Saturday, June 17, 2017

Chicago’s Earliest Industry – the Fur Trade

You never know where you will end up when you start researching some aspect of Chicago history, but it will certainly surprise you. This phenomenon happened to me when I was researching James Carney, an early Chicago (1820s-50s) Irish ancestor. I saw a listing in the 1839 ChicagoDirectory for James Carney, grocery and provision store. I wanted to find out what early grocery stores carried and what determined their choice of inventory.
In order to understand what kind of goods a merchant in early Chicago offered, one must first understand what his customers needed and wanted. And who were these customers? The Indians, living in the northeastern part of what was to become America and Canada, had long been trading furs and other items with each other.  The French were the first Europeans to enter the fur trade in the New World in the early 16th century and the Indians became their trading partners.

The trappers camp-fire. A friendly visitor,  
Published by Currier & Ives, 152 Nassau St., c1866,  
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. 20540 USApga.00935/ 

The French traders realized that in order to gain access to the knowledge and the experience of the natives and to gain access to the fruit of their hunting grounds, they had to earn their trust.  Part of their outreach was for some of them to join the Native American community through marriage. 

Another reason for marrying into the Native American culture was that Indian women were used to life on the frontier unlike European women.When the English came into the fur trade after the French, some English traders also married Indian wives for the same reasons.

Since there were few Europeans other than traders and a native population eager to trade in northeastern Illinois and eastern Canada, the Indians formed the customer base of early trading posts and small grocery and provision stores.  It was the traders who started these stores as they knew the Indian through business and social connections. Most likely James Carney began his grocery with the Indian trade.

Fur trading with Indians,  By William Faden -
 Library and Archives Canada - originally from: Cartouche
 from William Faden, "A map of the Inhabited Part of Canada
 from the French Surveys; with the Frontiers of New York
 and New England", 1777, Public Domain,
We know that the Indian was the main customer for the early grocery stores, but what made him a very good trading partner?  To find out the details of the fur trade in and all around Chicago, I consulted four scholarly texts. The original source was one Alfred H. Meyer, who provided the first in chain of citations:

Dr. Meyer made an exhaustive study of the history of northeastern Indiana and northwestern Illinois from the time of the Native American through pioneer settlement in 1850, gives more detail on the Indian customer:
“Indians were the most profitable customers prior to 1840, for many of the white settlers ran accounts which some of them were slow to pay or sought to default. The Indians, on the other hand, most of whom were Potawatomi, periodically brought in large quantities of cranberries and bundles of furs which they traded for articles of food, clothing, or ornaments.”2
I now had some general idea of what the Indian customer desired when he came to trade.  But Dr. Meyer goes on to list the inventory of the “leading store (he doesn’t give us the name) in Chicago, at the corner of West Lake and West Water”:3

Three challenges appear with this inventory list. First, the large number of items in the inventory (108) makes it necessary to organize them in some way. I came across another inventory of the North West [Fur]Company in Grand Portage, MI from 1797 in a publication by Dr. Bruce White. The items were divided by function/material according in these categories: “Adornment, Alcohol, Ammunition, Amusement, Animals, Blankets, Cloth, Clothing, Food, Garden, Guns, Medicine, Powder, Tobacco, Tools, Utensils, and Writing.”4

The second challenge to the inventory list is the number of items that are unfamiliar to most modern readers. I researched each item and made a chart of definitions:

The third challenge to this list of inventory is locating the original source. Where did the list come from? My research path led me through the chain of citations, starting with Dr. Meyer. When I reached Charles Cleaver's research, I struck gold:
“After crossing the bridge,” [the bridge across the Chicago River at Lake Street called Lake Street Bridge] “at the corner of West Lake and West Water Streets, Bob [Robert A.] Kinzie …kept the largest store in town, though chiefly filled with goods for the Indian trade. There was beside Kinzie’s on the West-Side, but that would be about all, some three or four small groceries where liquor was retailed.” 12
I had now identified the owner of the large grocery store. I still had another challenge – locating the original source of the inventory list.
By the time I found Hurlbut’s research, I was worried that I might never find the source of the list.  On p. 28 Hurlbut began a section called “TheAmerican Fur Company” where he discusses how some old records (including account books) of this company now held at the Chicago History Museum.)

