As a result, the majority of European business companies that handled the large number of fur trades were English. The largest of such firms was the Hudson's Bay Company established in 1670 (Belden, 82). This institution was the center of North American fur trading for more than two hundred years. It was founded by two French fur traders English merchant. The English government granted the company sole trading rights within the Hudson Bay region. The development of the fur trade resulted in a greater integration between traders and merchants, and created an entire social system based upon this concept.
The French dominance of the marketplace meant that other European players wanted to gain momentum within the industry. British Merchants founded the North West Company in Montreal in order to compete with the stranglehold of Canadian fur trading (Innis, 154). By the late 1700's, fur became a much harder commodity to find because of the over trapping that was occurring all throughout North America. Therefore, the British as well as Russians capitalized on the breakdown and drying up of traditional French controlled trading routes. They led many daring expedition deep into Western Canada in search of fur, but were unable to sustain strong financial returns. At the same time, the Russians began to develop their own fur trading system in the Alaskan area; they formed the Russian-American Company in 1799 (Anderson, npg). Although the competition from other European countries was fierce, for about two hundred years the majority of fur trading was dominated by the French.
This did not mean that tension and conflict was not an inherent impact of the French fur trade. In fact, conflict arose not only between the French and English, but also among Native American tribes that competed for access and trading rights to the Europeans. The French and British fur traders competed bitterly over trading rights throughout the Allegheny Mountains region as well as the Mississippi river region. The French and Indian War of 1754 was the direct result of conflicts between the two nations as well as regional disputes over fur trading rights (Anderson, npg). The conflict resulted in a British victory in 1763 and led to the British takeover of France's colonial empire in North America. The French and Indian War had its catalyst in the expansion of British fur trading along the Mississippi. The war revealed several cultural dynamics that resulted from the fur trade. First, the French were able to ally themselves with the Indians of the Great Plains and utilize their resources and knowledge of the land to combat the larger British land forces. The French also had control of strategic waterways that allowed them greater access to mobile resources and the use of strategic "raiding strategies" rather than direct confrontations to fight the British (Belden, 141-142). If not for the vastly superior resources and manpower available for the British colonials, the French would no doubt have been victorious. The fur trade tied the Indian population to french fur traders and outposts; they used their stranglehold upon fur trading as a mechanism to bring aboard Indians as their allies. Therefore, the catalyst as well as the alliances formed throughout this important colonial war was directly the result of the expanding fur trade.
Warfare between the Native American population was also extremely fierce, as the fur trade created a new style economy for the Great Plains region, the competition for hunting grounds became competitive among differing tribes. While at the beginning of Colonial expansion there were more than six hundred different tribes within the plains region and the eastern boarder of the United States, by the end of the 18th century, there remained only a couple of dozen tribes, with three or four major tribes as the focal point. The reason for this centralization was two fold, the geographical expansion of the colonials resulted in a land grab and constant warfare between the British and Native Americans. Thus, colonists were directly responsible for the death and destruction of many Native American tribes (Anderson, npg). As the colonial population expanded farther and farther west of their original colonial destinations, they wiped out traditional tribal grounds. Another major reason was economic, the result of domestication within the Native American population resulted in less need for a farming and land-based tribes, thus they began to clutter in distinct regions that ultimately resulted in the assimilation of tribes. Constant warfare and conflict resulting from fur trapping regions
At the end of the French and Indian war, the French presence in the United States region diminished substantially. Although they had built up a very strong network of fur trading outposts as well as colonial settlements to facilitate exporting of goods, these operations became inaccessible as a result of the war. The British were able to take advantage of the infrastructure of the French fur trading system and utilize their own knowledge to expand upon their model. The Lewis and Clark expeditions to the Pacific Ocean opened up another level of fur trading in the West (Anderson, npg). The expansion of the fur trade at this point had integrated completely into the mainstream culture and economy of colonial regions. As a result, the French and British no longer had to rely upon Native Americans to be their trappers, many companies hired frontiersman known as "mountain men" to obtain pelts.
The impact of the French fur trade on the ecosystem of North America was much more sinister. The lucrative nature of fur trading led to dramatic over trapping in many region, and it eventually led to the disappearance of many indigenous fur bearing animals. Many varieties of beavers died out as a result of the trapping efforts. Even worse, the economics of fur trading resulted in colonial settlements and trading settlements based upon trading (Innis, 210). As a result, more and more land was cleared throughout these regions; fur-bearing animals became increasingly scarce. Greater pushes by the French into Western Canada and the Great Plains region of the United States led to even greater erosion of traditional poaching grounds (Belden, 68). Eventually, the clearing of large areas for settlement led to fur bearing animals becoming increasingly rare. This led to the decline of the fur trade and it ultimately lost its attractiveness as one of the most potent national industries by the mid 1800s.
The fur trade contributed to the development of the new world in substantial ways. It dramatically modified the social, political, economic and cultural nature of both the Europeans who settled in America and the Native Americans who had to adjust to them. It was because of the allure of wealth from fur trading that many French colonists came to the United States; similarly, much of the geographical exploration of the Americas was a search for fur. The relationships garnered between Native Americans and the French also was the result of interest in fur. Trading outposts that are now flagship cities throughout North America have their roots in the fur trade. The direct geo-political tensions of fur trading were the determining factor in declaring the Canadian and United States border. In the final analysis, the French created a vibrant society that revolved around the economic prosperity brought about by fur trading. They were able to leverage the strength of this industry to completely change the face of North America.
Anderson, Dean L. (1991) Variability in Trade at Eighteenth-Century French Outposts. In French Colonial Archaeology: The Illinois Country and the Western Great Lakes. Edited by John a Walthall, pp. 218-236. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
Anderson, Harry H. (1961) the Fort Lookout Trading Post Sites - a Reexamination. Plains Anthropologist 6(14):221-229.
Belden, a.L. (1917) the Fur Trade of America. New York, Peltries Publishing Co.
Burley, D., J. Scott Hamilton, and Knut R. Fladmark (1996) Prophecy of the Swan: The Upper Peace River Fur Trade of 1794-1823. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver.…