SERGEANT, HENRY, succeeded John Nixon in 1683 as governor of the James Bay posts of the HBC for three years; fl. 1683–89.
The appointment appears to have been made on the personal recommendation of James, Duke of York, governor of the HBC from January 1683 to February 1685. Sergeant sailed for Charlton Island in the Diligence (Capt. Nehemiah Walker) accompanied by Mr John French, the first minister sent to the Bay by the HBC, and three women: his wife, her companion, Mrs. Maurice, and a maidservant, the first white women to winter in James Bay. The voyage out was eventful both for the capture of the interloping ship Expectation (Capt. Richard Lucas) and “the ill and evill carridg” of Capt. Walker.
Despite orders to make Albany his headquarters, Sergeant spent the winter of 1683–84 at Moose. He seems to have been irascible and high-handed in dealing with both the Indians and his own men. The Company criticized him severely for his failure to raise the standard of trade, for his extravagant indents, and for a marked decrease in the trade. The London Committee in 1685 decided to appoint Bridgar to succeed Sergeant and so informed him that year. But the formal order never reached him because the Happy Return was sunk en route; even had the order arrived, it would have come too late, for on 9 July 1686 (o.s.) the chevalier de Troyes, after capturing the Moose and Rupert River posts, appeared at Albany and demanded that Sergeant surrender. He refused but proceeded to put up a lackadaisical defence permitting the French to erect a battery practically unopposed. The fort was bombarded on 15 and 16 July and was ceremoniously surrendered with all the military amenities on the 16th. Sergeant has been blamed for losing the posts to a surprise attack despite repeated warnings from England and a direct threat from Zacharie Jolliet of an impending French attack. However, Sergeant must have reasoned that an attack delivered overland was impossible – as it should have been had the Moose fort defenders been alert – and that therefore there was no danger until navigation opened.
Sergeant and many of the prisoners were sent in the overloaded Colleton to winter at Port Nelson; the remaining prisoners were sent overland to Quebec. In 1687 the company gave “possitive order” to their Port Nelson governor, George Geyer, that “Mr. Sergeant with the whole parcell of women appertaining to him” should be sent home.
Back in England he defended his surrender of Albany (called by the French Sainte-Anne) by blaming it on the mutinous conduct and cowardice of his men; they in turn accused him of lethargy and disinterest. De Troyes, a less prejudiced observer, attributed French success to the general laxity of the English defence. The HBC sued Sergeant, whose attorney was Thomas Sergeant, for £20,000 in the Court of King’s Bench, and tried to prove that he had “lost his Fort either by neglect or cowardice.” The case dragged on through postponement and arbitration until 1689 when the suit was dropped and Sergeant was paid his salary.
HBRS, IX (Rich); XI, XX (Rich and Johnson); XXI (Rich). Documents relating to Hudson Bay (Tyrrell) (note that Oldmixon’s account of the siege of Albany is a little garbled). Chevalier de Troyes, Journal (Caron).