RICHARD I. RUGGLES
Commerce was the primary agency in the exploration and discovery of the northern part of America. Exploration was the necessary consequence of a burgeoning trade in furs, whereas geographical inquiry was a lesser inducement for coasting intricate and dangerous shorelines and venturing across the vast interior of the continent. The impetus of the pioneer trading expedition of the ship Nonsuch into Hudson Bay in 1668 was not discovery, which was a relatively unimportant motive; rather, the goals were to gauge the potential of the trade in furs with the Cree Indians in the Bottom of the Bay,1 to assess the feasibility of this large region as a colony, and to advance the quest for valuable minerals. These three purposes-- trade profit, colonial advantage, and mineral riches--were at the forefront of British activity for the following century and a quarter, stemming from this trial British trading venture.
Whereas geographical curiosity played a muted role in the exploration history of the northern and western regions of the continent, geographical strategy was pivotal. Trading enterprises found it vital to unravel the interconnections of rivers and lakes and their outflow to seas, to measure directions and distances between significant nodes along the emerging paths of trade, to surmount mountainous barricades, to map out the interdigitations of tundra, forest, parkbelt, and grassland, and to become cognizant of the territories of the peoples of the region.
Based on such knowledge, groups expanded their facilities, jockeying for trade advantage in reference to the geographical pattern of their rivals' trade economies. The backers of the first English expeditions were enticed to invest in a venture that was to be intruded into an existing system; their strategy was the eventual circumvention of the geographical pattern of the French fur trade concentrated in the Saint Lawrence-Great Lakes basin. This would allow the merchants to carry their goods directly into the heart of the continent. To pursue this stratagem successfully required that the