Beaver Wars: The Fur Trade in North America


L’Amerique, divisee selon l’etendue de ses Principales Parties, et dont les Points Principaux sont placez sur les Observations de Messieurs de L’Academie Royale des Sciences. Dressee Par N. de Fer, Geographe de Monseigneur le Dauphin.

Nicolas de Fer, Hand-colored Copper Engraving, Paris, 1698-1705

At the time this map was published, the French were in the middle of an incredible competition with the English for control of the fur trade. As Samuel de Champlain established and then expanded New France during the seventeenth century, he allied with the Algonquin, Montagnais and the Huron peoples, who acted as the principal suppliers of the French fur trade. Fearful of English competition, Champlain formed the first informal trust in 1613, which became the groundwork for the royal charter, and monopolized the trade. But it was not enough to prevent the series of conflicts which gave rise to the French and Indian War. This map asserts the French seizure of Dutch territories in North America. The vignettes depict the plentiful natural resources and Native American cultures, paying special attention to clothing and local products. The image of the beavers of North America includes a key detailing each beaver and their various jobs. De Fer took advantage of the European fascination with these little creatures, capable of building their own houses, and portrayed them as a very systematic workforce. There is even one beaver suffering from a disabled tail because he worked too hard. This image was so influential it was copied several times. Ironically, even the English mapmaker, Herman Moll, copied the vignette on his map showing the British colonies in North America.

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Nouveaux voyages de Mr. Le Baron de Lahontan, dans l’Amerique septentrionale, qui contiennent une rélation des différens Peuples qui y habitent; la nature de leur Gouvernement; leur Commerce, leurs Coutumes, leur Religion, & leur maniére de fire la Guerre

Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce Lahontan, Book of Woodcuts, The Hague, 1703

When he was just seventeen, Lahontan joined the French army and traveled through Canada, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the upper Mississippi Valley. He was involved in two attacks on the Iroquois, both of which are detailed in his book. The Hurons and the northern Algonquin-speaking peoples were allied with the French during the Beaver Wars, and were instrumental in the developments of the French and Indian War. While living with them in Boucherville, Lahontan became fascinated by their culture. In describing the Natives, he followed the approach of Champlain before him, tending to treat them as a part of their landscape. The maps in this book are fascinating in themselves, but the main attraction for Enlightenment intellectuals were the descriptions and drawings of Huron and Algonquin customs, which the two volume work is almost entirely devoted to. Lahontan’s memoir was extremely popular in Europe, where it influenced thinkers such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Jonathan Swift. Although some of the maps are not geographically correct or even real, (including a map of the fictional river, “Carte de la Riviere Longue”), this book was instrumental in the development of the Western concept, “The Noble Savage.”

Memoires de l’Amerique septentrionale, ou la suite des voyages de Mr. Le Baron de Lahontan.

Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce Lahontan, Book of Woodcuts, The Hague, 1703

The second volume of Lahontan’s memoir includes a glossary of Algonquin and Huron languages.