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Home >> From 1600 to 1867 >> Identity, Culture & Communities >> Articles/Diaries/Ephemera/Journals

Daily life and challenges for the various groups involved in the fur trade.

Image 1
Author: James Isham
Title: Isham's Observations and Notes, 1743-49
Publisher: The Hudson's Bay Record Society
Year Published: 1949
Copyright Holder: Expired; no restrictions on use. Please credit The Hudson's Bay Record Society.
  -52- James Isham: Dogs and Martens

James Isham (c. 1716-1761) joined the HBC as a "writer" in 1732 and later commanded the factories of York and Churchill before his death at York in 1761. He was also an amateur naturalist, sending home specimens of several North American birds that had never before been described by British ornithologists.

His "Observations on Hudson's Bay," written in 1743 to fill the long winter nights at Churchill, also included his descriptions of HBC forts, thoughts on the fur trade (including plans for combatting French traders inland), and vocabularies of several Aboriginal languages.

He took a great interest in every thing he observed, noting clothing, hunting and trapping methods, and flora and fauna. On page 164 ["Dogs are... Effected with them."], he discusses the merits of dogs and describes characteristics of martens.

"Dog’s are of great service to the Natives in hawling Sleds, and carrying of Burthen’s also when they are hunting Beaver they turn the Dogs into the house, who wurries the Beaver into the Vaults, imagining the Dogs can not come at them their, by which means the Indians open’s the Vault’s and Catches them—these Dogs are also of great service to the English in hawling provision’s when they Lye abroad from the fort, one Dog being able to hawle a fortnights provision’s for 2 men etc.

Martins are Very Numerious in some parts one Indian Killing 3 and 4 hundred a Winter, they are Catch’t mostly in Log trap’s, and are not Eat for constancy, tho the Natives Eats them frequently, they are Like a Rabbit when Dressed and cutt the head and tail of cou’d not Distinguish one from the other, they have a fine soft furr, and next to a catt for beauty and Value, they Live chiefly upon mice Rabbitts etc.: they have Commonly 3 and 4 at a Litter, breeding once a Year, itts Very Difficult to bring these up tame,—they being Subject to a sort of fitts, which Kills them if but once Effected with them."

Other Related Material
Read another excerpt from Isham's notes - enter 'Isham' in the search box to your left.

Check the Beaver Index - type 'Isham' in the keyword box.

See also the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Did You Know?
During the time that Ishram wrote his notes, there was little consistency in spelling. Everyone had their own way of writing and sometimes would spell the same word in different ways... even in the same paragraph!

Students may wish for these 'good old days' because it would make their homework easier, but this is also what makes it difficult to read and understand passages such as the one above. When the above passage is read aloud, the meaning is quite clear to those who are only listening. To the one reading, however, more effort is required for the brain to 'translate' the different spelling into the correct meaning.

If you were to add up all the spelling errors using today's spelling standards, how many would you find?