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

By Linda Barrington | Go to book overview

4
Property Rights and Competition in the Depletion of the Beaver Native Americans and the Hudson's Bay Company, 1700-1763

ANN M. CARLOS AND FRANK D. LEWIS

The trade in Canadian beaver was based on European demand. Furs were shipped from Hudson Bay or down the St. Lawrence River and across the Atlantic, eventually to be transformed into the high-fashion felt hats that remained popular in England and on the Continent for almost two centuries. The beaver was thus part of an interdependent trade that encompassed North America and Europe. What happened in the market for the final product, moreover, played back into the primary resource market, helping to shape Native American responses and determining the level of extraction of the resource. To point out the international nature of the Canadian fur trade is not new. In their seminal works, Harold Innis ( 1956) and E. E. Rich ( 1958) focused on the conduct and behavior of the European companies and on the geographical spread of the fur trade within North America. Although they acknowledged that many aspects of the trade were determined by Indian custom and practice, they gave the Indians a peripheral role. In contrast, much of the recent research treats Native Americans as central players rather than passive agents in the trade. 1 Clearly this is as it should be. After all, it was the Indians who hunted, trapped, and traded furs to the Europeans.

With the increasing recognition of the Indians' role in the trade, an important issue has emerged. Historians have long known that the geographi-

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