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  • The Hudson's Bay Company, Social Legitimacy, and the Political Economy of Eighteenth-Century Empire

Interpretations of the significance of early modern corporations have taken a sociological turn. Historians have increasingly emphasized that corporations depended for their business on a multitude of relationships and were expected to provide benefits to other communities in return for their privileges. The attacks on the Hudson's Bay Company that culminated in a parliamentary inquiry in 1749 illuminate the complexity of these social entanglements and their impact on the political economy of empire. At issue was whether the trade to the Hudson Bay region should be opened to others or left under the control of the HBC. Contemporaries argued this point by examining whether the HBC operated for its private advantage or in the public interest. But interpreting the public interest was a complex act that depended on economic ideas about the operation of imperial market systems as well as calculations about European rivals. Ultimately, the evaluation by members of Parliament of the social function of markets such as Hudson Bay—including the dependency on Indigenous suppliers—and apprehensiveness about French competition supported the company's privileges. The episode revealed how contemporaries applied their expectations about corporate conduct and how ideas of economic cooperation influenced the political economy of empire.

And his Majesty being desirous to promote all Endeavours tending to the publick Good, did incorporate them by the Name of, The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's-Bay.

The Case of the Hudson's-Bay Company

What would have been a most important Advantage to the whole Nation, was, by the Grant of an exclusive Charter, confined to a few Individuals, who actuated by the most selfish, sordid, and short-sighted Policy, or rather Cunning, restrained, instead of extending that Commerce.

—Alexander Cluny, The American Traveller1

HISTORIANS of English trading corporations have long been familiar with the language used to debate company privileges. Promoters enthused about the many public benefits that derived from particular incorporations, including the fostering of trade, the stimulation of employment, and even the improvement of the nation's morals. By the nineteenth century, these frequent and sometimes windy claims had become the object [End Page 71] of satire in the press and literature.2 Equally predictably, opponents of a particular incorporation warned that the public would be harmed by the private agenda of the promoters or directors who pursued only their own interests at the expense of the public good. According to the eighteenth-century critics of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), these hidden motives took the form of a conspiracy to prevent both the discovery of the Northwest Passage and the full exploitation of the economic opportunities of the Hudson Bay region. As Alexander Cluny charged in his survey of the British colonies in America, the directors of the HBC had self-servingly disregarded the public good and instead "with the grossest Dishonesty defeated intentionally, the express End for which such Charter had been originally granted."3 Did this language linking corporations to the public interest matter? Or were the claims about corporations and their benefits to society merely window dressing or sound bites meant to distract from the real action of subterranean campaigns of interest and political maneuvering during a period when incorporation was a special grant of the state? Parliament's 1749 inquiry into the HBC's monopoly of trade in the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed provides an opportunity to examine this problem.

Investigating the language of public interest used in the debate reveals how corporations such as the HBC effectively defended their legitimacy through arguments about their social utility.4 This language fundamentally structured assessments of whether the company had successfully fulfilled the expectations about how it would conduct its business that were explicitly identified in its charter. The rhetoric of these appeals was meaningful because they connected to larger ideas about the functioning of corporations within society. Corporations were understood to be responsible for a range of socially beneficial functions: the regulation of professions, the organization [End Page 72] of public debt, and the government of civic communities and markets.5 The HBC debate demonstrates how contemporaries specifically expected business corporations to be embedded conceptually, economically, and politically within larger social networks through their responsibilities to other communities. Among these exterior groups were overseas Indigenous suppliers and trading partners as well as domestic manufacturers and the national community. Company directors operated within this nexus of social expectations. They furthered the private interests of their shareholders and traders, even as they protected the company's legitimacy by claiming to pursue the public good through their relationships with other economic and political communities. The HBC, in particular, was expected to serve Britain's national interest by generating trade goods and employment while weakening French commercial and strategic interests. In order to do so, the company needed to maintain positive relationships with Indigenous peoples in the Hudson Bay region. Members of Parliament recognized that some markets required such cooperative partnerships even in a highly competitive commercial world. Whether the HBC was the best form of economic organization to maintain and expand this cooperation and to facilitate strategic and economic benefits to the national community was the pivot of the 1749 dispute.

Locating the HBC within a web of relationships and expectations that were deeply social on both sides of its trade provides a revisionist reading of the events of 1749. This approach also asserts an alternative and interdisciplinary model for understanding the place of trading corporations in the history of the political economy of empire. An older historiography interpreted these companies as predominantly economic entities pursuing commercial expansion as appendages of the state. Subsequently, however, an influential body of scholarship has stressed the "sovereign" character of corporate "company-states," such as the East India Company (EIC) and the HBC.6 The recovery of the political dimensions of corporate identity [End Page 73] has been salutary, especially for companies such as the EIC and the HBC, which administered large territories and populations. But the analysis of the noneconomic factors that shaped the conceptualization of corporate participation in imperial settlement by Andrew Fitzmaurice and others has qualified ideas of company-state autonomy. Similarly, Timothy L. Alborn and Rob McQueen have investigated expectations about the political and social performance of corporations in the nineteenth century.7

Just as contemporaries recognized corporations as instruments of self-government, they also perceived companies as embedded within a network of relationships that ultimately legitimized as well as limited their license and freedom to operate. Sociologists have explored this conceptual "embeddedness" of economic organizations and actors, examining the importance of institutional structures, values, and norms on economic behavior and legitimacy over time.8 Their work has informed organization studies, as Patricia H. Thornton and William Ocasio, among others, have developed an institutional logics perspective to theorize the dynamic relationship between individual or organizational agency and the larger structural and normative constraints on action. Among historians and historical sociologists, H. V. Bowen and Emily Erikson have illuminated this reality of corporate embedding, recovering both the EIC's "use of social networks" in its Asiatic trade and the eighteenth-century connections among the company, the government, and ideas of the public interest. Likewise, Jonathan Eacott, Anna Winterbottom, and Ted Binnema have identified corporations as key transmitters of knowledge and products through their relationships with the British government, communities of scientists, and populations of [End Page 74] consumers.9 Joint-stock corporations were neither slavish economic agents of the state nor straightforwardly sovereign actors. Even as entities such as the HBC strained to pursue their own private interests, they were limited by factors such as the dynamics of their markets, public opinion, legal regulation, and the perception of their social obligations.10 Corporations such as the HBC, in short, had social lives that impinged upon their decision making and shaped government policy toward them. As recent historiography has demonstrated, to understand the functioning of corporations in European empires requires a model that is attentive to those social relationships that entangled them.

Examining these entanglements through the study of corporate debates can also expose important aspects of the intellectual history of political economy. The role of chartered corporations has assumed renewed significance in accounts of European economic "divergence," raising the problem of how contemporaries understood the relationship between state and company, commonwealth and corporation.11 The potency of the language of corporations and their social utility only indirectly derived from the image of an ideal corporate type that served the public good. Discussions about corporations took place within a shifting intellectual framework of tangible and pressing problems related to overseas empire.12 In the example of the HBC, the charter challenge emerged during a period of acute anxiety [End Page 75] among British policy makers about French competition following the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). This moment of imperial introspection prompted dialogue about the functioning and renovation of Britain's overseas empire. The members of Parliament in 1749 debated efforts by both the HBC and the Royal African Company (RAC) to defend and expand British commercial markets. Company debates in 1749, therefore, involved the potential reconfiguration of two major branches of Atlantic trade during a period of heightened concern about French competition. Arguments about the public good that critics of the HBC used against the company were explicitly grounded in calculations about whether the corporate form was the most effective framework to structure overseas markets and outcompete European rivals. Both sides in the dispute worked to convince MPs that the models of trade that they advocated would strengthen Britain against the looming French threat and thereby promote the public interest.

These arguments led the HBC and its critics into a sustained and revealing analysis of the functioning of imperial markets. Such markets were oriented to compete against rivals. But success in commercial competition often depended on the cooperation of Indigenous peoples.13 All participants in the 1749 debate agreed that trade in the bay region relied upon a network of commercial relationships among home manufacturers, merchants, and groups of Cree, Assiniboine, Dine, Inuit, and other Indigenous traders. The question, though, was which was more effective at preserving and expanding the cooperative relationships that made the fur trade possible: a trade open to all British merchants or one available only to members of a corporation? Alienating Indigenous trappers, for example, might have the detrimental effect of pushing them to deal with French voyageurs instead of British traders. Ideas of competition and cooperation were thus linked: the struggle against the French could only be pursued with advantage if an orderly and social trade was maintained. Responding to this calculus, the HBC and its critics each argued that their model of trade was the most effective means to structure these relationships.

The excavation of this language of public and private in the HBC debate thereby illuminates the importance of ideas regarding economic cooperation for imperial policy making. Studies of eighteenth-century political economy have tended to focus on mercantilist theories of ruthless rivalry in a global economy of limited resources. Istvan Hont's exploration of the "jealousy of trade" examines this combative world of commerce among nations. But following Albert O. Hirschman, Hont also observes that the political economists of the period were attentive to the possibilities [End Page 76] of economic cooperation and doux commerce (sweet commerce). Commerce had the potential not only to divide people through competition but also to bind them together and to facilitate economic and moral improvement through exchange.14 These contemporary assumptions about the delicate workings and benefits of commercial cooperation are evident in the debate over the HBC. Each side asserted the necessity of economic cooperation among different groups, including Indigenous suppliers and domestic manufacturers. This cooperation would enhance Britain's political and military power and eventually lead to the containment or overthrow of the French in North America. These assumptions reveal that in a world of frequently violent competition, relationships of affinity and social commerce were understood to be vital.15 So when members of Parliament in 1749 investigated claims about the "Avarice" of the HBC, the rhetoric directly attacked the character of the company's governance of the trade in Hudson Bay. The HBC responded by warning of the fragility of a trade that depended on positive relationships with Indigenous traders "with whom a Confidence has been gained only by great good Usage." The company had not only developed the market in the region through these connections but also defended it against the French "to the great Inrichment of this Kingdom."16

The debate over the company's legitimacy therefore allows us to recover both aspects of eighteenth-century thinking about what Linda Colley has termed the "connexity" of empire (the global interrelationships that shaped imperial systems) and contemporary perceptions of the social relationships [End Page 77] that underpinned these networks.17 This connexity was deeply dependent on the conceptualization of the British Empire as a "congeries of territories linked by their commerce."18 Commerce's potential to unify disparate societies and economic interests underlay the proposals to reform the bay trade or to maintain the status quo. But as the HBC debates of 1749 also revealed, these arguments projected a vision of a beneficent empire of "sweet commerce" that was also deeply ethnocentric and co-optive.


The HBC had from its origin been expected to develop and maintain commercial networks to public advantage. When the crown chartered the HBC in 1670, the drafters explained that the privilege of incorporation was not solely for the benefit of its investors but "to promote all Endeavours that may tend to the publick Good of Our People." They had specific responsibilities in mind: "the Discovery of a new Passage into the South Sea, and for the finding of some Trade for Furs, Minerals and other considerable Commodities." Language throughout the document continued to make clear the company's responsibilities to the English community: to secure markets for England; to plant physical occupation; to locate the Northwest Passage; and by implication, to defend the national claims to the bay and its drainage basin that would be further reinforced in the settlement of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The grant of an exclusive trade was "to prosecute the said Design."19 The succeeding directors of the HBC made use of both the monopolistic privilege granted by the charter and the remote environment of the bay to protect their market in the region's furs, which amounted to perhaps twenty-seven thousand pounds in a good year.20 This was a modest amount when compared to the scale of the other great joint-stock corporations of the eighteenth century, such as the EIC and the Bank of England. But the HBC managed to defend its privileges and [End Page 78] expanded to govern much of the northern half of North America until the Deed of Surrender in 1870; it exists today as a multinational business that is often identified with the development of Canada.21

The company's mission to develop a market in the bay region also implicitly made the HBC responsible for instituting and maintaining relationships with non-European communities. The HBC was deeply dependent on the willingness of groups of Cree, Dine, Assiniboine, and Inuit to sell their furs and other products at its scattering of four principal posts—variously described as forts or factories—including Fort Albany, near the bottom of James Bay, and York Factory, on the western side of Hudson Bay (Figure I).22 Company employees at these posts, strategically located near the mouths of rivers that led into the interior, received Indigenous traders and exchanged their furs for European goods. One HBC captain, George Spurrell, estimated that about two thousand Indigenous peoples "came down" into the country in a year.23 The company traded in a variety of animal pelts, but beaver was the largest component of the traffic. Although the HBC sought a monopsony within the bay region, the company's Indigenous suppliers could choose to divert their furs to rival European traders farther south and west. The French voyageur Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, had established Fort Saint Charles, a trading post on Lake of the Woods, in 1731 and had reached Lake Winnipeg by 1734. The French established other posts along the Saskatchewan River in the 1730s that attracted trade away from the HBC factories. Already by the late 1730s this competition was influencing prices at Fort Albany and York Factory.24 Amity with Indigenous suppliers, as the HBC well knew and took measures to promote, was critical to both the flow of furs and the company's ability to achieve the explicit aims set out in its charter. Critics of the company argued, however, that the HBC had not "fulfilled the Intention of the said Charter, which was granted to them on Express Condition."25 Instead, they alleged that the company had pursued its private interests at [End Page 79]

Figure I. Map of locations mentioned in the text and major Hudson's Bay Company trading posts. Drawn by Rebecca Wrenn.
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Figure I.

