1.7. THE POST-WAR PERIOD: ASTOR GAINS A MONOPOLY IN THE REGION’S FUR TRADE

While the Treaty of Ghent ended the fighting between the U.S. and Great Britain, its terms, for all practical purposes, simply returned the situation of the two combatants to where it was before the start of hostilities.  The same, however, could not be said of the situation for the Native Americans.  The war had given Gen. Andrew Jackson the excuse he needed to begin the removal from the territory southwest of the Ohio River of the majority of its Native population, opening the region to Euro-American settlers.  Meanwhile, in the NorthWest Territory, Natives who had fought alongside the British could no longer rely upon their protection.  Madison’s Secretary of War William H. Crawford ordered that the army build a ring of forts from St. Louis around the Great Lakes to Detroit to discourage the British from continuing in the region’s fur trade, as well as to prevent their further contact with the local tribes.  Those Natives who had managed to survive by playing one side against the other before the war, could no longer use the British as an effective counter to the growing number of American settlers.

Map Showing Location of Fort Armstrong (Rock Island), Saukenuk, and Galena. Note the original Illinois border was to be south of Fort Dearborn. (Online)

On May 10, 1816, American troops sailing up the Mississippi River arrived at Rock Island, the largest island along the Mississippi that was strategically important because it was located just upriver from the mouth of the Rock River, the major river system in northern Illinois and south central Wisconsin and commenced building Fort Armstrong on the island.  Strategically, it was also located near the largest Native Sauk tribe village, Saukenuk, only four miles to south along the north bank of the Rock River.  At this time, the village, with an estimated 4800 people, was the largest human settlement in Illinois.

Diorama of Saukenuk, John Hauberg Museum of Native American Life. (Online)

Some two months after the troops had arrived at Rock Island to build Fort Armstrong, American troops finally returned to the Chicago River to rebuild Fort Dearborn in July 1816, discovering the sun-bleached remains of the massacre’s victims.   These forts were two in a line of seven new forts built by the U.S. to discourage not only any further British military incursions, but also any entry into the area by British and Canadian fur companies that had been banned from the fur trade in U.S. territory by Congress after the war. Astor had initially proposed this at the start of the war, and consequently had gained a monopoly over the region’s fur trade when his British partners in the South West Company were, therefore, forced to sell their interests to him. In the spring of 1817, Astor changed the company’s name back to its original, the American Fur Company.  He then sent Ramsey Crooks to Mackinac as the company’s agent to restore the region’s fur trade that had languished during the war.  Crooks, desiring to reestablish the American Fur Company’s intimate, but informal arrangements for the Fort Dearborn outpost’s fur trade, contacted John Kinzie at the Chicago River who had just returned to his home after having narrowly escaped the Fort Dearborn massacre.  This relationship was further reinforced in the summer of 1818, when Kinzie took his oldest son, John H. Kinzie, to Mackinac to be indentured with the company for five years under Crook’s supervision.

Lt. William S. Evileth, the second Fort Dearborn, 1816. The first building in Chicago reputed to have been designed by an architect. (Andreas, History of Chicago-1)

Kinzie’s return to the Chicago River was apparently in response to the new and successful competition of John Crafts, an agent for the Detroit company of Conant & Mack, who had entered the Fort Dearborn market during the void caused by the war.  Astor’s company responded in the fall of 1818 not only by moving its Milwaukee agent, Jean Baptiste Beaubien to Fort Dearborn to supplement Kinzie, but also by sending one hundred well-supplied men, known as the Illinois brigade, to combat Crafts’ success throughout Northern Illinois.  Among these traders was sixteen-year-old Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard, who became the most successful agent of the American Fur Company in the Illinois territory, traveling between Mackinac and Fort Dearborn each year, becoming “known to every man, woman, and child at the fort.” This was especially true with John Kinzie, at whose house Hubbard stayed while visiting the growing Fort Dearborn settlement, as well as with John H. Kinzie at Mackinac.  Beaubien and Hubbard were so successful at cutting into Crafts’ market that Conant & Mack sold their operation to Astor in 1822, giving the American Fur Company a monopoly of the fur trade in Illinois.

1.8. THE GALENA LEAD RUSH

Fort Armstrong’s location had also interposed itself between Saukenuk and the rich lead deposits centered around the town of Galena that was only 90 miles north of the fort. Galena was then slated be in the southern portion of the future state of Wisconsin (the Northwest Ordinance had set the Illinois/Wisconsin border to be tangent with the southern tip of Lake Michigan)  Following the erection of the fort, one of its garrison, Col. George Davenport, retired from the army later in 1816 and had shipped the first boatload of mined lead down the Mississippi to New Orleans.   As lead was critical for military ammunition, the U.S. Department of War would eventually take control over the mines in 1822 and began to lease them to settlers, sparking the country’s first mineral rush.  Regular Mississippi steamboat transit to Galena would begin in 1824 and by 1828, Galena would boast a population of over 10,000, the new residents having traveled either up the Mississippi or down the Rock or Wisconsin Rivers from the Great Lakes.  Galena was then not only the largest city in Illinois (Illinois had been granted statehood in 1818), but it was also larger than St. Louis at this moment and became the major port in the upper Mississippi valley.  In fact, the only city in the West larger than Galena during its “boom times” was Cincinnati whose population in 1830 of 24,831 made it the largest and most important city in the West, a position it would retain until the end of the Civil War.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago, 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– 3 volumes. New York: Knopf. 1940.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s