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Chapter 3

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Department
Economics
Course
ECON 2P19
Professor
Indra Hardeen
Semester
Fall

Description
Chapter 3 – New France The Early Fur Trade and New France to 1649 • Europeans maintained sporadic contact with the St. Lawrence region • A sporadic trade with coastal Native peoples sprang up, and various European goods worked their way inland in exchange for furs heading eastward • Both instability in Europe caused by the wars of the Reformation and the absence of sufficient economic incentive in the St. Lawrence region, meant that the continued contact did not lead to any efforts at settlement in the area • By the early 17 century, settlement of the St. Lawrence region became attractive to influential individuals and organizations in the French government and business circles • This was the case for two reasons • First, the French crown was consolidating its power, and more importantly, the transatlantic trade appeared profitable because of rising European fur prices • By the 16 century, the beaver’s inner coat was use in the making of the increasingly popular felt hat • By 1600, changing fashion led to widened brims and an increase in the amount of beaver fur required per item produced • The demand for beaver pelts had been met from European, primarily, Russian, sources • By the time Champlain set sail, those supplies were dwindling as a result of over trapping • European fur prices rose in response, inducing merchants to look to alternatives sources of supply • The vast lakes and rivers of the continent from the forested eastern woodlands to the far western pacific slope created an ideal habitat for the beaver and other fur bearing animals • The staple (fur) was such a powerful force that its characteristics, together with French colonial policy, did much to shape colonial development in early Canada • The French had neither the labour nor the skill to bring in the furs themselves so they relied on Native hunters and trappers to provide the furs • The French empire extended as far as Quebec, where it dealt with the independent Native groups • Only because the Native hunters and trappers supplied the skill and labour to exploit the beaver trade was there any trade at all • The king of France may have wanted a flourishing settlement in north America, but he was loath to commit his nation to large expenditures for risky overseas ventures • As a substitute, the state turned over the responsibility for settlement to private companies • The idea was that the state could limit the drain on its revenues by giving special trading privileges in the New World to private interests that, in return, would underwrite and manage the costs of exploration and subsequent settlement • This was the technique under which Champlain had settled Quebec and, indeed, though the companies would change, it was the technique used to underwrite the Quebec venture until 1663 • Old systems of court favouritism invited participation, and short term loyalties proved inadequate to the task at hand • The fact was that the substance and growth of an agricultural colony in a relatively harsh climatic environment such as that of the St. Lawrence require significant, continuous subsides • Company monopoly was certainly not the optimum means to promote settlement, but its use was necessitated by, rather than a cause of, the lack of growth • The fur trade did not require a large French population • The small population, together with the arduous task of cleaning the lands, the repeated clashes with the Iroquois, and the lack of export markets for crops grown in New France prohibited agricultural development • As late as 1660, the European population of all of New France was only about 3,000 people • Most of the land along the St. Lawrence remained wilderness, and only around Quebec was there sufficient cultivation for its to be called an agricultural community • The French settled amongst three main tribal groups • To the north were the Montagnais and Algonquin peoples • They were nomadic hunters and excellent trappers who would be important to the French fur trade • To the west were the Hurons, who with a population of 30,000 were the most powerful group in the region when Champlain arrived • With their alliance with the French, the Huron peoples grew powerful as they gained direct access to French technology, and they had the power to prevent Native peoples farther west from acquiring equivalent access • By 1600, the Iroquois tribes of the region had moved south of Great Lakes leaving the St. Lawrence valley below Montreal as largely an empty land • Champlain considered the Hurons as the key to the successful trade, and to cement the Huron alliance, as early as 1609, he had taken part in a raid on an Iroquois village • In 1613, the Dutch established a colony at the mouth of the Hudson River, followed soon after by a trading post upriver, at Albany • Both the demand for, and supply of, fur were unpredictable and highly volatile • Demand was equally difficult to predict, depending as it did on the vagaries of fashion • European merchants, in New France as later in the Canadian West, tried to gain some control over the fur trade • One technique was to try to gain the exclusive right to trade with the Native peoples • Such a position would allow merchants to control the number of North American furs reaching European markets each year, and, at the same time, would prevent the Native hunters and trappers from using competition among traders to drive up the price of furs relative to that of trade goods • But the fur trade was not an easy industry to control in this manner • Merchants could look to governments for assistance • From the beginning of settlement, officials in both France and New France either sanctioned private attempts to control the fur trade or, when these failed, use the powers of the state directly • Individuals ventured out into the wilderness to explore, to establish contacts with more distant tribes, and, as entrepreneurs, to undertake a little trade and transport of furs themselves • The fur trade expanded to take place over a large geographical area, the fur trade was instrumental in encouraging the European exploration of large parts of North America • A relatively small quantity of furs was worth a great deal, and transport costs were a relatively low proportion of the overall cost of doing business • The farther afield one want, the greater became the costs, due to the participation of ever more middlemen and increased transport costs • For the British, the line of agricultural settlement and the colony’s boundaries were more or less the same, such was not the case for New France • New France evolved as what has been termed a river empire, with long tentacles of economic, political, and military influences stretching thousands of miles beyond the area of settlement • By 1750, New France population of 50,000 had confined their settlement to a stretch of land running from below Quebec City to Montreal • The St. Lawrence-Great Lakes system provided a natural transportation route, extending thousands of miles west, northwest, and with relatively short portages, south as well • Only New York’s Hudson-Mohawk system provided anything like the easy transportation that the French enjoyed A Period of Transition 1649-1670 • Two major developments brought about these changes and would finally allow the colony to be established on a firm footing • Furs would remain important, but a growing population would create meaningful agricultural settlement and even more ambitious schemes for growth • One major change came from a shift in the balance of power among the Native groups, causing the French to take an increasingly active role in the fur trade • In 1649, the Iroquois launched a successful assault on the Huron nation, dispersing its people and thereby ending the Huron dominance of the fur trade • Although the Iroquois ultimately failed to gain a dominant position themselves, they did cause chaos in the transportation system over the next 15 years • Second major change occurred in 1663, when the French government finally abandoned the concept of the company monopoly and made New France a royal colony • Decision making was increasingly centralized and the French government took a much more serious interest in the colony • The immediate result was an infusion of military support to suppress the Iroquois threat, increased financial aid, and energetic, though relatively short term, support for immigration • The newly established royal colony of New France was put under the energetic direction of Jean Colbert • The fur trade would continue, but it should be joined and strengthen by other activities • The British system that was encouraging rapid development to the south of New France seemed to Colbert an ideal that the French colonial system could aspire to • New France while exporting furs to France, might send wheat, fish, or timber to the West Indies • All of this trade would also, in good mercantilist fashion, be restricted to French shipping and thereby encourage the growth of the French merchant marine • Agriculture did develop, but an export market for foodstuffs did not emerge until much later Agricultural Expansion, 1663-1713 • It was feudally based system, in which the crown granted land to certain nobles or seigneurs who, in return, swore allegiance to the crown • The seigneurs allotted portions of their land to those who farmed it, known as censitaires as became common ins New France, habitants • The availability of cheap land and the seigneur’s desperate need to attract people to that land contrasted sharply with the situation in the home country • Seigneurs were poorer and had less power than did their counterparts in France, whereas the habitants had more relative wealth and a greater ability to influence events
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