Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fur Trade Goods -- Beads and Silver


The colorful beads and silver beaver pendant (above) are representative of the trade goods bartered between French fur traders and Native Americans throughout New France (Canada) in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In an effort to control the fur trade the governors of New France only licensed a few French traders, and expected the Indians to bring their furs to Montreal where the government could keep an eye on them.


But, in short order hundreds of young, enterprising Frenchmen known as voyageurs ("travelers" in French) paddled canoes up the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers to rendezvous with Indian trappers to obtain their furs.

Another bolder class of Frenchmen known as couriers de bois  ("Runners of the Woods" in French) loaded their canoes with metal hatchets, knives, kettles, traps, needles, fish hooks, cloth and blankets, jewelry and decorative items. In later times they also exchanged firearms and sometimes illegal alcohol.

They pushed into the remote wilds of Canada, where they paddled their canoes as many as 16 hours a day while carrying two packs weighing 90 pounds (40 kilograms) each across portages. They learned the Indians' language and customs and gained their friendship with gifts like the colorful beads and silver beaver above.


The couriers de bois would often spend a year or two living and trapping with the Indians.

They learned to live, hunt, and dress like the Indians. Sometimes they married Indian women and settled down with their tribes. They learned to survive the freezing winters. Many they did not see another European for several years.

Glass Beads

The history of beads dates back to 40,000 years ago. Egyptians were making glass beads by 1365 B.C.

A major source of european glass beads used in the fur trade was Venice, Italy. A guild of Venetian glass makers existed in 1224 A. D..

The word “bead” is derived from the old English word “bedu” meaning prayer. The aristocrats of the glass beads were the Chevron or Rosetta beads.

Trade Silver


Silver made to trade with the Indians was an essential part of every well-dressed warrior’s outfit. During the 18th century most prominent Indians owned a small fortune in wearable art, including: pendants, armbands, bracelets, earrings, nose decorations, circular “moon” gorgets, and rows of pierced brooches sewn onto their clothing.

For more about my fur trade heritage see:

Cowboy Legacy -- French connection http://a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com/2011/10/cowboy-legacy-french-connection.html

Cowboy Legacy -- Great Granddad Was A Fur Trader
http://a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com/2013/08/cowboy-legacy-great-granddad-was-fur.html

Great-Uncle Rene Was A Coureurs Des Bois
http://a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com/2015/08/great-uncle-rene-was-coureurs-des-bois.html

Was Cousin Daniel A Potawatomi Chief?
http://a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com/2013/10/was-cousin-daniel-potawatomi-chief.html 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the very interesting information about Canadian trade between First Nations people and the French. I have always loved southwest Native American jewelry, pottery and baskets and have purchased some over many years. When traveling to Canada, it's interesting to compare the similarities and differences between styles of art, as well as the beliefs behind their creation.

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