicion of being connected with an interloping expedition planned by the elder Phipps, who subsequently lost his place on the Committee. Another letter was written, ordering him to be removed from his post and sent home. [70] However, the second letter never reached Hudson Bay, as the ship which carried it was lost at sea, and in any case favourable references from returning servants soon persuaded the Committee that he might be trusted. In 1685, he succeeded John Abraham in command of Port Nelson, “which we [the Committee] designed as a particular marke of our Favour to him,” but he offended the Committee by demanding £200 per annum—twice the wages he was offered and twice the wages John Bridgar was receiving as Governor of the Bottom of the Bay (James Bay). [71] The Committee’s response contrasted his demand with his former good service,

which we looked upon to deserve an Encouragement & advancement to an higher Imply, & since it must needs have bene unexpected to you, we promissed our selves not only a gratefull acceptance & full sattisfaction from you in it, but also a very hapy success & Improvement of our Trade & affaires at Port Nellson by yr Industrey & prudent conduct. … But it seemes very strange to us, that for so signall a marke of our Favour and respect which we designed to you, you should have no other gratefull sense then to endeavor to introduce a new president [i.e. precedent] & a new charge upon us by rayseing our Sallerey there which all your Predecessors have bin content & thankfull for. [72]

As well, the Committee expressed their displeasure with Phipps in letters to other Bayside factors, perhaps to deter similar behaviour on their parts. [73] Phipps returned home in 1686 but, despite his “ingratitude,” in February 1687 was negotiating terms of a new contract. Those negotiations dragged on through the spring until finally collapsing under the weight of Phipps’ constant bargaining. The Committee had been willing to give him another chance, but they had not found him “soe Candid and Ingenious” as past and present servants had led them to expect. [74]

The most conspicuous example of the Committee using benefits and wage increases to strengthen the loyalty (or the perceived loyalty) of its servants was in the aftermath of the loss of James Bay to the French in 1686. Beginning in 1688, Governor George Geyer at Port Nelson received a series of letters from his employers that sometimes verged on the obsequious. In Geyer’s hands rested all of the Company’s trade and interests during this anxious period.

Wee look upon your prudence and resolution amidst such disorders & in soe Tempestious a time to bee the Chiefe meanes that Wee received, a Tollerable Trade the last yeare, and that Wee have our Factory Preserved. … These Considerations as well as our particular esteeme for you And the Opinion Wee have of your Fidelity & experience, in promoteing the best wayes to Secure our places & encrease our Trade, hath Caused us to repose a great Trust in you in Continueing you our Governor, And to excite your Courage & Sence of our Nations Honour the more Wee have Honoured you in a way which was never before practiced by obtaineing the Gratious favour from his Ma[jes]tie to Constitute you Governor by his owne Royall Commission. … We have appointed you noe Deputy Governor at Port Nelson relyeing entirely on your Conduct & experience, and tho wee recd many Complaints against you here by some, whoe came home the Last yeare of the Great Quantity of Beavor that you have Concealed to Ship home for your owne use at private Opertunityes. … yett Wee have overlook’t all, and are resolved to lay such an Obligation of kindness & Confidence upon you, as shall engage your Fidelity as well as utmost industry, And that it shalbe noe bodyes fault but yours if Wee have not a Thriveing & Flourishing Trade. [75]

Thus placed upon Geyer’s shoulders were the gratitude and good will of his employers, the defence of his nation’s interests, the obligations felt by a man whose sins had been overlooked (if not forgiven), and the full responsibility for any future failures. He was also given a three-year contract, ostensibly because “Wee think it not Convenient, that the Cheife men whoe Governe our affaires … should bee at an uncertainety, of being every yeare Called home, which prevents them of prosecuteing those measures, for our Security & Advantage, which otherwise they may take”—but probably also because the Committee did not want to have to replace him with a less experienced factor sooner than necessary. [76]

The Committee’s apparent willingness to overlook Geyer’s private trade may seem puzzling, but was a ploy sometimes used by masters with servants “of a better Rank.” The early 18th-century moralist William Fleetwood observed that “the Reputation of Servants is so dear and valuable” that many masters were reluctant to accuse them of “false dealing.” He recommended hinting at knowledge of servants’ sins, as the Committee sometimes did, because “a light Suspition, may promote that Industry and Vigour, and give new Life, to make indeed amends for what is past.” While “a prudent connivance and concealment of their faults of this kind” might reclaim them, “the divulging of them, is likely enough to ruine them for ever, either by hardning them in Sin, or taking away their Credit, so that they never can be trusted or employed by any other.” [77] The Committee presumably felt that Geyer’s indiscretions were outweighed by his past, present, and future service to the Company.

