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DÉGRÈS, IRÈNE-MATHILDE, named Saint-Paul – Volume XV (1921-1930)

d. 27 Sept. 1921 in Limoilou ward, Quebec City


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GILLAM, ZACHARIAH, HBC captain; b. in Boston, Mass., 30 July 1636 (o.s.); d. at Hudson Bay 21 Oct. 1682.

He was the second son of Benjamin Gillam, a shipwright who came to New England and was made a freeman of Massachusetts 6 May 1635, and of his wife Hannah. Benjamin prospered and his descendants married into prominent New England families. On 26 July 1659 Zachariah married Phoebe, daughter of Major William Phillips, a prominent citizen of Charlestown and Boston, and of his first wife, Mary. Major Phillips had been the Massachusetts commissioner for Maine in 1653, but not liking the Puritans, he had removed to Saco, Maine, with his third wife Bridget (the mother of Esbon Sanford by a former marriage) and acquired a large tract of wilderness land back of Saco and Wells, formerly called Phillipstown, where the present town of Sanford now stands. Major Phillips deeded to Zachariah Gillam and his brother-in-law, Ephraim Turner, 500 acres on West Brook in Maine.

Like many young Bostonians of that day, Zachariah followed the sea. He engaged in the New England coastal trade, but he was interested in the scheme of Chouart Des Groseilliers and Radisson* to open a new fur-trading route through Hudson Bay. Some Boston merchants in 1663 fitted out an expedition, led by the two explorers, which reached the mouth of Hudson Strait but then turned back. Although the attempt was abortive, Des Groseilliers and Radisson were fortunate in catching the attention of the British commissioner Col. George Cartwright in Boston in 1665, who convinced them to go to England to present information on the possibilities of their project to the group of courtiers, gentlemen, financiers, and some members of the infant Royal Society who were interested in exploring and establishing such a trading route. The Frenchmen sailed for England 1 Aug. 1665 in the Charles, commanded by Capt. Benjamin Gillam, the elder brother of Zachariah.

It seems likely that through Des Groseilliers and Radisson Zachariah became known to the “Adventurers”; in any case he was captain of the 43-ton ketch Nonsuch, which, with Charles II’s ketch Eaglet, was fitted out by the adventurers for the historic voyage to Hudson Bay in 1668–69. Des Groseilliers sailed with Gillam in the Nonsuch, Radisson in the Eaglet. When the latter ship had to turn back to England in August 1668, the burden of the voyage fell on the Nonsuch.

Gillam carried out his instructions (printed in Minnesota History, XVI, 419–23) quite successfully. He and Des Groseilliers established friendly relations on the coasts of Hudson Bay with the Indians, who led them to the mouth of the Rupert River; they built a house, called Charles Fort, the forerunner of Rupert House, in which they wintered and from which they traded in the spring; Gillam kept a log (published as a “Breviate” about 1675 by John Seller in the English Pilot) giving information on navigation and trade; he made a “treaty” with the Indians by which he “purchased” the Rupert River and the surrounding land; and he and Des Groseilliers secured a cargo of fine beaver pelts which realized over £1,300. On his return to London in 1669, Gillam gave information to the Royal Society, several of whose members had helped finance the voyage and who, with the other “Adventurers,” formed the HBC, which was formally incorporated on 2 May 1670.

In that same month Gillam was sent out again, in command of the frigate Prince Rupert (75 ½ tons) carrying Des Groseilliers and Thomas Gorst, in company with the Wivenhoe, carrying Charles Bayly and Radisson. The purpose of the expedition, aside from the immediate one of trade, was to establish a main fort on the Nelson River from which Bayly was to govern the region for the HBC. This was not accomplished, and Bayly and Radisson joined Gillam and Des Groseilliers at Charles Fort in the “Bottom of the Bay” where the latter party had built a new house [see Gorst’s journal in Nute, Caesars of the wilderness]. In the winter Radisson made an exploratory expedition to Moose River and in the spring the Indians came to trade. Both ships returned to England in October 1671 with cargoes of skins and information on the coast of the bay. Gillam was captain of the Prince Rupert on the 1672–73 voyage and again in 1674–75, although he had been dismissed from the service of the HBC, when he had returned in 1673, for private trading. Some dispute also arose between Gillam and Radisson, who accused each other of misconduct and peculation. Thereafter Gillam returned to Boston and the coastal trade. He was in North Carolina from 1677 until 1680 and, suspected of taking part in the Culpeper rebellion, he was taken in custody to England.

