Hudson's Bay Company Archives – Glossaries

Fur trade Era Hudson's Bay Company Business Records

Many types of business records were created at Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) posts, districts, departments, and ships. This list provides some of the keywords that will support successful searches for records in Keystone. To search for records created by a particular Hudson's Bay Company post, district, department, or ship, enter its name in the keyword field in Keystone.

  • Abstracts of servants' accounts - Abstracts provide separate lists of officers, clerks and postmasters, and servants, including a general statement of each employee's account with Hudson's Bay Company.
  • Account books - Account books of various posts, including bills payable, bills receivable, cash accounts, inventories, debt books, provision shed accounts, invoices, bills of lading, standards of trade, lists of servants.
  • Bills of lading - Bills of lading for goods or furs carried to or from inland posts
  • Cash advances to officers and servants - Cash advances to officers and servants kept by outfit year
  • Correspondence books - Contemporary and letterpress copies of incoming and outgoing letters between various posts covering a broad range of subjects, such as matters relating to orders and instructions from the district officers, forwarding of pelts, settling of accounts, and quality of provisions and supplies
  • Crew Lists – Lists of ship crew members sent to the London office by the captain of the ship immediately before setting sail
  • District fur returns - Lists of the fur consignments from the major posts in Rupert's Land, noting the kind and quantity of furs returned for a designated year
  • District statements - Annual statements of servants' accounts of HBC and various subsidiary enterprises under its control, including names of servants, wage, gratuities, balance of book debts, capacity (i.e. position in Hudson's Bay Company)
  • Expenditure books - Accounts of goods distributed to Northern Department Districts in a designated year including an inventory, the total stock and total outfit of the Northern Department
  • Freight books - Accounts of freight shipped from Great Britain recording number, package, contents, dimensions, volume, weight, freight charges, and often consignor and consignee
  • Fur invoice books - Invoices of furs shipped to London on various HBC vessels, listing quantity and kinds of furs and goods shipped
  • Indent books - Requisitions for the outfit two years in advance (e.g. orders made out in 1840 were shipped in 1841 for outfit 1842)
  • Inventories - Inventories of goods on hand in the Northern Department listing commodities according to districts within the department
  • Inward correspondence - Originals and contemporary copies of letters received at posts relating to a wide variety of business and personal matters
  • Lists of servants - Enumeration of employees detailing names, parish, capacity (i.e. position in HBC), wages, winter residence, expiry date of contract, age, stature, person (i.e. physique), number of years of service, and character
  • Minutes of council - Minutes of the annual meetings of the Governor of Rupert's Land, Chief Factors and Chief Traders of each district include discussions of major policy decisions affecting the disposition of men and supplies, resolutions and recommendations of the Governor and Committee in London, organization of the annual outfit, and standing rules and regulations
  • Portledge books - Accounts of advances made to ship crew members
  • Post journals - Journals of the fur trade posts recording weather, daily activities, occurrences of note, arrivals and departures of visitors and expeditions into the hinterland
  • Provision shed balance books - A daily account of the kind and quantity of provisions issued
  • Reports on districts - Annual district reports commenting on social and economic conditions of the district
  • Scheme indents - Estimates of indent for the Northern Department two years in advance (i.e. indent 1833 for outfit 1835)
  • Seamens wages books - Account books of wages paid to officers and seamen
  • Servants' engagement registers - The servants' engagement registers list the particulars of a servant's contract
  • Servants' ledgers - Statement of credit and debit with a given post in the Northern Department for goods and monies advanced to or paid by HBC servants
  • Ship logs - Logs of HBC ships recorded weather, sea conditions, ship's location, progress, and the activities of the crew, and frequently include crew and passenger lists
  • Ships’ movements book – Record of the disposition and movement of HBC's ships, including a list of dates of arrivals and departures to and from posts in the Bay and the Pacific Northwest
  • Store balance books - Lists of stores distributed among the various districts of the Northern Department, containing an inventory and an account of imports from various districts and departments
  • Store invoice books - Invoices of stores from York Factory depot to various districts in the Northern Department, including the quantity and kind of goods, unit price and the total value of the shipment

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Terms Found in Hudson's Bay Company Records

There are many terms found in Hudson's Bay Company records that are specific to the company’s operations. Their definitions are useful to know in using these records.

A list of common terms has been compiled below, using the following sources:

  • Avis, Walter S., ed. A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. Toronto: W.J. Gage Ltd, 1967.
  • Briggs, Elizabeth and Anne Morton. Biographical Resources at the Hudson's Bay Company Archives. Vol. 1, Winnipeg: Westgarth, 1996.

