By Cheryl Morgan
OTTISSIPPI is written by local author – Cheryl Morgan. It is the New Native History and culture of Southeast Michigan and beyond that has been untold. It was inaccessible due to the complexity of the many tribes, governments, states, and boundaries. The history was hidden and scattered everywhere due to time and the many changes of names of waterways, peoples and places. It is the result of 4 years of intense groundbreaking research that clarifies and reveals what happened here and in the Northwest Territory. Now available in one volume! Non-fiction 643 pages.
BWHL will be sharing excerpts from OTTISSIPPI with the readers each week. The book is available on Amazon.com/ottissippi .
It is available as an ebook with a searchable Table of Contents and in Print – paperback.
Trade and Traders
“British Captain Patrick Sinclair built Fort Sinclair at now St. Clair in 1763 to 1764. He traded with the Indians and supplied the other forts in the Upper Great Lakes. He built a sawmill, supplying lumber to Detroit. He also protected the waterways for the safe travel of the fur traders. Some of the items for sale and traded at the Fort Sinclair Trading Post were; lots of rum, tobacco, powder and shot, flint, fabric, sugar, salt, corn, nuts, wheat, bread, turnips, tallow for candles, shingles, horse shoes, pork, wheels for carts, canoes, trunks, barrels, needles, combs, thread, silver broaches, earbobs, scissors, looking glasses, axe, fire steels, knives, shoes, moccasins, stocking, socks, ribbon, blankets, Jew Harps – Jaw Harps, buffalo shoes, gift paper, quills, leggings, soap, nails, putty, and boards. The fur and animal trades were elk, bear, doeskins, fox, raccoons, mink, wolf, muskrats, beavers, caribou, porcupine, martin, otter, fisher, cats, ducks, and fish. Other items that were traded for goods were apples, pumpkins, lard, beans, eggs, cranberries, geese, salt pork, and maple sugar” (Adapted from, Mayhew. A complete list is found in the book, Fort Sinclair, Mayhew, 2003).
“Some of the goods available for trade at Fort Sinclair Trading Post in 1783 were fabric, tobacco, rum, canoes, powder, shot, sugar, salt, mittens, shirts, bed lace, ribbon, blankets, fishing equipment, cod lines, chain, nets, trunks, barrels, bridles, potatoes, venison, pipes, twine, and chalk.
In 1785, Antoine Morass bought sundries at the St. Clair Trading Post. He began operating Baby’s mill in 1784.
“Louis Bonvien was a large trader” (Mayhew 2003).
“The Negro Baptiste Point Du Sable from Haiti managed the Pinery at Fort Sinclair. He replaced Francis Bellcour and was fair to the Indians. He was educated in France and a farmer, carpenter, and business man. He became the founder of Chicago in 1779” (Mayhew, 2003).
Daniel Boone in 1769 stated that the herds of buffalo – bizhiki – were larger than the cattle, and most of the roads and trails followed the beaten buffalo paths. He also sold large quantities of buffalo meat for the trade. He was a land speculator and surveyor, at one time owning most of Kentucky and Tennessee with Henderson.
The Trade was mutually profitable and mutually destructive. Traders were sources of trouble between the English and Indians. Unscrupulous, without principles, they aroused hatred and the ire of savages” (Burton, City of Detroit, 1701 – 1922, 1922).
Francis Parkman stated, “The European lost his refinements, but gained independence, self-sustaining energy, and power of action. The Indian in turn gained material advantage but lost his own independence by becoming dependent on the White man’s goods.
Trading posts were built throughout the country of the Northwest along major waterways. The population in Southeast Michigan in 1773 was 1285, with half living around the fort. In 1796, the population was 2,215.
Great company gains killed the competition, there were endless difficulties. They would crush those they could not buy. Underselling by the best traders created hostile relations with the Indians to destroy the others’ trade.
Rix Robinson, was a sutler, to the U.S. troops. He was a great friend and politician and friend of the Indians. He married an Ottawa woman. He was respected, fair and honest to all. The Indians named him Wavaohase – Marten, known for cunning and resourcefulness.
