Fur Trade Facts Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Leila Brollosy Pullum

Leila has taught a variety of elementary school grade levels over the last four years and has her master's degree in educational studies.

For nearly 200 years, the North American fur trade would be a major business venture for Europeans, Americans and natives of both Canada and America. This lesson will explore the North American fur trade by looking at important facts and details.

First Contact

Imagine you are an indigenous person of the Beothuk tribe and first encounter white men fishing along the Atlantic coast. Your curiosity of their shiny tools leads you to interact with them and offer some of your most useful items for a trade. The items you offer will even become very valuable to them. This would be the beginning of the North American fur trade, which would reach as far north as Canada, as far west as the Rocky Mountains and as far south as the Mississippi River.

The fur trade originated out of the initial contact between Native Americans and fishermen working in the areas now known as Quebec and Newfoundland, Canada, in 1670. The natives wanted to trade the pelts of small animals for the iron tools of the European fisherman. Pelts refer to the fur or hair of animals. When wearing fur became fashionable in Europe, the business of trading fur began to thrive, and French, Dutch and British companies were established.

Who Ruled?

The French were the first to control the fur trade, which spread from the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers down to the Mississippi. The British established the Hudson's Bay Company. The French and the British competed for dominance for about a hundred years.

In 1794, Jay's Treaty established a northern borderline, and the American Fur Company gained control of the trade along the Mississippi River. The French reorganized and gave control to Scottish merchants, who established the North West Company and acquired new land for fur trapping. Eventually, the North West Company and Hudson's Bay joined forces under the Hudson's Bay Company name. The Hudson's Bay Company also gained control over the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest.

Natives and trappers on a Hudsons Bay Company outpost

Demand on The Rise

Fur became very popular in Europe as early as the 13th century. However, by the 18th century, only the nobility could afford fur. The new trade routes to North America brought fur coats and hats that were highly valuable. The fur would be shipped from America to France, Holland, England or Russia. Beaver and felt hats became an item that no one who had wealth would go without, and once they became popular, the fur trade started to boom. Felt hats were hats made of a combination of beaver and rabbit wool.

A picture showing how to process pelts

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