The first Europeans to purchase furs from Indians were French and English fishermen who, during the 1500s, fished off the coast of northeastern Canada and occasionally traded with the Indians. In exchange, the Indians received European-manufactured goods such as guns, metal cooking utensils, and cloth.
What was traded in the fur trade in Canada?
Indians would trade the pelts of small animals, such as mink, for knives and other iron-based products, or for textiles. Exchange at first was haphazard and it was only in the late sixteenth century, when the wearing of beaver hats became fashionable, that firms were established who dealt exclusively in furs.
The major trade goods were woollen blankets, cotton and linen cloth, metal goods, firearms and fishing gear. Tobacco, alcohol, trade jewellery and other luxury items accounted for only ten percent of the goods traded. The fur traders received far more than furs from Native people.
The Jamestown colonists traded glass beads and copper to the Powhatan Indians in exchange for desperately needed corn. Later, the Indian trade broadened to include trading English-made goods such as axes, cloth, guns and domestic items in exchange for shell beads.
The French traded iron tools, kettles, wool blankets and other supplies for the furs to make hats, while Native peoples exchanged furs for goods from around the world.
The fur trade was both very good and very bad for American Indians who participated in the trade. The fur trade gave Indians steady and reliable access to manufactured goods, but the trade also forced them into dependency on European Americans and created an epidemic of alcoholism.
The fur trade provided Indigenous peoples with European goods that they could use for gift-giving ceremonies, to improve their social status and to go to war. The French forged military alliances with their Indigenous allies in order to maintain good trade and social relations.
As the English, French, and Spanish explorers came to North America, they brought tremendous changes to American Indian tribes. Diseases such as smallpox, influenza, measles, and even chicken pox proved deadly to American Indians. Europeans were used to these diseases, but Indian people had no resistance to them.
The fur trade was based on good relationships between the First Nations peoples and the European traders. First Nations people gathered furs and brought them to posts to trade for textiles, tools, guns, and other goods. This exchange of goods for other items is called the barter system.
Beaver pelts were in the greatest demand, but other animals such as mink, muskrat, fox and sable marten were also trapped. In the 1830s, when beaver lost its value as a staple fur, HBC maintained a profitable trade emphasizing fancy fur. Although the fur trade continues today, HBC is no longer in the fur business.
The Fur Trade in North America began with the earliest contacts between the Iroquois and Europeans. The Iroquois were eager to have these goods and they paid for them with furs. While the beaver pelt was always the foundation of the trade, the Iroquois also harvested otter, mink, fox, bear and deer.
The Hurons, Iroquois, Susquehannocks, Petuns, Neutrals, Montagnais, and others maintained extensive trade networks over which they exchanged surplus items— largely corn, dried fish, or furs —either with each other for necessities or with more-distant tribes for luxury goods such as tobacco and prized religious items such
The Dakota and Ojibwe were the primary trappers of fur-bearing animals in the Northwest Territory. They harvested a wide variety of furs ( beaver being the most valuable) in the region’s woodlands and waterways.