Western Life

The Wild West Fur Trade

One of the most important and oldest industries that was established in North America was fur trade. For over 300 years, the fur trading industry has played an enormous role in developing Canada and the United States. Let’s explore all that fur trade entailed.

When It All Began

It all started during the 1500s, when fur was traded by the Indians in exchange for weapons and tools from the Europeans. In Europe, beaver fur was used to produce felt hats. Thus, till the mid of the 1800s fur trade flourished. However, when silk hats become the new trend the need for animal fur accessories reduced.

Who Used To Fur Trap And Trade?

The earliest documentation of fur trading was in the 1500s, when fishermen and French Explorers started working as fur traders in North America (which is now Canada). Fur trade started when the French gifted their knives, kettles and other products to the Indians to establish their good intentions. In return, the Indians gave the French their pelts. By the end of the 1500s, fur was in great demand in Europe. North America was further explored by Europeans for more such hidden jewels because of it. At the start of the 1600s, beaver fur was in high demand by European men as well as the pelts of minks, martens, otters and foxes.

The Height Of Fur Trade

Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer set up a trading post in what is now known is Quebec in 1608. Present day Quebec became the fur-trading centre. The expansion of trade happened right along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The Huron Indians were the first suppliers of fur to the French traders, and then later the Ottawa tribe also became involved. These tribes themselves did not trap fur but acquired the pelts from other Indian tribes. Fur trade was then further developed and expanded along the Mississippi River.

English settlers, during the 1600s then established fur trading posts in areas now known as Virginia and New England. The Iroquois Indians allied with the English traders and thus helped the traders expand their activities from Maine to the Atlantic Coast, trickling down all the way to Georgia.

The 1700s

Europeans mainly shipped the furs from Northern America to Europe during the 16 and 1700s. The Hudson Bay Company is a prominent trader from that time and was originally founded in 1670 by a group of English merchants and two French traders.

The British and French fur traders started brutally competing with each other in the 1700s over trading rights, specifically in the area between the Mississippi River and the Allegheny Mountains. This tension, alongside other conflicts, led to the French and Indian War in 1754. Britain won the war that took place in 1763 and won over the colonial empire of the French in North America.

By the end of the 1800s, fur trade was widely diminished due to the different conflicts and the slow decrease in demand.

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