Rix Robinson and Madame Framboise, an Indian woman, were large traders with the American Fur Co. Rix Robinson was agent and sales manager, he assumed and managed at Madam La Framboise retirement, her 21 trading posts along the Grand River. He was a judge, senator, and member of the State Constitutional Convention, as well as a friend of the Indians, a peacemaker, and negotiator with the Government. The traders paved the way for future settlers.
The St. Martins were an old, respectable trading family at Quebec. John Baptiste St. Martin came to Detroit in 1740 and served as an interpreter of the Huron language, his services highly desired during the Pontiac Conspiracy of 1763. He married Marianne Navarre; De Tonty and De Bellestre were his uncles.
James Abbott at Detroit was an independent and large trader in the Northwest.
Judge James Abbott – The Earl of May – at Detroit was the superintendent for the American Fur Company. He came to Detroit in 1768. His business name was Abbott Fur and Mercantile. He had a substantial household including two slaves. He died in 1800.
James Abbott was one of the most active merchants in Detroit, being the first English trader to open a post at Detroit after 1760 when the British Americans won the French War. In 1778, his trade goods were confiscated for violating the regulations restricting the sale of liquor to the Indians. In 1780, he was given a grant of land by the Pottawatomi and Chippewa Indians on the Detroit River and on Lake St. Clair. Abbott traveled to Micilimackinac, Green Bay, Prarie Duchien, Ft. Wayne, Ouitanon, and Vincennes. Abbott’s sons, Robert and James Jr., both were leading merchants in Detroit after James Abbott Sr.’s death in 1800.
Robert Abbott, son of James Abbott Jr. of Dublin, Ireland, was born at Detroit. He is said to be the first English-speaking man who opened business at the old post of Detroit. Father and son both were early fur traders and were known from Detroit to Mackinaw, and then to Chicago. His business connections came next in importance to the Campeau’s” (Western Historical Co.).
James Abbott Jr. and Robert Abbott, sons of James Abbott, were also agents for the American Fur Company.
Edward Campau a trader of this district, Southeast Michigan. Henry Conner, a trader and faithful interpreter at treaty negotiations. Gabriel Godfroy was a well-known extensive trader. Mr. Jacob Harson in 1778 received 3,000 acres from the Chippewa Indians. He was a gunsmith and fur trader from Holland. He owned 47 books.
In 1780, Duperon Baby, British Indian agent and fur trader, owned a sawmill at now Marysville, Michigan on Baby Creek, now Bunce Creek. He was granted 57,600 acres of land by the Indians, from Sinclair’s Trading Post and Fort to Lake Huron and up Black River for 15 miles. He also owned land on the now Canadian Side of the St. Clair River.
At the end of the Revolution to the Jay’s Treaty in 1783, which marked the end of the English control of Detroit. The English monopoly of the fur trade, continued in the area, of Detroit and stretched through the Lower Peninsula to Wisconsin and Illinois through Western Ohio, Indiana, and beyond, was being challenged by the Americans. The English in 1796 left Detroit after exploiting the trade as looters.
Larger ships began to be used to transport goods and supplies. Ships ranging from 12 to 96 tons were used on the Montreal to Detroit trips before and after the Revolution in 1776. Private vessels were banned from the lakes during the war. The English drastically reduced the amount of goods being shipped. Only government shipping was allowed, which proved to be insufficient. Shipping was necessary for importation of supplies, trade goods, and the exportation of the furs collected and was also important in supplying the far western posts.
The fur trade was moving West to Lake Superior country. Detroit became an important supply depot for corn, pork, and flour. Sloops had been built in Detroit in 1769 and 1770. The prospect of a thriving ship-building industry was being impeded by the English restrictions.
The merchants at Detroit, sent letters attacking the policy and urging the use of private vessels for trade. John Askin, a prominent Detroit trader who later became important in Canadian government, stated the difficulty in fulfilling contracts. That year Colonel Arent DePeyster took Askin’s ship into service of the king. Objections were made to favoritism on the official’s part and that everyone was suffering for abuses of a few traders. There was a great deal of opposition during the war, but the loudest objections came when the restrictions continued afterward. In 1784, the merchants expected a return to the use of private vessels. There was no relaxation in the wartime rules until 1789 for the Upper Lakes.
