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An Alberta fur trader in the 1890s.
Fur trade in Nizhny Novgorod (before 1906)

The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur.

Contents

Russian fur trade

Before the colonization of the Americas, Russia was a major supplier of fur-pelts to Western Europe and parts of Asia. Fur was a major Russian export as trade developed in the early Middle Ages, first through the Baltic and Black Seas. With the development of railways, Russia traded through the European city of Leipzig (Germany).

Originally, Russia exported a majority in raw furs of the pelts of martens, beavers, wolves, foxes, squirrels and hares. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Russians tamed Siberia, a region rich in many mammal species, such as Arctic fox, lynx, sable, sea otter and stoat (ermine). In the search for the prized sea otter (pelts first used in China), and, later the northern fur seal, the Russian Empire expanded into North America, notably Alaska. Between the 17th and second half of the 19th century, Russia was the largest supplier of fur in the world. The fur trade played a vital role in the development of Siberia, the Russian Far East and the Russian colonization of the Americas. To this day sable is a regional symbol of Ural Sverdlovsk oblast and Siberian Novosibirsk, Tyumen and Irkutsk oblasts of Russia.

The European discovery of North America, with its vast forests and wild-life, particularly the beaver, led to the continent's becoming a major supplier in the 17th century of fur pelts for the fur-felt hat and fur trimming and garment trades of Europe. Fur was a major source of warmth in clothing, critical prior to the organisation of coal distribution.

North American fur trade

The North American fur trade was a central part of the early history of contact between European-Americans and the native peoples of what is now the United States and Canada. In 1578 there were 350 European fishing vessels at Newfoundland. Sailors began to trade metal implements (particularly knives) for the natives' well-worn pelts.

These beaver robes were blankets of sewn-together, native-tanned, beaver pelts. They were called castor gras in French and "coat beaver" in English, and were soon recognized by the newly developed felt-hat making industry as particularly useful for felting. Some historians, seeking to explain the term castor gras, have assumed that coat beaver was rich in human oils from having been worn so long (much of the top-hair was worn away through usage, exposing the valuable under-wool), and that this is what made it attractive to the hatters. This seems unlikely, since grease interferes with the felting of wool, rather than enhancing it.[citation needed] By the 1580s, beaver "wool" was the major starting material of the French felt-hatters. Hatmakers began to use it in England soon after, particularly after Huguenot refugees brought their skills and tastes with them from France.

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Early organization

Captain Chauvin made the first organized attempt to control the fur trade in New France. In 1599 he acquired a monopoly from Henry IV and tried to establish a colony at the mouth of the Saguenay River (Tadoussac, Quebec). French explorers (and Coureur des boisÉtienne Brûlé, Samuel de Champlain, Radisson and Groseilliers, La Salle, Le Saeur), while seeking routes through the continent, established relationships with Amerindians and continued to expand the trade of fur pelts for items considered 'common' by the Europeans. Mammal winter pelts were prized for warmth, particularly animal pelts for beaver wool-felt hats, which were an expensive status symbol in Europe. The demand for these beaver wool-felt hats was such that the beaver in Europe and European Russia had largely disappeared through exploitation.

In 1613 Henry Christiansen and Adriaen Block headed expeditions to establish fur trade relationships with the Mohawks and Mohicans. By 1614 the Dutch were sending vessels to Manhattan to secure large economic returns from fur trading. Radisson and Groseilliers, bitter with the rejection of their first big unlicenced fur haul, pulled the British into the trade in 1668. They convinced the government of Charles II and businessmen in Boston, Massachusetts that there was a tremendous amount of money to be made in the best fur country north of New France. Started to capture some of the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company became the first commercial corporation in North America and largest fur trading company in the world.

Meanwhile, in the English southern colonies (established around 1670), the deerskin trade was established based on the export hub of Charleston, South Carolina. Word spread amongst Native hunters that the Europeans would exchange pelts for European-manufactured goods that were highly desired in native communities. Axe heads, knives, awls, fish hooks, cloth of various type and color, woolen blankets, linen shirts, kettles, jewelry, glass beads, muskets, ammunition and powder were some of the major items exchanged on a 'per pelt' basis.

Colonial trading posts in the southern colonies also introduced many types of alcohol (especially brandy and rum) for trade.[1] European traders flocked to the continent and made huge profits off the exchange. A metal axe head, for example, was exchanged for one beaver pelt (also called a 'beaver blanket'). The same pelt could fetch enough to buy dozens of axe heads in England, making the fur trade extremely profitable for the European nations. The iron axe heads replaced stone axe heads which the natives made by hand in a labor-intensive process, so they derived substantial benefits from the trade as well.

