Fur and Expansion

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Despite Colbert's grand agricultural design, the fur trade remained the main economic resource of New France and led to territorial expansion. Profit was kept high by fixed prices. "Coureurs de bois" traveled to the "pays d’en haut", an area around the Great Lakes, to contact distant tribes and get the best furs. The demand of the trade pushed the French further and further west. Exploring expeditions were self-financed because of furs. There was a strong competition with the English who created the Hudson Bay Company in 1670, leading to a contest between the St Lawrence and the Bay traders.

 

While the fur trade played a key role in encouraging territorial expansion, the State was also interested in establishing new forts to stop English expansion, and the Church was eager to christianise more Native American peoples. Church, state and commerce therefore had mutually reinforcing influences on the territorial development of New France

 

 

The fur trade gave New France a double character: on the one hand, the St Lawrence heartland was a dense and ordered agricultural colony, while the pays d'en haut was wild and free. Most young men were involved at some point in the fur trade and often led a double life, with one family in the St Lawrence Valley and another in the interior.

 

The fur trade encouraged the tendency to traval and led to an extraordinary territorial expansion.  For the French, the St Lawrence was a highway into the interior, giving access to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi/Missouri system. By contrast, the English were isolated behind the barrier of the Appalachian mountains. As a result, most of the interior was explored and claimed by French Canadian explorers and fur traders :

 

• in 1673 Louis Jolliet and Jacquette Marquette explored the Upper Mississippi

• in 1685 Cavelier de La Salle explored the Mississippi. The expedition built fur-trading posts all along the Mississippi Valley, beginning at the Great Lakes (Detroit, St Louis) down to the Gulf of Mexico

• in 1718 Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded New Orleans

• in 1738 Pierre Gaultier de la Vérendrye explored the Upper Missouri valley

 

The fur trade helped to make New France a prosperous colony, with Quebec as its political capital, Montreal as its fur-trading headquarters, and an extensive empire that combined military forts and trading posts.

 

More on Cavelier de La Salle : The Visionary La Salle, http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/stlouis/lasalle.html