18th Century Fur Trade – An Age of Adventure and Exploration

It is late June, early July 1798 at a major Northwest Company Fur Post in what is now Northern Minnesota.

Summer is in full swing. The great expanses of blue sky and water causing one to marvel. The whisper of leaves floats along the breeze, Aspen, Birch,and Maple. The many varieties of Pines standing as sentinels among the rest. The smell of wood smoke is sharp from the campfires of the Native American village nearby, the haphazard camps of the voyageur, and the separate campsites of the travelers from further inland that have come to trade their winter beaver and furs for goods.

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Visiting Bourgeois have come to discuss business…

Surrounded by the vastness of wilderness, the company post is crowded with small single buildings surrounded by the stockade and bastions, the Great Hall gleaming in contrast. A constant bustle of trade and enterprise is being accomplished despite language barriers, different religious beliefs, ethnicity, and the distinct segregation of social class.

The currency of the day is beaver. The trade items coming from Montreal are milled blankets in several sizes and point value, coarse woolen cloths of different kinds, cotton, linens, and coarse sheeting.

Visiting Bourgeois and Montreal Agents gather to discuss business of the day and next season’s strategy. How pelts are selling. How the tariffs, insurance, and government regulations are affecting the trade. All are of importance. From the wintering partners, kinds of goods the Native Americans are buying and in what quantity. The Indians are exacting customers, and their needs and tastes are different from the Europeans. This dictates what supplies the company and clerks will order this fall for next springs shipment to the interior.

The currency of the day is beaver. The trade items coming from Montreal are milled blankets in several sizes and point value, coarse woolen cloths of different kinds, cotton, linens, and coarse sheeting. Thread, lines, twine, common hardware, cutlery, kettles of brass and copper, tin goods, ironmongery of several descriptions and sheet iron are all available. Also arriving are silk and cotton handkerchiefs, hats, shoes and hose of necessity to the wintering gentlemen, and of course the more profitable trade items for the Northwest Company, “women’s”, beads, needles, awls, ribbon, jewelry and vermilion. Arms and ammunition as well as twist and carrot tobacco were also items of trade, but blankets and cloth far outweighed their importance.

As the clerks separate, count and verify the incoming packs, we become aware of all the other provisions that are arriving. Brandy and High Wine in large quantity, salt, tea, some refined sugar, flour, spices, and candles. What other things do you think would have been necessary for the survival and comfort of the fur post wintering partners, clerks, and voyageurs?

Everything is being paddled in and out by canoe and the labor of the voyageur.

Going back to Montreal are the beaver pelts and furs that are in great demand for the manufacture of hats for the gentlemen and ladies in Europe.

Explore the era of the fur trade with us, along with the personalities and lives of some of the people that make up this period in our history.

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