The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of a world fur market in the early modern period, furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued. Historically the trade stimulated the exploration and colonization of Siberia, northern North America, and the South Shetland and South Sandwich Islands.
Today the importance of the fur trade has diminished; it is based on pelts produced at fur farms and regulated fur-bearer trapping, but has become controversial. Animal rights organizations oppose the fur trade, citing that animals are brutally killed and sometimes skinned alive. Fur has been replaced in some clothing by synthetic imitations, for example, as in ruffs on hoods of parkas.
Before the European colonization of the Americas, Russia was a major supplier of fur pelts to Western Europe and parts of Asia. Its trade developed in the Early Middle Ages ( 500–1000 AD/CE ), first through exchanges at posts around the Baltic and Black seas. The main trading market destination was the German city of Leipzig. Kievan Russia, the first Russian State, was the first supplier of the Russian Fur Trade.
Originally, Russia exported raw furs, consisting in most cases of the pelts of martens, beavers, wolves, foxes, squirrels and hares. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Russians began to settle in Siberia, a region rich in many mammal fur species, such as Arctic fox, lynx, sable, sea otter and stoat (ermine). In a search for the prized sea otter pelts, first used in China, and later for the northern fur seal, the Russian Empire expanded into North America, notably Alaska. From the 17th through the second half of the 19th century, Russia was the world's largest supplier of fur. The fur trade played a vital role in the development of Siberia, the Russian Far East and the Russian colonization of the Americas. As recognition of the importance of the trade to the Siberian economy, the sable is a regional symbol of the Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast and the Siberian Novosibirsk, Tyumen and Irkutsk Oblasts of Russia.
The European discovery of North America, with its vast forests and wildlife, particularly the beaver, led to the continent 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 relied on to make warm clothing, a critical consideration prior to the organization of coal distribution for heating. Portugal and Spain played major roles in fur trading after the 15th century with their business in fur hats.
From as early as the 10th century, merchants and boyars of Novgorod had exploited the fur resources "beyond the portage", a watershed at the White Lake that represents the door to the entire northwestern part of Eurasia. They began by establishing trading posts along the Volga and Vychegda river networks and requiring the Komi people to give them furs as tribute. Novgorod, the chief fur-trade center prospered as the easternmost trading post of the Hanseatic League. Novgorodians expanded farther east and north, coming into contact with the Pechora people of the Pechora River valley and the Yugra people residing near the Urals. Both of these native tribes offered more resistance than the Komi, killing many Russian tribute-collectors throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries. As Muscovy gained more power in the 15th century and proceeded in the "gathering of the Russian lands", the Muscovite state began to rival the Novgorodians in the North. During the 15th century Moscow began subjugating many native tribes. One strategy involved exploiting antagonisms between tribes, notably the Komi and Yugra, by recruiting men of one tribe to fight in an army against the other tribe. Campaigns against native tribes in Siberia remained insignificant until they began on a much larger scale in 1483 and 1499.
Besides the Novgorodians and the indigenes, Muscovites also had to contend with the various Muslim Tatar khanates to the east of Muscovy. In 1552 Ivan IV, the Tsar of All the Russias, took a significant step towards securing Russian hegemony in Siberia when he sent a large army to attack the Kazan Tartars and ended up obtaining the territory from the Volga to the Ural Mountains. At this point the phrase "ruler of Obdor, Konda, and all Siberian lands" became part of the title of the Tsar in Moscow. Even so, problems ensued after 1558 when Ivan IV sent Grigory Stroganov (ca 1533–1577) to colonize land on the Kama and to subjugate and enserf the Komi living there. The Stroganov family soon came into conflict (1573) with the Khan of Sibir whose land they encroached on. Ivan told the Stroganovs to hire Cossack mercenaries to protect the new settlement from the Tatars. From ca 1581 the band of Cossacks led by Yermak Timofeyevich fought many battles that eventually culminated in a Tartar victory (1584) and the temporary end to Russian occupation in the area. In 1584 Ivan’s son Fyodor sent military governors (voivodas) and soldiers to reclaim Yermak conquests and officially to annex the land held by the Khanate of Sibir. Similar skirmishes with Tartars took place across Siberia as Russian expansion continued.
