Tag Archives: Mississippi River

a.k.a. Radishes & Gooseberry

Français : Arrivée de Pierre-Esprit Radisson d...

Français : Arrivée de Pierre-Esprit Radisson dans un camp amérindien en 1660. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an opportunity to describe something of Pierre Radisson‘s career, because it was on August 28, 1661, that he and his brother-in-law Chourart des Groseilliers began their great partnership that led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Pierre Radisson’s adventures began as a young boy at Trois Rivières, Quebec.  He was captured by a band of Iroquois while hunting ducks and taken to their village in the State of New York.  Somehow he managed to attract the attention of an Indian woman who had lost a son of about the same age and she adopted him.  Radisson gained some knowledge of the language and customs of the Iroquois which helped him save a Jesuit mission after he escaped (see my March 19 – After Dinner We Escaped post).

Radisson and Groseilliers formed a fur-trading partnership.  They went as far west as Lake Superior, where they were very successful.  There is some possibility that they were the first white men to see the Mississippi River.

Soon after, Radisson and Groseilliers were fined for  fur-trading infractions and decided to offer their services to the British.  They met Sir George Carteret, a good friend of King Charles II.  Carteret took Radisson and Groseilliers to England to tell their stories to Charles.  The king, and especially his cousin, Prince Rupert, were greatly impressed by Radisson and Groseilliers, although they could not pronounce their names.  They were usually called “Radishes and Gooseberry.”

They fitted out an expedition to Hudson Bay to bring back furs.  Groseilliers so impressed King Charles with his fur-laden cargo that Charles formed the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay on May 2, 1670.

Even so, Radisson and Groseilliers were displeased because King Charles only gave them a “gold chain and medal.”  They returned to Canada and, working for both the French and Dutch, later led an expedition to drive the English out of Hudson’s Bay.  The story of Radisson’s life becomes complicated and is difficult to follow, especially as most of it was written by Radisson himself.  In any event, he returned to England in 1684, and was given shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company.  When he died the company gave his widow £6 in recognition of his work!

To learn more about this, I highly recommend Micheline’s Blog – a place where Micheline tackles so many history topics! If you have the time, I also suggest reading The Discovery of Lake Superior – you can read it online, or download for later reading.


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The Day Louisiana Was Sold To The U.S.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One story that isn’t well-known is that Napoleon planned to recapture Canada for France.  He made himself dictator of France in 1799, on the pretext of “saving the Revolution,” but then went on to conquer most of Europe.

Napoleon’s plan to recapture Canada was inspired by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who in 1793 became the first man to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Mackenzie wrote a book about his trip which Napoleon had translated into French to help him plan his campaign.

His first step was to regain Louisiana.  France had owned the Mississippi Valley all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but had handed over this territory to Spain before signing the Treaty of Paris in 1763 so that Britain would not acquire it.

In 1800, Napoleon regained Louisiana from Spain as part of the secret treaty of San Ildefonso.  He planned to move his troops up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico.  In order to do this, he sent a large navy and army to recapture the former French colony of Haiti, which had been lost in a rebellion led by a mighty black warrior, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

Français : Le général Toussaint Louverture.

Le général Toussaint Louverture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was to be the base for the attack up the Mississippi, led by Napoleon’s favourite general, Count Bernadotte. His campaign was defeated by the same elements that beat the Scotsmen who wanted to set up a colony in Panama and make it New Scotland.  The natives and the mosquitoes were too fierce.    They killed 60,000 French troops in two years!

In the meantime, the British fleet had moved powerful units to the West Indies, and Napoleon knew that it would be too risky to try to move an army to the mouth of the Mississippi.  He abandoned the plan to recapture Canada, and sold Louisiana on April 30, 1803, to the United States for $27 million between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. Spain still retained claims on the Pacific coast as far north as Oregon, which had an important bearing on the future development of British Columbia.

Want to read more about what became known as the Louisiana Purchase? I suggest National Archives & Records Administration for the transcripts, and a site I just found is that you just have to check out! Oh, and don’t forget Wikipedia


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How New Orleans was Founded by Montreal Brothers

Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville statue, Valiants Me...

Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville statue, Valiants Memorial, Ottawa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On his first voyage to Canada, in 1534, Jacques Cartier sailed in a 20-ton caravel and made the trip across the Atlantic in twenty-one days.  He was an expert navigator, and as he sailed up the Strait of Belle Isle, between Newfoundland and Labrador, he could tell from the water’s movement that there was a great river ahead and so he discovered the St. Lawrence.

