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Ottissippi Excerpt Chapter 6, #1: Trade and Traders

By Cheryl Morgan

OTTISSIPPI is written by local author – Cheryl Morgan. It is the New Native History and culture of Southeast Michigan and beyond that has been untold. It was inaccessible due to the complexity of the many tribes, governments, states, and boundaries. The history was hidden and scattered everywhere due to time and the many changes of names of waterways, peoples and places. It is the result of 4 years of intense groundbreaking research that clarifies and reveals what happened here and in the Northwest Territory. Now available in one volume! Non-fiction 643 pages.

BWHL will be sharing excerpts from OTTISSIPPI with the readers each week. The book is available on .

It is available as an ebook with a searchable Table of Contents and in Print – paperback.

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Chapter 6

Trade and Traders

The Ojibwe of Sault Saint Marie (Michigan) and LaPoint (Wisconsin) had formed the merchant center of the Midwest trading network, reaching far and wide from about, 1400 A.D.

The European Fur Trade led to new lands and exploration. It created much friction between competing governments for the riches being found in the New Territory. It also created greed and war among Natives and traders.  

The Spanish voyages to the New World in the 1400s were the beginning of transatlantic exploration and trading. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 opened the Atlantic Trade to European nations and England as a power. It was also the beginning of colonization on the Atlantic Seaboard, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The fishing grounds in the North Atlantic, the furs, salt, rum, slaves, sugar, rice, natural resources, and their exploitation were of great wealth to Europe.  

The European nations and Russia had a declining fur population due to the great demand. The high price of the luxury furs created the market in North America. The Native Americans doing the work of gathering and processing of the furs. They were possessed of the knowledge and skills and played the central role in the Fur Trade. They became entwined with the European world economy and its political designs for expansion. Charter companies with monopoly rights to trade began the colonization of America.

The French Company of 100 Associates in 1632 passed to the Company of the Indies, John Law’s company, in 1665. The French were world traders in the slave and Indian trade of tobacco. They had 10,000 indentured slaves, a total monopoly in Louisiana between 1717 and 1731” (Lanman, Redbook).

“When the Indians were first exposed to objects made of metal, glass, and woven fabric, they assumed these to be wondrous possessions of manitous or deities. The trade goods made their lives much easier. The French had been trading in the Maritimes with the Montagnais Natives, along with the British and the Dutch, who traded with the Iroquois. The Iroquois became cornered by all.

The French were introduced to the Algonquins, who lived west and north of Montreal, Canada. Their new center of operations, for New France, the Fur Trade was booming in Europe. The French met the Saulteurs in 1623 at Sault Ste. Marie. France sent out explorers to find the passage to the Pacific and an easy trade route to China and Asia. The Natives led the explorers to all the natural resources in the New France. The French Monarchy used the feudal system with the expense of settlement on a seigniorial officer. The seignior had limited independence, power, and wealth. This system did not attract a large amount of immigration. It did attract fur traders, adventurers, and explorers, who sought freedom from the authorities. The great distance from official government made it difficult for the authorities to manage the Fur Trade and traders. In 1627, French merchants founded Compagne De La Novelle France, and the Seigneurial Regime began.

The Natives were essential to the production of furs; they were trappers, traders, processors, and marriage partners. The Native women were a great asset to the fur traders. They were guides, interpreters, working alongside in the trade, as well as nurturers, cooking, making clothing, and all other necessary chores in the wilderness life. The children who resulted from these unions were of mixed heritage and were called the Metis; they were also known as the coureurs de bois, woods runners, and half-breeds. They were the link between both worlds, knowing the Indian ways and the European. They were essential to the governments of both worlds. The life of the fur trader was wild, free, full of peril and hardships. Free from the bonds of civilized society. Once they had a taste of it, most did not return to the authority of living in towns.” (Parker)


Coureurs de bois -Bush Rangers: unlicensed, lawless traders who knew the Natives and land intimately. They were mostly French or the Metis – Half-Breeds – who believed the fur-bearing animals belonged to neither the monopoly of the king, nor a company, but were the spoils of all. They defied the so-called laws put upon the land and furs. They made the barters with the Natives, lived with them and like them in perfect contentment, marrying their daughters. These men could paddle, hunt, trap, speak the native tongue, and understood the Indians. They were gay, singing songs on their journeys, lighthearted, carefree. They were of great endurance and very strong: “the rovers of the woods”. The Frenchmen could paddle sixty strokes a minute, fifteen hours a day. He would decorate his long hair with eagle feathers, paint his face with vermillion, ochre, and soot, and adorn his greasy hunting frock with horsehair fringes.

