Coureurs de bois were known to the English on Hudson Bay as “wood-runners” and to the Anglo-Dutch of Albany as “bush-lopers”. The term coureurs de bois means those who engaged in the fur trading, however the way they do their trading was considered to be outside the mainstream. This meant finding a way around the normal channels by crossing the wilderness just to trade. After then, soon enough they involved in trading without the permission of the French authorities. Coureurs de bois were the labeled unlicensed fur traders in New France.
There were few French colonists that ventured west of the Ottawa River during mid-1600s, until there was a sudden drop in the pricing of beaver. It was the arrival of 3,000 indentured servants including soldiers, as well as peace with the Iroquois that had made a significant change necessary.
In 1680s, 500 coureurs des bois were still attempting to outdistance the Aboriginal middlemen in the Lake Superior despite the clear prohibitions from the church and as well as the colonial authorities. This incident results to fewer Aboriginals sold furs to trade at Montreal and Trois-Rivieres. This also pushed colonial merchants to hire coureurs des bois so they could remain operational in business.
The fur trade became very lucrative during the 17th century. The competition became so fierce, and there were many colonist who were willing to risk the journey west and north through the hostile iroquos territory. This leads the French authorities to realize that these traders had to be controlled so they can maintain the industries profitability.
Later on in the event, as a way to cut off unregulated trade of independent businessman and unregulated traders, authorities finally introduced licensing to the market so as to control seasonal exodus trading into the hinterland. Coureurs de bois were treated as outlaws during those times, considered to be unlicensed traders. However despite the authorities’ persistence, coureurs de bois continued to do the trading even without the permission of the authorities. As a result, professional voyageurs came into the picture; they were usually associated with a particular interior post. In the 18th century, when New Orleans became an alternative focus of the trade, some renegade traders still persistent and soon became the primary bearers of the designation “coureur des bois”.
The coureur de bois together with the voyagers both played significant roles in the North American fur trade era. Coureur de bois were use by French to help them in their exploration for the new world. They played a vital role in the European exploration, as the fur trade moved further into the continent. They also helped in establishing trades with the Indians.
Generally, coureurs des bois were primarily just fur traders and entrepreneurs who aren’t individually well known. There were however some traders who also became explorers and had gained quite a fame. Like, Etienne Brule who was the first ever European that was able to see the great lakes. He was traveling to New France with a friend Samuel de Champlain. Also a French coureur de bois, Jean Nicolet became famous for exploring the Green Bay which is now known to us as the U.S state of Wisconsin.