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The North West Coast during the maritime fur trade era, about 1790 to 1840

The maritime fur trade was a ship-based fur trade system that focused on acquiring furs of sea otters and other animals from the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and natives of Alaska. The furs were mostly sold in China in exchange for tea, silks, porcelain, and other Chinese goods, which were then sold in Europe and the United States. The maritime fur trade was pioneered by Russians, working east from Kamchatka along the Aleutian Islands to the southern coast of Alaska. British and Americans entered during the 1780s, focusing on what is now the coast of British Columbia. The trade boomed around the beginning of the 19th century. A long period of decline began in the 1810s. As the sea otter population was depleted, the maritime fur trade diversified and transformed, tapping new markets and commodities, while continuing to focus on the Northwest Coast and China. It lasted until the middle to late 19th century. Russians controlled most of the coast of what is now Alaska during the entire era. The coast south of Alaska endured fierce competition between, and among, British and American trading vessels. The British were the first to operate in the southern sector, but were unable to compete against the Americans, who dominated from the 1790s to the 1830s. The British Hudson's Bay Company entered the coast trade in the 1820s with the intention of driving the Americans away. This was accomplished by about 1840. In its late period, the maritime fur trade was largely conducted by the British Hudson's Bay Company and the Russian-American Company.

The term "maritime fur trade" was coined by historians to distinguish the coastal, ship-based fur trade from the continental, land-based fur trade of, for example, the North West Company and American Fur Company. Historically, the maritime fur trade was not known by that name, rather it was usually called the "North West Coast trade" or "North West Trade". The term "North West" was rarely spelled as the single word "Northwest", as is common today.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

The maritime fur trade brought the Pacific Northwest coast into a vast, new international trade network, centered on the north Pacific Ocean, global in scope, and based on capitalism, but not, for the most part, on colonialism. A triangular trade network emerged linking the Pacific Northwest coast, China, the Hawaiian Islands (only recently discovered by the Western world), Britain, and the United States (especially New England). The trade had a major effect on the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast, especially the Aleut, Sugpiaq, Tlingit, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Chinook peoples. A rapid increase of wealth occurred among the Northwest Coast natives, along with increased warfare, potlatching, slaving, and depopulation due to epidemic disease. However, the indigenous culture was not overwhelmed by rapid change, but actually flourished. For instance, the importance of totems and traditional nobility crests increased,<ref>For more on the use of crests on the North West Coast, see: {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> and the Chinook Jargon, which remains a distinctive aspect of Pacific Northwest culture, was developed during this era. Native Hawaiian society was similarly affected by the sudden influx of Western wealth and technology, as well as epidemic diseases. The trade's effect on China and Europe was minimal, but for New England, the maritime fur trade and the significant profits it made helped revitalize the region, contributing to its transformation from an agrarian to an industrial society. The wealth generated by the maritime fur trade was invested in industrial development, especially textile manufacturing. The New England textile industry in turn had a large effect on slavery in the United States, increasing the demand for cotton and helping make possible the rapid expansion of the cotton plantation system across the Deep South.<ref name=farrow>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

A sea otter, drawing by S. Smith after John Webber
Modern and historical ranges of sea otter subspecies