American Fur Cos. buildings. Fond du Lac (back view), 
1827, Library of Congress Washington, D.C. 
20540 US Am LC-USZ62-2087

Hurlbut  quotes several items from these records and at the end of the section, he prefaces the inventory with these words:
 “We will close this article by giving a catalogue of goods furnished for the trade of the Chicago country, fifty-three years ago." (Hurlbut wrote this in 1875, so 53 years past would have been 1822.)13
But Hurlbut gave no specific source within the American Fur Company documents. The closest that I could get to the actual source was an inventory of these records written for the Chicago Historical Museum by Robert D. Kozlow, American Fur Company records, 1816-1947. A search was done for me in the records at the Chicago History Museum but nothing came up except a similar inventory from another trading post, Lac du Flambeau of the North West Company in Wisconsin. More on-site search of the records must be done.

I have been very intrigued by the tastes of the Native American consumers at the early trading posts ever since I came upon the inventory for Robert Kinzie’s store in Chicago in 1833-34. Remember my ancestor James Carney had a grocery just a few years after (1839) in the same commercial area.

You can learn about the needs/wants of a people (a subject of great interest today to all the online retailers who track our purchases with cookies) by looking at what they purchase. How did the Indian traders prioritize the items they bartered for? According to E.E. Rich (see section “The fur trade and economic anthropology”) noted scholar on the fur trade in the Americas wrote:
“…the Indian would always supply himself first with powder and shot. After that would come what the trader would call ‘necessaries’ and what we would call luxuries—tobacco, spirits, gay cloth of different kinds, beads and caps with articles such as ice-chisels, snow-glasses, and hatches varying in  priority.”14
By Unknown artist from 1800 According to Getty Images - 
Historic image from the Hulton Archive, 

There has been much research and discussion of the effect of alcohol on the Indian tribes. In many sources one reads of how the fur traders took advantage of the Indian customer by plying him with alcohol. But this has been questioned by other sources:
“Perhaps surprising, given the emphasis that has been placed on it in the historical literature, was the comparatively small role of alcohol in the trade. At York Factory, Native traders received in 1740 a total of 494 gallons of brandy and “strong water,” which had a value of 1,976 made-beaver. More than twice this amount was spent on tobacco in that year, nearly five times was spent on firearms, twice was spent on cloth, and more was spent on blankets and kettles than on alcohol. Thus, brandy, although a significant item of trade, was by no means a dominant one. In addition, alcohol could hardly have created serious social problems during this period. The amount received would have allowed for no more than ten two-ounce drinks per year for the adult Native population living in the region.”15
Professor Rich mentions the difference between European perspective and values and those of the Native American throughout the article. Much of the tension between the fur trader who wanted more furs and the Indian (who was usually not the hunter but the middleman) who provided them came about because of a difference in culture. The Indian was interested in the here and now and would only bring sufficient furs to satisfy current needs, a prevailing view of the Europeans involved in the fur trade and expressed by Andrew Graham, who began working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1749:
“…the Indian annually could get hold of between seventy and a hundred made-beaver in furs without effort. For seventy made-beaver he could fully satisfy all the wants which he would anticipate before he next came down to trade  and the other thirty for waste and dissipation were all that he had time to spend before he had to leave the plantation and begin his journey inland again. ”16  
From this research project to find the source of the inventory list, I learned how ethnocentrism can cloud even scholars’ eyes as they analyze records and draw conclusions about different cultures. I was fortunate to find Dr. Rich’s study on how the Native American culture differed from the European and how this influenced the trade between them.

I also learned how much the fur trade played in the economic beginnings of northeastern Illinois (including Chicago,) northwestern Indiana and Canada. Before the railroads, the meat packing industry and the factories built the Chicago we know today, there was the fur trade that laid the foundation for the future economic blossoming of the city.

By Arthur Heming  

National Archives of Canada,
images/large/20061.jpg, Public Domain, 

Thirdly, I learned about a pitfall of research and citation. It is very important for a writer to include the original source of a record that he/she cites. In his 1881 publication, Henry Hurlbut gave the original source of the Chicago store inventory as part of the American Fur Company accounts. But researchers that came after him did not include the provenance of the inventory in their publications.

Finally, from the inventory list, I learned what my grocer ancestor James Carney may have carried in his store around 1839. But he wasn’t in the grocery business for the long haul. In 1840 he opened a brewery, one of the earliest Chicagoans to do so. He probably faced two facts in making this decision: 
  1. the fur trade with its profitable and reliable Indian customer base was coming to an end
  2. beer was a popular product with the growing number of European immigrants and American-born persons flocking to Chicago 

