American Fur Company records, 1816-1947
Descriptive Inventory for the Collection at Chicago History Museum, Research Center
By Robert D. Kozlow, 1962; rev.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
© Copyright 2012, Chicago Historical Society, 1601 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Title: American Fur Company records, 1816-1947.
Main entry: American Fur Company.
Inclusive dates: 1816-1947.
ca. 1050 items.
1 microfilm reel : neg. ; 35 mm. (Camera negative of account book).
1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm. (Reader-use copy of account book).
Access: This collection is open for research use.
Provenance statement: The account book was given to Chicago Historical Society by Benjamin B. Felix (M1921.0202). It had been given to his mother Minnie Crittenden Felix, by her uncle Alexander Toll, at Mackinac on the breaking up of the post of the American Fur Company about 1867. In 1881, Eliza Meacham donated original items found at Mackinac in 1874. Gurdon Hubbard donated through Fred Hunt the typed transcripts of AFC letterbooks; and photostats of AFC letterbooks were purchased in 1919.
Terms governing use: Copyright may be retained by the creators of items, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law, unless otherwise noted.
Please cite this collection as: American Fur Company records (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.
This descriptive inventory contains the following sections:
Summary description of the collection,
Description of some material related to the collection,
List of online catalog headings about the collection,
Arrangement of the collection,
Detailed description of portions of the collection,
List of contents of the collection.
The American Fur Company was incorporated in 1808 by John Jacob Astor for the purchase of furs within United States territories. It was conceived as a firm of major American fur merchants. Astor controlled its membership while negotiating with Canadian firms and developing trade in the Old Northwest, Pacific Northwest and Upper Missouri territories. In 1816, Michilimackinac was the headquarters for the company in the Old Northwest, and Ramsay Crooks and Robert Stuart were its agents. Trading outfits were dispatched from Mackinac, and furs were shipped via Buffalo and Albany to New York. Astor sold his interests in the American Fur Company in 1834 to Ramsay Crooks and Pratte, Chouteau and Company.
--Information from Paul C. Phillips, Fur Trade, 1961.
Ramsay Crooks, 1787-1859, was born in Scotland, emigrated to Montreal, and entered the fur trade. He was in close association with John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company after 1818, at which time Astor bought out the American interests of the Northwest Company. Crooks became General Manager of the company in 1817, and it was largely due to him that the Western Department in St. Louis was established in 1822. When Astor sold out in 1834, Crooks became president of the American Fur Company. His reputation was as a man of high character, law abiding and just. Robert Stuart, 1785-1848, Crooks' associate and assistant at Mackinac, had a similar early history, and upon Crooks' transfer to New York, succeeded him as head of the American Fur Company for the Upper Lakes region.
--Information from: The Dictionary of American Biography.
Summary description of the collection:
Original letters (about 40 items, 1818-1828) and other documents by John Jacob Astor, Ramsay Crooks and Robert Stuart of the American Fur Company (AFC), Benjamin F. Clapp, James Abbott, Joseph Bailly, David Stone and William Henson Wallace; photostats of letterbooks (2 v.: 1816-1825, 1823-1827; about 1000 p.) by Crooks and Stuart at Michilimackinac to traders, Indian agents, territorial governors, etc. about the fur trade, condition of supplies, and government policies related to the fur trade; typed transcripts of letters by Crooks and Stuart (1816-1820, 1823-1827), often to the AFC agents at Chicago; and an account book (Michilimackinac, 1821-1823) detailing supplies and merchandise purchased by trading outfits.
Topics include conduct of the fur trade, primarily in the Old Northwest region and Upper Canada, prices of supplies and merchandise, shipping arrangements, evaluations of AFC agents, government policies, and American Indians and other traders and suppliers. Recipients of letters and others listed in accounts include the AFC agents at Chicago: John Craft, John Kinzie, Gurdon Hubbard, and Jean Baptiste Beaubien.
Also included in the collection are 20th century letters by Milo M. Quaife and others reporting on the condition and location of the original records of the American Fur Company.
Written mostly in English but some items in French.
