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Tartan Ferret

Deerskin Trade

Scots traders among the southwestern people

Why was this trade so important to the English and Scots? With the union of Scotland and England in 1707, vast markets opened to Scottish entrepreneurs.

Between 1709 and 1720 a plague infected European cattle herds and it's said that half the French cattle population was wiped out as the plague spread to the whole of the European continent. As a result, England banned all imports of cattle
and cattle hides from Europe.

This caused major shortages in the English leather trade resulting in a greatly increased demand for colonial deer hides. The two major ports for exporting those were Charles-town in South Carolina and Savannah in Georgia and Augusta in Georgia was to become a center for the deer skin trade - but not before overcoming stiff competition from their South Carolina neighbors such as The Windsor Store run by Martin Campbell or The Archibald McGillivary Company.

McGillivary had taken in other traders and partners but remained solely in control. When McGillivary retired in 1744, Patrick Brown took over as director and moved the company - now called Patrick Brown & Company - to Augusta, where a new partner - John Rae - joined him and the company name changed to Brown Rae & Company and soon dominated the deerskin trade in the Southeast colonies.

Among the traders for Brown Rae and Company was Lachlan McGillivary from Dunmaglass, Scotland and he was kinsman to Archibald McGillivary. Lachlan had come to Georgia in 1736 as an indentured servant. Brown Rae and Company became so powerful that they felt they were a law into themselves and were referred to as " Gentlemen of Augusta" in a letter dated Feb. 13, 1750 to the trustees of the Colony of Georgia. In that letter, the company told the Colony that they knew the Indian trade best and had been trading longer than Georgia had been settled and that the Colony should leave the company alone when it came to Indian trade. The letter finished with " we assure your honours, we are the only way to keep the Indian friendships and trade with the Colony" Your most obedient servants, Brown Rae and Co. Understandably, the Colony was not happy with that.

The Augusta Company sent the majority of it' hides to Charles-town, South Carolina to be shipped as opposed to Savannah, Georgia. In 1750 council member Henry Parker told the trustees of Georgia that 140,000 pounds of deerskins came down the river annually to The Augusta Company and were then shipped through Charles-town to England and all but a trifling went to Savannah.

How big was the trade in deerskins? In his book " History of Appalachia" Richard B. Drake 2001 states that between 1699 and 1715 about 54,000
deerskins were shipped from Charles-town annually. Between 1739-1761 At the height of the deerskin trade, an estimated 1,250,000 deer were killed to supply the leather trade. Donald & Davis in his book, " Environmental History of The Southern Appalachians" 2000 stated that from 1739 to 1761, Charles-town records show exports of 5,239,350 pounds of deerskins and between 1755 and 1772, 2.5 million pounds of deerskins were shipped from Savannah.

What did it take to produce these prodigious amounts? Traders, trading posts, and of course Native Americans to trade with. Each trader had to have a license
or work for a trading company with a license. This license was issued to trade with a particular tribal group. Between 1751-1754, there were 37 traders licensed
to deal with the Cherokee, 7 to trade with the Chickasaw, 2 to trade with the Choctaw, and 35 to trade with the Creek people. Add to that the army of traders who worked for those who held the licenses - among the Cherokee were such mean as James Beamer, John Beng, James Butler, John Cary, John Forbes, Nathaniel Gist, John McDonald, John McCarty, Henry Morris, James Spalding, A.B. Wyatt and James Hicks.

Note that most of these men were Scots, sent to the various native groups by companies such as Brown Rae. Most of the men sent to the hills to trade were young, single, and wise in the ways of survival in the wilderness. The native peoples took to the young Scots traders because they admired their manly sports and their willingness to accept native customs, and not look down on native peoples. The young Scots also understood the tribal structure of clans and bonds of kinship, as it was their way also. Marriage among these young Scots to women of Native American background brought these young Scots into their wives clan and ensured acceptance into the tribal group which was a great advantage over French and Spanish traders who tended to stay socially with their own people. One other thing the Scots traders did was to establish set prices for trade items.

Although Brown Rae & Company was a major force in the deerskin trade, there were other Scottish traders such as MacArtan and Campbell, Crooke, MacIntosh and Jackson to name a few. It also did not hurt that many political appointees in Colonial government were Scots, such men as William Johnson and John Stuart as Indian superintendents and Governors such as James Glen, George Johnstone and James Grant.

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