Town of Michilemackinac
Mackinac County MI


Trading Post Account Book is Proof of This

Book Is Record of Trading of Agents of John Jacob Aster at Michilemackinac

In this day and date a large amount of time is given over to the discussion of the high coat of living. Prices are high to be sure, but what of the statement that it cost our grandfather and great-grandfathers loss to live in the good old days a century ago?

"All rot," says F. W. Davidson of 326 Avon street and he has the documents to prove It. Into Mr. Davidson' hands a few days ago came an account book kept by the agents of John Jacob Astor at his trading post at Michilemackinac 100 years age. The book had been the property of Mr. Davidson's father, but had been lost for 10 years. As mysteriously as it disappeared, it turned up again an now the owner keeps it chained up lest it stray again. For the battered old ledger gives a close insight into the early history of Michigan—not as a chronicle but as a record of the prices of commodities in the days when the Indian tribes bartered their furs for calico and beads at the trading post where now stands the city of Mackinac.

J. E. Davidson, father of the present owner of the book, was the first photographer to locate in the Saginaw valley. He had learned his art from the Inventor of the daguerreo-type and was occupied with a good- sized business when he first came to Michigan. This was in the early '80's. While on a trip through the northern part of the state, Mr. Davidson asked the proprietor of the hotel where he was stopping for an old book in which to keep the albumen paper which formed a part of his equipment.

In the attic the old Astor company ledger was found and this was pressed into service. Several years later the present owner of the book, discovered it in his father's studio, stained with chemicals, ragged and loose of leaf. He realized its value as a record of early days in Michigan and rescued it from the use to which it was being; put after his father's death, Mr. Davidson loaned the book to an editor friend and it was not until the death of the latter and the settlement of his estate that the book was returned by the widow, after being lost for 10 years,

The first entry in the book is dated November 10, 1817 and among the first accounts is a charge to Dr. Albion F. Crow. Apparently the doctor had recently taken unto himself a wife for the list of articles charged against him seem to form part of a household equipment. There are listed: 1 set of buck knives and forks, $5; 1 set cups and saucers, $2.5O; 1 set cups and saucers (probably for company use) $3.50, six plates, $1.87; six more plates, 76 cents; a pair of ox-hide shoes, $1.86; one-half pound mustard, $1; 1 sauce tureen, 62 cents. Several times appears the entry "1 loaf of bread, 88 cents." It costs a nickel today, A pound of chocolate cost 60 cents and a 50 pound bar of iron was appraised at $60.

Port wine at $7 per gallon must have been a luxury and the trappers must have cared little if the town was voted dry. Tea and coffee are listed at $8 a pound and 84 pounds of sugar cost $4.85. Flour cost $16 per barrel, salt 12 1/2 cents a pound and butter, when they had any, was 52 cents per pound.

Cloth and clothing also came high. The ledger contains an item of two pairs of stockings, $3, and John Campbell paid $8.50 for a grey cloth capot. One customer at the trading post paid $9.75 for 18 yards of calico, which would be reckoned high today at $1, while 86 yards of Irish linen cost $41.86, or $1.86 per yard. Two down shirt buttons brought the trader 60 cents and an ounce of thread with which to sew them on cost 60 cents more. A luxury-loving individual who pined for a look at his own face, paid $10 for a small mirror.

Other entries in the old ledger show that prices were high in proportion with the exception of shoes, which averaged $1.25 per pair. Whether the use of moccasins in the winter and no foot-covering at all in the summer made store shoes a drug on the market is not stated in the book, but the item "shoes" appears but few times and the prices are low.

An inventory of the Mackinac store in 1886, nearly 80 years after the first entry was made, shows the stock on hand to be worth nearly 13,000. Evidently the Mackinac store had become a distributing station for a number of other stores, for accounts are charged to the Green Bay, St. Josephs, Iroquois River and other outfits either trading parties or established stores. Wabash and Milwaukee posts are also mentioned, but at an earlier date. That the traders wore exploiting the Indians is shown by items which appear in their accounts such as cock feathers, fancy hat bands, arm and wrist bands, ear bobs, white wampum, etc.

The establishment of Fort Mackinac brought new customers to the store, and accounts are charged to Capt. Barney, Capt. Green, Capt. Pierce and Lieut. Curtis. The latter either had literary inclinations, or else had left a sweetheart behind him in the "States." Many times in the ledger appears the charge "to one quire ruled paper, $1.25," a figure considerably above the present cost of stationery.

Mr. Davidson values the book very highly and cannot he induced to let it leave his possession even temporarily. "It is interesting and I believe valuable now," he says, " and its value will be considerably more in later years."

Friday, August 1, 1913 Paper: Flint Journal (Flint, Michigan) Page: 10