A Trader’s Accounts

We can consult documents written by fur traders in order to get to know something about their life. Here, we’ll take a look at a few pages from one of the account books of a Quebec fur trader named Joseph Bailly (1774-1835). Bailly was born near Montreal and worked principally in the area that is at present Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. You can visit his home in the area called the Bailly Homestead at the Indiana Dunes National Park on Lake Michigan to see where he traded and lived for the last decades of his life.

Porter County Museum

Bailly Homestead, Indiana Dunes National Park (Photo: D. Grosnick)

Bailly traded with the Native people himself and also hired men to trade for him: these employees were the voyageurs who spent the winter at small trading posts that Bailly maintained in Michigan, Indiana, or Illinois, exchanging manufactured goods for furs.

In his account books—all of which are in French—Bailly recorded the goods that he purchased, the goods that he sold, and the furs or skins he received from his Native trading partners. He also listed his employees and the wages paid to them, though we have not reproduced that information here.

Here are excerpts from some of the lists of merchandise and furs that are recorded in one of Bailly’s account books dating from 1800.

First of all, we see two partial lists of merchandise that Bailly and his men traded with the Native people for furs, first in French and then translated into English. Note that Bailly’s spelling in French sometimes differs from the modern French spelling.

Porter County Museum

Excerpt from Bailly Account Book, Porter County Museum

6 juin 1800 6 June 1800
6 ¼ lb de poudre 6 ¼ lb of (gun)powder
4 lb de balles 4 lb of gunballs (shot)
¾ Dn Coutteaux boucheron ¾ Dozen butcher knives
1 chemise flanel Fleurye 1 shirt of flowered flannel
1 piece dindiene trette 1 piece of trade indienne cloth
4 Coutteau a ressort 4 spring knife
3 lb ½ de tabac 3 lb ½ of tobacco
2 mouchoir de soie 2 silk handkerchiefs
½ grosse de Tavel ½ gross of ribbon
1 paire de Cyzeaux 1 pair of scissors
1 peigne dhivoire 1 ivory comb
1 vg ¾ de drap 1 yard ¾ of cloth
¼ lb de vermillion ¼ lb of vermillion
36 petits grelots 36 small bells
Porter County Museum

Bailly Account Book, Porter County Museum

7 juin 1800 7 June 1800
60 epinglette 60 small brooches
30 paire pendandaureille 30 pairs earrings
10 paire ditto carré 10 pairs ditto square
3 paire brasselet pagnet 3 pair wrist bracelets
40 petites Croix 40 small crosses
6 Epinglets a Coeur 6 heart-shaped small brooches
Porter County Museum

Bailly Account Book, Porter County Museum

Next, we see the furs that were brought in for trade by the Native people. These peltries were traded in Michigan, in the region near the Grand River. Note that “chats” are raccoons, and “rats” are muskrats.

11 juilliet 1800 11 July 1800
531 peau de chevreuille 531 deerskins
61 louttres 61 otters
24 oursons 24 bear cubs
31 ours 31 bears
67 Peccants 67 fishers
11 Renard 11 fox
40 Foutras 40 mink
245 Martres 245 martens
222 Chats 222 raccoons
1934 Rats 1934 muskrats
1 Pichou 1 lynx
172 lb de Castor 172 lbs of beaver
Porter County Museum

Cover of Bailly Account Book, Porter County Museum

And finally, we can see examples of what would have been used for everyday life traveling or living away from cities or towns, items that Joseph Bailly purchased for himself or for the use of his employees in the Great Lakes region.

8 juin 1800 8 June 1800
1 voell 1 sail
2 Cadnat double 2 double padlocks
40 poche 40 sacks
1 petite romaine 1 small scale
1 tente et les bois 1 tent and poles
11 couverts 3 p 11 3-point blankets
18 chemises de coton 18 cotton shirts
48 lb de tabac 48 lb of tobacco
19 lb de savon 19 lb of soap
18 mouchoir bleu 18 blue handkerchiefs