Pierre-Esprit Radisson bigraphy, stories - French explorer

Pierre-Esprit Radisson : biography

1636 - 1710

Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636–1710) was a French fur trader and explorer. He is often linked to his brother-in-law Médard des Groseilliers who was about 20 years older. The decision of Radisson and Groseilliers to enter the English service led to the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Born near Avignon in 1636 or possibly 1640, he came to New France at an early age in the year 1651. While out duck-hunting (probably in 1651) he was captured by the Mohawks but was adopted by his captors. He learned their language and way of life and joined them in their wars. While out hunting with an Algonquin and three Mohawks the captives killed their captors and escaped but were quickly hunted down. The Algonquin was killed and Radisson was tortured until he was rescued by his Indian 'family'. He later escaped to Fort Orange (Albany) where he served as an interpreter. For some reason he was sent to Europe along with a Jesuit priest. He returned to Trois-Rivières, Quebec in 1657Morton, page 38 or 1654(Dictionary of Canadian Biography where he found his half-sister married to Groseilliers. In 1657/58 he was at the Jesuit Iroquois mission near Syracuse, New York and returned to Quebec when this failed. He was now about 21 years of age.

The most important part of his life, from 1658 to 1683, was spent with Groseilliers. For this see Médard des Groseilliers. In 1669, while in the English service, he sailed along the coast from the Rupert River to the Nelson River. In 1672 or before he married a daughter of Sir John Kirke who had been involved in the 1628 capture of Quebec. When he returned to the French service his wife remained in England.

In the winter of 1683 he and Groseilliers went to France to deal with their legal problems. (They had seized two English parties in time of peace and paid Quebec tax on furs from Hudson Bay which may not have been part of Quebec.) Here they found themselves pawns in the events that led up to the Glorious Revolution. The English ambassador, Lord Preston, asked that they be punished. Compromise plans were made to send Radisson back to the bay to pick up the remaining furs and divide the profits fairly. Lord Preston seduced Radisson back into the English service and Groseilliers returned to Quebec.

In 1684 he sailed for the Hayes River in the Happy Return, where he found Groseilliers' son Jean-Baptiste doing a brisk trade with the Indians. He talked Jean-Baptiste into the Hudson's Bay Company service and left for England in September, leaving John Abraham in charge of the fort. [Eight days later two ships belonging to Chesnaye arrived from Quebec. Although there was conflict, no blood was shed. The French wintered near the English and returned to Quebec with a moderate load of furs.]

In 1685 he was made 'Superintendent and Chief Director of the Trade at Port Nelson', where he seems to have accomplished little. In 1687 he made serious charges against the superintendent of York Factory. The HBC rejected the charges and Radisson was removed. Thereafter he lived in England on an HBC pension which was irregularly paid. He died in 1710. In 1729 the company voted ten pounds to his third wife, "she being ill and in great want."

Radisson wrote his Voyages in 1668/9 in England after a storm prevented him from joining the first expedition into Hudson Bay. The original has been lost but an English translation was found among the papers of Samuel Pepys and now resides in the Bodleian Library. It is known to be inaccurate in part.

Cultural references

The towns Radisson, Quebec, Radisson, Saskatchewan, and Radisson, Wisconsin, as well as a street and Metro station in Montreal and the Radisson provincial electoral district in Manitoba, are named after him.

The Radisson Hotels group, starting with the Radisson hotel in Minneapolis in 1909, is also named after him.

Sinclair Lewis wrote several novels about Grand Republic, the seat of the fictitious Radisson County, Minnesota.

The Canadian Coast Guard also has a vessel named the CCGS Pierre Radisson.

Radisson was portrayed by Paul Muni in the 1941 film Hudson's Bay.

The CBC Television series Radisson (1957–1958) was based on the explorer's life.


  • Arthur S. Morton, 'A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71', no date, but circa 1940
  • Peter C. Newman, 'Empire of the Bay', 1998
  • ; The narratives of Pierre Espirit Radisson; Project Gutenberg edition.
  • Edited by Germaine Warkentin. Slated to be published by The
  • http://www3.sympatico.ca/goweezer/canada/z16radgross2.htm

Champlain Society in 2010

Category:1636 births Category:1710 deaths Category:Explorers of Canada Category:Explorers of North America Category:People of New France Category:French explorers Category:Canadian fur traders Category:Hudson's Bay Company people Category:Persons of National Historic Significance (Canada)

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