God’s Mercies by Douglas Hunter

I picked this up in part because I wanted to know who Hudson of Hudson Bay fame was. Set in the 1600s, it gives us a narrative about what Europeans were trying to achieve in Canada at that time. Trade was all-important, though this was before the fur trade became quite so dominating. Both Hudson and Champlain (the two starring in this book) were passionate about finding the Northwest Passage.

There’s a window open upon the Aboriginal Peoples these explorers met (Huron, Algonquin, Montagnais, Inuit, Cree, among others), and what they in turn were trying accomplish in their negotiations and/or interactions with the Europeans.

That said, it’s mostly about Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain. It’s easy to forget or not realize just how important finding a Northwest Passage was considered to be at this time. The maps of the era were not reliable. It was a dangerous enterprise and a technical challenge, exacerbated by the differences between the magnetic vs geographic north poles, and by people wanting to convince their benefactors of where they’d been and what they’d accomplished.

Hudson is presumed to have died in Hudson Bay, after his crew set him, his son and others adrift in a shallop. Champlain was told of an English boy by his (possibly) lying countryman, but never found him. In some ways the shadowy presence of John Hudson (the son who possibly survived and lived among the Nipissing) and Nicolas de Vignau (who lived among the Algonquin and wished to return, lying—or not?—to accomplish that) are the most fascinating. But their fates, like so many, have faded into obscurity, unlikely to ever be known.


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