MARTEN (Martin), HUMPHREY, HBC chief factor; b. c. 1729 in England; d. between 1790 and 1792, probably in England.
Humphrey Marten was first engaged by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1750 as a writer at York Factory (Man.) on a five-year indenture at £15 per annum. He must have been satisfactory to his superiors at York, for in 1755 he was suggested as a possible master of Flamborough House, an outpost of York, and he was later delegated to act as chief of York during James Isham*’s absence in England in 1758–59. He nevertheless felt that his services were not receiving due recognition, and in 1759 he pressed for an increase in pay to £50 per annum. He was almost dismissed for his temerity; however, the company appointed him second at York and master of a post planned for the mouth of the Severn River (Ont.) to counter possible French penetration there.
Following the death of Isham in April 1761, Marten was appointed acting chief of York by the factory’s council. Much to his chagrin the London committee did not make the appointment permanent, and in September 1762 Ferdinand Jacobs was placed in command of the post. Recalled to London, Marten was appointed second at Fort Albany (Ont.); he arrived there in August 1763 and became chief the next year.
Throughout Marten’s career the HBC was under increasing pressure from competition in the interior by Montreal-based traders. After his appointment to Albany, the primary object of Marten and the London committee became the re-establishment of Henley House (at the junction of the Albany and Kenogami rivers), which had been sacked by Wappisis* in 1755. Without company servants on the Albany River encouraging Indians to go down to the coast, Albany’s trade system would be controlled by the Canadians. Despite stalling by Marten’s men, who feared for their scalps, the new post was finally completed in 1768.
In September 1775 Marten was promoted chief of York. The London committee urged him to push trading operations into the Saskatchewan country to compete directly with the Canadians. He strongly supported the activities of William Tomison* and Robert Longmoor* at Cumberland House (Sask.). Their endeavours were plagued, however, by a shortage of canoes, men, and trade goods, and the Canadians remained dominant. Nevertheless, by 1780 the proceeds of the Saskatchewan trade were helping to ensure that York remained the principal company post in North America, in spite of the fact that Samuel Hearne at Prince of Wales’s Fort (Churchill, Man.) continually enticed York’s Indians to trade at his post. The company’s push inland was stopped by the decimation of the beaver hunters in the smallpox epidemic of 1781–82, and by Marten’s surrender of York to the French under the Comte de Lapérouse [Galaup] in August 1782. Taken prisoner to France, Marten was unable to return to the bay until September 1783. His surrender of York, although considered the cowardly act of a drunken man by Edward Umfreville, was a realistic move in light of the fact that his men were greatly outnumbered by the French.
Marten’s interests had not been centred solely on the fur trade. In an effort to curry favour with the influential members of the Royal Society of London, the company had ordered him to collect specimens of the bay’s flora and fauna. He became interested in the project by 1771, but although his efforts were prodigious, they were amateurish and lacked the importance of those of I sham or Andrew Graham*.
Marten’s private life is difficult to unravel. It is known that he had at least two relatives in England. His domestic relations in Rupert’s Land involved numerous liaisons with the daughters of leading Home Guard (Cree) Indians. At Albany he shared his bed with Pawpitch, the daughter of Questach, or Cockeye, the captain of the Albany goose hunters and a powerful and respected figure at the bay. Pawpitch died on 24 Jan. 1771, leaving a son, John America, who was sent to England by his father for schooling. In 1781, when Marten was thinking of permanent retirement, an old Indian came to York from Albany to claim his daughter and her two children, who were living with him. By 1786 Marten had made new domestic arrangements; he kept two or three young women with him at York that year. Such multiplicity was not unusual at the bay, in part because liaisons were necessary to cement relationships with the Indians upon whom the company relied for food and furs. There is no record of any provision made by Marten for his women or children when he retired from Rupert’s Land in 1786.
Some debate exists as to Marten’s character, but it is certain that he grew increasingly difficult as his various afflictions – gout, stomach disorders, kidney problems, growing blindness, and the pains of numerous accidents – accumulated. His pain-racked frame seems to have soured an already mercurial disposition, and by the 1780s he had few friends. He threw food in his surgeon’s face, tried to shove him down the stairs, and dismissed him from his mess, all out of “peevishness.” Tomison and Hearne were barely on writing terms with Marten, and the York carpenter was on the point of open rebellion. In spite of his illness and the tremendous pressure from his subordinates, the frugal but impecunious Marten would not leave Rupert’s Land. He was prepared to suffer much for a salary of £130 per annum. In 1786, unable to tolerate longer his pain and the insults of his subordinates, he resigned. No trace of his subsequent career is to be found. He was probably still living in 1790 when Umfreville, in The present state of Hudson’s Bay . . ., damned him as a drunkard, a bully, and a coward, but fearing a lawsuit did not mention his name. However, some time before his own death in 1792 Hearne, revising his journals for publication, referred to the late Humphrey Marten.
HBC Arch. A.5/1, f.36; A.11/3, ff.57, 69, 105, 114, 145, 166, 202d; A.11/114, f.141; A.11/115, ff.24, 27, 63, 65, 106; A.11/116, ff.85, 180–81; A.14/12, f.70; A.16/13, f.62; B.3/a/60, f.10; B.3/a/63, f.19; B.198/a/l; B.239/a/37, f.7; B.239/a/78; B.239/a/79, f.45; B.239/a/81; B.239/a/87, f.2; B.239/b/37, f.9; B.239/b/39, ff.9d, 27d. Hearne, Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort (Tyrrell). HBRS, XIV (Rich and Johnson). Journals of Hearne and Turnor (Tyrrell). Edward Umfreville, The present state of Hudson’s Bay . . . (London, 1790). Rich, History of HBC.
© 1979–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
F. Pannekoek, “MARTEN, HUMPHREY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marten_humphrey_4E.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:
|Author of Article:||F. Pannekoek|
|Title of Article:||MARTEN, HUMPHREY|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||March 29, 2023|