Each year’s letter from London brought new encouragement for Geyer, including gratuities of £100 in 1690, 1691, and 1692. Throughout this period, however, Geyer actually wanted to go home. He first asked permission in 1687, but the Committee refused it in 1688:

You See Wee make you the Cheife usefull man, to us and Wee are of [the] opinion that you haveing been soe many yeares in our Service and are soe well experienced in all our affaires and in our true interest that you will never desert our imploymt as long as wee think fitt to Continue you in it, And therefore Wee doe not Answere your request of Comeing home this yeare, but approve of your Modesty that it was with a Submission & Resignation to our pleasure & Service. [78]

In 1690, they told him,

In Regard ... of the present warr here with France … & that wee have soe much experience of your good services & your usefullnesse to us now more especially at this Juncture, wee must & doe earnestly intreate you not to thinke of Removeing or Returneing home at this time of a Publick warr, & when wee are Besett with soe much Trouble & soe many difficulties, & that wee have need of your good Conduct & faithfull Resolution to maintaine & defend our Interest ... And therefore wee entreate you with patience & Courage to abide by it, & to Inspire the Like Resolutions into your Deputy Mr. Walsh at New Severn, that soe God sending a happy end to this warr, Wee may have Cause to thanke & to Reward you both. [79]

In 1691, he was told that “we cannot possibly dispence with your coming home this year … Wee doe not doubt but you will cheerfully continue there one year more, affaires here in Europe (as to the Warre) being at A greater Crisis for this Summer then ever and God alone knowing on which side he shall please to cast the advantage of the scale, Soe that both as to the safety of our Factory & as to the improvement & enlargeing our trade in this Juncture Wee have neede of double help and United force.” [80] The Company used its vulnerability to strengthen its negotiations with Geyer, appealing for his help and calling upon a sense of unity which was seldom emphasized in peacetime.

In a private letter, the Committee described their relationship with Geyer in more personal terms than in the official correspondence. The “Preservation of Port Nelson in this dangerous time” was “a very tender point to us” in 1691, and was wholly dependent “upon your Conduct & Courage.” This was quite true, as Severn River had been abandoned the previous year and an expedition to Churchill River in 1688/89 had come to naught. The letter reminded Geyer of “the Obligations you will putt upon us” by agreeing to stay in the country, hoping that “your owne Zeale & wishes to the Welfare of this Company is such that in a time of apparent danger you would not desert our Service When your owne Honour as well as the Oblidging us doth call for your stay & you will scorne to leave that Government environd with dangers which you enterd upon in Peace & Tranquility.” It painted a picture of a world consumed by war, where England’s enemies lurked behind every rock or bush, and “when you consider it you will find it as dangerous to come home as to stay there; But much more dishonourable.” He was reminded of his duty to his sovereign—for he held a royal commission and commanded the last English possession in Hudson Bay—and his duty to the men under his command, who would be as demoralized by his departing as they would be encouraged by his remaining. Finally, the Committee (perhaps rather disingenuously) concluded, “not doubting your hearty & ready Concurrence with our desires, which Wee have Chosen to request & make a kindnesse to Our Selve[s] rather then to Command, Wee Commend you heartily & all your affaires to the Protection of the Allmighty & remaine / Your very Loving Friends.” [81]

