Coureurs des bois

Coureurs des bois were itinerant, unlicensed fur traders of New France known as "wood-runners" to the English on Hudson Bay and "bush-lopers" to the Anglo-Dutch of Albany (NY).

The Fur Traders at Montréal
(Photo: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1990-329-1)
Fur Trade Exhibition
Canoe and supplies (courtesy CMC).
Fur Trade Posts

Origins

Coureurs des bois were itinerant, unlicensed fur traders of New France known as "wood-runners" to the English on Hudson Bay and "bush-lopers" to the Anglo-Dutch of Albany (NY). Few French colonists had ventured west of the Ottawa River until the mid-1660s, when a sudden drop in the price of beaver, the arrival of some 3,000 indentured servants and soldiers, and peace with the Iroquois made the change both necessary and feasible.

By 1680, despite repeated prohibitions from both the church and colonial authorities, some 500 coureurs des bois were in the Lake Superior country attempting to outdistance the Aboriginal middlemen. As a result, fewer Aboriginals brought furs to trade at Montréal and Trois-Rivières, inducing colonial merchants to hire some coureurs des bois in order to remain in business.

Trading Licences and Hired Workers

Licensing was eventually introduced by the authorities to control the seasonal exodus into the hinterland. Thus professional, "respectable" voyageurs, usually associated with particular interior posts, came into being. Renegade traders persisted, becoming the primary bearers of the designation "coureur des bois" after the emergence of New Orleans as an alternative focus of the trade in the 18th century. The independent coureurs des bois played an important role in the European exploration of the continent and in establishing trading contacts with Indigenous peoples.

Read More // Coureurs des bois

Further Reading

  • Louise Dechêne, Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth-Century Montreal (1992 [1974]).

    Georges-Hébert Germain, Les coureurs des bois. La saga des Indiens blancs (2003).

    Allan Greer, The People of New France (1997).

    Gilles Havard and Cécile Vidal, Histoire de l’Amérique française (2008).

    Carolyn Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade (2006).

  • Louise Dechêne, Habitants et marchands de Montréal au XVIIe siècle (1988 [1974]).

    Georges-Hébert Germain, Les coureurs des bois. La saga des Indiens blancs (2003).

    Allan Greer, Brève histoire des peuples de la Nouvelle-France (1998).

    Gilles Havard et Cécile Vidal, Histoire de l’Amérique française (2008).

    Carolyn Podruchny, Les voyageurs et leur monde. Voyageurs et traiteurs de fourrures en Amérique du Nord (2009).

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