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Manitoba History: “Assistant to York:” The Ambiguous Role of Flamborough House, 1749-1759

by Scott Stephen
Parks Canada, Winnipeg

Number 62, Winter 2009

York Factory, or York Fort as it was originally known, was founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1684 and soon became the Company’s most important fur trade post on western Hudson Bay. Flamborough House was a small outpost of York Fort, built by the Company in 1749 as a result of a serious challenge to their position in North America. [1] In London, rumours abounded of planned interloping expeditions destined for Hudson Bay and designed to challenge the HBC’s royallychartered trade monopoly there. Alert to such rumours, the London Committee instructed their servants on the Bay to be alert themselves. In particular, they instructed Chief Factor John Newton at York to build a small establishment on Nelson River to block any interlopers. [2] None of the rumoured expeditions made their way to Hudson Bay, however, and Flamborough House ended up serving an ambiguous role as a small provisioning outpost with the potential for drawing trade away from York. It also became an arena for conflict between Newton’s successor, James Isham, and his subordinates, exemplifying issues of patronage, governance, and control with which the Company and its officers struggled.

Flamborough House, located on the south shore of the Nelson River opposite Flamborough Head, about 20 miles from York Factory, was not shown on this map “A Draught of Nelson & Hayes’s Rivers” contained in Joseph Robson’s An Account of Six Years Residence in Hudson’s Bay From 1733 to 1736 and 1744, published at London in 1752.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Map Collection, N8662.

John Newton Prepares to Face the “Interlopers”

The 1740s had seen a series of attacks on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chartered privileges, the most notable adversary being Arthur Dobbs. A pamphlet war in 1743, expeditions to Hudson Bay by the ships Dobbs and California in 1746-1747, and a Parliamentary Enquiry in 1749 all convinced the Company’s London Committee of the strength and perseverance of their opponents. Furthermore, the initial interest in the Northwest Passage had transformed into commercial designs on the fur trade of Hudson Bay. Although Dobbs retired from the field of battle even before the Parliamentary Enquiry began, more than a decade of activity on his part had generated unprecedented interest in Hudson Bay.

Monopolies and royal charters were unpopular in England during this period: the Royal Africa Company, in particular, came under steady attack. Dobbs’ battle cries had been taken up by many groups, including the Merchant Adventurers of Bristol, who had opposed the HBC more than once before. [3] Although the Enquiry reported that there was no case for annulling the Company’s Charter, London was full of rumours that the Company’s opponents would send an expedition to trade in the Bay: they allegedly hoped to provoke a prosecution from the HBC, and thus secure the test-case and the legal verdict which the Law Officers of the Crown had recommended the year before. In 1749, the Committee warned their Bayside factors that Dobbs or others might attempt to infringe upon the Company’s trade. [4]

Port Nelson at the mouth of the Nelson River was seen as the most likely landing point, and John Newton at nearby York Fort (on the Hayes River) received detailed instructions to guard against potential interlopers. The Committee instructed him to send veteran labourer John Hughes and carpenter Richard Ford with four men about twenty miles up the Nelson River to build a log tent on the south shore, across from a point of land called Flamborough Head, and to stake out a suitable spot for a “Factory house” to be built the following spring. [5] A “Factory” was a major post where a factor (or agent) resided, while a “Factory house” (or “house”) was a smaller outpost commanded by a “master” of lower rank and pay.

The Committee felt that interlopers would most likely try to establish a foothold a short distance up Nelson River, the lower reaches of which were navigable by sloops. They could thus intercept Native traders bound for York without making themselves inaccessible to their supply ships. [6] In such an event, Flamborough House was to receive a large transfer of men and trade goods from York and to intercept First Nations traders before they reached the interlopers. If the interlopers were adventurous enough to move farther inland than Flamborough, then the new post was to serve as a staging point for other outposts that Newton was to build as far inland as necessary. [7] What role Flamborough House was to play if the expected interlopers did not appear was never made explicit.

A log tent was built in the autumn of 1749 on “a very Convenient Spot near a Creek opposite to Flambro’ head,” about twenty miles west of York. [8] The following spring, Hughes and Ford began building a “Factory house” of about thirty feet square that was ready for occupation by the end of the summer. Early in 1751, Hughes recorded that the “Distance from the House Door to the Fore Gate is 22 ft: The same from the House to the Stockade on the Back Part. From Corner to Corner of the Stockades is 73 ft: 4 Inchs.” [9] Ford was a good carpenter [10] but, given the apparent sense of urgency, he may have concentrated on building the house quickly rather than on building it well. In 1751, Samuel Skrimshire gave his candid opinion of the house: “I must make bold to say, it is at present worse then any Log tent I ever livd, in for smoke & rain.” He requested that a carpenter, two sawyers, and a bricklayer be sent from York as soon as possible. [11] Construction continued intermittently over the next several years, and included some fortification. Four cannon were sent out in 1751, and in 1753 Skrimshire spoke of building bastions, though he was worried about a sufficient supply of large timbers. [12]

“A view of Flamborough House up Nelson River” by James Isham, 1754, shows a small building occupying open ground by a small stream, surrounded by sparse, scrubby trees.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, G.1-100.

James Isham and the Definition of Flamborough’s Role

Flamborough’s first master was to be the experienced trader James Isham (c1716-1761). Isham entered the Company’s service as a clerk in 1732 and only five years later succeeded Thomas White as the officer in command of York. Isham was in England to testify before the Parliamentary Enquiry, and returned to the Bay in 1750 with written orders and a full briefing from the Committee. The Committee recommended him to Newton as “the properest Person to send thither for your Assistance as being thoroly acquainted with the Indians the Nature of the Trade and the Country.” [13] Isham had already spent six years in charge of York and four years in charge of Prince of Wales Fort (Churchill), and he enjoyed the Committee’s full confidence.

Isham arrived at York to learn that Newton had recently drowned while swimming. [14] As the senior officer present, Isham felt it both his duty and prerogative to take Newton’s place as Chief Factor. York’s Second, Samuel Skrimshire (c1720-1755), and bookkeeper Richard Smith were both recalled to London that year. Newton’s Council had consisted only of Skrimshire and the surgeon, William Raynolds (Reynolds), who had given notice of his intention to leave the service the following year. No other man had the skills or experience to present a plausible alternative to Isham. Joseph Isbister at Churchill challenged Isham’s assumption of power and questioned his right to supplant Skrimshire, but did not know of Skrimshire’s recall. [15]

The vacancy at Flamborough House was filled in 1750-1751 by John Hughes (c1705-c1772), a respected labourer with some twenty-five years of service. Initially engaged as a makeshift bricklayer for York in 1724, Hughes was a good hunter and netmaker; in 1748, he and two Homeguard Cree families established a new caribou-hunting camp at Flamborough Head. [16] One of those families was probably his own: when Hughes was going to return to England in 1756, Isham complained of “having had some trouble concerning of John Hughs Daughter, who wants her for to go on board for England.” [17] Hughes had been given the charge of the construction of Flamborough House on the basis of his familiarity with the area and with the Muskego Cree language. [18] He was replaced in 1751 by Skrimshire, who returned to the Bay with a vote of confidence from the Committee; Hughes remained at Flamborough House as a labourer, spending most of his time hunting and fishing. Both men complained about a variety of problems and frequently clashed with Isham—who, as Chief Factor at York, retained authority over Flamborough.

