Friday, July 15, 2016

Fur Trade Timeline and My French-Canadian Ancestors

Samuel Champlain made the first exploration into the interior of mainland North America. He sent Etiene Brule to live with the Huron Indians, to learn their language and trade routes. Champlain was the first to realize the great trade potential of the birch bark canoe.

Etiene Brule arrived at the eastern end of Lake Superior. He may have reached the western shores as well. He was on a quest for a route to the Far East. He was one of the first to search for the North West Passage to the Far East.

1630s - 1800s


Jean Nicolet traveled through the Great Lakes to Green Bay on what is now Lake Michigan.

By the 1630s furs were regularly leaving New France for Europe. These furs were mainly supplied by Indian traders, especially the Huron and Ottawa tribes. In Wisconsin the Winnebago tribes blocked the fur trade routes. They were attacked and defeated by the Ottawa and Huron. New tribes such as the Sauk, Fox, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe began moving into the area that is now Wisconsin.



1640s - 1700s



Radisson and Grosseiliers made an illegal trip into the interior. His men built a trading post at Chequamagon Bay on Lake Superior and claimed to have found a portage into the west (maybe Grand Portage).


1660s - 1690s

1660s - 1800s

1660s - 1800s





Marquette and Joliet used the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to reach the Mississippi. Afterword the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers became a major transportation routes to the West.

1670s - 1750s

Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth used the Savannah Portage to reach the interior of Minnesota and Mille Lac. Later he returned to Lake Superior; traveled up the northwest shore and built a post on the Kaministikquai River.

1670s - 1800s

La Salle traveled through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi to its delta. He claimed all the lands drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries for France.




By Royal Edict, New France closed all its western fur posts. Trade was officially abandoned for 20 years, but coureur des bois continue their operations.


Wars with the Fox Indians began. The Fox and Wisconsin Rivers trade route is closed. Trade across the upper Mississippi region was disrupted.

The Fox Wars end after they are nearly exterminated by the French and their Indian allies. The trade routes reopened, and goods were carried west and brought directly to the Indians by licensed traders.

The truce between the Ojibwe and Dakota was broken. The Dakota had previously allowed the Ojibwe to hunt on their lands and in exchange the Dakota had allowed trade goods to travel through to the Ojibwe. 

Now the Dakota had direct access to the trade goods and no longer needed the Ojibwe. An attempt was made to push the Ojibwe off Dakota lands, but within 50 years the Ojibwe succeeded in driving the Dakota out of their eastern woodlands.


The French and Indian War began. The fur trade was interrupted again. Most of the licensed traders and their voyageurs were called east to fight the British.


New France was conquered by the British. All trading rights and privileges became British. Furs were now sent to London instead of Paris and most trade goods were supplied through London Agents.

Britain tried several different arrangements to control the fur trade – imperial control, limiting trade to only five posts, and exclusive licensing. In spite of this, unlicensed traders continued to operate.

Alexander Henry received exclusive rights to trade on Lake Superior. He and his partner, Jean Baptiste Cadotte, built a post at Chequamagon and sent outfits into the Fon du Lac region.

Trade regulations were returned to the colonies, exclusive licenses were abolished. The start of unregulated trade increased the use of liquor in the fur trade. British traders were allowed to establish wintering posts amongst the Indians. Construction began on permanent structures at Grand Portage.

The Quebec Act became law. The western Great Lakes and all land north of the Ohio River became part of Quebec and subject to its laws and regulations. Green Bay and Prairie du Chein became interior trading centers. Traders started to exploit the region northwest of Grand Portage, but cut-throat competition reduced the profits. Small partnerships were formed to avoid or oppose the competition. The American Revolution caused some traders to avoid areas south and west of the Great Lakes and encouraged them to go north and west. Hudson Bay Company built a post on the Saskatchewan River.

First agreements were made between partners that would become the North West Company, the first joint stock company in Canada and possibly North America. Peter Pond traveled to the Athabaska where he gathered so many furs he was forced to leave some behind. Generally throughout the 1770s fur trade was centered around the large posts.

In January the North West Company was formed. There were 16 shares in the company. Simon McTavish and the Frobisher brothers hold six shares. The first meeting of the Montreal partners and their winterers was held that summer at Grand Portage. Grand Portage was to be the company’s rendezvous point for the next 20 years.


The Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution the year before but caused severe problems for the new North West Company. Some of the partners left the company forming the General Company of Lake Superior and the South.

The Beaver Club was formed. It was a very selective social organization of men who had wintered in Indian country. There were 19 original members. 

The Hudson Bay Company built more posts in the interior because furs were being taken at the Indian camps by the North West Company.

Alexander Mackenzie searched for the North West Passage and instead reached the Arctic Ocean. Simon McTavish tried to lease transportation rights through Hudson Bay but was refused. The North West Trading Company began construction of trading boats on the Great Lakes. Jean Baptiste Perrault entered the Fon du Lac with six other traders in a two-year partnership. They built posts on the St. Louis River, Leech Lake, Pine Lake and Otter Tail Lake. John Sayer joined a one-year partnership and built a post on the St. Louis River.

