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New France’s and the North American’ Fur Trade


Towards the beginning of the 17th century, Europeans formed powerful companies, conglomerations of firms, and individual proprietorships for critical business goals. It is during this time that several French citizens on a fishing expedition in North America came up with fur business idea. Towards the end of the century, the fur business idea had turned into multi-national business franchise covering Algonquian speaking nations, French allies, and British allies. In order to gain ground and consolidate consumer base, First Nations and the Europeans created treaties and alliances with allies to liberalize the trade market (Baldwin 67).

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Even though the treaties favored the First Nations and the Europeans, they recognized sovereignty and independence of the allied nations. This helped in creating a symbiotic relationship among the member nations. This paper seeks to explore the drivers of the fur trade and the role of New France in the whole picture. Notably, European exploration of North America jump-started the fur trade. Trade in fur displaced fishing, which had been the main economic activity of the French population in North America. The invention of a region rich in fur-bearing animals helped the French to compete Britain in the lucrative fur trade.

At the time, fur was a highly needed commodity across Europe. To ensure a competitive advantage over Britain, the French opted to form alliances with the native North Americans. These alliances solidified their relationship to an extent of engaging in politics and personal matters. As a result, the French could easily offer gifts to the natives to cement their relationship. The British, on the other hand, stopped the gift policy; this resulted in deep hostilities and resentments with the natives. The French went to New France to expand and dominate the entire fur trade.

Clearly, the French were after colonizing and developing New France. So lucrative was the fur trade that it went on to revolutionize the hunting practices and Aboriginal material culture. The fur trade played a critical role in the rise of New France. The entire fur trade in North America can be classified into three phases – the French period from 1600-1760, the British period from 1760 to 1816, and the American period from 1816-1850. Even though there are three distinct eras, the treatise focuses on the period between 17th and 18th century.

Origin of the Fur Trade

When Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, founded Quebec and New France in the early seventeenth century, the need for business franchises and creation of employment arose to cover the rising workforce and explore new areas of development. With fishing industry and crop cultivation facing difficulties due to increased number of players, the need for new business ideas remained long overdue. Setting up of the Company of New France in late 1620s represented the fulcrum of the fur trade.

With the then King of France according business outfit complete monopoly in the fur trade, several settlers and migrants moved into the New France to offer labor as well as engage in the multiplier impacts of the fur trade. Several individual entrepreneurs and businesspersons moved into the New France with business growing and booming in the new franchise. Etienne Brule was one of the greatest businesspersons who enjoyed the trade having previously engaged in fur trade albeit in low levels in the interior of the undiscovered France (Time Line – A Brief History of the Fur Trade par. 4).

As fur trading gained ground in the US, several European companies came into play with several business franchises shipping fur from North America in large quantities. For example, the Hudson’s Bay Company, established in 1670, consolidated the fur consumer base in Britain after the government accorded it the sole trading right in the country. It is vital to note that business rivalry in the fur-trading sector created conflicts between competitors with some differences spilling out of control into wars.

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For the better part of the eighteenth century, struggle for control of the region around Allegheny Mountains and Mississippi River presented the greatest battle. French and British fur traders continuously fought over the control of this region. This business rivalry coupled with other political differences between the two countries led to the French and Indian war in 1754. When Britain won the war in 1763, it took over the control of French colony in North American, ending the long-standing battle between the two European nations (Dolin 49).

New France had missionaries and fur traders as the early inhabitants. So profitable was this business in North America that the local inhabitants promised to bring more fur in return for French alcohol and other precious jewelry products. Their arrival started in 1615; they came to spread Catholicism among the pagan souls. In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu formed the Compagnie des Cent-Associés; this company was to help in colonizing and controlling the area by taking advantage of the rewarding fur trade in New France.

Consequently, the country became wealthy due to the profits from the merchants of trade. This enabled it to build a vast and powerful empire towards Mississippi and western part of the Great Lake. Besides, France surrendered all her earlier claims in North America. The fewer number of Europeans that were living in Quebec at the time prompted Champlain to form this company; it had trade leaders as its key partners. The company was to monopolize fur trade and other trades in the entire New France for the next 15 years. Notably, the company was to bring new settlers to the colony from France.

In addition, Compagnie des Cent-Associés was to offer support to the colonists and provide residing places for priests (Remillard and Prieur 44). In 1628, Kirke Brothers intercepted settlers who were heading to the new colony at the mouth of St. Lawrence. These Brothers conquered and preserved this area for England; this move led to series of conflicts among the colonizers. This move resulted in a fierce war between the Kirkes and the French settlers. Later, Champlain returned to New France to continue defending the new colony. He received meager support from the French soldiers in securing New France.

Goods Involved

Fur played the major role in this trade. However, other goods and services used in this trade included development of political and military allies for wars – for example – the Algonquian peoples and the French. Similarly, different players came into trade with different payment styles. For example, Jacques Cartier used iron goods as tender for buying fur from the Mi’kmaq people (Remillard and Prieur 63).