James McGill, one of the wealthiest merchants in Canada and founder of McGill University, in 1785 urged the necessity of rapid transportation of goods to Detroit before winter set in. He also warned that the traders would lose interest in the English merchants and seek other markets for their goods and services. In 1786, Todd and McGill in Montreal wrote to John Askin, saying they believed Governor Carleton would soon allow private vessels back on the lakes. The pressure finally effected change: In 1785, private vessels were allowed from Montreal to Niagara. In 1787, they were permitted on Lake Ontario. By 1789, private ships reappeared throughout the Great Lakes.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 allowed Americans to enter the waterways without hostilities from the Mississippi East and through the Great Lakes. Detroit and the other Western posts were now in American hands, though the British did not cede Detroit until 1796. The merchants reacted immediately. Since 1760, the merchant group had acquired and kept enormous influence in Canadian affairs; they became the most self-conscious and assertive of all social classes. Why, they argued, had England granted so large a cession of land? Why had the English negotiators failed to consult the merchants before making such an illegal move, and how were the diplomats now going to correct their mistake?
Lord Shelbourne justified the treaty as necessary to gain the friendship and gratitude of the Americans. He also thought the English were not losing a great deal in ceding the Northwest. There was great ignorance of the vastness of the lands and boundaries. The merchants were hardly willing to give up this territory. They believed that two-thirds of the furs from Canada came from the region now in American hands and predicted the end of the Canadian Fur Trade.
One historian wrote; there are times when catastrophes in life are so great they cannot be possibly duplicated. This seemed one such time. The merchants realized that the Americans would be unable to compete with them favorably, even if the posts were evacuated; they were still shocked at what they felt was a sellout.
Henry Hamilton, Lt. Governor of Canada, urged that the wilds were to be looted of furs before the Americans can take possession. Shelbourne talked to the merchants of free trade, saying there was nothing to hinder the English from passing goods over all or part of America. The merchants were not impressed; they remained advocates of mercantilism, opposing the loss of valuable fur trading area and hesitating to anger the Indians. Fearing reprisals, as in 1763, for the betrayal of their allies who had not been informed of the final boundary of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The English had not only ceded their claims to the Ohio Valley, but had ceded those of the Indians as well.
Cession of the territory proved to be entirely different than actual abandonment of it. The English continued to occupy Detroit and insured control of the trade south of the lakes as well. The Spanish were unable to bring goods cheaply enough to compete to procure trade goods, and they were forced to barter furs with the English traders.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 called for the evacuation of Detroit by the English. Article 7 stated that the posts were to be evacuated at all convenient speed. This, to the English, meant 13 years. The nature of the fur trade with vast distances to cover meant two or three years for a return on an original investment from Montreal; goods were shipped to Detroit, then sent out to the traders wintering with the Indians. The traders returning in the spring to Detroit with furs. The furs were then sent to Montreal and on to London.
During the war, the whole procedure had been interrupted, causing transportation to be impeded and causing an accumulation of delays and debts. Due to these factors, there was confusion as to a convenient time for evacuation. The Americans offered a grace period of three years to evacuate the posts but allowed for reciprocal use of the waterways into the Indian country. This offer was ignored by the English.
For the next 13 years, the English troops held control of Detroit and other posts Northwest of the Ohio River to the Mississippi. Americans moving into the area were stopped and turned back. The English and Indian Alliance prevented American entrance into the area ceded by the English at the 1783 Treaty of Paris. English traders continued to hold absolute monopoly of the fur trade and benefited from a prosperous era of trade until the outbreak of war on the frontier and in Europe disrupted trading again. The English took advantage of the Ohio country for profit and mischief.