The number of men sent to Flamborough was a major source of friction. The Committee had provided for Flamborough by increasing York’s shipment of provisions by one quarter and its complement from 32 to 40, implying that eight men were to be stationed upriver some or all of the time. However, the Committee only stipulated that six men were to “stay there till the River begins to freeze and is too late for any Indians to come down,” and left the specific complement thereafter to be worked out by Newton and Isham. [19] After taking command at York, Isham seems to have appointed only two or three men to Flamborough. As early as August 1750, John Hughes requested one or two extra labourers to man the house while he procured provisions: “I cannot goe any where to Fish, & now is the time or I fail this Season.” Isham sent two men to Hughes’ assistance and promised that Flamborough’s complement would be fixed after the departure of the supply ship, but additional men were not forthcoming. [20] Skrimshire frequently reported that activities such as cutting firewood and plastering the house were hampered by a shortage of men. Isham occasionally sent one or two men to assist with particular tasks for limited periods of time, but never allowed the permanent complement to rise above five. In the absence of interlopers, he saw no need for any more than that. [21]

Flamborough’s masters also lamented the quality of men Isham sent them. In September 1750, Hughes complained that the two men recently arrived from York could not row. He would have preferred to have kept the two men recalled to York in their place, William Olson and sailor John Skinner, particularly Skinner: “I like him very [much] for hes willing to work.” [22] “I have nobody that knows enything of Hunting,” Skrimshire complained to Isham in October 1751, “& but 2 Men to do Every thing else that may be requir’d.” In his post journal, Skrimshire commented that his men were “all new hands.” The following spring, he accused Isham of sending him York’s “refuce.” [23]

Skrimshire also complained of shortages of goods. He wrote to Isham almost immediately upon taking command, lamenting his insufficient stores and requesting beer, tar, spoons, cookware, and candlesticks. In August 1752, he acknowledged receipt of a shipment of goods from York by complaining that it lacked cinnamon, cloves, mace, nuts, currants, ink, tar, and beef; he also requested bricks for a new kiln. In March 1753, he sent Isham “an Inventory of such Goods Stores &c as I am and shall be destitute of before we can have an opportunity of water Carriage.” [24] In Isham’s defence, the London Committee complained of overly large indents from Flamborough and advised Isham to edit them. [25] Flamborough’s men were even dependent on York for winter clothing, which was sent out to them from the factory in late autumn and recalled in the spring. [26]

A much more divisive issue was the precise role Flamborough was to play. The Committee’s initial intention was for Hughes and Ford, while at the log tent, to “take on Shore what Beaver & Furrs the Indians bring down.” The house they built was “to hold such furs and Trade as shall yearly be brought down Nelson River by such Indians that Inhabit on the Western Side thereof… and to protect the Persons that shall be Stationed at that House also to hold such European Goods for Trade as shall be sent from York Fort thither.” At York, Newton was to “make what Preparation you can…for…hindering the Indians from coming any farther down Nelson River,” thus hopefully preventing them from making contact with the anticipated interlopers. [27]

The interloping threat was still considered imminent in 1750, when the Committee informed Newton, “We have now Intelligence & Information of some of our Antagonists Designs We are Apprehensive That the Bristol & Liverpool Merch[an]ts in Conjunction with some Londoners that Attacked the Company in Parliament are fitting Out this year a Ship & a Sloop which…are to…Land and make a Settlement by force on the Companys Territorys either in Hayes or Nelsons Rivers in Order to Intercept and Destroy the Companys Trade.” [28] No interlopers ever did appear, however, and after 1750 no such threats were reported in the Committee’s annual letters to Hudson Bay. The Committee’s intentions for Flamborough House in such circumstances were unclear. Was the master allowed to trade with the natives? If not, what purpose did the house serve and how was it to be explained to Cree traders?

Any trade undertaken at Flamborough would be trade lost to York. Isham must have had this in mind when he passed on his orders to John Hughes in 1750. He repeated his own instructions from the Governor and Committee, but added, “in case ye Interlopers should not attempt to come in these parts to Molest or disturb Us you are then to send ye Indns with their furs to York Fort and not to trade upon any acc[oun]t but to do your Uttermost endeavour to procure w[ha]t Country Provisions you can & such of ye Indns & pay them for it as I have sent proper goods for that purpose;” this was repeated almost verbatim in Isham’s orders to Skrimshire in August 1751. [29] These additional instructions may have been part of the verbal briefing Isham had received from the Committee before his return to the Bay in 1750. They cannot be corroborated in any of the surviving documents, but after 1750 the interloping threat faded and the Committee clearly thought of Flamborough as a provisioning post. When Skrimshire was sent out in 1751 “to be Master thereof,” the Committee commented, “We expect by His diligence yt: [i.e. that] He will Furnish York Fort with plenty of the Country Provisions.” [30]

This view of Flamborough Head, taken on 2 September 1924 by canoeists on the Nelson River heading to Port Nelson, probably is similar to the view afforded to occupants of Flamborough House over 160 years earlier.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, R. W. Patterson Fonds, #227.

John Hughes and Samuel Skrimshire Trying to Make Flamborough Work

Isham certainly had York’s and his own best interests in mind when he barred the Master of Flamborough from trading for skins. However, Hughes and Skrimshire both found that it was difficult to explain to the Natives why they could only trade provisions at the new house and had to go the extra distance to York to trade their skins or settle their debts. Indeed, Hughes and Skrimshire themselves found the distinction difficult to understand. Hughes was censured by Isham on this point almost immediately. “Surely,” wrote Isham, “You never rec’d the Orders I sent that You do not know what the Trading Goods are for its very plainly wrote they are purposed for the Men to take [i.e. to purchase for their own use] & [to trade] for Provisions as I tould you before, you are not to trade any Furs or other Skins, As for what you did before My Arrival, I know Nothing of.” [31] Hughes requested further clarification: “S[i]r if those Indns want to trade Deer skins, may I take any from them, J[ohn] o Gaunt is 16 Beavers in dept [i.e. debt], Trimbush 9 Ditto still in debt may I take deer skins from ym [i.e. them], for they do not care to have ye walk, ye Ice & Snow being deeps.” Isham responded tersely, “how can you Mention for ye Indns to trade, when I before have gave you strict Orders not to trade…I do not know what you mean by saying, John of Gaunt & Trimbush is so much in debt as you Mention, surely you think I know nothing.” [32]

Being only a labourer, Hughes may not have felt comfortable challenging a senior officer, but Skrimshire felt no such reservations and corresponded with Isham on a much more personal level. A clerk and former Second at York, Skrimshire may also have been a cousin or nephew of James Isham: Isham’s mother’s maiden name was Skrimshire, and both men came from London. Moreover, Skrimshire had spoken with the London Committee before returning to Hudson Bay in 1751 and did not hesitate to address his concerns directly to them after that. For instance, he had returned to the Bay with an understanding of Flamborough House’s purpose at odds with the expectations of Isham and of the Committee. He sought clarification on this point almost immediately upon his arrival at his new command.