Description of some material related to the collection:
A list of items in the collection: pt. 1, 1831-1840; pt. 2, 1841-1849, was published in the American Historical Association annual report for the year 1944, vol. 2-3, p. 1-2 (pub. 1945).
Materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, related to the fur trade include Jean Baptiste Beaubien letters, Chouteau family letters, Gurdon S. Hubbard papers, Kaskaskia papers, Kingsbury papers, Kinzie papers, Lawe papers, Thomas L. McKenney letters, Menard and Valle records, and the Scharf map collection.
List of online catalog headings about the collection:
American Fur Company--Archives.
Astor, John Jacob, 1763-1848.
Beaubien, Jean Baptiste, 1787-1863.
Crooks, Ramsay, 1787-1859.
Hubbard, Gurdon Saltonstall, 1802-1886,
Kinzie, John, 1763-1828.
Stuart, Robert, 1785-1848.
Fur trade--Canada--19th century.
Fur trade--United States--19th century.
Fur trade--Michigan--19th century.
Fur trade--Illinois--Chicago--19th century.
Indians of North America--19th century.
Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.)
Mackinac Island Region (Mich.)--Commerce--19th century.
Northwest, Old--Discovery and exploration.
United States--Commerce--19th century.
Astor, John Jacob, 1763-1848.
Bailly de Messein, Joseph, 1774-1835.
Beaubien, Jean Baptiste, 1787-1863, recipient.
Clapp, Benjamin F.
Craft, John, recipient.
Crooks, Ramsay, 1787-1859.
Hubbard, Gurdon Saltonstall, 1802-1886, recipient.
Kinzie, John, 1763-1828, recipient.
Stuart, Robert, 1785-1848.
Quaife, Milo Milton, 1880-1959.
Wallace, W. H. (William Henson), 1811-1879.
Arrangement of the collection:
Most of the collection is arranged chronologically.
Detailed description of portions of the collection:
Original items from several sources and copies from the letterbooks (photostatic or typed transcripts) have been interfiled chronologically in the folders of the collection.
Description of letterbooks:
Letterbooks, 1816-1827, photostatic and typed copies (875 p.) contain outgoing letters written to more than 75 individuals and firms. Almost all of the letters were written by the agents of the American Fur Company at Michilimackinac: Ramsay Crooks and his assistant Robert Stuart. The majority of the earlier (photostat) ones were by Crooks, and the later typed ones by Stuart. Many letters are written in French.
The letters discuss matters of policy of the American Fur Company (AFC); the passage of the bill excluding aliens from the trade except as employees of an American company; the bill closing government trading posts, called factories, in 1822; the opening of the AFC's Western Department at St. Louis and the subsequent seizure of some American Fur Company property and resulting lawsuits; the tactics and policies of competitors, especially the Hudson Bay Company; and AFC's absorption of the Columbia Fur Company.
The letters provide a large amount of detail about the business and the men who ran it, including:
Crooks' letters reflect regard for the law in his refusal to permit the use of whiskey for trade with the Indians, his appreciation and consideration for his subordinates, his courage in speaking his mind when necessary. Stuart too appears as an able and energetic administrator.
The photostat letters are perhaps the more interesting of the two groups of letterbook items except for the fact that the typed letters deal largely with Chicago. Most letters were written to agents of the AFC or to firms from which the company made purchases. Among them are many letters to John Jacob Astor, Lewis Cass, Thomas E. Benton, John C. Calhoun. Those to Astor are especially detailed regarding the shipment of furs and the status of accounts, for example, "890 packs" in the summer of 1820.
The majority of the typed letters are to the AFC's agents at Chicago and Green Bay. There are several to John Craft, agent at Chicago, and many more to Craft's successor, John Kinzie, Sr., and to Jean Baptiste Beaubien. These are filled with material not only regarding the fur trade, but concerning the character and disposition of Beaubien and Kinzie as well as of Kinzie's sons John and James. James Kinzie is frequently discussed also in the photostat letters.