The English claiming there had been no orders for evacuation received from London. The main legal point for the English retention of the posts was the Americans failure to repay the Loyalists who had evacuated to Canada and the repayment of British merchants after the War. The merchants of London, Montreal, and Detroit pressured the government to retain the posts and exploit the Fur Trade of Detroit. In addition, they feared the anger of the Indians which may have been turned against the English with their departure to the Canadian side.
The Americans under George Washington in 1784 were extremely eager and anxious to gain Detroit and the Indian Trade. Detroit was the key to the trade of the Great Lakes area, including the trade south of the lakes.
Detroit traders who had been stymied by years of warfare and Indian unrest began to reestablish trade connections weakened by the turmoil of the past decade. The leading Detroit traders were Alexander and William Macomb, William Robertson, and John Askin. The merchants felt they would need at least five years to prepare their withdrawal and to wind up their affairs.
Saginaw Bay and all along the Coast were numerous rivers and inlets which ships could use for shelter and the means of exploring and carrying commerce into the interior. The Canadian Coast had few such advantages. The loss of Michigan would also force the English into competition with American manufacturers. American goods could easily be smuggled into Canada, eliminating the British Market there. To forestall the American attempts to seize Detroit, British Crown Loyalists settled there, seeking an asylum from the persecution they are subjected to in the States.
The English created two great trading firms: The Northwest Company and the Mackinaw Company. The members were mostly British Scotchmen. These companies were chartered in 1808.
Archibald Lyons, trapper in Macomb and St. Clair County, moved to Saginaw.
John Riley was a Metis or half-breed. His father from New York married an Indian princess from Saginaw. John was a great spirit for the Ojibwe Indians; he was Chief of the Black River bands, his group known as the Riley band. He kept a trading post at Black River and St. Clair River in now Port Huron, Michigan, near the corner of Water St. and Military St. His home was a great meeting place for the Indians. John served the U.S. government as a scout, interpreter, and special assignment man. His services were essential to negotiating treaties with the Indians and keeping the peace. See “Chapter 9: Biographies of Indian Chiefs”.
Louis Beaufait was a friend to all and a great peacemaker, in the trader’s circle.
Ver Hoeff and Jasperson had the largest general store on the St. Clair River, Peter Brakeman later bought the mercantile firm. Peter Brakeman was a fur trader who had a trading post at Algonac, Michigan. Peter arrived at Detroit with seven cents in his pockets in 1824. He worked harvesting for General Cass and then came up river to Point Du Chien, now Algonac. He taught school on Harsens Island and worked in the first store opened there. He became a partner and then bought out the partner. He married Nancy Brown of Cottrellville, daughter of William Brown and Martha Thorn Brown. Peter was a colonel of the Michigan militia, justice of the peace, and township clerk. He carried on a large trade with the Indians on Walpole Island; he spoke their language and was a great friend of them. He went on to live at Port Huron, building the first dock and warehouse on the river there. He then moved to Willow Creek and started Huron City in 1845 in the Thumb of Michigan on the east Michigan Lake Shore as a lumberman and held offices in Port Huron, Michigan and Sanilac County, which was later Huron County.
William Brown kept a public house on the St. Clair River; he was called Uncle Billy Brown. He came in 1816 and was about the first settler in the county. His place was on the river below Marine City.
Malcolm Cameron’s store east of the St. Clair River was the great trading center at the north part of the Strait on the Canadian side.
Joseph Campau, a trader in real estate at Detroit and many commercial enterprises, was among the Michigan men of greatness, having much influence in all business affairs. His French military ancestors came with Cadillac to establish Detroit. Marquis J. Campeau may be the first White settler of Michigan. He built a home beyond the fort. He erected the Catholic church near his home. Joseph Campau’s great grandfather was Jaques Campau; they were part of the Family Compact, French government. Joseph Campau is Michigan’s first millionaire.
Barney Campau, nephew of Joseph and Jacques Campau, was an honest and trusted trader.
Louis DeQuindre, a trader, lived in St. Clair County for many years.
“Jacob Graveraet lived at Harsens Island. He was a silversmith and gunsmith trader, a son-in-law of Jacob Harsen, who married a daughter of Kiskawko” (Western Historical Co.).
