By Leon Archer
It might surprise some, but as a writer, I read a huge amount more than I write, and recently while sharing nanny duties with Sweet Thing in Sammamish, Wash., I’ve had the opportunity to do plenty of reading.
When it comes to reading, one of my passions is history, especially North American history. In the last three weeks I have read seven books on the topic.
I am sure some readers will wonder what in the world this has to do with the outdoors, but hang with me for a bit.
I read the following books: “The Frontiersman,” by Allan Eckert (600-plus pages); “Forgotten Allies,” by Joseph Glattharr and James Martin (400-plus pages); “Fusiliers,” by Mark Urban (380 pages); “Betrayals,” by Ian K. Steele (250 pages); “Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley,” by Gavin Watt (432 pages); “A Dirty Trifling Piece Of Business,” by Gavin Watt (500+ pages); and “I Am Heartily Ashamed,” by Gavin Watt (463 pages).
Altogether, I read better than 3,000 pages. It was an adventure for me.
If you got beyond the sixth grade, at some point you should have learned that Europeans came to the new world primarily for three reasons: religious freedom, free land and wealth.
The Spanish were the first to come in any numbers, and their interests carried them across the South to the Southwest, and West of what is now the United States.
However, their real impact was on Mexico, Central America and South America, where they found large quantities of gold and silver in the kingdoms of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans, whom they immediately set about decimating while relieving them of the precious metals.
I confined my reading to colonial North America where settlers arrived primarily from the Netherlands, England and France. I know that ignores the sizeable numbers of Scots and Germans (Palatines) who also came to the new world, but they represented peoples, not nations.
The French claimed Canada, a strip of land on the southern shore of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, as well as the Ohio Valley and vast areas of land surrounding the upper Great Lakes.
The Dutch were modestly situated primarily in our New York state along the Hudson River, and traded for furs with the Iroquois Indians between 1610 and 1664. This brought them into a direct competition with the French and their Indian allies.
The Dutch encouraged the Mohawks to expand their fur gathering into areas that were under the control of the French and the numerous Indian tribes who provided the furs to them.
That brought about the “Beaver Wars,” also called the French and Iroquois wars, as the Iroquois sought to extend their power and the French endeavored to stop them.
The English were not unaware of the Dutch fur monopoly that was developing in New Netherlands. England’s power was growing both north and south of the Dutch colony, and between 1664 and 1674 the two countries fought the three Dutch-Anglo Wars.
As a result of the wars, England relieved the Netherlands of her North American Colonies, leaving only France and England vying for the prize. It mattered little to them that the land was already occupied by various and sundry Indian tribes.
The fly in the ointment was the two European powers now standing astride this vast land were mortal enemies. Hundreds of years of intermittent warfare would now spread to North America.
The migrants who came from England came to settle the land. The Dutch before them had come for the same reason, but not with the ferocity and persistence, and numbers of the English.
The French came for the lucrative fur trade, and their settlements were established primarily to facilitate and protect that trade, not to really colonize and settle.
After digesting New Amsterdam, the English set about taking over its fur trade, but they also encouraged settlers to move north towards Lake Champlain and the Mohawk Valley. Over the next 80 years, several wars were fought between the French and English across the vast wilderness they both coveted.
At first the French were victorious, but year after year England’s strength in the new world grew while the French languished.
By 1763, the English had conquered the French and sent them packing but their victory would be short lived south of the Great Lakes, as a great new nation was in the throes of birth.
We are here and English speaking in a significant part, because of fur. That’s where it all began. Fur, mostly beaver, was a vital interest and desirable commodity in the New World, but by 1783, when peace was signed between the new United States of America and England, the beaver had nearly vanished from New York State, and at one point was down to a single small colony.
It may be hard to believe when we have so many beaver today, but 75 years ago, it was illegal to trap the beaver that had just begun to recolonize our state.
Next week, I’m going to be writing about the fur trade today. I would enjoy hearing from trappers, how they have been doing and the recent prices they have been getting for their pelts.
Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org — I’d love to hear from you.