The Indian and French Trade

( previous ... The People of New York)

Occupation; the Indian Trade

The colonists were in these times largely farmers; still sailors and fishermen were a considerable part of the people of New York city and Long Island; while many trappers and traders made Albany their headquarters and carried their dangerous business as far as Lake Superior. In this Indian trade the French had the advantage of position; but the English at Albany could afford to give the Indians nearly twice as much powder, rum and woolen cloth for a beaver skin as they could at Montreal or Fort Frontenac. The colony of New York planned to fortify a position on Lake Ontario in order to compete with Fort Frontenac for the trade with the western Indians; and after a long delay, in 1722, at the mouth of the Oswego River, a store house and later a fort were built where now is a populous city.

Governor Burnet and the French

Governor Burnet, Empire State HistoryThis important step was taken by Governor William Burnet, who two years before received the place of gifted but discontented Hunter. The name of Burnet may be added to the short list of liberal minded and public spirited foreign governors of New York. He perceived that the design of the French was to secure North America; he attempted to unite king and colonists in preoccupying the banks of Ohio and Mississippi with a line of English forts. But the king , 3,000 miles away, did not realize the situation; while the colonists, intent of scraping and hoarding, were so fearful of taxation that they would not permit a saving outlay of colonial money.

Burnet, himself, as French writers confess, left no stone unturned to defeat the projects of France. He called a council of colonial governors at Albany, the first of many conferences held at that place with the Six Nations*. He attempted to pass beyond Oswego and fortify the deserted French position at Niagara; but he was disappointed and was compelled to see the French a third time, in 1726, build Fort Niagara.

*The Iroquois a short time since had received the Tuscaroras, the tribe of Powhatan and Pocahontas, from Virginia, and had given them land on the south east end of Oneida Lake. The confederation was henceforth known as the Six Nations.

The French Trade

Still nothing more than sharp letters between the governors disturbed the peace of New York and Canada. The traders of Montreal had found that they could buy at Albany cheaper than they could import from France; so a brisk trade was going on between the two colonies by means of Indian carriers over the Champlain route. It was profitable business for the merchants of New York, but it promised evil to the colony; for in the path of the traders the French were creeping up the Sorel, up Lake Champlain; soon they would be on Lake George and a step would take them to upper Hudson Valley.

Governor Burnet saw the danger and induced the assembly to prohibit the trade. For this act he was disliked by the merchants of New York and London who used all means to secure his removal. He further lost popularity by continuing the court of chancery, a court of supreme authority, instituted by Hunter, which encroached upon the power of assembly. The governor also unfortunately incurred the displeasure of Peter Schuyler and of Stephen De Lancey*, and thus a combination of influences brought about the removal of the efficient but indiscreet Burnet to Massachusetts; and following this the trade with Canada was soon renewed.

*Stephen De Lancey was the leading man among a company of French Huguenots, who to escape persecution in France settled in New York city and at New Rochelle.

(continues ... Colonel William Cosby and the Newspaper Wars)