Original Center for Trade

Tadoussac acted as the original and early center for fur trade. Located at the meeting point between Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence River, this town played an integral role in serving the interests of both the natives and the Europeans. It is from this town that the native people served as navigators for the European hunting teams since the natives understood the landscape of the region. Correspondingly, given that the town enjoyed the services of two rivers, it represented an easily accessible center given that rivers were the main medium of transport during this time. The trading center changed to Quebec after Champlain came in with great command in the business in the early seventeenth century (Remillard and Prieur 67).

Impacts of the Fur Trade

Based on the economic, military, and social ties, the fur trade encouraged intermarriages between the French and the natives developing a kinship bond between the two groups of people. Such ties increased economic ties, thus improving avenues for more trade and military alliances. Since the natives harbored great knowledge on hunting and the landscape of the New France, there existed a relationship with mutual benefits between the traders and the natives. Such relationships created ties for increased political and military ties (Dolin 55). Numerous researches on the fur trade indicate that the Algonquian people enjoyed close ties with the French while the Iroquois leaned towards the British.

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Before the exploration and discovery of New France in the 17th century, the natives engaged in hunting and gathering as the main economic activity. Cultural practices in hunting and fur trading regulated hunting and game meat trade. Nonetheless, when the Europeans entered North America, total disregard to the local cultures and traditional practices took root. Hunting, gathering, fur extraction, and game hunting took place without regards to the consideration of the plight of the natives.

Sustainability issues arose albeit on traditional and cultural perspectives. Imposition of Christianity onto the natives changed the desires and willingness of the natives to engage in trade with the Europeans. These coupled with demand for labor in navigation and hunting sector created animosity between the natives and the European led conflicts. However, superiority of the Europeans prevailed in most circumstances leading to compliance among most of the natives (Carlos 187).

Increase in demand for beaver pelts presented a serious negative impact on the natives. As more Europeans hunted for beaver, a rapid westward movement of beaver population arose. With beaver population reducing at high rates given the warm and water resistance capability of the beaver pelts, hunters moved further inland to explore new regions. These coupled within the extinction of beavers in the European region, increased the strain of beaver existence, leading to near extinction of the species (Dolin 61).


Fur trading revolutionized North America. The aborigines were the greatest affected people with cultural, religious, and traditional impacts arising from Europeans imposition of their cultures on the inhabitants. Equally, new diseases that never existed in the areas became a common phenomenon. Hunting and gathering became difficult with extinction of majors animal that acted as source of food for the natives. All these factors coupled with the non-business culture among the native population meant that the Europeans enjoyed the benefits of fur trading more than the natives did even though the native played a key role in hunting and navigation.

Annotated Bibliography

Remillard, Francois, and Benoit Prieur. Fabulous Quebec: capture the excitement of Quebec!. Montreal: Ulysses Travel Guides, 2004. Print.

For a span of close to forty years beginning from 1627, the Compagnie des Cent-Associés dominated the fur trade, but with no interest on the development of the new colony. Remillard and Prieur in their books agree that numerous expeditions by religious leaders altered the economic level of New France. The image of France continued to change due to the numerous fur trappers and traders.

Carlos, Ann. “Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.” Journal of American History 98.1 (2011): 182-192. Print.

The French frontiersmen represented their native land in North America. These travellers were driven by the limited nature of beaver pelt. Markedly, furs were in high demand in entire Europe due to their social distinction and protection against foreign elements. Carlos notes that the flop of early fur trading companies in North America led to the rise of the French companies in the region. This scenario impelled the French to alter their tact in New France from royal to corporate. The Europeans could obtain animal skins and firearms in exchange for fur that was highly produced by the Indian coolies.

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Baldwin, Douglas. New France and the fur trade. Calgary: Weigl Educational Publishers, 2003. Print.

Balwin’s book New France and the fur trade notes that the introduction of alcohol in the Indian society angered the missionaries who felt that their mission was at risk. The French individuals had peaceful relations with the Indians in the trading front and hunting grounds. The French citizens did not cause population pressure on the Indian’s hunting grounds.

Dolin, Eric Jay. Fur, fortune, and empire: the epic history of the fur trade in America. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. Print.

The book elaborates how France’s expansion led to war in Europe, especially with Britain; each fought for more colonies. The hostility between these two nations subdued with the signing of the Utrecht Treaty. However, in 1734, war erupted between France and England and ended in 1748 after signing yet another treaty. In 1756, France went into war against England and Prussia; they received immense support from Austria. New France was defeated by the English navy; the English controlled the Quebec City in 1759. In 1760, Montreal surrendered, making the war end with signing of Paris Treaty in 1763. According to the terms of the treaty, France surrendered Canada to Britain, and instead laid claim over the Caribbean Island.

Works Cited

Time Line – A Brief History of the Fur Trade. N.p., 2013. Web.

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