Fur History

For centuries fur trading has been a means of support for families in North America. In fact, the fur trade was one of the most successful early contacts between the natives and immigrating Europeans. Beginning on the Canadian coast, fur traders and trappers eventually moved towards the center of the continent looking for various types of fur to sell back in Europe. Beaver, sea otter, and buffalo furs were the most valuable during the early days of trade. This gradually evolved to include deer, skunk, ermine, raccoon, and chinchilla.

Establishing Trade:

The French were the first to establish a formal fur trade in the New World in New France (modern Canada). The first fur colony was formally established in 1599. French explorers, including the discoverer of St. Louis, Robert de La Salle, traded basic European items for furs to establish friendly relations with the natives. These furs were highly priced at the beginning of the trade due to the high demand. Eventually the supply exceeded demand and the trade began to decrease.

The French monopoly of the fur trade continued until 1610 when the Dutch and English began to participate. Following the establishment of the English colonies furs were shipped from Virginia to London. During the 1620’s this became the most traded product across the Atlantic. English traders sought to conquer the French trade but were largely unsuccessful. One positive outcome for the British was the capture of New Amsterdam. The area that is now New York State provided an abundance of high quality furs.

Second Wave of Trade:

Beginning in 1670 trade was formed with the Hudson Bay. A royal charter that granted the Hudson’s Bay Company exclusive travel to and from the region protected the beaver fur that resulted from this contact. These furs were popular in the English hat industry. Other fine furs that were retrieved were sent on to Holland and France.

 

In the southern English colonies deershin was a booming trade. Based in Charleston, South Carolina, natives traded for simple tools while the colonists traded across the pond for higher prices. This turnaround made the furs substantially more valuable in Europe than the colonies.

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