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The Daring Trader

Jacob Smith in the Michigan Territory, 1802-1825

Kim Crawford

Publication Year: 2012

A fur trader in the Michigan Territory and confidant of both the U.S. government and local Indian tribes, Jacob Smith could have stepped out of a James Fenimore Cooper novel. Controversial, mysterious, and bold during his lifetime, in death Smith has not, until now, received the attention he deserves as a pivotal figure in Michigan’s American period and the War of 1812. This is the exciting and unlikely story of a man at the frontier’s edge, whose missions during both war and peace laid the groundwork for Michigan to accommodate settlers and farmers moving west. The book investigates Smith’s many pursuits, including his role as an advisor to the Indians, from whom the federal government would gradually gain millions of acres of land, due in large part to Smith’s work as an agent of influence. Crawford paints a colorful portrait of a complicated man during a dynamic period of change in Michigan’s history.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiv

He has been a useful man in this quarter . . .”
On a winter’s day in Detroit early in 1816, General Lewis Cass, the federal governor of the Michigan Territory, wrote those words about a local fur trader, Jacob Smith, to the U.S. secretary of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. Smith, then about 42 years old, was in trouble with federal customs authorities in Buff alo, New York, for bringing over from Canada an undeclared shipment...

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Chapter One: Witness to Murder: Saginaw, 1802

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pp. 1-17

The man who would become the most influential fur trader of territorial Michigan for his work among the Saginaw Chippewa and Ottawa began life as the son of German parents in a French city in British Canada, about a hundred miles from the U.S. border in the closing years of the eighteenth century. These circumstances may seem like a dramatic foreshadowing, portending a life of intrigue and adventure, but before Jacob Smith entered the world of the ...

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Chapter Two: The Saginaw Trail

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pp. 18-30

It would be difficult for today’s residents of southeastern Michigan, an urban-suburban home to several million people, to imagine the place in the first years of the nineteenth century, the time of Jacob Smith and other traders. To strike out on the Saginaw Trail from Detroit was to venture into a wooded wilderness that was strictly Indian country, where there were no white settlers and where most traders only stayed temporarily. Of course, if a trader and his men ...

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Chapter Three: Trouble in Detroit

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pp. 31-41

If Governor William Hull’s relations with the Saginaw Chippewa were rocky in the summer of 1807, his dealings with some of his own people weren’t much better. And if Jacob Smith thought he was removed from Hull’s conflicts with Detroit residents, he now found out otherwise. Serious rift s had taken place over the past two years between the governor and other officials, particularly with Territorial Secretary Stanley Griswold and also James Abbott, an influential local...

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Chapter Four: War Clouds

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pp. 42-53

Despite the treaty between Governor William Hull and Indians of the Michigan Territory, relations remained cool. Colonel William Claus, a key British officer and Indian liaison based at Amherstburg, reported to his superiors early in 1808 about how the chief called Grand Blanc, from the Saginaw Valley, snubbed the federal governor, demonstrating that Grand Blanc considered the king of England his friend and ally, but not the government of the United States....

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Chapter Five: War in the Michigan Territory

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pp. 54-64

The beginnings of the War of 1812 in Michigan were inauspicious. First, the U.S. government in Washington, D.C., declared the war, but it didn’t hurry to inform its western outposts near the Canadian border of this fact. Detroit area residents figured out for themselves late in June that a state of war probably now existed, based on rumor and what they could see for themselves:...

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Chapter Six: The Arrest of Jacob Smith

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pp. 65-74

While Jacob Smith was gone on his too-late mission to Mackinac Island, General William Hull launched his invasion of Canada on July 12, 1812. Th e Americans took possession of Sandwich, a small town that would become Windsor, Ontario. Two days later, some of Smith’s comrades in Captain Richard Smyth’s cavalry company were also sent across the Detroit River to Canada, where they aided other American troopers and a force of infantry...

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Chapter Seven: I Pray You Inform Me . . . the Character of Jacob Smith

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pp. 75-89

One of the dramatic stories about Jacob Smith in the War of 1812 that survived over the past 200 years was left in biographical notes written by the man who married Smith’s youngest daughter, Maria, and it is an example of how fact and fiction regarding the fur trader became mixed in the years aft er his death. Th is anecdote, recorded tersely, was written by Col. Th omas B. W. Stockton, a veteran of the Mexican and Civil wars who settled in Flint with Maria. According...

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Chapter Eight: Abduction to Saginaw

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pp. 90-97

Beyond Jacob Smith’s return from arrest and detainment in Canada, his reporting to U.S. authorities, and his controversial accusations against James Abbott, the fur trader’s specific activities in Ohio throughout the rest of 1813 are unknown. Th e fact that Smith is the most common name in the English language complicates efforts to track the fur trader, even in the frontier of the Old Northwest. For example, an army officer named Jacob Smith, acting as the...

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Chapter Nine: The Return of the Boyer Children

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pp. 98-105

Shortly aft er Detroit was back in the hands of the U.S. forces and the British had retreated into Canada, General William Henry Harrison turned command of his army over to Lewis Cass, the Ohio lawyer and politician turned brigadier, and left for the east. Soon aft er, Cass was formally appointed territorial governor of Michigan. With illness spreading among his troops and the destitute civilian population of Detroit, Cass had his hands full. “No man who has not seen...

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Chapter Ten: Jacob Smith versus Louis Campau, 1815

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pp. 106-119

By October 1814, the Territorial Supreme Court was back in session and Jacob Smith served on two juries that acquitted two different men in criminal cases. Th at month, his mother, Elizabeth Smith, died back in Quebec. She was about 80 years old, according to church records.1 Th ere was still a war on, however, and the United States had been faring poorly in the main theater of the conflict, back in the east. President James Madison needed his forces in the Old...

