CASE NUMBER: 113

CASE MNEMONIC: HUDSON

CASE NAME: Hudson Bay Fur Trade in 1800s

TED Case Studies

Hudson Bay Company Fur-Trading in 1800s (HUDSON)


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I. Identification

1. The Issue

For more than a half century the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Nootka, Salish, and Chinook Indians spent much of their time hunting fur bearers and trading their pelts, especially the "blackskins" of sea otters, to Russian, British, and above all, American shipmasters. These pelts were traded for firearms, textiles, and foodstuffs. More and more land furs were traded on the Northwest Coast from the mid 1810's until the early 1840's, by which time the depletion of all of the fur bearers by over-hunting, the depression of the fur markets by civil strife or changing fashion, and the depopulation of the Indians themselves by disease and warfare had reduced the Northwest trade to insignificance. This trade had far reaching effects both physically and culturally to the Northwest Coast.

2. Description

The fur trade had a profound impact on the cultural and physical development of the Canadian Northwest. Traditionally, the North American fur trade was dominated by The Hudson Bay Company,a British conglomerant with monopoly rights.

However, in the Canadian Northwest, this was not the case. Due to its relatively late exploration, and the sheer ruggedness of the terrain, the Canadian Northwest was not colonized until relatively late. Consequently, by the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century, a complex tripartite rivalry had sprung up among the traders of Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. The result was international tension and the almost complete extinction of the North American Sea Otter. Contrary to popular opinion, the Europeans were not the only ones to blame for this misfortune. In fact, many of the traders would not do the actual trapping themselves. Instead, they would barter for the pelts with the local Indians in exchange forfirearms, textiles, alcohol, and foodstuffs.

EuroAmerican contact for the Canadian Northwest natives hadsome positive effects. New goods and ideas were adapted by the Indians to suit their own needs. Likewise their increased wealth and contact with the outside world stimulated the development of their own culture. Initially, EuroAmerican goods supplemented rather than supplanted Indian products. But as time drew on the Indians became increasingly dependent upon their Euro American trading partners. This had many negative effects when overhunting and changing trade patterns left them increasingly marginalized.

The fur trade also had many other negative effects on the Northwest Coast Indians. Their health was impaired by alcohol and tobacco, and in some cases their land was stolen from them. But most damaging of all was their introduction to European diseases and advanced weaponry. It has been estimated that as a result of epidemics and the introduction of firearms the Indian population ofthe Northwest Coast fell from approximately 188,000 in 1774 to about 38,000 in 1874.

Finally, the maritime fur trade conditioned Euro American-Indian relations along antagonistic lines. The white traders viewed the natives as heathen savages, and their appearance and behavior simply reinforced that prejudiced view. Therefore, the Indians were considered second rate, and even sub-human. This attitude rationalized Euro American abuse and discrimination.

The negative side effects of the Northwest fur trade would undoubtedly have been worse if there had been more trading posts,forts, missionizing, and colonizing. Fortunately for coastal Indian culture, the Euro American maritime traders were mostly seasonal visitors, not permanent residents. Thus, their transience allowed Indian culture some degree of autonomy. Due to its relatively late discovery and harsh climate, the Canadian Northwest was not colonized by the Hudson Bay company. Infact, the Russians were the first to reach it in 1725, although the first Russian permanent settlement on Kodiak Island was not established until 1784.

This eventually led to the chartering of the Russian American Fur Company in 1799 by Czar Paul I, which granted the company mercantile and administrative control of Russia's ill-defined American possessions. By 1818, the Russian American Fur Company would claim twenty-four trading posts from Alaska to Northern California with trade worth an estimated seven billion rubles.

The Americans entered the picture after Captain Cook's famous journals were published in 1784 describing the extensive natural wealth of the region. New England traders reached the waters by 1787 and by 1812 the Pacific Fur Company was permanently established there. The War of 1812 brought the British into serious contention for the trade in the Northwest. With the helpof the Royal Navy they were able to grab the Pacific Fur Companies holdings on the Columbia river and thus establish themselves as competitors with the Americans and Russians.

