The Huron on the St. Lawrence banks
Set traps to sell furs for French francs
To polite clients so keen
On castor skins shaven clean,
They snatch up the bald beavers with thanks.
The North American fur trade began in the 1500s as Europeans expanded into the New World and began bartering with the indigenous population. It’s worth noting the artistic license above. Native Americans were not the least bit interested in French francs or any other currency, but rather tangible goods, such as metal tools and weapons. By the 1700s, the competition of rivals, the over-harvesting of fur-bearing animals, and the wholesale clearing of land for agriculture forced the industry westward. While French interests predominated for over 300 years, the market declined precipitously in the 1830s, when men’s hat fashions in Europe began to prefer silk over beaver felt. By 1870, the trade all but disappeared. Interestingly, castor is the French word for “beaver.” Castors secrete castoreum from their castor sacs. No kidding. Read more about the North American fur trade and The Fur Trade in Canada.