Geyer agreed to stay one more year, and for this the Committee praised and thanked him: “hopeing (as you say) the Warre may be by that time ended, that you may Leave our Concerns there in a peaceable & florishing Condition & that you would not willingly Leave your Post before you saw them soe setled, is so ingenious & honourable in you, & kind towards us, that we assure you it hath a great influence upon us that know the value of your meritts & how happily Our affaires there have prospered under your Conduct.” They then asked him to stay one more year, “when probably you will have the honour & satisfaction you seeke, of Leaving that Trade which you have enlarged, that Building which you have erected, that Vineyard which you have Planted, in a Peaceable & florishing Condition, & out of danger of being undermined by the Foxes, or destroyed by the Wild Boares of the Forrest.” [82] Geyer’s personal relationship with the Company and its interests was vividly coloured by the image of Geyer as the careful husbandman. Such agricultural metaphors were rarely used in HBC correspondence, but here the Committee may have been trying to reinforce Geyer’s attachment by painting him as the governor of a colony rather than just the manager of an isolated trading post. Geyer’s royal commission and the emphasis placed on it in the Committee’s private letter of 1691 could also have helped reorient Geyer’s perceptions of his role and importance. However, the Committee’s strenuous efforts to retain him in their service notwithstanding, Geyer returned home in 1693—a year before the French captured Port Nelson—and when he sought to re-engage in 1697, the Committee told him that there were no suitable vacancies. [83]

The Nonsuch Returns to London, October 1669, with the first cargo of furs, as painted by Norman Wilkinson for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s calendar art series, 1945. The crews of the Company’s ships were generally better-paid than HBC landsmen, and rarely accepted lower wages when they agreed to serve on land. Nevertheless, the annual supply ships could usually provide one or two men to fill immediate labour shortages on the Bay.
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, P-409.


During its long first century (1670-1782), the Hudson’s Bay Company developed personnel practices not on the basis of abstract policy but by patching together experiments and expedients. The Company’s initial vulnerability increased the value of loyal and experienced servants, and frequent shortfalls in wartime recruitment allowed old hands to demand and receive higher wages and gratuities. Peace after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 allowed the Company to prune its payroll and to resume the carefully optimistic expansion that French attacks had interrupted in the 1680s.

Throughout the period discussed here, political and economic authority within the Company was supplemented with cultural authority. There is no evidence that the London Committee explicitly envisioned their overseas posts as household-factories but, as the central social institution in British domestic and economic life, the household was the obvious template for the organization of the posts. [84] Although most people in Britain were rooted in their locality and its concerns, the high degree of labour mobility within Britain (especially within England) was possible partly because people who moved to new localities could expect to find similar customs, economic structures, and parish institutions. [85] Although Hudson Bay presented no such familiar points of reference, the new trading posts did offer the opportunity to transplant at least some of the most important ones. Thus, the social regulation of the Company’s factories closely resembled the social structure of the household-family without any party involved having to consciously construct the factories along such lines. [86]

HBC servants came to Hudson Bay from a competitive labour market in early modern Britain. Although the demands of physical distance made HBC service unique in some respects (such as the length of service), HBC contracts were typical of early modern employment agreements. They stipulated a basic economic transaction, monetary and non-monetary wages in return for services rendered over a specified period of time; but they also acted as social and moral covenants, binding master and servant in a network of reciprocal (but often undefined) obligations. The available evidence indicates that both parties’ understandings of these obligations remained consistent—though not always congruous—through the Company’s long first century of operations.

The renewal of contracts provided opportunities to emphasize those obligations, by both workers (through deferential behaviour) and by the Committee (through paternalistic behaviour). However, opportunities for conflict and tension also existed, and servants seeking better terms risked being seen as ungrateful or disingenuous. In wartime, or at other moments when the Company seemed vulnerable, deferential and paternalistic behaviours could be reinforced by the invocation of courage and national duty, but they could also be undermined if servants were perceived as putting their own interests ahead of the Company’s. In fact, deferential behaviour can also be perceived as pursuing individual rather than corporate interests: the short-term deferment of the former, allegedly in favour of the latter, could potentially reap more longterm benefits than straightforward wage demands.

A rough tale. Although HBC servants were usually allowed to trap privately, they were strongly discouraged from trapping the staple of the Company’s business, the beaver. Instead, they were instructed to focus on marten and other skins.
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, James Isham’s Observations on Hudson Bay, 1743, E2/2, fo. 12.


1. See Woodward, Donald, Men at Work: Labourers and Building Craftsmen in the Towns of Northern England, 1450-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 1.

