NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us
BACK

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


Previous section

Next section

Chapter X. — The Indian Trade Under British Rule.

THE subjugation of the Indians being at length effected, from this period we may trace the progress of the British toward a monopoly of the Indian trade, which tremendous engine of power was destined ultimately to operate in elevating or depressing the tribes, in accordance with the will of those who directed its movements. The trade with the Indians was a boon at which commerce clutched with an eager hand. To secure the coveted prize, no hardship was considered too severe, no labor too onerous; dangers and difficulties were laughed at, and life itself regarded as of little value. The Indians were incited to new exertions in pursuing the chase, little heeding that they were, in reality, destroying their main resource for the sustenance of life; for, when the fur-bearing animals were annihilated, their lands became in a great measure valueless to them. In the hands of the English, Quebec, Montreal, Detroit, Michilimackinac, and the Mississippi towns, not only equalled their progress under the French, but became still greater centres of trade. Though New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston contributed their capital to the extension of this trade, yet the above-named original interior towns of the traders still held their prominent position. The tribes, scattered over the continent, felt most severely the effects of this ever-extending empire of trade; they were literally driven from the face of the earth, by the rabid and uncontrolled pursuit of wealth, through the medium of the fur trade, which so long promised riches to those who engaged in it.

Sir William Johnson, who had been during forty years the Maecenas of the Indians, and knew the disastrous effects which unlicensed trade would have on Indian society, early saw the importance of so systematizing and controlling it, that it might become an element, not only of power, but of prosperity to the colonies and to the Indians. His letters and memoirs on this subject, 339 furnish abundant proof of his comprehensive views and of his integrity of character. Indeed, his activity during his entire management of Indian affairs, gave evidence that he shrank from no duty. In 1761 he visited Detroit, for the purpose of placing matters there on a proper basis, and his agents 340 had, for years, traversed the Ohio, the Scioto, the Maumee, and other districts of the west,

-- 268 --

collecting information, and transmitting to him the details of every occurrence. To him the British government owes a heavy debt of gratitude.

Nothing was more important in the re-adjustment of Indian affairs, and for securing their good will, than a proper organization of the fur trade. Prior to the conquest of Canada, the English traders had been principally confined to the sources of the streams flowing into the Atlantic; but after this era their operations were extended indefinitely, west and north. Under the French authority, a variety of regulations and limitations had been enforced, extraordinary privileges, and monopolies of particular districts having been specially granted. Something of the same kind was attempted at the commencement of the English domination, after the fall of Canada; the power of granting licenses to trade on the frontiers, having been at first exercised by the commanding officers of posts. From the time of the capture of Quebec, the Indian trade had been in a state of confusion, and, before the final surrender of the remote districts, the Indians had been prevented from obtaining their regular supplies of goods, wares, and merchandise, which had now become necessary to their comfort. They had long previously lost their old arts, and had become familiarized to the use of metallic cooking vessels, woollens, arms, and ammunition.

The several memoirs and letters which Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, addressed to the Lords of Trade, 341 on the subject before referred to, are good indications of the importance he attached to the correction of irregularities in the fur trade, of his care in placing before them the elements on which an equable system could be established, and of his solicitude for its early formation. When the Canadas were added to the area of his jurisdiction, it required some time to establish, on a proper footing, the new relations with all the distant tribes, which the occasion required. His great object was to secure political influence with the tribes, and for this purpose he had personally visited Detroit, Oswego, and Niagara. He kept in pay three deputies, who traversed a great part of the West, reporting to him the result of their observations and inquiries; and in the New York publications now before us, there is abundant evidence that he omitted no occasion of keeping the government advised concerning the true position of Indian affairs. It was not until after the return of the successful armies of Bradstreet and Bouquet, in the autumn of 1764, that an Englishman could, with any safety, carry goods into the newly-conquered districts. The very appellation, "English trader," was detested by the northern tribes, and instances occurred where Englishmen were obliged to conduct their operations in the names of the Canadian guides and interpreters in their employ. 342 Even the mere uniform of an English officer or soldier was loathed by them. "Why," said Pontiac, in 1763, "do you suffer those dogs in red clothing to remain on your land." 343

We are told that trade at
Michilimackinac began in 1766. 344 In 1765, Alexander

-- 269 --

Henry, who had escaped the massacre at Michilimackinac, obtained a license granting him the monopoly of the trade on Lake Superior, and, after one year's sojourn there, returned, bringing with him 150 packs of beaver, each weighing 100 pounds, besides other furs. 345 Mr. J. Carver, on his arrival there, in 1766, found this place to be the great centre of the English trade. 346 At first it was limited to Chegoimegon and Comenistequoia on Lake Superior, until Thomas Curry, obtaining guides and interpreters, penetrated as far as Fort Bourbon, on the Saskatchewine, and returned the following year with his canoes so amply filled with fine furs, that he was enabled to retire from the business. James Finley followed his track, the next year, to Nipawee, reaping equal profits, and was succeeded in the enterprise by Joseph Frobisher. 347 The way being thus opened, others recklessly braved the attendant dangers and hardships, and ardently pursued the business. Thus was inaugurated the North-west trade, which, during half a century has proved of more real value than any gold mines. It is no marvel that every toil was encountered in its pursuit, and health, as well as life itself, freely sacrificed to it.

The fur trade in the West also vigorously commenced about this period. It had been carried on, by the aid of pack-horses, across the Alleghanies, from Philadelphia and Baltimore to Fort Pitt, from the period of its capture; but, until after the return of the expedition of Bouquet in 1764, the territory beyond the Ohio could not be penetrated without incurring the greatest risks. At length, under the treaty of Versailles, British authority was established on the Mississippi, and, in September, 1765, Captain Sterling left Fort Pitt for the Illinois, with 100 men of the 42d regiment, in boats, and relieved the French garrison of Fort Chartres. The trading posts of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Vincennes, and Peoria, were thus brought within the defined limits for trading operations. The following year, Matthew Clarkson, whose journal is contained in a former volume of this work, opened a trading station at Fort Chartres, under the auspices of a mercantile house in Philadelphia. 348

A line of British posts at this period extended from Fort Chartres, in Illinois, by way of Pittsburg to Niagara, Oswego, and Fort Stanwix, and thence, pursuing the line of trade, up the lake to Detroit and Michilimackinac. The tribes being thus restrained, made no further efforts to originate hostile combinations. They had lost many men in the war which began in 1755; they had been foiled in all their schemes, from South Carolina to the Straits of Michigan; and, although they had evinced great energy and activity under the direction of Pontiac, their efforts invariably resulted in defeat. Such evidences of the possession of power on the part of the British were also developed, as to prove to them that, though slow in action, and sometimes erring in their movements, yet the latter had perseverance, energy, and ability, sufficient to baffle all their efforts. The Indians had likewise suffered greatly, within a few years, in their trade, which had been purposely interrupted.

-- 270 --

Previous section

Next section


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
Powered by PhiloLogic