Ramsay Crooks of the American Fur Company wrote, “the Canadian had a temper of mind to render him patient, docile, and persevering; in short, he is [. . .] harmless in himself, with habits of submission which fit him peculiarly for our business.” Americans were considered too independent to submit quietly to proper control. This control was exercised by the employers, or Bourgeois (Parkman).

“When the number of traders increased, specialty classes began. The bourgeois, the voyageur, the mangeurs de lard, the clerks, engages (indentured servants), hivernans – winterers, and artisans. Many others were employed in the Fur Trade at posts and in the woods. The bourgeois was head commander at the permanent post, who ruled the army of traders in military fashion. He supplied and sent out traders to various areas, saw to the packing and shipping of the furs, and kept in touch with the representatives at outposts: a man of great responsibilities. The partisan was similar to the duties of the bourgeois.

The Voyageur: The life of a voyageur was a dangerous one. He was always on the water, the lakes, and rivers. He was usually a man of powerful physique, of a rough, coarse way, illiterate, and cowardly. Often called the slave of the Fur Trade, laboring under heavy loads, furs, supplies, and trade goods over portages. The Northern route to Montreal required 26 portages in the early days. They were amazingly fit and energetic. In spite of his labor, he made music with his boat songs.

The mangeurs de lard were the pork-eaters who were not eating the provisions of nature. No bear grease, lard, or lyed corn for them. These were the Greenhorns, who had much to learn about living in the wilderness. He was not able to endure the rigorous life of coureurs de bois. They did menial services around the posts and were paid low wages. They were always in debt to the post and were forced to stay at work, paying their debt.

The clerk was next to the bourgeois in responsibility and social life, often filling in when the bourgeois was absent. He frequently commanded posts and was a trusted servant of the company, often a shareholder.

The engages were laborers and boatmen.

The hivernans were winterers who spent several winters in the forests among the Natives and were experienced in the fur trade.

The artisans were a large group who were skilled in various trades: boat builders, masons, tailors, interpreters, clerks, traders, blacksmiths, carpenters, and hunters. These men were at all the post villages.

The free trapper or hunter was very essential. He was his own master, going where and doing what he pleased. Keeping all the fruit of his labor. Sometimes these men hunted together for protection. They would live at the Indian camps and villages, marry the maidens, and live there the greater part of the year, occasionally bringing his peltries to market” (Adapted from, Ida Johnson, The Michigan Fur Trade, 1919).

“Fur traders were known as the ruffians of the coarsest stamp. Fierce, bold, and truculent” (Parkman). “They were often the outcasts of all Nations, and the refuse of mankind” (Bassett).

“These were men who cheated, plundered, and cursed the savage. The French most often ill-treated the Indians, pillaging and carrying away their merchandise, heaping upon them insults and indignities. We often think of the French as friendly fur traders.

Father Carheil paints a vivid picture of the trader’s life at Michilimackinac; it was one of lawlessness, drunkenness, debauchery, and vice. The Jesuits give similar reports. They were illiterate and men who seemed to have no other purpose in life but to roam the forest and secure a few peltries. Though they were not all this way. Others were educated and intelligent men. Finding satisfaction in the rich returns of the trade and having freedom from rules, etiquette, and where social ceremony held sway. There were many who were sincere in their trade to the Indians and were great friends and brothers to them.

A bushel of corn and two pounds of fat were the month’s allowance. The trader was to consume one-fourth of corn and one-half pint of bear’s grease each meal. At times, they lived on wild rice and were at times in starvation, if lost. Eating moss or, in desperation, a dead companion’s flesh. When there was plenty, a common saying was that they could devour the whole side of a buffalo. At night, the men camped by a stream, often sleeping on the ground or pine boughs, or under their canoe, a small fire and a knife for protection from predators and enemies. Sometimes on horseback or on foot, over swamps, through impenetrable forest, day after day, journeying mile after mile. The traders and Indians ran up debts at the trading posts, from year to year being indebted. Until they brought in their furs. Sometimes the furs profits were 700%. The goods in the canoes usually amounted to four canoes of furs traded for each in trade items. This was about 160 packs of skins, with forty skins in each pack. Each pack worth 50 crowns, or eight thousand crowns in a load. The merchant took six hundred crowns for the license. A thousand for the goods granted on credit for trade. Leaving 6,400 crowns of which he deducted 40%, or 2,500 crowns. The balance was divided among the six men of the canoe party, each receiving 600 crowns.