Map of locations mentioned in the text and major Hudson's Bay Company trading posts. Drawn by Rebecca Wrenn.

[End Page 80] the expense of the public by alienating Indigenous traders and neglecting to restrain French expansion. The trade, critics proposed, was ripe for reform that would ultimately lead to the destruction of the French Empire in North America.

This imagining of a muscular but beneficent empire of commerce was evident in the writings of Arthur Dobbs, the leading critic of the HBC and the animating force behind the campaign to dissolve the company's monopoly during the 1740s. His opposition to the company, which culminated in the attack of 1749, began with an early interest in commercial affairs and a determination to change how Britain governed its empire. Born into a prominent Irish Protestant family in 1689, Dobbs pursued the responsibilities expected of his station, serving as the sheriff of Antrim (1720), in the Irish parliament (1727–30), and as deputy governor of Carrickfergus (1728). But his connections, especially to Sir Robert Walpole, led him higher, and in 1733 he was appointed surveyor general of Ireland. From his early years, Dobbs harbored an ambition to reform imperial administration. In pursuit of these ends, he made a diligent study of trade and political economy.26 This knowledge informed his campaigns for the reform of British policies toward Ireland in favor of free trade, repeal of the Navigation Acts, and greater integration of Ireland into the Union. His published study of the Irish economy (1729–31) articulated principles of doux commerce, observing that "Trade makes the People of the whole Earth as one great Family supplying each others wants."27 Nor was Dobbs only an armchair theorist—in 1753 he was appointed governor of North Carolina, where he served the crown with dedication, and was later a promoter of the Ohio Company of Virginia.28 [End Page 81]

In his old age near the end of the Seven Years' War, Dobbs was thankful that he was able to "live to see my long projected plan of driving the French out of the continent."29 The search for the Northwest Passage was among the earliest of Dobbs's projects in pursuit of that plan and eventually led him into conflict with the HBC. Over time, he became convinced that the company was self-interestedly seeking its own profits at the public expense and either avoiding the search for the passage or hiding its location altogether. As early as 1731, he was speculating about finding the passage, believing its discovery would dramatically enhance British power. By his own account, he assiduously studied the efforts and journals of earlier explorers. His research led him to write a memorial to Walpole, by then the leading figure in government under George II, examining the possibility of discovering the passage.30 On visits to England from 1731 to 1733, Dobbs made contact with Sir Charles Wager, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who introduced him to Samuel Jones, the deputy governor of the HBC.31 Dobbs quickly realized that to achieve his goal of further exploring the bay region, he would need to contend with the company. In these early years, he therefore insisted that he was acting "in Concert" with the HBC, no doubt also hoping for its support of his project.32 But the company's directors lacked Dobbs's ardor. They were familiar with the practical hazards of the northern ice fields and recalled the disastrous loss there of two ships and their crews during an expedition led by Captain James Knight in 1719. Dobbs persisted, arguing that the dispatch of ships northward would provide additional evidence in support of the existence of the passage.33 Although the HBC reluctantly sent sloops on reconnaissance in 1737, the company refused to supply Dobbs with the logs from the voyage, and his optimism about working with the company soon soured. Having made the acquaintance of Captain Christopher Middleton, an experienced Arctic [End Page 82] navigator then in the employ of the HBC, Dobbs heeded his warnings about the company's dislike of expensive and risky northern exploration. He then turned to lobbying the Board of Admiralty to fund a new expedition, which was dispatched under Middleton's command in 1741. By this time Dobbs had come to believe that the company was directly inhibiting his project as well as choking the commerce of the region. By late 1742 he was writing about the possibility of English settlement in the bay—a challenge to the company's privileges.34

Dobbs was granitic in his convictions. When Middleton's expedition failed to locate clear evidence of the Northwest Passage in 1741 and the captain himself began to doubt its existence or navigability, Dobbs responded harshly. He not only ran a pamphlet campaign to discredit Middleton's reports and smear the officer's competency but also, in partnership with merchants interested in the trade, successfully lobbied Parliament in 1745 to establish a prize of twenty thousand pounds for the discovery of the passage.35 This sum incentivized subscriptions for a privately funded expedition under the sponsorship of the newly formed "North West Committee" in 1746–47 that was also unable to locate the long-sought-after route. The membership of this group reveals that Dobbs had mobilized a broad base of influential investors who would eventually oppose the HBC, including leading English and Irish political figures, as well as important merchants involved in the Atlantic trade from London, Bristol, and Belfast.36 Moreover, by the end of 1747 Dobbs was also busy appealing to influential persons connected to the government and the Board of Trade to support a [End Page 83] new company that would have an exclusive trade "for a certain Number of years" and that would displace the HBC.37

These disputes in the 1730s and 1740s gave Dobbs opportunities to air his opinions about the operation of empire. The driving assumption behind his arguments was that commercial cooperation could be used as a tool to attach the Indigenous peoples of North America to the British interest. Dobbs explored this idea in an early treatise (ca. 1727–30) that has been largely overlooked.38 His "Scheme to Enlarge the Colonies and Increase Commerce and Trade" was an expansive and prescriptive account of the management of European empire that began with a diagnosis. England, he claimed, had mistakenly granted its American settlers too much freedom, and they had sought their own enrichment. The cost was the alienation of the Indigenous peoples as the colonists seized their lands without consent, creating grievances that were the "reasonable pretence" for war. A policy of cooperation would have yielded greater long-term commercial benefits. Had the colonists "Civilized, converted, united, and Incorporated with [the Indigenous], and Instructed them in the Arts and Sciences, Language and Manners of Britain; . . . Then there would have been a constant and great demand for many more of our Brittish manufactures: ere this time, we should have extended our Commerce through all the Northern continent."39 Cooperation was instrumental: not only would greater prosperity follow from closer association with the Indigenous peoples, but the British empire of commerce would expand to the detriment of the French.

Ethnocentric assumptions undergirded these ideas of cooperation—in fact, they were the reason that Dobbs expected his plan to work. Good government "is what makes us Industrious at home" and attractive to other peoples: "What people but are willing to come and partake of our Happy Constitution?" Wealth would beget wealth as Indigenous peoples incorporated with colonists, extending the nexus of commerce. A successful example of such commercial cooperation was close at hand. The French, who had acted with "more Policy and Prudence," had "cultivated a friendship and . . . incorporated and marryd with" Indigenous peoples, sending missionaries to [End Page 84] these groups so that they might "live sociably and regularly."40 By emulating this practice, the British would cunningly "counterwork the French in their own way" and offer the Indigenous nations the more attractive and beneficial example of British government and Protestant religion.41 The benefits of empire and commerce would be shared as Indigenous peoples would gain both materially and morally from their inclusion in the British imperial network. Through this process Britain would "extend our colonies . . . and spread our trade and consumption of our manufactures over a vast country and through numberless nations."42

The underlying purpose of this chain of colonization and commercial amity was geopolitical because upon any occasion of war it was "absolutely necessary to dispossess [the French] of their Colonies of Canada." Dobbs believed that the Iroquois and other Indigenous groups, having allied with the British, would aid a final and fatal assault on the French. Once they were dispossessed of their northern colonies, Britain would control "the whole fishery of Newfoundland, and America . . . as also all the Furs, and the inland trade of that vast Northern Continent."43 Dobbs remained committed to this program of incorporation throughout his life. When he sought favor for his appointment as governor of North Carolina in the early 1750s, he wrote to John Carteret, 2d Earl of Granville, Lord President of the Council and a major landowner in the colony, to warn about "coming to a rupture with France." Britain, he advised, should "Instruct civilise and Incorporate with natives and by using them well and giving them the advantage of an equitable trade secure their friendship and alienate them from the French." These commercial relationships would be the fulcrum required to break France's increasingly strong chain of fortifications around the British colonies.44 Underlying this scheme was Dobbs's long-standing assumption that commerce could bring people together in social relationships of mutual dependency and alliance.45

When Dobbs came to apply these ideas to the situation in the bay, he proposed nothing less than to transform the region into the commercial springboard that would launch British influence deep into the heart of the [End Page 85] continent. Opening the trade in the bay and locating the Northwest Passage would be decisive blows to France, leading Dobbs to represent his project as a public service that contrasted with the selfish conduct of the HBC. The geopolitical stakes were high. Dobbs worried that, because details of his plan and conditions of the bay appeared in his 1743–45 pamphlet exchange with Middleton, other nations would take advantage of the information. Dobbs, in short, directly situated both the HBC debate and the language of public interest within the framework of the political economy of empire.46

Dobbs boldly asserted that opening the Hudson Bay trade would prompt British settlement well inland beyond the HBC's coastal forts and ultimately draw the Indigenous peoples away from the French. Unlike servants of the company, free traders would be enterprising risk takers.47 And there was much to exploit. Not only was the Northwest Passage somewhere off Wager Bay—an inlet on the northwest part of Hudson Bay that Dobbs believed was a strait—but the climate and material resources invited European settlement.48 Once opened, the potential of the region's trade would be realized and would support colonial establishments farther inland, including settlements on the Great Lakes. These new outposts would link the southern British colonies with those on the bay.

This expansion of the British presence would lead to a closer, cooperative engagement with Indigenous peoples, and exchange with them would stimulate home manufacturing and undermine the French: "we should by this Encouragement make all the Natives our Friends, by underselling the French, and securing the Trade . . . and become so powerful, as not to fear the French in case of a War." Britain had already deployed this strategy in its efforts to ally with the Iroquois, "who from a warlike nation have embarked in Trade." Trade would enable the British "to civilize so many Nations, and improve so large and spacious a Country." Cooperation would thereby benefit both the British and the Indigenous peoples and lead to the co-option of the latter: "What an immense Trade might be begun and carried on from these Countries; for the Natives, being numerous and of a human Disposition, inclin'd to trade, upon having an equitable Trade with us, would be soon civilized, and become industrious." The network of imperial commerce from the bay to the Great Lakes and farther south would facilitate the "communicating [of] our Constitution and Liberties, both civil [End Page 86] and religious, to such immense Numbers, whose Happiness and Pleasure would increase." Once emigrants had expanded the settlements and had developed strong friendships with the Indigenous peoples, "the Inland Trade of that vast Northern Continent . . . would in time be wholly enjoy'd by us in Britain, independent of any other European Power." Such an "Increase of Wealth and Power" would profoundly advantage the public interest.49

Given the region's economic potential and geopolitical import, Dobbs asked, why was it being so woefully underexploited? The answer, he proposed, was that the HBC had conspired to hide the passage and information about the potential of Hudson Bay by, for example, spreading false information about the coldness of the region.50 The weather in the area was, in truth, "tolerable," and Dobbs claimed that the reports of extreme cold "are calculated to serve the Company, in order to prevent People from going there to settle, and encroach upon the Company's Monopoly of Trade."51 So extensive was the conspiracy, as Dobbs saw it, that the HBC had even suborned Captain Middleton himself. The perjured officer's crew had apparently been carefully selected to prevent their divulging the location of the passage, and the journal of his unsuccessful voyage had been doctored.52 According to Dobbs, Middleton labored to obscure the fact that when he entered Wager Bay he had been in the passage—an accusation that Dobbs also made during the Admiralty's 1743 investigation into the captain's conduct. The HBC's deviousness was further revealed through Middleton's behavior. He had seemed to act as Dobbs's friend but had planned to publish erroneous information to discredit belief in the existence of the passage.53

Only "Covetousness" and the pull of self-interest, Dobbs believed, could explain the HBC's reluctance to reveal discoveries so important to [End Page 87] the public good. Though the HBC had established their posts in a "very temperate, fine Climate, with all Necessaries for Life, and even for Luxury," they had run a small, low-volume business. The enterprise had enriched only a handful of men and relied on a few coastal factories that would quickly be overwhelmed by the French in the event of war. The HBC's motivation in keeping geographic secrets was purely self-interested. The discovery of the passage would attract other merchants to the area and so the company "would lose their beloved Monopoly." Dobbs added that if the HBC had developed the region responsibly, then they would have served the public interest by ejecting the French from the country and developing a market that could employ "Thousands" by venting British manufacturing. In contrast, the present situation suited only private interests by "enrich[ing] nine or ten Merchants at their Country's Expence; at the same time betraying the Nation, by allowing the French to encroach upon us at the Bottom of the Bay."54 The HBC, Dobbs reasoned, had failed in its responsibilities to promote both cooperation with the Indigenous peoples and the well-being of Britain.