2. Joyce, Patrick, “Work.” In F. M. L. Thompson, ed., The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950, volume 2: People and their Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 159, observed that most workers in early modern Britain were dependent on waged labour at some point in their working lives, and that very few workers were completely independent of capitalist markets for labour and commodities. “Wage and non-wage characteristics of labour were deeply embedded in each other, and capitalist wage work rarely took a pure form.”

3. See Tadmor, Naomi, Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 41, 63; Laslett, Peter, The World We Have Lost: Further Explored, 3rd ed. London: Methuen, 1983, p. 76.

4. Rich, E. E., ed., Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1679-1684: Second Part, 1682-1684. Toronto: Champlain Society for the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1946, pp. 204, 272. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 2 June 1688, Rich, E. E. & A. M. Johnson eds., Hudson’s Bay Copy Booke of Letters Commissions Instructions Outward 1688-1696. London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1957, p. 20. Contract of John Agnew, 1776, Manitoba Archives/Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA), A. 32/3, fo. 11; also see Williams, Glyndwr, ed., Andrew Graham’s Observations on Hudson’s Bay 1767-91. London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1969, p. 246.

5. “The Oath of Fidelity taken to ye Hudsons Bay Compy at York Fort Decbr 24th 1718,” HBCA, B. 239/b/1, fo. 6.

6. Kussmaul, Ann, Servants in Husbandry in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 32-33; Cliffe, J.T., The World of the Country House in Seventeenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999, p. 90.

7. Hecht, J. Jean, The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956, p. 71; Thompson, E. P. “Patricians and Plebs,” In Thompson, Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture. New York: The New Press, 1993, p. 36; Rule, John, “Employment and Authority: Masters and Men in Eighteenth-Century Manufacturing,” In Paul Griffiths, Adam Fox, & Steve Hindle, eds., The Experience of Authority in Early Modern England. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1996, p. 287. H. Clare Pentland’s discussion of ‘pre-industrial’ labour relations resembles Thompson’s, but assumes a relative scarcity of labour in early Canada: Pentland, Labour and Capital in Canada 1650-1850, ed. by Paul Phillips Toronto: James Lorimer, 1981, p. 25.

8. Joyce, Patrick. “The historical meanings of work: an introduction.” In Joyce, ed., The Historical Meanings of Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 8.

9. See HBCA, A. 32/3, fos. 10-13.

10. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 2 June 1688, Letters Ooutward 1688-1696, p. 20. With the exception of apprenticeship indentures, most contemporary labour contracts in Britain were probably oral: Kussmaul, pp. 31-32. Oral contracts relied heavily on local and/or craft customs, and thus would probably have been unfeasible for Hudson Bay.

11. Robert Temple & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 30 May, 6 June, 15 August, 18 August 1757, HBCA, A. 11/3, fo. 17.

12. Contract of John Agnew, 1776, A. 32/3, fo. 11. The contract form was typeset: words and passages italicized in this transcription were handwritten in the original. The “sample” contract (1780s) included in Graham’s Observations, pp. 246-247, agrees with this in essentials, but does not include the details inserted in the middle.

13. Rich, E. E., ed., Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1679-1684: First Part, 1679-1682. Toronto: Champlain Society for the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1945, p. 65. It was not necessary for a servant to specify beforehand that he wanted certain portions of his wages remitted to friends or family members: he could send a letter of attorney or notice of his wishes to the Committee with the annual homeward correspondence packet. The Committee complied with their wishes whenever possible, but would not touch their servants’ money without instructions. See the case of Eleanor and Hugh Verner in 1682: Rich, Minutes, First Part, p. 100. Also, see the case of Edward Stacey and Mr Hurluck (or Captain Hurloce): HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 17 June 1692, Letters Ooutward 1688-1696, 138; HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 17 June 1693, Letters Outward 1688-1696, p. 194.

14. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 22 May 1690, Letters Outward 1688-1696, p. 95.

15. For construction workers, see Gilboy, Elizabeth W. Wages in Eighteenth Century England, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934, pp. 8-17, 41-56, 80-97; Woodward, Men at Work, pp. 12, 35, 45, 51-52, 65-69, 96, 116; Malcolmson, Robert W. Life and Labour in England 1700-1780. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981, p. 35. For servants in husbandry, see Malcolmson, Life and Labour, p. 71; Kussmaul, p. 51-52; Abbott, Mary, Life Cycles in England 1560-1720. London: Routledge, 1996, p. 85.