“The Miami Company was a Fur Trade conglomerate that traded from the Hudson River to Iowa.
Henry Nelson, Indian trader of St. Clair, moved to the Saginaw District in 1820 and then to Isabella County.
The Hudson’s Bay Company was also in the region with posts for trade in Georgian Bay.
Saginaw had many traders.
Edward Petit was a fur trader in the area on both sides of the St. Clair River. At 15 years old, he was well equipped to trade in furs. Being the first White child born in now Port Huron, Michigan, he was raised hunting and fishing with the Indians and learned their language as well as his parents’ French and the English of the new settlers. He took supplies of shot, powder, calicoes, and blue broadcloth, one and three-fourths yards of which was called a blanket. The Indians gave for them maple sugar and furs – otter, beaver, mink, marten, and bear skins” (History of SCC, Western Historical Co.).
“Edward was employed with G. and W. Williams and had a post on the bend of the Cass River in the Thumb of Michigan.
Patrice Reaume, trader among the Huron, St. Clair, and Raisen districts, was appointed factor of the American Fur Company near Pontiac and then the Tittabawasee and Saginaw” (Western Historical Co.).
“Leon St. George was a trader among the Hurons and Chippewas.
Francois Tremble was a well-known fur trader from Montreal to Detroit and Saginaw.
Whittemore and James Knaggs were among the first White men, North of the Huron. Captain Knaggs was an unflinching patriot. During the War of 1812, he was one of the Indian interpreters, spoke freely six or seven of their languages, together with French and English, and exercised great influence over many warrior tribes. Guide to General Winchester at the Raisen, he was present at the death of Tecumseh” (Western Historical Co.).
“Peter Gruette, Francois Corbin, John Harsen, Michael Medor, Joseph Benoit, Leon and Louis Tremble, with other traders, hunters, trappers, and interpreters, who established temporary posts on the Clinton, Flint, Shiawasee, and Black River in Michigan. Made this country a rendezvous and won the respect of the American pioneers.
Christian Clemons, John Stockton, and General Brown are early pioneers of the State. James May came in 1778. He was Chief Justice, Marshall of Michigan Territory. Angus McIntosh was a factor of the Northwest Company.
Albany firms set up in Detroit. James Henry operated the Point Tannery, selling to Jacob Astor in New York.
The English created two great trading firms: The Northwest Company and the Mackinaw Company. The members were mostly British Scotchmen. These companies were chartered in 1808.
In 1808, a whole swarm of Yankee traders arrived at Detroit, mainly from Boston. Many fur buyers were bankrupt. The traders going into the wilderness and the Detroit merchants were deeply in debt. The traditional hunting grounds were systematically destroyed, and the merchants turned to the Christian Trade: the sale of goods to settlers. The Fur Trade was moving further West, and Detroit became increasingly important as a supply depot. At Malden during the War of 1812, the British destroyed trade goods of the United States Government, and there was no trade in furs for a time.
Suspicion and hostility stemming from technological and cultural differences, as well as feelings of superiority, have permeated relations between Native American and Non-Indian in North America.
John Askin was the most active of the traders, supplying traders, collecting furs, operating a shipping company on the Great Lakes, growing and marketing agricultural products for supply of the fur trade, and land speculation. He had first settled at Mackinac in the Indian trade and land speculation. He moved to Detroit in 1780 and remained until 1802, when he moved to Canada. His contacts and business dealings extended throughout the old Northwest. He also had contracts with Montreal, London, and Pittsburgh. Many chief traders and clerks were former British subjects, now Americanized.
Askin contracted to supply 600 bushels of corn to the Northwest Company in 1789 for three years at two dollars per bushel. This was later raised to 1,200 bushels per year. In 1786, when the Moravian missionaries left their location near Mt. Clemons, Askin purchased the land and grew corn and potatoes there. John Cornwell was sent by him to ship lumber, flour, and pork to Askin. Askin traded at Albany, Michilimackinac, and Detroit and across the river in Petite Cote. He supplied everything, having a diverse commercial enterprise. He also traded Native slaves, including women and children.
