Médard des Groseilliers
Médard Chouart des Groseilliers (1618–1696) was a French explorer and fur trader in Canada. He is often paired with his brother-in-law Pierre-Esprit Radisson, who was about 20 years younger. The pair worked together in fur trading and exploration. Their decision to enter the English service led to the foundation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. This company established trading posts and extensive relations with the First Nations in western Canada. It was highly influential in making the region amenable to English colonization. Raddisson with Groseiliers also mapped many of the Great Lakes and trading routes used by settlers in the early 19th Century.
He was born at Charly-sur-Marne in France; he later called himself Sieur des Groseilliers after a farm his parents managed in Bassevelle. Some English documents record him as Mr. Gooseberry, which is the translation of his name. Immigrating in 1641 as a young man at age 23 to Quebec (New France), he became a donné or lay helper at the Jesuit missions in the Huron country. Here he learned the skills of a coureur des bois.
In 1647 he married Helène, the daughter of Abraham Martin whose land later became famous as the Plains of Abraham. In 1653 he married his second wife, Marguerite Hayet, the widowed step-sister of Pierre-Esprit Radisson.
After the Iroquois destroyed the Huron missions, Grosilliers worked to re-establish trade, especially in the Lake Superior region. He and Radisson went to Lake Superior in 1658/60, where they were among the first Europeans to contact the Sioux (Lakota). The latter then lived near the lake. From Cree traders, the French men came to understand that the main source of furs lay northwest of the lake. In 1661/63 they journeyed to a location in that region (guesses to its identity range from Lake Winnipeg to Rupert House). On their return to Quebec, they were fined most of their profits by the colonial government because they had left New France without a license. (The French in Canada had to choose between two policies. They could either build up a dense European settlement on the Saint Lawrence River and encourage Indians bring furs to them for trading, or they could spread out into a wilderness too large to administer or protect. Groseilliers was caught when the first policy was in effect).
Groseilliers went to France to appeal, without success. From France he seems to have tried to organize an expedition into Hudson Bay. Disgusted with the French authorities, he and Radisson went to Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They organized another expedition into Hudson Bay, but it was turned back by the ice. At Boston in 1665 they met George Cartwright, who had been involved in the 1664 English conquest of New York, taking over from the Dutch. Cartwright referred them to Sir George Carteret in England.
Captured by Dutch privateers on the voyage, the French men were put ashore in Spain. Reaching England, they were presented to King Charles and entered the circle of the Duke of York, Prince Rupert and General Monck. This political backing supported the two wilderness experts in forming the Hudson's Bay Company to explore that area. Plans were made, but nothing could be done because of the English war with the Dutch.
On June 3, 1668 two ships left England for Hudson Bay: the Nonsuch with Groseilliers and the Eaglet with Radisson. The Eaglet was caught in a storm and had to return. On 25 September the Nonsuch reached the mouth of the Rupert River, where they built a fort for the winter. After trading in the spring, the expedition left the following June and reached England in October 1669 with a rich cargo of furs. With financial backing from the elite, they founded the Hudson's Bay Company in May 1670.
In 1670 Radisson and Groseilliers returned to the bay, claiming Port Nelson and trading at what they called Rupert House. They seem to have made several more trips. In 1674 Brosilliers was at Rupert House when Father Charles Albanel arrived from Quebec to interfere with the English. The priest was taken into custody and sent to England on the same ship as Radisson and Grosseilliers. Father Albanel, and an offer of money, induced them to return to the French service.
Having twice betrayed their masters, the French men hoped for favorable treatment in France but did not find it. They were shipped back to Canada where Frontenac was also suspicious. Groseilliers returned home to Trois-Rivieres and Radisson went to France. Without occupation, Radisson became a midshipman under Jean II d'Estrées and was nearly drowned at Las Aves. He went to England in an attempt to retrieve his wife, but her father would not allow her to go to France. He made feelers to rejoin the HBC, but these were rejected.
In 1681 in Paris Radisson was approached by Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye and the following year they formed the Compaignie du Nord or Compaignie de la Baie D'Hudson to compete with the Hudson's Bay Company by tapping the richer furs northwest of the English posts on James Bay. The English had the same idea. In 1682 the brothers-in-law reached the mouth of the Hayes River and settled in. Six days earlier an unofficial expedition had arrived from Boston and anchored at the mouth of the Nelson River (Benjamin Guillam in the Bachelor's Delight). The French learned of the Bostonians when they fired a cannon for a funeral.
As France and England were not at war, Radisson and Guillam made a truce. Returning from his meeting with Guillam, Radisson saw two more ships. These were the official Hudson's Bay Company ships (Prince Rupert and Albemarle under Zachariah Gillam). Lighting a signal fire to keep the two English groups from meeting, Radisson made a second truce. On 21 October the Prince Rupert was lost in a storm. Later the two French ships were crushed by the ice, and one had to be repaired by cannibalizing the other.
The following February the Boston party was captured by the French. The HBC men were captured, probably in early summer when the Albemarle left for James Bay. On 27 July 1683 the French left for Quebec in the Bachelor's Delight with 2000 pelts. Most of the English were sent to the English posts in the repaired French ship. Groseilliers' son Jean-Baptiste Chuart and seven men were left at Port Nelson. In August the Albemarle returned from James Bay. It is not clear what happened, but both sides were able to trade for furs. [Parts of this story do not make sense. Most of it comes from Radisson's account, which is known to be inaccurate in places.]
When the brothers-in-law reached Quebec, the authorities had a problem. England and France were at peace. The Catholic Duke of York was now governor of Hudson's Bay Company and was expected to become king and rule in the French interest. The Bachelor's Delight was either confiscated or sent back to Boston with Benjamin Guillam in charge. The brothers-in-law were made to pay the regular Quebec tax, which was questionable, since it was not certain that Hudson Bay was within even the loose boundaries of Quebec. In 1684, for diplomatic reasons, France compensated the Hudson's Bay Company for its losses. Radisson went to France to straighten out the legal problems.
Sources disagree on the last years of Groseilliers. Newman says that Groseilliers, now 65, retired in disgust to a small seigneury at Trois-Rivières and died in 1696. Morton says that he went to France with Radisson and separated from his brother-in-law when the latter rejoined the English. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says that Groseilliers' fate is uncertain.
- Nute, Grace Lee (1979) . "Chouart des Groseilliers, Médard". In Brown, George Williams. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I (1000–1700) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
- Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, no date, but circa 1940 (University of Toronto Press; 2nd edition 1973 ISBN 978-0-8020-4033-6)
- Peter C. Newman, Empire of the Bay, 1998 ISBN 978-0-14-027488-2
- Newman,page 102
- Morton, page 93