OTD: Nonsuch reaches Rupert River

On today’s date in 1668, U.S. sea captain Zachariah Gillam reached Rupert River (in present-day Québec) on the ketch Nonsuch.

Gillam, of Boston, was joined by the French explorer and fur trader Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, who believed the North American fur trade “would be more efficient and expeditious via Hudson Bay rather than the complicated, St. Lawrence River route,” according to late postal historian Andrew Liptak, well known as “Philcovex” on his Postal History Corner blog, which he ran before his 2014 death.

“Des Groseilliers was unable to convince the French to establish a fur trade to Hudson Bay, but found support among investors led by Prince Rupert in the English court of Charles II,” added Liptak.

“On June 3, 1668, the Eaglet and the Nonsuch set sail for Hudson Bay.”

While the Eaglet was damaged in a storm and returned to England, the Nonsuch arrived at the southern end of James Bay on Sept. 29, 1668, Liptak wrote.

“The party erected Charles Fort at the mouth of a waterway which the party christened Rupert River.”

After building Charles Fort (also known as Rupert House), Gillam and Groseilliers made a treaty with a local chief before trading goods with more than 300 Indigenous people through the winter.

The following June, the Nonsuch set sail for England carrying beaver pelts the traders had acquired from the Cree community in exchange for knives, kettles, beads, needles and blankets. They arrived back in London in October 1669.

“The subsequent history of the ship is unknown, but it is likely she was sold,” reads the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) History Foundation website.

Upon their return to England, the traders approached King Charles for a charter to establish a trading company, which was granted on May 2, 1670, creating the HBC—one of Canada’s oldest commercial enterprises.


In 1968, 300 years after the 1668 voyage of the Nonsuch, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) issued a multi-coloured five-cent stamp (Scott #482) commemorating the ketch’s iconic journey.

Printed by the British American Bank Note Company, the stamp had a print run of 24,560,000. It was designed by George Sarras Fanais with the central image engraved by George Arthur Gundersen.

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