With such vigor and in such large numbers did the British and Americans enter the Northwest fur trade that by the second decadeof the nineteenth century the sea otter was almost driven to extinction. The decline in furs along the coast intensified the competition and made the Russians more unwilling to tolerate their British and American rivals. The result was an imperial ukase(decree) issued by Czar Alexander I on September 16, 1821 claiming for Russia nearly the entire Northwest coast of North America. Henceforth, the territory was to be off limits to British and American merchants. He then dispatched military units to the region to enforce it. The Czar, believing that the territory was to distant for the Americans or British to effectively defend thought they would acquiesce with the ukase and accept it as a fait accompli - he was wrong. Both found it completely unacceptable and they jointly pressed the Czar to reverse his edict. Diplomatically or militarily, the Russians were not prepared to take on a joint Anglo-American alliance.

Consequently, in 1824 at the Russian-American Convention, and in 1825 at the Anglo-Russian Convention the edict was reversed. This in turn was the beginning of the endof Russian influence in the region. Of all the fur bearing mammals trapped during this period, non was more devastated than the sea otter. By the middle of the nineteenth century the sea otter was virtually extinct, residing only in parts of Northern California and the Alaskan Aleutian Islands.

The depletion of the sea otter in turn altered the local ecosystem. The sea otter eats things which eat kelp, especially sea urchins. Kelp is a valuable fish nursery, affording food and shelter for a variety of creatures. It is also the worlds chief source of algin. Thus, when the sea otter's population declined sodid the great kelp beds. This in turn was devastating the those populations which depended upon it for survival.

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Keyword Clusters (1): Trade Product = WOOD (2): Bio-geography = TEMPerate (3): Environmental Problem = DEFORestation

4. Draft Author: Chad P. Cummins

Note Date

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status:

AGReement and COMPlete

6. Forum and Scope:

UK and REGION Two different bi-lateral treaties apply. The Russian-American Convention of 1824 and the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1825. These treaties laid the foundations for who had the rights to commerce inthe Pacific Northwest.

7. Decision Breadth:

3 (UK, USA, and RUSSIA) Three sovereign countries were effected: England, The United States, and Russia. The native Indian population was also effected indirectly.

8. Legal Standing:

TREATYC. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: North America [NAMER]

b. Geographic Site: Northern North America [NAMER]

c. Geographic Impact: CANADA

10. Sub-National Factors:

NO

11. Type of Habitat:

COOL

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure:

ADMINistrative

The measures were Administrative allowing each country free access to trade and trap in the coastal regions of the Northwestern territory.

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts:

DIRect

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related : YES FUR

b. Indirectly Related : NO

c. Not Related: : NO

d. Process Related : YES Species Loss Land [SPLL]

15. Trade Product Identification:

FUR

16. Economic Data

17. Impact of Trade Restriction:

MEDium

18. Industry Sector:

Textile and Apparel [TEXTAPP

19. Exporters and Importers:

CANADA and UK

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type:

Species Loss Land [SPLL]

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Name: Fur bearers

Type: Animal/Carnivore

Diversity: 139 mammals per 10,000 sq/km (Canada)

22. Resource Impact and Effect:

HIGH and PRODuct

23. Urgency and Lifetime:

MEDium

24. Substitutes:

SYNTHetic

By 1825, the North American sea otter was close to extinction.Only changing trade and trapping patters and a change of clothingstyles in Europe and China saved it. Today, the sea otterspopulation in on the rise. It is still protected under theendangered species list.

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture:

YES

The Coastal Indians of the Canadian Northwest had their culture inexorably intertwined with fur trapping. With the introduction of Europeans and Americans and the overhunting of the sea otter and other fur bearing mammals their culture was changed forever. In fact, many scholars blame the depletion of these resources for the dependence of the Indians on the Canadian government to this day.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues:

YES

Because there was no definitive boundaries in the NorthAmerican Northwest coastal areas the American's, Russians, British,and the local Indians all competed for the same resources.

27. Rights:

YES

The rights of the local Indians were abused. In may ways there were almost conscripted into working for the large European or Yankee companies. Likewise, with many of their traditional ways of making a living gone there was very little choice for them.

28. Relevant Literature

Gibson, James R, Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992

Innis, Harold A., The fur trade in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1956.

Karamanski, Theodore J., Fur Trade and Exploration, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.

Krech, Shepard III, ed., Indians, Animals, and the Fur Trade, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981.

Krech, Shepard III, ed., The Subarctic Fur Trade, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984.

Phillips, Paul, The Fur Trade, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.

Ray, Arthur, The Canadian Fur Trade in the Industrial Age, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Sacks, John c., Furs and the Fur Trade, London: Pitman & Sons, 1950.Stern, Theodore, Chiefs & Chief Traders, Stern, 1993.


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