Words or phrases in bold within definitions are also defined in the glossary.

  • Canadian – An individual or organization that came from “Canada,” which, during the 18th and early 19th centuries usually meant Lower Canada, the area that later became part of the province of Quebec. The main opposition to Hudson's Bay Company was the North West Company, a Montreal-based firm that hired its servants from the local population, and HBC officers and servants sometimes referred to this company and its employees as “Canadian.” HBC also hired some of its own “Canadian” servants.
  • Cr – In accounts books, this abbreviation refers to “credits” against an account, usually in the form of wages. See also Dr.
  • Deed of Surrender – In 1869, HBC signed an agreement with the Dominion of Canada by which the company surrendered control of the territory known as Rupert’s Land to the new Canadian government. The territory had been controlled by HBC since its Royal Charter of 1670.
  • Deed Poll – The Deed Polls of 1821, 1834 and 1871 were the legal instruments that determined the number of commissioned officers of HBC and their share in the profits of the fur trade.
  • Department – HBC was first organized into geographical Departments: the Northern, Southern, Montreal and Columbia (later Western) Departments. By the end of the nineteenth century, the company was organized into departments according to its business interests: the Fur Trade, Land and Saleshops (later Stores) Departments.
  • Districts – HBC divided its fur trade administration into districts. In the beginning, the districts were all administered by a “governor” at one of the factories along Hudson Bay. Around 1813 or 1814, this system changed with the establishment of districts with inland headquarters in the charge of a district master. District names, boundaries and headquarters altered over time.
  • Dr – In account books, this abbreviation refers to “debits” against an account. See also Cr.
  • Factory – A fur-trading post, especially a larger one from which furs were shipped to England, such as York Factory. Sometimes “factory” was used in place of “fort.” York Factory, therefore, was also known at times at York Fort.
  • fo. – An abbreviation of folio. A folio is a leaf or sheet of paper, numbered only on the front. The reverse of the sheet, or “dorse,” is not numbered. When most documents are prepared for microfilming in HBCA, they are foliated. The number ‘1’ is placed in the upper right corner of the first right-hand page, the reverse is not numbered, the second right-hand page is numbered ‘2’ and so on. The reverse side of folio 1 is known as folio 1d. ‘d’ is the abbreviation for dorse.
  • fos. – An abbreviation of folios.
  • Furlough – A leave of absence, usually granted to HBC employees after the termination of one contract and before beginning a new contract. As an “extended vacation,” a furlough allowed employees to return home (most HBC employees were from England or Scotland).
  • General Courts of Proprietors – Annual general meetings held in London where the proprietors (or stockholders) elected the HBC Governor and members of the governing committee.
  • Indian debt – Credit extended to Indigenous hunters and trappers in the form of supplies to be paid for out of the coming year’s catch.
  • Made beaver – A unit of exchange equivalent to the value of one prime beaver pelt, used in buying furs and bartering provisions.
  • Outfit – An outfit (sometimes referred to as a fur trading outfit) ran from June 1st of one year to May 31st of the next, and was the time period around which HBC’s trade was structured. Often employee contracts ran according to the outfit year, beginning on June 1st and ending on May 31st.
  • Packet – A parcel or package of instructions, correspondence or other documents. Packets were sent on HBC ships to fur-trading posts each spring from the Governor and Committee in London. Packets were transported in packet boxes, which were wooden boxes that could be locked for security.
  • Parish – Often a category found in HBC employee records. Traditionally, a parish was an ecclesiastical district, a subdivision of a diocese having its own clergyman, usually a rector or vicar. In the nineteenth century, a parish was also a district organized for poor law administration. Where known, HBC officials entered the name of the parish in its traditional British ecclesiastical meaning, but if the parish was not known, the town, county or country from which the employee came may have been entered instead. For employees born in North America, the parish may be described by such phrases as Hudson's Bay, Indian Country (or Indian Territory), Native or Rupert’s Land. Most of these individuals were of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry.
  • Pro Pelle Cutem – A Latin expression meaning “A skin for a skin.” This is HBC’s motto, which is printed on its crest. It could refer to the idea that the company was a fair trader, or to the fact that company employees risked their “skins” in their quest for the beaver skin. A further interpretation is that in acquiring beaver pelts, HBC acquired the whole beaver skin in order to obtain the desired thick under skin of the beaver, which was the portion of the skin used in making hats.
  • Red River Settlement – The colony established by Lord Selkirk in the valley of the Red River in Manitoba in 1812. Sometimes abbreviated as R.R.S.
  • Royal Charter of 1670 – In 1670, King Charles II of England granted a royal charter to a group of English gentlemen, granting them exclusive trading rights in the Hudson Bay watershed, the territory that was called Rupert’s Land.
  • Rupert’s Land – The territory granted to HBC by its Royal Charter of 1670 and incorporated into the Dominion of Canada in 1870, after the Deed of Surrender of 1869. It was the area drained by the rivers flowing into Hudson Bay: northern Ontario, Québec, the southern Northwest Territories, southern Alberta, most of Saskatchewan, and all of Manitoba, including the valley of the Red River south to Lake Traverse in the United States. The name honours HBC’s first Governor, Prince Rupert.
  • Servant – A servant was an employee of Hudson's Bay Company who was obligated to give service to the company under the terms of a contract signed by both parties.
  • York boat – An inland freight boat used to transport furs and other goods, named after York Factory, one of HBC’s most significant fur-trading posts. The largest of these boats could be up to 40 feet long and 10 feet wide. York boats were shallow, with a square sail and oars pulled by eight oarsmen, capable of carrying upwards of 75 packs averaging 40 kilograms (90lbs) a piece.