One of the greatest military leaders in the history of Canada, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville used his knowledge of the sea in somewhat the same way to find the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Pierre Le Moyne, usually called Iberville, was one of ten brothers born and raised in Montreal.  The Le Moynes was have been one of the greatest fighting families in the history of the world at the time.  Their exploits ranged all the wary from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. It had been said of the Iberville that if his campaigns had taken place in Europe instead of in the wilds of North America, he would been acknowledged as a military leader ranking with Napoleon.

French explorers from Canada, notably La Salle, had worked their way down The Mississippi River but had never reached its mouth.  In January 1685, La Salle tried to find it from the sea but sailed by without recognizing it.

King Louis XIV decided to entrust Iberville with the task.  On March 2, 1699, Iberville was sailing along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and saw the blue water turn grey.  He knew there must be a muddy river not far away, and later in the day sailed between high rocks into the mouth of the Mississippi.  Some of the mud flowing into the Gulf had come all the way from the prairies.

Iberville was a military adventurer, not a colonizer.  He left that job to his younger brother, Bienville, who had accompanied him; and so, the famous city of New Orleans, still proud of its French traditions, was founded by the Le Moyne brothers of Montreal.

Want more? Check out the Virtual Museum of New France; there’s also the the Robinson Library; then there’s New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia.


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When is a railroad not a railroad?

Harriet Tubman, an African American abolitioni...

Harriet Tubman, an African American abolitionist and conductor of the Underground Railroad. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The exterior of the Slave Pen, the fo...

The exterior of the Slave Pen, the focal point of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The underground railroad is neither underground, nor an actual railroad. Underground was akin to today’s deals on the side in that much of it was secret. And railroad referred to the code used.

It was actually a network of secret routes and safe houses used by back slaves in the United States to escape and go to free states and Canada. Some led to Mexico and even overseas. The term is also used in reference to abolitionists and allies, both white and black, both free and enslaved, who brought aid to the fugitives.

It consisted of meeting points, secret routes, transportation, safe houses and help provided by abolitionist sympathizers. Individuals were often made up of small, independent groups so that secrecy could be maintained. Some would know of connecting “stations” but knew little else of the operation. Escaped slaves were led north along the route, moving from one station to another.

“Conductors” came from various backgrounds: free-born blacks, white abolitionists, former slaves, Native Americans and various churches.

To cut the risk of infiltration, many people affiliated with the Underground Railroad knew only of their part of the operation, and nothing of the whole scheme. The conductress were the ones one who moved the slaves from station to station. Sometimes that meant a conductor would pose as a slave in order to enter a plantation. The slaves would travel mostly at night, about 10 to 20 miles (15 to 30 km) to each station. Then they would stop at each “depot” or “station” during the day to eat and rest. The stations were usually out of the way like barns. While resting, a message was relayed to the next station, to let the owner there to let the station master know that the runaways were on their way.

Many references are akin to the railway system. Some examples are:
* the people who helped slaves find the stations were called “agents”.
* guides were known as “conductors”.
* hiding places were called “stations”.
* “station masters” hid slaves in their homes or barns.
* escaped slaves were sometimes called “cargo” or “passengers”.
* financial backers were known as “stockholders”.

Refugees would refer to Canada as The Promised Land, and the Mississippi River as The Jordan River as biblical references.

Routes were often indirect on purpose. The journey was difficult especially for women and children. Yet one of the more famous abductors was a woman, Harriet Tubman.

Another famous abductee was a man named William Stills. He was known as “the father of the Underground Railroad”. He helped hundreds of slaves escape, sometimes as. Many as 60 a month! He kept careful records, often each entry included a short biography, always with railway terminology. He kept in touch with many and would act as a middle man in communication between them and those left behind. He lat published the accounts in the book The Underground Railroad in 1872.

He wrote in a code that only those involved would understand. For instance, one record states, “I have sent via at two o’clock four large hams. And two small hams” indicating that four adults and two children were sent by train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. The word “via” meant that they were not passengers on a usual train, but rather via Reading, Pennsylvania. In this particular case, The authorities were tricked into going to the regular train station, while Stills was able to meet them at the correct station and lead them to safety.

Some estimates that by 1850, roughly 100,000 slaves escaped via the underground railroad.

You can read so much of this on Wikipedia. To find out more about the remarkable Harriet Tubman, I suggest – a wonderful article written by Jone Johnson Lewis. If you are willing to pay, I recommend for the book Fleeing for Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railroad (ISBN: 1566635462)


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