Russian conquerors treated the natives of Siberia as easily exploited enemies who were inferior to them. As they penetrated deeper into Siberia, traders built outposts or winter lodges called zimovya where they lived and collected fur tribute from native tribes. By 1620 Russia dominated the land from the Urals eastward to the Yenisey valley and to the Altai Mountains in the south, comprising about 1.25 million square miles of land. Furs would become Russia's largest source of wealth during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Keeping up with the advances of Western Europe required significant capital and Russia did not have sources of gold and silver, but it did have furs, which became known as "soft gold" and provided Russia with hard currency. The Russian government received income from the fur trade through two taxes, the yasak (or iasak) tax on natives and the 10% "Sovereign Tithing Tax" imposed on both the catch and sale of fur pelts. Fur was in great demand in Western Europe, especially sable and marten, since European forest resources had been over-hunted and furs had become extremely scarce. Fur trading allowed Russia to purchase from Europe goods that it lacked, like lead, tin, precious metals, textiles, firearms, and sulphur. Russia also traded furs with Ottoman Turkey and other countries in the Middle East in exchange for silk, textiles, spices, and dried fruit. The high prices that sable, black fox, and marten furs could generate in international markets spurred a "fur fever" in which many Russians moved to Siberia as independent trappers. From 1585 to 1680, tens of thousands of sable and other valuable pelts were obtained in Siberia each year.
The primary way for the Muscovite state to obtain furs was by exacting a fur tribute from the Siberian natives, called a yasak. Yasak was usually a fixed number of sable pelts which every male tribe member who was at least fifteen years old had to supply to Russian officials. Officials enforced yasak through coercion and by taking hostages, usually the tribe chiefs or members of the chief's family. At first, Russians were content to trade with the natives, exchanging goods like pots, axes, and beads for the prized sables that the natives did not value, but greater demand for furs led to violence and force becoming the primary means of obtaining the furs. The largest problem with the yasak system was that Russian governors were prone to corruption because they received no salary. They resorted to illegal means of getting furs for themselves, including bribing customs officials to allow them to personally collect yasak, extorting natives by exacting yasak multiple times over, or requiring tribute from independent trappers.
Russian fur trappers, called promyshlenniki, hunted in one of two types of bands of 10–15 men, called ''vatagi'' . The first was an independent band of blood relatives or unrelated people who contributed an equal share of the hunting-expedition expenses; the second was a band of hired hunters who participated in expeditions fully funded by the trading companies which employed them. Members of an independent vataga cooperated and shared all necessary work associated with fur trapping, including making and setting traps, building forts and camps, stockpiling firewood and grain, and fishing. All fur pelts went into a common pool that the band divided equally among themselves after Russian officials exacted the tithing tax. On the other hand, a trading company provided hired fur-trappers with the money needed for transportation, food, and supplies, and once the hunt was finished, the employer received two-thirds of the pelts and the remaining ones were sold and the proceeds divided evenly among the hired laborers. During the summer, promyshlenniki would set up a summer camp to stockpile grain and fish, and many engaged in agricultural work for extra money. During late summer or early fall the vatagi left their hunting grounds, surveyed the area, and set up a winter camp. Each member of the group set at least 10 traps and the vatagi divided into smaller groups of 2 to 3 men who cooperated to maintain certain traps. Promyshlenniki checked traps daily, resetting them or replacing bait whenever necessary. The promyshlenniki employed both passive and active hunting-strategies. The passive approach involved setting traps, while the active approach involved the use of hunting-dogs and of bows-and-arrows. Occasionally, hunters also followed sable tracks to their burrows, around which they placed nets, and waited for the sable to emerge.
The hunting season began around the time of the first snow in October or November and continued until early spring. Hunting expeditions lasted two to three years on average but occasionally longer. Because of the long hunting season and the fact that passage back to Russia was difficult and costly, beginning around the 1650s–1660s many promyshlenniki chose to stay and settle in Siberia. From 1620 to 1680 a total of 15,983 trappers operated in Siberia.
The North American fur trade began as early as the 1500s with Europeans and First Nations and was a central part of the early history of contact between Europeans 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. The first pelts in demand were beaver and sea otter, as well as occasionally deer, bear, ermine and skunk.
Fur robes were blankets of sewn-together, native-tanned, beaver pelts. The pelts 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. 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.
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 near the mouth of the Saguenay River at Tadoussac. French explorers, like Samuel de Champlain, voyageurs, and Coureur des bois, such as Étienne Brûlé, Radisson, La Salle, and 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. 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 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 Mohawk and Mohican. By 1614 the Dutch were sending vessels to secure large economic returns from fur trading. The fur trade of New Netherland, through the port of New Amsterdam, depended largely on the trading depot at Fort Orange (now Albany) on the upper Hudson River. Much of the fur is believed to have originated in Canada, smuggled south by entrepreneurs who wished to avoid the colony's government-imposed monopoly there.
England was slower to enter the American fur trade than France and the Dutch Republic, but as soon as English colonies were established, development companies learned 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 tried to take over France's fur trade in the St Lawrence River valley. 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 around the Saint Lawrence River region in the 1630s, but these were officially discouraged. Such efforts ceased as France strengthened its presence in Canada. Meanwhile, the New England fur trade expanded, not only inland, but northward along the coast into the Bay of Fundy region. London's access to high-quality furs was greatly increased with the takeover of New Amsterdam, whereupon the fur trade of that colony (now called New York) fell into English hands with the 1667 Treaty of Breda.
