Beginning well before 1600, the North American fur trade was the earliest global economic enterprise.
Europeans and, later, Canadians and Americans, hunted and trapped furs; but success mandated that traders cultivate and maintain dense trade and alliance networks with Native nations.
Commercial traders soon followed, exchanging copper, weapons, liquor, and varied goods for sea otter pelts.
Natives also acquired syphilis, gonorrhea, and other diseases from the seafarers who sojourned on the Oregon Coast.breasted the deadly sandbars at the mouth of a river he named Columbia.
Such activities initiated what became known as the China Trade, which was at first a subsidiary component of the fur trade.
Over time, however, the trade developed into a much more elaborate commerce and became a tool to force China to open its markets to an expanded trade with Europe and the United States.Fur traders married and had children with Native women, creating the Métis people.Indians' lives were permanently altered as they gradually became dependent on guns, knives, axes, blankets, kettles, and the panoply of other useful and attractive goods acquired through the fur trade.Indians became unwitting participants in a global economy as they shifted from subsistence to market hunting and operated within a debit-credit system devised by fur trade accountants.As the number of game animals diminished, Native people became more reliant on outside food sources.Similarly, by providing quarters, protection, and aid to scientists and artists at isolated trading posts, fur traders supported the study of Native Nations and natural history.The trade deeply affected Native peoples' lives, for better and worse.The fur trade was the earliest and longest-enduring economic enterprise that colonizers, imperialists, and nationalists pursued in North America.It significantly shaped North American history, especially from 1790 until 1840, when the trade played a dramatic and critical role in the Oregon Country, which included present-day Oregon and Washington and portions of Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.An unbroken chain spanning three centuries, the trade left multiple legacies, including the foundations for national Indian policy throughout North America.Although the trade was primarily a profit-driven enterprise, the interests of North American fur traders and their governments intersected at critical points from the 1820s through the 1840s.