The Other Side of the Frontier: Economic Explorations into Native American History

By Linda Barrington | Go to book overview

Introduction
Intertwining Economies

KAREN CLAY

The chapters in this section examine eighteenth-century frontier trade between Native Americans and intermediaries. Native Americans brought furs and other animal skins to an intermediary, typically a merchant or a trading post, and received in return manufactured goods such as rifles, cloth, and axes. Voluntary exchange is presumed in economics to be mutually beneficial; otherwise it would not occur. This exchange, therefore, both moved the Native Americans to a higher level of utility and generated profit for the intermediaries. It also made use of the two parties' comparative advantages in production. Native Americans, for instance, were skilled hunters and maintained a locational advantage because they lived in the interior, closer to the animals. The strengths of the merchants and the firms that owned the trading posts, in contrast, lay in their ability to mediate in the market, which involved the purchase of goods suitable for sale at the posts and the acquisition, storage, and delivery of furs or skins to the market.

Frontier trade, unlike most of the trade in the bigger cities, took place between a producer and an intermediary. Native Americans active in the region around Hudson Bay and in South Carolina produced furs and skins through hunting and then took these to a merchant or a trading post where they exchanged them for goods. In cities, production and consumption were increasingly separate -- individuals sold their goods or services on the market and then went to shops, emporiums, and general stores to make purchases from the available stocks of household goods, cloth, tools and hardware, alcohol, food, and spices. This separation was not as prevalent in the South, where many planters sold their produce -- tobacco, indigo, or rice -- through the merchants who supplied them with goods. The structure of trade differed from that of the frontier, however, because planters consigned rather than sold their produce to the merchants. Consignment meant that planters received the London market price, less commission and related costs, rather than the value of the goods in the local market.

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