In 1668 the English fur trade entered a new phase. Two French citizens, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers, had traded with great success west of Lake Superior in 1659–60, but upon their return to Canada, most of their furs were 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. Their treatment in Canada suggested that they would not find support from France for their scheme. The pair went to New England, where they found local financial 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 she was able to trade with the indigenes, collecting a fine cargo of beaver skins before the expedition returned to London in October 1669. The delighted investors sought a royal charter, which they obtained the next year. This charter established the Hudson's Bay Company and granted it a monopoly to trade into all the rivers that emptied into Hudson Bay. From 1670 onwards, the Hudson's Bay Company sent two or three trading ships into the bay every year. They 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 the Netherlands and Germany.
Meanwhile, in the English southern colonies, a deerskin trade was established around 1670, based at the export hub of Charleston, South Carolina. Word spread among Native hunters that the Europeans would exchange pelts for the European-manufactured goods that were highly desired in native communities. English traders stocked axe heads, knives, awls, fish hooks, cloth of various type and color, woolen blankets, linen shirts, kettles, jewelry, glass beads, muskets, ammunition and powder to exchange on a 'per pelt' basis.
Colonial trading posts in the southern colonies also introduced many types of alcohol (especially brandy and rum) for trade. European traders flocked to the North American continent and made huge profits from 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 Europeans. The Natives used the iron axe heads to replace stone axe heads which they had made by hand in a labor-intensive process, so they derived substantial benefits from the trade as well. The British began to see the ill effects of alcohol on Natives, and the chiefs objected to its sale and trade. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited sale by European settlers of alcohol to the Indians in Canada, following the British takeover of the territory after it defeated France in the Seven Years' War (known as the French and Indian War in North America).
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 were men with capital and social standing. Often younger men were single when they went to North America to enter the fur trade; they made marriages or cohabited with high-ranking Indian women of similar status in their own cultures. Fur trappers and other workers usually had relationships with lower-ranking women. Many of their mixed-race descendants developed their own culture, now called Métis in Canada, based then on fur trapping and other activities on the frontier.
In some cases both Native American and European-American cultures excluded the mixed-race descendants. If the Native Americans were a tribe with a patrilineal kinship system, they considered children born to a white father to be white, in a type of hypodescent classification, although the Native mother and tribe might care for them. The Europeans tended to classify children of Native women as Native, regardless of the father, similar to the hypodescent of their classification of the children of slaves. The Métis in the Canadian Red River region were so numerous that they developed a creole language and culture. Since the late 20th century, the Métis have been recognized in Canada as a First Nations ethnic group. The interracial relationships resulted in a two-tier mixed-race class, in which descendants of fur traders and chiefs achieved prominence in some Canadian social, political, and economic circles. Lower-class descendants formed the majority of the separate Métis culture based on hunting, trapping and farming.
Because of the wealth at stake, different European-American governments competed with various native societies for control of the fur trade. Native Americans sometimes based decisions of which side to support in times of war in relation to which people had provided them with the best trade goods in an honest manner. Because trade was so politically important, the Europeans tried to regulate it 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 huge monopoly of the American Fur Company, withdrew from the fur trade. He could see the decline in fur animals and realized the market was changing, as beaver hats went out of style. Expanding European settlement displaced native communities from the best hunting grounds. European demand for furs subsided as 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 in British Columbia.
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." 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 on the role of the nation-state in opening up the continent.
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. 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." 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."
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." Indians engaged in trade for a variety of reasons. Reducing them 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 analyses 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.
Richard White, while admitting that the formalist/substantivist debate was "old, and now tired," attempted to reinvigorate the substantivist position. 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." 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.
According to the Fur Institute of Canada, there are about 60,000 active trappers in Canada (based on trapping licenses), of whom about 25,000 are indigenous peoples. The fur farming industry is present in many parts of Canada. The largest producer of mink and foxes is Nova Scotia which in 2012 generated revenues of nearly $150 million and accounted for one quarter of all agricultural production in the Province.
