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Ashley, William Henry (1778–26 March 1838), fur trader and politician, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. His parents are unknown, and there is no definitive record of his early years. In 1798 Ashley moved west to Kentucky. Four years later he crossed the Mississippi and took up residence in the lead-mining community of St. Genevieve (now in Missouri). From that time until his death, Ashley energetically and successfully pursued profits and power in the fluid frontier society....

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John Jacob Astor. Oil on canvas, c. 1825, by John Wesley Jarvis. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Susan Mary Alsop.

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Astor, John Jacob (17 July 1763–29 March 1848), fur trader and financier, was born in Waldorf, duchy of Baden, Germany, the son of Jacob Astor, a butcher, and Maria Magdalena Vorfelder, who died when John was about three. His family was of the artisan class, and few records survive from his youth. Due in large part to a fine town schoolmaster, Astor’s education seems to have been better than average. It ended at age thirteen with his confirmation in the Lutheran church. At an age when many contemporaries became apprentices, Astor spent two years as an assistant in his father’s butcher shop but had little interest in learning the business....

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Bridger, James (17 March 1804–17 July 1881), fur trapper and trader, explorer, and scout, was born in a tavern near Richmond, Virginia, the son of James Bridger, a surveyor and innkeeper, and Chloe Tyler, a barmaid. Bridger and his family moved in about 1812 to a farm near St. Louis, where, on being orphaned five years later, he became a blacksmith’s apprentice. In 1822 he responded to an advertisement calling for a hundred able-bodied young men to join a fur-trapping expedition, lasting from one to three years, up to the headwaters of the Missouri River. The organizers of the expedition were ...

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Chouteau, Auguste Pierre (09 May 1786–25 December 1838), fur trader and Indian diplomat, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Jean Pierre Chouteau, a fur trader and one of the founders of St. Louis, and Pelagie Kiersereau. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point from 17 July 1804 until 20 June 1806 and became an ensign in the Second United States Infantry. After serving briefly as aide to General ...

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Chouteau, Jean Pierre (10 October 1758–10 July 1849), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Pierre Laclède and Marie Thérèse Chouteau. In accordance with French law, Jean Pierre Chouteau used his mother’s surname. Pierre, as he was most widely known, moved to St. Louis with his mother in 1764. Little is known of his education, formal or informal. Taking advantage of St. Louis’s position as the gateway to American, French, and Spanish commercial activities among the Native Americans in the trans-Mississippi West, Pierre and his half brother ...

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Chouteau, René Auguste (07 September 1749–24 February 1829), pioneer in the western fur trade and explorer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was baptized on 9 September, 1749, the son of René Auguste Chouteau and Marie Thérèse Bourgeois. His father was a French immigrant who operated a tavern in New Orleans. The marriage of his parents broke up shortly after his birth, and his father returned to France. His teenage mother proved herself resourceful and eventually went to live with a prominent fur trader, ...

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Claiborne, William (1600–1677), American Indian trader and political leader in Virginia, was baptized at Crayford, County Kent, England, on 10 August 1600, the son of Thomas Claiborne, a former mayor of King’s Lynn, County Norfolk, and Sarah James, the daughter of a London brewer. Making the Chesapeake his home after 1621, Claiborne served as a Virginia councillor (1624–1637, 1643–1661), secretary of state (1626–1634, 1652–1661), treasurer (1642–1660), parliamentary commissioner (1651–1660), deputy governor (1652–1660), and the first major general of militia (1644–1646)....

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Davenport, George (1783–04 July 1845), Indian trader and frontier townsite entrepreneur, was born in Lincolnshire, England. Nothing is presently known of his parentage or childhood, although he apparently enjoyed the equivalent of a good common-school education. At age seventeen he was placed with an uncle, a captain of a merchant vessel. In 1804 Davenport’s ship visited New York, where he broke his leg and had to be left behind to recuperate....

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Dickson, Robert (1765–20 June 1823), fur trader and British Indian Department officer, was born in Dumfries, Scotland, the son of John Dickson, a merchant. His mother’s name is unknown. Robert Dickson emigrated to the United States in 1785–1786, soon after the American Revolution and was first employed at Oswego (N.Y.), where “he began his apprenticeship, which induced him to adopt the fur trade as a life-long occupation” (Cruikshank [1931], p. 88). Within a few months, Dickson was removed to the Niagara area, where his duties included selling and shipping goods to the fur-trade posts and managing accounts. As he was closely connected with some of the most respected and influential Loyalist families along the Niagara, Dickson enjoyed preferential treatment in both the choice and flexibility of his work. As a result of this good fortune, Dickson took the opportunity to leave the drab routine of his work at Niagara and in July 1786 was pleased to be transferred to the “Island of Michilimackinac” (MacKinac Island, Mich.) in order “to learn the art and mystery of commerce” (Cartwright papers, 10 July 1786)....

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Dubuque, Julien (10 January 1762–24 March 1810), miner and trader, was born at St. Pierre les Brecquets, in the district of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, the son of Noel Augustin Dubuque and Marie Maillot, farmers. Little is known of his early life, but he did learn to read and write as a youth. He followed relatives into the western fur trade after the death of his father in the early 1780s, and by 1783 he was trading in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The French Canadians had known of lead deposits for almost 100 years, and it appears that Dubuque became interested in mining almost as soon as he arrived in the Mississippi Valley. Most of the lead came from the region at and around present-day Dubuque, Iowa, which bears Dubuque’s name. On 22 September 1788 he obtained from the Fox tribe a document granting him the right to work at a mine as long as he pleased without recompense. He could not sell the land, but he could work undisturbed by the Fox. Dubuque began seriously extracting lead and clearing a farm and constructing homes for himself and his white laborers....

