The Voyageur in the Illinois Country: The Fur Trade’s Professional Boatman in Mid America

Margaret Kimball Brown
38 pages, maps, illustrations | 2002, reprint 2012

The French voyageur cuts a dashing figure in our imaginations, so much so we often overlook the reality of his profession: it was a job. The author looks at the business end of being a waterman in the remote French settlements of the Illinois Country in the mid 18th century; she presents her picture of the voyageurs’ world from the perspective offered by the contracts, debts, and inventories they left behind.

This story of the Illinois Country voyageur is gleaned largely from an assemblage of some 7000 unsorted and mostly unpublished French documents and records known collectively as the Kaskaskia Manuscripts. Few people are as familiar with this collection as Dr. Brown, who has worked with this and other caches of French Illinois records for years.

The Voyageur in the Illinois Country expands our knowledge of other aspects of life in the French Midwest beyond the fur trade: inventories of household goods, watercraft in use locally (not the romantic birch bark canoe, incidentally). We also learn that French/Indian relations were not always as cordial as popular history often paints them to have been.

About the author:

Dr. Margaret Kimball Brown is well known for her work in historic and prehistoric archeology. She retired as director of the famous Cahokia Mounds State Park archeological site and museum a few years ago. French Colonial Illinois has always been of particular interest to her, and that is reflected in some of the titles she has published: The Village of Chartres In Colonial Illinois, 1720 1765 (co-author Lawrie Dean); The French Colony in the Mid Mississippi Valley, and the pending Kaskaskia Manuscripts 1714 1816. Dr. Brown is the founder and first president of the Center for French Colonial Studies.

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