There also are 6 pages of accounts, 1817-1827, with the typed letters that list traders' wages and supplies in 1817; give a "sketch of outfits made at Mackinac Sumer 1823," including gains and losses; and a listing of the personal accounts at the AFC store in Mackinac in 1827 of the following agents and traders:
Gurdon S. Hubbard
John Kinzie, Sr.
"Chicago Outfit" 1827
Jean Bts. Beaubien.
The geographic area covered by these letters ranges from Lake Superior and Lake Huron to the Wabash River country; from Montreal, New York and Buffalo, to Detroit, Green Bay and St. Louis.
Some typed transcripts from a letterbook of the American Fur Company, 60 p., March 1817-August 1819 (incomplete for that time period) are duplicates of photostats in the collection and are inscribed "courtesy of Gurdon S. Hubbard for these letters and data," and signed "Hunt," possibly the Fred Hunt, who collected material for Andreas's History of Chicago.
Description of the account book (Michilimackinac, 1821-1823):
Provides details about supplies and merchandise purchased by trading outfits as listed by invoices covering shipments made to the following placenames: La Pointe, Lake Superior, Lac du Flambeau, Lac Courtoreille, Folleavoine, Ance Quirvivan, Lower Mississippi, Upper Mississippi, Lake Michigan, Illinois River, Lower Wabash, St. Joseph's [of Lake Michigan], Upper Wabash, Iriquois River [Iroquois], Milliwaki [Milwaukee], Chicago, Green Bay, Grand River, Musquigon, Lake Huron, Prairie du Chien.
Prairie du Chien (Wis.) received goods from New York via Pittsburgh and St. Louis. All other sites apparently were served from Michilimackinac, which in turn seems to have obtained its stocks from Montreal and New York. Traders are named; weights of merchandise given; and prices listed.
Description of some original letters and other documents in the collection:
Original documents in the collection include items written by:
Abbott, James 1824 July 9, 1827 Dec. 14
American Fur Company 1821-1823; 1836 May 2, June 10
Astor, John Jacob 1828 June 5
Bailly, Joseph 1826 Aug. 4
Clapp, Benjamin F. 1827 Sept. 5
Crooks, Ramsay 1824 Jan 20, Jan 29; 1841 May 4; 1842 Nov 24
Green, David 1820 Oct 12
Jones, John 1820 Sept 9
Stone, David 1825 June 30; 1825 July 12; undated
Wallace, William H. 1818 Dec 7
This material includes:
A receipt for freight delivered in good order, signed by Samuel Abbott at Mackinac, June 10, 1836. Shipped by William Brewster from Detroit, May 17 1836, on board the schooner Eliza Ward.
A letter from Ramsay Crooks in New York, May 4, 1841, to Gurdon S. Hubbard, care of Samuel Abbott at Mackinac, giving Crooks' promise to look for a suitable opening for Hubbard in business.
A letter from Ramsay Crooks in Milwaukee, November 24 1842, to Gurdon S. Hubbard at Chicago, regarding the possible purchase by Hubbard and others of the American Fur Company's building at Mackinac. Abbott has informed Crooks of Hubbard's interest. Terms will be cash on short term only.
The original material in the collection listed above includes the Meacham donation described below.
Description of original material donated by Eliza Meacham in 1881:
The donation included letters and manuscripts (24 items, 1805-1827) relating to the American Fur Company and its agents; some written in French but most in English. This material was found at Mackinac in 1874 in the building known as the John Jacob Astor Hotel and given to Chicago Historical Society (CHS) by Eliza Meacham. For a while after the donation, this material was bound in a set at CHS known as the Autograph letterbooks (vol. 31, p. 161-226) until that volume was disbound and the items filed into the general collection of American Fur Company materials.
