Timothy J. Kent
Historical Author, Paddler, and Reenactor

 

Phantoms of the French Fur Trade
Twenty Men Who Worked in the Trade Between 1618 and 1758
Volumes I, II, and III

By
Timothy J. Kent

ISBN: 978-0-9657230-7-7

With few exceptions, the thousands of individuals who labored in the peltries trade during the French regime have been thought of as unknown, unnamed, phantom-like figures. This ground- breaking work radically alters such thinking, by bringing to life an entire series of living, breathing Frenchmen who worked at various occupations in the commerce. These jobs included fur trade company manager, clerk, voyageur-trader, interpreter-trade ambassador, voyageur, merchant-outfitter, investor, birchbark canoe builder and paddle carver, laborer, mariner and ship's pilot, and transatlantic merchant. These men often worked legally, with official sanction. But sometimes certain of them dealt in the illicit trade of coureurs de bois, and they were occasionally caught in the act and convicted of the crime.

In addition to presenting a detailed study of the fur trade activities of these twenty subjects, the author has given equal consideration to the lives these men led when they were not working in the peltries business, especially their times at home with their loved ones. Thus, these biographies include detailed examinations of the men's wives and other family members, as well as each couple's children, home, possessions, and farming operation (nearly all of these individuals worked as subsistence farmers in tandem with their peltries occupations), along with myriad activities and events of their personal lives.

These thought-provoking accounts, which examine in minute detail the happenings of these people's daily existence, cover the entire arc from birth to death. These reconstructions have been woven from hundreds of original French documents, most of which have never before been transcribed and translated. This mass of previously untapped information has been combined with church records as well as many other documentary sources, including censuses, government and missionary reports, personal letters, private journals, and period maps.

Through these twenty highly detailed, dual biographies, the history of New France and its fur trade emerges. However, this history is not offered in smoothed-out summary fashion, but instead from the engrossing and highly personal perspective of individuals who actually lived, worked, and died during this tumultuous period . This work does not embrace the “great man” version of history, with its focus upon prominent figures and major events of the time. Rather, these volumes offer an intimate look into both the major and the minor events of the period, through the activities of everyday people who did not possess the luxury of historical hindsight. This deep insider's approach examines these people's times of triumph and satisfaction, as well as their times of failure, personal loss, and deep grief. By examining the past through this microvision approach, readers will establish empathy and visceral linkages with those who lived in New France long ago, and will understand that their aspirations, excitements, pleasures, fears, disappointments, and sorrows were very similar to those that we ourselves experience today.

This set of three hardcover volumes, containing 2450 pages, is illustrated with 100 color photographs, 27 drawings and maps, and 5 reproductions of ancient handwritten documents. Two of its valuable features include an 80-page index by proper nouns and a 40-page triple index by subjects (Life in France, Life in New France, and the Fur Trade). This work will be of considerable interest to professional and avocational historians, genealogists, and enthusiasts of fur trade, military, missionary, colonial, and canoeing history.