The maritime fur trade was a ship-based fur trade system that focused on acquiring furs of sea otters and other animals from the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and natives of Alaska. The furs were mostly traded in China for tea, silks, porcelain, and other Chinese goods, which were then sold in Europe and the United States. The maritime fur trade was pioneered by the Russians, working east from Kamchatka along the Aleutian Islands to the southern coast of Alaska. British and Americans entered during the 1780s, focusing on what is now the coast of British Columbia. The trade boomed around the turn of the 19th century. A long period of decline began in the 1810s. As the sea otter population was depleted, the maritime fur trade diversified and was transformed, tapping new markets and commodities while continuing to focus on the Northwest Coast and China. It lasted until the middle to late 19th century. Russians controlled most of the coast of what is now Alaska during the entire era. The coast south of Alaska saw fierce competition between, and among, British and American trading vessels. The British were the first to operate in the southern sector, but were unable to compete against the Americans who dominated from the 1790s to the 1830s. The British Hudson's Bay Company entered the coast trade in the 1820s with the intention of driving the Americans away. This was accomplished by about 1840. In its late period the maritime fur trade was largely conducted by the British Hudson's Bay Company and the Russian-American Company.
The term "maritime fur trade" was coined by historians to distinguish the coastal, ship-based fur trade from the continental, land-based fur trade of, for example, the North West Company and the American Fur Company. Historically, the maritime fur trade was not known by that name, rather it was usually called the "North West Coast trade" or "North West Trade". The term "North West" was rarely spelled as the single word "Northwest", as is common today.
The maritime fur trade brought the Pacific Northwest coast into a vast, new international trade network, centered on the north Pacific Ocean, global in scope, and based on capitalism but not, for the most part, on colonialism. A triangular trade network emerged linking the Pacific Northwest coast, China, the Hawaiian Islands (only recently discovered by the Western world), Britain, and the United States (especially New England). The trade had a major effect on the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast, especially the Aleut, Tlingit, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Chinook peoples. There was a rapid increase of wealth among the Northwest Coast natives, along with increased warfare, potlatching, slaving, depopulation due to epidemic disease, and enhanced importance of totems and traditional nobility crests. The indigenous culture was not however overwhelmed, it rather flourished, while simultaneously undergoing rapid change. The use of Chinook Jargon arose during the maritime fur trading era and remains a distinctive aspect of Pacific Northwest culture. Native Hawaiian society was similarly affected by the sudden influx of Western wealth and technology, as well as epidemic diseases. The trade's effect on China and Europe was minimal. For New England, the maritime fur trade and the significant profits it made helped revitalize the region, contributing to the transformation of New England from an agrarian to an industrial society. The wealth generated by the maritime fur trade was invested in industrial development, especially textile manufacturing. The New England textile industry in turn had a large effect on slavery in the United States, increasing the demand for cotton and helping make possible the rapid expansion of the cotton plantation system across the Deep South.
The most profitable furs were those of sea otters, especially the northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, which inhabited the coastal waters between the Columbia River to the south and Cook Inlet to the north. The fur of the Californian southern sea otter, E. l. nereis, was less highly prized and thus less profitable. After the northern sea otter was hunted to local extinction, maritime fur traders shifted to California until the southern sea otter was likewise nearly extinct. The British and American maritime fur traders took their furs to the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton), where they worked within the established Canton System. Furs from Russian America were mostly sold to China via the Mongolian trading town of Kyakhta, which had been opened to Russian trade by the 1727 Treaty of Kyakhta.
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.
The American Fur Company (AFC) was founded in 1808, by John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant to the United States. During the 18th century, furs had become a major commodity in Europe, and North America became a major supplier. Several British companies, most notably the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, were eventual competitors against Astor and capitalized on the lucrative trade in furs. Astor capitalized on anti-British sentiments and his commercial strategies to become one of the first trusts in American business and a major competitor to the British commercial dominance in North American fur trade. Expanding into many former British fur-trapping regions and trade routes, the company grew to monopolize the fur trade in the United States by 1830, and became one of the largest and wealthiest businesses in the country.
Astor planned for several companies to function across the Great Lakes, the Great Plains and the Oregon Country to gain control of the North American fur trade. Comparatively inexpensive manufactured goods were to be shipped to commercial stations for trade with various Indigenous nations for fur pelts. The sizable number of furs collected were then be brought to the port of Guangzhou, as pelts were in high demand in the Qing Empire. Chinese products were in turn be purchased for resale throughout Europe and the United States. A beneficial agreement with the Russian-American Company was also planned through the regular supply of provisions for posts in Russian America. This was planned in part to prevent the rival Montreal based North West Company (NWC) to gain a presence along the Pacific Coast, a prospect neither Russian colonial authorities or Astor favored.Demand for furs in Europe began to decline during the early 19th century, leading to the stagnation of the fur trade by the mid-19th century. Astor left his company in 1830, the company declared bankruptcy in 1842, and the American Fur Company ultimately ceased trading in 1847.Athabasca Pass
Athabasca Pass (el. 1,753 m or 5,751 ft) is a high mountain pass in the Canadian Rockies. It is the headwaters of the Whirlpool River, a tributary of the Athabasca River.
In fur-trade days it connected Jasper House on the Athabasca River with Boat Encampment on the Columbia River.
