Minnesota Historical Society

My First Years in the Fur Trade: The Journals of 1802-1804

$ 24.95

A detailed and perceptive account of the fur trade seen through the eyes of a teenaged boy.

Captivated by the tales of adventure in the wild northwest told by the voyageurs, fifteen-year-old George Nelson left his family in southern Canada in 1802 and headed out to the Northwest Territory to begin a five-year contract working for Sir Alexander Mackenzie's XY Company, one of the major fur trade companies of the time. His growth from homesick lad to experienced fur trader over the next two years forms the heart of this unique and fascinating journal.

Nelson had been hired as a clerk but, because of the shortage of literate and experienced men, within a year he was promoted to manage a fur trade post on his own with, as he put it, "three men & an interpretor under me!" With little training, at sixteen years of age, he was placed in charge of men who were as much as twice his age and much more experienced in the wilderness.

Required to keep a daily journal of the post, Nelson quickly became a vital witness to all that went on around him, recording a vibrant, detailed chronicle that allows us today to glimpse something of this fascinating world.

Long treasured by fur trade historians, the early journals of this extraordinary man are here published in their entirety for the first time. His journals offer both an unparalleled view of the fur trade and the story of one boy coming of age on the frontier.


  • By: George Nelson. Edited by Laura Peers & Theresa Schenck.
  • Format: Paperback, 234 pp., 5 b&w illus., notes, appendix, bibliography, index
  • Publisher: MNHS Press
  • Product ##: 9780873518383

LAURA PEERS is curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum and lecturer in the School of Anthropology, University of Oxford. She is the author of The Ojibwa of Western Canada, 1780 to 1870.

THERESA SCHENCK is an assistant professor in the Department of Comparative American Cultures at Washington State University and author of The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, 1640-1855.



Praise for My First Years in the Fur Trade:


"The writings of fur trader George Nelson are wonderfully rich, vivid, and personal. . . . This is a significant work for all who are interested in Native and fur trade history and seek to imagine what life was really like in those times." -- Jennifer S. H. Brown, author of Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country


"There was no other fur trader like George Nelson. He was a pure ethnographer of the world around him and of the content of his own heart. Like Defoe and Melville, he was a tolerant, sympathetic teller of truth, but he had his own clear voice. At long last, thanks to the splendid work of Peers and Schenck, he may finally get the honor that was always due him: a following of grateful readers." -- Bruce M. White, author of The Fur Trade in Minnesota: An Introductory Guide to the Manuscript Sources

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