BRIDGAR, JOHN, an early governor of HBC forts on Hudson and James bays; fl. 1678–87.
He was engaged by the HBC on 19 April 1678 at a salary of £40 a year and arrived in James Bay on 22 August to serve under Governor Charles Bayly. When Bayly returned to England the following year he left Bridgar in charge of the newly founded Albany post. Two years later Bridgar went back to London and on 15 May 1682 was commissioned governor of Port Nelson and of the west mainland of the Bay north from Cape Henrietta Maria, at £100 a year for three years. At the same time he was instructed “to Penetrate into the Countrey to make what discoveries you can, and to gett an Acquaintance and Comerce with the Indians thereabts.”
He sailed on the Company’s ship Prince Rupert (Zachariah Gillam captain) accompanied by the Albemarle (Esbon Sanford captain), and in September entered the mouth of the Nelson. But Pierre Esprit Radisson* was there ahead of him as agent for the French – who planned to drive the HBC from the Bay – and challenged his right to be there. Radisson and his brother-in-law Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers had built a fort on the right bank of the Hayes River to the south. Bridgar chose a spot on the north shore of the Nelson, and there built the first HBC establishment in that area.
Twelve years previously Radisson, then in the employ of the English company, had landed at the mouth of the Nelson and had astutely perceived that it would be the gateway to the fur trade of the great Northwest. But the ship on which he and Governor Bayly had arrived was driven out to sea by a storm and no fort had been erected there.
Misfortune also dogged Bridgar’s venture. His deputy, Sanford, died on 6 October; and on 21 October the Prince Rupert was blown out into the bay during a gale and sunk with all on board, including Zachariah Gillam, who had learned from Radisson that his son Benjamin Gillam* from New England was trading farther upstream at his post on Gillam Island in defiance of the Company’s charter – a fact still unknown to Bridgar.
Early next year Radisson captured young Gillam’s fort and ship with their inhabitants and in the summer took possession of the Company’s fort, making Bridgar and his men prisoner. In the New Englander’s ship he took Bridgar to Quebec, where the Englishman was released by Governor Le Febvre de La Barre to return home by way of New England. In 1685 he sailed again for James Bay, apparently aboard the Success (John Outlaw captain), to become deputy governor of that district under Henry Sergeant – whom he was supposed to succeed as governor of “the Bottome of the Bay” – and took over the command of Moose Fort.
On 10 June (20 June N.S.) 1686 he set sail with his officers for Charles Fort; the very next night a French force from Montreal under Pierre de Troyes and three of the Le Moyne brothers stormed Moose Fort and captured it from the remaining 17 leaderless traders. But Bridgar was not to escape so easily. In their birchbark canoes the Montrealers followed his ship to Charles Fort, boarded and captured it, and took the fort; so once more the luckless Bridgar found himself a prisoner of the French.
However, he was again released and wintered either at New Severn or at Port Nelson, returning to England in 1687. There shortly afterwards he appears to have left the Company’s service, thus ending his short but stormy career on Hudson Bay.