QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2002-05 > 1020771360
From: Suzanne B Sommerville <>
Subject: Re: [Q-R] Voyagers
Date: Tue, 7 May 2002 07:36:00 -0400
The fur trade was different in the various periods it went through. The
men who handled the canoes and hauled the merchandise and furs over the
portages began to be called _voyageurs_ (note spelling) about 1680 or a
little earlier. It was a term used on the hiring contracts (engagements).
The contracts defined their roles on the expedition, the length of their
service, their pay, and what they could carry with them when going up-river
to the various trading posts. There the individual who had the right to
trade ( a congé or trade permit, in the French period) actually traded with
the Natives, sometimes through an agent, whose name might also be listed.
Much of the time the Natives had obtained the furs from Nations even
farther West and North. I have now examined dozens of these contracts.
By 1803, the fur trade was under British Canadian laws. You would have to
examine the contract to know what the voyageurs were allowed to do. Of
course, there were many examples of voyageurs who broke the laws and, in
the French period, came to be known as "coureurs de bois", literally
runners in the woods or bush rangers. These individuals traded or hunted
directly with the Natives and lived among them. Periodically, the French
government issued "pardons" for them if they would return to the mother
colony. One "pardon" included the right to carry trade merchandise with
them if they agreed to join the soldiers sent against the Fox / Mesquaki
Nation. (I have two of these contracts.)
Quite a bit has been written about the British fur trade, less on the
French. They were not the same. For one thing, the canoes were smaller in
the earlier period, so that three men in a canoe was standard. By the
British period, the voyageurs were more like modern-day Teamsters, with
much larger canoes.
Grace Lee Nute has written about the fur trade, but she did not really
consult the FRENCH documents. Her work is now dated because more documents
are available for the earlier period if someone who knows French would just
examine them. That is a problem with most of the US and Anglo Canadian
writers. They skip right over the French period. If you want to know some
of the day-to-day experiences, I can recommend Tim Kent's work.
Timothy Kent is a voyageur / recreator and author of several books on his
experiences with his family living the life of a voyageur. His newest book
on _Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit: A Guide to the Daily Lives of Fur Trade
and Military Personnel, Settlers, and Missionaries at French Posts_ is just
wonderful, two _large_ ( about 500 pages each) hardback volumes. It
includes the manifest sheet of all the items sent with the first convoy to
Detroit (1701), the one I found in the colonial documents two years ago.
He also found it in the colonial archives. I could not have done what he
did, though, because he has the practical experience out in the wild. He
does not limit himself to Detroit. It's published by
Silver Fox Enterprises, P.O. Box 176, 11504 U. S. 23 South, Ossineke,
Michigan 49766. $125 plus $10 shipping and 6% sales tax for Michigan
residents. (I have no personal connection with this publication. Tim is
also a member of the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan. FCHSM)
Tim will be speaking on May 18 at the Detroit Public Library--Main Branch
at 1:00 p.m. after the dedication, at Hart Plaza, of the bronze plaque
erected by the FCHSM listing the names of 51 voyageurs who made up the
first convoy of 1701 to establish Detroit. Their names are found on hiring
contracts in the notarial records. With them were about 50 soldiers we
probably will never be able to identify. This is the _first_ plaque
honoring FRENCH CANADIANS in Michigan, although there are several honoring
the French. These men were almost totally second or third generation born
in New France / Canada. It took 301 years, but finally . . .
The RAPQ CD (Les rapports des Archives nationales du Québec) has a list of
many of the hiring contracts, but even that is not complete because of the
different stages fur trading went through. We may never know all the names
because some hiring was done privately by the persons who had the right to
It is a period and a topic that is being studied more carefully now than
Nute ever did. I posted an earlier message on the various stages of the
fur trade in the French period. It should still be in the archives.
[Q-R] Fur Trading in "Outaouais Region"
As for what you are likely to find on the web, some of the sites are biased
and inaccurate, at least for the earlier period-- for the reasons cited
Suzanne Boivin Sommerville
Message text written by INTERNET:
>Date: Tue, 7 May 2002 00:29:08 EDT
I'm getting a little confused about the differences between voyagers
fur traders. It seems that voyagers are canoeists. But it also seems like
fur traders or people who go into the wilderness are also called voyagers.
If you saw " Michel Curot, of the XY Company, traveled the Yellow River in
1803 with Jean Connor, John Smith, etc. " would you think Jean was a fur
trader, canoeist, or other ? Michel also sent Jean and another man to
various posts to do things so it appears that they did more than paddle the
I'm Googling and reading lots about the fur trade. But if anyone runs
across a mail discussion group or someone who is an expert on the fur
please let me know.
Sue in Florida<