Socio-economic ties

Often, the political benefits of the fur trade became more important than the economic aspects. Trade was a way to forge alliances and maintain good relations between different cultures. The fur traders, men of social and financial standing, usually went to North America as young single men and used marriages as the currency of diplomatic ties, marriages and relationships between Europeans and First Nations/Native Americans became common. Traders often married or cohabited with high-ranking Indian women. Fur trappers and other workers usually had relationships with lower ranking women. Many of their children developed their own culture, now called Métis. Their descendants of mixed European and Native American parentage developed their own language and culture. They have been recognized as an ethnic group in Canada. These groups formed a two-tier society, in which descendants of fur traders and chiefs achieved prominence in social and economic circles. Lower-class descendants formed the majority of a separate Métis culture based on hunting, trapping and farming.

Because of the wealth at stake, different European-American governments competed with each other for control of the fur trade with the various native societies. Native Americans sometimes based decisions of which side to support in time of war upon which side provided them with the best trade goods in an honest manner. Because trade was so politically important, it was often heavily regulated in hopes (often futile) of preventing abuse. Unscrupulous traders sometimes cheated natives by plying them with alcohol during the transaction, which subsequently aroused resentment and often resulted in violence.

In 1834 John Jacob Astor, who had created the Pacific Fur Company, which became the largest American fur trading company, retired after recognizing that all fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce. Expanding European settlement displaced native communities from the best hunting grounds. Demand for furs subsided as European fashion trends shifted. The Native Americans' lifestyles were altered by the trade. To continue obtaining European goods on which they had become dependent and to pay off their debts, they often resorted to selling land to the European settlers. Their resentment of the forced sales contributed to future wars.

After the United States became independent, it regulated trading with Native Americans by the Indian Intercourse Act, first passed on July 22, 1790. The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued licenses to trade in the Indian Territory. In 1834 this was defined as most of the United States west of the Mississippi River, where mountain men and traders from Mexico freely operated.

Early exploration parties were often fur-trading expeditions, many of which marked the first recorded instances of Europeans' reaching particular regions of North America. For example, Abraham Wood sent fur-trading parties on exploring expeditions into the southern Appalachian Mountains, discovering the New River in the process. Simon Fraser was a fur trader who explored much of the Fraser River.

The fur trade and economic anthropology

Economic historians and anthropologists have studied the fur trade's important role in early North American economies, but they have been unable to agree on a theoretical framework to describe native economic patterns.

John C. Phillips and J.W. Smurr tied the fur trade to an imperial struggle for power, positing that the fur trade served both as an incentive for expanding and as a method for maintaining dominance. Dismissing the experience of individuals, the authors searched for connections on a global stage that revealed its “high political and economic importance.”[2] E.E. Rich brought the economic purview down a level, focusing on the role of trading companies and their men as the ones who “opened up” much of Canada’s territories instead of the role of the nation-state in opening up the continent.[3]

Rich’s other work gets to the heart of the formalist/substantivist debate that dominated the field or, as some came to believe, muddied it. Historians such as Harold Innis had long taken the formalist position, especially in Canadian history, believing that neoclassical economic principles affect non-Western societies just as they do Western ones.[4] Starting in the 1950s, however, substantivists such as Karl Polanyi challenged these ideas, arguing instead that primitive societies could engage in alternatives to traditional Western market trade; namely, gift trade and administered trade. Rich picked up these arguments in an influential article in which he contended that Indians had “a persistent reluctance to accept European notions or the basic values of the European approach” and that “English economic rules did not apply to the Indian trade.”[5] Indians were savvy traders, but they had a fundamentally different conception of property, which confounded their European trade partners. Abraham Rotstein subsequently fit these arguments explicitly into Polanyi’s theoretical framework, claiming that “administered trade was in operation at the Bay and market trade in London.”[6]

Arthur J. Ray permanently changed the direction of economic studies of the fur trade with two influential works that presented a modified formalist position in between the extremes of Innis and Rotstein. “This trading system,” Ray explained, “is impossible to label neatly as ‘gift trade', or ‘administered trade', or ‘market trade', since it embodies elements of all these forms.”[7] Indians engaged in trade for a variety of motivations. Reducing these to simple economic or cultural dichotomies, as the formalists and substantivists had done, was a fruitless simplification that obscured more than it revealed. Moreover, Ray used trade accounts and account books in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s archives for masterful qualitative analysis and pushed the boundaries of the field’s methodology. Following Ray’s position, jBruce M. White also helped to create a more nuanced picture of the complex ways in which native populations fit new economic relationships into existing cultural patterns.[8]

Richard White, while admitting that the formalist/substantivist debate was “old, and now tired,” attempted to reinvigorate the substantivist position.[9] Echoing Ray’s moderate position that cautioned against easy simplifications, White advanced a simple argument against formalism: “Life was not a business, and such simplifications only distort the past.”[10] White argued instead that the fur trade occupied part of a “middle ground” in which Europeans and Indians sought to accommodate their cultural differences. In the case of the fur trade, this meant that the French were forced to learn from the political and cultural meanings with which Indians imbued the fur trade. Cooperation, not domination, prevailed.