At portages, the packs were carried on their backs, with a strap from their foreheads called a tumpline to even the load. Often two at a time. The packs weighed from 80 to 100 pounds, the latter being seldom. Other writings say the packs weighed from 50 to 80 pounds. Sometimes the portage was two or three miles. The canoes were carried on the shoulders of the men, stopping only for a quick meal or a pipe. The pork-eaters could only carry one package. Some of the men carried two or three occasionally.

Johnson said that the men could undergo and become so inured to hardships and see them rush and splash through the mud and water like so many cattle is astonishing. The men in the employ of merchants or companies could not grow rich on their trade; several independent traders amassed fortunes. The Fur Trade was the main business of the Northwest, every man and family connected to the pursuit of fur. Fur was used as the money for trade. Weaklings were weeded out; the old, experienced trader was sought out” (Adapted from, Ida Amanda Johnson, The Michigan Fur Trade, 1919).

“The trading centers were a huge annual affair in spring and summer. When the traders, coureurs de bois, Indians, and voyagers arrived in these towns, they brought all, of the license of the forest with him. They received the money for their furs, then proceeded to trade, buy supplies or go on a drunken debauch, on the town. A ritual practiced each fur season. The whole town would come out to meet them and welcome them. They filled the marketplace. Thousands gathered for the Grand Trade Fair.

The Mission fathers wrote, ‘Our Missions are reduced to such extremity that we can no longer maintain them against the infinity of disorder. Brutality, violence, injustice, impiety, insolence, scorn, and injury which the deplorable and infamous traffic in brandy, haves spread universally among the Indians of these parts.’

Smuggling and pirating were a huge problem in the Trade. Every dirty trick was used to gain an advantage by many traders and governments. The voyageurs were openhearted, jovial, and friendly, singing their boat songs as they paddled the waterways of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, and beyond. Fur trapper, trader, explorer, and Indian fighter, the coureur de bois was a most important factor in making the Great Lakes country known to Europeans, opening trade with the Western Indians – meaning Michigan. They were experts in managing canoes or finding his way in the primeval forest. A man of strength absolutely necessary to conquer a Wilderness. Braving danger, enduring hardships, and adapting to Indian life. He was often an outlaw to the peculiar system of government in New France and faced severe penalties when he was in reach of the authorities. He could not see the justice in monopolistic government and trading companies taking the lion’s share of the profits, he by toil and danger secured over a thousand-mile trip beyond their sphere of influence.

He intercepted the Indians on their way to the French Market and sent the peltries to their rivals, the English and Dutch in New York. Where he received better prices and better goods and escaped the confiscation of a part of his goods. The young men who indulged in the illicit trade were forbid, to return to their farms or take part in the work of the colony. They stayed away from the law and lived with the Indians. Once they had tasted the sweet freedom they never wished to return to the limited life of the Habitant”. Fowle

“The French population remained very small, the fur trade men married Indian women. The profits and pursuit, robbed Canada of its young men while supplying it with wealth”. Lahonton

“If the intendant could have controlled them, he would have them settle down, raise a family, and work. His attempts drove them into the wilderness to run their own life. The authorities were thwarted in his effort to collect taxes. The Courieur did help in explorations, and in times of danger, they would help the threatened settlements” (Winsor/Fowle).

“An official reported in 1680 that 800 of 10,000 men had vanished from sight into the wilderness and that there was not a family of any condition or quality that had not children, brothers, uncles, or nephews among the traders” (Lahonton).

“The Frenchmen loved the freedom of the Indian country; they preferred Indian religion and culture” (Metis History). “The coureur des bois – Mixed blood – discovered the savages lived Christian principals rather than preaching its platitudes, and they converted to savage ideology” (Canadian History, A Distinct Viewpoint, Metis timeline – 1677, info/metis.aspx, www).

“Not all coureurs de bois were outlaws; many openly took their furs to the official French market places and submitted to the outrageous taxes and duties placed on the trade. In times of peace, industry and management filled the fur traders’ stores. In time of war, it was his control and authority and friendship with the Indians that gave the French success. They were soldiers, sailors, gentle and common, the White men roaming the wild country. The freedom and excitement of the life were ever sufficient to render all punishment and persuasion ineffectual to prevent the evil” (Mclennon/Fowle).

