American Fur Company Is Chartered Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In creating the American Fur Company John Jacob Astor built the first commercial monopoly in U.S. history, and his company and its offshoots played a major role in the opening of the western United States to trade and settlement.

Summary of Event

On April 6, 1808, New York’s state New York State;fur trade legislature granted a charter to the American Fur Company for a period of twenty-five years. The company’s capital stock was not to exceed one million dollars until two years had passed, and thereafter it was not to exceed two million dollars. The sole stockholder was John Jacob Astor, who in 1783 had come to the United States as an impoverished twenty-year-old immigrant from Germany. After serving as an assistant to a fur merchant in New York City, Astor entered the business on his own and soon began to trade with China and other areas of eastern Asia. By the early nineteenth century he had become one of the richest and most powerful men in the United States. American Fur Company Fur trade;American Fur Company Astor, John Jacob New York State;American Fur Company [kw]American Fur Company Is Chartered (Apr. 6, 1808) [kw]Fur Company Is Chartered, American (Apr. 6, 1808) [kw]Company Is Chartered, American Fur (Apr. 6, 1808) [kw]Chartered, American Fur Company Is (Apr. 6, 1808) American Fur Company Fur trade;American Fur Company Astor, John Jacob New York State;American Fur Company [g]Canada;Apr. 6, 1808: American Fur Company Is Chartered[0410] [g]United States;Apr. 6, 1808: American Fur Company Is Chartered[0410] [c]Trade and commerce;Apr. 6, 1808: American Fur Company Is Chartered[0410] [c]Fashion and design;Apr. 6, 1808: American Fur Company Is Chartered[0410] Crooks, Ramsay Stuart, Robert Hunt, Wilson Price Lisa, Manuel

In 1808, Astor was pondering the possibilities for a fur-trading empire in the recently purchased Lousiana Territory and regions farther west. He decided to challenge Canada’s North West Company North West Company and the Michilimackinac Company, Michilimackinac Company which had long exploited the trade in those areas. Astor was encouraged by the breakthrough efforts of St. Louis explorer and entrepreneur Manuel Lisa Lisa, Manuel , who had built a trading post on the Missouri River Missouri River at the mouth of the Bighorn River in 1807 and later a fort at Omaha and had created the Missouri Fur Company Missouri Fur Company . Astor sensed that the time was ripe for aggressive American expansion up the Missouri River.

Astor envisioned American control of the fur trade in the mountain regions of the Northwest all the way to the Pacific coast. He dreamed of extending that trade across the Pacific to China and other markets. His traders would take the furs to eastern Asia and trade for spices, silks, teas, and other commodities. His scheme called for a huge company with trading posts along the shores of the Great Lakes Great Lakes region;fur trade and the Missouri Missouri River;trading posts and Columbia Rivers Columbia River;trading posts . First, however, he had to consolidate his own holdings and obtain new capital, preferably with the blessings of the state or federal government. He therefore engineered the chartering of the American Fur Company in 1808 and similarly the creation of the Pacific Fur Company Pacific Fur Company two years later. He controlled both companies and interchanged their resources so that the firms were virtually indistinguishable.

John Jacob Astor.

(Library of Congress)

After Astor established the Pacific Fur Company, he made plans to dispatch two parties to the Columbia River. One party arrived by sea at the mouth of the Columbia in March, 1811. Work promptly began on a post called Astoria Astoria, Oregon on the lower Columbia River. The second party, under the command of Wilson Price Hunt Hunt, Wilson Price , departed overland from St. Louis in March, 1811. This group experienced terrible hardships along the way and the few members of the group who survived did not reach their objective until February, 1812. Uncertain about the practicality of ocean trade routes, the Astorians sent Robert Stuart Stuart, Robert east to find an easier overland trail. The Astorians were winning their struggle for survival and had established trade with the local indigenous tribal peoples Fur trade;and Native Americans[Native Americans] when the outbreak of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain foiled their endeavors.

Astor feared a British seizure of his Columbia River Columbia River post, so he elected to sell the project to the rival North West Company North West Company in 1813 and abandoned his plans in the Pacific Northwest. The activities of his parties, however, had contributed greatly to Euro-American knowledge of the region, and had incidentally helped to reinforce American claims to the Oregon territory.

