William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
John Crafts Papers, 1806-1828
Manuscripts Division Staff
John Crafts papers
The John Crafts papers consist of the correspondence of a fur trader in Detroit and Chicago, written to his family in New Hampshire.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
Donated 1984. M-2119.
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
John Crafts Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
John Crafts (1789-1825) was raised by his mother, Esther Sartwell Crafts Mead, and step-father, Rev. Samuel Mead at the family home in Walpole, N.H., along with his sister, Esther Crafts (later Mrs. Ebenezer Morse) and half-siblings Caroline Mead, Nancy Mead Holland, Samuel Orlando Mead, Harriot Mead, and Hannah Mead Handerson.
Before he was 17, John Crafts left home to live with his uncle, Royal Crafts (1774-1821), in Boston and improve his prospects in life. In Boston from 1806 until 1816, Crafts alternately worked as a teller and studied French, and by 1809 he had established himself in business. He spent the summer of 1808 in Groton, Mass., as a student of the Lawrence Academy.
In the spring of 1817, Crafts accepted a position as agent for the fur-trading firm of Conant & Mack and made his way westward to Detroit. The firm transferred him to the raw future city of Chicago in the late fall of 1818 where he set up a trading post, which he called "Hardscrabble," on land owned by the first white resident of Chicago, John Kinzie (1763-1828). Despite Crafts' success, an agent of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, Jean Baptiste Beaubien (1780-1863), cornered the local market on the fur trade, forcing Conant & Mack to sell out to Astor in 1822. Crafts benefited from the misfortunes of his employers, becoming the main agent of the American Fur Company in Chicago with Beaubien as subagent, but unfortunately, his success was short-lived. In the late summer of 1825, Crafts contracted yellow fever and died. His estate was divided equally among his mother and siblings.
Collection Scope and Content Note
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.
- American Fur Company.
- Chicago (Ill.)--Description and travel.
- Coaching (Transportation)
- Estates (Law)
- Fur trade.
- Indians of North America.
- Inheritance and succession--Illinois.
- Northwest, Old--Description and travel.
Additional Descriptive Data
- 1. Joseph Crafts b. Pomfret, Conn., 8 March 1732; m. 8 January 1756 Sarah Goodell; Revolutionary Soldier.
- 2. Olive b. Pomfret, Conn., 15 March 1756-20 August 1791; m. Leonard Hoar
- 3. Sarah
- 3. Olivia
- 3. Mary
- 2. John Crafts b. Monson, Mass., 2 December 1757-3 June 1791 m. 1786 Esther Sartwell 29 Sept 1767-29 July 1847
- 3. Orlando October 1787-28 August 1790
- 3. John Crafts 3 October 1789-late summer 1825 at Chicago; fur agent for American fur Company; died unm.
- 3. Esther Crafts 4 November 1791-1879; m. 4 November 1816 m. Dr. Ebenezer Morse 1785-30 December 1863
- 2 Esther Sartwell Crafts m. 2nd Rev. Samuel Mead 1762-21 March 1832
- 3. Caroline Mead b. 1793 d. 30 December 1873; unm.
- 3. Nancy Mead b. 15 March 1798 d. 10 Oct 1886; m. Ephraim Holland
- 3. Samuel Orlando Mead b. 1800 d. ?; m. 1822 Maria.
- 3. Harriot Mead
- 3. Hannah W. Mead b. 1795 m. circa 1818 Phineas Handerson
- 2. Sarah b. Monson, Mass., b. 9 June 1764; m. Joseph Munn.
- 2. Polly b. Monson, Mass., 23 October 1768-9 December 1799 at Rutland, Vt.; m. 11 November 1792 David Stevens.
- 2. Royal Crafts b at Monson, Mass., 21 August 1774-11 June 1821 at Cooperstown, N.Y.; m. 5 Apr 1795 Elizabeth; owner of a boarding house in Boston.
- 3. Alma Miranda
- 3. Royal Altemont
- 3. Samuel Fessenden
- 3. Augusta Elizabeth
John Moses and Joseph Kirkland, eds., History of Chicago (Chicago: Munsell & Co., 1895)
Alfred T. Andreas, ed., History of Chicago (Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1884)
Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848American Fur CompanyBanks and bankingBonaparte, Napoleon, 1769-1821Boston (Mass.)--Description and travelCaroline, Queen, consort of George IV, King of Great Britain, 1768-1821Chicago (Ill.)--Description and travelCoachingDemocratic PartyDetroit (Mich.)--Description and travelEstates (Law)Federalist PartyFrench School (Boston, Mass.)Fur tradeGreat Britain--Description and travelGreat Britain--Foreign relations--United StatesHartford (Conn.)--Description and travelHell's Gate (N.Y.)--Description and travelHenderson, PhineasIdiomsIndians of North America--Northwest, OldIndians of North America--TreatiesInheritance and succession--IllinoisKinzie, John, 1763-1828Lawrence AcademyLetters of introductionMackinac (Mich.)--Description and travelMichilimackinac (Mich.)--Description and travelMorton, Thomas, 1764-1838. Speed the ploughNew York (City)--Description and travelNewport (R.I.)--Description and travelNorthwest, Old--Description and travelOcean travelPawtucket (R.I.)--Description and travelPostal servicePresidents--United States--Election--1824Providence (R.I.)--Description and travelSteamboats--New EnglandTheaters--Massachusetts--BostonTreaty of Chicago, 1821United States--Foreign relations--Great BritainWalpole (N.H.)--Description and travelWolcott, Alexander Jr., 1790-1830Yellow fever