Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The expansion of America has a lot to attribute to the fur trade. There can be much made about ideals and deals that were made, but in the end the fur trade is the reason the country grew as fast as it did and the territories were acquired.
When the explorers began to do more than just land on shore and get back in their boats, they began to venture further and further into the wilderness. They did not have to go far before catching sight of some of the bounty the New World had to offer. Now, some of the explorers saw these resources and dismissed them. The Spanish were intent on gold and new religious converts. Nothing could shake them from their obsession. The English were focused on the land and all the tobacco that they could grow. But the Dutch and the French saw something more. Like their counterparts, they did see dollar signs but it was in the abundance of fur the lands provided.
It was not that they had never seen a beaver or a raccoon. It was that in their homeland the animals were sparse due to thousands of years of population growth and overhunting. Conservationists were not around too much in those days. It was use the land and keep using. In this New World, the people that already lived there and called it home had more respect for the land and the creatures in it than the newly arrived Europeans. Native Americans were ones to only take was needed. They did hunt, but they did it only for survival. There was no sport or potential to amass riches in these blessings.
The Europeans saw a niche. The demand for furs back home was rising. They were of course great for keeping warm, but they were also a status symbol of the rich and the wanna-be rich. Just a few of the samplings from the New World was enough to whet the appetites of the Old World. The fur was wonderful and of high quality. The animals had not been hunted out. Looking around them, the explorers saw an inexhaustible supply of these resources.
Since the Spanish had invaded the southern half of the New World and the English had taken the land just north of that, the Dutch and French looked toward what would be Canada and the extreme northern part of America. They began making their way inland and looking for more and more furs. As they began to deplete supplies, they moved further west. They began to realize that this land was much bigger than they had anticipated. Going forth to find new resources was taking the fur trappers further from the water routes that were the only way to get the goods to market. The solution was not to stop expanding their search for furs. Their solution was to begin setting up trading posts in strategic stops to help increase the efficiency of getting the furs to market. Quebec was only one of those posts that was established and remains today a large and important city. These posts would prove to be important in the growing expansion of the new world and the relation between the countries claiming it.
The fur trappers began venturing where no European had been before. They continued to go over that next mountain. They crossed the uncrossable river. They continued to venture forth and map out the vast lands. Their knowledge would prove to be vital in the political arena. They learned the land. They learned the dangers. But more importantly they were the ones who established relationships with the natives they encountered. It was not uncommon to see a fur trapper with a wife or two from one of the nearby tribes. They went were no one else dared go.
The knowledge these men gave their mother countries aided in wars, treaties, and the obtaining of the vast territories that they began to shape the future America. Debates could go on about how irresponsible they were with the resources. Arguments have occurred over their integrity and the roles they played with the natives. But in the end the fur traders were the main explorers of the New World and were the scouts for the settlers that were to come years later whether they knew it or not.