1A.Gottfred,  “Art. II. Femmes du Pays: Women of the Fur Trade, 1774-1821” (Northwest Journal, p. 12
2 Solon Robinson, Solon Robinson, Pioneer and Agriculturalist; Selected Writings, ed. By H.A. Kellar, 2 vols. (Indiana Historical Bureau, 1936) quoted in Alfred H. Meyer, “Circulation and Settlement Patterns of the Calumet Region of Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois: The Second Stage of Occupance – Pioneer Settler and Subsistence Economy, 1830-1850.” Annals of the Association of Geographers 46 (3): 312-356, 1956, p. 349.
3 Alfred H. Meyer, “Circulation and Settlement Patterns of the Calumet Region of Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois: The Second Stage of Occupance – Pioneer Settler and Subsistence Economy, 1830-1850.” Annals of the Association of Geographers 46 (3): 312-356, 1956, p. 349.
4Bruce M. White, “Grand Portage National Monument Historic Documents Study,” (Turnstone Historical Research, March, 2004), pgs. 83-101.
5John Splinter Stavorinus, Voyages to the East Indies, 3 volumes, (London. G.G. and J. Robinson, Pater-Noster- Row, 1798) I: 519 (
6The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press, 1971. Print. 1:1833)  (
7Ibid., 1:1230
8Ibid., 1:334
9Ibid., 1:1178
10"Appendices to 'The History of Fort Langley, 1827-96, Canadian Historic Sites No. 20, Appendix E, 1973, Mary Cullen, Parks Canada, Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs, Ontario, Canada, p. 72
11Carolyn Podruchny, Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade, (Lincoln, NE, University of NE Press, 2006), p. 124.
12Dena Evelyn Shapiro, dissertation “Indian Tribes and Trails of the Chicago Region: A Preliminary Study of the Influence of the Indian on Early White Settlement” (Master of Arts dissertation, The University of Chicago, March, 1929), p. 53.
13Charles Cleaver, Early Chicago Reminiscences, 1833 (Chicago, Fergus Printing Company, 1882) p. 27.
14Henry Higgins Hurlbut, Chicago Antiquities: comprising original items and relations, letters, extracts, and notes, pertaining to early Chicago (Chicago, IL, privately printed, 1881) p. 36.
15E.E. Rich, “Trade Habits and Economic Motivation Among the Indians of North America” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Feb., 1960), pp. 35-53 (Ottawa, ON, Canadian Economics Association) p. 45.
 16 Ibid., p. 53
 17Carlos, Ann and Frank Lewis. “Fur Trade (1670-1870)”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008. URL

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Thirst for Early Chicago History

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of Chicago history. And I just discovered five books, and a re-issued early city directory that have gone a long way to quenching my deep thirst to know how Chicago was born, who the people were who came to Chicago in the early 1830s (the Native Americans had been here long before), and where these first Chicagoans settled. Here are the five reference books:
  1. A History of Chicago, Vol. 1, The Beginning of a City 1673-1848, Bessie Louise Pierce, The University of Chicago, 1937, Chicago, IL. (Vol. 2 From Town to City 1848-1871, Vol. 3 The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893)
  2. History of Chicago, Vol. 1, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Alfred Theodore Andreas, A.T. Andreas publisher, 1884, Chicago
  3. The Catholic Church in Chicago: 1673-1871, An Historical Sketch, Gilbert J. Garraghan, S.J., Loyola University Press, 1921, Chicago, IL.
  4. One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago: The Relationship of the Growth of Chicago to the Rise of its Land Values, 1830-1933, Homer Hoyt, The University of Chicago, 1933, Chicago, reprinted by Beard Books, Washington D.C., 2000.
  5. Chicago’s First Half Century, The City as it was Fifty Years Ago and as it is Today, The Inter Ocean Publishing Company, 1883, Chicago, Illinois.
Both Pierce’s and Andreas’ books are well-researched, greatly detailed histories in three volumes each where one learns about how the city came to be and how it developed.  The chronology of the Catholic Church in Chicago by Father Garraghan gives an unexpected concurrent history of the city that petitioned for and supported the Church. The fourth book by Hoyt is a history of the ups and downs of land values in Chicago which parallels the movement of the people within this great city. The fifth source was published by the Inter Ocean Publishing Company in 1883. Although it has a slight flavor of a chamber of commerce piece with advertising included, it also provides a good introduction to life in nineteenth century Chicago and a detailed look at early industries.