Partial list of fur trading posts and forts

By the early 1800s, several companies established strings of fur trading posts and forts across North America.

  • Canada

Present

There are about 80,000 trappers in Canada (based on trapping licenses), of whom about half are Indigenous peoples.[11]

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Introduction of alcohol through the fur trade
  2. ^ John C. Phillips and J.W. Smurr, The Fur Trade, 2 vols. (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), xx.
  3. ^ E.E. Rich, The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967), 296.
  4. ^ Innis, Harold Adams. The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930).
  5. ^ E.E. Rich, “Trade Habits and Economic Motivation Among the Indians of North America,” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 26:1 (Feb., 1960): 46; 47.
  6. ^ Abraham Rotstein, “Karl Polanyi’s Concept of Non-Market Trade,” The Journal of Economic History 30:1 (Mar., 1970): 123. See also Rotstein, “Fur Trade and Empire: An Institutional Analysis” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1967).
  7. ^ Arthur J. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, Give Us Good Measure: An Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson's Bay Company Before 1763, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 236.
  8. ^ Bruce M. White, "Give Us a Little Milk": The Social and Cultural Meanings of Gift Giving in the Lake Superior Fur Trade", in Rendezvous: Selected Papers of the Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1981, ed. Thomas C. Buckley (St. Paul, Minnesota: 1984), 185-197.
  9. ^ Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 94.
  10. ^ Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 95.
  11. ^ Fur Institute of Canada - Institut de la fourrure du Canada

Bibliography

General Surveys

  • Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West: A History of the Pioneer Trading Posts and Early Fur Companies of the Missouri Valley and the Rocky Mountains and the Overland Commerce with Santa Fe. 2 vols. New York: Francis P. Harper, 1902.
  • Phillips, Paul and J.W. Smurr. The Fur Trade. 2 vols. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.

Biographies

  • Berry, Don. A Majority of Scoundrels: An Informal History of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. New York: Harper, 1961.
  • Hafen, LeRoy, ed. The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West. 10 vols. Glendale, California: A.H. Clark Co., 1965-72.
  • Lavender, David. Bent’s Fort. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954.
  • Lavender, David. The Fist in the Wilderness. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964.
  • Oglesby, Richard. Manuel Lisa and the Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.
  • Utley, Robert. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.

Economic Studies

  • Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.
  • Gibson, James R. Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992.
  • Innis, Harold. The Fur Trade in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1962.
  • Ray, Arthur J., and Donald B. Freeman. "Give Us Good Measure": An Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson's Bay Company Before 1763. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978.
  • Ray, Arthur J. Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Role as Trappers, Hunters, and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660-1870. Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
  • Rotstein, Abraham. “Karl Polanyi’s Concept of Non-Market Trade.” The Journal of Economic History 30:1 (Mar., 1970): 117-126.
  • Rich, E.E. The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967.
  • Rich, E.E. “Trade Habits and Economic Motivation Among the Indians of North America.” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 26:1 (Feb., 1960): 35-53.
  • White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • White, Richard. The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Social Histories: Native Americans

  • Brown, Jennifer S.H. and Elizabeth Vibert, eds. Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History. Peterborough, Ontario; Orchard Park, N.Y.: Broadview Press, 1996.
  • Francis, Daniel and Toby Morantz. Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay, 1600-1870. Kingston; Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983.
  • Holm, Bill and Thomas Vaughan, eds. Soft Gold: The Fur Trade & Cultural Exchange on the Northwest Coast of America. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990.
  • Krech, Shepard III. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.
  • Krech, Shepard III, ed. Indians, Animals, and the Fur Trade: A Critique of Keepers of the Game. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981.
  • Martin, Calvin. Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1978.
  • Martin, Calvin. “The Four Lives of a Micmac Copper Pot.” Ethnohistory 22:2 (Spring, 1975): 111-133.
  • Malloy, Mary. Souvenirs of the Fur Trade: Northwest Coast Indian Art and Artifacts Collected by American Mariners, 1788-1844. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum Press, 2000.
  • Vibert, Elizabeth. Trader’s Tales: Narratives of Cultural Encounters in the Columbia Plateau, 1807-1846. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Social Histories: Women, Métis, Voyageurs

  • Brown, Jennifer S.H. Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country. Vancouver; London: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.
  • Brown, Jennifer S.H. and Jacqueline Peterson, eds. The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985.
  • Giraud, Marcel. The Métis in the Canadian West. Translated by George Woodcock. Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta Press, 1986.
  • Nicks, John. “Orkneymen in the HBC, 1780-1821.” In Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference. Edited by Carol M. Judd and Arthur J. Ray, 102-26. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.
  • Podruchny, Carolyn. Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.
  • Podruchny, Carolyn. “Werewolves and Windigos: Narratives of Cannibal Monsters in French-Canadian Voyageur Oral Tradition.” Ethnohistory 51:4 (2004): 677-700.
  • Sleeper-Smith, Susan. Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.
  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwywer, 1999.