16. Woodward, Men at Work, pp. 35-37, 102-105.

17. Rule, John, The Experience of Labour in Eighteenth-Century English Industry. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981, pp. 49-57; Campbell, R., The London Tradesman. New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1969; originally published London, 1747, p. 159, 160, 192-193.

18. In 1684, for example, the Committee asked Morgan Lodge (their unofficial “agent” in Kent) to engage men to “tarry in the Countrey three or foure yeares.” HBC (London) to Morgan Lodge (Gravesend), 16 May 1684, Letters Outward 1680-87, 110. Twelve of the 13 men engaged in 1674, eight of the 14 engaged in 1680, and 19 of the 22 engaged in 1682 signed on for three years: Rich, E.E., ed., Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1671-1674. Toronto: Champlain Society for the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1942, pp. 97, 107-109, 114-115; Minutes, First Part, 27-74, 184-227. Twenty-four of the 37 men engaged in 1683 and 23 of the 37 engaged in 1684 signed on for four years: Minutes, Second Part, pp, 83-106, 203-246.

19. For example, 12 of the 16 men sent to Albany in 1719 had engaged for five years: all 12 were labourers. HBCA, A. 16/1, fos. 2-15.

20. HBC (London) to William Lockey (no address), 7 March 1767, HBCA, A. 5/1, fo. 76d.

21. HBC (London) to John Favell (Moose), 23 May 1764, HBCA, A. 5/1, fo. 57.

22. See Burley, Edith, Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline, and Conflict in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1770-1870. Don Mills ON: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 4. Also see Rich, E. E., The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670-1870. London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1958, 1959, I, pp. 188; Robson, Joseph, An Account of Six Years Residence in Hudson’s Bay. Johnson Reprint, 1965; originally published London, 1752, appendix, p. 69.

23. HBC (London) to Thomas White (Moose), 22 May 1754, HBCA, A. 5/1, fos. 2d-3; HBC to White, 12 May 1756, A. 5/1, fos. 14-14d; HBC to Henry Pollexfen Sr (Moose), 23 May 1758, A. 5/1, fo. 24d; HBC to Humphrey Marten (Albany), 13 May 1767, A. 5/1, fo. 77d.

24. HBC (London) to William Richards (Henley House), 13 May 1767, HBCA, A. 5/1, fos. 78-78d; HBC to Edward Lawton (Prince of Wales Fort), 25 May 1768, A. 5/1, fo. 91.

25. HBCA, A. 16/3, fo. 89. The men were recent arrivals in Hudson Bay and were unnerved by the killings of five men at Henley House by a band of Lowland Cree in December 1754. Farley Grubb, “Does Bound Labour Have To Be Coerced Labour? The Case of Colonial Immigrant Servitude Versus Craft Apprenticeship and Life-Cycle Servitude-in-Husbandry,” Itinerario, 1997, vol. 21/1, p. 41, found that masters charged indentured servants bound for the American colonies between £6 and £12 for passage, including all necessities.

26. HBCA, A. 15/3, fos. 40, 48.

27. HBCA, A. 1/8, fo. 28; A. 15/3, fo. 47.

28. See, for example, Richard Norton (Prince of Wales Fort) to HBC (London), 16 August 1733, Davies, K. G. & A. M. Johnson, eds., Letters from Hudson Bay 1703-40. London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1965, p. 185.

29. Nixon, “Report to the Governor and Committee by John Nixon, 1682,” in Minutes, First Part, p. 249.

30. Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 23 August 1723, Letters, p. 95; Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 7 August 1731, Letters, p. 159; James Isham (York) to HBC (London), 6 August 1737, Letters, p. 230; Richard Norton (Prince of Wales Fort) to HBC (London), 23 August 1737, Letters, p. 240. Also see the confusion in 1737 over the contract of labourer Patrick Sinclair: Joseph Adams & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 17 August 1737, A. 11/2, fo. 89d; A. 16/2, fo. 77; Thomas McCliesh Jr, William Bevan, & Council (Moose) to HBC (London), 24 August 1735, Letters, p. 210.

