The Fur Trade in New France
The following articles help you understand that the fur trade during the French Regime operated in a different fashion than it did under the British or American Regimes.
Articles about the operation of the fur trade during the French Regime:
Fur Trade in Nouvelle France, by Suzanne Boivin Sommerville. This article was originally published in Michigan’s Habitant Heritage (MHH) in October 2005.
Representative Fur-Trade Contracts:
Fur Trade Contracts during the French Regime, researched by Diane Wolford Sheppard – the sample contracts include engagements (hiring contracts); obligations (amounts owed to merchants or others financing their voyages); partnerships and societies, and merchant invoices.
Fur Trade Booklet: The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project produced a 40-page booklet on the Fur Trade. You can download this booklet from
Most members have a number of ancestors who travelled to the Great Lakes or Mississippi Valley as voyageurs or engagés. The references to the articles below can help you document your ancestors' involvement in the fur trade.
Articles in Michigan's Habitant Heritage (MHH): Starting with the October 2012 issue of Michigan's Habitant Heritage (MHH), Diane Wolford Sheppard has been translating and transcribing indices to the contracts to Detroit from Montréal. Starting in the January 2014 issue of MHH, Diane Wolford Sheppard has been transcribing and translating the indices to 17th Century contracts to the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley. The transcriptions and translations to the 18th Century contracts to all posts other than Détroit began with the January 2016 issue of MHH. In Massicotte’s original lists, most engageurs are only listed by their sieur name; while the names of the engagés following the spelling used by the notary. In order to better identify all of these individuals, the names have been standardized per Jetté and the engageurs have been listed with their surname and their sieur names. These lists name the notary who recorded the contract.
Montréal Notary Records: The Manuscript Collection at the Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library contains 22 volumes containing transcriptions of notary records drafted by Montréal notaries starting in the 1680s relating to voyages made to present-day Michigan. A one-volume incomplete index can be used to determine which volumes contain records concerning your French-Canadian ancestors.
Notary Microfilms: FCHSM member Gail Moreau-DesHarnais has generously placed the microfilms for many of the 17th and early 18th century notaries on permanent loan at The Family History Center located at 37425 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304. Although the LDS no longer loan their microfilms; they plan to digitize their records and make them available online by the early part of the 2020s. Mnny of these films have now been digitized. See the Notary and Court Records Page on the FCHSM website.
E.Z. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’ouest conservés dans les Archives Judiciares de Montréal (1670-1778),” Rapport de L’archiviste de la Province de Québec. Diane Wolford Sheppard has been translating and transcribing these records in Michigan’s Habitant Heritage since 2014. These volumes are now available online – see the list of volumes below.
René Jetté, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec des origines à 1730 (Montréal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal: 1983) – Jetté’s dictionary notes the individuals found in Massicote (see above) as a engageur or engagé.
Two groups of books provide summaries useful to those researching the fur trade.
Congés or licenses and permissions published in Rapport de L’archiviste de la Province de Québec. Note that congés / licenses or permissions were not issued during all years in the French Regime.
PDFs of the two volumes can be downloaded to your computer.
1921-1922: Covers the years 1681-1730 – pp. 189-225, Index, p. 409
1922-1923: Covers the years 1739-1752 – pp. 192-265, Index, p. 425
Summaries of engagements or hiring contracts archived in the Montréal Archives were published in: E. Z. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’ouest conservés dans les Archives Judiciares de Montréal, Rapport de L’archiviste de la Province de Québec
Year Published: 1931. Years Covered: 1746-1753. Pp: 353-453. Index, p. 463
Year Published: 1932. Years Covered: 1753-1758. Pp. 242-365. Index, p. 395
Year Published: 1933. Years Covered: 1758-1778. Pp. 245-309. Index, p. 399
Accessing the Notary Records - please see the Notary and Court Records Page on the FCHSM website.
A 17th Century Voyage to the Great Lakes, by Diane Wolford Sheppard – this article provides documentation regarding one of the earliest trading voyages to Lake Superior from 1660 – 1663. Four of the voyageurs are ancestors of many FCHSM members. Claude David (ancestor of Thérèse David who married Jacob de Marsac), Sébastien Hodiau (ancestor of Jeanne Cécile Catin who married Jacques Campeau), Pierre Levasseur, and Antoine Trottier are ancestors of numerous French Canadians who settled in present-day Detroit, Michigan and Essex County, Ontario.
Online Database of Voyageur Contracts: The Societé historique de Saint-Boniface has compiled a list of some of the voyageur contracts recorded in Montréal starting in 1714. The database only records the engagement contracts, and ignores the other contracts that may involve a voyageur such as the obligations to merchants and others, powers of attorney, etc. In other words, the results provide you with an incomplete view of the voyageur. The advanced search form for the Voyageur Database can be accessed at this link: http://archivesshsb.mb.ca/fr
Loraine DiCerbo’s photograph of voyageurs unloading a canoe at Colonial Michilimackinac