In January 1748 Dobbs and the North West Committee petitioned the crown for an incorporation to operate in the bay region and for the privilege of an exclusive trade in any newly discovered regions. Dobbs related in private correspondence that he had received encouragement from a number of leading officials, including Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, a subscriber and also secretary of state for the Northern Department, as well as Andrew Stone, the secretary to the Duke of Newcastle.55 The petitioners promised that they would establish settlements and "incorporate" with the Indigenous peoples. Although they conceded that the HBC should be allowed to retain its factories, the arguments undercutting the company's legitimacy were now deployed before the government: the HBC had not only actively concealed the passage but, even more damningly, they "connive at, or allow the French to Encroach, Settle and Trade."56 The matter was referred to the crown's law officers for consideration.

The HBC directors had long been familiar with these criticisms of their company. Attacks on their privileges had first erupted in the 1690s when the company failed to have its charter permanently confirmed by Parliament.57 Critics at the time used the language of public interest to argue that the [End Page 88] company had a duty under the terms of its charter to promote English interests, including preventing the expansion of French power, promoting employment at home, and stimulating a market for British goods. Instead, the HBC monopoly, it was argued, "cramps Industry, and discourageth Ingenuity, and is in it self of no moment to the Nation."58 Mid-eighteenth-century writers on foreign affairs, such as John Harris, adopted the same logic in their criticisms of the HBC: "the Proprietors have been very large Gainers, but the Advantage to the Public has been very far from being great." Dobbs, the company's determined opponent, was in contrast a "Man born to revive the old heroic Spirit, of turning all our Endeavours to the Service of the Public."59

The directors of the HBC occasionally sought to defend their company's incorporation and its privileges with appeals to their "discovery" of the trade in the Hudson Bay region and the need to secure their property rights.60 But these arguments were of limited persuasive force. The former lost strength as time elapsed after 1670, and the latter failed to convince because, although the HBC's property might be devalued by the opening of the bay trade, it would not necessarily be seized.61 Legal opinion, in fact, tended against the protection of a monopoly, and lawyers in both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries never tired of inveighing against "odious" restrictions on trade.62 Makers of legal policy seemed to agree. In Nightingale et al. v. Bridges (1689), the Court of King's Bench had clipped the power of companies such as the RAC to enforce their trade privileges. As recently as 1723, the attorney general, Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, had provided the RAC with a legal opinion indicating his opposition to monopolies.63 The HBC and other companies, such as the EIC, thus had to legitimize their exclusive trade and privileges by demonstrating that the corporate structuring of an overseas market and its [End Page 89] particular characteristics were in the public interest.64 Even Yorke could later advocate for financial support of the RAC by arguing that the company's infrastructure was necessary and a public benefit. After all, "no trade can be carried on with advantage without places of security," and the company's forts established England's possession on the African coast.65 The legitimization of corporate privileges depended on the public interest, which was in turn determined by the specific circumstances of the market.

Faced with attacks on the HBC, therefore, its directors responded in their submissions to the Privy Council and Parliament in 1748–49 by extolling the many benefits to the national community that had come from their business. Not only had the trade "been vastly increased by them [the company] to the great Advantage of this Kingdom," the French had been kept out of the bay and deterred from entering neighboring territories.66 This feat was accomplished at significant private expense, and they often reminded government officials of losses sustained by their investors when the company's forts fell to French forces in the 1680s and 1690s.67 The HBC claimed that under the intense strain of their public duty fighting the French from 1691 to 1718, they had needed to suspend the dividend, a great private sacrifice. But now the trade had been much "increased by their Management to the very great Advantage of this Nation." These achievements had been recognized by Parliament, which had explicitly protected the company's privileges from the operation of an earlier statute.68

These claims were, of course, partly rhetorical, but the company also responded to expectations about its social responsibilities in tangible ways because, as the events of 1748–49 made clear, unmet obligations of this sort [End Page 90] threatened its business.69 Thus, as public concerns were raised by Dobbs and others that the HBC was not developing its commerce, the company sent out expeditions in the 1740s and extended the trade along the Eastmain coast.70 Then, in the crucial year 1749, Captain William Coats was sent in the Mary to explore the bay along the Eastmain "in relation to a proper Settlement for promoting . . . the Companys Trade as much as possible for the Advantage of the Nation."71 The expedition, however, underscored the risks of Arctic exploration and reinforced the HBC's caution: the Mary was so heavily damaged by ice that it was later broken up and sold. That same year, though, the directors also ordered Captain James Walker northward along the western coast of Hudson Bay to trade, explore, and investigate any inlets with fresh water. The company had also hired miners as well as harpooners to develop the economic potential of the bay that they were accused of neglecting to Britain's detriment.72

The HBC's directors were, moreover, mindful of the social dimensions implicated in the Indigenous side of their trade. They shared with Dobbs the assumption that maintaining the goodwill of Cree, Dine, and Assiniboine traders was essential to successful commerce in the bay as well [End Page 91] as providing crucial allies against the French.73 Arthur J. Ray has demonstrated that First Nations actively shaped and guided the fur trade with the British and French, who by necessity responded to their needs. From its earliest years, the company recognized the possibility that unsatisfied Indigenous traders might take their goods—and their goodwill—to the French.74 For example, in 1680 the HBC instructed Governor John Nixon to trade to the best advantage, but it cautioned that "prudence must govern you and respect must be had to the commerce they have with the French, who will not be wanting by all manner of arts to draw off your trade." Nixon was also instructed to identify goods "for the best satisfaction of the Indians" and to present his men as respectful and religious.75 When the company learned that Nixon had behaved with "too much inhumanity and cruelty" toward the Indigenous people, they censured him and urged "mild and gentle usage."76 The HBC understood even at this early stage that keeping Indigenous traders content was critical to the preservation of its market.

The same desire for stable, amicable commerce with their Indigenous trading partners informed the decision making of the HBC directors in London in the 1740s. When the quarrelsome Robert Pilgrim at Prince of Wales Fort on the Churchill River accused Thomas White of competing to draw off trade to his post at York Factory in 1747, the company investigated. Finding no increase in White's sales, the committee admonished Pilgrim that he "may have Estranged the Minds of the Indians."77 The company [End Page 92] elsewhere claimed to "allways have given directions to all our cheifs to be very carefull . . . in treating the Natives with courtesy and civility and dealing justly with them on all occasions."78 In fact the annual instructions to the governors and later chief factors ended with the hortatory message that they should "Extend and Enlarge the Company Trade by winning the leading Indians over to our Interest with Courtesy . . . by Treating the Natives with Civility and dealing justly and equally with them on all Occasions."79 The consequences of alienating Indigenous suppliers worried the directors. In their instructions to Pilgrim in 1749, the directors reminded him that "servants of the Factory" had insulted a group of visiting Cree the previous year, and they had left the factory during the winter. The company also warned Pilgrim of "the Danger of Affronting [these people] and of there being an entire Dependence on the Indian Hunters." These Home Guard and Swampy Cree were vital suppliers of foodstuffs for the fort, and the company needed to either avoid or assuage ill feeling.80

The HBC claimed that the corporate model of trade in the bay could most effectively manage cooperation with Indigenous traders and deliver the many public benefits of commerce. Only a company was able to maintain the infrastructure and uphold the employee discipline needed to sustain relations with the Cree, Dine, and Assiniboine traders. As a 1696 pamphlet in support of the company put it, "Nor is the Beaver Trade to be Maintained or Improved by a single or sudden Voyage of any Undertaker, but by the publick Charge of Fortified Forts and Established Factories to abide there, with a constant Correspondency with the Indians, that they may be assured where setled Factories are."81 Half a century later, another author used the shortness of the area's trading season to once again argue for the necessity of settled factories and trust with the Indigenous peoples.82 To further bolster its case, the company often played on fears about French competition, suggesting that any disruption in the trade might lead to its loss, which "may in time be the losse of all the English Plantations upon that Continent."83 In 1741, they warned that if the Middleton expedition, [End Page 93] promoted by Dobbs, used their posts, the explorers would consume the limited supplies and "the same will be the destruction of their [the HBC's] Trade and Factories of which the French only would reap the Benefit." The expedition might even ruin Britain's relations with the Indigenous people: "if [the fur trade is] once lost or a distaste or affront be given to the Natives, it will be with great difficulty if ever Regained."84 Later in the dispute with its critics, the HBC took pains to remind the government that if the trade were opened the market "would be soon lost to the French, [because] the present Natives rely upon the Companys good usage to them and come a great way out of the Inland Countrys."85 In their representation to the Privy Council in 1748, the company similarly stressed that "kind usage and other advantages induces them rather to Trade with the Company than with the French." So, for example, in bad seasons when Indigenous suppliers could not produce enough furs, the company would nonetheless provide them with goods on credit for the following year.86 The trade, the HBC declared in 1749, would not "withstand any Injury offered by straggling Traders to the Natives."87 Only a corporation could be trusted with the responsibility for this market.

The ensuing report of the crown's law officers, in which they referred the matter to the law courts, suggested that conservatism and caution would characterize the government's approach to the bay. In particular, they rejected the claim that the HBC charter was forfeit because the company had failed to fulfill its terms. They did not think such arguments were ineffective, but they believed that "these charges are either not sufficiently supported in point of fact or in great measure accounted for from the circumstances and nature of the case." The report suggested that the charter might be tested at law before the King's Bench.88

Instead of pursuing an expensive legal proceeding, however, the opponents of the company explored having Parliament overturn the charter. Writing in March 1749, Dobbs claimed he and other members of the North West Committee had prepared extensive evidence to lay before Parliament. They had, however, abandoned the effort after meeting with opposition from a prominent and influential figure. Despite this setback, a group of [End Page 94] Liverpool merchants led by Dobbs's friend John Hardman were determined to persist in the attack.89 They continued to voice criticisms using the language of the public interest, arguing that the company was in breach of the conditions of its charter, and mobilized a petitioning campaign against the company.90 The grievance against the HBC was raised in the Commons on March 9, and the House appointed a committee of inquiry chaired by James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, Lord Strange.91 The petitions from towns opposed to the HBC monopoly—including London, Liverpool, and Bristol—were received through May, while the committee set to work gathering evidence from the Privy Council investigation and hearing witnesses. On May 4 and 8 the Commons resolved itself into a committee of the whole to hear testimony on behalf of the HBC.92

The HBC and its opponents presented two contrasting models of trade to Parliament in 1749: one focused on a corporate structure of forts and the other on open settlement. Both promised a type of incorporation of the Cree, Dine, and Assiniboine into the imperial trading network. Both claimed to promote the public interest at home by yielding commercial advantages and geopolitical leverage against the French.

