BAYLY (Baily, Baley), CHARLES, first overseas governor of the HBC; fl. c. 1630–80.
This remarkable man, whose life was strangely affected and strongly influenced by the religious struggles of his time, was born in London of French Roman-Catholic parents and, to use his own words, “tenderly brought up about the Court of England.” The nationality of his parents and his upbringing as a Roman Catholic at a Protestant court in an age when the older church was unpopular with the majority of Englishmen imply that Bayly senior was probably a member of Queen Henrietta Maria’s household. The quarrels of Charles I with Parliament and the impending Civil War brought changes to court life which, in turn, led Bayly’s parents to send their son to France. He was then about 12 or 13 years of age. Some time later he returned without permission and when at Gravesend en route to London he was enticed on board a ship about to sail for America.
In “Maryland in Virginia,” as he usually described his American abode, he was forced to endure 14 years of misery and hardship as a bond-servant. Punishment meted out to him (according to his own account) and the length of his servitude may possibly indicate that Bayly tried unsuccessfully to escape from the situation into which he had been trapped. On gaining his freedom Bayly chose to remain in America and to labour with his hands rather than to return to Europe to find his relations. It was during this period of his life, in 1656 or 1657, that he came under the influence of Elizabeth Harris, the Quaker missionary, and it was on 14 Jan. 1657/58 (or the 14th day of the 11th month 1657, according to Quaker dating) that he was reported to her by a resident of Ann Arundel County, Maryland, as “abiding convinced.”
Bayly left for England about the spring or summer of 1660. The journey was apparently inspired by religious zeal rather than a desire to find his relatives, and after brief stays in London and Dover, which must have occurred about the time of the Restoration, he joined forces with another Friend, Jane Stokes, to go to Rome for the purpose of helping the fanatical John Perrot, who was imprisoned there, it is said, for having tried to take the Quaker message to the pope. Their efforts led to their being examined and imprisoned by the Inquisition and Bayly, in “the Prison or Hospital of mad men,” endured a self-imposed fast of 20 days “as a witness against that bloody Generation.” By the end of May all three were released and began the journey back to England.
In the summer of 1661 Bayly was imprisoned for two months near Dieppe for proselytizing. After his release he continued his missionary activities in northern France, but when he reached Dunkirk his efforts were frustrated by the English governor’s putting him aboard a royal frigate for England. Bayly was in Dover but 24 hours before he was arrested at a meeting of Friends and on refusing to take the oath of allegiance he was committed to prison on 13 Oct. 1661. It was during his seven months’ confinement with other Quakers in Dover Castle that notice was first taken of his “mad actions,” and that he began to fall out of repute with Friends. Influenced by John Perrot, whose sufferings in Rome had left him with a spiritual pride which brought him into conflict with Quaker leaders in England, Bayly shared with him the responsibility for the ensuing schism which resulted from their practice of carrying to extremes the Quaker revolt against traditional ways of worship. The heretics, who had a considerable following, made no distinction between “hat honour” to men and reverence due to God, and among other things committed the further extravagancy of growing long beards. It was about 1666 or 1667 before “this strange Fire,” as the Quaker historian Sewel called it, “was altogether extinguished,” and by then George Fox had accounted Bayly as having come to naught.
On being released from Dover prison early in May 1662 Bayly went to London where he was soon caught up in the storm of persecution which resulted after the passing of the first act of Parliament against Quakers. Between 27 June 1662 and about March or April 1663 he was imprisoned four times for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, and on one occasion was brought before and released by the lord mayor, Sir John Robinson, who was to be deputy governor of the future Hudson’s Bay Company. By 1 May 1663 Bayly was imprisoned in Newgate, Bristol, for speaking to two priests in the street, and it was from this gaol that he wrote to Charles II in the following September, threatening him with “a share in the whirlwind of the Lord,” advising him to “avoid rioting and excess, chambering and wantonness,” and referring to the time when they had last spoken together. This reference becomes a matter for speculation. If king and Quaker had indeed spoken together the occasion could have been as recent as within the preceding three years, or as long ago as their childhood.
