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December 13, 2019
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v2.1 Reference

Masters and Servants

The Hudson's Bay Company and Its North American Workforce, 1668–1786

In Masters and Servants, Scott P. Stephen reveals startling truths about Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) workers. Rather than dedicating themselves body and soul to the Company's interests, these men were hired like domestic servants, joining a "household" with its attendant norms of duty and loyalty. The household system produced a remarkably stable political-economic entity, connecting early North American resource extraction to larger trends in British imperialism. Through painstaking research, Stephen shines welcome light on the lives of these largely overlooked individuals. An essential book for labour historians, Masters and Servants will appeal to scholars of early modern Britain, the North American fur trade, Western social history, business history, and anyone intrigued by the reach of the HBC.

About the Author

Scott P. Stephen is a historian with Parks Canada, specializing in the fur trade and early settlement eras in western Canada.


"Blacksmiths, bookkeepers, loggers, tanners, coopers, cooks, sail-makers, interpreters, surveyors, clergy, the list goes on as Stephen marches us through the lives of the early Hudson's Bay worker. Some were unscrupulous fortune hunters. Some chose to abandon families in England and travel thousands of miles to seek their livelihood in furs. We also read stories of belligerence, arson, thievery, and murder. Everything is thoroughly documented using the Company's voluminous archive." [Full review at]—Ron Verzuh, The Ormsby Review"[Masters and Servants] is an important and valuable contribution. Stephen has opened a new window into early HBC history, while revealing some of the good, some of the bad, and some of the ugly of a legendary institution." [Full article at]—Michael Taube, Literary Review of Canada, April 2020"In sum, this is an important publication that will be of interest to labour historians as well as scholars of the North American fur trade and early modern Britain."—Scott Berthelette, Labour/Le Travail 86, Winter 2020"Overall, the book reflects the work of a historian comfortable with the hard work of archival research and with an eye for detail and insightful quotations. In many respects, it does for Hudson's Bay Company employees what Carolyn Podruchny's Making the Voyageur World did for employees of the Montreal-based fur trade companies in recreating their values, worldview, and distinctive work environment."—Michael Payne, Prairie History"HBC posts were really an extension of early modern Britain, Stephen argues, and are best understood as microcosms of that strictly hierarchical society.... Stephen is a master of the vast documentary resources found in the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, and he makes rich use of this material to make his point." [Full review at]—Bill Moreau, Canada's History, February-March 2021"This is a richly textured and deeply researched work. It tells us much about how the HBC fits into the larger British Atlantic world, and how its masters and servants constituted new communities out on the edge of empire.... This will be a 'must read' for anyone involved in fur trade studies." [Full review at: DOI: 10.1080/02722011.2020.1852744]—Jim Mochoruk, American Review of Canadian Studies, 50:4"Stephen's emphasis on the familial and negotiated nature of the post community is the book's most important historiographical contribution. His analysis upends older Marxist-informed studies of labour in the fur trade that tended to highlight the classed and ranked nature of the posts."—Tolly Bradford, Histoire sociale / Social History, November 2021"This study will be invaluable to those interested in the activities and ideals that underpinned long-distance trading companies in the British Atlantic world, and those interested in the experiences and expectations of early modern service. The originality of this study comes from its focus on understanding the internal relationships within the HBC between employers and employees, specifically looking at three groups: the London-based Committee, and in the Bay, the company's masters (factors) of factories, and the servants who worked in them..."—Eleanor Bird, British Journal of Canadian Studies, Autumn 2021


Masters and Servants is a refreshing and invaluable contribution to our understanding of the function of household-factories in the early modern British world.—Ted Binnema, Professor, Department of History, University of Northern British ColumbiaStephen advances our knowledge in several key areas: the HBC; the labour relations on a transatlantic scale; the challenge of mercantile capitalism and its early labour requirements; and the ideology prevailing among the labouring classes and among the owners of these British imperial companies.—Nicole St-Onge, Professor, Department of History, University of OttawaMasters and Servants significantly broadens our understanding of the Company's operation during its pivotal first century of business and effectively dispels the traditional perception of the HBC as a conservative, antiquated, and often oppressive force in the history of labour relations and the fur trade.—Michael Dove, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Western UniversityScott Stephen's study of the HBC's early modern labour relations is both an evocative depiction of its "household factories" and a nuanced analysis of how these relations fitted within a broader British world. He argues persuasively that these HBC households were remarkably adaptable institutions for assuring stable workplaces and projecting British imperialism into North America. Scholars of labour relations in the British Empire will find Masters and Servants a valuable book with relevance far beyond the fur trade country.—Elizabeth Mancke, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of History, University of New Brunswick

9781772123371 : masters-and-servants-stephen
Paperback / softback
448 Pages
$49.99 USD

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