Fur trade new france essay A level essay help
It is difficult to overstate the importance of fur in the historical development of New France. Indeed, it was the lure of this resource that prompted the French to establish a permanent presence in the St. Lawrence River Valley in the early seventeenth century, and subsequently to expand into the Great Lakes region, the Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois River Valleys, and the Hudson Bay watershed. Over this vast tract of the North American continent, the French engaged in an ambitious commercial enterprise designed to meet European demand for fur. This enterprise – known by the deceptively simple term “the fur trade” – had complex economic, social, and political dimensions and shaped the French colonial experience in diverse ways. Although its annual value paled in comparison to that of the North Atlantic cod fisheries, the fur trade was nevertheless the economic engine of New France: it underwrote exploration, evangelization, and settlement initiatives while providing income for habitant households and generating private fortunes for officials, merchants, and investors. Additionally, the fur trade shaped patterns of mobility and settlement in New France through its requirements of an itinerant labour force and inland trading posts. Some of these posts – like those at Quebec, Detroit, and Green Bay – became the nuclei of permanent population centres.
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Morantz, Toby. “The Fur Trade and the Cree of James Bay.” In Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference, edited by Carol M. Judd and Arthur J. Ray, pp. 39-58. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.
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Thus, by the mid eighteenth century, the fur trade of New France was becoming rationalized and structured along capitalist lines. The trade was coming under the control of urban merchants, who coordinated the movement of labour, goods, and supplies through an integrated transportation network connecting the far-flung posts of the pays d’en haut into the broader French Atlantic world. Yet although this network existed primarily for commercial purposes, it had also acquired political, social, and cultural dimensions that were critical to the French presence in North America.
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When French fur traders established a permanent presence in the St. Lawrence River Valley in the early seventeenth century, they were obliged to comply with the norms, values, and protocols that governed trade among local Aboriginal groups. These groups traded exclusively with close political and military allies, so the French were compelled to negotiate a place for themselves in an intertribal alliance that had taken shape before their arrival – an alliance comprising the Montagnais, the Hurons, the Algonquins, the Ottawas, the Nipissing, and others. Membership in this alliance required regular reaffirmation through gift-giving, speech-making, and – most critically – participation in war against the Iroquois League. It was in fulfillment of this military obligation that Champlain joined Montagnais and Algonquin raiding parties against the Iroquois in 1609 and again in 1610, both times employing firearms to devastating effect. Champlain’s actions confirmed to the Iroquois that the French were the latest tribe to join the enemy alliance and were therefore legitimate targets for aggression. Over the following century, the Iroquois mounted a violent campaign against the French and their Aboriginal allies – a campaign that escalated from the harassment of trade flotillas on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers in the early 1640s, to the dispersal the Hurons in 1649-50, to the capture or killing of nearly six hundred French colonists in the St. Lawrence River Valley in the late 1680s and 90s. For their part, the French and their allies launched multiple invasions into the Iroquois country where they razed villages, destroyed crop harvests, and looted graves. It was not until 1701 that the French and their allies reached a lasting truce with the Iroquois – the Great Peace of Montreal.
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Under this new geopolitical policy, the fur-trading posts of the interior acquired tremendous strategic importance. They doubled as military command centres, provisioning depots, and meeting places where the French forged and reaffirmed alliances with Aboriginal groups. Over the first half of the eighteenth century, these posts became the principal nodes of a military-cum-commercial network that stretched from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes, and thence branched off in two directions: south, down the Mississippi River system to the Gulf of Mexico; and west, to the forks of the Saskatchewan River. Posts located along these two branches played a particularly important role in blocking English/British colonial and commercial expansion. On the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, Canadian-born brothers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville established posts at Biloxi in 1699-1700 and Mobile in 1701. These posts became centres of exchange with the up-country Choctaw people, who provided deerskins to the French in return for arms, ammunition, and military accoutrements. Thus equipped, the Choctaws assumed an active military role as a bulwark against the English-speaking settlers of the Carolinas and their Aboriginal allies, the Chickasaws. Similarly, the Canadian-born Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye and his sons established a chain of fur-trading posts in the hinterlands of Hudson Bay between 1731 and 1743 – including Fort St. Charles on Lake of the Woods, Fort Maurepas near Lake Winnipeg, and Fort Paskoya on the Saskatchewan River. These posts enabled La Vérendrye and his sons to forge alliances with the Cree and the Assiniboine, and consequently to draw their pelts away from British traders on the bayside.