“The coureur de bois, when not a fully-fledged Indian adoptee, wore a distinctive and picturesque clothing: a blanket coat, moccasins of elk or moose, leggings of deer skin, with a cap and sash of bright red. These men were experts in the science of the woods and in diplomacy. They became important and influential leaders to whom the most difficult negotiations depended upon. The sash worn by the coureurs des bois was called the Assomption Sash; it was attractive, practical, and versatile, a temporary tumpline for carrying furs with the sash about the forehead, a covering, rope, emergency bridle, and saddle blanket. The traders, coureurs de bois and voyagers, flaunted the laws, often in collusion with authorities for mutual profit. There was much corruption in the Trade. The voyagers traveled light: moccasins, rough leggings, a blanket coat, a woolen cap, a cotton shirt, a fabric belt holding a large knife, a tobacco pouch, fire material, a robe blanket, and a spare shirt. With them, he (coureur des bois) challenged a continent. The French created a great empire with the help of guides, interpreters, friendly Indians, and the Metis” (Gordon Speck, Breeds and Half Breeds).

“In 1631, beaver pelts sold to traders at one livre each, who sold them to merchants at 15 livres each. This brought tremendous wealth to the French Empire. The Huron were trade middlemen, a buffer between Ojibwe and Iroquois. When smallpox ravaged the Huron, the Iroquois took advantage of this desolation and displaced the Huron in 1649. The Iroquois in New York allowing passage through the waters of the lower and upper gateways to trade at Montreal. The English at New York and the Dutch at Albany contended for the furs of the Northwest. Trying to lure the Natives away from the French with cheaper and better trade goods.

The Algonquins were paid tolls from the Huron traders for safe passage through their country. The French came to Sault Ste. Marie, usurping the Huron traders to obtain large quantities of prime pelts at cheaper prices. They became the middleman, earning great profits.

The Huron in the North encroached on the Dakota Sioux. This caused warfare between the Northern tribes” (Adapted from Rogers/Smith, 1995).

“The traditional territory of the Ojibwas-Chippewa’s stretched northward from the eastern shore of Georgian Bay. Displaced by the Iroquois, they scattered, some going to Michigan, others to the St. Lawrence. They then spread northwestward, along the Northern shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior. They migrated in the later 1600s, into Eastern Michigan once again, and settled around Saginaw, Detroit, and Southern Ontario. They occupied lands west to the Grand River drainage, around what is now Lansing” (West to Far MI).

“The Pottawatomie’s, Huron, and Ottawa also returned to Lower Michigan and Southern Ontario. The Natives were allies of the French in the Great Beaver Wars. Between the English and French and other tribes who were competing for the rich fur-bearing lands. The Ottawa and Huron acted as the middlemen for the fur trade, procuring from the, back country Natives and transporting the furs to Montreal, Canada. They were the rulers of the Michigan Fur Trade. The Ojibwe were trade middlemen to the Assiniboine and Cree, North of the Great Lakes, until the Hudson’s Bay Company was created in 1680 by Grossilliers and Radison.

The Iroquois went North and West to rob furs.

The Indians loved the alcohol, rum, brandy, high wine, and whiskey that the traders brought into the forests. Tens of thousands of gallons of alcohol were brought into the interior trading posts each year. It became the most sought-after trade item; this was the most essential item for trading. Trading season was a time of gift-giving, information exchange, celebration, and then trade. Trading was an exchange, more social and political than economic. The Black French were from trade. The Indians giving of trade was not economic, for profit or wealth, but of sharing. Lack of trade meant greed, hostility, and war.

To the Anishinabe, credit was an extension of gift-giving. The work shifted to the women as contact changed the traditional leadership balance. The women were fishing, hunting, tanning more hides.

One of the most successful traders was Medard Chouart, Sieur De Grossilliers. In 1654, he made his way to Lake Superior. He proceeded to work the Fur Trade for two years and, in 1656, brought his canoes loaded with rich furs to Montreal to trade the fur to the farmer at French Headquarters. The great trading center was established at Montreal. He went back for 1658, beaver season, with his brother-in-law, Pierre Espirit Radison, refusing to take government agents or missionaries, keeping his secrets for the trade. The men left without a license from the governor’s agents. When they returned in 1660 with the great prize of furs, they were arrested and their furs confiscated. The governor would not stand for their ignoring his edicts. He would not listen as they advised that the best furs were obtained in the far North above Hudson’s Bay.

