University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history

1. Prehistoric and historic Native American occupation,   pp. 1-42

Page 19

development associated with expanding city and suburban boundaries.
Fur Trade Theme
This section attempts to integrate the statewide Fur Trade Theme with events that are known
to have occurred or may have occurred in the Janesville area. Little data concerning fur trade
events occurring around Janesville was encountered within the primary and secondary sources
during the supplementation of this theme.
Spurred by the region's bountiful supply of fur-bearing animals and the demand for furs by
Europe's growing fashion-conscious classes, traders and merchants from France, Spain, Great
Britain, Canada, and the United States were lured to the Wisconsin area in search of
adventure, furs, and profits. The fur trade depended on the American Indians as skilled hunting
and trapping labor. The indigenous groups, however, did not participate merely as a workforce
at the mercy of the Euro-Americans. Throughout most of the fur trade era, various American
Indian groups played the role of middleman by supplying more distant groups with trade goods.
Additionally, by their behavior, certain tribal groups brought the fur trade to a standstill or
provided a rebirth of activities in certain areas of North America. Trade goods were often
carried to the wilderness areas by individuals, whose success depended on learning and
adapting to the Indian way of life. For the tribal groups this was a time of transition, conflict,
and rapid adjustment. Although the impact of the fur trade varied from group to group, it was
mainly detrimental to their aboriginal way of life. The fur trade era in Wisconsin has been
divided into three periods: French influence (1634-1763); British influence (1763-1815); and
American influence (1815-1850).
The French period in Wisconsin was important as a time of exploration, discovery, and trade.
Early traders were sent to the western Great Lakes as early as 1621. The next several decades
saw sporadic trading and missionary work in the Wisconsin area. Toward the later part of the
seventeenth century, the Fox-Wisconsin and Brule-St. Croix portages opened the Mississippi
River to the French. Trading enterprises escalated, and during the next two centuries, those
portages remained the main principal water routes for explorers, missionaries, and traders.
King William's War saw a decline in the western Great Lakes fur trade as the French
concentrated on the St. Lawrence River Valley. The trade resumed in 1693, only to be
abandoned by the French again between 1696 and 1701. During this French absence, the Fox
tried to retain their middleman status in the fur trade by violently closing traffic on the Fox-
Wisconsin waterway. At this time, the Rock River may have carried more trading vessels to
the Mississippi. By the late 1730s, the French had succeeded in driving the Fox permanently
southward. The European struggle for control of North America continued with King George's
War (1744-1748) and the French and Indian War (1756-1763). With the signing of the Treaty
of Paris in 1763, control of the Wisconsin area was given to the British. Despite the high level
of French activity in Wisconsin during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their
influence was not lasting. After 1763, many of the French traders left the region for St. Louis or
New Orleans. Those that remained eventually joined British and later American trading
The British-influenced period of the fur trade saw three main centers through which pelts and
European goods flowed: Detroit, Grand Portage, and Macinac (Gilman 1974:11). British trade
policies were quite different from the previous French patterns. Tribal group members were no
longer required to take their furs to Macinac and other centralized trade markets and gift
giving was severely reduced (Smith 1973:58). The immediate result of these changes was the
Pontiac rebellion (1763-1766), in which the numerous (but not all) tribal groups tried to restore
control of their own destinies (Smith 1973:57) and quite possibly gain an upper hand in the fur
Prehistoric and Historic Native American Occupation

Go up to Top of Page