31. Thomas McCliesh Jr (Albany) to HBC (London), 31 August 1719, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 40.

32. Joseph Myatt (Albany) to HBC (London), 22 August 1722, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 44d.

33. Nixon, p. 249.

34. Malcolmson, Life and Labour, p. 72.

35. Malcolmson, Life and Labour, pp. 71-73; Kussmaul, pp. 49, 55, 66-67; Snell, K. D. M., Annals of the Labouring Poor: Social Change and Agrarian England, 1660-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 334-337. Although migration for a variety of reasons was commonplace in early modern England, it was usually over short distances. Malcolmson, Life and Labour, p. 74; also Kussmaul, pp. 56-60; Clark, Peter, “Migration in England During the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries,” Past & Present, May 1979, vol. 83, pp. 66-73; Eastwood, David, Governing Rural England: Tradition and Transformation in Local Government 1780-1840. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, pp. 25-28. Studies of mobility in early modern Scotland have shown patterns similar to England (i.e. high levels of movement, primarily over short distances), but no detailed work has been done to ascertain whether turnover rates of population were as high as in some English communities: Whyte, Ian D., “Migration in early-modern Scotland and England: A comparative perspective.” In Colin G. Pooley & Ian D. Whyte, eds., Migrants, Emigrants, and Immigrants: A Social History of Migration. London: Routledge, 1991, p. 92. It should be noted, however, that the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in England and Scotland have been relatively neglected in migration studies, partly because the sources from that period are “more intractable and less reliable” than those of both the preceding and succeeding periods: Clark, “Migration in England,” p. 60.

36. McCliesh mentioned that the Committee’s order was made “public in the factory,” but did not comment on the men’s reactions: Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 16 August 1724, Letters, pp. 98, 99.

37. “A Coppy of a Counsell Hold at Albany Fort Sepbr ye 1st 1701,” HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 1.

38. Thomas McCliesh Jr (Albany) to HBC (London), 16 July 1716, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 27.

39. Rowland Waggoner & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 15 August 1739, HBCA, A. 11/2, fos. 100d-101. Most of these men got what they wanted: Greenaway two years at £30 (up from £25), Sinclair two years at £20 (up from £10), Macklin two years at £14, Peter Isbister Sr two years at £12 (up from £10). A. 16/3, fos. 7, 9, 10, 22. Joseph Isbister’s wages were raised from £40 to £50: A. 16/3, fo. 9. Miller and Robinson received one-year contracts at £12 (up from £10, but they had asked for £14): A. 16/3, fos. 10, 23. Scott asked for two years at £14 (up from £10), but accepted one year at £12 and a second year at £14: A. 16/3, fo. 11. Crystal, though resolved to go home, actually stayed at Albany until 1741: A. 16/3, fo. 21.

40. Joseph Isbister & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 18 August 1747, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 133; George Spence & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 22 August 1748, A. 11/2, fo. 136d; George Spence & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 4 August 1752, A. 11/2, fo. 151. For details of Cromartie’s service, see A. 16/3, fos. 49, 84.

41. Robert Temple & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), August 1757, HBCA, A. 11/3, fo. 25. Halcro (£6 per annum) left his wages to the Committee’s consideration, but he died at Albany on 15 November 1757: A. 16/3, fo. 88; A. 16/4, fo. 6. Three-year contracts were requested by and granted to labourer William Allen (who was described in the Officers’ and Servants’ Ledgers as a labourer at £10 per annum and Joseph Isbister’s apprentice between 1753 and 1758, and who now asked to be engaged as a mariner at £20), while labourer Robert Isbister (at £6) left his wages to the Committee’s pleasure and was disappointed: A. 16/3, fos. 92, 93; A. 16/4, fos. 7, 8. Shipwright John Fairfowl asked for a one-year contract but left his wages to the Committee’s discretion, and continued at his current salary (£36): A. 16/3, fo. 89; A. 16/4, fo. 19. Sloop mate Robert Ingledew asked for two years at £30 (up from £25) but only got one year at that wage: A. 16/3, fo. 103; A. 16/4, fo. 12. Labourer and former apprentice Guy Warwick and writer John Favell both asked for £15 (up from £10) for three and two years respectively but accepted £12: A. 16/3, fos. 64, 96; A. 16/4, fos. 8, 20. Mariner Hugh Slater, formerly the servant of the late sloopmaster John Longland (d. 16 June 1757) asked for three years at £15 (up from £10) and accepted another year at his current wages, but was advanced to £20 in 1759: A. 16/3, fo. 97; A. 16/4, fo. 9. Labourer Thomas Austin asked for two years at £25 (up from £20) and got it by virtue of being a bricklayer as well: A. 16/3, fos. 65, 98; A. 16/4, fo. 10.