Grosseillers and Radisson were thoroughly upset with the French authority. They made a trip to England and persuaded the king to see their plan, which he approved. The Hudson’s Bay Company was born in 1670. It grew to be an amazing empire of great wealth. In the Fur Trade, at times the profits were enormous, and other times the market became saturated and the prices fell to ruin. After Grosilliers and Radissons’ success became known at Montreal, many traders set out to the Northwest in search of furs.

The superior of the Jesuits sent Father Rene’ Manard with the fur traders to establish a Mission among the Christian Hurons at Chequamenon Bay, Wisconsin. He was lost in the woods there and perished.

Canoes were the mode of travel; they came in any size for many uses. The average freight canoe had a capacity of four tons and six people. There were canoes made of skin, bark, and dugout. Snowshoes and toboggans in winter. All were astonishingly effective in moving people and goods long distances” (Ontario History in Maps). (some have written of 5,000 lbs. capacity for freight canoes)

“The ever-present canoe was at the door and ready for use. Canoes made a shelter for stormy weather and a place for sleeping under. The birch bark canoe was sometimes six feet wide and 35 feet long, the carrying capacity was enormous. Sixty packs of furs weighing up to 100 pounds, a half-ton of provisions for a crew of eight men. Gum pitch and bark were carried along for any necessary repairs. The canoes used thick bark from birch and elm trees, about a thumb’s thickness. They were durable and lasted five to six years.

The Griffon, sailed by La Salle and Hennepin, was the first sailing ship to pass the Strait – The Detroit. She was built near Niagara in 1679. With thirty-two men onboard, when passing through the Little Round Lake above Detroit, they named her Lake Sainte Clare, after the Franciscan Nun whose day it was. On the return trip, she was lost, the men survived, returning on foot to Detroit. After, The Griffon voyage, no ships passed through the Detroit for nearly a century” (Farmer).

There was fierce competition between the French fur traders. And much conflict between indigenous groups due to French control. The French required a license to trade in furs. This was often ignored.

Michilimackinac was the French Indian trade connection. The Jesuits were against the trade in alcohol and complained to the king and governor about all the evils it created among the savages. It was a resort for gamblers and drunkards, a den of lawlessness and fraud of wickedness and vice. The missionaries having no influence on the traders no matter what they do, the soldiers and commandments wreak havoc. They impair both the advancement of the faith and the trade of the voyageurs. Though they had come to uphold the law, they themselves violated it on every hand. Forbidden to trade, yet they traded. The soldiers roamed the forest selling merchandise and brandy to the Indians, sharing the profits with the commandment. At the post, open liquor ships were maintained, where drunken Indians, soldiers, and coureur de bois, commandants, and licensed traders gambled and made merry, day and night. The latter at times surpassing the savagery, coarseness, and barbarism of their Indian allies” (Travels through Louisiana, John Reinhold Forster).

“Cloth was a luxury. Glass beads were highly valued” (Rogers/Smith).

“Father Carheil recommended a return to the pelts being brought to Montreal. The Indians had had it with the French Jesuits. They began trading with the English who had good whiskey, better prices, and better goods.

The great Indian village at the Detroit was called Teuchsa Grondie – ‘Place of Many Beavers’. The whole Strait was teeming with shallow waters, and beavers created their dams, which backed the waters up, creating a haven for all wildlife. The waters being backed up also made the streams, rivers, brooks, and drains accessible to canoe traffic. The canoes needed only a few inches of draft in the shallow waters. Travel was very extensive by water.

Cadillac went to France and convinced the king to let him occupy Detroit, to stop the English from the Northwest trade route. In 1701, he established Fort Ponchetrain as a Seignorial, who rented lands to French immigrants. He was the law of the land. Illicit trade continued and Michilimackinac continued to be a Fur Trade center. The French have African Slaves in New Orleans – Quebec; they work the soil and plant the crops. The missionaries get the richest land through intrigues” (Travels through Louisiana, John Reinhold Forster).

“When the British claimed all the French Territory in 1763, with the Fall of Quebec, the policy was to encourage the Fur Trade and to discourage all monopolies by making it free to all. Only a license was required, without fee and a promise to observe all trade regulations.