The practice of forming partnerships was common among traders. Many formed small and large companies to overcome transportation and credit difficulties. These small companies usually met with little or no success. Some larger trading companies were active in the area. The largest and most influential was the Northwest Company. In 1783, several private Montreal traders combined forces to more easily exploit the far western trade and formally established the company four years later. This company controlled over half of the Canadian Market. The company operated mainly north of Lake Superior, and furs were sent to Mackinac and Detroit for repacking, inspection, and transportation to Montreal. At Detroit, Angus McIntosh, a prominent trader, acted as agent for the company operations. The Michilimackinac Company organized about the same time as the Northwest Company and had many of the same partners. Its focus was within the United States. Detroit supplying the agricultural products for the trade: corn, flour, pork, rum, etc. After the Americans arrived in 1796, the company declined due to competition, mainly from John Jacob Astor. Astor buying the company in 1811, and forming the Southwest Company.
MacIntosh was the Chief Representative of the Northwest Company in this area. He owned large buildings on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. This was the center for distribution of trade goods and a distillery for whiskey.
The Northwest Company had 23 shareholders and 2,000 clerks, guides, interpreters, and boatmen or voyageurs. Their headquarters were at Montreal, Canada” (Fuller).
“In 1779, Major A. S. Depeyster bought 600 bushels of corn from the Indians at Saguina. The lands were very fertile; there were wetlands and swampy muck areas.
Trade follows the line of low cost and profitable markets. A trader would outfit himself with a Montreal merchant’s trade goods and had no compunction about selling his furs on the Mississippi or at Albany, New York. There was cut-throat competition. Traders began organizing large groups of trusted partners” (Fuller).
“In the early 1800s, Detroit had three tanneries at Point Industry. Hides of deer, calf, sheep, hogs, horse, bear, and dog, were being tanned for the trade.
Pirates were very active throughout the waterways, stealing furs and other goods being transferred.
The American Fur Company was established in 1808 by John Jacob Astor. Seven-eighths of the traders were absorbed by the American Fur Co. Robert Stuart and Ramsay Crooks were representatives of the American Fur Co. at Mackinac. The traders gathered in July to trade with the Indians. Furs of beaver, martin – sable, mink, otter, fox, moose, elk, bear, buffalo, wolverine, badger, and wildcat were traded. The American Fur Co. had 400 clerks and traders and 2,000 voyageurs. At these summer trading fairs, there was dancing, drinking, gaming, fighting, bullies, and truculent men from the north with feathers” (Charles Moore, History of MI).
“In 1834, Astor sold the American Fur Co. to Ramsay Crooks and his associates Robert Stuart and Rix Robinson.
The Indians were the White man’s dupes, exchanging costly furs for mere trifles, had undergone an education. Articles of inferior quality were contemptuously called American. The best quality was from the British at Michilimackinac. In July and August, thousands of people gathered there to trade” (Farrel).
“At Sandusky and the Maumee River in now Ohio, the Indians traded with the colony of Pennsylvania traders” (Rogers/Smith, 1995, Aboriginal Ontario).
“The Miami’s Co. was a group of six leading Detroit trading firms, organized in 1786 to control the Wabash and Maumee Rivers. James Abbott, John Askin, Angus McIntosh, and the firms of Meldrum and Park, Leith and Shepherd, Sharp and Wallace. Traders were hired by the company to go into the Miami country to exploit trade. Gabriel Hunot was hired in 1788 to go to the Huron River and its dependencies. For this he received 750 livres in wages, board, and lodging. The amount of credit to be extended was not to exceed 100 beavers. The Detroit merchants, traders, and clerks traveled west to Chicago, Milwaukee, Kaskaskia, and Cahokia on the Mississippi, East of St. Louis, Missouri, in search of furs. The competition from Detroit traders coming into the country belonging to the United States created more problems.
The trader endured untold toil and privation, his life was constantly in danger. The weather was the most frustrating with rain, sleet, snow, and cold. The credit system often caused great problems. The trade goods were sent from London to Montreal to Detroit and into the wilderness, all on credit. The reliance on credit opened the door to much abuse. Some resorted to collecting their own debts.
