Pierre-Esprit Radisson | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Pierre-Esprit Radisson

Pierre-Esprit Radisson, explorer, fur trader (born in 1636 in France; died in June 1710 in London, England). Pierre-Esprit Radisson was a shrewd opportunist who was valued for his knowledge of Indigenous peoples and North American geography.

Pierre-Esprit Radisson

In 1651, Pierre-Esprit Radisson followed his half-sister to Trois-Rivières. He observed the Haudenosaunee as their adopted captive (1652–53) and with the Jesuit mission to the Onondaga (1657–58). In 1659, he was taken on an unlicensed fur-trading expedition to Lakes Superior and Michigan by his sister's husband, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers. In the lands beyond the lakes, they found an abundance of beavers and heard of "the Bay of the North Sea" which gave direct access to the region.

After the governor of New France punished them for this unsanctioned expedition, the partners went to Boston to arrange a voyage to Hudson Bay. In 1665, they sailed to England, where their plan of bypassing the St. Lawrence River to reach the interior fur-producing region found backers. The Nonsuch's voyage (1668–69) proved that the plan was practical and profitable. After the Hudson’s Bay Company was incorporated in 1670, Radisson established its Nelson River post and served as guide, translator and adviser.

Serving France

Their dissatisfaction with the company and a generous offer from the French secretary of state, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, led the brothers-in-law to switch allegiance to France in 1674. With an English wife, Radisson was never fully trusted. As Canada's governor would not employ him, Radisson became a French navy midshipman from 1677 to 1679. In 1682, the Compagnie du Nord hired him to challenge the English traders in Hudson Bay. Radisson destroyed rival posts and established Fort Bourbon on the Nelson River.

Later Life

When the governor of Canada taxed their furs and released a ship they had captured, the brothers-in-law sought restitution in France. They failed because Jean-Baptiste Colbert, their patron, was dead. In 1684, Radisson returned to England and, despite the losses he had caused, the HBC re-employed him, hoping to profit from his great experience and skills. He had his nephew surrender Fort Bourbon and its contents to the company. Radisson was chief director of trade at Fort Nelson from 1685 to 1687. With a price on his head in Canada, he retired with his family to Westminster, London, where he completed the narrative of his voyages.

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