Northern Threads: Colonial and 19th century fur trade

In the early 17th century, Maine’s commercial fur trade began in earnest. The North American trade initially grew out of early contact between Indigenous peoples and European fisherman netting cod off the coast of Newfoundland. By 1630, a fur trading post at Pemaquid Point, modern-day Bristol, Maine, played a significant role in the colonial economy.

Considered New England’s “fur trading frontier,” the practice expanded in Maine, shifting from small scale operations to a lucrative transatlantic trade. The luxury clothing market and felting industries, most notably for men’s hats, drove the colonial-era fur trade. Indigenous peoples trapped and killed the animals, exchanging them for European goods like metal axes and kettles in North America. Traders then transported the pelts to Europe for processing and final sale.

An insatiable European appetite for North American furs like beaver impacted the region in several ways. The trade provided economic opportunities for Wabanaki trappers and settler-colonialists alike, however as demand grew, animal populations significantly decreased, and the ecosystem suffered. An increased emphasis on trapping negatively impacted once self-sufficient communities.

This fur trade vignette is part of Northern Threads: Two centuries of dress at Maine Historical Society, a two-part exhibition at MHS in 2022. See the fur trade portion, or the full exhibit online using the links below.

Return to Part I

Return to Part I

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

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