Regional Histories

  • Allen, John L. “The Invention of the American West.” In A Continent Comprehended, edited by John L. Allen. Vol. 3 of North American Exploration, edited by John L. Allen, 132-189. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
  • Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.
  • Faragher, John Mack. “Americans, Mexicans, Métis: A Community Approach to the Comparative Study of North American Frontiers.” In Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, edited by William Cronon, George Miles, and Jay Gitlin, 90-109. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.
  • Gibson, James R. Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992.
  • Gibson, Morgan Arrell. Yankees in Paradise: The Pacific Basin Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.
  • Malloy, Mary. “Boston Men” on the Northwest Coast: The American Maritime Fur Trade 1788-1844. Kingston, Ontario; Fairbanks, Alaska: The Limestone Press, 1998.
  • Ronda, James P. Astoria & Empire. Lincoln, Nebraska; London: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
  • Weber, David. The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540-1846. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.
  • Wishart, David J. The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807-1840: A Geographical Synthesis. Lincoln, Nebraska; London: University of Nebraska Press, 1979..

Papers of the North American Fur Trade Conferences

The papers from the North American Fur Trade conferences, which are held approximately every five years, not only provide a wealth of articles on disparate aspects of the fur trade, but also can be taken together as a historiographical overview since 1965. They are listed chronologically below. The third conference, held in 1978, is of particular note; the ninth conference, which was held in St. Louis in 2006, has not yet published its papers.

  • Morgan, Dale Lowell, ed. Aspects of the Fur Trade: Selected Papers of the 1965 North American Fur Trade Conference. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1967.
  • Bolus, Malvina. People and Pelts: Selected Papers. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1972.
  • Judd, Carol M. and Arthur J. Ray, eds. Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.
  • Buckley, Thomas C., ed. Rendezvous: Selected Papers of the Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1981. St. Paul, Minnesota: The Conference, 1984.
  • Trigger, Bruce G., Morantz, Toby Elaine, and Louise Dechêne. Le Castor Fait Tout: Selected Papers of the Fifth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1985. Montreal: The Society, 1987.
  • Brown, Jennifer S. H., Eccles, W. J., and Donald P. Heldman. The Fur Trade Revisited: Selected Papers of the Sixth North American Fur Trade Conference, Mackinac Island, Michigan, 1991. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994.
  • Fiske, Jo-Anne, Sleeper-Smith, Susan, and William Wicken, eds. New Faces of the Fur Trade: Selected Papers of the Seventh North American Fur Trade Conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1995. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.
  • Johnston, Louise, ed. Aboriginal People and the Fur Trade: Proceedings of the 8th North American Fur Trade Conference, Akwesasne. Cornwall, Ontario: Akwesasne Notes Pub., 2001.

External links


fur trader in the 1890s.]]

The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued. Historically it had a large impact on the exploration and colonization of Siberia, northern North America and the South Shetland and South Sandwich Islands. Today the importance of fur trade has diminished and it currently centered around fur farms and authorized wildlife hunting, but remains controversial due to alleged cruelty, negative effects on wildlife conservation and conflicts with the tourism industry. Several animal rights organizations oppose the fur trade, while supporters often cite their methods as not being cruel, that the animal stock is out of threat and their rights to practice a traditional lifestyle. The use of fur has at present been partly substituted by synthetic imitations.

Contents

Russian fur trade

Before the colonization of the Americas, Russia was a major supplier of fur-pelts to Western Europe and parts of Asia. Fur was a major Russian export as trade developed in the Early Middle Ages, first through the Baltic and Black Seas. With the development of railways, Russia traded through the German city of Leipzig. In 1950 it came to an abrupt stop.[citation needed]

Originally, Russia exported a majority in raw furs of the pelts of martens, beavers, wolves, foxes, squirrels and hares. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Russians tamed Siberia, a region rich in many mammal species, such as Arctic fox, lynx, sable, sea otter and stoat (ermine). In the search for the prized sea otter (pelts first used in China), and, later the northern fur seal, the Russian Empire expanded into North America, notably Alaska. Between the 17th and second half of the 19th century, Russia was the largest supplier of fur in the world. The fur trade played a vital role in the development of Siberia, the Russian Far East and the Russian colonization of the Americas. To this day sable is a regional symbol of Ural Sverdlovsk oblast and Siberian Novosibirsk, Tyumen and Irkutsk oblasts of Russia.[citation needed]

The European discovery of North America, with its vast forests and wildlife, particularly the beaver, led to the continent's becoming a major supplier in the 17th century of fur pelts for the fur-felt hat and fur trimming and garment trades of Europe. Fur was a major source of warmth in clothing, critical prior to the organization of coal distribution.[citation needed]

North American fur trade

The North American fur trade was a central part of the early history of contact between European-Americans and the native peoples of what is now the United States and Canada. In 1578 there were 350 European fishing vessels at Newfoundland. Sailors began to trade metal implements (particularly knives) for the natives' well-worn pelts.

