Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

The historic fur trade and climate change



Why did the Dutch come to the North American shores 400 years ago? Was it wanderlust, expansionist policies, or simply money? The earliest western explorers were the Vikings who, in the 1100s, were able to sail beyond Iceland and Greenland to Newfoundland, because they did so during the Medieval Warm Period. English explorer Henry Hudson, on the other hand, could not find a northern passage to China because the early 1600s were the coldest part of the Little Ice Age and the northern seas were frozen over (Figure 1).

After Hudson's third voyage, Dutch merchants contracted several sailors to establish trading posts for beaver pelts in the Americas. Among them was Adriaen Block, who built the first western settlement on the island of Manhattan (New York) after a fire on his ship forced him to over-winter there in 1614 [Varekamp and Varekamp, 2006]. His 1614 ‘figurative map’ shows Long Island Sound as an estuary, and introduced for the first time the name ‘Niew Nederlandt’ (New Netherlands).