Gentellmen I cant but Say I was Very much Surprised at the opening of Your Honours Packquait in not Receiving Sum orders how to prosead when at flamboury House, but more in perticular on in Quiry I was tould Your Honours did Never desire I Should Carray on Eny Trade their only for Provisions allways under Standing Your Hon[our]s; I was Sent on the Same Acctt; as Mr; Isham Came over the Last Year whit I under Stoud at that time was to have bean Supplyd from YF [i.e. York Fort] with Such Quantity of Goods as mite be Requasite to Supploy Such Inds; as freaquantly Come Down that Rivr; as well with Goods as Provisions Everay Summer that they mite not have the trouble and feateague yt: Sum times attends them in Going Round the Poynt of Marsh or Carrying their Goods &c [i.e. etc.] across the Island. [33]

A few days later, Skrimshire traded goods to some natives who had refused to carry on to York because of bad weather. The storm clouds darkened further when Isham learned of this, and there ensued a hasty and unfriendly exchange of letters, including Isham’s admonishment of 18 August—”You say You have rec’d the Papers &c from Jno: Hughes, but I Suppose You never examined them, if You had You would have found you have acted contrary to my Orders from the Company”—and Skrimshire’s retort two days later—”I ashure you I had read the orders John had but as Im very sensible We never did know how to proceed in such Casses, I did not think when I traded them Goods I did amiss.” [34] Being subordinate to Isham, in the end Skrimshire could do little more than claim his good intentions and subside into a sulky silence. That winter, however, he was in trouble again, this time for accepting skins in payment of a debt. [35] The Committee never censured him for trading furs: they kept strangely silent on the issue of trade at Flamborough, merely reassuring Skrimshire, “you are Master…in as full a manner as ever we designed Mr Isham should be, which was to be under the direction of the Chief at York Fort.” [36]

In the absence of interlopers, Flamborough House was to be little more than a provisioning post for York. Its master was allowed to trade some small items for meat and to offer some small gifts as an encouragement to continue downriver to York, but anything more was outside his prerogative and guaranteed to draw Isham’s displeasure. The distinction made little sense to Cree and other Native traders, who would have perceived it as rude and unneighbourly. Skrimshire doubted the wisdom of such a policy, and openly questioned it in an April 1752 letter to Isham. [37] Even as a provisioning post, though, Flamborough caused headaches for York.

In 1750, despite early optimism (“ye Dear [caribou] is as Plenty as can bee”), John Hughes frequently commented on the failure of the hunt. “Muskatucky & Wife came down but brot: no Deer’s Flesh but what was dryed;” “the Lads came home. Brought their Bedding w[i]th them. Said there were no Partridges to be got;” “Mistahay & Scotcham. Said there were no Deer, nor had been this fall;” “Archiwick & Stokechuan. Said their Tent Mates were all coming almost starv’d wth Hunger, for there was No Deer, No Fishes, & but few Beaver to be got.” [38] Hughes was fairly stoic about his inability to provide York with ample provisions, perhaps because the men of Flamborough were doing reasonably well for themselves. They were able to obtain sufficient “partridge” (willow ptarmigan) and other meat for their table, and could also boast a kitchen garden, two hogs, and even a small brewery. [39]

Skrimshire was more eloquent in despair, and Isham more bitter in response. Early in 1752, Skrimshire was told about a Home Guard Cree named Lucas killing 250 ptarmigans: ”I should be obliged to Him,” Isham wrote, “if he would kill 250 more, for at Present have not one to my name, and as Flamborough House is not capable of supplying Me according to the Company’s expectation, I shall seek for provisions, where it is to be had.” [40] Skrimshire replied, “I am sorry You should be so destitute of Partridges, when [there are] shuch [i.e. such] numbers along the Eastern Shore, as to Flamborough House not answering the Company expectation, it is not anyways owing to My misconduct.” In his own defence, he asserted that there were no deer that year, that Flamborough House had no harbour for “partridge,” and that only one of his four men knew anything about hunting. [41]

Their disputes became more heated. Isham complained of spoiled meat; [42] Skrimshire reported a remarkably poor goose hunt and was taken to task for not managing his hunters properly; [43] and the two men quarrelled over fishing rights in Hayes River. [44] Even when provisions were aplenty, there was discord. “As to Provisions,” Isham wrote in March 1753, “you have more for 5 Men then I have for 35 therefore If You can not make that do, you must go without.” [45] A few months later, Skrimshire reported, “Thanks be to God we have had a fine Season of Geese, Salted 1649, could have kill’d as many more if we had, had Cask, Shot, and Salt.” [46]

The Committee ultimately lost patience with the situation. In 1753, they gave Isham the option of closing Flamborough House “until he shall judge it Needfull to be again Occupied.” [47] But even in calling an end to this adventure, the Committee highlighted the ambiguity with which Isham and his subordinates had wrestled for three years. Skrimshire and Isham received slightly different explanations for the decision. The Committee told Skrimshire it was because “we find that Flamborough House is so farr from being Assistant to York Fort by furnishing it with Country Provisions or Otherways, that you can scarcely maintain your selves,” [48] while they emphasised to Isham that the house “has not Answered our Expectations towards Encreasing our Trade or procuring Country Provisions for York Fort.” [49] Ironically, the very next year, the Committee was “glad to find you had Procured so many Geese and some Venison for York Fort [in 1753]… we are now Confirm’d in our Opinion that great part of the Country Provisions Necessary for the use of that Fort, may be in future easily obtained at Flamborough by an Industrious Application thereto.” [50] Flamborough House remained open.

Establishment of Flamborough House*

From HBC London to John Newton and Council at York Fort, dated London, 16 May 1749

In case Mr Dobbs or any other Persons doe this year send out any ship or Sloop on the discovery of a Northwest passage ... you are to have regard to those Instructions We sent last year, and that you take Effectual care to prevent any of our Trade from falling into their hands & particularly to hinder them if possible from going up beyond York Fort whereby they might Intercept the Indians from coming down to Our Factory, But for fear that instead of going up Hayes River (if they have any intention to Obstruct our Trade) they should sail up Nelson’s River wherefore for preventing their doing us any mischief We do direct that Immediately on our Ships Departure for England you do without delay send up in one of your Boats opposite to Flamborough head which lies higher up Nelson’s River than our Factory in Hays River, John Hughes Richard Ford the Carpenter and four more of your Men that you think are proper to Build a Log Tent there and take on shore what Beaver & Furrs the Indians bring down and let 6 Men stay there till the River begins to freeze and is too late for any Indians to come down, Let them be Employed In Searching for and fixing upon a proper place on the Outermost Point of Land as near the River as possible and prepare the Foundation and Cut down Timber and clear the BrushWood in order to Build a small Factory house next Spring of wood of about 30 foot square to hold such furs and Trade as shall yearly be brought down Nelson River by such Indians that Inhabit on the Western side thereof between Flamborough Head & the Forks and to protect the persons that shall be stationed at that House also to hold such European Goods for Trade as shall be sent from York Fort thither, We are told there is Timber Enough on the spot for that purpose & therefore do Direct that Early next Spring you doe send Hughes and Ford with as many proper hands as you can spare to begin upon building the same & if posible to finish it next Summer So as to Serve as an out Factory House to prevent/ Interlopers from doing us any Damage ... We have sent you an Addition of Nails & Spikes Barr Iron and other Necessarys. We pitch upon Mr Hughes for the undertaking being informed that he understands the Indian language and has been very Conversant in those Parts and Capable of performing it with the direction and Assistance of Mr Ford ...

