Commerce by a Frozen Sea is a cross-cultural study of a
century of contact between North American native peoples and
Europeans. During the eighteenth century, the natives of the Hudson
Bay lowlands and their European trading partners were brought
together by an increasingly popular trade in furs, destined for the
hat and fur markets of Europe. Native Americans were the sole
trappers of furs, which they traded to English and French
merchants. The trade gave Native Americans access to new European
technologies that were integrated into Indian lifeways. What
emerges from this detailed exploration is a story of two equal
partners involved in a mutually beneficial trade.
Drawing on more than seventy years of trade records from the
archives of the Hudson's Bay Company, economic historians Ann M.
Carlos and Frank D. Lewis critique and confront many of the myths
commonly held about the nature and impact of commercial trade.
Extensively documented are the ways in which natives transformed
the trading environment and determined the range of goods offered
to them. Natives were effective bargainers who demanded practical
items such as firearms, kettles, and blankets as well as luxuries
like cloth, jewelry, and tobacco-goods similar to those purchased
by Europeans. Surprisingly little alcohol was traded. Indeed,
Commerce by a Frozen Sea shows that natives were
industrious people who achieved a standard of living above that of
most workers in Europe. Although they later fell behind, the
eighteenth century was, for Native Americans, a golden age.
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