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Chapter Eleven: Peace

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pp. 120-129

Despite the terrible outbreak of illness and other hardships they faced, life for the residents of Detroit slowly returned to normal aft er the attacks by Indians subsided. In the months following the end of the war, Nicholas Boyer, the man who had been kidnapped along with his children from their home on the Clinton River, was walking on Jefferson Avenue across from Governor Cass’s residence when he saw the Chippewa named Chemokamun, or ...

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Chapter Twelve: Conclude a Treaty for the Country upon the Saginac Bay

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pp. 130-141

By now some settlers from the eastern United States were coming to southeastern Michigan, though not in large numbers. Plans were also under way by a company of investors to build the village of Pontiac on the Saginaw Trail at the Clinton River crossing, a point about midway between Detroit and the Flint River. These developments would cause the wilderness to recede even further and bring more newcomers into contact with the Indians. Territorial officials ...

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Chapter Thirteen: The Treaty Councils Begin

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pp. 142-156

The invitations to the Indians were made by Cass, and other arrangements for the treaty were set in motion. But complaints about theft s by Indians and incidents of violence on settlers continued around Detroit. By May, the territorial governor was complaining that he needed more soldiers to help keep the peace, and he had roads improved so as to be able to move troops over southeastern Michigan....

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Chapter Fourteen: He Was Smart as Steel

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pp. 157-171

It didn’t take long for the interpreters and aides of Gov. Lewis Cass to realize what Jacob Smith was up to by the time the final treaty council was held at Saginaw. Smith, they warned, was trying to have Indian names for his white children written into the treaty provisions that granted section of land for individuals.1

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Chapter Fifteen: Mounting Trouble, Mounting Debt

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pp. 172-184

As the year of the Saginaw treaty came to an end, the white population of Michigan was nearly 9,000 people, with most of these living in and around Detroit. Th e town itself now had 1,442 residents, and settlers were coming into the newly created Oakland County. Jacob Smith returned to Detroit aft er helping Cass secure the treaty, and late in 1819 or early in 1820, he was the third person to sign a petition to the U.S. Congress for reimbursement for Detroiters...

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Chapter Sixteen: U.S. vs. Jacob Smith

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pp. 185-197

When the federal census takers made their count in Detroit in 1820, one recorded that the household of Jacob Smith was comprised of one white male under the age of 10 (presumably son Albert), two white females between the age of 10 and 15 (likely daughters Caroline and Louisa), and at least one white male aged 45 and older. If 1773 was the year of Smith’s birth, as evidence indicates, he would have turned 47 sometime in 1820, so that entry...

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Chapter Seventeen: He Was Dissipated and Bad in His Habits

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pp. 198-211

In November 1822 Jacob Smith left Detroit and headed back to the Flint River. Perhaps he was glad to return to his post and farm in the wilderness and leave the courtrooms behind him, but it may be that he simply did not care; it is even possible that he enjoyed these legal battles, given his propensity for getting into them.1 Two of the affairs in which he had been involved that year—the leasing of farmland to a white U.S. citizen, David Corbin, on the Flint River, and the...

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Chapter Eighteen: It Is the Last Stir of the Dying Wind

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pp. 212-221

Though the Indians had seen their world changing since the end of the War of 1812, the Saginaw chief called Kishkauko remained defiant and violent, not only to the white settlers who came into the territory north of Detroit, but to his own people. In 1823, when settler Eber Ward was away from his home on the Clinton River, the angry Saginaw chief and some of his band demanded whiskey. Indians routinely camped in that vicinity as they made their way down to Detroit, and Ward and his family and neighbors weren’t troubled by any of...

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Chapter Nineteen: No One Was More Anxious to Secure Advantage Than Smith

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pp. 222-233

In the months and years aft er Jacob Smith’s death, a good friend, a rival, and a once-feared character from frontier Michigan came to bad ends—one by illness, one by accident, and one by suicide while in custody for a crime.
The last was Kishkauko, the notorious chief from Saginaw feared by settlers and Indians alike, distrusted by territorial officials and soldiers. Kishkauko outlived Smith by about a year, dying a terrible death in jail in Detroit, reportedly by his own hand. According to a newspaper report, when a Saginaw Indian was...

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Chapter Twenty: The White Man Takes Away What He Bought of the Indians

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pp. 234-246

There were no legal battles over the remaining four sections of land in the original Smith Reservation on the south side of the Flint River as set aside under the terms of the 1819 treaty. These went to the heirs of a woman named Catharine Mene (Kitchegeequa); Phyllis Beaufait (Petabonequa), the daughter of Colonel Louis Beaufait, longtime U.S. Indian agent and interpreter; a man named John Fisher, or alternately, Jean Visger (Checbalk); and Francis...


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pp. Plates1-Plates12


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pp. 247-286


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pp. 287-294


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pp. 295-305

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173159
E-ISBN-10: 1609173155
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860269
Print-ISBN-10: 1611860261

Page Count: 322
Illustrations: Vintage photographs
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Flint Region (Mich.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Michigan -- Biography.
  • Michigan -- History -- War of 1812.
  • Michigan -- History -- To 1837.
  • Indians of North America -- Michigan -- History -- 19th century.
  • Smith, Jacob, 1773-1825.
  • Pioneers -- Michigan -- Biography.
  • Fur traders -- Michigan -- Biography.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Michigan.
  • Indian agents -- Michigan -- Biography.
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