Chicago Metro History Fair
Reminiscences by Gurdon S. HubbardIn 1818, at sixteen years of age, Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard set out from Montreal for a position in Mackinac as a clerk in John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. Later that year he moved to Illinois where he flourished in the employ of the American Fur Company, controlling the fur trade between Danville and Chicago. He dealt extensively with the Potawatomis, Winnebago and Chippewa tribes, among others. In 1834 he moved to Chicago, where he engaged in real estate, shipping and meat packing as well as politics. He died in Chicago in 1886.
Additional Biographical Resources
- Danckers, Ulrich and Jane Meredith. A Compendium of Early Chicago (1991). F548.4.D36 2000
- Sawyer, June Skinner. Chicago Portraits (1991). F548.25.S28 1991
Reminiscence of the American Fur Company
by Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard
Having entire charge of the management of the company in the West, were Ramsey Crooks and Robert Stuart. To William Matthews was intrusted the engaging of voyageurs and clerks in Canada, with his head-quarters in Montreal. The voyageurs he took from the habitants (farmers); young, active, athletic men were sought for, indeed, none but such were engaged, and they passed under inspection of a surgeon. Mr. M. also purchased at Montreal such goods as were suited for trade, to load his boats. These boats were the Canadian batteaux, principally used in those days in transferring of goods to ripper St. Lawrence river and its tributaries, manned by four oarsmen and a steersman, capacity about six tons. The voyageurs and clerks were under indentures for a term of five years. Wages of voyageurs, $100, clerks from $120 to $500 per annum. These were all novices in the business; the plan of the company was to arrange and secure the services of old traders and their voyageurs, who, at the (new) organization of the company were in the Indian country, depending on their influence and knowledge of the trade with the Indians; and as fast as possible secure the vast trade in the West and North-west, within the district of the United States, interspersing the novices brought from Canada so as to consolidate, extend, and monopolize, as far as possible, over the country, the Indian trade. The first two years they had succeeded in bringing into their employ seven-eights of the old Indian traders on the Upper Mississippi, Wabash, and Illinois rivers, Lakes Michigan and Superior, and their tributaries as far north as the boundaries of the United States extended. The other eight thought that their interest was to remain independent; toward such, the company selected their best traders, and located them in opposition, with instructions so to manage by underselling to bring them to terms.
At Mackinaw, the traders’ brigades we organized, the company selecting the most capable trader to be the manager of his particular brigade, which consisted of from five to twenty bateaux, laden with goods. This chief or manager, when reaching the country allotted to him, made detachments, locating trading houses, with districts clearly defined, for the operations of that particular post, and so on, until his ground was fully occupied by traders under home, over whom he had absolute authority.
Mr. John Crafts was a trader sent to Chicago by a Mr. Conant, of Detroit; was here at the (new) organization of the American Fur Company. His trading house was located about half a mile below Bridgeport, (“Hardscrabble,” the same premises, where in April 1812, two murders we committed by the Indians) on the north side of the river, (south branch) and had, up to 1819, full control of this section, without opposition from the American Fur Company, sending outfits to Rock River and other points within a range say of a hundred miles of Chicago. In fall of 1819, the company transferred Jean Baptiste Beaubien from Milwaukee to this point, for the purpose of opposing Mr. Crafts. He erected his trading houses at the mouth of Chicago river, then about the foot of Harrison street. In 1822, Crafts succumbed, and engaged himself to the American Fur Company, taking a charge. Mr. Beaubien was under him. Subsequently, the company bought from the U.S. the Factory House, located just south of Fort Dearborn, to which Beaubien removed with his family. Crafts died here of bilious fever in December, of I think the year 1823. Up to this date, Mr. John Kinzie was not in any business connected with the American Fur Company, but confined himself to his trade, silversmith, making Indian trinkets. At the death of Mr. Crafts, he acted as agent for the American Fur Company. He had no goods, as Mr. Beaubien bought out the Company’s right of trade with the Indians. By time there was a very limited trade here, in fact, this place never had been preeminent as a trading-post, as this was not the Indian hunting-ground.”
Source: Harlbut, Henry H. Chicago Antiquities: Comprising Original Items and Relations, Letters, Extracts, and Notes, Pertaining to Early Chicago. Chicago: The author, 1881. F548.4.H