Introductionfur trade, in American history. Trade in animal skins and pelts had gone on since antiquity, but reached its height in the wilderness of North America from the 17th to the early 19th cent. The demand for furs was an important factor in the commercial life of all the British and Dutch seaboard colonies, as well as of S Louisiana, Texas, and the far Southwest. But its effect in opening the wilderness was even more striking in Canada, where the rivers and lakes offered avenues to the heart of the continent. The speed with which fur traders traveled halfway across the continent was remarkable. The Great Lakes region was extensively exploited by men buying furs from the Native Americans before the end of the 17th cent.
The effect on the indigenous peoples who received the white man's goods (including firearms and liquor, as well as diseases previously unknown to them) in exchange for the furs was cataclysmic; native cultures were overturned. This process also occurred among the natives of far NE Siberia as Russian traders reached that remote region in the 18th cent. The promyshlenniki [fur traders] pushed even farther across the icy seas and prepared the way for the long Russian occupation of Alaska.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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