The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Fur Trade in the Dorr Family Papers, Part II

“We desire you to embrace the first favourable Wind and weather and proceed to … any other ports places or Islands where you may think it likely to find seal plenty,” wrote the Boston fur merchants Ebenezer Dorr, Ebenezer Jr. Dorr, Joseph Dorr, and John Dorr to the captain of their snow  Pacific Trader, Samuel Edes, on 11 September 1799. The four-page letter details the responsibilities expected of Captain Samuel Edes during his voyage, including those expectations of the crew to capture and skin any available seal for profit.

The letter stipulates instructions on the preservation of seal hides.

...on your arrival at a suitable place for sealing you will immediately secure your vessel and set your people to work killing seal and preserving their hides either by drying or Pickling as the weather will permit, always remembering, that to have them well dried is our wish in Preference to Salting or Pickling.

This preference for dried hides over pickled ones benefited the merchants twofold. Dried pelts were more stable to transport aboard a sailing vessel because pickled ones were subject to putrefaction and other means of deterioration. Dried pelts additionally yielded higher profits than pickled pelts in Canton. If the process of pickling a seal skin seems curious, it may be interesting to know that pickling (preservation of perishables in brine or vinegar) is often part of the tanning process (the conversion of animal skin to leather by use of tannic acid or other chemicals) . The Dorr merchants informed the captain of their preservation preferences to achieve higher profit in market.



permalink | Published: Wednesday, 6 November, 2013, 8:00 AM