The merchants also used arbitration boards set up among themselves to solve disputes. Often the most prominent Detroit merchants decided local affairs. In a district with little legal jurisdiction, the role of the more prominent members of the community in deciding justice was quite important. This problem was solved when Detroit was incorporated into the Government of Canada in 1788, with the creation of the District of Hesse. A Court of Common Pleas was established at Detroit. Henry Hay summed up the unpredictable nature of the fur trade from Detroit saying, ‘In short, I cannot term it in a better manner than calling it a rascally scrambling trade.’
Friendly relations with the Indian tribes was essential to the profit and safe conduct of the fur trade. The Miami’s, Wyandot’s, Ottawa, Chippewa-Ojibwe, Wea – Ouiatanon, Shawnee, Piankashaw, Pottawatomi, and Delaware were some of the Indians in contact with the forest runners – traders.
The French were often the link between the English trader from Detroit and the Indian of the forest. The French maintained a close working relationship and were the middlemen, along with the Ottawa and Wyandott – Huron – traders.
In times of war, stopping the trade as the Indians were on the ‘war path’, and not in the forest hunting, the traders often lost everything, including their lives. There was great competition and debauch in the trade, fighting among themselves and slanderous conduct. The Indians complained of James Abbott’s tactics and disrespect for English officials. This was an accepted part of the trade, and the traders held no grudge against Abbott.
William Robertson was a prominent trader who came to Detroit in 1782. Employed as John Askin’s secretary, he soon became a partner and then a prominent trader in Detroit and Canada.
The Macomb brothers, William and Alexander, prospered during the Revolution, supplying the military. William Edgar was also a partner. They engaged in real estate, banking, and selling general merchandise and the Indian trade. At one time in 1781, the firm brought 12,132 deer; 9,483 raccoon; 413 bear; 682 cats and fox; 16 elk; and 3 wolf pelts to Detroit. In August of 1784, they reported having 1,000 packs of furs after shipping out many. William Macomb at one time owned 26 slaves.
Meldrum and Park began in 1783 and was still in operation on the arrival of the Americans in 1796. Park then moved across the Detroit River to Petite Cote, below Sandwich – Windsor, Ontario, refusing to become an American citizen, although the firm continued its operations until 1803. Park had a great deal of influence as justice of the peace at Detroit and captain of the militia at Sandwich. Meldrum was commissioner of the District of Hesse, this included East Michigan, and was created in 1788 under British Canada. Meldrum remained in Detroit after the American occupation in 1796 and lived until 1827. The firm sold to all the French, British, American, and Natives.
Leith and Shepherd were leading traders at Detroit during the 1780s and 1790s. George Leith was at Miami Town, Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he carried on extensive trade with Detroit. The firm became Leith, William Shepherd, and William Duff, after Thomas Shepherd drowned on a return trip to England. The firm continued trading in the Maumee country as late as 1796.
John Porteus, from Scotland, came to Detroit in 1762 and later traded between Albany and Mackinac.
George Ironside was a prominent Detroit merchant from Scotland. He traded on the Auglaize River near now Defiance, Ohio during the late 1780s and early 1790s. A member of the British Indian Service, he was forced to leave the Miami country by American military advances and settled at Amhersturg, across the river from Detroit.
Other traders were Richard Pollard, Sharp and Wallace, Graverat and Visger, Mark and Conant, Forsyth and Co., Joseph Campau, and James McGregor.
Financial success was not a prerequisite for social, political, or economic influence. The fluctuation of fortunes of the fur trade were ever known. Many traders lost their fortune to aiding the American Government for control of the country. The social companionship of the trade between Leith, Henry Hay, George Ironside, James Abbott, and others was celebrated with drinking wine.
Sites on the English side of the river, in Canada, had already been selected as early as 1782. There were plans to build a town opposite Detroit. Amherstburg was selected as the name, and it was guarded on the North by Fort Malden. This post was near the mouth of the Detroit River at Lake Erie, and such was able, to command the entrance to the river. Many Detroit merchants desired to move to the town, and by 1798, fifty lots were granted. Many prominent Detroiters crossed the river.
