This letter is from the HBC's London Committee to Governor Henry Sergeant at Moose Fort, dated May 20, 1686.
It expresses the directors' concern at their servants sending furs home privately and their assumption (probably correct) that this was a sign that men were using Company goods to trade privately with Natives. p185, 3rd pgh: "We are well pleased... Servants therewith. "
“We are well pleased that our Tobacco last sent Doe give the Indians content, which has encouraged us to suppley all our Factories this expedition with the like and are resolved to continue it in the future though it be to us a much greater charge then formerly,
And we doe approve that you have established ½ li. of the same Tobacco for a winter beavor, from which we charge you and your Successors never to vary.
We perceive you are Displeased that we inhibite you to give beavor Coates to our Shipmasters, alledging two Reasons; the Practice of your Predecessors & of the Dept. Governor & Warehouse Keeper
we know very well Governor Nixon before you Did it But we never did approve thereof Much less for the Deputy Governor or Warehouse Keeper to Doe the like, of which hitherto we never knew any were given away by such
& if you had knowne the Dept. Governor or Warehouse Keeper to have done so in the tyme of yr. Government it behoved you to acquainte us therewith.
We have had some controversey with some of our Servants that came home last yeare aboute their beavor and Martin skin coates, they alledging the skins were gotten by their owne industrey and some againe presented them by the Indians, both which reasons are to us vaine and frivolous.
For what ever comes to our servants hands, whither by the one way or the other, it ought to be esteemed as our owne, for we are at great and vast charges there, we pay for their tyme which is not theirs but ours, and all Goods that comes to their hands is by virtue of our maintaineing them.
We know presents from Indians Doe arrise from presents first from them to the Indians, and what are the presents but of our owne Goods, Therefore judge you to whome all furrs belong.
We Doe expect from you and all future Governors you strictly watch all ship Masters & others of our Servants that come home, that they doe not presume to bring home any furrs whither single or for lyneing of coates, if you finde any such you shall take them away there and put them into our Warehouse and ship them home with our Goods of which you may acquainte all our Servants therewith."
Read other accounts during this period of establishing early fort settlements and trade - enter 'Beale,' 'Kelsey,' 'Knight,' 'La Verendrye,' 'McCliesh,' 'Nixon,' 'Outlaw,' or 'Pinfold' in the search box to your left.
Check the Beaver Index - e.g., enter 'Moose Fort,' 'governors,' etc.
Read more about Henry Sergeant in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Although the Committee's stance in this letter may seem harsh, it was an argument common in the late seventeenth century.
Long-term employment contracts, such as those signed by HBC servants, were commonly seen (especially by employers) as leaving no room for the employee to pursue their own interests -- especially if those interests conflicted with their master's interests.
That servants may have felt differently is suggested by the fact that the HBC never succeeded in eliminating private trade, despite their best efforts.