The members of Parliament received these presentations in a tense political and diplomatic environment that shaped how they interpreted the [End Page 95] two sides' arguments. In 1748 Britain had negotiated the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, bringing to a close the War of the Austrian Succession. The treaty, however, did not settle all the issues among the signatories, and British policy makers remained alarmed at French power and the risk to the Low Countries that the recent war had revealed.93 Political cartoons warned of "a snake in the grass," a suggestion that unresolved disputes lurked and would eventually provoke another conflict.94 The British were also anxious about the cost of the war and the need both to replenish Britain's wealth and to shore up its strategic position in the Americas. Another satire from the period underscored these concerns by representing a Dutch merchant, rich from neutral trade, asking a victorious but obviously impoverished Englishman, "what have you got?"95 King George II's 1749 throne speech implicitly addressed the apprehensions about Britain's strategic influence and commercial prosperity. He urged Parliament to attend to "the advancement of our commerce, and cultivating the arts of peace."96 During the session that followed, members eyed policies to restore British trade as a means to weaken French commerce and thereby deplete France's future military resources. One petitioner to Parliament in 1749 put the calculus starkly when he observed that French "Strength and Commerce must always increase in proportion as ours decay."97

The debates over the HBC's charter that opened in March took place within this context of anxiety about Britain's vulnerability and the Gallic menace. They were part of a broader renovation of Britain's Atlantic commerce: during the same session members of Parliament also turned to the [End Page 96] question of how to remedy the dire fortunes of the RAC. The fates of the two companies were intertwined from the beginning of the session. Fifteen towns presented petitions against both the RAC and the HBC, and several members of Parliament sat on both the committee of inquiry into the HBC and the committee to draw up the bill for relief of the RAC.98 There were also clear similarities between the debates over the two companies and their models of trade. Both the slave trade and the market in furs depended on the involvement of non-Europeans.99 As was true with the HBC's posts on the shores of Hudson Bay, the Commons determined that the RAC's coastal forts were "necessary to be maintained" so as to preserve positive relationships with local rulers.100

But there was also a significant difference between the HBC and RAC: the HBC was a self-sufficient corporation that could claim that it had not only founded its market and maintained it to the benefit of British commerce but also held its own against the French. The RAC, by contrast, had forfeited its monopoly over the slave trade from Africa in 1697 in return for a statutory duty of 10 percent in order to maintain the RAC's infrastructure on the African coast.101 By the time the act expired in 1712, separate traders were transporting more enslaved people than the company.102 The RAC became increasingly insolvent, which hindered its ability to support its forts and factories. The company turned to Parliament for a subvention and in 1730 received ten thousand pounds to support its operations. The same sum was provided in subsequent years but proved insufficient, and eventually the RAC suggested that its forts be brought under "other Care and Management."103 Parliament, unwilling to take the infrastructure under public supervision, instructed the Board of Trade in 1744 to investigate the actual costs of the forts and their condition.104 In December 1748 the RAC again petitioned, describing its debts as standing at one hundred [End Page 97] thousand pounds and noting that its trading posts were in danger of "falling into the Hands of foreign Nations." Given its failing condition, the RAC requested that Parliament reorganize the African trade, which the company represented as a linchpin of colonial commerce in America.105 Other petitions from those interested in the trade—including London, Liverpool, and Bristol merchants and colonial planters—followed. In April 1749, the Commons resolved on the creation of an open company that would encompass separate traders to support the slave trade's infrastructure. Although a bill passed the Commons, the House of Lords let it lapse, and the search for a solution to the RAC's woes was referred to the Board of Trade in June 1749.106 The possibility of the RAC's failure raised the likelihood of heavy expenses falling on the public purse, whether in the form of remuneration to the shareholders for the loss of property or of ongoing costs to administer the coastal forts and factories. The company initially sought compensation of £180,000 for its property and received £112,142 at the time of its dissolution in 1752.107

Parliamentary discussions about the RAC also exposed the assumption that maintaining the infrastructure built by the company was vital to the support of its markets and therefore in the public interest. Before Parliament and the board, the RAC insisted that its forts were needed to preserve and defend access to the slaves that met the labor needs of the sugar colonies. Debate followed as to whether those posts should be managed by the government, an open company, or a new joint-stock incorporation. Even the London and Liverpool merchants, along with the American planters, were willing during this period to concede the need for permanent infrastructure.108 A report on the 1749 RAC bill in the papers of the Duke of Newcastle, who served as secretary of state, acknowledged this "general . . . [End Page 98] Opinion of all the Merchants trading to Africa" in favor of permanent British forts. These were deemed necessary to preserve the trade against French and Dutch competition. In their absence, these European rivals would usurp the position of British merchants on the African coast.109 Reforming even weakened companies such as the RAC was an intricate and risky task: principles such as free trade and the public interest needed to be closely considered in connection with the specific dynamics of the market.

The RAC debate provided a timely context for the ongoing dispute regarding the opening of the Hudson Bay trade. To begin with, the impending dissolution of the RAC raised the probability of significant public expense during the postwar period of financial strain. Second, the discussions about the RAC identified the preservation of a trading infrastructure as a foremost concern for all involved. Forts and factories were needed to coordinate relationships with Indigenous traders, without whom the market might well fall to Britain's competitors. Finally, as the Commons deliberated on the HBC, they were determining policy toward two strategic branches of Atlantic commerce rather than a single company. To dissolve or reform both the RAC and the HBC at the same time substantially raised the risk of widespread disruption to British commerce, especially in the Americas.110

Though the HBC could claim to have preserved their market, the towns that petitioned Parliament adapted Dobbs's arguments to stress that opening the trade would expand British power as part of the process of imperial renovation.111 The company, they alleged, had cheated and abused the Indigenous peoples and so allowed much of the trade to be taken over by the French. The petitioners proposed an alternative infrastructure of trade familiar to any reader of Dobbs's published work: inland settlements would be established to encourage a "more frequent and intimate [End Page 99] Intercourse" with the Indigenous traders, who would then bring additional furs to exchange.112 The manufacturing nation would benefit twice over from increased exports and imports. And, in the end, the British would forge an alliance with the Indigenous peoples and eject the French from North America.

The message was put before the committee of inquiry, which heard twenty-two witnesses. These included fifteen former employees of the company, Dobbs himself, and five merchants, including Hardman and two investors in the 1745 expedition, John Tomlinson and John Hanbury, who also traded to the Americas.113 Many of those who testified put forward similar proposals for an alternative structure of trade involving inland settlement and criticized the HBC's treatment of the Indigenous peoples. Economic considerations were often explicitly connected to the larger problem of Anglo-French competition. Several witnesses, for example, claimed that opening the trade and establishing inland settlements would lead to better prices for Indigenous trappers, who would then be incentivized to trade solely with the English. Independent traders would build "Out-factories" in the interior, making it difficult or impossible for the French to intercept the furs.114

But the members of Parliament on the committee of inquiry were cautious. They confronted witnesses about their claims and, in doing so, revealed their sensitivity to the risks involved in altering the model of trade. When William Wansey, merchant of Bristol, claimed that no forts were needed in the trade, he was asked why the company would have built them, at great expense, if they were not needed. After Tomlinson explained that competition among English buyers would lead to higher prices for furs and therefore increased supply, he was asked why a rise in prices would induce Indigenous peoples to bring twenty skins to market "when they could have the same Goods for Ten."115 Other questions revealed the anxiety of some of the committee members. If they opened the trade, might not the French gain the commerce in the confusion? If the experiment failed, would it be possible to win back the trade by creating another company?116

The HBC reserved its presentation of witnesses for the committee of the whole house on May 4 and 8.117 Though the HBC directors had refrained from direct participation in the dispute between Middleton and [End Page 100] Dobbs, they retained the noted lawyer Joshua Sharpe to defend their interests before the Privy Council and Parliament, even distributing a pamphlet to the members during the spring. The directors were active in lobbying and presenting the HBC's case before the Commons, and Sir John Barnard, a seasoned member of Parliament from London, spoke against the petitions to open the trade, perhaps on the HBC's behalf. The HBC petition to the Commons summarized its case: "Your petitioners humbly conceive that they have fully answered the ends of their Charter by carrying on the Trade to the Advantage of the Nation by Establishing Factorys and building Forts . . . for the Conveniency of their Trade with the Indians." The company had not only protected this infrastructure from the French but also had continued to explore the region within its grant.118

The testimony of the company's witnesses described the many ways that the HBC had promoted the national interest, and they sowed doubts that Indigenous goodwill could be maintained in the confusion of a free trade.119 Charles Hay, the HBC's secretary and also the deputy governor of the RAC, rehearsed the history of a dutiful HBC that had strategically placed its factories and doggedly pursued additional discoveries. Explorers and traders employed by the HBC had from its earliest years risked their lives to travel inland in the hope of both "Cultivating a Friendship with the Natives by presents and Civil Treatment" and increasing the flow of furs. Hay, after describing the most recent expeditions and the exploration of the Eastmain in 1744, declared that he did not "believe that the Trade into Hudsons Bay can be carried on with Great[er] Advantage to this Nation than at present."120 The HBC's model, in short, could not be improved upon.

The company's other witnesses represented the HBC as the best manager of the infrastructure needed to preserve the trade and also intimated that Indigenous goodwill would be easily lost.121 Thomas White, who had been the chief factor at York Factory, insisted that the "Indians were always well used and kindly entertained" and that without a system of factories [End Page 101] to draw Indigenous traders to the coast there would be no commerce. The company had given them provisions and medicines to win them over from the French, and White warned that "if any ill Treatment or Acts of Injustice were done towards the Indians the trade of the Company would be ruined." The inland factories proposed by the company's critics would not bring in more beaver skins and would be difficult to supply. In fact, White explained, the proximity of these posts to Indigenous peoples would cause an "entire stagnation of the Commerce." The quest for goods would no longer motivate Native trappers to the hard but necessary search for furs, and they would depend on their British neighbors for the "proper Necessarys of Life."122 William Coats, echoing White, added that the easy supply of commodities would remove the incentive for Indigenous trappers to hunt extensively for the furs.123 The senior captain George Spurrell similarly argued that the cost of inland posts would be too high. The trade needed an established infrastructure that could be supplied from the sea. Moreover, because the company had frequently instructed its servants to "treat the Natives with great Tenderness," the local Indigenous peoples were so dedicated to the company that they were ready to defend the forts.124 The survival in the company's archives of notes for what Spurrell and James Duffield, the chief factor at Moose Factory, were "to prove" clearly outlines the message: "the Trade cannot be carried on without a Company and Forts and Factorys but would fall into the hands of the French."125 Taken together, these accounts emphasized the fragile nature of the market in the bay, the efficacy of the HBC's trading model, and the necessity of having a corporation such as the HBC that could be trusted to coordinate local cooperation and thereby promote the national interest.

Having heard these witnesses and reviewed the materials collected by the committee of inquiry, the Commons turned to vote on the issue of opening the trade on May 8. The Commons also had evidence that the company had maintained an orderly supply despite contemporary perception of the long-term decline of the British fur trade.126 Though Dobbs had attempted to suggest in his writings that the French had outcompeted the HBC, in 1749 Henry Spurling, a dealer in furs who testified before the committee of inquiry, hinted at a different cause of the overall decline: the fall in imports from the free traders in New York and New England. The data [End Page 102] compiled for the trade from 1738 to 1748 by the committee indicated that the company managed a relatively stable flow of furs (Table I). Subsequent data collected by the Commons in 1752 confirms Spurling's suggestion: the falloff during the preceding decade had been from the independent traders in New York and New England (Table II).127 Even Adam Smith later grudgingly observed that the HBC had "been able to carry on their trade with a considerable degree of success."128

Table I. V I H B E, 1738–48
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Table I.