The War of 1812 War of 1812 (1812-1814);and fur trade[Fur trade] also affected Astor’s considerable operations in the Midwest. In 1811 the American Fur Company had merged with the North West and Michilimackinac Companies Michilimackinac Company to form the South West Fur Company, which was to confine its activities to the Great Lakes south of the Canadian border. Although the war interrupted the company’s operations, the company later thrived. In 1817, Astor was able to buy out his partners. He established the Northern Department of the American Fur Company with headquarters at Michilimackinac. Because Congress excluded foreign traders from the territory during the same year, Astor achieved a monopoly of the fur trade in the Great Lakes region. Great Lakes region;fur trade

Astor then moved to gain control of trade in the Upper Missouri River Missouri River;and fur trade[Fur trade] region. In 1817, he arranged a working agreement with powerful firms in St. Louis St. Louis, Missouri[Saint Louis, Missouri];trade of to set up the Western Department of the American Fur Company. In 1822, Congress abolished federally sponsored trading posts in tribal Fur trade;and Native Americans[Native Americans] territories, part of the “factory system” that had been in operation since 1796. Using his considerable political influence, Astor undercut this program. Agents of the American Fur Company extended their sphere of influence in the upper Missouri area, crushing opposition ruthlessly. In 1827, Astor’s company absorbed its greatest competitor, the Columbia Fur Company Columbia Fur Company , and afterward operated between the upper Mississippi and the upper Missouri as the Upper Missouri Outfit Upper Missouri Outfit . By 1828, the American Fur Company commanded an overwhelming share of the fur trade on the northern plains and in the Northwest.

Meanwhile, Mexican, French Canadian, and American trappers continued to maintain a brisk commerce in furs out of Taos, Taos, New Mexico;and fur trade[Fur trade] in what is now New Mexico, and a consortium of traders who would organize the Rocky Mountain Fur Company Rocky Mountain Fur Company were consolidating control of trade in the central Rocky Mountains Rocky Mountains;and fur trade[Fur trade] .

At the peak of his fortunes, Astor retired and his company split. One group included some ten stockholders of the Northern Department under Ramsay Crooks Crooks, Ramsay , Astor’s chief assistant. It assumed the name of the American Fur Company and became one of the first large American trusts. However, the company broke up in 1834 at the onset of the decline of the fur trade. Furs were becoming scarce as the “factors,” the “mountain men” and trappers, overtrapped many of the furbearers’ streams and ponds.

During the late 1830’s, the demand for fur garments Garment industry;furs also declined as fashions changed in Europe and the eastern United States. Under Crooks, the American Fur Company survived the Panic of 1837 Panic of 1837;and fur trade[Fur trade] but lingered only as a much smaller concern in the 1840’s. Small companies and freelance trappers continued to mop up the shrinking trade in northern New Mexico, but for the most part they could only watch as new waves of settlers and miners arrived to exploit the agricultural and mineral resources of the trans-Mississippi West.

Significance

John Jacob Astor built his fur-trading empire at a time of unique opportunity in American history. The West was opening up to trade and settlement, fur-bearing animals were abundant, and there was a great demand for furs in the eastern United States and Europe. With his exceptional business acumen and willingness to act aggressively, Astor was able brilliantly to capitalize on the opportunities and enjoyed remarkable success. However, Astor is remembered primarily for building the first private monopoly in United States history. Through a decade and a half, his American Fur Company almost totally dominated the fur trade throughout the United States. As the fur trade declined after his retirement, his company ceased to be the power that it had been under his control. However, his acquisition of large tracts of Manhattan and his wise investments in banking, insurance, and government stocks ensured that the Astor family would play a major role in American business into the twentieth century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chittenden, Hiram M. The American Fur Trade of the Far West. New York: Press of the Pioneers, 1935. Reprint. Stanford, Calif.: Academic Reprints, 1985. Nearly exhaustive study of the history of the fur trade in the western United States, with considerable attention to Astor’s enterprises.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Haeger, John D. John Jacob Astor: Business and Finance in the Early Republic. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991. A detailed economic history of Astor’s ventures in the midwestern and western fur trade and other businesses in the East.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Robert F., ed. Astorian Adventure: The Journal of Alfred Seton, 1811-1815. New York: Fordham University Press, 1993. A fascinating account of daily life at Astoria by one of the company’s clerks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madsen, Axel. John Jacob Astor: America’s First Multimillionaire. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001. Full biography of Astor’s life and his involvement in the fur trade.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oglesby, Richard E. Manuel Lisa and the Opening of the Missouri Fur Trade. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963. This volume documents Lisa’s importance in the expansion of American trade enterprises in the Upper Missouri River Valley.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Philips, Paul C. The Fur Trade. 2 vols. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961. A massive history of the North American fur trade from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the middle of the nineteenth, with Astor playing a leading role in the second volume.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ronda, James P. Astoria and Empire. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. The most complete account of the founding of Astoria and its decline during the War of 1812; the book places Astor’s efforts within an overall imperialist context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wishart, David J. The Fur Trade of the American West, 1807-1840. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. This slender treatise examines the effects of western geography on the process of establishing and expanding the fur trade.

Louisiana Purchase

Lewis and Clark Expedition

Astorian Expeditions Explore the Pacific Northwest Coast

Westward American Migration Begins

Red River Raids

Santa Fe Trail Opens

Jedediah Smith Explores the Far West

United States Acquires Oregon Territory

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