To carry out these tasks as an integrated system the trading post was structured as a social hierarchy. At a post commanding a district was a chief factor. At a principal post was a chief trader. Both were styled as "bourgeois" and both shared in the profits of the trade. Much of the bookkeeping and correspondence of the trade was conducted through clerks. Below this officer class were skilled and unskilled servants. Among the skilled servants were blacksmiths, boatwrights, carpenters and coopers, as well as hunters, steersmen, guides and interpreters. At small or temporary posts the postmaster could be a clerk but frequently was an interpreter or other senior skilled servant. Below them were the youthful unskilled servants who in later years were often sons of older servants and their native wives.
In the early years of the fur trade only the commanding officer, in the image of the head of a household, had an Indian woman as a "country wife" living in the post. Other officers and senior servants had to maintain their families in surrounding Indian bands. In time, as Indian women demonstrated their value in the fur trade, servants were given permission to have their families reside within the post, although officers and servants continued to require their bourgeois's permission to take a wife. In addition to their family domestic duties, native wives were important in preparing provisions, caring for furs and tending crops. Several served as interpreters and occasionally as skilled negotiators with Indian bands. As Indians emphasized social relations in their economic behaviour, native women were an essential component of every trading post.
Author JOHN E. FOSTER