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Fur Trade in Minnesota: Overview

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“Last Days of the Upper Mississippi Fur Trade,” by Rhoda R. Gilman.
In Minnesota History, vol. 42, no. 4 (Winter 1970): pp. 122-140. 
MNHS call number: Digital copy

Where Two Worlds Meet: The Great Lakes Fur Trade, by Carolyn Gilman.
St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1982.
MNHS call number: Reading Room HD9944. U46 G744, also available for purchase

American Fur Company Papers, 1831-1849.
Microfilmed papers of the American Fur Company. Includes copies of invoices, blotters, orders, memorandums, letter books, bound volumes, letters, and other papers. Correspondents include John Jacob Astor, Lewis Cass, Ramsay Crooks, Robert Stuart, Henry Hastings Sibley, Joseph Nicholas Nicollet, Lawrence Taliaferro, Sir Curtis Miranda Lampson, Sir George Simpson, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Jean Joseph Rolette, Pierre Chouteau, Gabriel Franchere, Charles Gratiot, George Bonga, and Allan Morrison.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Peter Pond Papers, 1773-1775.
Accounting information, bibliographical sources that reference Peter Pond, and Pond’s account of his early life as a fur trader.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, edited by Charles M. Gates.
Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1933.
This compilation contains the unabridged diaries of John MacDonell, Archibald N. McLeod, Hugh Faries, and Thomas Conner along with the narrative of Peter Pond. Written in the 1930s, the introduction shows the biases of that time period. 
MNHS call number: F 483 .G25 1933

Overview


The fur trade was one of the earliest economic exchanges in North American history. In the early years—roughly 1500 to 1800—the French dominated the trade of animal pelts in exchange for European goods such as rifles, alcohol, cured tobacco, and iron tools. In contrast to the British, Spanish, and Americans, the French were less interested in conquering territories, and therefore, they maintained amicable relationships with various Native American tribes.

Starting in Montreal and Quebec City, French voyageurs made their way as far west as the present day Dakotas and Montana using rivers and the Great Lakes. The journey took several months each way and required that traders winter in the west among Native Americans and build their own forts. Many of these forts are still standing today.

In 1754, the British and French warred over establishing a fur-trade monopoly in what became known as the French-Indian war. British companies began to compete with one another after the French lost both the war and their domination of the fur trade in 1763. Because of fierce competition, over-trapping led to the decimation of many fur-bearing animals.

In the 1830s silk was introduced to England, lowering the demand for and price of beaver fur. Combined with over-trapping, this lowered demand greatly changed the the fur trade and the relationships between traders and Native Americans. By the 1870s, fur trading had mostly died out.

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