These beaver robes were blankets of sewn-together, native-tanned, beaver pelts. They were called castor gras in French and "coat beaver" in English, and were soon recognized by the newly developed felt-hat making industry as particularly useful for felting. Some historians, seeking to explain the term castor gras, have assumed that coat beaver was rich in human oils from having been worn so long (much of the top-hair was worn away through usage, exposing the valuable under-wool), and that this is what made it attractive to the hatters. This seems unlikely, since grease interferes with the felting of wool, rather than enhancing it.[citation needed] By the 1580s, beaver "wool" was the major starting material of the French felt-hatters. Hat makers began to use it in England soon after, particularly after Huguenot refugees brought their skills and tastes with them from France.

Early organization

[[File:|thumb|]] Captain Chauvin made the first organized attempt to control the fur trade in New France. In 1599 he acquired a monopoly from Henry IV and tried to establish a colony at the mouth of the Saguenay River (Tadoussac, Quebec). French explorers (and Coureur des bois—Étienne Brûlé, Samuel de Champlain, Radisson, La Salle, Le Saeur), while seeking routes through the continent, established relationships with Amerindians and continued to expand the trade of fur pelts for items considered 'common' by the Europeans. Mammal winter pelts were prized for warmth, particularly animal pelts for beaver wool-felt hats, which were an expensive status symbol in Europe. The demand for these beaver wool-felt hats was such that the beaver in Europe and European Russia had largely disappeared through exploitation.

In 1613 Dallas Carite and Adriaen Block headed expeditions to establish fur trade relationships with the Mohawks and Mohicans. By 1614 the Dutch were sending vessels to Manhattan to secure large economic returns from fur trading. The fur trade of New Holland, through the port of New Amsterdam, depended largely on the trading depot at Fort Orange (now Albany), where much of the fur is believed to have originated in Canada, smuggled by entrepreneurs who wished to avoid the government-imposed monopoly there.

England was slower to enter the American fur trade than France and Holland, but as soon as English colonies were established, it was discovered that furs provided the best way for the colonists to remit value back to the mother country. Furs were being dispatched from Virginia soon after 1610, and the Plymouth Colony was sending substantial amounts of beaver to its London agents through the 1620s and 1630s. London merchants also made attempts to take over France's fur trade in the St Lawrence. Taking advantage of one of England's brief wars with France, Sir David Kirke captured Quebec in 1629, and brought the year's produce of furs back to London. Other English merchants also traded for furs in the St. Lawrence in the 1630s, but these were officially discouraged, and soon ceased as France strengthened its presence in Canada. Meanwhile, the New England fur trade expanded, not only inland, but northwards along the coast into the Bay of Fundy region. London's access to high quality furs was greatly increased with the capture of New Amsterdam, whereupon the fur trade of that colony (now called New York) fell into English hands.

The English fur trade entered a new phase in 1668. Two French citizens, Radisson and Groseilliers, had traded with great success west of Lake Superior in 1659-60, but upon their return to Canada most of their furs had been seized by the authorities. Their trading voyage had convinced them that the best fur country was far to the north and west, and could best be reached by ships sailing into Hudson Bay; and their treatment in Canada suggested that they would not find support for their scheme from France. They first went to New England, where they were able to find local support for at least two attempts to reach Hudson Bay, both unsuccessful. Their ideas had reached the ears of English authorities, however, and in 1665 Radisson and Groseilliers were persuaded to go to London. After some setbacks, a number of English investors were found to back another attempt for Hudson Bay. Two ships were sent out in 1668. One, with Radisson aboard, had to turn back, but the other, the Nonsuch, with Groseilliers, did penetrate the Bay. There, trading natives were contacted, a fine cargo of beaver skins was collected, and the expedition returned to London in October 1669. The delighted investors now sought a royal charter, which was obtained the next year. By it, the Hudson's Bay Company was established, and was granted a monopoly to trade into all the rivers that fall into Hudson Bay. From 1670 onwards, the Hudson's Bay Company sent two or three ships into the Bay every year, brought back furs (mainly beaver), and sold them, sometimes by private treaty but usually by public auction. The beaver was bought mainly for the English hat-making trade, while the fine furs went to Holland and Germany.

