There are a couple of versions of this story: in 1539, someone told the King of France that explorer Jacques Cartier had found gold and silver along the shores of the Saguenay River. Another source says that Cartier had only suggested there might be gold and silver in the Saguenay region. (It turned out to be fool’s gold.)
According to both sources, however, Cartier suggested that trading beaver pelts and other wild animal furs could become a great source of income for the king. Needless to say, the fur trade turned out to be a lucrative business that lasted for almost 250 years.
Eventually, many types of traders established operations at the ports of Quebec City, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Louisbourg. All these merchants were associated with fellow merchants at various port cities of France, including La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Rouen and Caen. And in the days of Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac and Governor of New France between 1672-1682 and 1689-1698, merchants in New France and its territories held a special place among the elite of the French colony.
Some of these traders married in North America, or brought their wives and children with them. They became the ancestors of many French Canadian or Acadian families, but, as of today, few family history researchers have searched for these early merchants, traders, private bankers, ship owners or tannery operators.
If you think you might have merchant ancestors, and you enjoy research online in France and Canada, try searching for the following term: Name of Ancestor (family name only, négociant du 17ème et 18ème siècles en France et Nouvelle-France. You can also try replacing Nouvelle-France with Acadie. This may bring you surprising search results.
First, however, you must determine on the spelling of the family name in France in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. For example, my Gagné brothers who settled Château-Richer near Quebec City in the 17th century were Gasnier in France – same pronunciation, different spelling.
This is the first in a series of weekly posts about these merchants, fur traders and ship owners during the period of Colonial New France (until around 1760.) It will include:
two compilations including very brief biographies of these merchants and usually including their wives’ names;
links to information about the port cities in France with which they traded;
links to information about the trading companies they were associated with;
a list of authors, historians and academic researchers who have studied this period, with links to some of their publications;
a list of the archives and other repositories where you can learn more about this subject.
Click on the link to read Merchants, Ship Owners and Fur Traders A-G