My First Years in the Fur Trade: The Journals of 1802-1804by George Nelson
Captivated by the Tales of Adventure in the wild northwest told by the voyageurs, fifteen-year-old George Nelson left his family in southern Canada in 1802 and headed out to the Northwest Territory to begin a five-year contract working for Sir Alexander Mackenzie's XY Company, one of the major fur trade companies of the time. His growth from homesick lad to experienced fur trader over the next two years forms the heart of this unique and fascinating journal.
Nelson was well educated for his time. His native tongue was English, he could read and speak some French, and his writings contain many references to classical and romantic literature. Because of the shortage of literate and experienced men, Nelson had been hired as a clerk, but within a year he was promoted to manage a fur trade post on his own with, as he put it, "three men & an interpretor under me!" With little training, at sixteen years of age, he was placed in charge of men who were as much as twice his age and much more experienced in the wilderness.
Like all fur trade clerks, Nelson was required to keep a daily journal of the post -- furs and goods traded, the daily labor of the men, and any remarkable event that occurred among the men or the neighboring Indian tribes. Nelson quickly became a vital witness to all that went on around him, keeping a vibrant, detailed chronicle that allows us today to glimpse something of this fascinating world. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he also recorded his feelings and thoughts, making his account of these years an extraordinary document.
His journals are also valuable for their candid observations on the customs and culture of the Ojibwa people and provide some of the most detailed descriptions of Ojibwa spiritual practices. While he certainly viewed the Ojibwa through the eyes of the son of a school-master from England, Nelson's writings show his open-minded acceptance of a people whose way of life was different from his. Nelson was far more ready than many traders to value Ojibwa culture as equal to his own.
Long treasured by fur trade historians, the early journals of this extraordinary man are here published in their entirety for the first time. Careful editing and annotation by Laura Peers and Theresa Schenck explain references to Ojibwa culture and people and provide context on the North American fur trade. Nelson's eye for detail, his vivid rendering of events and landscape, and his sense of wonder and growing confidence transport readers to another time and place. His journals offer both an unparalleled view of the fur trade and the story of one boy coming of age on the frontier.
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