Tom C. and Fred R. Trelfa Collection,   1802-1971, and undated
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This is a significant manuscript collection of Michigan and the Old Northwest Territory. The collection consists of some 928 individual items and 20 volumes, 1802-1971, and relating to the conduct of the fur trade and commerce at Michilimackinac and Sault Ste. Marie, and lighthouses and maritime activities on the Great Lakes.

The collection is organized chronologically and alphabetically. The major series of the collection are Manifest, American Fur Company, Circulars and Correspondence of the U.S. Treasury Department and Collector of Customs with subseries of Marine Hospital Money Returns and Registry of Vessels; Miscellaneous, U.S. Payment Vouchers, Bids for the Construction of Lighthouses with subseries Bois Blanc Lighthouse, Chicago River Lighthouse, St. Joseph Lighthouse, South Manitou Island Lighthouse, Miscellaneous Lighthouses, Treasury Circulars, and Pottawattamie Lighthouse; Light Boat Reports and Scrapbooks.

In the descriptions, few changes have been made in spelling although for the sake of clarity some consistency has been imposed. Variant spellings of names have also been entered. However, when the identification of a particular name was in question, the spelling as recorded by the file clerks at Michilimackinac or Sault Ste. Marie (and usually cited on the verso of the document/letter) is given.

Titled “Manifests,” Boxes 1-2 actually consist of manifests, bills of lading, clearance papers guaranteeing protection for vessels bound to and from Canada (particularly St. Joseph=s Island, cited herein as St. Joseph), documents certifying duties paid on entering goods, and other papers relating to commodities entering or departing from Michilimackinac. Since Box 1 includes pre-War of 1812 documents, they are of particular value because many of the commodities entered or shipped out were done so on behalf of the American Fur Company through their various agents. In addition, these documents also prove valuable for information on the numerous schooners, sloops, and brigs traveling the lakes, in particular the “Hunter,” “Thames,” “Nancy,” John Jacob Astor,” “Saguina,” “Contractor,” “Ranger,” “Adams,” and “Montreal.” Names of individuals and companies which frequently occur are Rocheblaue and Portier, Isadore LaCroix, Daniel and David Mitchell, Jr., Tousaint Pothier, Giasson and Berthelot, Lafromboise and Schindler, Josiah Bleakley, George Gillespie, and The Michilimackinac Company.

Dating from 1838 to 1847, the American Fur Company papers which make up the remainder of Box 2 complement the numerous collections, in original manuscript or on microfilm, which the Clarke holds relating to the company. Certainly from the perspective of commerce, domestic and foreign markets, domestic manufacturers, transportation, and the problems encountered by American Fur Company agents in the field, these papers provide detailed information. The majority of them relate to incoming and outgoing correspondence from John R. Livingston, head of the St. Mary’s Outfit at Sault Ste. Marie, and deal with various accounts, problems incurred by agents in the field, transportation of supplies, and concern over a decreasing market. Market problems, both domestic and foreign, relating to furs and fish are well covered in the correspondence from Ramsay Crooks and George Ehninger in the New York central office to Livingston. Early mining efforts in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and problems of transporting goods to and from their sites are also to be found in the letters of the Union Mining Company and the Eagle Harbor Mining Company to and from Livingston.

The circulars and correspondence between the U.S. Treasury Department and the Collectors of Customs (usually Abraham Wendell at Michilimackinac) contained in Box 3 are divided into four major subseries: marine hospital money returns; registry of vessels; general information sent to the collectors; and miscellaneous documents. The section on hospital money returns is important for the detailed information on the number of men on board the various great Lakes vessels, their names and time of service, and the amount of hospital tax paid by each. The material relating to the registration of vessels in general tends to be printed documents communicating Congressional acts concerning registry, registry forms, duty rates, etc. Several of the items are actual registration documents filed with the Collector by masters of the various vessels. The third section, general information and communications, deals with duties, laws covering the Collectors, and problems with certain imports. The three miscellaneous documents relate to land transactions.

Box 3 also contains circulars and correspondence from the Treasury Department to the Collectors of Customs and communications with the Superintendents of Lighthouses (usually Abraham Wendell). This series is divided into four subseries: miscellaneous materials; circulars and correspondence from the Treasury Department to and from the Superintendents of Lighthouses; U.S. payment vouchers; and bids submitted for construction of lighthouses. The miscellaneous materials include questions regarding duties and annual and quarterly reports, and certain treasury notes. The superintendents of Lighthouses material deals with reports submitted, questions relating to these reports, allocation of funds, and general instructions to Superintendents and Keepers. Payment vouchers are included for wages paid to the various Deputy Collectors, Aids to the Revenues, and government suppliers. The materials on construction bids include those submitted to the Superintendent for the proposed lighthouses at White Fish Point, Detour, and Copper Harbor as well as several bids to furnish supplies and fuel for various light boats.

The Bois Blanc and Chicago River Lighthouses material in Box 3 is particularly important as it concerns both daily operations of these lighthouses and quarterly inventories of property and supplies on hand as well as those expended during the period in question. Various procedures, storms and requisitioned supplies, are discussed in the letters.

Similar information is in Boxes 3 and 4 which deal with the Saint Joseph River, South Manitou Island, miscellaneous lighthouses, Pottawattomie Lighthouse, Light Boat reports, Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse, Presque Isle and Bois Blanc lighthouses, and the schooner “Sparrow.” Boxes 5-7 contain scrapbooks on such subject as Alcona, Iosco, and Presque Isle Counties, Mackinac Island, and the Rogers City centennial.

Researchers are encouraged to consult other collections in the Clarke. Since a majority of the Trelfa Collection originates from the period of Abraham Wendell’s tenure as Collector of Customs and Superintendent of Lighthouses, the Abraham Wendell Papers should be used to gain a more comprehensive picture of commercial and maritime life on the Lakes. Similarly the collections of the American Fur Company (in original or on microfilm) and the Henry Rowe Schoolcraft Papers, the Henry Hastings Sibley Papers, the George Johnston Papers, and the Lawrence Tafiaferro papers (all of which are on microfilm) should be used. There is also a Fred R. Trelfa Photograph Collection of photographs relating primarily to Alpena and Alpena County history.

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