Fur Trade Florida

In 1763, Spain ceded the Florida territory to Britain in exchange for the Havana, a result of allegiances during the French and Indian War.  Known as the British Period (1763-1783) it marked the beginning of England’s colonization attempts on the peninsula. The dividing line between East and West Florida became the Apalachicola River, with the British colony of Georgia to the north, and the Mississippi River to the west. The territory was sparsely populated with most of the European colonists living in and around St. Augustine in East Florida, and Pensacola in West Florida, the capitals of each colony respectively.  The groups now moving into Florida when the British took over colonial control were an amalgamation of many smaller Native American clans and familiar groups who were loosely linked by language and custom in the southeastern U.S.  The British began in earnest meeting with the local leaders within these Indigenous communities and established ties that led to trade agreements. Key to the economic success of the British Floridas was a successful, trusting, and fruitful relationship with the various Indigenous groups living in and bordering the Floridas. The primary commodities coming out of the wooded backcountry were deer and otter pelts, more so the former. Items being imported and traded for the aforementioned peltry were Europeans metal goods such as firearms, gunpowder, jewelry, clothing and alcohol. Although the economy of the colonies was important, the other, and arguably the more pressing reason that the British catered to the needs and wants of the Indian population was strategic military alliances. During the French and Indian war, the British relied upon the provision of Indigenous American warriors to fight alongside the white colonists and the British army to defend her colonial possessions.

The North American continent presented a wealth of resources beyond just precious metals such as the ones mined from Central and South America. More importantly, the continent possessed natural resources and ample land for agriculture which by the 18th century would prove to be a driving force in the rapid immigration of Europeans into the Americas. Control of raw materials produced in the Americas became the motivating force between European traders and Indigenous inhabitants during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This competitive environment proved perfect for the emergence of large-scale trading operations which could handle the volume of necessary arms and goods coming into North America, but also the volume of deerskins and other peltry being exported out.  It was through political coercion, complex trading networks, and opportunistic dealings that the partners and traders involved were able to procure so much wealth in the span of only a few decades. The enormous financial successes of the company and its successor, John Forbes and Company (JF&CO), are not the key issues explored in this project. Rather, it was the effect on Creek and Seminole Indian culture and trade that paved the way for hostilities between Anglo settlers and Indians in Florida during the Creek Civil War and the Seminole Wars period. The exertion of soft power upon the Indigenous populations led to the breakup of the clan systems and eventually led to the aforementioned armed conflicts. It is through the exploration of original documents, combined with the presentation of these materials in the form of podcasts that the long-term impacts of the late colonial period Indian trade can be better understood.   

In this exhibit you can search through original documents relating to the fur trade and listen to audio podcatsts which provide context for these narratives

You can also connect and share your thoughts about this exhibit through the Florida Historical Societies Facebook page. We invite discussions on this topic and will expand and improve upon the exhibit based on user feedback.

The Trade on the ground • Talks with Native Americans • Land Cessions • Time and Place
Teacher's Guide


Public Files: 

PDF icon Teacher's Guide - Fur Trade in Florida177.92 KB

Exhibit Section: 

The Trade On The Ground

Audio File: 

Within this exhibit, original documents have been utilized to highlight and explore the relationships between Creek and Seminole Indians, and Anglo-European traders who, after the end of the Ameircan Civil War, began moving with earnest into the former group's territory. This migration led to an increase in trade, but also an increase in hostile encounters. Cultural exchange between the two groups is evident through these documents. 
The first section of materials includes two letters from Indian traders living within Creek territory to merchants with the Panton, Leslie & Co. headquartered in Pensacola. Both letters follow a similar format, including a list of goods requested from the merchants, but also include details concerning the various activities and developments occurring within the Indian territory. 
Be sure to CLICK on images for larger view and the audio podcasts as you browse the documents which provide further context into the trade "on the ground."

Exhibit Item: 

1796 McGillivray Letter

Exhibit Segment: 

1798 McQueen Letter

Exhibit Segment: 

Talks with Native Americans

Audio File: 

As a network of trade and traders developed and expanded across the southeastern United States around the turn of the 18th century, the need for regular meetings between the various Native American clans and the merchants providing their goods. Each preceeding document chronicles a different transcription of these meetings at various times throughout the trading relationship. Referred to as "talks" by the Native Americans, each letter covers a variety of issues, including often a list of goods needed for further trade, and even messages for other chiefs. Broader politial issues stemming from American traders moving into Creek towns and inter-clan dissagrements are also discussed.

What these "talks" tell us about the trade relationship is just how interwined politics, trade and issues of sovreignty were during this brief period (1790 - 1812). They also show the ebb and flow of agency between involved parties. Over the years, depending on economic conditions, power was excahnged between merchant and consumer.

