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A Brief History of Early Ohio
July 27, 2020

A Brief History of Early Ohio

by The CE Shop Team

Learn About The Early History of Ohio

Ohio is a great state with a strong history rooted in the development and growth of the U.S. and European countries. Helping to develop important trade routes and channels utilizing the great lakes, Ohio served as a bridge between the Northeast Territories, the Midwest, and the West.

Ohio’s geographical location has proven to be the strongest asset to all the peoples that have inhabited it throughout North America’s history. Even today, America’s economic growth depends on the cargo and business traffic that passes through the highways linking the Northeast to the rest of the country. These trade routes helped develop cities within the state, contributing to the state’s rich history and its role in the development of America.

Cities like Martins Ferry in Belmont County, are a great reminder of the history throughout Ohio and how that history has shaped the state today. Martins Ferry is the oldest town in Ohio and was the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory.

17th-Century Ohio

In the early to mid 1600s, much of Ohio was inhabited by three cultures, or tribes that were spread out through much of what we know as the state of Ohio today. During this time, trading on the East Coast was growing rapidly with connections being made between French-Canadians, American Indians, France, England, and Scotland.

In 1640, the Iroquois Confederacy, a confederation of five Iroquois American Indian tribes, began a campaign referred to as the Beaver Wars during which they fought other American Indian groups, including those in the Ohio Country. This conflict was primarily fueled by ownership of their lands and territories in order to gain access to fur-bearing game animals.

After the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois claimed much of the Ohio country as hunting and, more importantly, beaver-trapping ground to continue to grow their trading efforts. After the devastation of epidemics and the Beaver War in the mid-17th century, the Ohio country of indigenous people was wiped out.

Entering into the 18th century, many of the remaining multi-ethnic Ohio-country nations grew in large part to the global economy being built on the fur trade from European countries.

18th-Century Ohio

France and England were bitter enemies at this point in time, fighting for control of North America. One of the main goals of the French fur trade during this time was to maintain strong ties with American Indians.

Between 1698 and 1763, France and England fought a series of four wars for control of North America. Because the English colonies had a much larger population than New France, the French needed Indian allies to help them fight. This fighting resulted in what we now call the French and Indian War, even enough the war was between France and England. The British claimed Canada and the Midwest after winning the war and began to develop their fur trade into the Great Lakes, and Canada.

During this time, England was also fighting a battle with a growing force of rebels in eastern Colonial America. Unfortunately the Ohio country was not going to see peace for quite some time. American patriots and British forces collided in the American Revolutionary War between 1775 and 1783.

What Was So Great About Trading Fur?

During this time of growth in the new world, business men and women would take advantage of new opportunities that arose around a multitude of products. In this developing world, animal meat and furs were hot commodities.

The demand for fur goods as fashion pieces among European and American elites, especially beaver coats, was so high that at peak points in the fur trade, a single pelt could fetch north of $50. With prices like that, it’s no surprise that the first American multimillionaire earned his wealth from simply trading beaver goods. The individuals building companies like the Hudson Bay Company, were entrepreneurs who saw a new business venture and dove head first.

Here are some average prices for furs and peltries at Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. To put these prices into perspective, $1 in 1790 is the equivalent to around $25 in 2017.

  • Raccoons - 37 1/2 to 40 cents each
  • Foxes, cats, and fishers - 50 to 67 cents
  • Minks - 50 cents each
  • Muskrats grown ones - 25 cents each
  • Otters- 4 to 5 dollars each
  • Bears grown ones - 4 to 5 dollars each
  • Beavers -125 cents
  • Buckskins always -100 cents
  • Does skins - 67 to 75 cents each
  • Dressed does skins, buck and does -75 cents
  • Does - 75 cents

The Impact of The Fur Trade Today

During the fur trade, the economy was based on bartering goods and determining prices based on values of a particular item, like beaver pelts. This led to a system of value points given to goods in order to know the “price” for a good, which would change often throughout the time of the fur trade. This trading also helped develop the current credit and debit system we use in today's markets.

Along with the trading and economic impact of the fur trade, many species (most notably the beaver) saw large decreases in population throughout the Midwest, Canada, and Northeast. The inevitable decrease of the species in a hunting zone led most groups of fur trappers and traders to push west and claim new territories.

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