Hudson's Bay Company

Black and white photograph of a Victorian building on a busy street
The Hudson's Bay Company ruled a massive global trading empire from this London building

Quick Facts
London, United Kindgom
Former Hudson's Bay Company Headquarters
In 1670, King Charles II granted a Royal Charter to “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay” a corporation that would eventually come to be known as the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Hudson’s Bay Company, whose headquarters by the time of The Pig War was this building in London, shipped European trade goods and technology to North America, where they were sold to Native Americans for animal fur which was then resold in Europe and Asia, hence their corporate motto “Pro Pelle Cutem” which in latin means “A pelt for a skin”. Unlike the corporations we are familiar with today, the Hudson’s Bay Company fused governmental power, military capabilities, and diplomatic functions with its quest for profit. It operated throughout Canada and was especially powerful in the Pacific Northwest, where the Hudson’s Bay Company was the most potent non-native force in the region in the early days of European colonization.

The Hudson’s Bay Company’s global trading business and the strategies that made it successful relied upon a diverse workforce. Acquiring fur required Native American participation and the company hired Native American employees and carefully stocked trade goods that catered to Native American consumer preferences. Company operatives often married high ranking Native American women and their alliances helped encourage trade and cooperation; children of these cross-cultural marriages often worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, where they acted as cultural mediators who understood the needs of indigenous people and the company’s commercial empire. In the Pacific Northwest, the company found itself short on labor and hired Hawaiian men as laborers, farmers, seafarers, and fur trade adventurers.

The Hudson’s Bay Company built a string of trading posts throughout the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s-1850s at a time when the United States and the British Empire both claimed the Oregon Country (the future states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming and Montana). These posts became centers for settlement, economic development, and imperial power at a time when few U.S. citizens inhabited the Oregon Country. It was only in the 1840s, as masses of U.S. emigrants used the Oregon Trail to settle in the Pacific Northwest that the Hudson’s Bay Company and British imperial power were contested. When the Oregon Treaty of 1846 gave the states of Washington and Oregon to the United States, the Hudson’s Bay Company was forced to wind down operations at its bases in Washington and Oregon, which included at one time parts of the future Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Whitman Mission National Historic Site and at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and Nez Perce National Historical Park

Still, the Hudson’s Bay Company remained powerful within British territory; one way that they demonstrated this power was by founding a massive operation on San Juan Island. The Belle Vue Sheep Farm, established in 1853, grew into a massive agricultural complex with over 4,000 sheep and more than a dozen Hawaiian and native employees. It was a Hudson’s Bay Company pig that rooted through Lyman Cutlar’s potato patch on June 15, 1859, sparking the Pig War. During the joint occupation of San Juan Island, American Camp was established adjacent to Belle Vue Sheep Farm headquarters and the farm wound down operations on our island.

Though the Hudson’s Bay Company is no longer on our island, it remains a major corporation. No longer in the fur trade, it is now one of Canada’s largest department stores. It’s unique contribution to our region’s history and to global history is crucial to understanding how San Juan Island developed.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, San Juan Island National Historical Park, Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Last updated: July 23, 2022