42. Anthony Beale (Albany) to HBC (London), 23 July 1706, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 15. For the irregularity of shipping to and from Albany between 1701 and 1712, see Letters, pp. 335-336.

43. Humphrey Marten & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 3 September 1770, HBCA, A. 11/3, fos. 147d-148.

44. Aubert, Vilhelm, The Hidden Society. Totowa NJ: Bedminster Press, 1965, pp. 261, 275, suggested that high turnover among ships’ crews may have been “an answer to tensions created by the fact that those who work in the same place also reside and spend their leisure time together.”

45. Quoted in Kussmaul, p. 46.

46. HBC (London) to John Bridgar (Moose), 20 May 1686, Letters Outward 1680-87, p. 181; Joseph Myatt (Albany) to HBC (London), 22 August 1722, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 44d.

47. Nixon, p. 244.

48. “A Councell Call’d this 11th of Sepr 1705” (Albany), HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 9.

49. “A Councell Called the 20th of July 1706” (Albany), HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 12.

50. “[H]ow I shall be able to perform my prommiss God knows for I have it not in the Country for 40 men wch is ye number I desire to keep if I can possibly procure so many.” John Fullartine (Albany) to HBC (London), 2 August 1703, HBCA, A. 11/2, fos. 3-3d.

51. See Aubert, p. 265; Thompson, E.P., “The Patricians and the Plebs.” In Customs in Common, p. 38. Ben-Amos, Ilana Krausman, Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994, p.171, observed that the lack of clear boundaries between the moral and the contractual aspects of service agreements could easily lead to tension between master and servant.

52. Graham’s Observations, p. 244.

53. John Fullartine (Albany) to HBC (London), 2 August 1703, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 7d.

54. Anthony Beale (Albany) to HBC (London), 23 July 1706, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 15.

55. Anthony Beale (Albany) to HBC (London), 2 August 1714, HBCA, A. 11/2, fos. 23d-24. The two men were Richard Staunton and Joseph Myatt, both future governors of Albany.

56. Only two years later, however, the new factor at Albany, Thomas McCliesh Jr (who had been among those sent home in 1714), complained about a rumoured French trading post at the mouth of the Severn River and reported, “Those men whoos time was Expired would by no means Contract for Longer then 2 years & some for one year, I was Oblidged to Comply with their Demands, Knowing what Treacherous next door neighbours we have to deal with.” Thomas McCliesh Jr (Albany) to HBC (London), 16 July 1716, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 27. The French had constructed a trading post at or near the mouth of the Severn in 1702, but when they abandoned it is unknown.

57. HBC (London) to William Richards (Albany), 23 May 1764, A. 5/1, fo. 56d. In the same year, surgeon John Potts was allowed to continue at £48, but he had served longer than Richards and was formerly master of Richmond Fort: HBC (London) to John Potts (Fort Prince of Wales), 23 May 1764, HBCA, A. 5/1, fo. 59d.

58. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 22 May 1690, Letters Outward 1688-1696, pp. 102-103. Also, see HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 21 May 1691, Letters Outward 1688-1696, p.123.

59. HBC (London) to John Bridgar (Moose), 20 May 1686, Letters Outward 1680-1687, 178-179.

60. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 17 June 1692, Letters Outward 1688-1696, pp. 141-142.

61. Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 23 August 1723, Letters, pp. 94-95; Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 16 August 1724, Letters, p. 97; Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 26 August 1725, Letters, p. 109. In 1723, Thomas White and Thomas Tutty, “both good men and very serviceable,” and whose times were out in 1724, also offered (Letters, 95) to serve one year longer and “left it to your generosity to advance their wages,” but did not mention any specific ambitions.

62. Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 16 August 1727, Letters, p. 128; Thomas McCliesh Jr (York) to HBC (London), 8 August 1728, Letters, p. 134.

63. Richard Norton & Council (Prince of Wales Fort) to HBC (London), 9 August 1740, Letters, p. 320.

64. Joseph Isbister & Council (Albany) to HBC (London), 24 August 1740, HBCA, A. 11/2, fo. 102.

65. HBC (London) to James Nicholson (Moose), 17 May 1770, HBCA, A. 5/1, fo. 112d; HBC (London) to Isaac Leask (Prince of Wales Fort), 17 May 1770, A. 5/1, fo. 121d.

66. HBC (London) to Moses Norton (Prince of Wales Fort), 17 May 1770, HBCA, A. 5/1, fos. 120-120d.

67. HBC (London) to John Abraham (Port Nelson), 14 May 1684, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p. 111. Two of James’ brothers were also employed by the Company at this time: William Jr was the Company’s attorney and Nehemiah was a ship captain. Minutes, Second Part, 83n.

68. HBCA, A. 1/8, fo. 26d; Minutes, Second Part, 83n.

69. HBC (London) to Thomas Phipps Jr (Moose), 23 May 1682, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p. 52; also see HBC (London) to John Nixon (Moose), 15 May 1682, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p. 45.

70. HBC (London) to John Nixon (Moose), 24 July 1682, Letters Outward 1680-1687, pp. 58-59.

71. HBC (London) to John Bridgar (Moose), 20 May 1686, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p. 177.

72. HBC (London) to Thomas Phipps Jr (Port Nelson), 20 May 1686, Letters Outward 1680-1687, pp. 191-192.

73. HBC (London) to John Bridgar (Moose), 20 May 1686, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p.177; HBC (London) to Henry Sergeant (Albany), 20 May 1686, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p.187.

74. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 3 June 1687, Letters Outward 1680-1687, p. 236; HBCA, A. 1/9, fo. 7d.

75. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 2 June 1688, Letters Outward 1688-1696, pp. 6-7.

76. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 2 June 1688, Letters Outward 1688-1696, p. 8.

77. Fleetwood, William, The Relative Duties of Parents and Children, Husbands and Wives, Masters and Servants. New York: Garland, 1985; originally published London: C. Harper, 1705, pp. 377-379.

78. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 2 June 1688, Letters Outward 1688-1696, p. 13.

79. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 22 May 1690, Letters Outward 1688-1696, p. 98.

80. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 21 May 1691, Letters Outward 1688-1696, pp. 117-118.

81. HBC (London) to George Geyer (Port Nelson), private, 21 May 1691, Letters Outward 1688-1696, pp. 125-127.

82. HBC (London) to George Geyer & Council (Port Nelson), 17 June 1692, Letters Outward 1688-1696, pp. 139, 140.

83. Alice M. Johnson, “Geyer, George,” DCB I, pp. 328-329.

84. Davidoff, Leonore, “The family in Britain.” In F. M. L. Thompson ed., The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950, Volume 2: People and Their Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 71, called the household-family “the template for most other organisations and [it] was seen as the foundation of society.” Also see Foster, John E., “The Indian-Trader in the Hudson Bay Fur Trade Tradition.” In Jim Freedman & Jerome H. Barkow, eds., Proceedings of the Second Congress, Canadian Ethnology Society, vol. 2. Ottawa: National Museum of Man, Mercury Series, 1975, pp. 574-575, 577- 578.

85. Eastwood, David, Governing Rural England: Tradition and Transformation in Local Government 1780-1840. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, p. 24. Also see Fletcher, Anthony & John Stevenson, “Introduction.” In Fletcher & Stevenson, eds., Order and Disorder in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 9-10; Snell, K. D. M., “Gravestones, Belonging and Local Attachment in England 1700-2000,” Past & Present, May 2003, vol.179, pp. 100-101, 131-132.

86. For a discussion of social patterns and popular culture being transplanted from Britain to the American colonies through processes of retention, storage, recovery, and borrowing, see Young, Alfred F., “English Plebeian Culture and Eighteenth-Century American Radicalism.” In Margaret Jacob & James Jacob, eds., The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984, pp. 185-212.

Page revised: 21 November 2015