Meanwhile, in the English southern colonies (established around 1670), the deerskin trade was established based on the export hub of Charleston, South Carolina. Word spread amongst Native hunters that the Europeans would exchange pelts for European-manufactured goods that were highly desired in native communities. Axe heads, knives, awls, fish hooks, cloth of various type and color, woolen blankets, linen shirts, kettles, jewelry, glass beads, muskets, ammunition and powder were some of the major items exchanged on a 'per pelt' basis.

Colonial trading posts in the southern colonies also introduced many types of alcohol (especially brandy and rum) for trade.[1] European traders flocked to the continent and made huge profits off the exchange. A metal axe head, for example, was exchanged for one beaver pelt (also called a 'beaver blanket'). The same pelt could fetch enough to buy dozens of axe heads in England, making the fur trade extremely profitable for the European nations. The iron axe heads replaced stone axe heads which the natives made by hand in a labor-intensive process, so they derived substantial benefits from the trade as well.

Socio-economic ties

Often, the political benefits of the fur trade became more important than the economic aspects. Trade was a way to forge alliances and maintain good relations between different cultures. The fur traders, men of social and financial standing, usually went to North America as young single men and used marriages as the currency of diplomatic ties, marriages and relationships between Europeans and First Nations/Native Americans became common. Traders often married or cohabited with high-ranking Indian women. Fur trappers and other workers usually had relationships with lower ranking women. Many of their children developed their own culture, now called Métis. Their descendants of mixed European and Native American parentage developed their own language and culture. They have been recognized as an ethnic group in Canada. These groups formed a two-tier society, in which descendants of fur traders and chiefs achieved prominence in social and economic circles. Lower-class descendants formed the majority of a separate Métis culture based on hunting, trapping and farming.

Because of the wealth at stake, different European-American governments competed with each other for control of the fur trade with the various native societies. Native Americans sometimes based decisions of which side to support in time of war upon which side provided them with the best trade goods in an honest manner. Because trade was so politically important, it was often heavily regulated in hopes (often futile) of preventing abuse. Unscrupulous traders sometimes cheated natives by plying them with alcohol during the transaction, which subsequently aroused resentment and often resulted in violence.

In 1834 John Jacob Astor, who had created the Pacific Fur Company, which became the largest American fur trading company,[dubious ] retired after recognizing that all fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce. Expanding European settlement displaced native communities from the best hunting grounds. Demand for furs subsided as European fashion trends shifted. The Native Americans' lifestyles were altered by the trade. To continue obtaining European goods on which they had become dependent and to pay off their debts, they often resorted to selling land to the European settlers. Their resentment of the forced sales contributed to future wars.

After the United States became independent, it regulated trading with Native Americans by the Indian Intercourse Act, first passed on July 22, 1790. The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued licenses to trade in the Indian Territory. In 1834 this was defined as most of the United States west of the Mississippi River, where mountain men and traders from Mexico freely operated.

Early exploration parties were often fur-trading expeditions, many of which marked the first recorded instances of Europeans' reaching particular regions of North America. For example, Abraham Wood sent fur-trading parties on exploring expeditions into the southern Appalachian Mountains, discovering the New River in the process. Simon Fraser was a fur trader who explored much of the Fraser River.

The fur trade and economic anthropology

Economic historians and anthropologists have studied the fur trade's important role in early North American economies, but they have been unable to agree on a theoretical framework to describe native economic patterns.

John C. Phillips and J.W. Smurr tied the fur trade to an imperial struggle for power, positing that the fur trade served both as an incentive for expanding and as a method for maintaining dominance. Dismissing the experience of individuals, the authors searched for connections on a global stage that revealed its “high political and economic importance.”[2] E.E. Rich brought the economic purview down a level, focusing on the role of trading companies and their men as the ones who “opened up” much of Canada’s territories instead of the role of the nation-state in opening up the continent.[3]

Rich’s other work gets to the heart of the formalist/substantivist debate that dominated the field or, as some came to believe, muddied it. Historians such as Harold Innis had long taken the formalist position, especially in Canadian history, believing that neoclassical economic principles affect non-Western societies just as they do Western ones.[4] Starting in the 1950s, however, substantivists such as Karl Polanyi challenged these ideas, arguing instead that primitive societies could engage in alternatives to traditional Western market trade; namely, gift trade and administered trade. Rich picked up these arguments in an influential article in which he contended that Indians had “a persistent reluctance to accept European notions or the basic values of the European approach” and that “English economic rules did not apply to the Indian trade.”[5] Indians were savvy traders, but they had a fundamentally different conception of property, which confounded their European trade partners. Abraham Rotstein subsequently fit these arguments explicitly into Polanyi’s theoretical framework, claiming that “administered trade was in operation at the Bay and market trade in London.”[6]