Thomas Gage’s letter (March 20, 1762) says, “Immediately after we became masters of this country, all monopolies were abolished and all incumbrances removed (MI Historical Collection, XIX 17).

Thomas Gage, also in 1761, recommended that the small posts be closed and the five largest be maintained with proper troops. Strong garrisons were built to protect the posts – forts, for respect to the British.  

The Indians preferred their fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, ease-loving Frenchmen to the reserved, practical-minded British.

The French Aristocracy, with decree upon decree, aimed to control trade and limit it and preserve it, resulting in illegal trade and defiance of unjust laws. The French were kind and treated the Indians as equals, respecting their lands, living with and marrying them.

The English treated the indigenous peoples as inferiors that could be bought with presents. Severity and harshness, were his attitude, not acknowledging the Indians’ rights to the land and themselves as the invaders. Insolence and haughty British with their ill-treatment upset the Indians. The English made it free for the taking, another disaster, greed and war among traders. Eventually the Indians did accept the British as the better of two evils, with the American- British claiming their lands.

This freedom led to such competition as scheming and underselling in trade, which brought on lawlessness and bitter feuds. The wiser traders combined their interest to protect the Trade. This was the beginning of the great fur trading companies, the Northwest Company, the Mackinac Company, and the XY Company. These companies absorbed more and more of the commerce of the Fur Trade, scattering fur trading posts, agents, and clerks to every Indian hunting ground and coming into conflict with independent traders. The giving of presents to the Indians was continued from the French custom, which was an Indian custom the French adapted to. By giving presents, the traders aimed to entice them from other traders. The presents always returned furs or other goods in return” (Adapted from, Amanda Johnson, The Fur Trade, 1919).

In Utley’s history of 1906, Michigan as a Province and Territory, he related that,”great abuses exist, for lack of regulation in the trade, in weights and measures used by the traders. Silver is so debased by copper in trinkets as to open a large field for complaint. Many traders have no principle of honesty and impose upon these poor people in a thousand ways. The distrust and disgust for the traders occasions many disputes, which frequently end in murder.

The traders being lucrative engages, with no capital to procure credit, sometimes to large amounts. Their ignorance or dishonesty occasioned failures. The adventurers decamp to some other part, where they recommence the same traffic, improving in the art of villainy.

Scottish merchants, the lords of trade, set their faces against the encouragement of any enterprise.

The Indians gladly exchanged furs for trinkets, which they thought of enormous worth. Thus, the Indian was cheated outrageously.

With a license to trade, the owners shared all the way down the line. The matter soon became little short of scandalous, the traders being forbid, to engage in traffic without a license under penalty of death. At the Office of the Farmer General (French Montreal, New France Headquarters), The Company of 100 Associates, who were organized to handle the affairs of the colony in Quebec. They would take advantage of possession of peltries when the trader could not show a clear title to them. A vast amount of intriguing political and otherwise went on”.  

The woods of Michigan were literally alive with animals whose furs were of the highest value in the market. Beavers were very abundant. The choicest of all. Some of the most highly prized of the fur-bearing animals, such as the beaver, otter, fisher, and mink, who lived upon fish. The lakes and streams of both (Michigan) peninsulas swarmed with their food supply (Fish). The fox, wolverine, lynx, and black bear, in vast numbers, roamed the forests. These facts account for the early establishment at SS Marie and Michilimackinac of depots for the traffic in peltries. These points were conveniently accessible from all directions by canoe, as well as overland.

The Key of the Northwest and to it from every side, adventurous travelers gathered. A great rendezvous and of great importance to the common interest of the country, as it intercepts all trade of the Indians of the Upper Country from Hudson’s Bay to Lake Superior. It affords protection to various tribes who constantly resort to it to receive presents from the commandments office. And which traders take their departure to the waters of the Northwest. They disliked the British, who had given substantial aid and encouragement to their hereditary enemies, the Iroquois.

There were great annual fairs at Montreal. Men called farmers collected duty on skins. The company of the colony in 1700 were paying a quarter of the fur prices to the farmers of the western domain.

Other trades misused the monopoly. There was great competition between the French and British traders and couriers and various Indian tribes; it was a mess.

The exchange of furs was common in every household of Detroit during the French Regime” (Ida Amanda Johnson, 1919, The Michigan Fur Trade).