Value of Imports from Hudson Bay into England, 1738–48

So when the House of Commons voted sixty-five to twenty-nine in favor of the HBC on May 8, 1749, they refused a risky alteration to the structure of an established market.129 Though critics of the HBC proposed the boundless possibilities of an open trade and emphasized the HBC's narrow motivations, the company could play on the anxiety that the commerce might entirely be lost to the French. Adam Anderson, the Scottish political [End Page 103]

Table II. B S I E, 1730–50
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Table II.

Beaver Skins Imported into England, 1730–50

[End Page 104] economist whose research informed Adam Smith, described the many apprehensions that the committee of inquiry had entertained, beginning with their doubts about whether the Northwest Passage was actually navigable and extending to their fears that an open trade might lead to the loss of the entire market to the French. Anderson acknowledged that the company had "done as well as could be expacted [sic] for promoting the Commerce there."130 Further evidence of these concerns on the part of members of Parliament is provided by Dobbs himself in his pamphlet explaining his reluctance to lead the attack in 1749. He noted that an unnamed individual upon whom he and his allies had depended for success, possibly Henry Pelham, the leader of the Whig ministry and First Lord of the Treasury, came out against their proposed petition, fearing that "by opening the Trade, or others embarking in it, might ruin their Trade, and the Whole be lost."131

The Commons' concern that the market would collapse was related to the belief that the infrastructure of forts was "absolutely requisite" to sustain the relationship with Indigenous traders. As Anderson observed, if the trade were laid open "those Forts must be kept up by a Rate or Tax on the private Traders."132 The London Magazine explained the outcome of the debates in this way, linking the House of Commons' caution to its desire to preserve the infrastructure upon which the trade and its relationships depended: "but as it appeared to be impossible to preserve this trade without forts and settlements on the coast of Hudson's-Bay, and as such forts and settlements must be supported either by exclusive companies, or at the publick expence, the affair was dropt for last session, tho' it may perhaps be taken up again, when it shall be thought more necessary to apply the publick money towards supporting our trade and settlements in Asia, Africa and America, than towards supporting our allies in Europe."133 The obvious parallel in both reasoning and practical import was the RAC and the pressing and potentially costly need to preserve the African system of factories. Members of Parliament who wanted to alter the arrangements in Hudson Bay and on the African coast risked the collapse of the infrastructure in two markets that were geopolitically vital and the expensive proposition that both networks of factories—not just the RAC's—would need to be provided for out of the public purse. After all, as the HBC made sure to stress, they had not needed subsidies to maintain a trade of great benefit to Britain. Ultimately, the majority of members of Parliament, recognizing the social dynamics of [End Page 105] the bay market and the HBC's established management of its Indigenous relationships, were unwilling to disturb its corporate structure.


The language of public interest mattered in the debates over the HBC and continued to structure governmental discussion of the management of the northern trade. When merchants petitioned in 1752 for an incorporation to expand markets into Labrador, the Board of Trade adopted familiar language, explaining in their report that this would "be of great National Advantage," possibly "reviv[ing]" the felting and hatting trades in England against foreign competition. The board expected that conditions would be inserted into the grant requiring the new company to build forts and "to promote and establish a Civil correspondence and Amity with the Natives," all benefits that would "devolve to the Publick at the expiration of this exclusive Trade."134

Although the extent to which this language infiltrated and shaped administrative decision making remains undetermined, the HBC charter dispute illuminates how corporations were understood by contemporaries to be embedded within and beholden to other communities. Corporations existed in a dynamic network of social relationships and responsibilities that were sometimes political and often economic and legal. The HBC could not survive as an incorporated entity, in this line of thinking, simply for the private benefit of its investors; it always operated within manifold social fields. Of course, the responsibilities mentioned in their charter or the needs of the Indigenous peoples who were their suppliers and clients were not the principal concerns of the directors of the HBC. They wanted to make money. But they could be responsive to social pressures, if only to safeguard their business and its reputation and to legitimize their monopolistic privileges.

Their responses were practical as well as rhetorical, and Glyndwr Williams has observed that during the 1750s the HBC began to investigate its territories with greater vigor. The pressure of French competition in the south, recounted in such detail to the Commons in 1749, was a powerful motivation, and the company "had become more sensitive about allegations that it had little knowledge of the vast region granted to it by the Crown."135 Thus, when the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations [End Page 106] requested in 1750 that the company provide detailed information on its boundaries and any encroachments, the HBC obliged. The company also dispatched new expeditions to map the coast and to proceed inland, including those led by Anthony Henday (1754–55), Joseph Smith and Joseph Waggoner (1756, 1757–78), and Moses Norton (1761, 1762, 1764). Though the HBC retained its instincts for secrecy, noncommercial information began to be more widely circulated as the century wore on. In 1769 the company allowed two astronomers to observe the transit of Venus at Prince of Wales Fort. This event marked the HBC's first cooperative project with the Royal Society and, according to Ted Binnema, a change in the company's willingness to assist scientific research. In subsequent years the HBC facilitated the supply of plant and animal specimens to the Royal Society and Kew Gardens. Scientists acknowledged this assistance in their publications, thereby bolstering the company's reputation for social responsibility.136

This positive response to the HBC's early contributions to science demonstrates how the relationship between ideas of public interest and the expectations of corporate conduct shifted over time, colored and shaped by changing ideas about political economy and immediate geopolitical realities. The attack of 1749 revealed a specific configuration of social expectations and assumptions that were brought to bear on the HBC. These included the need to protect the supply of furs and to preserve positive relations with Indigenous suppliers for the benefit of both economic communities in Britain and the political interests of the larger nation. Companies that were unable to defend their claims to social utility risked reputational, legal, and economic harm. This dynamic and shifting debate over corporations explains why contemporaries such as Dobbs and his allies might readily condemn a monopolistic incorporation while proposing one of their own. Their own company would better suit public needs through the application of a superior understanding of the conditions of a distant market and a willingness to set aside purely private considerations.137

Consequently, as the HBC example reveals, asserting and assessing corporate legitimacy was a complex process that took place within shifting logics of imperial rivalry and economic theory. Explicating how Dobbs and his allies attacked the HBC and the company defended itself offers insights, for example, into contemporary beliefs about the functioning of markets [End Page 107] and their frequently cooperative nature. Claims that the bay trade united British manufactures with Indigenous suppliers in amity, whether voiced by Dobbs or the HBC, were self-serving and ethnocentric. They reflected a co-optive impulse that frequently functioned to justify dispossession and ethnocide by, ironically, extolling the benefits of cooperation as the means to introduce industry or civilization.138 But ideas about commercial cooperation were also intellectual resources that could be used to interpret the workings of imperial structures, such as the trade in Hudson Bay or on the African coast, and to determine political and military action. Projections for and justifications of imperial expansion could be based on the ideal of a coursing, beneficial commerce.

Subsequent critics of the HBC such as Malachy Postlethwayt and Josiah Tucker explored the possibilities of doux commerce.139 Cooperation, in this line of thinking, could be turned to geopolitical advantage in the creation of alliances or through the incorporation of imperial resources such as populations and land. The image of a beneficent empire of commerce answered criticisms of a ruthless, exploitative empire and assuaged fears about endless warfare due to the "jealousy of trade."140 Economic cooperation was an approach that both was useful to individual empires and could be universalized to join together all polities that engaged in trade and exchange. This logic was embedded not only in the 1749 language about the public interest and the HBC but also in the early modern British understanding of Atlantic empire and its political economy. [End Page 108]

David Chan Smith

David Chan Smith is an associate professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University. He gratefully acknowledges the support of Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The writing of part of this article took place at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where Sarah Barringer Gordon and Steve Hindle provided scholarly fellowship and a great many insights. The advice of Paul Halliday, Susan Neylon, William Pettigrew, Nick Popper, Tristan Stein, and Koji Yamamoto was invaluable. The author is also thankful for the thoroughness of the anonymous readers for the William and Mary Quarterly.


1. The Case of the Hudson's-Bay Company ([London, 1749]), 1; Alexander Cluny, The American Traveller: Or, Observations on the Present State, Culture and Commerce of the British Colonies in America. . . . (London, 1769), 13.

2. For early examples of historians being familiar with the language of company privileges, see W[illiam] Cunningham, The Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times, vol. 2, Mercantile Times (Cambridge, 1907), 216–26; Cecil T. Carr, ed., "Introduction," in Select Charters of Trading Companies, A.D. 1530–1707 (London, 1913), lxii–lxvii. For the public benefits, see James Taylor, Creating Capitalism: Joint-Stock Enterprise in British Politics and Culture, 1800–1870 (Woodbridge, U.K., 2006), 37–42.

3. Cluny, American Traveller, 13.

4. Though Marie Peters has recently argued that the 1749 debate was a proxy for a struggle between the administration and opposition, this hypothesis breaks down upon analysis of the ultimate vote of the House of Commons, leaving her to explain the HBC's successful defense as stemming from "an effective advocate, a reminder of the legal officers' views . . . and four sceptical witnesses"; Peters, "State, Parliament and Empire in the Mid 18th Century: Hudson's Bay and the Parliamentary Enquiry of 1749," Parliamentary History 29, no. 2 (June 2010): 171–91, esp. 189 (quotation), 182–83. Glyndwr Williams offers little in the way of explanation for the outcome in the Commons; Williams, "The Hudson's Bay Company and Its Critics in the Eighteenth Century," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (TRHS), 5th ser., 20 (1970): 149–71, esp. 163. See also E. E. Rich, The History of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1670–1870 (London, 1958), 1: 556–86.

5. See Paul D. Halliday, Dismembering the Body Politic: Partisan Politics in England's Towns, 1650–1730 (Cambridge, 1998); Phil Withington, The Politics of Commonwealth: Citizens and Freemen in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2008). The early modern state, by their account, was very much "an amalgamation of jurisdictions, offices, privileges, communities, and corporations"; Withington, "Public Discourse, Corporate Citizenship, and State Formation in Early Modern England," American Historical Review 112, no. 4 (October 2007): 1016–38 (quotation, 1024). Yet the social impact of joint-stock companies has been "relatively neglected"; Withington, "Company and Sociability in Early Modern England," Social History 32, no. 3 (August 2007): 291–307, esp. 297–99 (quotation, 299).

6. Philip J. Stern, The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India (Oxford, 2012); and, more succinctly, Stern, "'A Politie of Civill & Military Power': Political Thought and the Late Seventeenth-Century Foundations of the East India Company-State," Journal of British Studies 47, no. 2 (April 2008): 253–83, esp. 257; Edward Cavanagh, "A Company with Sovereignty and Subjects of Its Own? The Case of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1670–1763," Canadian Journal of Law and Society (Revue Canadienne Droit et Société) 26, no. 1 (2011): 25–50.

7. Cunningham, Growth of English Industry; George Unwin, Industrial Organization in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Oxford, 1904); Percival Griffiths, A Licence to Trade: The History of English Chartered Companies (London, 1974); Timothy L. Alborn, Conceiving Companies: Joint-Stock Politics in Victorian England (London, 1998); Andrew Fitzmaurice, "The Civic Solution to the Crisis of English Colonization, 1609–1625," Historical Journal 42, no. 1 (March 1999): 25–51; Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500–1625 (Cambridge, 2007); Rob McQueen, A Social History of Company Law: Great Britain and the Australian Colonies, 1854–1920 (Abingdon, U.K., 2009).

8. See especially Mark Granovetter, "Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness," American Journal of Sociology 91, no. 3 (November 1985): 481–510; Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio, eds., The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (Chicago, 1991); Granovetter, Society and Economy: Framework and Principles (Cambridge, Mass., 2017). These approaches are often informed by the institutionalism of Douglass C. North, Structure and Change in Economic History (London, 1982); North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (Cambridge, 1990). Important collections of emerging work on historical institutionalism include Marcelo Bucheli and R. Daniel Wadhwani, eds., Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods (Oxford, 2014); Emily Erikson, ed., Chartering Capitalism: Organizing Markets, States, and Publics (Bingley, U.K., 2015); Avner Greif, Lynne Kiesling, and John V. C. Nye, eds., Institutions, Innovation, and Industrialization: Essays in Economic History and Development (Princeton, N.J., 2015).