Bayly was next in the custody of the mayor of St. Albans, but in January 1664 he was transferred to that of Sir John Robinson, lieutenant of the Tower of London. The charge against Bayly was one of seditious practices, but he appears never to have been examined. As the Tower was reserved for prisoners of rank and importance Bayly’s transfer there is puzzling, but a possible explanation is that the king, who was himself tolerant of Nonconformists and Roman Catholics, was responsible. By their concerted activities and bold refusal to accept what they considered wrong in the existing order, Friends were understandably and rightly regarded as enemies by its guardians. The charge against Bayly of seditious practices was doubtless due to his constant refusal to take the oath of allegiance, and to his being at cross-purposes with Fox and other Quaker leaders. There seems to be no confirmation of the statement made by the Venetian ambassador in France to the doge and senate that Bayly either aspired to being, or was recognized as, “the principal and most famous in the sect of Quecquers,” or that he was concerned in a “conspiracy” of Friends at Colchester in the latter part of 1663.
In 1667 Bayly addressed “a few words of good counsel and advice” to the king, and in the summer of 1669 he obtained a conditional release to go to France for some, as yet, unknown purpose. In late August he was seen in Paris by the disgraced courtier, Henry Savile, caring for the children of the recently deceased Lady Lexington, and was described by him as an “old quaker with a long beard.” Bayly, back in the Tower, petitioned the king in December 1669 for his liberty. This was granted on condition he betook himself “to the Navigation of Hudsons Bay, and the Places lately Discovered and to be Discovered in those parts,” and he was assured of “conditions and allowances . . . agreeable to reason and the nature of his employment.”
By this time the founder members of the HBC (including Sir John Robinson) had the satisfaction of knowing that the first voyage to Hudson Bay – that of Chouart Des Groseilliers and Zachariah Gillam in 1668–69 – had been a success, and that a royal charter to protect their privileges was to be granted to them. This charter, dated 2 May 1670, gave the “Governor and Company of Adventurers of England tradeing into Hudsons Bay” the authority to appoint governors to serve overseas and Bayly was the first one to hold that rank. The true reason for such an apparently unsuitable choice has yet to be discovered. The king, interested but not financially involved in the Hudson Bay venture, may have seized the chance not only of ridding himself of an obstinate prisoner but also of helping an old acquaintance by making the conditions of release those of exile with dignity and remuneration. Sir John Robinson, knowing Bayly to be a travelled, fearless, and honest man, as well as a stubborn one, may have made the recommendation. The conditions of release were, no doubt, quite acceptable to Bayly who, after so many years of frustration, must have been spiritually discouraged and materially bankrupt.
Before sailing to Hudson Bay Bayly became a stockholder in the HBC to the extent of £300. This holding must have been surety for good behaviour, and as he had been on the king’s allowance when in the Tower, it is probable that Sir John Robinson, or even the Lexington children’s grandfather, Sir Anthony St. Leger, was his guarantor. The stock remained in Bayly’s name until some time between 1673 and 1675.
Early in June 1670 Bayly sailed from the Thames for Port Nelson in the Wivenhoe (Capt. Robert Newland). He had Pierre-Esprit Radisson* as a fellow-passenger and aboard the Prince Rupert (Capt. Zachariah Gillam), which sailed in company, was Des Groseilliers. The ships parted company on 18 August at the western end of Hudson Strait. The Prince Rupert arrived safely at Charles Fort on Rupert River, but it was only with difficulty that the Wivenhoe reached Port Nelson. Fogs and contrary winds made the river entrance hard to find, but in September Bayly went ashore and, nailing His Majesty’s arms “in Brasse” on a tree, formally laid claim to the territory. By this time the Indians had left for inland and Bayly’s men were so discouraged that it was decided to sail for Rupert River. By the middle of October, when the Wivenhoe was safely docked there, her captain and chief mate were both dead, presumably from scurvy, and the command had devolved upon Bayly.
