In the 1760s, the term “Illinois” referred to the area east of the Mississippi River roughly corresponding to the modern state of Illinois. The potential of this market served by the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers was far greater than that of the other two trading areas, Canada and New York. The Illinois climate was more hospitable and the Indian population greater than either north or south. North of the Great Lakes in the Hudson Bay area the climate was so severe that survival was difficult and the density of Native Americans was low. South of the Ohio River the warmer climate was not favorable to animals with heavy coats and deerskin was the primary pelt gathered. The moderate climate of the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi and Missouri Valleys including Illinois offered a bountiful harvest of fur and livable conditions for the Indians as well as excellent transportation.
The Indians formed an expanding market for a wide range of dry goods and liquor. Those west of the Mississippi were as eager to have European goods as those to the north who had more experience with French traders. However, the colonists failed in their attempt to wrest the trade from the French who remained in control of the Illinois trade throughout the period between 1760 and 1774. The colonial merchants had to settle for the French farmers and the British army as markets.
The two major mercantile firms competing in Illinois were Baynton and Wharton of Philadelphia and Maxent, LaClede, and Company, the French firm that founded St. Louis. These two companies and their business associates competed for the furs from the Indians as well as sterling bills of exchange from the British army, the two most significant assets that could be used to pay for imports to the area. Some farm products did find a market in New Orleans to feed the people there, to provision visiting ships, and to export to France and other countries, but the farm produce was bulky and difficult to preserve in the