The deerskin trade between Colonial America and the
Native Americans was one of the most important trading relationships
between Europeans and Native Americans, especially in the
southeast. It was a form of the
fur trade, but less famous
since deerskins were not as elegant as furs from the north,
like beaver. But the deerskin export was an important source
of raw material for the European
leather industry. The Spanish of Spanish Florida were
the first to establish a trade in deerskins with Native
Americans (Davis, 2000). Later, both the English and French
expanded the trade, with the English eventually dominating.
Tribes such as the Cherokee and Creek, among others, supplied
deerskins to traders, mostly from Charleston, South Carolina,
in exchange for various trade goods such as iron tools,
kettles, knives, firearms, ammunition, and gunpowder. The
deerskin trade was vital to Charleston's early economy.
The colony depended on the trade and worked hard to create
strong alliances with the Cherokee and Creek suppliers.
Between 1699 and 1715 an average of 54,000 deerskins were
exported annually to Europe through Charleston (Drake, 2001).
Between 1739 and 1761, the height of the deerskin trade
era, the Cherokee slaughtered an estimated 500,000 to 1,250,000
deer. During the same period, Charleston records show
an export of 5,239,350 pounds of deerskins (Davis, 2000).
Charleston was not the only city to export deerskins. Between
1755 and 1772, more than 2.5 million pounds of deerskins
(taken from approximately one million deer) were exported
from the port of Savannah, Georgia. Virginia also participated
in the trade. In addition, the Creek Indians sold some of
their deerskins to the French and Spanish, and the Shawnee
traded deerskins with colonies to the north.
So large was the scale that in time deer became nearly
extirpated in the southeast. It also radically altered the
society of the Cherokee, with men increasingly absent from
towns for long periods to hunt deer, and a growing Cherokee
dependence on European trade goods (Davis, 2000). By 1750,
deer were becoming harder to find in Cherokee territory,
while the tribe was simultaneously becoming entirely dependent
on European trade goods, which contributed to growing tensions
and conflict between the Indians of the southeast and the
Europeans (as well as conflict between tribes).
Deerskins were used to produce
buckskin as well as a chamoislike
leather that was used for gloves, bookbinding, and many
- Drake, Richard B. "A History
of Appalachia". University Press
of Kentucky (2001).
- Davis, Donald Edward. "Where
There Are Mountains: An Environmental
History of the Southern Appalachians".
University of Georgia Press: Athens