The most profitable furs were those of sea otters, especially the northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, which inhabited the coastal waters between the Columbia River in the south to the Aleutian Islands in the north.The sea otter was the most hunted during the Maritime Fur Trade during the 17th and 18th century. Sea otters possess a thicker fur than any other mammal, and the sea otter’s habit of grooming their coat prevents molting. The reason for their exploitation was due to this ‘dark [thick] and silver tipped fur’.<ref>Vasilii N. Berkh. A Chronological History of the Discovery of the Aleutian Islands or The Exploits of Russian Merchants. Transl. Dmitri Krenov. Edit. Richard A. Pierce. Materials for the study of Alaskan History, No.5. Limestone Press. Kingston, Ontario. P.79</ref> The popluarity and demand in fashion of sea otter pelts in China was one of the reasons why it was hunted to the point of disappearance. These mammals of the Pacific are currently ‘listed as Threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Act ’.<ref>Edward J. Gregr, Linda M. Nichol, Jane C. Watson, John K. B. Ford and Graeme M. Ellis. Estimating Carrying Capacity for Sea Otters in British Columbia. Pub. Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society.The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Feb., 2008). P. 382</ref> Sea otter distribution extends from the north of Japan all the way to the vicinity of Cedros Island, Mexico. The species stayed approximately within the arc of the Northern Pacific until the pressure of the Maritime Trade forced them to move north. The start of their decline with the first Russian expeditions in this region. Aleut hunter were the providers of the skins to the Russians, they became ‘the main purveyor of prime otter skins to Russian traders and American adventurers’.<ref>Arthur Woodward. Sea Otter Hunting on the Pacific Coast. Publ. University of California Press on behalf of the Historical Society of Southern California. The Quarterly: Historical Society of Southern California, Vol. 20, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER,1938).P.120</ref> Before the exploitation of these mammals, their population ranged from 150,000 to 300, 000. Sea otters are ‘slow breeders, only one sometimes two pups [are] being born at a time’ which does not help the population when being pursued.<ref>Arthur Woodward. Sea Otter Hunting on the Pacific Coast. Publ. University of California Press on behalf of the Historical Society of Southern California. The Quarterly: Historical Society of Southern California, Vol. 20, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER,1938).P.129</ref> The Chinese sought this mammal’s fur due to its great commercial value and its ‘prime coat’ all year long. The pelt was used by the wealthy Chinese as clothing decoration (robe trimming) and the Russians used it as an ornamental piece. The other furs that were sent to Europe and America were changed to ‘coat collars or hats’.<ref name="ReferenceA">Web- Alaska History and Cultural Studies</ref> Due to this great demand and worth of the sea otters pelt, the Russian-America Company (RAC) annual expenses was around 1000,000 rubles each year and profited over 500,000 rubles per year.<ref name="ReferenceA"/> The fur of the Californian southern sea otter, E. l. nereis, was less highly prized and thus less profitable. After the northern sea otter was hunted to local extinction, maritime fur traders shifted to California until the southern sea otter was likewise nearly extinct.<ref name=nwcouncil>Fur trade, Northwest Power & Conservation Council</ref> The British and American maritime fur traders took their furs to the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton), where they worked within the established Canton system. Furs from Russian America were mostly sold to China via the Mongolian trading town of Kyakhta, which had been opened to Russian trade by the 1727 Treaty of Kyakhta.<ref name=haycox>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>


Maritime fur trade sections
Intro  Origins  Boom years  Diversification and transformation  Significance  See also  References  Books cited  [[Maritime_fur_trade?section=Further</a>_reading|Further</a> reading]]  External links  

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The North West Coast during the maritime fur trade era, about 1790 to 1840

The maritime fur trade was a ship-based fur trade system that focused on acquiring furs of sea otters and other animals from the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and natives of Alaska. The furs were mostly sold in China in exchange for tea, silks, porcelain, and other Chinese goods, which were then sold in Europe and the United States. The maritime fur trade was pioneered by Russians, working east from Kamchatka along the Aleutian Islands to the southern coast of Alaska. British and Americans entered during the 1780s, focusing on what is now the coast of British Columbia. The trade boomed around the beginning of the 19th century. A long period of decline began in the 1810s. As the sea otter population was depleted, the maritime fur trade diversified and transformed, tapping new markets and commodities, while continuing to focus on the Northwest Coast and China. It lasted until the middle to late 19th century. Russians controlled most of the coast of what is now Alaska during the entire era. The coast south of Alaska endured fierce competition between, and among, British and American trading vessels. The British were the first to operate in the southern sector, but were unable to compete against the Americans, who dominated from the 1790s to the 1830s. The British Hudson's Bay Company entered the coast trade in the 1820s with the intention of driving the Americans away. This was accomplished by about 1840. In its late period, the maritime fur trade was largely conducted by the British Hudson's Bay Company and the Russian-American Company.

The term "maritime fur trade" was coined by historians to distinguish the coastal, ship-based fur trade from the continental, land-based fur trade of, for example, the North West Company and American Fur Company. Historically, the maritime fur trade was not known by that name, rather it was usually called the "North West Coast trade" or "North West Trade". The term "North West" was rarely spelled as the single word "Northwest", as is common today.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

