Trip to Detroit—American Fur Company; its history and organization—American Lyceum; its objects—Desire to write books on Indian subjects by persons not having the information to render them valuable—Reappearance of cholera—Mission of Mackinack; its history and condition—Visit of a Russian officer of the Imperial Guards—Chicago; its prime position for a great entrepot—Area and destiny of the Mississippi Valley.
1834. About the first of July, I embarked for Detroit, for the purpose chiefly of meeting the Secretary of War, during his summer refuge from the busy scenes at Washington. There were some questions to be decided important to my duties at Mackinack and St. Mary’s, arising from recent changes in the laws or regulations. He wrote to me on the 21st of July, from the White Sulphur Springs, in Virginia, that he should probably reach Detroit before the 10th or 12th of August; but his delay had been protracted so much, that after reaching the city I felt compelled to return to my agency without seeing him.
One reason for this step, which operated upon my mind, was the change in the partnership and management of the affairs of the American Fur Company, consequent on Mr. John Jacob Astor’s withdrawal from it. This company was founded by this noted and successful merchant’s having purchased, at the close of the war, about 1815, the trading posts, consisting of buildings, property, &c., of the British North-West Company, who had been so long the commercial, and to all practical intents, the political lords of the regions of the north-west. He organized the concern in shares, under an act of incorporation of the Legislature of New York, and began operations by establishing his central point of interior action at Michilimackinack. This was in 1816. From data submitted at a treaty at Prairie du Chien by Mr. R. Stuart, the whole capital invested in the business, was not less than 300,000 dollars. The interior sub-posts were spread over the entire area of the frontiers up to the parallel of 59 deg. north latitude, extending to the Missouri. Together with the posts, indeed, the North-West Company turned over, in effect, some of its agents and the principal part of its clerks, interpreters, and boatmen for this area, who were, I believe, without a single exception, foreigners, chiefly Canadian French, Scotchmen, Irishmen, and perhaps a few Englishmen.
Congress passed an act the same year (1816) providing that this trade should be carried on under licenses, by American citizens, who were permitted, however, to employ this class of foreigners, by entering into bonds for their proper conduct. This created a class of duties for the agents, on the line of the Canada frontiers, which was at all times onerous. To carry on the trade at all, the old and experienced “servants of the N.W.,” as they were called, were necessary, and it was sometimes essential to take out the license in the names of American boys, or persons by no means competent, by their experience in this trade, to conduct the business, which was, in fact, still in the hands of the old employees.