The governor “repeated and confirmed” the agreements with the Indians which Capt. Gillam had made at Rupert River in 1668 and his relations with them were friendly. In the spring of 1671 Bayly and Radisson went to Moose River where they traded all the beaver skins taken to London that year in the Wivenhoe. Whilst preparations were in hand for the homeward voyage Bayly, accompanied by Thomas Gorst and others, energetically explored the coast and islands of James Bay in shallops. They found signs of past human, but not of Indian, habitation, and assumed the place to be where Henry Hudson had ended his days. They also landed on Charlton Island, where they found traces of Capt. Thomas James’s expedition. As he was unable to get volunteers to stay in the country and was unwilling to make demands, Bayly had no option but to return to England, where he arrived in command of the Wivenhoe in October 1671.
From that time until he returned in the summer of 1672 to Charles Fort, Bayly was busily engaged in London helping to dispose of the 1671 homeward cargo and preparing the new outfit. It is extremely probable that it was during the winter of 1671–72 that he married, for it was after he had left for the bay a second time that his wife’s name (Hannah) first appeared in his account in the Company’s grand ledger.
On his return to Charles Fort in 1672 Bayly was ordered to settle a post at Moose River. A small house was accordingly built on Hayes Island in 1673, but it does not appear to have been occupied during the whole season. Also, in 1673, Bayly sent Des Groseilliers to trade at Port Nelson, but the trip was unsuccessful as the Indians were inland. The winter of 1673–74 was severe and the consequent shortage of fresh food inevitably resulted in scurvy. Difficulties were further increased by the enmity of the “Nodway” Indians who threatened to destroy Charles Fort, and at one time the back-sliding Quaker himself led a party in pursuit but “could not come near enough to do any Execution.” Bayly’s friendship with the “Cuscudidahs” may have been the cause of a small part of the “Nodways” enmity, but most of it was almost certainly due to their dissatisfaction at the rates of exchange for their furs. This dissatisfaction no doubt resulted. from Father Charles Albanel’s activities at Rupert River in 1672, just prior to Bayly’s return. Albanel had successfully demonstrated that James Bay could be reached overland from Canada and had laid claim to the territory in the French king’s name. By the summer of 1674 Bayly felt the effects on his business of the French traders strategically placed on the rivers flowing to James Bay and, as a result, he was the first Company governor to advocate sending men inland to meet the challenge.
During the summer of 1674 Bayly went to Moose River where he made a successful trade by, it is suspected, manipulating the rigid standard of trade laid down by the Company in London. He then sailed on 16 July “to discover Shechittawam [Albany] River” where “no Englishman had been before.” He entered into a treaty with the Indians but as his visit was unexpected he did but little trade. He promised to return in the following year and on 21 July sailed northwards towards Cape Henrietta Maria. Passing the island now known as Akimiski, he named it after a Company committee-member, Sir Robert Vyner. Bayly saw many signs of starvation among the Indians at Ekwan River and at New Severn and, hearing that there was no beaver to be had and that the sea beyond Cape Henrietta Maria was full of ice, decided to return. A forced landing on Charlton Island delayed his arrival at Rupert River until 30 August.
Soon after, Father Albanel arrived at Charles Fort overland from Quebec. On this second visit to James Bay he brought Bayly a friendly letter from Buade de Frontenac, but if the seduction of the English governor’s allegiance was any part of the French plan, it was unsuccessful even during the particularly difficult conditions which prevailed in James Bay during the winter of 1674–75.
