Fur trade

Fur trade

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

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, and with the development of railways through the European city of Leipzig (Germany). Originally, the majority of raw furs exported from Russia were 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. On the discovery of North America, with its vast forests and wild-life in particular the Beaver, it too became a major supplier of fur pelts for the fur-felt hat and fur trimming & garment trades of Europe. Fur was a major source of warmth, as wool cloth was just being developed. All this prior to the organisation of coal distribution. 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.

North American fur trade

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. In 1578 there were 350 European fishing vessels at Newfoundland and sailors began to trade metal implements (particularly knives) for the natives' well worn pelts. These beaver robes (are blankets of sewn together, native tanned, beaver pelts) known as "castor gras" in French and "coat beaver" in English, were soon recognized by the newly-developed felt hatmaking industry as particularly useful for felting. Some commentators, 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. By the 1580s, beaver "wool" was the major starting material of the French felt-hatters, and the material had begun to be used in England soon after (particularly after the hueganoes people arrived from France).

Early Organization

The first organized attempt to control the fur trade in New France was undertaken by Captain Chauvin. 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 and Groseilliers, La Salle, Le Sueur), 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. Mammel winter pelts were prized for warmth, and particularly beaver pelts for the beaver wool-felt Hats, which were a very 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 over 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 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 businessmen in Boston, Massachusetts and Charles II that there was a tremendous amount of money to be made in the best fur country north of New France. This was the spark that would become the first commercial corporation in North America and largest fur trading company in the world, The Hudson's Bay Company.

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.

The trading posts also introduced many types of alcohol (especially brandy and rum) for trade. [ [http://www.montana.edu/wwwai/imsd/alcohol/Jessyca/furtrade.htm Introduction of alcohol through the fur trade] ] 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 one iron axe head replaced a stone axe head that Native would have had to make by hand, so it was very profitable for the Natives also.

ocio-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 and as marriages were the currency of diplomatic ties of that time, the trade was the beginning of the Métis (mixed European and Native American parentage). Consequently, there was much rivalry between different European-American governments 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.

The fur trade came to a close as game was depleted by overhunting. John Jacob Astor (who controlled the largest American fur trading company) recognized that all fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce and retired in 1834. Expanding European settlement displaced native communities from the best hunting grounds, and demand for furs subsided as European fashion trends shifted. The Native American's lifestyle was forever altered by the trade, in order 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, which caused resentment on the side of the Native American aboriginals that would help ignite future wars.

After the United States became independent, trading with Native Americans in the U.S. was nominally regulated by the Indian Intercourse Act, first passed on July 22, 1790. The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued licenses to trade in the Indian Territory, which in 1834 consisted of 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 mark the first recorded instance 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

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.
*Fort Astoria
*Fort Boise
*Fort Colville
*Fort Edmonton, Alberta
*Fort Frontenac (originally Fort Cataraqui), Ontario built 1673
*Fort de la Corne, Saskatchewan - later Fort a la Corne, furthest west Imperial French post in North America.
*Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan
*Fort Lisa, Nebraska Territory
*Cabanne's Trading Post, Nebraska Territory
*Fontenelle's Post, Nebraska Territory
*Fort Detroit, Michigan
*Fort Vincennes, Indiana
*Fort Garry, Winnipeg, Manitoba
*Fort Gibraltar, Winnipeg
*Lower Fort Garry, Manitoba
*Massacre Isle, Alabama
*Fort Vancouver, Oregon Territory
*Fort Mackinac, Michigan
*Fort Nassau, New Netherland
*Fort Orange, New Netherland
*Fort Duquesne, Pennsylvania
*Fort Bridger, Nebraska Territory
*New Amsterdam, New Netherland
*Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia
*Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan
*Fort Atkinson (Nebraska)
* Fort McMurray (Alberta)
*Fort Snelling, Minnesota
*Old Fort Providence, Northwest Territories
*Fort Nisqually
*Fort Kaministiquia, Ontario
*Fort William, Ontario
*Fort de Buade, Michigan
*Fort Ross, California
*Fort Hall, Oregon Country
*Fort St. Joseph (Niles), Michigan
*Fort Vasquez, Colorado
*York Factory, Manitoba
*Fort Buenaventura, Utah
*Kootanae House
*Kullyspell House
*Rocky Mountain House
*Spokane House
*Saleesh House


There are about 80,000 trappers in Canada (based on trapping licenses), of whom about half are Indigenous peoples. [ [http://www.fur.ca/index-e/aboriginal/index.asp?action=aboriginal&page=metis Fur Institute of Canada - Institut de la fourrure du Canada] ]

See also

* Beaver Wars
* Fur brigade
* History of Siberia
* Hudson's Bay Company
* North West Company
* Mountain men
* Manuel Lisa
* René Auguste Chouteau
* Coureurs de bois (and voyageurs)
* Russian-American Company
* Harold Innis and the Canadian fur trade
* The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade
* Trapping
* Science and technology in Canada


* Bernard DeVoto (1947) "Across the Wide Missouri".
* Barbara Huck (2000) [http://www.hrtlandbooks.com/books/exploringthefurtrade.htm Exploring the Fur Trade Routes of North America] (2nd Ed: May 2002)


External links

* [http://www.civilisations.ca/hist/canoe/can00eng.html The Canadian Museum of Civilization - Great Fur Trade Canoes]
* [http://www.whiteoak.org/learning/timeline.htm A Brief History of the Fur Trade]
* [http://www.sojuzpushnina.ru/en/s/55/ History of the Fur Trade in Russia]
* [http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/topics/shorthistory/furtrade.asp History of the Fur Trade in Wisconsin]
* [http://www.furtrade.org Museum of the Fur Trade, Chadron, Nebraska USA]
* [http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/carlos.lewis.furtrade The Economic History of the Fur Trade: 1670 to 1870] (EH.Net Encyclopedia of Economic History)
* [http://www.canadiana.org/hbc/ Exploration, the Fur Trade and Hudson's Bay Company]
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8516880589092509391 Video documentary on 'Fur Trade on The Great Lakes']
* [http://www.furcommission.com/ Fur Commission USA]
* [http://www.nps.gov/archive/crmo/hcs3a.htm Fur trade in the Snake River Valley, Idaho]

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  • Russian Fur Trade —    D In Alaska, 4, 12, 17; grew out of Bering s voyages, 41; character of the traders, 41; expansion of the trade, 42; companies formed, 42 43; Russian American Company, 43 44.    Bib.: SeeRussian Explorations …   The makers of Canada

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