The Meacham donation included:
a. Paper belonging to Samuel Abbott, relating to fur sales in London in 1844 by the Hudson Bay Co. and Mr. Lampson and discussing their relation to their own market.
b. Four "engagements" or contracts with men as day laborers or winterers for the period of one or two years and amount to be paid (in French, 1806-1826).
c. Joseph Bailley letter from Michilimackinac to Robert Stuart, New York, requesting the purchase of spectacles for him (in French, 1826).
d. David Stone's account of furs purchased from Samuel Abbott, 1890; also three letters from Stone in Detroit, 1816-1818, to Robert Stuart, at Mackinac. These discuss fur company business, the possibility of selling whiskey to the Indians, the cost of produce, the state of the fur market, various traders.
e. Several letters from merchants to Astor and Crooks, regarding the purchase or possible purchase of tobacco and guns and pistols (1820).
f. Several orders to debtors to appear before justices of the peace at Mackinac (1811); also a promissory note in Wayne County, Indiana Territory, 1808.
g. Letter by William Wallace at Fort Harrison, Dec. 1818, to Crooks and Stuart in New York, regarding his problems in the fur trade; discusses traders Burnett and Reame. [The context seems to pertain to the photostat letters in the collection.]
h. Letter by John Law at Green Bay, 1823, to Stuart at Mackinac, regarding trade and traders in his vicinity.
i. Several letters by Ramsay Crooks in New York, 1824, to Robert Stuart at Mackinac, regarding fur company business. Stone, Matthews, Abbott, and Astor are mentioned. Statements of "Old Concern" are discussed.
j. Letter by B. Clapp in New York, 1827, to R. Stuart at Mackinac, discusses business but is quite personal in tone. Crooks, Bostwick, Chouteau, Matthews are mentioned and the unpleasantness with Currie.
k. Credit slip to "the Chicago outfit" and James Kinzie, 1826.
l. Letter by J. Abbott in Detroit, Dec. 14 1827, to R. Stuart at Mackinac, about fur company business; states full data about three outfits: to Fort Wayne, to St. Joseph, to Laguina (?); lists cost, trader in charge, and salary. Mr. Kinzie is mentioned.
Another letter added to the American Fur Company collection from CHS's old Autograph letterbooks came from vol. 34, p. 283: letter from James Abbott in Detroit, July 9, 1824, to R. Stuart at Mackinac, about arranging for Gov. Cass to honor Col. Boyd's drafts.
List of contents of the collection:
Call# = Mss Alpha1 American Fur Company
folder 1 Information about the collection
folder 2 Letterbook 1 and index: Dec. 1816-June 1, 1817
folder 3 Mss
folder 4 1817-1820, transcriptions of items by Ramsay Crooks
folder 5 1817-May 1826, transcriptions of items by Robert Stuart
folder 6 June 1826-Aug. 1827 transcriptions of items by Robert Stuart
folder 7 June 8-Dec. 18, 1817
folder 8 Jan. 10-May 29, 1818
folder 9 June 19-Dec. 30, 1818
folder 10 Jan. 1-May 1, 1919
folder 11 May 28-Aug. 11, 1919
folder 12 Aug. 12-Sept. 28, 1919
folder 13 Oct. 1, 1819-Jan. 25, 1820
folder 14 Jan. 27-Feb. 21, 1820
folder 15 June 18-Aug. 14, 1821 (R. Stuart 1819)
folder 16 Letterbook 2 and index: June 1820
folder 17 June 21-Aug. 21, 1820
folder 18 Aug. 21, 1820-Jan. 30, 1821
folder 19 Jan. 30-July 1, 1821
folder 20 July 7-Aug. 24, 1821
folder 21 Aug. 24-Sept. 27, 1821
folder 22 Sept. 20-Nov. 24, 1821
folder 23 Nov. 28, 1821-Jan. 3, 1822
folder 24 Jan. 4-Mar. 24, 1822
folder 25 Mar. 20-Apr. 18, 1822
folder 26 Apr. 20-May 10, 1822
folder 27 June 10-29, 1822
folder 28 July 5-Aug. 17, 1822
folder 29 Aug. 22-Oct. 9, 1822
folder 30 Oct. 14, 1822-Jan. 9, 1823
folder 31 Jan. 16-Aug. 31, 1823
folder 32 Aug. 31, 1823-Sept. 22, 1824
folder 33 Account book information
Account book, 1821-1823 (1 volume)