The pass lies between Mount Brown and McGillivray Ridge. It is south of Yellowhead Pass and north of Howse Pass.
The pass is first mentioned in the historical record in the papers of British explorer David Thompson, who was shown the route in 1811 by an Iroquois man named Thomas. The pass subsequently became a major point on the fur trade route between Rupert's Land and the Columbia District, used by the York Factory Express. The pass was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1971.Columbia District
The Columbia District was a fur trading district in the Pacific Northwest region of British North America in the 19th century. Much of its territory overlapped with the disputed Oregon Country. It was explored by the North West Company between 1793 and 1811, and established as an operating fur district around 1810. The North West Company was absorbed into the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821–under which the Columbia District became known as the Columbia Department. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 marked the effective end of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department.Coureur des bois
A coureur des bois (French pronunciation: [kuʁœʁ de bwa]) or coureur de bois (French pronunciation: [kuʁœʁ də bwa]; "runner of the woods"; plural: coureurs de bois) was an independent entrepreneurial French-Canadian trader who traveled in New France and the interior of North America, usually to trade with First Nations peoples by exchanging various European items for furs. Some learned the trades and practices of the Native people.
These expeditions were part of the beginning of the fur trade in the North American interior. Initially they traded for beaver coats but, as the market grew, coureurs de bois were trapping and trading prime beavers whose skins were to be felted in Europe.Factory (trading post)
"Factory" (from Latin facere, meaning "to do"; Portuguese: feitoria; Dutch: factorij; French: factorerie, comptoir) was the common name during the medieval and early modern eras for an entrepôt – which was essentially an early form of free-trade zone or transshipment point. At a factory, local inhabitants could interact with foreign merchants, often known as factors. First established in Europe, factories eventually spread to many other parts of the world.
The factories established by European states in Africa, Asia and the Americas from the 15th century onward also tended to be official political dependencies of those states. These have been seen, in retrospect, as the precursors of colonial expansion.
A factory could serve simultaneously as market, warehouse, customs, defense and support to navigation exploration, headquarters or de facto government of local communities.
In North America, Europeans began to interact with pre-existing native American trade systems during the 16th century. Colonists created factories, known as trading posts, at which furs could be traded, in Native American territory.Fort Vancouver
Fort Vancouver was a 19th-century fur trading post that was the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department, located in the Pacific Northwest. Named for Captain George Vancouver, the fort was located on the northern bank of the Columbia River in present-day Vancouver, Washington. The fort was a major center of the regional fur trading. Every year trade goods and supplies from London arrived either via ships sailing to the Pacific Ocean or overland from Hudson Bay via the York Factory Express. Supplies and trade goods were exchanged with a plethora of Indigenous cultures for fur pelts. Furs from Fort Vancouver were often shipped to the Chinese port of Guangzhou where they were traded for Chinese manufactured goods for sale in the United Kingdom. At its pinnacle, Fort Vancouver watched over 34 outposts, 24 ports, six ships, and 600 employees. Today, a full-scale replica of the fort, with internal buildings, has been constructed and is open to the public as Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.Fur brigade
Fur brigades were convoys of canoes and boats used to transport supplies, trading goods and furs in the North American fur trade industry. Much of it consisted of native fur trappers and fur traders who travelled between their home trading posts and a larger Hudson's Bay Company or Northwest Company post in order to supply the inland post with goods and supply the coastal post with furs.
Travel was usually done on the rivers by canoe or, in certain prairie situations, by horse. For example, they might travel to Hudson Bay or James Bay from their inland home territories. This pattern was most prevalent during the early 19th century.Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC; French: Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson) is a Canadian retail business group. A fur trading business for much of its existence, HBC now owns and operates retail stores in Canada, the United States, and parts of Europe including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. The company's namesake business division is Hudson's Bay, commonly referred to as The Bay (La Baie in French). Other divisions include Galeria Kaufhof, Home Outfitters, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. HBC's head office is currently located in Brampton, Ontario. The company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol "HBC".
After incorporation by English royal charter in 1670, the company functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America for nearly 200 years until the HBC sold the land it owned (known as Rupert's Land) to Canada in 1869 as part of The Deed of Surrender. During its peak, the company controlled the fur trade throughout much of the English- and later British-controlled North America. By the mid-19th century, the company evolved into a mercantile business selling a wide variety of products from furs to fine homeware in a small number of sales shops (as opposed to trading posts) across Canada. These shops were the first step towards the department stores the company owns today.In 2008, HBC was acquired by NRDC Equity Partners, which also owns the upmarket American department store Lord & Taylor. From 2008 to 2012, the HBC was run through a holding company of NRDC, Hudson's Bay Trading Company, which was dissolved in early 2012. Since 2012, the HBC directly oversees its Canadian subsidiaries Hudson's Bay (formerly The Bay) and Home Outfitters, in addition to the operations of Lord & Taylor in the United States.The Hudson's Bay Company bought Saks, Inc. (the operator of Saks Fifth Avenue) in 2013, German department store chain Galeria Kaufhof in 2015, online shopping site Gilt Groupe in 2015, and 20 former Vroom & Dreesmann sites in the Netherlands in 2015. Gilt Groupe was sold to online fashion store Rue La La in 2018.Jasper House
Jasper House National Historic Site, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, is the site of a trading post on the Athabasca River that functioned in two different locations from 1813 to 1884 as a major staging and supply post for travel through the Canadian Rockies.