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Hudson's Bay Company Occupational Group

Hudson's Bay Company employed people in many different roles, some of which are no longer common today.

A list of some occupational terms that appear in HBC records has been compiled below, using the following sources:

  • Briggs, Elizabeth and Anne Morton. Biographical Resources at the Hudson's Bay Company Archives. Vol. 1, Winnipeg: Westgarth, 1996.
  • Philip Goldring. Papers on the Labour System of the Hudson's Bay Company. Volumes 1-3, Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1979-1980.
  • Boute – A collective term for the skilled positions of bowsman and steersman in a canoe or boat.
  • Bowsman – The crewman in the bow (front) of a canoe or boat; a skilled position.
  • Chief Factor – The highest ranking Commissioned Officers under the Deed Polls of 1821 and 1834; entitled to slightly less than one per cent of the fur trade profits in each outfit; usually in charge of districts; had the right to sit at the annual meeting of the council and to vote on promotions for clerks and Chief Traders.
  • Chief Trader – The lower of the two ranks of Commissioned Officers under the Deed Polls of 1821 and 1834; the fourth rank under the Deed Poll of 1871; share of profits half that of a Chief Factor; could take charge of districts but sometimes served under other Commissioned Officers, either at the second post of a large district or in charge of an important branch of business in a depot.
  • Clerk – Title used in NWC and HBC for the employees one step below the partners (NWC) or officers (HBC); varied in salary and responsibility.
  • Factor – A term used to describe a man in charge of an HBC post; under the 1871 Deed Poll, factors were the third rank of Commissioned Officers.
  • Freeman – Employee who had completed contract and was ‘free’ of obligation to HBC; often continued to trade with HBC and to work as casual labour.
  • General Charges – Employees not yet assigned to a particular post.
  • Guide – A person employed to conduct people through unfamiliar territory - often associated with interpreter; presided over brigades of two to five craft (generally working as steersman in his own boat but also commanding all servants in the brigade).
  • Inland Trader – An 18th-century term for a man in charge of an inland post.
  • Interpreter – An employee who could speak the local language, which in many cases would have been his mother tongue, so he could help the man in charge of the post conduct the trade; could also be in charge of a post.
  • Labourer – An unskilled employee (often used interchangeably with ‘middleman’).
  • Master – An 18th-century term for the man in charge of a post.
  • Master & Trader – An 18th-century term for the man in charge of a post.
  • Master of Schooner – The officer in charge of a sloop or schooner.
  • Middleman – A crewman in the middle of a boat or canoe, an unskilled position (often used interchangeably with ‘labourer’).
  • Postmaster – The man in charge of a post. Most were Scottish, Canadian or Métis labourers and tradesmen who had risen from the ranks to clerical or junior managerial posts; others were the North American-born sons of Commissioned Officers.
  • Servant – An employee of HBC.
  • Slooper – A crewman on HBC ‘decked vessels’ or schooners on Hudson Bay (not on Lake Winnipeg).
  • Sloopmaster – The officer in charge of a sloop or schooner.
  • Steersman – The crewman in the stern (rear) of a canoe or boat, responsible for guiding the boat; a skilled position.
  • Trader – Often not permanent servants, traders (also called runners) were typically stationed in outposts and did much of their work outside of the forts negotiating and dealing with Indigenous people in their camps.
  • Tradesman – An employee skilled in a particular trade, e.g. carpenter, cooper, blacksmith, stonemason, boat builder, tinsmith, joiner, etc.
  • Writer – An early term for a clerk (also used by East India Company).

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