Timothy J. Kent
Historical Author, Paddler, and Reenactor

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews

"That colorful character of Canadian descent has dragged himself out of the woods once again to research and write down what he has learned. For our reference and enjoyment, Timothy Kent has written Rendezvous at the Straits, producing a remarkable piece of work after decades of living the history along the Great Lakes waterways and studying the many documents from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Both of these volumes are chock full of juicy inventories of trade items (often with prices), photographs of the exotic locales in question, and enlightening maps. Primary documentation was used throughout and is sometimes included for the reader. If you wanted to see the complete inventories of Forts Niagara and Frontenac, possibly view the hiring contracts of voyageurs and traders, or maybe cast your eyes on the expense accounts of Fort Michilimackinac, then this is your publication. As is the case with all of Mr. Kent's writings, it isn't just dry tinder for your campfire. He includes the fascinating stories of the people who slogged along the rivers and lakes, sometimes in temperatures that would cause us to faint. The best thing I can say is, 'I enjoyed it immensely!' Going back in time has never been so easy or delightful." - Leo Finnerty, Le Coin de Critique, George Rogers Clark National Historic Park
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"Spurred on by his desire to learn more about his French-Canadian ancestors who worked at various occupations in the fur trade, Timothy Kent had devoted decades of research to uncovering the story of the fur trade in the Great Lakes region and the St. Lawrence Valley. Delving deep into the sources, both manuscript and printed, a fascinating story has unfolded. Kent's monumental two-volume work Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade, published in 1997, was followed in 2001 by Ft. Pontchartrain at Detroit; A Guide to the Daily Lives of Fur Trade and Military Personnel, Settlers, and Missionaries at French Posts, also a massive study in two volumes. The current work, Rendezvous at the Straits; Fur Trade and Military Activities at Fort de Buade and Fort Michilimackinac, 1669-1781, focuses on the Straits of Mackinac and the fur trade and military world of which it was the center.

Kent has adopted a chronological approach, which results in a year-by-year chronicle of French, native, and later British life at the Straits. In so doing, he has written the only comprehensive overview of the area known as Michilimackinac, focusing equally on both sides of the Straits.

Flowing from his keen interest in the people of the fur trade, the book identifies many of the often obscure and forgotten participants in the trade. Their names have been culled from trade licenses, the parish register of Ste. Anne de Michilimackinac, the manuscript Montreal Merchants Records, and many other original documents. Of particular interest is the attention given to slaves, both Indian and black, who were a significant portion of the population and the economy. The extensive index captures the names of hundreds of people, and will be of great interest to genealogists and historians.

Based on an analysis of the licenses granted by the government to those participating in the fur trade, Kent's chronological approach documents the various rises and declines of the fur trade during the French and British eras, due to wars, economic conditions, and government policies. The book also demonstrates the geographical expansion of the fur trade into the northwest. A considerable amount of material from far afield is included, while maintaining the focus on Michilimackinac as the center of a vast fur trade network.

As his other books demonstrate, Kent is fascinated by the material culture of both the fur trade and military life. Consequently, this book includes numerous lists of trade goods and military supplies, as well as inventories. Kent has transcribed and translated many of these lists, for the readers to analyze for themselves.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is the inclusion of extensive primary materials. Many of the documents are translated from the original French and published here for the first time. Others are already well know, but Kent weaves them all together and makes them available in one place.

This is a book to be mined as well as read. It will be a very useful resource for other researchers, and the bibliography points to many additional research possibilities. It will be of very great interest to enthusiasts of military and fur trade history and native lifeways, as well as reenactors, staff members of museums and historic sites, and genealogists. -David A. Armour, Deputy Director and Historian, Mackinac State Historic Parks