Few places were as important in the seventeenth-century European colonial New World as the pays d’en haut. This term means "upper country" and refers to the western Great Lakes (Huron, Michigan, and Superior) and the areas immediately north, south, and west of them. The region was significant because of its large Native American population, because it had an extensive riverine system needed for beaver populations—essential to the fur trade—and because it held the transportation key to westward expansion.
It was vital to the French, who controlled the region, to be on good terms with its peoples. To maintain good relations through trade and diplomacy with the nations in the pays d’en haut, the French built a number of posts, including one at Michilimackinac and one on the St. Joseph River (near Niles, Michigan). These posts were garrisoned by French troops and run by French commanders who contracted with merchants to manage business matters.
Edge of Empire provides both an overview and an intensely detailed look at Michilimackinac at a very specific period of history. While the introduction offers an overview of the French fur trade, of the place of Michilimackinac in that network, and of what Michilimackinac was like in the years up to 1716, the body of the book is comprised of over sixty French-language documents, now translated into English. Collected from archives in France, Canada, and the United States, the documents identify many of the people involved in the trade and reveal a great deal about the personal and professional relations among people who traded. They also reveal clearly the process by which trade was carried out, including the roles of both Native Americans and women. At the same time, the documents open a window into French colonial society in New France.