Along ancient trails: the Mallet expedition of 1739 by Donald J. Blakeslee

By Donald J. Blakeslee

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Much of the trade was carried on by coureurs de bois, fiercely independent men who spent much of their time far from the French settlements and took native women as wives. They came to know the native languages and customs, to understand native politics and warfare, and to know the Indian portages and trails. In 1744, Charlevoix said of them: They love to breathe a free air, they are early accustomed to a wandering life; it has charms for them, which make them forget past dangers and fatigues, and they place their glory in encountering them often.

As a result, the population reached 2,500 by the 1660s. Most of the settlers were concentrated in a narrow strip along the St. Lawrence River. A scarcity of arable land and the continuing threat of Iroquois raids kept them there (Eccles 1972: 35). Continual subdivision of properties and need for river frontage created long, narrow holdings and prevented the formation of villages. This settlement pattern was one of the factors that generated a new kind of person, dramatically different from the peasants of France.

The governor also had the right to Page 11 tribute from the natives, and if they could not supply it in goods, he could take it in the form of labor. But the friars, who lived among the natives and depended on their labor, were quick to dispute any case where they thought the civil authorities had overstepped their bounds. As a large part of the colonial economy was based on Indian labor, conflicts over its allocation were numerous and noisy. Another element of the nascent economy was made up of trading expeditions to the Apache country.

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