The maritime fur trade brought the Pacific Northwest coast into a vast, new international trade network, centered on the north Pacific Ocean, global in scope, and based on capitalism, but not, for the most part, on colonialism. A triangular trade network emerged linking the Pacific Northwest coast, China, the Hawaiian Islands (only recently discovered by the Western world), Britain, and the United States (especially New England). The trade had a major effect on the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast, especially the Aleut, Sugpiaq, Tlingit, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Chinook peoples. A rapid increase of wealth occurred among the Northwest Coast natives, along with increased warfare, potlatching, slaving, and depopulation due to epidemic disease. However, the indigenous culture was not overwhelmed by rapid change, but actually flourished. For instance, the importance of totems and traditional nobility crests increased,<ref>For more on the use of crests on the North West Coast, see: {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> and the Chinook Jargon, which remains a distinctive aspect of Pacific Northwest culture, was developed during this era. Native Hawaiian society was similarly affected by the sudden influx of Western wealth and technology, as well as epidemic diseases. The trade's effect on China and Europe was minimal, but for New England, the maritime fur trade and the significant profits it made helped revitalize the region, contributing to its transformation from an agrarian to an industrial society. The wealth generated by the maritime fur trade was invested in industrial development, especially textile manufacturing. The New England textile industry in turn had a large effect on slavery in the United States, increasing the demand for cotton and helping make possible the rapid expansion of the cotton plantation system across the Deep South.<ref name=farrow>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

A sea otter, drawing by S. Smith after John Webber
Modern and historical ranges of sea otter subspecies

The most profitable furs were those of sea otters, especially the northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, which inhabited the coastal waters between the Columbia River in the south to the Aleutian Islands in the north.The sea otter was the most hunted during the Maritime Fur Trade during the 17th and 18th century. Sea otters possess a thicker fur than any other mammal, and the sea otter’s habit of grooming their coat prevents molting. The reason for their exploitation was due to this ‘dark [thick] and silver tipped fur’.<ref>Vasilii N. Berkh. A Chronological History of the Discovery of the Aleutian Islands or The Exploits of Russian Merchants. Transl. Dmitri Krenov. Edit. Richard A. Pierce. Materials for the study of Alaskan History, No.5. Limestone Press. Kingston, Ontario. P.79</ref> The popluarity and demand in fashion of sea otter pelts in China was one of the reasons why it was hunted to the point of disappearance. These mammals of the Pacific are currently ‘listed as Threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Act ’.<ref>Edward J. Gregr, Linda M. Nichol, Jane C. Watson, John K. B. Ford and Graeme M. Ellis. Estimating Carrying Capacity for Sea Otters in British Columbia. Pub. Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society.The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Feb., 2008). P. 382</ref> Sea otter distribution extends from the north of Japan all the way to the vicinity of Cedros Island, Mexico. The species stayed approximately within the arc of the Northern Pacific until the pressure of the Maritime Trade forced them to move north. The start of their decline with the first Russian expeditions in this region. Aleut hunter were the providers of the skins to the Russians, they became ‘the main purveyor of prime otter skins to Russian traders and American adventurers’.<ref>Arthur Woodward. Sea Otter Hunting on the Pacific Coast. Publ. University of California Press on behalf of the Historical Society of Southern California. The Quarterly: Historical Society of Southern California, Vol. 20, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER,1938).P.120</ref> Before the exploitation of these mammals, their population ranged from 150,000 to 300, 000. Sea otters are ‘slow breeders, only one sometimes two pups [are] being born at a time’ which does not help the population when being pursued.<ref>Arthur Woodward. Sea Otter Hunting on the Pacific Coast. Publ. University of California Press on behalf of the Historical Society of Southern California. The Quarterly: Historical Society of Southern California, Vol. 20, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER,1938).P.129</ref> The Chinese sought this mammal’s fur due to its great commercial value and its ‘prime coat’ all year long. The pelt was used by the wealthy Chinese as clothing decoration (robe trimming) and the Russians used it as an ornamental piece. The other furs that were sent to Europe and America were changed to ‘coat collars or hats’.<ref name="ReferenceA">Web- Alaska History and Cultural Studies</ref> Due to this great demand and worth of the sea otters pelt, the Russian-America Company (RAC) annual expenses was around 1000,000 rubles each year and profited over 500,000 rubles per year.<ref name="ReferenceA"/> The fur of the Californian southern sea otter, E. l. nereis, was less highly prized and thus less profitable. After the northern sea otter was hunted to local extinction, maritime fur traders shifted to California until the southern sea otter was likewise nearly extinct.<ref name=nwcouncil>Fur trade, Northwest Power & Conservation Council</ref> The British and American maritime fur traders took their furs to the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton), where they worked within the established Canton system. Furs from Russian America were mostly sold to China via the Mongolian trading town of Kyakhta, which had been opened to Russian trade by the 1727 Treaty of Kyakhta.<ref name=haycox>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>


Maritime fur trade sections
Intro  Origins  Boom years  Diversification and transformation  Significance  See also  References  Books cited  [[Maritime_fur_trade?section=Further</a>_reading|Further</a> reading]]  External links  

PREVIOUS: IntroNEXT: Origins
<<>>