9. Emily Erikson, Between Monopoly and Free Trade: The English East India Company, 1600–1757 (Princeton, N.J., 2014), 3 (quotation), 17–18, 21–24, 77–106. For organization studies, see Patricia H. Thornton, William Ocasio, and Michael Lounsbury, The Institutional Logics Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure, and Process (2012; repr., Oxford, 2013). For the definition of "institutional logics," see Roger Friedland and Robert R. Alford, "Bringing Society Back In: Symbols, Practices, and Institutional Contradictions," in Powell and DiMaggio, New Institutionalism, 232–63, esp. 243; H. V. Bowen, The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756–1833 (Cambridge, 2008), 37–43; Ted Binnema, "Enlightened Zeal": The Hudson's Bay Company and Scientific Networks, 1670–1870 (Toronto, 2014); William A. Pettigrew, "Corporate Constitutionalism and the Dialogue between the Global and Local in Seventeenth-Century English History," Itinerario 39, no. 3 (December 2015): 487–501, esp. 494; Anna Winterbottom, Hybrid Knowledge in the Early East India Company World (London, 2015); Jonathan Eacott, Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600–1830 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2016).

10. Jack P. Greene, Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge, 2013), 120–55.

11. For example, see Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700–1850 (New Haven, Conn., 2009), 396–420; Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600–1850 (Cambridge, 2011), 143–47; Frank Trentmann, The Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London, 2016), 76, 91, 120.

12. Exploring these entanglements illuminates what Sophus A. Reinert and Pernille Røge have described as "the ever-vexing and dynamic relationship between theory and practice in early modern political economy"; Reinert and Røge, "Introduction: The Political Economy of Empire," in The Political Economy of Empire in the Early Modern World, ed. Reinert and Røge (Basingstoke, U.K., 2013), 1–7 (quotation, 5).

13. See for example the essays examining European trading relationships in Asia in Blair B. Kling and M. N. Pearson, eds., The Age of Partnership: Europeans in Asia before Dominion (Honolulu, 1979).

14. For combative commerce, sociability, and doux commerce, see Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass., 2010). The phrase "jealousy of trade" is from an essay by David Hume, originally published in 1742; Hume, "Of the Jealousy of Trade," in Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, vol. 2, Essays, Moral, Political and Literary (London, 1770), 106–11. Classic treatments of eighteenth-century political economy include Eli F. Heckscher, Mercantilism, 2 vols., trans. Mendel Shapiro (London, 1935); Klaus E. Knorr, British Colonial Theories, 1570–1850 (Toronto, 1944). For recent attempts to rethink the concept, see Steve Pincus, "Rethinking Mercantilism: Political Economy, the British Empire, and the Atlantic World in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 69, no. 1 (January 2012): 3–34; Philip J. Stern and Carl Wennerlind, eds., Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire (New York, 2014). For doux commerce, see Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (1977; repr., Princeton, N.J., 2013), 59–81; Jacob Viner, The Role of Providence in the Social Order: An Essay in Intellectual History (Philadelphia, 1972), 27–54; Hont, "Commercial Society and Political Theory in the Eighteenth Century: The Problem of Authority in David Hume and Adam Smith," in Main Trends in Cultural History: Ten Essays, ed. Willem Melching and Wyger Velema (Amsterdam, 1994), 54–94, esp. 60–71; Hont, Jealousy of Trade, 1–60, 159–84.

15. Alison Games, The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560–1660 (Oxford, 2009).

16. Arthur Dobbs, An Account of the Countries adjoining to Hudson's Bay, in the North-west Part of America. . . . (London, 1744), 3 ("Avarice"); Case of the Hudson's-Bay Company, 3 ("Confidence").

17. Linda Colley, "What Is Imperial History Now?," in What Is History Now?, ed. David Cannadine (Basingstoke, U.K., 2002), 132–47, esp. 138–41 (quotation, 138); Philip D. Morgan, "Encounters between British and 'Indigenous' Peoples, c. 1500–c. 1800," in Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600–1850, ed. Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern (Philadelphia, 1999), 42–78, esp. 57.

18. David Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge, 2000), 181 (quotation), 125–45.

19. Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, vol. 2, Miscellaneous Subjects, 1738–1765 (n.p., 1803), 237 ("promote"), 239 ("prosecute"); for comparison, see Board of Trade, Hudson Bay Entry Books, Colonial Office (CO) 135/1, fol. 2r, National Archives of the United Kingdom (NA), Kew. Critics argued that settlement was implied by the grant; Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 2: 240–41. Elizabeth Mancke examines the company's early initiatives to plant settlements in Mancke, A Company of Businessmen: The Hudson's Bay Company and Long-Distance Trade, 1670–1730 (Winnipeg, 1988), 16–18.

20. E. E. Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1670–1870 (Toronto, 1960), 1: 489. The figure of twenty-seven thousand pounds is for the 1710s and 1720s. Williams, TRHS 20: 151, 161.

21. The classic treatment is Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History (1930; repr., Toronto, 1999).

22. The economics of the trade are analyzed in Arthur J. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, "Give Us Good Measure": An Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson's Bay Company before 1763 (Toronto, 1978), 33–35, 44–45; R. Cole Harris, ed., Historical Atlas of Canada, vol. 1, From the Beginning to 1800 (Toronto, 1987), 143–44; Ann M. Carlos and Lewis D. Frank, Commerce by a Frozen Sea: Native Americans and the European Fur Trade (Philadelphia, 2010), 40–43.

23. "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 203r, Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA), Archives of Manitoba.

24. Carlos and Frank, Commerce by a Frozen Sea, 63–64, 100–101.

25. [Arthur Dobbs], A Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings of the Committee Appointed by the Adventurers, to prosecute the Discovery of the Passage to the Western Ocean of America. . . . (London, 1749), 25–26 (quotation); "Dobbs Petition to King and Council with Observations and a Statement of Facts by the Hudson's Bay Company," [Jan. 26], 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fol. 112r, HBCA.

26. For an examination of Arthur Dobbs's career, see Desmond Clarke, Arthur Dobbs, Esquire, 1689–1765: Surveyor-General of Ireland, Prospector and Governor of North Carolina (London, 1957), 38–81; Robert M. Calhoon, "Dobbs, Arthur," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB),; D. Helen Rankin and E. Charles Nelson, eds., Curious in Everything: The Career of Arthur Dobbs of Carrickfergus, 1689–1765 (Carrickfergus, U.K., 1990). For an authoritative discussion of Dobbs's efforts to pursue the Northwest Passage, see William Barr and Glyndwr Williams, eds., Voyages to Hudson Bay in Search of a Northwest Passage, 1741–1747, vol. 1, The Voyage of Christopher Middleton, 1741–1742 (London, 1994); Glyn Williams, Voyages of Delusion: The Quest for the Northwest Passage (New Haven, Conn., 2003), 46–236; Glyndwr Williams, "Arthur Dobbs and Joseph Robson: New Light on the Relationship between Two Early Critics of the Hudson's Bay Company," Canadian Historical Review 40, no. 2 (June 1959): 132–36. For Dobbs's contribution to Irish intellectual culture, see Michael Brown, The Irish Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass., 2016), 203–5. Dobbs also held millenarian beliefs later in life; see "Arthur Dobbs to Dr. Brunswick," Feb. 19, 1761, Dobbs Papers, D162/78, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), Belfast.

27. Arthur Dobbs, An Essay on the Trade and Improvement of Ireland (Dublin, 1729– 31), pt. 2, p. 17.

28. Dobbs actively promoted the royal interest as governor; see Calhoon, "Dobbs, Arthur," ODNB,; Richard Beale Davis, "Arthur Dobbs," in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986), 2: 83–86. The merchant Joshua Gee praised Dobbs for his knowledge of commercial matters; "Letter from Joshua Gee, London, to Judge Ward, Dublin," July 16, 1730, Ward (Castleward) Papers, D2092/1/4, p. 65, PRONI; Clarke, Arthur Dobbs, Esquire, 82–94.

29. "Arthur Dobbs to Dr. Brunswick," Feb. 19, 1761, Dobbs Papers, D162/78, PRONI.

30. [Dobbs], Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings, 13. For Dobbs's memorial, see [1731], Dobbs Papers, D162/25, PRONI. Dobbs revised this document throughout his life. For a reprint and discussion, see "Arthur Dobbs: Memorial on the Northwest Passage, 1731," in Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 1: 1–36; for identification of other versions, see ibid., 1: 9 n. 1; E.18/1, fols. 1–70, 71–107, HBCA (the latter in Dobbs's hand). For circulation, see Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 46; Peters, Parliamentary History 29: 174 n. 14.

31. Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 1: 4.

32. Arthur Dobbs, Remarks upon Capt. Middleton's Defence. . . . (London, 1744), 9.

33. Henry Ellis, A Voyage to Hudson's-Bay, by the Dobbs Galley and California, in the Years 1746 and 1747 (London, 1749), 36; John Geiger and Owen Beattie, Dead Silence: The Greatest Mystery in Arctic Discovery (Toronto, 1993); Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 3–45, esp. 18–26. For Dobbs's persistence, see "Letter from Arthur Dobbs, London, to Judge Ward, Dublin," Apr. 29, 1735, Ward Papers, D2092/1/5, p. 15, PRONI.

34. Dobbs, Remarks upon Capt. Middleton's Defence, 3–10, 98–104; Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 1: 6–8. For possible settlement of the bay, see Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 60–65, 68–69. Dobbs was already investigating a challenge to the HBC's privileges in 1741; see "Letter from Arthur Dobbs, London, to Mr Justice Ward," Feb. 17, 1740/41, Ward Papers, D2092/1/5, p. 131, PRONI. According to Middleton, Dobbs was planning to contest the HBC charter as early as 1743; see "An account of what has passed between Mr. A. Dobbs and Captain Christopher Middleton," Admiralty (ADM) 1/2099, pp. 6, 126, 129, NA.

35. William Barr and Glyndwr Williams, eds., Voyages to Hudson Bay in Search of a Northwest Passage, 1741–1747, vol. 2, The Voyage of William Moor and Francis Smith, 1746–1747 (London, 1995), 2: 1–3, 29–31, 35–36; [Owen Ruffhead, ed.], The Statutes at Large (London, 1764), 6: 606–7. This statute was extended in 1776 by force of 16 Geo. III, c. 6; The Statutes at Large (London, 1776), 12: 441–42. Dobbs and Middleton disputed publicly in at least eleven pamphlets in 1743–45. Peters, Parliamentary History, 29: 175–78, esp. 175 n. 20. Assessments of the sincerity of Dobbs's charges against Middleton have varied: Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 573; Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 1: 240–43; Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 72–122, esp. 112–17.

36. For the membership, see Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 140–42 (quotation, 142), 152–88; Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 10–14, 48–67, 311. A list of the subscribers is available in Ellis, A Voyage to Hudson's-Bay, xiii. These individuals included John Montagu, 2d Duke of Montagu; Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield; and George Berkeley, bishop of Cloyne, as well as important merchants such as John Hanbury (who later worked with Dobbs to promote the Ohio Company of Virginia) and John Tomlinson. Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 141–42; Peters, Parliamentary History 29: 176–79.

37. "Dobbs Petition to King and Council," [Jan. 26], 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fol. 112r, HBCA; Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 190.

38. P. J. Marshall briefly discusses the influence of similar ideas regarding incorporation in the 1760s; Marshall, "A Nation Defined by Empire, 1755–1776," in Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History, ed. Alexander Grant and Keith J. Stringer (London, 1995), 208–22, esp. 214. The treatise may have been communicated to Sir Robert Walpole; see "Letter: Arthur Dobbs to Sir Robert Walpole," ca. 1727–30, Dobbs Papers, D162/21, PRONI.

39. Arthur Dobbs, "Scheme to Enlarge the Colonies and Increase Commerce and Trade," ca. 1727–30, Dobbs Papers, D162/45, pp. 11–14 (quotations, 14), PRONI. Dobbs's ideas about using trade (a particularly British advantage) with Indigenous peoples as a strategic tool to restrain French power was already current in official circles; "Considerations for Securing, Improving and Enlarging Your Majesty's Dominions in America," [1721], CO 324/10, pp. 415–17, NA. My thanks to an anonymous reader who pointed me to this document.