“Lake Huron was called the Great Fish Lake. Fort St. Joseph was on the Detroit – the Strait – of Lake Huron and Erie. Horses, were swam across holding the bridle from a canoe, or with the horse’s feet tied or hobbled together, the forefeet in one canoe and the hind in another, and transported across. These were the early ferries crossing the St. Clair River and other rivers.

The King of France granted titles of nobility and conferred seigniories upon almost any who would consent to go out to New France and undertake to occupy and improve the land, the French feudal system modified. In the days of its greatest power, every man was a lord or vassal. The fief dominant, vassals owing taxes and dues, military service, homage, and fidelity. Land ownership bestowed political, legislative, and judicial power. The feudal lord was both proprietor and absolute sovereign over his vassals, and might be a vassel himself of a superior suzerain under dukes, counts, viscounts, barons, marquises, etc., down a very long line of nobles of rank and authority of mutual support and fidelity. A mutual obligation and a transgression upon either side, worked a forfeiture of land or signatory. The system was founded on ancient custom and friendly attachment, gratitude, and honor. The sanctions of religion were employed to strengthen those ties and render them equally powerful with the relations of nature and far more so than those of political society. The slaves of peasants were subject to caprice, ambition, and avarice of their overlords. The feudal aristocracy threatened the prerogatives of the king himself. So, he asserted his authority for protection of the royal domain from unrest. Canadian feudalism produced a faint and harmless reflection of French aristocracy, simply and practically to distribute land among settlers – granted directly by the crown, answered directly to the crown, the government’s only power. The people were to clear the land; it was overrun with young noblesse, who could not work and their families were starving.

Cadillac could not get a title as a noble but was a simple sieur with his signatory and all its responsibilities and appurtenances to look after. He had large expenses he paid himself. The Company was to have exclusive trading rights, hampering him until after three or four years when he was given these privileges. The king annulled his rights to property in 1716; he was treated shamefully and died a few years later.

Grossilliers and Radison had their huge load of furs confiscated at Montreal; they were arrested for not having a license. These Frenchmen went to the English King and were awarded Prince Rupert’s land, a quarter of North America from Hudson’s Bay North. They became the Hudson’s Bay Company, having absolute sovereignty over laws, justice, war, and peace treaties. An empire, an imperial domain of absolute monarchy, the most gigantic monopoly in history. The French and other men went to stop them forming the Northern Company. Many other companies tried to gain the market.

The French and English Trade wars in Europe and border raids in the Northwest and St. Lawrence made peace and harmony impossible. The French occupying land into Ohio and Pennsylvania and to the Mississippi, English soil by charter of the king. French traders were sending peltry from along the Mississippi and the Northwest to Montreal via the Upper Ottawa River route. When the Iroquois heard this, their wrath was fired. They went on the attack into the Illinois country. The Illinois refused to send furs to Albany, passing through the Iroquois to Fort Orange – Albany – and down the Hudson to the Dutch.  

There were several practicable routes for the traders to reach this section – East Michigan and Western Ontario. The original and most noted one was the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, and Georgian Bay, Ontario. It was the main route between Huron Country and the trading interests on the Lower St. Lawrence. It was separated from the predatory tribes near Lake Ontario. The second route was by the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to the Trent River, Lake Simcoe, and Georgian Bay. The Iroquois used this route in forays against the Hurons; this was one of the best routes. The third was from present Toronto and thence to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. The fourth was by the head of Lake Ontario, the Grand River to Lake Erie and Thames Rivers, and Lake St. Clair. This became a very important line of traffic except during the time of open hostilities with the Iroquois. It was the safest and easiest route to reach the Great Saginon – Saginaw – fur-producing region. The fifth was by the Niagara River but was seldom used for valuable goods because of the proximity to the Iroquois in Western New York” (Western Historical Co.).

“Sault Saint Marie was the grand thoroughfare of Indian commerce for the Upper countries as far as the Arctic Circle. All the fur trade of the Northwest was compelled to pass through it. The Hurons were also bypassing the Iroquois, the furs being taken to Montreal on the Northern Ottawa River route until 1649, when the Iroquois decimated the Hurons.


The Metis were the children born of White men to Native maidens. They were social outcasts and considered outlaws, though the Native communities loved and cared for all their children. The sons of French settlers who built shanties in the Upper Detroit, the St. Clair and Black River region, married Natives and Metis who trace both to early Detroit trade and also to the Michilimackinac Fur Trade circa 1752. The Upper Detroit Metis families are recorded as trading across the river in Canada at the Southern Sauble River, Port Franks area, and Goderich area prior to 1820. In 1822 at Bayfield, Ontario, these were described as being mixed-blood traders, from Detroit and the Northwest.  

