Impact of Fur Trade in U.S.

The fur trade in Canada is often said to have been less malign than in the US, and it was, but that doesn’t say much given the extraordinary disruption it is said to have createn in colonial America by the American historian Bernard Bailyn in his recent (2012) book, appropriately titled The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675:
“[S]omething general and profound…was developing on the eve of English settlement in North America. Emerging slowly at a latent level were the beginnings of fundamental alterations in native culture that, within a single generation after 1600, would prove to be destructive beyond any contemporary imagining….[T]his was a deadly disease. The specific virus, unmistakable in the case of the Iroquois, was the fur trade…Concentration on fur hunts upset the ancient pattern of shifting seasonal activities, led to the neglect of horticulture, and since women were increasingly involved in the preparation of pelts, disturbed the traditional0 division of labour between the sexes…Competition [between tribes] led to bickering, then to skirmishes, then to warfare among peoples otherwise peaceful.”

Bailyn has been charged by at least one reviewer of denying agency to the Indians. If this is true in some momentary sense, the fact of the matter is that the Indians lost out totally in the historical long-run, and are only now winning back ownership of land and resources in Canada, but not in the U.S.

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