40. Dobbs, "Scheme to Enlarge the Colonies," ca. 1727–30, Dobbs Papers, D162/45, pp. 11 ("Industrious"), 18 ("What people"), 20 ("more Policy"), 17, PRONI. Sophus A. Reinert discusses the importance of models of emulation to political economy in the period in Reinert, Translating Empire: Emulation and the Origins of Political Economy (Cambridge, Mass., 2011).

41. Dobbs, "Scheme to Enlarge the Colonies," ca. 1727–30, Dobbs Papers, D162/45, p. 18, PRONI.

42. Ibid., 15 (quotation), 22, 23, 29, 36.

43. Ibid., 48.

44. "Draft Letter: Arthur Dobbs to Lord [Granville]," [ca. 1752], Dobbs Papers, D162/65, PRONI (quotations). See also "Letter: Arthur Dobbs Esq. New Bern, North Carolina, to Alexander McAuley," Mar. 17, 1755, Dobbs Papers, D162/72, PRONI; "Arthur Dobbs Esq to the General Assembly at Newbern," Dec. 12, 1754, Dobbs Papers, D162/71, PRONI.

45. Dobbs, Essay on the Trade and Improvement of Ireland, pt. 1, pp. 1–3, pt. 2, p. 17.

46. Dobbs, Remarks upon Capt. Middleton's Defence, 81, 96; Arthur Dobbs, "Reasons for the Probability of a Passage," [1733], E.18/1, fols. 64–66, HBCA; Dobbs, Account of the Countries, ii. Christopher Middleton sarcastically rejected Dobbs's claims that he had been suborned by the HBC; see Middleton, Forgery Detected (London, 1745), 30; Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 1: 248.

47. Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 68.

48. For the strait, see Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 58–60, 67, 109. For the fullest discussion of interpretations of climate during the dispute, see Morgan Vanek, "The Politics of the Weather: The Hudson's Bay Company and the Dobbs Affair," Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 38, no. 3 (September 2015): 395–411.

49. Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 57 ("Encouragement"), 65 ("warlike," "communicating"), 59 ("civilize"), 54–55.

50. Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 2, 57; Dobbs, Remarks upon Capt. Middleton's Defence, 98, in a letter purportedly from Middleton. The charge possibly aimed at Middleton's lecture on cold; [Middleton], "The Effects of Cold; together with Observations of the Longitude, Latitude, and Declination of the Magnetic Needle. . . .," Philosophical Transactions 42 (1742–43): 157–71.

51. Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 67–70 ("tolerable," 67, "calculated," 68).

52. Dobbs, Remarks upon Capt. Middleton's Defence, 59; "Captain's Letters, 1741–1743, Christopher Middleton," ADM 1/2099, pp. 36a–b, 69–70, 129–30, NA; Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 71–120, esp. 71, 98, 116.

53. Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 109. For the records of the investigation, see "Captain's Letters, 1741–1743, Christopher Middleton," ADM 1/2099, NA; for reporting of the accusations, see "Remarks upon Capt. Middleton's Defence," London Daily Post and General Advertiser, Jan. 16, 1744, [4]. The conspiracy theory is noted in Adam Anderson, An Historical and Chronological Deduction of the Origin of Commerce (London, 1764), 2: 390–91; and repeated in Joseph Robson, An Account of Six Years Residence in Hudson's-Bay (London, 1752), 1–2. For the captain's conduct, see Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 58, 109, 119, 121.

54. Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 57 ("Covetousness"), 49–51 ("very temperate," 51), 48 ("lose"), 66 ("Thousands"), 58, 121; Dobbs, "Reasons for the Probability of a Passage," [1733], E.18/1, fol. 65, HBCA.

55. Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 190.

56. "Dobbs Petition to King and Council," [Jan. 26], 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fol. 113r, HBCA (quotation); Acts of the Privy Council of England, Colonial Series, vol. 3, A.D. 1720–1745 ([London], 1910), 776–77.

57. Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 533–55.

58. An Impartial Account of the present State of the Hudson-Bay Company. . . . ([London?, 1690]), 1.

59. John Harris, Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca. Or, a Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels. . . ., [ed. John Campbell] (London, 1764), 2: 440.

60. "Remarks upon the Allegations and Prayers of the Petition," 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fols. 118–19, HBCA.

61. See for example the response to the HBC's arguments in Josiah Tucker, The Elements of Commerce, and Theory of Taxes ([Bristol?, 1755]), 124–25.

62. The most recent analysis is Thomas B. Nachbar, "Monopoly, Mercantilism, and the Politics of Regulation," Virginia Law Review 91, no. 6 (October 2005): 1313–79.

63. Nightingale et al. v. Bridges (1689), 1 Show. K. B., 135, 89, The English Reports, 496–502; Nightingale et al. v. Bridges, Holt 473, 90, The English Reports, 1160–61; for a discussion, see William A. Pettigrew, Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672–1752 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2013), 89–91. For Yorke's opinion, see "Opinion re: Charter of the Royal African Company," Nov. 23, 1723, Stowe Papers, MS Stowe 235, no. 25, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. Yorke was also Lord Chancellor from 1737 to 1756.

64. The Great Case of Monopolies, between the East-India Company, Plaintiffs, and Thomas Sandys, Defendant," 1683–85, in William Cobbett, ed., Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors. . . ., vol. 10, A.D. 1680–1685 (London, 1811), cols. 372–554; see Yorke's supportive opinion in regard to the EIC's power to arrest interlopers in Letter, Nov. 2, 1725, in "Delahaye and Yorke's draft of the opinion," Nov. 3, 1725, Correspondence with 1st Lord Hardwicke, Add. MS 35908, fols. 75r–79v, esp. 78r–79v, British Library (BL), London. The incident brought to the surface a long-standing concern that English people were trading in the East Indies under cover of imperial commissions, a practice that was harmful to the "Kings revenues and generally of that of the whole Nation"; "James Craggs to Monsieur de St Saphorin," 1718, India Office Records, East India Company: General Correspondence, 1602–1859, IOR/E/1/9, fols. 263–64v, BL.

65. "Notes [of a speech by Sir Philip Yorke on behalf of the Africa Company] concerning the trade to Africa," n.d., Hardwicke Papers, Add. MS 35906, fol. 125v, BL.

66. "Remarks upon the Allegations and Prayers of the Petition," 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fols. 117r (quotation), 122r, HBCA; Williams, TRHS 20: 166–67.

67. Petitions to the House of Commons, [1690, 1698], Governor and Committee Memorial Books, A.9/6, pp. 31–33, 48, HBCA.

68. "Remarks upon the Allegations and Prayers of the Petition," 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fol. 128r (quotation), 124r, HBCA; Case of the Hudson's-Bay Company, 2; "Hudson's Bay Company," 1707, 6 Anne, c. 37, sect. 23, in [Ruffhead], Statutes at Large, 4: 338.

69. Mancke, Company of Businessmen, 22–41. For concerns about the Middleton expedition brought before the General Court, see [1741], Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1740–43, A.1/35, p. 169, HBCA. For discussion about the parliamentary bill for a reward to discover the Northwest Passage, see [1745], Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1743–45, A.1/36, p. 284, HBCA. The company interpreted Dobbs's attack as merely a ruse to enter their trade; "Company to John Newton and Council at York Fort," [1749], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, A.6/8, p. 28, HBCA. See also Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 12.

70. Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 616–20; "The Company to Thomas Corbett at the Admiralty Office," Memorial Books, 1688–1778, A.9/4, fols. 60v–61r, HBCA; "Minutes of the Committee," [1742], Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1743–45, A.1/36, p. 6, HBCA; Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, 1742–53, A.6/7, pp. 30, 43, 68, 74, HBCA.

71. Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1748–51, A.1/38, pp. 40 (quotation), 331, HBCA; Glyndwr Williams, "William Coats," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (DCBO),; "Orders, Rules and Instructions to Captain William Coats," [1749], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, A.6/8, 36–47, HBCA. Also a sloop was ordered northward; see Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1748–51, A.1/38, p. 69, HBCA.

72. For damage to the Mary, see Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1748–51, A.1/38, pp. 120, 125, 128, 132, 139, HBCA; Walker's expedition, Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, A.6/8, p. 33, HBCA. For hiring miners and harpooners, see Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 618; Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1748–51, A.1/38, pp. 61, 68–69, 74, HBCA. The miners were to be taken on Coats's expedition; see "Orders, Rules and Instructions to Captain William Coats," [1749], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, A.6/8, pp. 47–48, HBCA.

73. See also W. J. Eccles, "The Fur Trade and Eighteenth-Century Imperialism," WMQ 40, no. 3 (July 1983): 342–62, esp. 342–48.

74. Ray and Freeman, "Give Us Good Measure"; Arthur J. Ray, "Indians as Consumers in the Eighteenth Century," in Rethinking the Fur Trade: Cultures of Exchange in an Atlantic World, ed. Susan Sleeper-Smith (Lincoln, Neb., 2009), 320–43, esp. 335. See also Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Roles as Trappers, Hunters, and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660–1870 (1976; repr., Toronto, 2015), 61; Daniel Francis and Toby Morantz, Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay, 1600– 1870 (Montreal, 1983); Christopher L. Miller and George R. Hamell, "A New Perspective on Indian-White Contact: Cultural Symbols and Colonial Trade," Journal of American History 72, no. 2 (September 1986): 311–28; Mancke, Company of Businessmen, 68–69. The company was aware that French and British competition weakened the European traders vis-à-vis Indigenous peoples; "The Answere of the French to the Damages Susteyned by the English," [1687], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, 1679–94, A.6/1, fol. 108v, HBCA. For fears of losing trade to the French, see Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade, 14, 19–20.

75. "Governor Nixon's Instructions," [1680], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, 1679–94, A.6/1, fols. 5r–7r, esp. 5v ("prudence"), 6r ("satisfaction"), HBCA.

76. "Governor Nixon's Instructions," [1682], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, 1679–94, A.6/1, fol. 16r, HBCA.

77. [1747], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, 1742–53, A.6/7, pp. 222 (quotation), 323, 325, 368, HBCA. Robert Pilgrim's poor reputation is discussed in Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 544; Joan Craig, "Robert Pilgrim," DCBO, For Thomas White's "fair" dealings at York, see E. E. Rich, "Thomas White," DCBO,

78. "Letter to George Spence," [1750], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, 1742–53, A.6/7, p. 323, HBCA.

79. For example, see "Company to John Newton and Council at York Fort," [1749], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, A.6/8, p. 30, HBCA.

80. "Company to Robert Pilgrim and Council at Moose Fort," [1749], Governor and Committee Official Outward Correspondence, A.6/8, p. 20 (quotations), HBCA; Ray and Freeman, "Give Us Good Measure," 49.

81. The Case of the Hudsons-Bay-Company ([London, 1696]), [1] (quotation); "The Case of the Hudsons Bay Company," [1698], Memorial Books, 1684–1719, A.9/6, p. 54, HBCA. This language was echoed in Anderson, Origin of Commerce, 2: 370.

82. Case of the Hudson's-Bay Company, 3.

83. " To the . . . Lords Commissioners of the Counsill of Trade and Plantations . . . The Humble Petition of the . . . Company," [1699], CO 134/2, fol. 87v (quotation), NA; "To the . . . Lords Commissioners of the Counsill of Trade and Plantations . . . The Humble Representation of the . . . Company," [1702], ibid., fol. 96v; " To the Queen's most Excellent Majesty . . . the Petition of the . . . Company," [1709], ibid., fols. 98v–99v.

84. "Letter from the Board of Trade to William Pitt," [1741], CO 134/3, fol. 80(2) r–v ("same will"); "The Company to Thomas Corbett at the Admiralty Office," [1741], Memorial Books, 1688–1778, A.9/4, fols. 60r–v ("once lost," 60v), 62r, HBCA. The Admiralty was not convinced; "The Admiralty Office to the Company," [1741], Memorial Books, 1688–1778, A.9/4, fol. 63r, HBCA; Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 67–68.

85. "Remarks upon the Allegations and Prayers of the Petition," 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fol. 114r, HBCA.