* Archives of Manitoba, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, A.6/8 fos. 15,15d.

The Death of Skrimshire and Flamborough’s Final Days

On 16 May 1755, York Fort received word that Skrimshire was “in a sad Condition” at the “North [i.e. Nelson] River Goose tent.” Isham sent four men to bring him to York, but Skrimshire refused; Isham then sent York’s surgeon, Thomas Hopkins, with some “Medicines he Imagined he might want,” but Skrimshire died at 3:00 p.m., 18 May 1755, before he arrived. Hopkins, sailor John Skinner, and two unnamed Lowland Cree tried to bring Skrimshire’s body home, but their sled broke eight miles short of the factory. Thus, news of his death did not reach York until 23 May, when Isham reported that “Mr Skrimsher got a hurt Across the face, and foot by a dranken [sic] Indian, before he Left the house to go to the Goose tent, by a fire Brandy [sic]; John Hughes writes me word, he Complained Every day till his death, and that he and Severall More, does think it was the Cause of his death.” When the body finally arrived at York the next day, Isham concurred with Hughes’ opinion: “found the Right side of his face had Recd a Blow, the Right Eye very Red, Surlled [?] & Clossed, and is our opinion ye blow Got by ye Indian was the Cause of his death.” Skrimshire was buried the following day, 25 May. [51] That summer, Richard Ford marked his grave with a monument that read:

In Memory of Sam’l Skrimsher
second att York fort and Master of flambro house,
Who died May ye 18th 1755
Aged 34 Years.
Vehement after pleasures
I seek for treasures below
Which Caused My Asshes
Here to Lye in oblivio’ [52]

Isham’s General Letter to the London Committee that year reported Skrimshire’s death, “whose Loss we greatly Regret.” [53]

The blow that apparently led to Skrimshire’s death was probably accidental. There were no suggestions of foul play in the York Fort journal or correspondence, and no recorded attempt to punish the person responsible. The London Committee felt that Skrimshire’s “unhappy Fate,” in conjunction with the killings at Henley House later that year , “strongly prove that it is extream dangerous to make bosom friends of them [i.e. Natives], for which reason We hereby strictly Order, that no Indian either Man, Woman, or Child, be ever in future lodged within York Fort or Flamborough house, on any pretence.” [54] Beyond this, the circumstances of Skrimshire’s death remain unclear.

In spite of his almost constant complaining about Flamborough House, Isham kept it open as a hunting camp for HBC men until 1759, when it reached its peak production (three hogsheads of salted venison). [55] That year, however, Isham heard rumours of an impending French attack and ordered Flamborough’s complement back to York, “it being a place not of defence.” The Committee approved the closure, but advised against destroying the house in case it should be called into use again. [56] It burned down in the summer of 1766, probably by accident. Andrew Graham (then in charge at York) speculated that Homeguard Cree were responsible: “I suppose it to be done by some lazy home Indian as no Trading Indian was down when it happened.” [57] Some of Flamborough’s accoutrements survived beyond its closure: at Severn River in 1768, Graham mentioned that the shipwright was making him a new armchair and complained that “I have never had any chairs but four old ones that belonged to the late Flamborough House.” [58]

Samuel Skrimshire’s last entry in the four volumes of Flamborough House journals, dated 8 September 1754, noted only that the weather was cloudy and windy.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Flamborough House Journals, B.68a1-4.

More Than Kin and Less Than Kind: Isham and Skrimshire

After 1754, Flamborough faded into the background of the archival record: Skrimshire’s 1753-1754 journal is the latest surviving document from that post. Prior to that, however, Flamborough House produced two volumes of correspondence and four post journals, [59] as well as much correspondence and some other transactions recorded in the documents of York Fort. The journals are informative documents, filled with reports of hunting trips, building construction and repairs, some mapping of the surrounding countryside, [60] and the comings and goings of various Natives (mostly Homeguard and Muskego Cree), many of whose names were recorded: Jackatip, Mockapatune, Shannap, Muskatucky, Mistahay, Archiwick, Lucas, Trimbush, and John O Gaunt.

The correspondence between York and Flamborough was both lively and frequent. John Hughes’ rhetoric of humility so common among Company servants—”a Just true honest & faithfull Servant to You [Isham] & my most renound Masters”—contrasted with Samuel Skrimshire’s expressions of bitterness and frustration, [61] while James Isham was patronising, paternalistic and censorious towards both men. Isham may have felt some special interest in Flamborough, as it was initially meant to be his charge, and he was certainly worried about Flamborough drawing trade away from York. The frequency of the correspondence—letters sometimes only days apart—did not allow Flamborough’s masters to forget that they were subordinate to the Chief Factor at York.

The London Committee held Isham in high regard: in 1749, they felt unable to mount an adequate defence to the Parliamentary Enquiry without his testimony. In Hudson Bay, however, the knowledge and experience so valuable in London surely weighed heavily on the shoulders and in the ears of his subordinates. Also, this was late in Isham’s career, a time when his aging body was wracked by gout, and he may have been losing patience with younger men who he thought should know better.

There was more to it than that, however. Samuel Skrimshire was probably related to Isham and Isham certainly took an early interest in the young man’s prospects, frequently recommending him for advancement. For instance, in 1739 he described Skrimshire as “a very sober diligent young man and I hope will merit your honours’ favours.” [62] The exercise of patronage was one of the most recognizable manifestations of the social system inherent in the HBC’s corporate structure. The patron-client relationship was found in all facets of English society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly in business and politics. In Hudson Bay, newly-arrived young men and boys could benefit greatly from the tutelage and advice of senior men. Given the paternal nature of the master-servant (or master-apprentice) relationship, such senior men might even act as surrogate fathers. Writing in England in 1747, R. Campbell advised the prospective apprentice to “look upon his Master as his Parent,” significant advice considering that some boys (perhaps as many as one in four in London) were fatherless by the time they entered service or apprenticeship. [63] The sentimental and practical value of such relationships, when positive, was enhanced by the possibility of vertical mobility. Of course, quasi-parental status could also give rise to quasiparental conflicts, particularly if Isham was trying to act as a surrogate father to a man only a few years his junior.

Skrimshire was apprenticed to the Company at the age of 14 in 1733, when the Committee described him as a “very Sober well Inclin’d boy.” [64] He rose with relative speed to the rank of Second at York, in which capacity he served under Thomas White (1744-1746), Isham (1746-1748), and John Newton (1748-1750). Newton, however, complained that Skrimshire was lazy and unreliable.