The post was originally named Rocky Mountain House, but was renamed to avoid confusion with the Rocky Mountain House trading post on the North Saskatchewan River, becoming "Jasper's House" after the postmaster, Jasper Hawes, who operated the post from 1814 to 1817. The first location is believed to have been at the outlet of Brûlé Lake, downstream from the present site. The second Jasper House was established at the northern end of Jasper Lake in 1830, primarily serving travellers crossing Yellowhead Pass or Athabasca Pass.
The site operated until 1853, and was occasionally used until 1858 when it was reopened seasonally by Henry John Moberly, who operated it into the 1860s. The post was officially closed in 1884 after years of inactivity. From 1891 or 1892 to 1894 the house was used by miner Lewis Swift. The building was destroyed in 1909 when its lumber was used to make a raft by surveyors for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Apart from a small cemetery, no significant ruins remain. It was designated a national historic site in 1924, and is marked by a commemorative stone and plaque.John Jacob Astor
John Jacob Astor (born Johann Jakob Astor; July 17, 1763 – March 29, 1848) was a German–American businessman, merchant, real estate mogul and investor who mainly made his fortune in fur trade and by investing in real estate in or around New York City.
Born in Germany, Astor immigrated to England as a teenager and worked as a musical instrument manufacturer. He moved to the United States after the American Revolutionary War. He entered the fur trade and built a monopoly, managing a business empire that extended to the Great Lakes region and Canada, and later expanded into the American West and Pacific coast. Seeing the decline of demand, he got out of the fur trade in 1830, diversifying by investing in New York City real estate and later becoming a famed patron of the arts.He was the first prominent member of the Astor family and the first multi-millionaire in the United States.Maritime fur trade
The maritime fur trade was a ship-based fur trade system that focused on acquiring furs of sea otters and other animals from the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and natives of Alaska. The furs were mostly sold in China in exchange for tea, silks, porcelain, and other Chinese goods, which were then sold in Europe and the United States. The maritime fur trade was pioneered by Russians, working east from Kamchatka along the Aleutian Islands to the southern coast of Alaska. British and Americans entered during the 1780s, focusing on what is now the coast of British Columbia. The trade boomed around the beginning of the 19th century. A long period of decline began in the 1810s. As the sea otter population was depleted, the maritime fur trade diversified and transformed, tapping new markets and commodities, while continuing to focus on the Northwest Coast and China. It lasted until the middle to late 19th century. Russians controlled most of the coast of what is now Alaska during the entire era. The coast south of Alaska endured fierce competition between, and among, British and American trading vessels. The British were the first to operate in the southern sector, but were unable to compete against the Americans, who dominated from the 1790s to the 1830s. The British Hudson's Bay Company entered the coast trade in the 1820s with the intention of driving the Americans away. This was accomplished by about 1840. In its late period, the maritime fur trade was largely conducted by the British Hudson's Bay Company and the Russian-American Company.
The term "maritime fur trade" was coined by historians to distinguish the coastal, ship-based fur trade from the continental, land-based fur trade of, for example, the North West Company and American Fur Company. Historically, the maritime fur trade was not known by that name, rather it was usually called the "North West Coast trade" or "North West Trade". The term "North West" was rarely spelled as the single word "Northwest", as is common today.The maritime fur trade brought the Pacific Northwest coast into a vast, new international trade network, centered on the north Pacific Ocean, global in scope, and based on capitalism, but not, for the most part, on colonialism. A triangular trade network emerged linking the Pacific Northwest coast, China, the Hawaiian Islands (only recently discovered by the Western world), Britain, and the United States (especially New England). The trade had a major effect on the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast, especially the Aleut, Sugpiaq, Tlingit, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Chinook peoples. A rapid increase of wealth occurred among the Northwest Coast natives, along with increased warfare, potlatching, slaving, and depopulation due to epidemic disease. However, the indigenous culture was not overwhelmed by rapid change, but actually flourished. For instance, the importance of totems and traditional nobility crests increased, and the Chinook Jargon, which remains a distinctive aspect of Pacific Northwest culture, was developed during this era. Native Hawaiian society was similarly affected by the sudden influx of Western wealth and technology, as well as epidemic diseases. The trade's effect on China and Europe was minimal, but for New England, the maritime fur trade and the significant profits it made helped revitalize the region, contributing to its transformation from an agrarian to an industrial society. The wealth generated by the maritime fur trade was invested in industrial development, especially textile manufacturing.