Be sure to CLICK on images for larger view and the audio podcasts at the beginning of the documents to hear a discussion about talks with Native Americans.


Exhibit Item: 

Talks with Native Americans, Letter 1

Exhibit Segment: 

Talks with Native Americans, Letter 2

Exhibit Segment: 

Talks with Native Americans, Letter 3

Exhibit Segment: 

Talks with Native Americans, Letter 4

Exhibit Segment: 

Land Cessions

Audio File: 

By the turn of the begining of the 19th century, the trade between the Panton, Leslie & Co. and their Native American consumers had diminshed substantially. Fewer and fewer quality skins were being transported to Europe. Much of this downward trend can be linked to fractured political relationships between the various clans, as well as a steep decline in the population of available white-tail deer in the southeast. Over-hunting 
had decimated these populations.By 1803, William Panton, founder of the Panton, Leslie & Co. house had died in transit to Cuba. His partners took over the company and changed the way in which the company collected on it's Debts. They also renamed the company John Forbes & Co. 
The company began petitioning both the American and Spanish governments to pressure its debtors to trade land for absolution of debt. Many clans resisted this deal, while others ceded large tracts to the company partners. As a result of these efforts, the partners and thier heirs amassed enormous land holdings. Land rights and deeds of ownership were European concepts that many Creek clans did not prescribe to. Yet over the course of the previous decades, this European idea of ownership changed the ways in which Native groups approached issues of boundaries and private property rights. In-fighting and varying approaches to the encroachment of European and American ideas of modernity chipped away at te Creek's strength and presence in the region, laying the foundation for rapid American settlment on lands previously occupied by Native groups.  
Be sure to CLICK on images for larger view and the audio podcasts at the beginning of the documents to hear a discussion about these land cessions. 

Exhibit Item: 

Letter 1802

Exhibit Segment: 

Letter December 24th 1803

Exhibit Segment: 

Letter May 31st 1801

Exhibit Segment: 

Time and Place

Maps have the ability to transport us to a distant time and place. The original maps featured in this portion of the exhibit build on the original documents you've already seen.

Below you can CLICK on the highlighted area to see an original period map depicting various aspects of the fur trade in Florida and the southeast, and the locations of historic trading towns, Spanish cities, established trading routes, as well as other information pertianing to the trade as it existed at the end of the 18th century

Lastly, you can see a survey of one of the largest land cessions granted to the trading firm John Forbes & Co., at the begning of the 19th century. The nearly 1.2 million acre tract was exchanged for absolution of debt owed to the company by various Seminole and Creek Indian clans.

Fur Trade Florida - place and location

Creek Towns are in the 1763 T. Jeffreys map

Seminole Towns are in the 1783 Purcell map

Forbe's Grant is depicted in the 1805 Forbes Purchase map


Exhibit Item: 

1763 T. Jeffreys

Exhibit Segment: 

Jeffrey's Map, 1763

This map was originally featured in William Roberts' "An Account of the First Discovery, and Natural History of Florida," published in 1763.
Jefferys used inforamtion found from various French and Spanish sources.

Note the Creek Indian boundaries, as described by Jefferys. A number of prominent Creek towns are

Various trade routes centered on established trails and waterways. The early deerskin traders relied heavily on this network of
towns and villages.

Although later maps included much more detailed topographical renderings, this Thomas Jefferys maps
is important to the study of the fur trade in the southeast in the late 18th century because the distribution
of indegenous groups began to change as a result of the American Revolution, and the changing nature
of their culture.

1783 Purcell

Exhibit Segment: 

1783 Purcell Map

This 1783 map produced by Joesph Purcell and originally published in 1788 depicts the new political borderes between
Spanish East and West Florida, and the United States. The includes very detailed depictions of towns and cities
in the southeast, including major roads and trails connecting communities.

Notice the several dotted trails leading to and from Penscaola, then the headquarters of the Panton,
Leslie and Co. trading house.

Changes in the spelling and general location of indegenous communities has changed in this map, including the
inclusion of the "Seminolas" located in north central Florida.

1805 Forbes Land Cessions

Exhibit Segment: 

1805 Forbes Purchase

As a result of the increasing amount of debt owed to Panton, Leslie & Co., and it's subsidiary John Forbes & Co.,
several Creek and Seminole Indian goups were forced to cede large tracts of land to these companies. A siginficant
result of this effort to collect on outstanding debts can be seen in this early 19th century map showing
nearly 1.2 million acres of land given to the partners of the John Forbes & Co. trading firm.

Notice the existance of trails and towns within the boundaries of this survey. Also note that ill-defined
borders. When Florida came under American control, the heirs of JOhn Forbes initiated a decades-long
legal battle over the legitimacy of the ofiginal claims. Eventually, some of the original grant was honored
by the State of Florida, yet issues concerning legitimate land rights remain prevelent.