I am very Sorry I cant Speak more in favour of Mr Skrimsher but he certainly is a very Unfit Man for forwarding any Business. I can Assure Your Honours I have ye Mates or Boatswains duty as well as the Masters (I think ye Simile will bear) I at first thought his Remissness and Inactivity to proceed from a Sullenness on Acc[oun]tt of my being advanced to a place he might think himself better Qualified for, but I have been convinced since it is meerly Lazy Habit or Nwt [Northwest] Disposition. [65]

An experienced shipmaster in the Mediterranean trade, Newton had come out of retirement in southern England to take charge of York Fort. His reference to Skrimshire’s laziness as the “Northwest Disposition” suggests that he was unimpressed by the men of York, whom the London Committee described as “Lazy enough of themselves without having Bad examples.” [66] Alternatively, the “Northwest Disposition” may have been drunkenness. In 1748, Robert Pilgrim at Prince of Wales Fort reported the death of mason John Davenport, who had been drunk on Saturday evening and all day Sunday, and was found dead in his bed early Monday morning: “I was Going to Say that this way of Dying is a Natural Death for a Northwester, but I will Venture to Say itt is a Northwest Death, for sure I am this is the 4th man has Gone this way since I have Known this place, by the force of good Liquor as they call itt.” [67] Either way, the men of York were equally unimpressed by Newton’s distance and severity. Skrimshire may have had good reason to feel “sullen” at having been passed over for command in favour of a greenhorn and a martinet.

Despite more than a decade of positive reports from Isham and others, Skrimshire was recalled in 1750 on the basis of Newton’s complaints. The Committee wrote to Newton, “We are sorry to find that Mr Skrimshers Remissness is so great, and that he takes so little pains to Acquit himself in his Station to your Satisfaction or that he is not of any service to the Company by his Indolent behaviour and a [illegible] Idleness to execute any thing… [&] by his Lazyness & Inactivity or it may be Wilfulness is a very bad example to others.” [68] Skrimshire’s position as Second at York entitled him to a private letter of explanation. “As your Conduct has not been of late the most agreable [sic] to Us as we could Wish and have not Exerted yourself In forwarding the Companys Affairs thro wilfulness or Indolence whereby the repairs and buildings are behindhand, by not keeping the Companys Servants strictly to Work who are Lazy enough of themselves without having Bad examples We have therefore thought proper to recall you and Richd Smith.” [69]

Skrimshire’s recall seems to have soured Isham’s attitude towards him, but the exact reasons are far from clear. During Skrimshire’s absence, Isham wrote to Joseph Isbister at Churchill, responding to a letter Isbister had written to Skrimshire five months earlier (which is no longer extant). Skrimshire had informed Isbister of Newton’s death and asked Isbister’s advice about one or more things, which seems to have provoked Isham: “I am Surpris’d Mr Skrimshire who had been so many Years in ye Companys Servis should understand their affairs no better, however I shall take Effectual Remedy as to that point.” What “that point” was is uncertain, but it may have been connected to “inticeing and Encouraging Ind[ia]ns to leave one Fort to goe to another,” of which Isbister and/or Skrimshire may have accused Newton. [70] Isbister’s reply to Isham observed that “You express a Surprise & seem by your Manner of writing to be heat’d with Passion & resentment, for what I know not.” He defended Skrimshire, saying “I dont know but yt [i.e. that] he Understands the Company affairs as well or better then Either you or myself,” and emphasising his good conduct while in charge of York after Newton’s death. Isham petulantly replied, “As to ye Person You mention in your second Paragraph I cannot see that Wee have any reason to Concern Our Selves with Him or any one Else that is absent, I know of no Crimes Hee has been guilty of far from it (but the Company are ye Properest Judges for what they Punctually Ordered Mr Skrimshire home for.” [71] Isbister suggested, “it may be that You are offended at his asking a Senior Officers advice… but in My Oppinion…[it is] much to his Credit, & plainly show that His thoughts were Serious concearning His charge & dont doubt but his Sentiments were Foreign & quite different from those Hee entertained when in an Inferiorr Station.” [72]

This exchange was part of a renewed conflict between Isham and Isbister. In 1747, while in charge of Albany Fort on James Bay, Isbister had complained to Isham that most of Albany’s Homeguard Cree hunters had left the area for York: Isham (perhaps rightly) interpreted this as an accusation that he was enticing hunters away from Albany and responded warmly. [73] On the topic of Aboriginal hunters being enticed to York, Isbister suggested in his January 1751 letter from Prince of Wales Fort that “whether those Practices are unhear’d of or not it may be best Judged from ye Number of Albany & Churchill Indians that now frequent York Fort.” [74] Whatever the content of the (now lost) letters between Skrimshire and Isbister, by the winter of 1750–1751 Isbister and Isham were both very angry and offended over the issue. [75] The precise role played by Skrimshire (or by Newton) in this ongoing dispute cannot be discerned from the surviving documents.

Isham’s displeasure with Skrimshire may have had deeper roots. In a cryptic passage in a 1748 letter to Robert Pilgrim at Churchill, Isham hinted at some kind of earlier concern regarding Skrimshire. “As to your private Letter, You can not but be Sensible I am no Stranger to you, and shall take care what you intimate Concerning Mr Samll Skrimshire shall create no Difference in our small family.” [76] Neither Pilgrim’s “private Letter” nor any other references to it have survived. Isham may have been willing to overlook or to forgive whatever Pilgrim had told him about Skrimshire, or he may simply have been claiming such magnanimity. After Skrimshire’s return in 1751, he signed his letters to Isham, “You[r] most Obdt: [i.e. Obedient] & Effectionate Cozn: [i.e. cousin] at Comm[an] d:” [77] but received few kind words and little encouragement in return.

Whatever the nature or cause of the unpleasantness that arose over Skrimshire’s conduct, the soured relationship may have had an adverse effect on Isham’s attitude towards Flamborough House. Certainly Skrimshire was never convinced that he was being given the support he needed to make Flamborough work. However, there had been conflict when Hughes was in charge as well, and Isham sometimes responded to Hughes’ letters with sarcasm. In the autumn of 1750, for instance, he criticised Hughes for allowing the men brandy too early in the season—”by your Actions one would think you had been but one year in ye Country, not to know better”—and went on to scold him, “[I] desire you would write with more discreation, & not truble Me with so much stuff & nonsense when half ye writing will answare ye purpose.” [78] Then he chastised Hughes the following spring because he had not written recently. [79] Isham’s tongue was as sharp for Skrimshire as it had been for Hughes. Even Skrimshire’s requests for ink fell on unsympathetic ears: “You say you have no Sealing was [wax] nor Ink…the only Remedy I know off is to write less, so what you have will last the Longer.” [80]

A House With No Foundation: Some Final Thoughts on Flamborough

Flamborough House and its masters suffered from a lack of precedent. Neither Isham nor most of his colleagues had any experience with an outpost of this kind. Other “factory houses” or outposts (such as Moose, Eastmain, Richmond, and later Severn) were subordinate to Albany or York, but their range of tasks and expectations were similar to those at the factories. Only the Albany outpost of Henley House shared the trading restrictions imposed on Flamborough; however, it enjoyed more independence because of its location, 180 miles inland from Albany, and the Bayside factors may not have seen the two houses as comparable. Although not all of the Bayside correspondence from that period has survived, there is no evidence that Albany’s Chief Factors offered Isham any advice based on their experiences with Henley—nor is it likely that Isham would have asked for any, or taken any that was offered.

