The papers of John Crafts provide insight into the development of one man's career in the fur trade during the early 19th century, with insight into the earliest history of Chicago. A majority of the letters in the collection were written by John Crafts to his mother, step-father, brother, and sister, beginning in 1806 when Craft was finishing his education and first entering into the business world, and ending shortly after his death nineteen years later.
The series of letters from Boston include descriptions of Crafts' classes at the Lawrence Academy in 1808, and his increasingly successful forays into business between 1809 and 1816. Among the most interesting letters from this period are those in which Crafts discusses the fraying relations between the United States and Britain during the embargo years of 1807-08, his description of stage and packet ship travel through New England in 1809, and the letter from 1812 in which he announces the death of Napoleon Bonaparte just a bit prematurely.
Between 1817 and 1825 Crafts was employed as an agent in the fur trade. Sadly, Crafts says little about early pioneer life, the fur trade, or Indian-white relations, with only a few exceptions (see especially folders 27, 36, 39j, 42, 52, and 56). Instead Crafts' letters reflect his desire to be nearer his family and his concern for their welfare. The most touching is the letter written to his mother dated 1818. In a different sense, Crafts' letters to his younger step-brother, Samuel Orlando Mead, indicate a sense of concern and family obligation. Written between 1820 and 1825, when Crafts was an experienced operative of the trade, there letters provide a clear idea of Craft's business sense and his desire to impart his hard-won knowledge to his younger sibling. A letter from his half-sister, Caroline Mead, gives an interesting description of the expansion of steamboat travel in New England and, like John's letters, indicates the depth of affection connecting the members of the Crafts family.
The last set of letters in the collection were written by Alexander Wolcott Jr., Crafts' friend and associate. These provide detailed information on Crafts' estate and its settlement, contain some references to Indian relations and to a yellow fever outbreak affecting field workers in 1825.