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Faribault, Jean Baptiste (19 October 1774–20 August 1860), trader, was born in Berthier, Canada, the son of Barthélemy Faribault, a lawyer, and Catherine Véronneau. Resisting pressure from his parents to continue his education and a respectable legal, political, or military career, Faribault left home at the age of sixteen to begin life on his own as a clerk, first for a small, private enterprise and then for a larger firm, McNides and Company. In 1797 he was offered a commission in the British army. He declined the position, however, electing instead to sign on with the Northwest Company as a trader....

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Farnham, Russel (1784–23 October 1832), fur trader, was born in Massachusetts, the son of John Farnham and Susan Chapin. It is presumed that his parents were farmers, but no evidence has been found of the exact place and date of his birth. That he received at least a rudimentary education is confirmed by the first known recorded event of his life, which occurred in 1810: on 8 September of that year he sailed from New York on the brig ...

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Forsyth, Thomas (05 December 1771–29 October 1833), fur trader and Indian agent, was born in what is now Detroit, Michigan, the son of William Forsyth, an innkeeper, and Ann Kinzie. Forsyth received such education as was available and was literate. His experiences in the multiethnic frontier world of Detroit, which even after the Revolution was dominated by British traders, completed his schooling. After the death of his father in 1790, Forsyth entered the fur trade as a clerk for George Sharp and spent several winters trading among the Ottawa on Saginaw Bay. By 1798 he was trading near what is now Quincy, Illinois. His first trading partner was a man named Richardson, and in 1802 he and his half-brother John Kinzie started a trading post at the present location of Chicago, Illinois. About 1804 Forsyth married Keziah Malotte, a former Indian captive, near Malden, Missouri, and they settled at Peoria, where he traded until the beginning of the War of 1812, when General ...

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Gratiot, Charles (1752–20 April 1817), frontier trader, was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the son of David Gratiot and Marie Bernard, French Huguenot merchants. Educated in schools in Lausanne, Gratiot, at age seventeen, went to London to work with his mother’s brother, a merchant, who then had him sent to Montreal, Canada. Arriving at Montreal in May 1769, Gratiot began working as a clerk in his uncle’s office to learn the Indian trade in the Great Lakes region, which, though now under British sovereignty, continued to be controlled by French traders. In 1774 he went on a successful trading expedition for his uncle into the Illinois country but, on being less successful on a second venture of his own, established in 1777 a partnership with David McCrae, a Scottish trader in Montreal....

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Harmon, Daniel Williams (19 February 1778–23 April 1843), fur trader and diarist, was born in Bennington, Vermont, the son of Daniel Harmon and Lucretia Dewey, innkeepers, whose roots in New England reached back more than a century and a half. Harmon’s parents were pious stalwarts of the Congregational church. During the revolutionary war, his father fought with the victorious Americans at the Battle of Bennington. Later, the family moved to Vergennes. What turned Harmon north into British territory is uncertain, but tales of Canadian travelers, parental restrictions, and wanderlust probably helped. In 1799 or early 1800 he journeyed to Montreal and entered the fur trade with the North West Company. Leaving Lachine (Montreal Island) for the West on 29 April 1800, he began a remarkable diary of life in the North American wilderness....

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Henry, Alexander ( August 1739–04 April 1824), fur trader and merchant, was born probably in New Brunswick, New Jersey, possibly the son of Alexander Henry, a merchant, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Nothing is known of Henry’s childhood. However, at age twenty, in 1760, he was transporting merchandise along Lake Ontario’s southern shore to supply British Major General ...

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Henry, Andrew (1775–10 June 1833), miner, fur trader, and explorer, was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the son of George Henry and Margaret Young, farmers. Before 1800 Henry left Pennsylvania for Nashville, Tennessee. He moved in 1800 to the Upper Louisiana village of Ste. Genevieve, a Mississippi river town in present-day Missouri. Henry returned to Nashville in 1802 or 1803 before resettling in Ste. Genevieve, where he formed Andrew Henry & Co. in 1804....

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James, Thomas (04 November 1782–17 December 1847), fur trader and Mexican trade merchant, was born in Maryland, the son of Joseph Austin James and Elizabeth Hosten. In 1803 James traveled west with the rest of his family, first to Kentucky and then to the Illinois country, entering Missouri Territory in 1807. The family settled near the village of Ste. Ferdinand (San Fernando), later known as Florissant. James heard of the adventures of Lewis and Clark’s successful expedition after their return to St. Louis in 1806. He determined to sign up with the Missouri Fur Company for a trading trip to the reaches of the upper Missouri River. After conflicts with his employers, he returned from the Missouri country in August 1810....

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Laclède, Pierre (22 November 1729– May 1778), wholesale merchant and fur trader, was born in Bedous, France. Although his parents’ names are unknown, he came from a prominent family of attorneys, scholars, and officeholders, and his father was an avocat admitted to practice before the ...