the Bayliss Library in Sault Ste. Marie.
RECORD COLLECTIONS, BAYLISS PUBLIC LIBRARY
1. AMERICAN FUR COMPANY. RECORDS,
The collection of American Fur Company records retained in the Joseph H. Steere Special Collections Room reflect the commercial activity of this company's trading post at Sault Ste. Marie between the years 1832 to 1851.
Along with hundreds of letters written and received by these men, there are individual legal and financial documents, bound ledgers and account books and several volumes of bills of lading.
In addition to the fur trade, the files contain a wealth of data on the company's endeavors in the Sault and Upper Great Lakes in general. Tile records document the company's diverse ventures into the Lake Superior fisheries, the maple sugar trade, land speculation, lake navigation and transport, and latercopper speculation.
The bulk of this collection was donated during the directorship of Miss Alice B. Clapp, who began collecting local history materials for the library around 1920. Judge Joseph H. Steere donated the bulk of the archival collection in the 1930's and additional material has been added since then. In 1975 the entire collection was moved into the new Bayliss Public Library, where it was,installed in a special storage facility.
Currently, access is provided to adult researchers during the regular hours of the library. No material may leave the room.
Astor acquired a facility in Sault Ste. Marie in 1816. The Sault outpost, referred to as the "St. Mary's Outfit" in company idiom, played a significant role in the operations of the American Fur Company. It had long been a gathering place and settlement for Indians. Missions were built nearby at an earlier date, and Henry Schoolcraft established an Indian agency here in the 1820's. The St. Mary's River rapids, with its abundant supply of easily caught whitefish, was an important source of food for the inhabitants of the area. All navigation stopped at the rapids and a major portage was required for all lake-bound freight and passengers until a lock was constructed in 1855. On the Canadian side of the river, Hudson's.Bay Company maintained an active trading post.
After the withdrawal of Astor from the company in 1834, it was immediately reorganized under the same name with long-time Astorian Ramsey Crooks serving as president. Under Crooks, the company immediately began to diversify its operations. He maintained two Lake Superior outfits, one at LaPoint, the other at Sault Ste. Marie under Franchere. At this time he also moved the inland headquarters of the company form Michilimackinac to LaPoint on Lake Superior. Large-scale commercial fisheries were opened on Lake Superior the same year. The sloop John Jacob Astor was launched by the company in 1835 to serve remote outposts at Keweenaw, LaPointe, Isle Royale, Fond du Lac and various other fisheries and settlements around the Lake. This vessel later became one of several supplying the copper mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula, thus putting the company in the shipping business as well. These and other ambitious company ventures are well-documented in the papers.
Gabriel Franchere was the first agent, or company factor, appointed to run the St Mary's Outfit after the reorganization. He assumed control in 1835 and was succeeded by his subordinate, John R. Livingston, in 1838.
Most of the early records of the Astor enterprise were destroyed by fire in 1835. Thus, the bulk of those remaining, including those in the Steere Collection, deal with the post-Astor period in the company's history.
Franchere's correspondence spans the years 1834-38. Since he was company factor in the Sault during the inception of commercial fishing on Lake Superior, his papers are a rich source of information on this topic, and provide data on conditions, catches, difficulties encountered, locations and vessels employed. The bulk of the material reflects the fur trade, but there are reports on a host of financial and social topics relative to Sault Ste. Marie.
Business transactions of the American Fur Company were carried out at the various "outfits" and department headquarters located in the fur country. All directives were issued from the New York headquarters, however, and they also comprise much of the correspondence in this collection.
Among those corresponding regularly with Franchere and Livingston were the other agents of the company. They include William Brewster at Detroit; Dr. Charles Borup at LaPointe; Samuel Abbott of Mackinac and M. Warren in Montreal. Other principal correspondents were: Ramsay Crooks, Henry Schoolcraft, Robert Stuart, Frederic Baraga, Wm. Attken, Lyman and Truman Warren, Samuel Ashmun, David B. Oakes, Michael Dousman and Douglas Houghton.
There are 395 individual items in the Franchere Series, with the bulk of the material falling between the years 1835-37. There is also a letterpress for these years, and although there are only three individual letters for 1838, Franchere has 42 entries in a letter-book which both he and Livingston utilized.
Livingston's materials spans the years 1838 to 1848. He succeeded Franchere as factor of the St. Mary's Outfit after Franchere left for LaPoint. Furs, commerce,fishing and other topics are covered, but Livingstons correspondence is an especially valuable source of information on early copper mining. The great rush to the Lake Superior mineral ranges began in 1846, and the tempo of this activity is reflected in these documents. The largest proportion of his letters were written in 1846-47, and deal with topics such as mining, commodities shipping and vessels on Lake Superior.
There are 480 documents and four bound volumes, of which three are letterpresses covering the years 1840 to 1848. His letters also appear in the letterbook he shared with Franchere for the years 1838-40. In addition, there is a bound account index with the collections.
There are seven additional bound volumes in this collection: three ledgers, three volumes of bills of lading; and one receipt book. Two of the ledgers are from the American Fur Company's retail store in the Sault for the years 1838 to 1845. An earlier ledger, missing the cover and some pages, lists local accounts such as Henry R. Schoolcraft, Michael Nolin, Bela Chapman, Chas. B. Oakes, Samuel Ashmun and others. A receipt book covers cash disbursals for the years 1846-48. The three volumes of bills of lading constitute a record of shipping on Lake Superior from 1839 to 1851, and include dates, vessel names and masters, destinations and lists of cargo carried.
the Bayliss Library, it contains a wealth of information.