The delay in the arrival of the supply ships in 1674 made Bayly so uneasy that he formed tentative plans to evacuate the fort and return to England in the barque Imploy. But on 17 Sept. 1674, when he was on the point of sailing, two ships arrived and he learned that he had been recalled to London and that his successor, William Lydall, had arrived. However, it was now too late in the season for the ships to return, so Bayly had not only to surrender his command, but also to submit to the humiliation of serving under the newcomer during the 1674–75 season. With so many extra mouths to feed the James Bay veterans advised immediate rationing, but Lydall would not agree and so, later in the season, the men at Charles Fort were “forc’d to pinch harder than they needed have done.” The experienced Bayly managed better at Moose River. Lydall, disgruntled and disgusted, returned to England in 1675 and Bayly resumed the command which he was to hold until his second recall in 1679. He continued to explore James Bay so far as sea transport would allow and, before he left for London, he established and placed John Bridgar in charge of the first English post to be settled in Albany River.
During his last summer in James Bay Bayly was visited by Louis Jolliet who had come overland from Quebec under instructions from Frontenac to report on the English posts and to persuade the Indians to trade with the French. Bayly received the French party in friendship but, at the same time, by a recital of English achievements in the bay since 1674, he indicated that he had nothing to fear from them.
Bayly arrived in London towards the end of 1679 to face certain charges which had been brought against him. The Company’s surviving records of the period give but few clues as to the nature of the accusations, but there is no doubt that, besides being concerned with the forbidden practice of private trade, they were also connected with the mismanagement of company property due to lack of attention to detail and to slipshod, but not dishonest, methods. These charges were being prepared when Bayly died on 6 Jan. 1680/81 at the Strand home of William Walker of the HBC, the father of Capt. Nehemiah Walker. Two days later, by torchlight and attended by the officers of the ship John and Alexander in which he had returned to London, Bayly was buried at the Company’s expense in the church of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. Later in the year his successor, John Nixon, received an “escutcheon” from the governor and committee with instructions to have it “set up for the observation of the Indians, that they may be made to understand he [Bayly] is dead, and that the Company used him kindly.” Bayly was survived by his wife, Hannah, who entered into a lengthy argument with the Company about his salary (£50 per annum, until 1678 and £200 per annum afterwards); final agreement was not reached until 1683.
When Bayly first went to Rupert River he had already “come to naught” as far as Friends were concerned, and if he had not already shed all his Quaker beliefs the remaining ones could have suffered further in his close companionship with a limited number of highly individual characters under the harsh living conditions of James Bay. The attempt to punish the “Nodways” was one sign of changing views, and since George Fox considered music to be almost as dangerous as gunpowder the purchase of a “violl & shells & strings” was another. But it is not known if his failure to make public use of the prayer books, Bibles, and books of homilies sent to James Bay by the governor and committee was the result of a growing indifference to religion, or to a remaining objection to, and rejection of, an “established” order of worship.
Although Bayly was recalled to face charges of mismanagement, his career in the HBC was still an honourable one. Clearly he was a man of action who could not be bothered with book-keeping detail, but his loyalty, enthusiasm, and energy in James Bay were of great value to the Company during the first decade of its existence.
The most informative of Bayly’s own writings are: A true and faithful warning unto the people and inhabitants of Bristol . . . with a brief account of some tryalls and sufferings . . . (London, 1663); “The third of the Sixth Month, 1661 [i.e., 3 Aug. 1661] From the Common Goal [sic] in Burkdou in France, about thirty leagues from Dover, where I am a sufferer for speaking the word of the Lord to two Priests” in A narrative of some of the sufferings of J.P. in the city of Rome (London. 1661), 11–16; and A seasonable warning and word of advice to all Papists, but most especially to those in the Kingdome of France (London, 1663). For references to Bayly and guidance to published and ms source material see: Documents relating to Hudson Bay (Tyrrell), 383–97; HBRS, V, VIII (Rich); XI (Rich and Johnson); XXI (Rich); PRO, CSP, Venice, 1661–64; W. C. Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism, ed. H. J. Cadbury (2d rev. ed., Cambridge, 1961); The second period of Quakerism (London, 1919); Nute, Caesars of the wilderness, 131ff.
© 1966–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Alice M. Johnson, “BAYLY, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bayly_charles_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:
|Author of Article:||Alice M. Johnson|
|Title of Article:||BAYLY, CHARLES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1966|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||March 21, 2023|