The Little Red River at Goderich was a frequent calling place for fur traders. The Hudson’s Bay service had huts upon it of a few half-breeds, as well as Chippewa wigwams. The names of these traders are Belhmeurs, Deschamps, Duchenes, Caselets – Cosley, Andres, Cameron, Tranchemontagnes, Cadottes, Beausoleil – Bosley, De Lamorandiere, Gonneville – Granville, Lange – Longe, Martin, Normandin, Sayer, and others. At Goderich, a log house beautifully situated on a bold hill overlooking the harbour, called the Castle, and a dozen or so log cabins inhabited by French and half-breeds. Customs were adopted from both cultures, but neither was fully embraced” (Historic Saugeen Metis, Patsy McArthur/B.C. Farrand. Upper Detroit to Saugeen, Lower Lake Huron’s Metis and Trade, Upper Region of the Detroit River, Lake Huron Watersheds, Bruce Peninsula. Inver Huron Learning Center, Southampton, Ontario. 2013).

“These men became important to governments and negotiations. In 1767 alone, over 700 men in 121 canoes entered the Great Lakes with over 38,964 sterling in merchandise. There were considerably more illegal traders, such as Ramsay, who had no permission at all to trade.

Ojibwe came to the post naked and destitute of everything, having sold their skins at Toronto for rum. Regulations and licensing was ill-suited to the circumstances, clogging the trade with useless and vexatious restrictions rather than to remove the evils of which complaint had been made. The regulations were ineffective, and illegal trade practices continued beyond the canon of the Forts” (Schmaltz).

In 1763, the Indians under Pontiac attacked all 11 British posts within their country. Mackinaw was the resort of the European fur traders.

“Johnson was in charge, of the Indian relations, in the Great Lakes area. His hands were often tied by colonial governors who were petitioned by the Fur Trade lobby” (Schmaltz).

“Liquor was killing off the young men more effectively than war, with no expense to the government in loss of soldiers and money. Violent acts were common, including murder and the Indians killing their own people in a drunken state. The vast majority of cases involving even Whites, never saw the courts. The highest officials in the Indian Department made their fortunes through trade in spirits. Trade goods consisting almost entirely of rum were common. A gallon of rum was traded for one beaver skin. There was great fraud. Each band of Indians and each trader determined the law or lawlessness among themselves. Crimes and retaliation went unchecked” (Schmaltz).

“In the eighteenth century, cloth and ready-made clothing were the most important trade item” (D. Anderson, 1991/Cleland). “Hundreds of tons of maple sugar were exported in trade” (Cleland).

“The British thought it best to leave the country to the Indians alone, and the fur-bearing animals who made their profits” (Utley).

“Two hundred thousand skins annually were traded under the British at Detroit. There were numerous gaudily decorated canoes” (Burton, The City of Detroit, 1922).

“The methods used to trap and hunt these animals was determined by their varying habits. The otter, which fished at night, was speared by the Indians. The muskrat was dug out of its nest and shot. The mink, were stabbed or clubbed to death. The fox was trapped and the deer hunted. In exchange for his pelts, the Indian received many necessities of life such as guns, powder, metal traps, knives, brass rings, silver arm bands, crosses, beads, wampum – shells, cloth, dyes, shirts, blankets, needles, tools etc. and the staple whiskey and rum. Skins are sold for wares which are fearfully expensive, reported the Moravians. Furs and skins were in abundance and were used for household purposes. Beds made of them, clothing. Thousands and thousands of skins were held in warehouses and in dwelling houses in Detroit, and the people used them for all sorts of purposes. When the Fur Market flooded in the old world, social laws were enacted in France to force the greater use of furs, hats, clothes, and muffs were worn on the streets of Paris.

Madame Framboise, half-Ottawa, became a great trader taking over her husband’s trading posts in the Grand River Valley. The post in Grand Rapids was the first building in Kent County, (Michigan). She was very successful and later retired to Michiliimackinac. Other Indian women collected furs. The women also worked in the trade in many ways, including trapping, hunting, guiding, tanning, etc.




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The Penny Magazine, April 29, 1837, Ontario, Canada

The Smithsonian, 2014, Amanda Foreman, The Birth of American Freedom and the Founding of the Union



This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan

Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.

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