Spotlight: HBCA in Words and Images

Knight’s Tale:

James Knight and the First York Factory Post Journal, 1714

York Factory Journal Cover
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Archives of Manitoba, Hudson's Bay Company Archives. York Factory post journal, B.239/a/1

On 11 September 1714 Captain James Knight, newly-minted governor of Rupert’s Land, succeeded in restoring York Factory, one of its oldest and most active trading posts, to the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The events leading up to this landmark moment in HBC history are documented in the earliest surviving journal entries kept for York Factory.

In addition to providing a detailed account of each day’s business, the first York Factory journal includes several copied letters to the governor and committee in London, and to other local HBC officials. It also contains a thorough inventory of goods purchased from the French upon the fort’s surrender, a list of goods shipped to York Factory for the 1714/15 trading season and a copy of the HBC ship Union’s manifest containing the names of HBC servants posted at the factory.

The purpose of HBC’s post journals was to present a sparing, objective account of decisions made, challenges encountered, and trade relations forged with Aboriginal trappers. However, often in the course of doing this, journals would also present information considered vital to understanding the larger world in which the HBC placed itself and its business enterprise.

A good example of this broader perspective is found in a copy of Knight’s letter to the Governor and Committee dated 19 September 1714. Knight’s letter indicates that he was suspicious of the continued influence French traders had with the local Aboriginal community. Here he relays that:

a page of Knight’s letter to the Governor and Committee
Original enlarged document

"One of the Indians came to me when I hoisted the Union flag. he told me he did not love to See that; he Loved to see the White one, so there is Many of the Indians has Great Friendship with the french here"

While the overall tone of this journal is factual and professional, there are times when Knight’s personality seems to emerge, like in his 9 May 1715 entry when he is bracing for the worst after a flood had swept away much of the fort:

journal entry for May 9, 1715
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"This hath been a Night of fear and pain least I should find in the Morning all lost. As soon as I could Perceive Day, I went in the boat from the tree we did ride at last night to look at the fort to See if it was Standing"

Despite the high hopes expressed by Knight in his early journal entries for the year, his first season as Governor at York Factory was less than glorious. In a copied letter placed toward the back of the journal, Knight describes the various challenges he faced throughout the year, highlighting the living conditions at York factory and the extreme weather as particularly difficult aspects of life at the post:

a page of Knight’s letter to W. C. Stanton dated June 30, 1715
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"…we had a year of nothing but trouble with us by the loss of the vessel and the bad lodging we have had for ourselves & goods, & and then after a very hard and sickly working winter, a very great deluge of water and ice at the river’s breaking up … "

Despite the challenging conditions faced by Knight throughout the year, he remained in charge of York Factory until 1717 when his deputy, Henry Kelsey, took over as chief factor.

Providing the first detailed account of HBC life and business at York factory, this journal is the starting point for a continuous record keeping tradition at the post that lasted for nearly 300 years. It provides a fascinating window into the activities of the HBC as it existed in its early years and to the record keeping practices that aided in its long-term operation.

To read a digitized version of this record and learn more about it, search Keystone using the keywords “York Factory post journal.”

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