Wall of Water
A few hundred years ago there was a French fur trader with a big problem. He was trying to get to a trading post in New France, or Canada as it is known today. He paddled along in his canoe but in the distance he heard a thunderous roar. Was it a monster? A piece of machinery? As he got closer he saw that it was a giant waterfall. He had reached Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls is 167 feet tall - this is taller than a 10-story building. Every second one hundred thousand cubic feet of water rushes over the edge. This wall of water stretches for 2,600 feet from side to side, and creates miles of dangerous whirlpool rapids in the river below.
There was no way for the French fur trader to go over the waterfall, or across it or even under it. The only thing he could do was to go around it. So, he got out of the canoe and carried it on his head down the river until it was safe to go back in. This is called portage. And everyone had to do it if they wanted to get to the other side.
It seems like a lot of trouble to go to. But back then in the early 18th century, there was no other way to do it. There were no highways, no cars, and no railroads. The fastest, safest, and easiest way to travel at this time was by boat. So rivers and lakes were very important. These waterways were how people stayed connected to each other.
It was how they traded things like beaver skins and ammunition and food. Getting around Niagara Falls was difficult, but it had to be done.
Niagara River was especially important because it led to the Great Lakes Region. If you could get past the falls, you could get to the whole Midwest region.
It didn't take long for people to realize that if you controlled the Niagara Falls area you were in control of some very important trading routes. The French and the British fought the Seven Year's War to control this area.
In the end the British won.
What would you trade for one beaver pelt? To a fur trader, one fur could be traded for five pecks of Indian corn, or ten pounds of pork, or two pints of gunpowder. For two beaver pelts he could get four small axes, or a cotton shirt with ruffles!
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Links to Other Dispatches
Rebecca - Iroquois Federation - The founding fathers?