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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.Beginning well before 1600, the North American fur trade was the earliest global economic enterprise.
Captain James Cook's Third Voyage to the Pacific in the 1770s took him to the Pacific Northwest Coast, where he encountered Native Nations such as the Haida, Tlingit, and Nootkans.
After Cook was killed in Hawai'i, his associate George Vancouver continued to explore and chart the Northwest Coast.
One of the final historical episodes in which the fur trade played a leading role took place in the Oregon Country from 1790 to 1848.
British interest in the Oregon fur trade originated with the late eighteenth-century maritime expeditions of British naval officers James Cook and George Vancouver.
The sea-based trade, however, was necessarily limited in scope, and eventually land-based traders would greatly expand the Oregon fur trade.
Spain, Russia, Britain, and the United States made assertions of sovereignty over Oregon and its coastal fur trade.Proximity to and alliances with traders reshaped the contours of Native politics and power across North America.Diversity characterized fur traders’ society everywhere: nowhere in North America was a society more multilingual and multicultural.Native people provided furs and hides as well as food, equipment, interpreters, guides, and protection in exchange for European, Asian, and American manufactures.Indicative of its deep time span and remarkable continuity, the North American fur trade and the Indian trade were essentially indivisible from roughly 1540 until 1865.As a result, some Native craft traditions, such as elaborate beadwork, flourished, while others, such as pottery-making, were almost forgotten.Along with other newcomers and colonizers, fur traders also became vectors for deadly diseases, such as smallpox, that greatly reduced Native populations, though no evidence suggests that traders deliberately infected Indians with diseases.Gray’s arrival at the harbor near present-day Astoria established the first American claim to the Oregon Country.Like his predecessors, Gray traded with Nootkans and other coastal nations for sea otters to be sold in China, where the pelts fetched enormous prices and were mainly used to trim garments for the elite.In quest of “soft gold” (beaver, otter, and other lightweight and highly valuable fine furs), which created fortunes large and small for lucky entrepreneurs, the fur hunters’ rosters included capable explorers who expanded the fur trade’s theater of operations and also shed light on western geography.Traders drafted many useful maps and wrote reports meant to help their governments secure geopolitical objectives.