GILLAM, BENJAMIN, sea captain and adventurer; b. 23 March 1662/63, son of Zachariah Gillam* and Phoebe Phillips; d. 14 May 1706.
Benjamin Gillam’s chief claim to fame is his role in the triangular drama that took place in the Port Nelson area of Hudson Bay in 1682. With a group of 14 New England colleagues, all “very resolute fellows,” he sailed the Bachelor’s Delight from New England on 21 June 1682 to Nelson River, intending to trespass on the monopoly of the HBC. Even as the group set about establishing themselves, Benjamin’s father Zachariah, captain of the Prince Rupert and an employee of the HBC, was approaching the bay with a new governor, John Bridgar*. About the same time, Radisson was bringing a French party from Canada into Hayes River.
By a combination of guile, luck, and superior knowledge of the area, Radisson outwitted his opponents. Zachariah Gillam perished when his ship was crushed in the ice in October 1682, and the following year Radisson captured the posts held by the HBC and by the interlopers from New England, taking Bridgar and the young Gillam prisoner. After his release by the governor of New France, Le Febvre* de La Barre, Benjamin returned to Boston to find himself under arrest. The collector of customs for New England, Edward Randolph, had been empowered to take this drastic action against him, but circumstances soon changed in Gillam’s favour. His interloping activities against the HBC were disregarded, and his status as a British subject was upheld. Indeed, the HBC was to argue its claim to vast possessions in Hudson Bay on the fact that Gillam had reached Port Nelson in advance of Radisson’s party.
The association of the Gillams with Hudson Bay seems to terminate about 1684, but the name reappears in British records in the 1690s, when the family was engaged in building ships for English merchants.
Benjamin Gillam died on 14 May 1706. His will, dated 28 April 1701, mentions his wife, Abigail, and two daughters, Abigail (born 1684) and Ann (born 1688).