In general, Flamborough differed from other “factory houses” in three significant ways. It was smaller, never possessing a large enough complement of men to perform all the necessary mundane tasks without assistance and support from York. This placed the master of Flamborough in a more dependent situation than would be the case for York’s later and larger outpost at Severn River. Even the primary function of Flamborough—provisioning York Fort—emphasized its dependence on the factory in a palpable way not experienced by other outposts, which were all (except Henley) intended as trading posts in their own right.

Flamborough was also unusually close to its parent factory. The distance of only about twenty miles between the two kept the masters of Flamborough under Isham’s steady gaze at York and deprived them of the practical everyday independence enjoyed by the masters of Albany’s outposts around the shores of James Bay. The short distance also allowed Isham to keep Flamborough undermanned and under-supplied (in the opinion of Hughes and Skrimshire), because it was relatively easy to transfer men and/or goods to the outpost on short notice.

Finally, Flamborough suffered from problems of expectations. Once the interloping threat failed to materialize, a new reason for the house’s existence had to be found. The investment of human and material resources—as well as Skrimshire’s emotional investment in his “second chance” at command—were out of proportion to Flamborough’s ultimate role as a glorified goose hunting tent. For John Hughes and Samuel Skrimshire, however, Flamborough represented an opportunity to be a master in their own house—an opportunity stifled by the managerial shadow of James Isham at York and by the ambivalence of the London Committee about the role of this rather anomalous creation.

Notes

1. Although generally known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as York Factory, most eighteenth-century HBC documents referred to it as York Fort. There is some confusion about Flamborough House’s name. On 2 July 1750, Samuel Skrimshire sent word of Chief Factor John Newton’s death to “Cumberland Fort,” although he was clearly referring to Flamborough: York Fort journal, 2 July 1750, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives / Manitoba Archives (HBCA), B. 239/a/33, fo. 37.

2. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 16 May 1749, A. 6/8, fos. 15-15d. See also John Newton & Council (York) to HBC (London), 12 August 1749, A. 11/114, fo. 133; HBC (London) to James Isham (London), 21 May 1750, A. 6/7, fo. 163; HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fos. 43d-45.

3. For a complete discussion of Arthur Dobbs and the challenges to the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1740s, see E. E. Rich, The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670-1870, Volume I: 1670-1763 (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1958), pages 556-586.

4. Although threats to the Company’s trade were to be dealt with as vigorously as possible, if any vessel sent by Dobbs or other parties “on the discovery of a Northwest Passage…should (thro’ distress or for other Reasons) Endeavour to Enter Hayes River and come up to our Factory you are to use them Civilly.” HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 16 May 1749, A. 6/8, fo. 15.

5. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 16 May 1749, A. 6/8, fos. 15-15d. See also John Newton & Council (York) to HBC (London), 12 August 1749, A. 11/114, fo. 133; John Newton (York) to HBC (London), private, 12 August 1749, A. 11/114, fos. 135-135d. Newton claimed to have thought of a similar plan himself: “I cant help mentioning I had taken ye Resolution of Sending ye Same Person [Hughes] You have thought proper to pitch on with some few Trifles for trade wth him to Build a Logg tent at Flambro’ Head and to Reside there, Months before ye Ships Arrival,” John Newton (York) to HBC (London), 12 August 1749, A. 11/114, fo. 135.

6. The lower reaches of the Nelson were easily navigable by sloops: for instance, the Whale sloop (Thomas Laws, master) carried goods from York to Flamborough in 1750 (B. 239/b/6, fo. 3d) and in 1751 (B. 68/b/1, fo. 1). A longboat was apparently built for supplying Flamborough (see HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fo. 44d: “the Ships new Long Boat which is Built on Purpose for going up and down Nelson River”), but there seems to have been some dispute over it. In 1753, Skrimshire assured Isham, “You need be under no more consearn of my troubling You a bout the Long boat promis’d in Exchang, only must beg leave to say I always took a Gentlemans word to be his Bond, for admit the Boat Here to be built purposely for this place if I remember well it was chiefly for whaleing.” Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 25 March 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 15.

7. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fos. 43d-45. Also see HBC (London) to James Isham (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/7, fo. 163.

8. York Fort journal, 25 August 1749, B. 239/a/33, fo. 2d. James Isham measured the distance between the factory and the house in December 1750 “wth the Measuring Wheel & Chain,” and “Made the Distance 20 Miles.” Flamborough House journal, 14 December 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 14d. Andrew Graham later gave the distance as 24 miles: Glyndwr Williams, ed., Andrew Graham’s Observations on Hudson’s Bay 1767-91 (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1969), 251. John Hughes “Measur’d wth the Chain from the House to Flambro’ Head. Made the Distance 2 Miles 3 Furlongs. The House from the Head bears S. & by W.” Flamborough House journal, 12 February 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 20. However, in March 1751, Hughes and Magnus Johnston “measur’d from hence [i.e. Flamborough House] across to Flambro’ Head. We found the Chain to be wrong. The Wheel made the Distance 16 Poles less yn two Miles. The Chain made it 2 Miles & 16 Poles. Chain wanted 3/4 Yard of Measure.” Flamborough House journal, 2 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 22. In March 1751, Richard Ford was “drawing a Plan of the River from the Tail of the high Land to an Island 16 2 Miles above.” Flamborough House journal, 9 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 23. Neither this plan nor Ford’s account of his surveying activities (mentioned in the York Fort journal, 10 March 1751, B. 239/a/34, fo. 25d) have survived.

9. Flamborough House journal, 14 February 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 20d. A few months later, Isham ordered Hughes to take detailed measurements of the house and area: Hughes sent the measurements to York, but they were not recorded in either post’s journal: Flamborough House journal, 2 April 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 25d.

10. Richard Ford was a member of Isham’s Council from 1753 until he returned to England in 1756. Ford’s departure from the service forced Isham to postpone the establishment of a house at Severn River “for the want of a proper work man.” James Isham & Council (York) to HBC (London), 4 August 1756, A. 11/114, fo. 194d.

11. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 13 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 2.

12. HBC (London) to James Isham & Council (York), 16 May 1751, A. 6/8, fo. 69. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 20 January 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 11d. The cannon were supposed to have gone out to Hudson Bay in 1750—HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fos. 43d-45—but were mistakenly left behind.

13. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fos. 43d-44.

14. Skrimshire’s account of Newton’s death and the search for his body is in York Fort journal, 28 June - 2 July 1750, B. 239/a/33, fos. 36-37.

15. Joseph Isbister (Churchill) to James Isham (York), 17 January 1751, B. 239/b/6, fos. 17d-18.

16. James Isham (York) to HBC (London), 1750, A. 11/114, fo. 138d. The Committee had been unable to procure a bricklayer for York in 1724 and instead engaged the 19-year-old Hughes, who had “worked with some Bricklayers.” K. G. Davies and A. M. Johnson, eds., Letters from Hudson Bay 1703-40 (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1965), 99n, 151n; A. 1/120, fo. 62. A real bricklayer, James Averill, was sent out to York in 1725. In 1732, Hughes’ superior, Thomas McCliesh, called him “very serviceable to us in attending and making our nets” (Letters, 169) and in 1739 and 1740 James Isham described him as sober, diligent, and useful (Letters, 308, 313). In 1752, Hughes was repairing guns after armourer Joseph Russell froze his fingers and toes the previous winter: James Isham & Council (York) to HBC (London), 6 August 1752, A. 11/114, fo. 154. For Hughes’ caribou-hunting camp, see Victor P. Lytwyn, Muskekowuck Athinuwick: Original People of the Great Swampy Land (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2002), 151.