The towns of Assumption, the original seat of government for the Western District since 1783, and Sandwich, newly purchased land from the Indians, became towns. Peter Russel, Governor of Canada, stated the British merchants of Detroit, having asked him to give them a town where they may reside and carry on trade: Ere, we lost a very extensive commerce. The merchants acquired several lots to allow trading with the Indians, who were crossing the river to the Canadian side. Many traders also kept connections in Detroit and continued to live there but maintained their English citizenship.
The American citizens complained of the large number of British citizens at Detroit. Leading American merchants, such as James Abbott Jr., James May, Patrick McNiff, and Antoine Beaubien, expressed fear at placing too much confidence in Detroit’s militia. Trade became sporadic due to constant warfare.
The transfer of the posts to the Americans seemed very peaceful, the new government taking control of an area populated by foreign residents and unfriendly Indians. There was a group in the city who were friendly to the American cause; among these were George McDougal and William Macomb. MacDougal being accused of planning to kill Matthew Elliot, English Indian agent, and Macomb, condemned by the English for his pro-American feelings.
Others were not content with the arrival of the Americans. ‘The appearance is not agreeable to many who have long breathed under the British government,’ declared William Park. No British, were allowed, to hold a position of trust in Wayne County, which then covered a great area. The Americans felt that the Indians were their enemy, and the English made him so.
One of the most able American traders was William Burnett, the first American trader in the Northwest. Burnett came from New Jersey after the Revolution, settled at St. Joseph near Niles, Michigan, and married Kawkenee, the daughter of a Pottawatomi chief, assuring his trade in the area.
John R. Williams was one of the most important American traders. A member of the Detroit Board of Trustees and captain of the artillery during the War of 1812. He later became associate judge of the court, adjutant general of Michigan Territory, author of the city charter, and the first mayor of Detroit. Williams first came to Detroit at age 14 to work in the store of his uncle, Joseph Campau. John R. Street in Detroit, Michigan is named for this man.
The Williams brothers were successful and forbade ill treatment of the Indians. Their company was called the Shiawasee Exchange, or the Williams Exchange.
The population of Detroit in 1820 was 1,442. By 1821, all Detroit trade was in America”. The above paragraphs of Detroit fur trade were adapted from David Farrel’s 1865 dissertation on The Detroit Fur Trade, Master’s Thesis, U O Wisc., Milwaukee/Michigan Archives, Lansing, MI.
“The Le Claires were on the St. Joseph River about 1780.
The Navarres and Baptistes were in Monroe County, where Frenchtown was founded in about 1784.
There were, still earlier trading camps (French) in St. Clair County” (Fuller).
“The average trading post consisted of two buildings. One story in height, each were 16 by 18 feet with a covered hall measuring 16 by 19 feet. Located between them as a meeting place for the Indians. In the rear was a place for the reception of furs, about 30 feet in length. The Indians held some of their wildest festivities near the posts on the banks of the waterways” (Marantette papers, Michigan Archives).
“One of the early Yankees was William Burnett, who married a daughter of a Pottawatomi chief. He was regarded as a trespasser in the territory, but the British respected his marriage.
The British – English – employed the French agents when they gained the country of the Northwest. The Indians were plundered without mercy. The lawless White men ruined the Natives’ women with whiskey, his physical and spiritual wellbeing. The Indians were irritated by the English aggressiveness on their lands.
Traders boasted that whiskey is legal tender for the Red Men. Some traded furs for a small drink. Pokagon, 1899, Harpers Magazine vol. 98
Pontiac’s rebellion was from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, taking 9 of 12 British fort-posts in one day. Detroit was under siege for 18 months. The French pioneers fled to the forts for protection.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 resulted from these raids on the English. All the lands north of the Ohio Valley and west of the Allegheny’s to the Mississippi were the exclusive possession and control of the Indians, reserved as his domain.
Chapter 6, part 3 continues in two weeks.
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This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.
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