In addition to the five books, I found the Chicago City Directory for 1844 (re-printed and made widely available in 1892) to be a valuable primary source for information on the beginning and rise of Chicago from the 1830s. These words from p. 15-16 of the Directory perfectly describe the reason for Chicago to be situated where it was and the reasons it was destined for greatness: 
“Situated on the waters of the only Great lake exclusively within the United States – being the termination, on the one hand, of the navigation of the Lakes, and on the other, of the Illinois and Michigan Canal – affording great natural facilities for a harbor, by means of Chicago River and its branches – having dependent upon it a region of country vast in extent and of extraordinary fertility, it must always be the dividing point between two great sections of the Union, where the productions of each must meet and pay tribute.”
"Location of Chicago with Respect
 to Water-Way Systems", Hoyt, p. 8.
One of my first questions about Chicago is when it was incorporated as a town. When I explored my sources for the answer, I learned something about the requirements needed for a village to become a town in addition to a sufficient population. Once Chicago had grown past a few fur traders, and wives and children joined the male pioneers, the desire for spiritual guidance grew.  In his book on the Catholic Church in Chicago, Father Garraghan states:  
“Chicago was incorporated as a town in June 1833….”p.36 
But something important for the spiritual growth of the area happened in April of 1833, two months before incorporation. In that month, a group of the leaders of the Catholic faithful wrote up a petition, requesting a priest be sent to Chicago to attend the spiritual needs of the population. (p. 45-46.) According to Father Garraghan, there were 37 male heads of household who signed the petition.  But when you added the family members who were listed after each male, the total came to 128. [The total population of Chicago in 1833 was about 350, Hoyt, p.19] Father Garraghan tells his readers the ethnic background of this group: 
“Catholics other than those of French or Indian stock were few in Chicago in 1833.”
Father Garraghan gives the Protestants their due in his narrative: 
“…the year 1833 saw church organizations regularly established in Chicago for the first time, three churches, Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist being founded during that year….” p. 52
Now we know when the town of Chicago was established and who was there. Although Father Garraghan described the ethnic background of the early Chicago Catholics, he didn’t do the same for the Protestant population.  We do have the August 1833 poll list, and can study the surnames to make guesses about ethnicity. To get a more exact idea of the balance of ethnic groups in early Chicago’s population, we may consult a table created by Bessie Louise Pierce in Vol. 2 of her history:

A History of Chicago, Vol. 1, The Beginning of a City 1673-1848
Bessie Louise Pierce, The University of Chicago,
1937, Chicago, IL. (Vol. 2
 From Town to City 1848-1871,
Vol. 3
 The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893)
 With the knowledge of Chicago’s earliest population, we also want to know where exactly the geographic beginning of our beloved city was. According to the 1844 City Directory: 
CHICAGO, Cook County, Illinois, is situated on the Southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, at the head of Lake navigation, in lat. 41 deg., 45 sec, North, and long, 10 deg., 45 sec. West. The site of the City occupies a level prairie, on both sides of the main stream, and the North and South Branches of Chicago River, and covers an area of about three and a half miles in length, North and South, and two and a half in breadth, East and West, about a mile and a half square of which is already regularly built upon, and the streets opened and graded.” p. 5
A good idea of the size and physical location of Chicago is well depicted on an 1830 map. Wikimedia tells us that for early Chicago research, we are very fortunate that “The Illinois and Michigan Canal Commissioners hired James Thompson, a surveyor…to create Chicago’s first plat (map) 1830.”
By James Thompson [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons 
This is where Chicago began. But for a visual representation of the early city, we have a painting by Edgar Spier Cameron.

Chicago Its History and Its Builders: 
A Century of Marvelous Growth, Currey, 
J. Seymour, The S.J. Clarke Publishing 
Company, Chicago, 1910. p. 11.
In  Chicago’s First Half-Century we read a description of what Cameron’s painting depicts:
 “The first record of a postmaster’s appointment at Chicago is March 31, 1831, and Jonathan N. Bailey, an Indian trader, opened his office on the east bank of the river, in the store of John S.C. Hogan, at the corner of Lake and South Water Streets.” p. 20 
Chicago’s First Half-Century gives us a year-by-year chronicle of the retail/wholesale beginnings and development of Chicago:
 “Philo Carpenter had the first store outside the post in 1833, and later P.F. W. Peck built a store. Both these stores were on Water Street. Carpenter’s was near Franklin Street, or rather where the road turned to go over the river at the point where Lake Street bridge is now located.” p. 92 [only basic provisions were stocked in these stores]
One year later, 1834, again in Chicago’s First Half-Century, we read: 
“In 1834 there were no less than eight stores in Chicago, and the village kept growing. A.G. Burley opened the first crockery store, and he went so far as to build his store on the new street or road just opened, and called Lake Street. Burley’s store was up near the point where LaSalle Street is now located.” p. 92 (see Thompson map above.)
Two years later in the same source we learn: 
“In 1836 the village had grown to the proportions of a town, and there were about fifty stores in the place. There were streets as far south as Madison street, and as far north as Indiana street, with an extension on the West Side of Lake street and Randolph street; and Canal and Clinton streets were blocked out also.” p. 92 
You can see this expansion on Joshua Hathaway’s 1834 map of Chicago:

1834 Map of Chicago by Hathaway,wikimedia
Homer Hoyt in his book One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago, describes a primitive outpost, adding more details to what 1833 Chicago looked like from personal letters:

·       Granville T. Sprout wrote: “In 1833 there was a row of business houses and cabins on South Water Street between State and Wells Street and this was the principal street of the town.1
·        John Bates wrote: “There was nothing on Lake Street… except perhaps the Catholic Church [Old St. Mary’s] begun on the northwest corner of Lake and State.”2
·       Rev. Jeremiah Porter stated: “The corner of Clark and Lake in 1833 was a lonely spot almost inaccessible on account of surrounding sloughs and bogs.”3

But in one year, by 1834, there was phenomenal growth in the number of people in Chicago. According to Hoyt: 
“…its population increased from the 350 of the year before to 2,000.” p. 19
 And Hoyt goes on to describe where the commercial expansion took place:
“The principal growth of that year was along Lake Street, but the corner of Lake and LaSalle streets was still so far from the center of business that the construction of a four-story brick building at that point was referred to as ‘Hubbard’s Folly.’ The construction of a drawbridge over the main channel (of the Chicago River) at Dearborn Street in 1834 had the effect of concentrating business near South Water and Dearborn Street.” p. 19
Chicago’s First Half-Century, p. 16
With all this growth, one might think that the frontier outpost was fast becoming a city. But not according to a letter written by Mr. Enoch Chase describing Chicago in 1834 that Hoyt quotes: 
“Besides the log cabin on the West Side (of the Chicago River) kept by Mr. Stiles, there was a blacksmith shop. That was all. On the North Side were John Kinzie’s house and a few others. On the South Side there was one house south of Lake Street which was situated on the west side of Clark Street….On Lake and South Water streets was the main village. Lake Street boasted one brick block which belonged to Hubbard.” [I added one more sentence from chase’s letter.] “Jim Kinzie’s store, P.F.W. Peck’s store, Harmon’s and Loomis’s [again these stores carried only basic provisions] were all on South Water Street.” 4
Another way to chart where Chicago started and how/where it branched out from year to year is to read Father Garraghan’s history of the building of Catholic churches in the city:
 “St. Mary’s, the first Catholic Church in Chicago, erected in 1833 by Father St. Cyr on the south side of Lake Street near State….” p. 82 
But as the population grew, the first building could no longer hold all the congregants. St. Mary’s moved to a larger space. Below is a photograph of St. Mary’s “in its third and last location, on the south side of Madison Street between Wabash Avenue and State Street.” p. 82.

 Chicago History Museum, ICHi-37096.
J.H. Murphy, photographer
By 1846 there were 1300 Catholics in Chicago, one-tenth the population of the city (p. 119, Garraghan.) Although this number didn’t demand a large number of new churches at the moment, estimates of future growth due to immigration caused BishopWilliam J. Quarter to organize 
“…three additional parishes, St. Patrick’s, St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s. St. Patrick’s Church…stood at the southwest corner of Desplaines and Randolph Streets, on the west side of the river, where Irish immigrants had begun to settle in large numbers.” p. 119
St. Joseph’s was to serve German Catholics north of the Chicago River and “…stood at the north-east corner of Cass and Superior Streets….” (p. 193 Garraghan) while St. Peter’s, also serving the growing German Catholic population, was built south of the Chicago River “…on the south side of Washington Street between Wells and Franklin Streets.”5

Thus from the commercial and religious building in early Chicago, we can chart the growth of the city from its meager beginnings. No one who knows the city of today could imagine how it started one hundred and eighty-four years ago. Those early pioneers had great imagination, fortitude, raw energy, and steadfastness to risk all in such a wild and swampy prairie. With what amazement would they now behold Chicago in the twenty-first century.

1 Granville T. Sproat, letter to the Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1886; letter of Charles Butler, December, 1881, in Andreas, op. cit., I, 129. (p.18 Hoyt)
2 Andreas, op. cit., I, 131 (p.18 Hoyt)
3Andreas, op. cit., I, 300 (p.18 Hoyt)
4 Andreas, op. cit., I, pp. 138-139, Letter of Enoch Chase, August 2, 1883 (p. 19 Hoyt)
5 History of St. Peter’s Church, Chicago, Illinois, Franciscans, Province of the Sacred Heart, Chicago, 1953, p. 32.