17. Hughes appears to have claimed that the Committee had authorised his daughter’s passage to England (“saying it was yr honrs Desire”). “I having no such orders, nor yet the captain, and in Looking back to your honor’s [letter] of 16 May 1751 (parh 27) find a strict order to the contrary…therefore stopd her returning to England, Referring such to yr honours.” James Isham (York) to HBC (London), 13 August 1756, A. 11/114, fo. 192.

18. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 16 May 1749, A. 6/8, fos. 15-15d. A year earlier, however, Newton had recommended engaging George Potts (Isham’s former personal servant and son of HBC surgeon and factor, John Potts) on the grounds that only Skrimshire and Augustine Frost understood the Cree language: John Newton & Council (York) to HBC (London), 27 August 1748, A. 11/114, fo. 129d. Hughes had sufficient literacy to perform the accounting and journal-keeping tasks of his position adequately. On 1 May 1751, the handwriting in the post journal changed: the new hand was less polished than the previous one (spelling and syntax were more erratic), but the evenness of the handwriting improved, as if the new writer was growing more confident with the pen. The second handwriting appears to have been Hughes’ and the earlier writing was presumably Richard Ford’s. See entries for 1 May and 7 May 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 29. He also had some competency in surveying: in January 1751, he took “the Bearings of the House & sev’rall other Points of Land by Compass.” Flamborough House journal, 16 January 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 17. Two months later, he and Richard Ford “took the Bearings of the Upper Point of Prospect Bay, the Tail of Seal Island &c &c.” Flamborough House journal, 3 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 22.

19. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fo. 43d; HBC (London) to James Isham (London), 21 May 1750, A. 6/7, fo. 163.

20. John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 25 August 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 1; James Isham (York) to John Hughes (Flamborough), 26 August 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 1d.

21. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 27 January 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 18; Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 12 August 1752, B. 68/b/2, fos. 1d-2; James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 2 February 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 19d.

22. John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 10 September 1750, B. 239/b/6, fos. 4-4d; also see Flamborough House journal, 11 September 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 4.

23. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 29 October 1751, B. 68/b/1, fos. 13-13d; Flamborough House journal, 31 October 1751, B. 68/a/2, fo. 9d; Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 29 March 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 26d.

24. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 13 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 2d. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 12 August 1752, B. 68/b/2, fos. 1d-2. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 20 March 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 13d.

25. HBC (London) to James Isham (York), 12 May 1752, A. 6/7, fo. 175d. Also see their chastisement of Skrimshire on this count: HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 12 May 1752, A. 6/7, fo. 176.

26. See John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 4 November 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 14d; Isham to Hughes, n.d. [November 1750], B. 239/b/6, fo. 15. For problems with this arrangement, see Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 4 February 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 20: “[Magnus] Twat is scarse 2 days together well haveing contracted the Country Deistemper, by working in His waistcoat for want of a Leather Toggie.”

27. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 16 May 1749, A. 6/8, fos. 15-15d.

28. HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fos. 43d-45.

29. James Isham, “Orders Appointed for Mr John Hughes to Observe [at Flamborough House] Sept 4: 1750,” B. 239/b/6, fo. 2d. James Isham, “Orders Appointed for Mr Samuel Skrimshire Punctually to Observe [at Flamborough House], answarable [sic] to the 19 paragraph of the General Letter 1750,” 18 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 5d.

30. HBC (London) to James Isham & Council (York), 16 May 1751, A. 6/8, fo. 69; copied in James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 18 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 6.

31. James Isham (York) to John Hughes (Flamborough), 14 September 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 5d.

32. John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 29 September 1750, B. 239/b/6, fos. 9-9d. James Isham (York) to John Hughes (Flamborough), 30 September 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 10d.

33. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to HBC (London), 8 August 1751, A. 11/114, fo. 144.

34. Flamborough House journal, 13 August 1751, B. 68/a/2, fo. 1; Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 14 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 3; James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 18 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 4; Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 20 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 6d.

35. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), n.d. [late January 1752], B. 68/b/1, fo. 18d.

36. HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 12 May 1752, A. 6/7. fo. 175d.

37. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 15 April 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 28.

38. John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 25 August 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 1. Flamborough House journal, 5 September 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 3d. Flamborough House journal, 23 November 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 12. Flamborough House journal, 25 November 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 12. Flamborough House journal, 11 December 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 14. The “deer” of HBC documents was actually caribou, though whether the woodland or barren ground species is a matter of debate: see Lytwyn, 228n2

39. For “partridge,” see Flamborough House journal, 6 February 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 19d. For identification of “partrige” as willow ptarmigan, see Lytwyn, 110. The exact contents of the garden are unknown, but did include radishes, turnips and colworts. See, for example, John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 19 May 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 30; also Flamborough House journal, 17 May 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 30. The degree of success which they had with this garden was never reported. For a reference to hogs, see John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 23 April 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 27d. For references to brewing, see Flamborough House journal, 13 September & 12-13 November 1750, B. 68/a/1, fos. 4d, 10d-11.

40. James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 2 February 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 19d.

41. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 4 February 1752, B. 68/b/1, fo. 20. On another occasion, Skrimshire reported a lack of fish, “ther four am apt to beleave their is no fish in the Rivr or at Least they do not Come up so heigh”: Flamborough House journal, 26 August 1751, B. 68/a/2, fo. 3. Also see Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 27 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 10.

42. James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), n.d. [August 1752], B. 68/b/2, fo. 2d. For Skrimshire’s response, see Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 17 September 1752, B. 68/b/2, fo.3d. Also see James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 20 March 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 14: “Was it possable for the Dead to rise certainly the Geese salted at North River last spring when I had a Cask opened would have flown away.”

43. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 22 September 1752, B. 68/b/2, fo. 4d. James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), n.d. [September 1752], B. 68/b/2, fo. 5.

44. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 2 October 1752, B. 68/b/2, fos. 5d-6. James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 5 October 1752, B. 68/b/2, fo. 6d.

45. James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 20 March 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 14.

46. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 5 June 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 17d.

47. HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 23 May 1753, A. 6/7, fo. 182d.

48. HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 23 May 1753, A. 6/7, fo. 182d.

49. HBC (London) to James Isham & Council (York), 24 May 1753, A.6/8, fo. 118d.

50. HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 22 May 1754, A.5/1, fo. 3d; also see HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 27 May 1755, A. 5/1, fo. 10.

51. York Fort journal, 16–25 May 1755, B. 239/a/39, fos. 27d-28d.

52. York Fort journal, 6 August 1755, B. 239/a/39, fo. 36d. I have been unable to find the source of this quotation.

53. James Isham (York) to HBC (London), 2 September 1755, A. 11/114, fo. 190.

54. HBC (London) to James Isham & Council (York), 12 May 1756, A. 6/9, fo. 33. Isham had, in fact, given similar orders early in Flamborough’s history: “I order you once more Harbour no Indns but ye lad & another.” James Isham (York) to John Hughes (Flamborough), 30 September 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 11.

