Native labour and Imperial consumption on the periphery of Empire as revealed by the York Factory account books of the Hudson’s Bay Company, c. 1869–1870 1
From the point of view of economic history, it is perhaps with some intellectual irony that one of the greatest collections of merchant accounts concerns a vast, but somewhat commercially insignificant, region on the periphery of global capitalism. This chapter explores accounting records that require a fair bit of processing before any reasonable observations are allowed. It attempts to appreciate Native consumption as an outcome of a specialised labour process located on the periphery of the British Empire. This approach is consistent with Trentmann's desire for a 'greater integration of political economy with cultural inquiry' along with more micro-level analyses. The chapter provides an analysis of a single, seemingly brief, Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) accounting record for York Factory or Kihchiwaskahikanihk to the Cree. It considers the patterns of consumption at York Factory for 1869–1871 and the consumption made possible by the boatwork necessary for sustaining the York Factory-Norway House corridor.