Home History This Hudson Bay Sea Battle Determined the Fate of North America — For a Time

This Hudson Bay Sea Battle Determined the Fate of North America — For a Time

by Enochadmin

300 twenty-five years in the past—on Sept. 5, 1697—wood warships from England and France waged a bitter, hours-long battle in Hudson Bay. Although lengthy since forgotten, the conflict marked the biggest naval motion ever fought off what right now is much northeastern Canada. 

What historian Peter C. Newman known as “the best Arctic sea battle in North American historical past” pitted the French fourth-rate ship of the road Pélican, commanded by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, in opposition to English Capt. John Fletcher’s fourth-rate frigate HMS Hampshire and two armed service provider ships. The brutal combat epitomized the battle between the rival European powers to regulate the newly found, largely unknown and probably profitable lands simply south of the Arctic Circle and led to the biggest switch of territory within the New World so far. 

Hudson Bay

Hudson Bay was named after English explorer Sir Henry Hudson, who first probed its reaches in 1610–11 on the behest of the Dutch East India Co., solely to be set adrift by mutineers and left to an unknown destiny. It’s the second largest bay on this planet (after the Bay of Bengal), with a floor space of some 470,000 sq. miles. If measured by shoreline, nevertheless, Hudson Bay is the world’s largest. In contrast to many different massive our bodies of water, it’s comparatively shallow, with a median depth of solely 330 ft. 

Hydrographically an extension of the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay extends from 62 levels north latitude at its southern restrict to 66 levels north, only a few miles south of the Arctic Circle. Geographically a part of the Precambrian Canadian Protect, the shoreline is usually rocky, with shallow vegetation usually labeled as boreal forest trending to tundra in its northern reaches. 

James Bay, extending from the southeast finish of Hudson Bay, is usually considered as an appendage of the bigger physique of water. Named after Welsh explorer Thomas James, who reconnoitered its shoreline and islands within the early 1630s, it’s the outlet for scores of freshwater rivers that drain in a northerly route and circulation by means of Hudson Bay towards the Arctic Ocean, changing into saltier because the waters mingle. James Bay is a few 275 miles lengthy by 135 miles broad and likewise fairly shallow, with a median depth of 200 ft.

The shorelines of each James Bay and southern Hudson Bay are festooned with quite a few smaller bays, inlets, marshes and floodplains, although a whole lot of shoals and rocky bars make inshore navigation treacherous. The general catchment space of the Hudson Bay area is huge—practically 1,500,000 sq. miles—extending throughout present-day central Canada into the Northern Plains of america.

A Battle Over Settlements

Throughout the previous few a long time of the seventeenth century the search for dominance over the Hudson Bay area infected tensions between France and England. Integrated by English royal constitution in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) started buying and selling with the assorted Amerindian teams within the northern settlements, whereas the French had the lands to the south firmly of their grasp, with management of the St. Lawrence River anchored on their citadel at Quebec Metropolis.

Chartered by the English Crown in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Co. started as a fur-trading concern earlier than changing into one thing of an unbiased energy with its personal flag, ships and armed troops.
(Canadian Museum of Historical past)

In colonial North America the preliminary buying and selling settlements (typically given names like fort, manufacturing unit, home and put up) comprised little greater than wood-and-stone buildings staffed by a couple of merchants, adventurers and the odd administrator. Such “forts” have been hardly ever manned by skilled troops, because it proved logistically problematic to deploy troopers to distant places and even tougher to supply them with the mandatory help, particularly when waterways froze over through the area’s harsh winters.

For a lot of the late 1600s, as English and French adventurers traded with native Inuits and Amerindians, posts usually modified palms and names relying on who had extra armed males available. For instance, York Manufacturing facility, simply contained in the mouth of the Hayes River on the western shore of Hudson Bay, was recognized at varied occasions as Fort York, Fort Bourbon and Kischewaskaheegan (Cree for “Massive Home”). As newcomers have been unfamiliar with the topography and climate, they typically needed to relocate their posts resulting from excessive tides, winter storms and flooding deltas. Given their transient nature, the constructions themselves have been swiftly constructed.

Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville portrait
Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville
(North Wind Image Archives (Alamy Inventory Photograph))

In 1682 Quebec-based financiers in search of to counter the rising financial attain of the HBC fashioned the Compagnie du Nord, with the aim of working the English out of Hudson Bay. Its merchants subsequently mounted a collection of overland expeditions, following a water route blazed a decade earlier by Jesuit priest and explorer Charles Albanel. In 1686 an armed incursion led by d’Iberville managed to wrest management of all of the HBC posts besides York Manufacturing facility. 

In 1694 d’Iberville returned by sea with two warships and captured the holdout English put up, renaming it Fort Bourbon. A yr later a trio of English frigates recaptured York Manufacturing facility. The seesaw combat for the put up augured a much more critical conflict within the fall of 1697, one involving French and English flotillas despatched to contest the disputed area.

On April 8, 1697, Pélican and the availability ships Profond, Palmier and Wesp sailed from France, stopping briefly in Placentia Harbor, Newfoundland, to refit and reorganize. Broken through the Atlantic crossing, Wesp didn’t be part of the opposite vessels once they left Placentia sure north alongside the Newfoundland/Labrador coast. It was a difficult voyage. The French flotilla encountered foul climate, thick fog, fields of ice and tough seas as they sailed west.

Separated from the availability vessels by the climate and drift ice, Pélican was the primary to reach in Hudson Bay. D’Iberville instantly sailed to the west coast. Anchoring on the mouth of the Hayes River on September 3, he landed a celebration of troopers to scout out York Manufacturing facility and made siege preparations whereas awaiting the opposite French ships. On the morning of September 5 Pélican’s lookouts noticed sails on the horizon.

By sheer coincidence HBC’s annual fleet—that yr comprising HMS Hampshire (captained by Fletcher) and the corporate ships Dering (underneath Michael Grimmington) and Royal Hudson’s Bay (helmed by Richard Smithsend)—had reached Hudson Bay within the rapid wake of the French flotilla. The English had additionally had a troublesome Atlantic crossing, with one in all its vessels, the HBC ship Proprietor’s Love, presumed misplaced at sea. Unknown to d’Iberville, days earlier the English ships had traded photographs to little impact with Profond, Palmier and Wesp, the latter of which had caught up with its sister vessels. D’Iberville initially assumed the approaching sails propelled his personal straggling ships. Solely as they drew nearer and their markings turned distinct did the French commander understand his enemy was at hand. 

Hudson Bay map with Hayes River circled
Hampshire and two different English ships battled Pélican close to the mouth of the Hayes River (circled) inside days of the latter’s arrival in Hudson Bay. Like their French opponent, the English vessels had been badly battered by heavy seas through the Atlantic crossing.
(David Rumsey Map Assortment)

The 44-gun Pélican was at a definite drawback, provided that Hampshire carried 56 weapons, Dering 36 and Royal Hudson’s Bay 32. But d’Iberville elected combat over flight. What ensued was an epic battle that will take a look at the seamanship, wits and sheer mettle of the outnumbered and outgunned French captain. 

Pélican instantly went on the offensive, participating the English ships in a two-and-a-half-hour working sea battle. With superior techniques—and a wholesome dose of luck—d’Iberville managed to not solely escape preliminary destruction, but additionally inflict injury on the HBC ships. On the outset of the battle his gunners disabled Dering’s mainsail, and when Royal Hudson’s Bay got here to assistance from its sister ship, Pélican equally crippled the second firm vessel. Having neutralized two enemy ships, d’Iberville was thus in a position to flip the engagement from a lopsided combat right into a single-ship motion.

Shut-Vary Fight

Naval warfare within the late seventeenth century was a haphazard enterprise. A captain’s seamanship, the prevailing situations and, sure, luck have been all contributing elements to victory at sea. Ships’ weapons of the period have been crude, inaccurate, vulnerable to misfire and tended to inflict little injury at lengthy vary. Typical naval techniques of the time thus dictated a warship first shut on an opponent, raking the goal vessel’s rigging and decks with cannon and musket fireplace, then use grappling hooks to attract it alongside. Armed boarding events would then cross over and subdue the enemy crew in hand-to-hand fight. Captured vessels proved a supply of extra provides and, in some circumstances, substitute sailors.