Arthur J. Ray permanently changed the direction of economic studies of the fur trade with two influential works that presented a modified formalist position in between the extremes of Innis and Rotstein. “This trading system,” Ray explained, “is impossible to label neatly as ‘gift trade', or ‘administered trade', or ‘market trade', since it embodies elements of all these forms.”[7] Indians engaged in trade for a variety of motivations. Reducing these to simple economic or cultural dichotomies, as the formalists and substantivists had done, was a fruitless simplification that obscured more than it revealed. Moreover, Ray used trade accounts and account books in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s archives for masterful qualitative analysis and pushed the boundaries of the field’s methodology. Following Ray’s position, Bruce M. White also helped to create a more nuanced picture of the complex ways in which native populations fit new economic relationships into existing cultural patterns.[8]

Richard White, while admitting that the formalist/substantivist debate was “old, and now tired,” attempted to reinvigorate the substantivist position.[9] Echoing Ray’s moderate position that cautioned against easy simplifications, White advanced a simple argument against formalism: “Life was not a business, and such simplifications only distort the past.”[10] White argued instead that the fur trade occupied part of a “middle ground” in which Europeans and Indians sought to accommodate their cultural differences. In the case of the fur trade, this meant that the French were forced to learn from the political and cultural meanings with which Indians imbued the fur trade. Cooperation, not domination, prevailed.

Present

There are about 80,000 trappers in Canada (based on trapping licenses), of whom about half are Indigenous peoples.[11]

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Introduction of alcohol through the fur trade
  2. ^ John C. Phillips and J.W. Smurr, The Fur Trade, 2 vols. (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), xx.
  3. ^ E.E. Rich, The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967), 296.
  4. ^ Innis, Harold Adams. The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930).
  5. ^ E.E. Rich, “Trade Habits and Economic Motivation Among the Indians of North America,” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 26:1 (Feb., 1960): 46; 47.
  6. ^ Abraham Rotstein, “Karl Polanyi’s Concept of Non-Market Trade,” The Journal of Economic History 30:1 (Mar., 1970): 123. See also Rotstein, “Fur Trade and Empire: An Institutional Analysis” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1967).
  7. ^ Arthur J. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, Give Us Good Measure: An Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson's Bay Company Before 1763, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 236.
  8. ^ Bruce M. White, "Give Us a Little Milk": The Social and Cultural Meanings of Gift Giving in the Lake Superior Fur Trade", in Rendezvous: Selected Papers of the Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1981, ed. Thomas C. Buckley (St. Paul, Minnesota: 1984), 185-197.
  9. ^ Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 94.
  10. ^ Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 95.
  11. ^ Fur Institute of Canada - Institut de la fourrure du Canada

Bibliography

General Surveys

  • Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West: A History of the Pioneer Trading Posts and Early Fur Companies of the Missouri Valley and the Rocky Mountains and the Overland Commerce with Santa Fe. 2 vols. (1902). full text online
  • Dolin, Eric Jay. Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (W.W. Norton & Company; 2010) 442 pages
  • Phillips, Paul and J.W. Smurr. The Fur Trade. 2 vols. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.

Biographies

  • Berry, Don. A Majority of Scoundrels: An Informal History of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. New York: Harper, 1961.
  • Hafen, LeRoy, ed. The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West. 10 vols. Glendale, California: A.H. Clark Co., 1965-72.
  • Lavender, David. Bent’s Fort. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954.
  • Lavender, David. The Fist in the Wilderness. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964.
  • Oglesby, Richard. Manuel Lisa and the Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.
  • Utley, Robert. A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.

Economic Studies

  • Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.
  • Gibson, James R. Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992.
  • Innis, Harold. The Fur Trade in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1962.
  • Ray, Arthur J., and Donald B. Freeman. "Give Us Good Measure": An Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson's Bay Company Before 1763. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978.
  • Ray, Arthur J. Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Role as Trappers, Hunters, and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660-1870. Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
  • Rotstein, Abraham. “Karl Polanyi’s Concept of Non-Market Trade.” The Journal of Economic History 30:1 (Mar., 1970): 117-126.
  • Rich, E.E. The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1967.
  • Rich, E.E. “Trade Habits and Economic Motivation Among the Indians of North America.” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 26:1 (Feb., 1960): 35-53.
  • White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • White, Richard. The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Social Histories: Native Americans