In January 1682 he applied for re-employment in the HBC and he was hired, since he was an old servant and had done good service in the past. He was to have £100 a year “from the day he breakes ground” at Gravesend and 20s. a week until that time. In March he was given command of his old ship, the Prince Rupert, but in May he was charged with misconduct in being absent from his ship during its loading and he faced dismissal. However, Gillam sailed at the beginning of June 1682 with John Bridgar, the governor of Port Nelson. Five ships were sent out; three were to proceed to the Bottom of the Bay and two, the Prince Rupert and the Albemarle (commanded by Esbon Sanford, the deputy governor of Port Nelson), were to proceed to the Nelson and Hayes rivers, there to establish Port Nelson.

But the HBC ships had been preceded by two separate parties: that of Zachariah’s son Benjamin Gillam* and that of Radisson and Des Groseilliers. Benjamin, under a licence from the governor of Massachusetts and probably aware of the HBC’s intentions from his father, arrived on an interloping voyage from Boston 18 Aug. 1682 in the Bachelor’s Delight and established a camp up the Nelson River. The French party, financed by Aubert* de La Chesnaye and sanctioned by the governor of Quebec, Le Febvre de La Barre, intended to establish a French claim to trade in the Bay; it arrived a few days later and settled on the Hayes River. Returning from a visit to Gillam, intended to intimidate him, Radisson witnessed the arrival on 7 September of the Prince Rupert at the mouth of the Nelson, come to establish Port Nelson.

The HBC men decided to winter on the north shore of the Nelson River, despite the French threat. But they were beset with many mishaps: the Albemarle did not reach Port Nelson that fall; her captain, Sanford, had died 6 October; worst of all, on 21 Oct. 1682 the Prince Rupert dragged her anchor in a severe storm, drifted out to sea, and was lost with about nine crew members, many of the supplies, and her captain, Gillam. Thus Captain Zachariah ended his varied and stormy career. The next year Radisson captured both posts and sailed to Quebec with the captives, Gillam and Bridgar. There they were released and they made their way to New England.

When the first news of these events reached England, the HBC was naturally disturbed but it hesitated to proceed against Benjamin Gillam for some time as Radisson had claimed the region for France and left a group of his people there to hold it. The company would need to establish the prior arrival of Benjamin to make good its claim to the territory. In April 1683, while ignorant of the deaths of captains Gillam and Sanford, it revoked the latter’s command of the Albemarle, ordered Zachariah to return to England in ballast, to transfer his cargo to other ships, and to bring Sanford with him. The HBC also secured an order-in-council directed to the governor of Massachusetts to permit the commissioner to arrest the Gillams and Sanford in case they should come to New England.

During his wanderings, Zachariah’s home was in Boston where his wife and children remained. By Phoebe he had Martha (b. 1660), Zachariah (b. 1661), and Benjamin (b. 23 March 1662/63), the interloper. On 14 April 1676 the executors of Zachariah’s father set off to him certain land at Fort Hill in Boston and by a deed in 1692 his sister Hannah Sharpe, widow, deeded to Benjamin all her interest in the land at Fort Hill. The family was continued by his descendants.

Zachariah Gillam was evidently a very able and skilful seaman, resolute and resourceful, but at times unscrupulous and not entirely to be trusted. Nevertheless, he appears to have been reasonably loyal to the HBC in his last days.

G. Andrews Moriarty

“Mass. Archives,” LXI, 9. Mass. Hist. Soc., Thwing MSS. Boston, Record Commissioners, Ninth report: births, baptisms, marriages and deaths, 1630–1699, ed. W. H. Whitmore and W. S. Appleton (Boston, 1883), passim. C. T. Libby and Sybil Noyes, Genealogical dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire (Portland, Me., 1928–39), pt. III, 262; pt. IV, 548. HBRS, V, VIII, IX (Rich); XI, XX (Rich and Johnson), XXI (Rich). G. A. Moriarty, “Captains Gillam and Sanford of the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Genealogists’ Mag., X (1947–50), 568–71. Nute, Caesars of the wilderness. L. Parke, “The Savage family,” NEng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, LXVII (1913), 200–1. C. H. Pope, The pioneers of Massachusetts, a descriptive list . . . (from town, church and other records) (Boston, 1900), 187. W. H. Whitmore, “Gleanings,” NEng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, XIX (1865), 254.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

G. Andrews Moriarty, “GILLAM, ZACHARIAH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillam_zachariah_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillam_zachariah_1E.html
Author of Article:   G. Andrews Moriarty
Title of Article:   GILLAM, ZACHARIAH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1966
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   September 27, 2023