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Daily life and challenges for the various groups involved in the fur trade.

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Author: James Knight
Title: Letters From Hudson Bay, 1703-40
Publisher: The Hudson's Bay Record Society, London.
Year Published: 1965
Copyright Holder: Expired; no restrictions on use. Please credit The Hudson's Bay Record Society.
  -76- James Knight: Taking Back the Fort

James Knight (c. 1640-c. 1720) first entered the Hudson's Bay Company's service in 1676, and rose from being a shipwright to being Governor of the Bottom of the Bay before retiring in 1700.

He was a shareholder as well as a servant of the Company, and sat on the Committee in London after he left the Bay. He resigned from the Committee and came out of retirement in 1714, when the HBC sent him to receive York Factory back from the French (according to the Treaty of Utrecht, signed the previous year between England and France).

Knight wrote this letter to the Committee only eight days after reoccupying York, which the French had held for 19 of the last 20 years. p38-39, 1st pgh, "The place we... their ruin." Sep 19, 1714 B.239/a/1,fos.5d-6

"The place as we are come to is nothing but a confused heap of old rotten houses without form or strength, nay, not sufficient to secure your goods from the weather, not fit for men to live in without being exposed to the frigid winter. My own place I have to live in this winter is not half so good as our cowhouse was in the Bottom of the Bay, and I have never been able to see my hand in it since I have been here without a candle, it is so black and dark, cold and wet withal, nothing to make it better but heaping up earth about it to make it warm.

I have always been in pain for fear the ship would winter upon us, and it may be accounted a mercy she did not by reason of our long passage and the abundance of ice we met withal and the badness of her steering when in the ice that we could not make the advantage as we should when the ice opened to carry us through.

We have a great many guns here, they are very good: the number I cannot send you because they are dispersed, some up the river, some down the river, but no carriages to them as I see will bear the firing of a gun, they are all so rotten.

As for the trade that will be here, it will be very considerable if you do not let us want goods. For what I have done here about buying the French goods I hope you will be satisfied with, for time would not permit of any other method; for by the treaty of peace they are to be allowed time for their effects to be drawn off, by my commission from the Queen I am ordered to give them time, but whilst I had been debating with them and putting them on board by those controversies the ship would have wintered here; and if they had, and I sent the ship home without them, then I had been undone by breaking my orders in not complying with the treaty of peace, so I should have great complaints home against me.

I cannot perceive where I could save myself any otherwise than in doing what I have done, for if I had forced these effects on board then they would have complained they had not time to do their business. If I had not, the ship must have wintered here and that would have undone the Company. But I hope I shall never see another hired ship sent here without she comes at so much for the voyage, then there will be diligence used the whole voyage to make it short. I hope you will call for the journal of the captain, as likewise the chief mate's, and compare them together. What I have done is well enough to your advantage but the Frenchmen are afraid to their ruin."

Other Related Material
Read other accounts about this period in British and French relations - enter 'Beale,' 'Kelsey,' 'Knight,' 'McCliesh,' 'Outlaw,' or 'Pinfold' in the search box to your left.

Check the Beaver Index - e.g., enter 'Knight,' 'York Factory,' 'Churchill,' etc.

Visit York Factory and discover the secret in the frost.

Did You Know?
The fort that the French commander, Nicolas Jeremie, handed over to Knight and his men in 1714 was originally built by the English in 1683, but since then it had been occupied by the French (19 years) longer than by the English (12 years).

Knight was so disappointed by the physical condition of the fort that he decided to build a new one rather than try to repair the old one.

The French had their own name for York Factory when it was in their possession: they called it Fort Bourbon, after the French royal dynasty, the House of Bourbon.