Radisson, Pierre-Esprit

Pierre-Esprit Radisson, explorer, fur trader (b in France 1636; d at London, Eng June 1710). This shrewd opportunist was valued for his knowledge of Indian life and North American geography. He followed his half-sister to Trois-Rivières in 1651 and observed the IROQUOIS as their adopted captive (1652-53) and with the Jesuit mission to the Onondaga (1657-58). In 1659 he was taken on an unlicenced fur-trading expedition to Lakes Superior and Michigan by his sister's husband, Médard Chouart DES GROSEILLIERS. In the lands beyond they found a "great store of beaver" and heard of "the Bay of the North Sea" that gave direct access to the region.

After the governor of New France punished them for this 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 R 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 R post and served as guide, translator and adviser.

Their "dissatisfaction" with the company and a generous offer from the French secretary of state, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, led the brothers-in-law to desert to France in 1674. With a wife in England, Radisson was never fully trusted. As Canada's governor would not employ him, Radisson was a French navy midshipman from 1677 to 1679. In 1682 the COMPAGNIE DU NORD engaged him to challenge the English traders in Hudson Bay. Radisson destroyed rival posts and established Ft Bourbon on the Nelson River.

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 Colbert, their patron, was dead. Radisson returned to England in 1684, and despite the losses he had caused, the HBC re-employed him, hoping to profit by "his great Experience & dexterity." He had his nephew surrender Ft 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], Eng, where he completed the narrative of his voyages.

See alsoFUR TRADE.