In a conversational style, Axelrod (Generals South, Generals North: The Commanders of the Civil War Reconsidered, 2011) explains how the beaver’s pelt was the impetus that brought the English and French to North America and instigated their quarrels as they strove to control the New World.
The author effortlessly explores the connections from Samuel Pepys’ hat to the first true “world war,” the Seven Years’ War. Without the Native Americans, there would never have been a fur trade. The six nations of the Iroquois played the largest part in helping both the French and English establish their trade, cleverly playing each nationality off the other. As the French king put more emphasis on the establishment of agrarian societies in the New World, the English stepped in and took advantage of the Indians’ vast knowledge. Where the French sought to integrate with the Indians, the English preferred to replace them. Still, the Indians knew a great deal more of the diplomacy of divide and conquer than the Europeans. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the colonizers treated the Indians alternately as clients, trading partners, allies, rivals or enemies—whichever would help establish their claim on the areas rich in beavers. Their ambitions were alternately imperial, military, territorial and/or commercial. Ultimately, though, profit and land acquisition was the motive. As the English and French fought through a series of wars, the degree of alliance with the different Indian tribes easily drew the advantage to one side or the other. Axelrod deftly navigates the many shifting alliances while delivering a readable history.
A solid exposition of the struggles for the peltries of North America as they established the economy and the politics of the new country and wrote its history.