OTD: Frobisher’s men trade with Inuit before going missing

On today’s date in 1576, five crew members of English explorer Martin Frobisher traded with local Inuit in Northern Canada in what would prove to be a disastrous move.

While searching for the Northwest Passage in 1576, five of Frobisher’s crew boarded a ship around a point of land. It’s unknown whether they were seized; however, the men were never seen again.

Upon learning of his men’s fate, Frobisher called an Inuk kayaker to the side of his ship with the offer of a small gift. When the Inuk was within reach, Frobisher seized him, pulling the unsuspecting victim as well as his kayak aboard the Gabriel. The Inuk was brought to England, where he was put on display before dying only weeks later.

The story of the kidnapping is detailed in the book Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776 by U.S. historian Alden Vaughan.

2007 FROBISHER COIN

In 2007, the Royal Canadian Mint featured Frobisher on a $20 Proof silver coin. Designed by Laurie McGraw, the coin has a weight of 27.78 grams, a diameter of 40 mm and a mintage of 15,000 pieces. The coin was issued to mark the 125th anniversary of the first International Polar Year—the first of several multinational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic—and prominently features Frobisher, who made the first to attempt to discover the Northwest Passage aboard the Gabriel in 1576. A ship appears alongside a 16th-century compass and an Inuit paddling a traditional kayak.

Christine Aquino, senior manager of corporate communications with the Mint, told the Northern News Service the coin doesn’t depict a single historical event.

“That’s purely coincidental,” Aquino told the Northern News Service in response to claims the Mint’s coin depicted the infamous kidnapping. “It’s to celebrate the first International Polar Year and it’s also meant to mark the importance of continued expeditions in the North.”

Despite the Mint’s claim, Frobisher’s relevance to the International Polar Year has been called into question as he explored the eastern Arctic 300 years before the first year was marked.

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