55. York Fort journal, 5 August 1759, B. 239/a/41, fo. 41; also Lytwyn, 151.

56. HBC (London) to James Isham & Council (York), 15 May 1760, A. 5/1, fo. 35d.

57. York Fort journal, 27 July 1766, B. 239/a/54, fo. 49; Graham’s Observations, 251n. Graham (251) erroneously gave 1760 as the date of Flamborough’s closure.

58. Severn River journal, November 1768, quoted in Graham’s Observations, 342.

59. B. 68/a/1-4, Flamborough House journals, 1750–1754; B. 68/b/1-2, Flamborough House correspondence, 1751–1753.

60. In 1750, the Committee told Newton, “Wee have discoursed with most of Our Servants that have lived at York Fort…and Wee do find them very Ignorant…in knowing the true distances of several places from the Factory and also from one place to another alledging that all the Information they can give us comes from the Indians who widely differ in their Account of Distances or at least Our People did not rightly Comprehend them.” They instructed him to rectify this situation whenever an opportunity arose (“without Neglecting things of more Consequence”), “For which purposes we have sent you a Compleat Set of Surveying Instruments and Measuring Wheel which we desire may be Carefully preserved We suppose what were formerly Sent are either Broke lost or Mislaid.” HBC (London) to John Newton & Council (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/8, fos. 45d-46d. For examples of men measuring distances, see Flamborough House journal, 14 December 1750, B. 68/a/1, fo. 14d; 16 January 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 17; 12 February 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 20; 14 February 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 20d; 2 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 22; 3 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 22; 5 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 22d; 9 March 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 23; 2 April 1751, B. 68/a/1, fo. 25d. Also see James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 11 January 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 10d. Hughes appears to have been considerably more active in this respect than Skrimshire.

61. John Hughes (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), n.d. [October 1750], B. 239/b/6, fo. 12d. Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to HBC (London), 8 August 1751, A. 11/114, fos. 144-145.

62. James Isham (York) to HBC (London), 29 August 1739, Letters, 308. Also see James Isham & Council (York) to HBC (London), 27 July 1740, Letters, 312.

63. R. Campbell, The London Tradesman (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1969, originally published London, 1747), 313; Margaret Pelling, “Apprenticeship, Health and Social Cohesion in Early Modern London,” History Workshop 37 (Spring 1994), 41-42.

64. Letters, 308n.

65. John Newton (York) to HBC (London), 12 August 1749, A. 11/114, fo. 134.

66. HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/7, fo. 163d.

67. Robert Pilgrim (Prince of Wales Fort) to James Isham (York), 17 February 1748, B. 239/b/5, fo. 6.

68. HBC (London) to John Newton (York), 24 May 1750, A. 6/7, fos. 161d- 162.

69. HBC (London) to Samuel Skrimshire (York), 21 May 1750, A. 6/7, fo. 163d.

70. “Sir, yours of the twelf July we Rec’d here by Mr Skrimshire who had not an oppertunity to answare therfore having Indians at our Fort at Present [available to carry a letter to Churchill], take this Oppertunity to Answare yours of ye 21th July last where I can but Observe yt the first paragraph is partly Expres’d by ye Information you had of Mr Skrimsher abt July ye 2d: 1750 as to ye Second Paragraph I am Surpris’d Mr Skrimshire who had been so many Years in ye Companys Servis should understand their affairs no better, howsoever I shall take Effectual Remedy as to that point, I am sorry to hear yt such practices has and is carried on to the Ruin of the Companys trade and Interest, or inticeing and Encouraging Indns to leave one Fort to goe to another, as to ye latter part of the Said Paragraph, is without any foundation, nay You are so much Mistaken in that point, that I doe not doubt in the least please God to Continue my health but as soon as the Natives has Information of my Arrival but to enlarge the Companys trade, without any of those unhear’d of Practices till late Days. You need not bee under any Concern for theunfortunate Gentlemans Effects, I having taken proper care of the same at my first Arrival.” James Isham (York) to Joseph Isbister (Prince of Wales Fort), 30 December 1750, B. 239/b/6, fo. 15d. Isbister’s letter of 12 July has not survived, nor has Skrimshire’s letter to Isbister (Isham could not even find a copy when he reclaimed command).

71. Joseph Isbister (Churchill) to James Isham (York), 17 January 1751, B. 239/b/6, fos. 18-18d. James Isham (York) to Joseph Isbister (Churchill), 24 Febuary 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 21d.

72. Joseph Isbister (Churchill) to James Isham (York), 17 January 1751, B. 239/b/6, fos. 18-18d.

73. Joseph Isbister (Albany) to James Isham (York), 14 May 1747, B. 239/b/4, fos. 10-11d; James Isham (York) to Joseph Isbister (Albany), 12 July 1747, B. 239/b/4, fo. 12. Also see Joseph Isbister (Albany) to James Isham (York), 21 July 1747, B. 239/b/4, fo. 14d, where Isbister denied hoping for poor trade at York and “neither Did I Ever Dispute your sagacity with Respect to the nature of ye Country, than to Let you Know yt all men are Lyable to be deceiv’d, Either by their own Judgt or by other peoples, & yt you are not infallible.”

74. Joseph Isbister (Prince of Wales Fort) to James Isham (York), 17 January 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 18d.

75. Isbister pulled no punches in his correspondence with Isham, but did declare that “the Cheiff that will Sacrafice the Companys Interest to any Private peek or resentment is no good Officer.” “You may think from the Perticular regard I Expres’d for Mr Newton in that letter that I cannot have any respect for Mr Isham, Yes Sr and Mr Isbister would as gladly cultivate a freindly Correspondence with Mr Isham as any Man He knows….I do assure you Sir that it is My Exprest desire to live in Amity with You & all the rest of the Companys Cheifs.” He even signed this, his angriest letter, “Dear Sr Your Affectionate freind & most Humb[le] Servant.” Joseph Isbister (Prince of Wales Fort) to James Isham (York), 17 January 1751, B. 239/b/6, fos. 19d-21d. By the end of the year, the two men seem to have agreed to put the matter behind them: James Isham (York) to Joseph Isbister (Prince of Wales Fort), 24 February 1751, B. 239/b/6, fos. 21d-22; Isbister to Isham, 12 March 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 25; Isham to Isbister, 31 December 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 5d; Isbister to Isham, 15 January 1752, B. 239/b/6, fo. 7.

76. James Isham (York) to Robert Pilgrim (Prince of Wales Fort), 22 January 1748, B. 239/b/5, fo. 4d.

77. See, for example, Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough) to James Isham (York), 20 August 1751, B. 68/b/1, fo. 8.

78. James Isham (York) to John Hughes (Flamborough), 30 September 1750, B. 239/b/6, fos. 10d-11.

79. James Isham (York) to John Hughes (Flamborough), 19 June 1751, B. 239/b/6, fo. 36.

80. James Isham (York) to Samuel Skrimshire (Flamborough), 20 March 1753, B. 68/b/2, fo. 14.

Page revised: 19 May 2016

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