History of America’s One Percent – Episode #7

hogaf-logo-wip2In this podcast series we dive into the long and shadowy history of America’s ruling elite through the works of authors who were either silenced, suppressed, or forgotten, to discover the origins of the 1% and from where their power and wealth was, and still is, extracted.

Each recording will be approx. 1 hour in length to allow for easy consumption of the material.  The narrator will only interrupt the reading to provide insight, spell names, read informative footnotes, or provide definitions for archaic words.

 In this episode – Continued reading of History of Great American Fortunes by Gustavus Myers. Includes Part II, Chapter II:  The Inception of the Astor Fortune.  Astor’s Early Career.  Incorporation of the American Fur Company.  Expedition to Astoria, Oregon.  Accusations of Treason During the War of 1812.  Astor Brazenly Violates the Law.  His Armed Agents in the West.  Swindling the Indians with Whiskey.  Numerous Pleas for Justice Sent to the Secretary of War.  The Indians Paid With Overpriced Merchandise.  The Traders Rig the Scales.  Indians Revolt Against These Injustices.  Indians Murdered by US Military.  Astor’s $500,000 Annual Revenue From Fur Trade.  His Agent’s Meager Earnings.  $35,000 to Lewis Cass, Secretary of War.

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[1] Parton’s “Life of John Jacob Astor” : 28.

[2] “The Old Merchants of New York,” 1 : 287.

[3] The extent of its operations and the rapid slaughter of fur animals may be gathered by a record of one year s work. In 1793 this company enriched itself by 106,000 beaver skins, 2,100 bear skins, 1,500 fox skins, 400 kit fox, 16,000 muskrat, 32,000 martin, 1,800 mink, 6,000 lynx, 6,000 wolverine, 1,600 fisher, 100 raccoon, 1,200 dressed deer, 700 elk, 550 buffalo robes, etc.

[4] Astor was accused by a Government agent of betraying the American cause at the outbreak of this war. In addition to the American Fur Company, Astor had other fur companies, one of which was the Southwest Company. Under date of June 18, 1818, Matthew Irwin, U. S. factor or agent at Green Bay, Wis., wrote to Thomas L. McKenney, U. S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs : “It appears that the Government has been under an impression [that] the Southwest Company, of which Mr. John Jacob Astor is the head, is strictly an American company, and in consequence, some privileges in relation to trade have been granted to that company.” Irwin went on to tell how Astor had obtained an order from Gallatin, U. S. Secretary of the treasury, allowing him, Astor, to land furs at Mackinac from the British post at St. Joseph’s.  Astor’s agent in this transaction was a British subject. “On his way to St. Joseph’s,” Irwin continued, “he [Astor’s British agent] communicated to the British at Malden that war had been or would be declared. The British made corresponding arrangements and landed on the Island of Mackinac with regulars, Canadians and Indians before the commanding officer there had notice that war would be declared. The same course was about to be pursued at Detroit, before the arrival of troops with Gen. Hull, who, having been on the march there, frustrated it.” Irwin declared that
Astor’s purpose was to save his furs from capture by the British, and concluded : “Mr. Astor’s agent brought the furs to Mackinac in company with the British troops, and the whole transaction is well known at Mackinac and Detroit.” —U. S. Senate Docs., First Session, Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Doc. No. 60 : 50-31.

[5] Document No. 90, U. S. Senate, First Session, 2nd Congress, ii : 30.

[6] Document No. 58, U. S. Senate Docs. First Session, 19th Congress : 7-8.

[7] Ibid. That the debauching of the Indians was long continuing was fully evidenced by the numerous communications sent in by Government representatives. The following is an extract from a letter written on October 6, 1821, by the U. S. Indian Agent at Green Bay to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs (or Indian Trade) : “Mr. Kinzie, son to the sub Indian Agent at Chicago, and agent for the American Fur Company, has been detected in selling large quantities of whisky to the Indians at and near Milwaukee of Lake Michigan.”— Senate Docs., First Session, Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Doc. No. 60 : 54.

[8] Doc. No. 38 : 10.

[9] Of this fact there can be no doubt. Writing on February 27, 1822, to Senator Henry Johnson, chairman of the U. S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Superintendent McKenney said : “. . . The Indians, it is admitted, are good judges of the articles in which they deal, and, generally when they are permitted to be sober, they can detect attempts to practise fraud upon them. The traders knowing this (however, few of the Indians are permitted to trade without a previous preparation in the way of liquor,) would not be so apt to demand exorbitant prices. . . . This may be illustrated by the fact, as reported to this office by Matthew Irwin, that previous to the establishment of the Green Bay factory [agency] as much as one dollar and fifty cents had been demanded by the traders of the Indians, and received, for a brass thimble, and eighteen dollars for one pound of tobacco ! ” — U. S. Senate Docs., First Session, Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Document No. 60 : 40.

[10]Document No. 90, U. S. Senate Docs., First Session, 22d Congress, ii : 23-24.

[10a] Ibid : 54.

[11] For a white 3 point blanket which cost $4.00 they were charged $10; for a beaver trap costing $2.50, the charge was $8; for a rifle costing $11 they had to pay $30; a brass kettle which Astor could buy at 48 cents a pound, he charged the Indians $30 for; powder cost him 20 cents a pound; he sold it for $4 a pound; he bought tobacco for 10 cents a pound and sold it at the rate of five small twists for $6, etc., etc., etc.

[12] Document No. 90 : 72.

[13] Many of the tribes, the Government reports show, not only yielded up to Astor’s company the whole of their furs, but were deeply in debt to the company. In 1829 the Winnebagoes, Sacs and Foxes owed Farnham & Davenport, agents for the American Fur Company among those tribes, $40,000; by 1831 the debts had risen to $50,000 or $60,000.  The Pawnees owed fully as much, and the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Sioux and other tribes were heavily in debt— Doc. No. 90 : 72.

[14] Forsythe admits that in practically all of these murders the whites were to blame. — Doc. No. 90 : 76.

[15] Doc. No. 90. — This is but a partial list. The full list of the murdered whites the Government was unable to get.

[16] Document No. 90 : 77.

[17] Some of the original ledgers of the American Fur Company were put on exhibition at Anderson’s auction rooms in New York city in March, 1909.  One entry showed that $35,000 had been paid to Lewis Cass for services not stated. Doubtless, Astor had the best of reasons for not explaining that payment; Cass was, or had been, the Governor of Michigan Territory, and he became the identical Secretary of War to whom so many complaints of the crimes of Astor’s American Fur Company were made.
The author personally inspected these ledgers. The following are some extracts from a news account in the New York “Times,” issue of March 7, 1909, of the exhibition of the ledgers : “They cover the business of the Northern Department from 1817 to 1835, and consist of six folio volumes of about 1,000 pages each, in two stout traveling cases, fitted with compartments, lock and key.  It is said that these books were missing for nearly seventy-five years, and recently escaped destruction by the merest accident.
“The first entry is April 1, 1817. There are two columns, one for British and the other for American money. An entry, May 3, 1817, shows that Lewis Cass, then Governor of Michigan Territory and afterward Democratic candidate for the Presidency against Gen. Zachary Taylor, the successful Whig candidate, took about $35,000 of the Astor money from Montreal to Detroit, in consideration of something which is not set down.”

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