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History Pre-confederation (to 1867)

Masters and Servants

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

by (author) Scott P. Stephen

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2019
Pre-Confederation (to 1867), Corporate & Business History, Colonialism & Post-Colonialism
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2019
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jan 2020
    List Price

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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.

Scott P. Stephen's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"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

"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."

Prairie History

"[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

"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

"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]

Canada's History, February-March 2021

"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

"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]

American Review of Canadian Studies, 50:4

"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]

The Ormsby Review