86. Ibid., fol. 127r.

87. Case of the Hudson's-Bay Company, 2.

88. "The Attorney and Solicitor Generals Report," [1748], E.18/1, fol. 133r, HBCA.

89. [Dobbs], Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings, [3]. On Dobbs's falling away from leading the attacks, see Williams, TRHS 20: 158–59; Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 313–14. Marie Peters, noting that Dobbs published two other tracts against the HBC around this time, is skeptical of Dobbs's claims that he did not lead this final phase. Peters, Parliamentary History 29: 181. Dobbs, who was also pursuing the chartering of the Ohio Company, briefly explained his decision not to pursue recourse before the law courts in [Dobbs], Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings, 11. See also Clarke, Arthur Dobbs, Esquire, 91–93.

90. "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 203r, HBCA. The breach of the charter is discussed in [Dobbs], Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings, 25–27. The petitions are noted in Journals of the House of Commons. . . . ([London], 1803), 25: 777, 810, 812–13, 817–18, 820, 822, 824–27, 829–31, 833, 837, 845, 850.

91. Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 776; "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 169r, HBCA. Lord Strange was the member of Parliament for Lancashire and represented the Liverpool interests who were hostile to the HBC; he later served as teller—one of the individuals who counted members during votes in the Commons—for the faction arguing to open the trade in the Commons' division; "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 203v, HBCA. Marie Peters speculates on his motives; Peters, Parliamentary History 29: 182.

92. The timeline is reconstructed from extracts from the "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fols. 169–89, HBCA. The proceedings, including testimony before the whole house, are recorded in "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fols. 190–205, HBCA; this source can be supplemented by the company's records and the affidavits of its employees in "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company ag[ains]t several petitions," [1749], MS 9253, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (TFL), University of Toronto. See also The History, Debates, and Proceedings of Both Houses of Parliament of Great Britain, From the Year 1743 to the Year 1774. . . . (London, 1792), 2: 314–16; Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 572–73, 578–79.

93. Thomas Elliot Norton, The Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1686–1776 (Madison, Wis., 1974), 194–95; Bob Harris, "Patriotic Commerce and National Revival: The Free British Fishery Society and British Politics, c.1749–58," English Historical Review 114, no. 456 (April 1999): 285–313, esp. 298, 300; Stephen Conway, War, State and Society in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2006), 6; Jeremy Black, British Politics and Foreign Policy, 1744–57: Mid-Century Crisis (Farnham, U.K., 2015), 125–46, esp. 126–27.

94. The Preliminary Congress, print, June 28, 1748, no. 3012, in Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Division 1, Political and Personal Satires (No. 2016 to No. 3116), vol. 3, pt. 1, March 28, 1734, to c. 1750, ed. Frederic George Stephens (London, 1877), 727 (quotation).

95. The Contrast 1749: No Money, with Fire-works. Money, with Commerce, print, Apr. 27, 1749, no. 3028, in Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings, 743 (quotation).

96. [William Cobbett], The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. . . ., vol. 14, A.D. 1747–1753 (London, 1813), cols. 322 (quotation), 325. For members of Parliament's overriding concern with Britain's military and commercial competitiveness against France, see Harris, English Historical Review 114: 285–313. For the "paranoid sensibility" that informed political and foreign policy discussion during the period, see Jeremy Black, America or Europe? British Foreign Policy, 1739–63 (London, 1998), 172. The committee to inquire into the HBC was specifically linked to the throne speech; History, Debates, and Proceedings, 2: 314; "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 167, HBCA. By way of comparison, see Harris, English Historical Review 114: 286.

97. Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 850.

98. For the towns presenting petitions, see Williams, TRHS 20: 159; Peters, Parliamentary History 29: 181–82. For the relief of the RAC bill, see Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 777, 830.

99. Black, America or Europe?, 174; K. G. Davies, The Royal African Company (1957; repr., London, 1960), 235–36. For discussion of the infrastructure, see ibid., 240–51, 259–64.

100. Cobbett, Parliamentary History, vol. 14, col. 566.

101. "An Act to settle the Trade to Africa," 1697–98, 9 William III, c. 26, in The Statutes of the Realm. . . . (1820; repr., London, 1963), 7: 393.

102. Matthew David Mitchell, "'Legitimate commerce' in the Eighteenth Century: The Royal African Company of England under the Duke of Chandos, 1720–1726," Enterprise and Society 14, no. 3 (September 2013): 544–78, esp. 546.

103. Journals of the House of Commons, 24: 534 (quotation), 21: 522, 538. The RAC was also petitioning for financial subsidies in the 1720s. See "Some considerations for settling and preserving the African Trade," [1725], State Papers (SP) 35/55/2, fol. 65r, NA; " To the Rt. Hon. The Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations," [1726], SP 35/61, fol. 151r, NA; Journals of the House of Commons, 21: 447.

104. Journals of the House of Commons, 24: 675, 730–31, 791–97, 846, 884–85.

105. Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 677 (quotation); "To the Rt. Hon. The Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations," [Dec. 8, 1748], CO 388/44, no. 43, NA. A summary of the RAC's financial difficulties is found in Board of Trade Entry Books, 1739–60, [1749], CO 389/30, pp. 183–90.

106. For other petitions, see Cobbett, Parliamentary History, vol. 14, col. 566; Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 732, 777. For the resolutions in the Commons, see Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 830, 882, 27: 364; Cobbett, Parliamentary History, vol. 14, col. 568. Many of the documents collected by the Board of Trade are in Board of Trade Original Correspondence, CO 388/44, NA; some were printed as Papers Laid before the Honourable House of Commons by the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations . . . For the better Securing, Improving, and Extending, the Trade to Africa (London, 1750).

107. 25 Geo. II, c. 40, 1752, in [Ruffhead], Statutes at Large, 7: 445.

108. For the need for forts, see "Memorial of the Royal African Company," [1749], CO 388/44, no. 51, NA. For an earlier discussion about the need for forts to prevent encroachment by the French, for example, see the Board of Trade's conclusion in "A State of the Trade to Africa Presented to the House of Commons," [1709], CO 390/12, fols. 202–6r, NA. For the London and Liverpool merchants, see Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 732–33, 777; "Memorial of the Merchants of London," [1750], CO 388/44, no. 59, NA.

109. "Observations on the Severall Plans for settling the African Trade," Add. MS 33053, fol. 292r (quotation), BL. For similar concerns raised by the American planters, see "The Representation of the Sugar Planters," [1749], CO 388/44, no. 59, NA. Related concerns about the advantages the French and Dutch held by company trade and their forts on the coast were raised publicly by the RAC through its promoter Malachy Postlethwayt; see [Postlethwayt], The African Trade: The Great Pillar and Support of the British Plantation Trade in America. . . . (London, 1745), 8–12. The council at Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast explicitly warned in 1747 about Dutch and French encroachments as a consequence of the "contempt which the Company's Affairs have fallen under in these parts"; "Copy of a Letter from the Council at Cape Coast Castle," [1747], CO 388/44, no. 35, NA.

110. Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 1: 248; Black, America or Europe?, 29–31; Harris, English Historical Review 114: 285, 287, 296–97; Bob Harris, Politics and the Nation: Britain in the Mid-Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2002), 119–20; Conway, War, State and Society, esp. 2–5.

111. Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 316; Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 195, 197. For a discussion of the motivations of these towns (numbering twenty-five before May), see Williams, TRHS 20: 158–59; and for a report of twenty-nine hostile petitions, see Peters, Parliamentary History 29: 183–84.

112. Journals of the House of Commons, 25: 850.

113. Hanbury was also involved with Dobbs in promoting the Ohio Company. See Clarke, Arthur Dobbs, Esquire, 91–92.

114. Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 2: 227 (quotation), 217, 219, 222–23, 225.

115. Ibid., 2: 232 (quotation), 234; Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade, 68–69.

116. Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 2: 221, 232.

117. "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 190r, HBCA.

118. "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company," [1749], MS 9253, p. 1, TFL (quotation); Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1745–48, A.1/37, pp. 256–63, 266–75, 278–81, 285–94, 297, 299, 302–3, 308, HBCA; Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1748–51, A.1/38, pp. 9, 19, 34, 46, 48, 70–73, HBCA. The company's legal defense cost £755; ibid., pp. 19, 97. Joshua Sharpe had an extensive practice representing colonial interests. Paul Jodrell, solicitor general to Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, may also have represented the company. Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 315. For Sir John Barnard, see Williams, TRHS 20: 162; Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 194–95; by way of comparison, see Rich, Hudson's Bay Company, 1: 582.

119. These documents were noted but only lightly explored in Williams, TRHS 20: 161, 163.

120. "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company," [1749], MS 9253, p. 27, TFL.

121. "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 198r, HBCA.

122. "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company," [1749], MS 9253, pp. 31 (quotations), 32, TFL; "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fols. 190v–93v, HBCA. A similar account was provided by the gun maker John Jones, who had served at York Factory; ibid., fol. 197r.

123. "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company," [1749], MS 9253, p. 31, TFL.

124. "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fols. 199r (quotation), 202r, HBCA; "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company," [1749], MS 9253, p. 29, TFL.

125. "[Brief] for the Hudsons Bay Company," MS 9253, loose papers, May 6, 1749, TFL.

126. Williams, TRHS 20: 164.

127. For the French outcompeting the company, see Dobbs, Account of the Countries, 3. For Henry Spurling's testimony, see Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 2: 230; by way of comparison, see Norton, Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 102–3, 120, 180–91. For the Commons data, see Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 2: 263–66. The long-term depletion of beaver resources in the bay region is discussed by Carlos and Frank, Commerce by a Frozen Sea, 108–29.

128. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner (Indianapolis, Ind., 1981), 2: 744 (V.i.e, 21).

129. "Minutes of the House of Commons, 1748/9," E.18/1, fol. 203v, HBCA; Anderson, Origin of Commerce, 2: 391.

130. Anderson, Origin of Commerce, 2: 390 (quotation), 370.

131. [Dobbs], Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings, 12 (quotation); Williams, TRHS 20: 155–56; Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 313.

132. Anderson, Origin of Commerce, 2: 370.

133. "A Summary of . . . last Session of Parliament," London Magazine, September 1749, 411 (quotation); History, Debates, and Proceedings, 2: 316.

134. "Report of the Lords of Trade upon the Petition of several Merchants of London," [1752], CO 5/6, fols. 71r–87v ("National Advantage," 85r, "reviv[ing], 85v, "promote," 87r), NA. For the HBC responses, see "The Humble Memorial of the Governor and Company," July 1752, CO 5/6, fol. 89r, NA; "The Humble Memorial of the Governor and Company," [1752], Memorial Books, 1688–1778, A.9/4, fol. 80r; "Minutes of 15 July 1752," Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1751–54, A.1/39, pp. 116–19, HBCA. Dobbs proposed the settlement of Labrador using Irish troops; see "Draft letters from Arthur Dobbs," [1752], Dobbs Papers, D162/60–61, PRONI.

135. Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 216–24 (quotation, 217); Barr and Williams, Voyages to Hudson Bay, 2: 318–19; Williams, TRHS 20: 166, 168–71; Binnema, "Enlightened Zeal," 73–74.

136. Binnema, "Enlightened Zeal," 83, 89, 91, 93. For requests to the company from the Board of Trade for geographic information, see Governor and Committee Minute Books and Related Records, 1748–51, A.1/38, pp. 230, 233, 235, 237, 238, HBCA; Williams, Voyages of Delusion, 206. Williams attributes the company's later openness to its governor, Samuel Wegg (1782–1799), who also facilitated the observation of Venus in 1769; Williams, TRHS 20: 149–71.

137. "Dobbs Petition to King and Council," [Jan. 26], 1747 [1748], E.18/1, fol. 112r, HBCA; [Dobbs], Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings, 29.

138. Richard Drayton, Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the "Improvement" of the World (New Haven, Conn., 2000), 90.

139. Malachy Postlethwayt, Britain's Commercial Interest Explained and Improved. . . . (London, 1757), 1: 431; Tucker, Elements of Commerce, 123, 127, 131.

140. For a survey of some of these criticisms in the later eighteenth century, see Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton, N.J., 2006); Hont, Jealousy of Trade.

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