Alexander Henry sent a group of traders into the northern war zone between the Ojibwe and Dakota. The first year they traded at Leech Lake and the following year at Red River. They went north and then back to Grand Portage.

Alexander Mackenzie successfully crossed the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The route that he had discovered was so bad that it was little used in the future.

Discontent among the winterers of the North West Company due to small shares and poor trade goods caused the company to increase shares to its winterers and made clerks eligible for partnership. Jay’s Treaty gave reciprocal trading rights to British and American traders, each were allowed to cross the border to trade on the other’s territory. The treaty also opened New York for direct shipment of furs from Detroit and Michilimackinac. John Jacob Astor became involved in the fur trade.

Great-Grandfather Jean-Baptiste Meunier Meets the Poncas

Alexander Mackenzie broke from the North West Company over bad feelings with McTavish. Mackenize did not agree with some of the policies of McTavish. Subsequently the XY Company formed from several existing companies. McTavish ordered all his departments to undersell the XY traders. This in turn increased the use of rum, tobacco, blue or red laced and braided coats which the chiefs desired and the practice of trading with the Indians during drinking bouts.

The Americans purchased the Louisiana territory from the French. The Lewis and Clark expedition left in search of a passage to the Pacific Coast.

The American Fur Company was formed by J.J. Astor.

The South West Company was formed by J.J. Astor and the head of the North West Company William McGillivray.

The war between England and the United States disrupted trade all across the continent. The North West Company began operations on the Columbia River of the Pacific Northwest.

The War of 1812 ended. The United States took back lands that had been occupied by the British, but tensions still continued. After this the United States forbid any foreign traders to operate in American territory. The North West Company withdrew.

By Congressional Act, the United States forbid foreigners to trade on US soil. The American Fur Co. hired ex-North West traders to work for them. A border war began between the North West Co. and the American Fur Co.. The old Fon du Lac District was renamed the Northern Outfit.

John Sayer’s old clerk, Joseph La Prairie began working for the American Fur Co. He continued working for them until 1821.

The North West Co. and the Hudson Bay Co. merged under the name Hudson Bay Co. A major factor in the decision to merge was the high transportation costs shipping through the Great Lakes. In addition, the Hudson Bay Co. charter had stronger legal backing to right of land by discovery than the partnership claims of the North West Co. After this time, most trade goods were shipped through Hudson Bay for the interior posts. The border war still continued between the Hudson Bay Co. and the American Fur Co. It did not end until 1833 when the American Fur Co. abandoned its posts along the border in exchange for an annual cash payment from Hudson Bay.


For the rest of my Ancestors SEE…

Dad also had a few Canadian born ancestors...

Margaret Wilkie - my 2nd great-grandmother
born 29 MAR 1826 at St John's, Newfoundland, Canada
died 5 SEP 1910 • Plumstead, Kent, England
Thomas Wilkie, her father, was in the Royal Artillery which had been deployed in Newfoundland before 1812 until after 1826. He was the Armory Sergeant at the fort on Signal Hill in St. Johns.

Margaret McDonald - my 2nd great-grandmother
born 25 SEP 1832 at Cape Bear (lot 64) Prince Edward Island, Canada
died 7 DEC 1881 at Goderich, Huron Co., Ontario, Canada
As an infant Catherine Munn, her mother, arrived at Prince Edward Island in 1806 on the ship "Spencer" with over one hundred people from the island of Colonsay, Argyll, Scotland.

Ellen Sturdy - my 2nd great-grandmother
born 10 OCT 1833 at Goderich, Huron Co., Ontario, Canada
died 31 MAR 1906 at Detroit, Michigan, USA
Her parents Hugh STURDY (b. abt. 1800 in Ballyconnell, County Cavan, Ireland) and Elizabeth Shaw (b. abt 1811 in County Tipperary, Ireland) emigrated from IRELAND circa 1830 and settled in Goderich Twp., Huron Co., Ontario, Canada.

William Allen MacNeil - my great-grandfather
born 31 JUL 1865 at Goderich, Huron Co, Ontario, Canada
died 07 MAR 1927 at Detroit, Michigan, US5
His father was born in Scotland and emigrated from Scotland before 1830 and settled in Goderich Twp., Huron Co., Ontario, Canada.

Adaline Proctor - my great-grandmother
born 22 JUN 1864 • Goderich, Ontario, Canada
died 25 NOV 1908 • Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA
His father was born in Scotland and emigrated from Scotland before 1830 and settled in Goderich Twp., Huron Co., Ontario, Canada.

Her father William Proctor (b. bat 1831 in Ireland) was in Goderich Twp., Huron Co., Ontario, Canada before 1839.

For my current list of fur trade ancestors see:

A Canoe Load of French-Canadian Ancestors

You can never own too many canoes!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hello
    Fort intéressante comme lecture......

    So long Jica