Subtopic : The Native Context and the Arrival of Other Peoples: Maritime Fur Trade & Indian Market-Exchange Networks
Themes: People and the Environment, Exploration
Centered primarily in sea-otter trafficking, the maritime fur trade from 1785 to 1815 underscores the extractive nature of the market economy that developed in the region during the nineteenth century. It was not classic market exchange, because Native people took part in the trade for their own cultural reasons. Although Indians provided the labor force and in many respects controlled the terms of the trade, trouble lay ahead. When fur-bearing animals became scarce, those who came to rely on the trade for their livelihoods were left with few alternatives. Then there was the disease factor. As ships from Europe and the United States came into increasing contact with the Northwest Coast, they left in their wake Old World contagions, such as smallpox, that were disastrous for Native people.
The coastal and interior fur trade provided a way for businessmen to accumulate capital in distant places, especially in London, Montreal, Boston, and New York, and the sea otter trade launched several New England family fortunes. The trade also resulted in shifting imperial claims to the region, with Spain controlling only remnants of its empire south of the 42nd parallel. The Russians, who began establishing outposts along the North Pacific coast in the 1740s, were increasingly confined to Alaska. American and British interests became dominant across much of the Columbia Basin and beyond. Between the turn of the nineteenth century and the settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute in 1846, however, those imperial claims were largely empty boasts. Indian tribes from coastal villages to the interior Plateau were still autonomous groups that enjoyed freedom of movement and association, and many of them were only peripherally involved in the developing market economy. With the election of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency of the United States, however, forces were set in motion that would eventually marginalize Native people in their own homelands.
© William G. Robbins, 2002
Themes: People and the Environment,Exploration
Regions: Central Oregon,Oregon Coast
Author: William G. Robbins
The maritime fur trade was centered primarily in sea-otter trafficking and brought coastal Indian groups into market-exchange networks.
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