On the climax of what turned generally known as the Battle of Hudson Bay each Pélican and Hampshire adhered to such textbook techniques, pounding each other with spherical shot and small-arms fireplace for greater than an hour, every trying to disable the opposite. On the peak of the motion Fletcher reportedly yelled throughout the yards of water separating the warships, demanding d’Iberville give up. The French commander refused, and Fletcher is reported to have raised a glass of wine in salute to his worthy foe. Hampshire’s captain didn’t have lengthy to admire his foe, for as he tacked away from a Pélican broadside, the English frigate struck an uncharted shoal, broke up and sank with the lack of all palms.

On the sudden and sudden destruction of Hampshire, the disabled Royal Hudson’s Bay lowered its flag and surrendered to Pélican whilst Dering crowded on all sail and fled. As Pélican itself had been holed under the waterline within the trade with Hampshire, d’Iberville was in no place to present chase. 

York Factory in Manitoba, Canada
Initially established by the Hudson’s Bay Co. in 1670, York Manufacturing facility stays a historic web site in Manitoba, Canada.
(Harv Sawatzky (Journey Manitoba))

With the rapid English risk neutralized and foul climate closing in, d’Iberville targeting saving his surviving crew. Ordering Pélican run aground, he was in a position lead his males ashore by means of neck-deep icy water, although 18 died of publicity. Royal Hudson’s Bay additionally ran aground, its French prize crew and captive English sailors managing to wade ashore. These English in a position to elude their captors made their option to the fort. Over the following few days d’Iberville and his males stripped Pélican of all helpful objects and awaited the French provide ships. Their arrival on September 8 offered d’Iberville adequate males and materiel to besiege York Manufacturing facility, which surrendered 5 days later.

Together with his victories at sea and on land d’Iberville had not solely defeated a superior English naval pressure and captured York Manufacturing facility, but additionally secured French primacy in Hudson Bay. The attain of the French empire within the New World now prolonged from the St. Lawrence River within the south to Hudson Bay within the north and east to the unclaimed lands of Labrador. 


In his three quantity Histoire du Canada (1845–48) French-Canadian author François-Xavier Garneau judged that Pélican’s “splendid victory ensured the mastery on Hudson’s Bay to the French.” Sadly for his countrymen, d’Iberville’s triumph was in the end overshadowed by the realities of a broader European battle. 

The Battle of Hudson Bay was a mere sideshow of the 9 Years’ Conflict (aka Conflict of the Grand Alliance or Conflict of the League of Augsburg). That 1688–97 battle pitted King Louis XIV’s France in opposition to a small European coalition that included William III’s England. Although fought primarily in continental Europe, the warfare spilled over to different contested areas, together with North America and India. Some historians think about it the primary actually international battle. Complicating the terminology, the battle that performed out between English and French settlers and their respective Indian allies within the North American theater is often generally known as King William’s Conflict.

With the 1713 signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, capping British victory within the follow-on Queen Anne’s Conflict in North America, a defeated France acknowledged British sovereignty over Hudson Bay and its huge drainage and refocused its aspirations in Canada across the Nice Lakes and the St. Lawrence River basin. Shortly after signing the treaty, France resettled its displaced colonists on Île Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island), bridging the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean between British-held Acadia to the west and Newfoundland to the east. In 1719 the French based the fishing port of Louisbourg, which by the 1740s had grown into one of many largest and costliest fortified cities in Canada. 

The last word fall of New France got here amid the 1754–63 French and Indian Conflict—a mere half century after the Treaty of Utrecht—with British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe’s masterful 1758 seize of Fortress Louisbourg and 1759 defeat of French Lt. Gen. Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. The latter price each generals their lives and prompted the French evacuation of Quebec. With that, Britain turned the dominant regional energy, and the hard-won advances of d’Iberville and different French adventurers have been consigned to the dustbin of historical past. But, for a short while France did legitimately maintain huge swaths of the continent, and one can’t assist however surprise how North American historical past may need developed had France anchored and expanded its northern Canadian empire—pretty received by the gallant actions of d’Iberville and Pélican.

Jon Bradley is a retired affiliate professor with the college of training at Montreal’s McGill College. Sam Allison is a former highschool historical past instructor and seasonal lecturer at McGill. For additional studying they advocate Lemoyne d’Iberville: Soldier of New France, by Nellis M. Crouse; Historical past of Canada, From the Time of Its Discovery Until the Union 12 months 1840–41, by François-Xavier Garneau; and The Royal Navy: A Historical past From the Earliest Occasions to the Current, by William Laird Clowes.

this text first appeared in Army Historical past journal

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