The most profitable furs were those of sea otters, especially the northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, which inhabited the coastal waters between the Columbia River in the south to the Aleutian Islands in the north. Sea otters possess a thicker fur than any other mammal, and the sea otter's habit of grooming their coat prevents molting. The reason for their exploitation was due to this 'dark [thick] and silver tipped fur'. The popularity and demand in fashion of sea otter pelts in China was one of the reasons why it was hunted to the point of disappearance. These mammals of the Pacific are currently 'listed as Threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Act'. Sea otter distribution extends from the north of Japan all the way to the vicinity of Cedros Island, Mexico. The species stayed approximately within the arc of the Northern Pacific until the pressure of the maritime trade forced them to move north. The start of their decline with the first Russian expeditions in this region. Aleut hunters were the providers of the skins to the Russians; the former became 'the main purveyor of prime otter skins to Russian traders and American adventurers'. Before the exploitation of these mammals, their population ranged from 150,000 to 300,000. Sea otters are 'slow breeders, only one sometimes two pups [are] being born at a time' which does not help the population when being pursued. The Chinese sought this mammal's fur due to its great commercial value and its 'prime coat' all year long. The pelt was used by the wealthy Chinese as clothing decoration (robe trimming) and the Russians used it as an ornamental piece. The other furs that were sent to Europe and America were changed to 'coat collars or hats'. Due to this great demand and worth of the sea otters pelt, the Russian-America Company (RAC) annual expenses was around 1000,000 rubles each year and profited over 500,000 rubles per year. The fur of the Californian southern sea otter, E. l. nereis, was less highly prized and thus less profitable. After the northern sea otter was hunted to local extinction, maritime fur traders shifted to California until the southern sea otter was likewise nearly extinct. The British and American maritime fur traders took their furs to the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton), where they worked within the established Canton system. Furs from Russian America were mostly sold to China via the Mongolian trading town of Kyakhta, which had been opened to Russian trade by the 1727 Treaty of Kyakhta.Mountain man
A mountain man is an explorer who lives in the wilderness. Mountain men were most common in the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 through to the 1880s (with a peak population in the early 1840s). They were instrumental in opening up the various Emigrant Trails (widened into wagon roads) allowing Americans in the east to settle the new territories of the far west by organized wagon trains traveling over roads explored and in many cases, physically improved by the mountain men and the big fur companies originally to serve the mule train based inland fur trade.
They arose in a natural geographic and economic expansion driven by the lucrative earnings available in the North American fur trade, in the wake of the various 1806–07 published accounts of the Lewis and Clark expeditions' (1803–1806) findings about the Rockies and the (ownership-disputed between the United States and the British) Oregon Country where they flourished economically for over three decades. By the time two new international treaties in early 1846 and early 1848 officially settled new western coastal territories in the United States and spurred a large upsurge in migration, the days of mountain men making a good living by fur trapping had largely ended. This was partly because the fur industry was failing due to reduced demand and over trapping. With the rise of the silk trade and quick collapse of the North American beaver-based fur trade in the later 1830s–1840s, many of the mountain men settled into jobs as Army Scouts or wagon train guides or settled throughout the lands which they had helped open up. Others, like William Sublette, opened up fort-trading posts along the Oregon Trail to service the remnant fur trade and the settlers heading west.Nootka Sound
Nootka Sound is a sound of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, historically known as King George's Sound. It separates Vancouver Island and Nootka Island. It played a historically important role in the maritime fur trade.North American fur trade
The North American fur trade was the industry and activities related to the acquisition, trade, exchange, and sale of animal furs in North America. Aboriginal peoples in Canada and Native Americans in the United States of different regions traded among themselves in the pre–Columbian Era, but Europeans participated in the trade beginning from the time of their arrival in the New World and extended its reach to Europe. The French started trading in the 16th century, the English established trading posts on Hudson Bay in present-day Canada in the 17th century, and the Dutch had trade by the same time in New Netherland. The 19th-century North American fur trade, when the industry was at its peak of economic importance, involved the development of elaborate trade networks.
