In North-East America, the exchange system we call the fur trade emerged in the 16th century, mainly on the shores of what are now known as the Gulfs of Maine and Saint Lawrence.
Other monopolies were to follow, as the French gradually occupied the Saint Lawrence valley and traded with Indigenous nations allied in their struggles against the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Taking a more active part in colonization previously delegated to a company, Louis XIV and Jean-Baptiste Colbert subjected Canada to royal administration in 1663. Preoccupied by British colonial expansion and by the need to enforce the monopoly on Beaver exports held by a series of companies and institutions, the Kingdom kept a watchful eye on exchanges in the region. Despite its best efforts, it could not constrain its colonial subjects or persuade its Indigenous allies to keep their exchanges within the boundaries set by royal rules
Many documents show these processes at work. Here are some examples. The Édit de 1681 was one of the first to threaten with severe penalties French “coureurs de bois” who were inclined to take their merchandise into Indigenous territories, far from the fur trade fair at Montreal, where metropolitan authorities sought to concentrate exchanges. But this edict also granted trade permits (congés) to a favoured few. This regime was later abolished by the Déclaration de 1696, whereby authorities tried to reduce the flow of beaver pelts into the saturated French market. More efficient regulations took form under the Regency (1715-1723). Posts and garrisons were established in Indigenous lands. The re-establishment of trade was helped by growing European markets for furs other than beaver. The regime of the Transit (1721) was to allow these pelts, many of which were destined for Germany, to leave France free of customs duties. La Rochelle was the linchpin of the trans-Atlantic fur trade. The port’s long commercial association with Canada was observed by Émile Garnault, backed up by facts and figures.
French authorities were concerned when beavers meant for France were rerouted towards Albany, New York, and then to London, where prices were often higher. Increasingly carried out by Indigenous inhabitants of the Saint Lawrence valley, this trade challenged mercantilist rules, and the exclusive privilege of exporting beaver fur to France. Among the monopoly holders was the short-lived Compagnie d’Occident whose Lettres patentes were recorded in 1717, and the Compagnie des Indes, which in 1719 started taking measures against beaver fraud: new stipulations (1726) covered the types of beaver pelts received by the colonial offices of the Company; a 1731 decree required travelling merchants to declare their packets of beavers before leaving the interior trading posts.
Published in september 2020
Picture caption : Arrêt du conseil d'état qui ordonne que les pelleteries et denrées provenant du crû et fabrique de Canada (...), à l'exception du Castor, jouiront du bénéfice du transit. 1721