  • Brown, Jennifer S.H. and Elizabeth Vibert, eds. Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History. Peterborough, Ontario; Orchard Park, N.Y.: Broadview Press, 1996.
  • Francis, Daniel and Toby Morantz. Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay, 1600-1870. Kingston; Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983.
  • Holm, Bill and Thomas Vaughan, eds. Soft Gold: The Fur Trade & Cultural Exchange on the Northwest Coast of America. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990.
  • Krech, Shepard III. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.
  • Krech, Shepard III, ed. Indians, Animals, and the Fur Trade: A Critique of Keepers of the Game. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981.
  • Martin, Calvin. Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1978.
  • Martin, Calvin. “The Four Lives of a Micmac Copper Pot.” Ethnohistory 22:2 (Spring, 1975): 111-133.
  • Malloy, Mary. Souvenirs of the Fur Trade: Northwest Coast Indian Art and Artifacts Collected by American Mariners, 1788-1844. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum Press, 2000.
  • Vibert, Elizabeth. Trader’s Tales: Narratives of Cultural Encounters in the Columbia Plateau, 1807-1846. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Social Histories: Women, Métis, Voyageurs

  • Brown, Jennifer S.H. Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country. Vancouver; London: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.
  • Brown, Jennifer S.H. and Jacqueline Peterson, eds. The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985.
  • Giraud, Marcel. The Métis in the Canadian West. Translated by George Woodcock. Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta Press, 1986.
  • Nicks, John. “Orkneymen in the HBC, 1780-1821.” In Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference. Edited by Carol M. Judd and Arthur J. Ray, 102-26. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.
  • Podruchny, Carolyn. Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.
  • Podruchny, Carolyn. “Werewolves and Windigos: Narratives of Cannibal Monsters in French-Canadian Voyageur Oral Tradition.” Ethnohistory 51:4 (2004): 677-700.
  • Sleeper-Smith, Susan. Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.
  • Van Kirk, Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwywer, 1999.

Regional Histories

  • Allen, John L. “The Invention of the American West.” In A Continent Comprehended, edited by John L. Allen. Vol. 3 of North American Exploration, edited by John L. Allen, 132-189. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
  • Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.
  • Faragher, John Mack. “Americans, Mexicans, Métis: A Community Approach to the Comparative Study of North American Frontiers.” In Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, edited by William Cronon, George Miles, and Jay Gitlin, 90-109. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.
  • Gibson, James R. Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785-1841. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992.
  • Gibson, Morgan Arrell. Yankees in Paradise: The Pacific Basin Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.
  • Malloy, Mary. “Boston Men” on the Northwest Coast: The American Maritime Fur Trade 1788-1844. Kingston, Ontario; Fairbanks, Alaska: The Limestone Press, 1998.
  • Ronda, James P. Astoria & Empire. Lincoln, Nebraska; London: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
  • Weber, David. The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540-1846. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.
  • Wishart, David J. The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807-1840: A Geographical Synthesis. Lincoln, Nebraska; London: University of Nebraska Press, 1979..

Papers of the North American Fur Trade Conferences

The papers from the North American Fur Trade conferences, which are held approximately every five years, not only provide a wealth of articles on disparate aspects of the fur trade, but also can be taken together as a historiographical overview since 1965. They are listed chronologically below. The third conference, held in 1978, is of particular note; the ninth conference, which was held in St. Louis in 2006, has not yet published its papers.

  • Morgan, Dale Lowell, ed. Aspects of the Fur Trade: Selected Papers of the 1965 North American Fur Trade Conference. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1967.
  • Bolus, Malvina. People and Pelts: Selected Papers. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1972.
  • Judd, Carol M. and Arthur J. Ray, eds. Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.
  • Buckley, Thomas C., ed. Rendezvous: Selected Papers of the Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1981. St. Paul, Minnesota: The Conference, 1984.
  • Trigger, Bruce G., Morantz, Toby Elaine, and Louise Dechêne. Le Castor Fait Tout: Selected Papers of the Fifth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1985. Montreal: The Society, 1987.
  • Brown, Jennifer S. H., Eccles, W. J., and Donald P. Heldman. The Fur Trade Revisited: Selected Papers of the Sixth North American Fur Trade Conference, Mackinac Island, Michigan, 1991. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994.
  • Fiske, Jo-Anne, Sleeper-Smith, Susan, and William Wicken, eds. New Faces of the Fur Trade: Selected Papers of the Seventh North American Fur Trade Conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1995. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.
  • Johnston, Louise, ed. Aboriginal People and the Fur Trade: Proceedings of the 8th North American Fur Trade Conference, Akwesasne. Cornwall, Ontario: Akwesasne Notes Pub., 2001.

External links


Simple English

fur trader in the 1890s.]]

The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the gain and sale of animal fur.

Before the colonization of the Americas, Russia was a major fur supplier of Western Europe and parts of Asia. The North American fur trade was a central part of the early history of contact in The New World (North America) between European-Americans and Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada.

The North American fur trade flourished for 250 years. This long period of time can be roughly divided into three sections:

  • the "French Era" from 1600 to 1760,
  • the "British Era" from 1760 to 1816, and
  • the "American Era" from 1816 to 1850.

References

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