The fur trade became one of the main economic ventures in North America attracting competition among the French, British, Dutch, Spanish, and Russians. Indeed, in the early history of the United States, capitalizing on this trade, and removing the British stranglehold over it, was seen as a major economic objective. Many Native American societies across the continent came to depend on the fur trade as their primary source of income. By the mid-1800s changing fashions in Europe brought about a collapse in fur prices. The American Fur Company and some other companies failed. Many Native communities were plunged into long-term poverty and consequently lost much of the political influence they once had.North West Company
The North West Company was a fur trading business headquartered in Montreal from 1779 to 1821. It competed with increasing success against the Hudson's Bay Company in what is present-day Western Canada. With great wealth at stake, tensions between the companies increased to the point where several minor armed skirmishes broke out, and the two companies were forced by the British government to merge.Pemmican
Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. Historically, it was an important part of indigenous cuisine in certain parts of North America, and is still prepared today. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, which itself is derived from the word pimî, "fat, grease". The Lakota (or Sioux) word is wasna, with the wa meaning "anything" and the sna meaning "ground up". It was invented by the native peoples of North America.Pemmican was widely adopted as a high-energy food by Europeans involved in the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers, such as Ernest Shackleton, Richard E. Byrd, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Falcon Scott, George W. DeLong and Roald Amundsen.Rocky Mountain House
Rocky Mountain House is a town in west-central Alberta, Canada located approximately 77 km (48 mi) west of the City of Red Deer at the confluence of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan Rivers, and at the crossroads of Highway 22 (Cowboy Trail) and Highway 11 (David Thompson Highway). The surrounding Clearwater County's administration office is located in Rocky Mountain House.The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site
The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site (Lieu historique national de la Commerce-de-la-Fourrure-à-Lachine) is a historic building located in the borough of Lachine in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, at the western end of the Lachine Canal. It is a National Historic Site of Canada.Beginning in the 17th century, voyageurs would launch their canoes from this location to transport trade goods thousands of miles into the interior of North America lands. At that time the Lachine Rapids prevented large ships from going any further west along the Saint Lawrence River.
A stone warehouse was erected in 1803 to store the furs gathered as a result of fur trade. It is now a Parks Canada museum dedicated to the history of this strategic location as a departure and arrival point for fur trading expeditions. The site is separate from Lachine Canal National Historic Site, with which it is inextricably connected.
Montreal was the start of nearly all westward canoe routes. See Canadian canoe routes (early). Here furs were transferred from canoe to ship and trade goods from ship to canoe. A natural transfer point was the west end of Montreal Island since goods could be carted over a nine-mile road around the Lachine Rapids. Canoes usually left in May and returned in August. The Northwest Company built a stone warehouse here in 1803. It was used until 1859 when it was sold to the Sisters of Sainte Anne who used it as an employee residence. The Lachine Canal was built around the rapids in 1825. Sir George Simpson (administrator) had a mansion across the canal from the warehouse which was torn down in 1880. Parks Canada acquired the warehouse in 1977 and in 1985 opened a museum.Voyageurs
The voyageurs (French: [vwajaʒœʁ] (listen), travelers) were French Canadians who engaged in the transporting of furs by canoe during the fur trade years. The emblematic meaning of the term applies to places (New France, including the Pays d'en Haut and the Pays des Illinois) and times (primarily in the 18th and early 19th centuries) where transportation of materials was mainly over long distances.
The voyageurs were regarded as legendary, especially in French Canada. They were heroes celebrated in folklore and music. For reasons of promised celebrity status and wealth, this position was very coveted. James H. Baker was once told by an unnamed retired voyageur:
I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw. I have been twenty-four years a canoe man, and forty-one years in service; no portage was ever too long for me, fifty songs could I sing. I have saved the lives of ten voyageurs, have had twelve wives and six running dogs. I spent all of my money in pleasure. Were I young again, I would spend my life the same way over. There is no life so happy as a voyageur's life!
Despite the fame surrounding the voyageur, their life was one of toil and not nearly as glorious as folk tales make it out to be. For example, they had to be able to carry two 90-pound (41 kg) bundles of fur over portages. Some carried up to four or five, and there is a report of a voyageur carrying seven for half of a mile. Hernias were common and frequently caused death. Most voyageurs would start working when they were twenty-two and they would continue working until they were in their sixties. They never made enough money to consider an early retirement from what was a physically grueling lifestyle.The major and challenging task of the fur trading business was done by canoe and largely by French Canadians. The term in its fur trade context also applied, at a lesser extent, to other fur trading activities. Being a voyageur also included being a part of a licensed, organized effort, one of the distinctions that set them apart from the coureurs des bois. Additionally, they were set apart from engagés, who were much smaller merchants and general laborers. Mostly immigrants, engagés were men who were obliged to go anywhere and do anything their masters told them as long as their indentureship was still in place. Until their contract expired, engagés were at the full servitude of their master, which was most often a voyageur. Less than fifty percent of engagés whose contracts ended chose to remain in New France (either because the others returned to France or because they died while working and never had a chance to leave).
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