Dakota Datebook

Selkirk Purchase

Thursday, May 30, 2013


The Hudson Bay Company granted the Earl of Selkirk over seventy million acres of land in the Red River Valley on this day in 1811. Part of Rupert’s Land, the area had previously been granted to the Hudson Bay Company by the British government in an effort to form a fur-trading monopoly in the area. The land bordered the Red and Assiniboine Rivers and forms part of present-day North Dakota and Manitoba. With the land, Selkirk created the first permanent European settlement in the Red River Valley. The settlement lay near the mouth of the Assiniboine River, and was fittingly named Assiniboia.

Selkirk was born Thomas Douglas on June 20, 1771, at Saint Mary’s Isle, Scotland. The seventh son born to Dunbar Douglas, the Fourth Earl of Selkirk, and Helen Hamilton, Thomas could expect no inheritance from his family’s estate. For this reason, he pursued a career as a lawyer after attending the University of Edinburgh. He became very interested in the plight of the poor Scottish laborers and land tenants. Believing that their plight could be alleviated by land ownership, Selkirk looked toward the new British colonies in Canada. By the time that Selkirk’s father passed away in 1799, all six of his brothers had died due to illness and he surprisingy inherited the estate. From that time on, he used his money and influence to help the farmers that he had become so interested in. After settling many of these poor farmers in Belfast, Prince Edward Island, and Upper Canada, Selkirk asked the British Government for a land grant in the Red River Valley. The government refused, since the land had already been granted to the Hudson Bay Company through a 1670 Royal Charter issued by King Charles II. Undeterred, Selkirk then used his political and familial connections to persuade the shareholders of the Hudson Bay Company to grant the land directly to him. The grant was actually beneficial to the company, which was having trouble recruiting men to work in the area. They sold the enormous piece of land to Selkirk for only ten shillings. In exchange, Selkirk promised to provide two-hundred men a year for ten years to work for the company.

The Red River Colony, as it became known, grew to become an agricultural settlement, populated by an influx of Scottish immigrants. In a treaty with Great Britain in 1818, the southern portion of Selkirk’s purchase became part of the United States. In 1836, the rest of the settlement was sold back to the Hudson Bay Company by the Selkirk family, and became a part of Manitoba in 1870.







Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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