George Davenport was born in 1783 in Lincolnshire, England. As a young adult, Davenport was apprenticed to his merchant uncle and travelled with him around the Baltic Sea for business. After a leg injury in 1804 in New York, the doctor ordered him to rest in the country in order to heal properly. He joined the army and participated in the War of 1812 and the Peoria War (1813).
He came to Rock Island, Illinois in 1816 with Colonel Lawrence on an expedition to Fort Armstrong, in present day Rock Island, Illinois. After Davenport was discharged, he became a merchant and began trading with local Illinois and Iowa Native American tribes.
Davenport began a business partnership with Russell Farnham in 1819, and together they founded Farnhamsburg, part of present-day Rock Island, Illinois. In 1826, Davenport and Farnham resigned from their business to become agents for John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company and oversee the company’s interests from Iowa to the Turkey River, a northern tributary river of the Mississippi River near present-day Millville, Iowa and Cassville, Wisconsin .
In 1835, Davenport along with six others, including Antoine LeClaire, purchased land along the Mississippi River across from the present-day arsenal and named the city Davenport, Iowa on 23 February 1836. In 1828, Davenport became the United States Indian Agent representative to the Sauk and Fox tribes until 1840. Davenport left the American Fur Company in 1842 and retired to his private home in Rock Island. Three years later, a band of ruffians broke into Davenport’s home and murdered him during a robbery attempt.
Russell Farnham was born in Massachusetts in 1784. He is best known as a fur trader and for his work with John Jacob Astor to establish the Pacific Fur Company at the mouth of the Columbia River. He was a member of the Astor Expedition headed by Wilson P. Hunt during 1810-1812 and he was the first American to semi-circumnavigate the world, travelling by foot from Fort Astoria (now Astoria, Oregon) to St. Petersburg, Russia in 1814.
After Farnham’s return from his semi-circumnavigation trip, Astor employed Farnham to oversee his business interests of the American Fur Company in the Great Lakes region, but he was arrested as a spy ca. late 1814 during the War of 1812. After several appeals by Farnham’s friends at the trial of Prairie du Chien, the British authorities dropped the charges. In 1817, Farnham again travelled to the Midwest on behalf of the American Fur Company, and later formed a partnership with George Davenport to trade with the Sauk and Fox tribes in the Mississippi Valley.
In 1826 while trading at Fort Armstrong, near present-day Rock Island, Illinois, Farnham and Davenport founded a settlement along the Mississippi River known as Stephenson. Along with the town of Farnhamsburg, the two settlements would eventually become the site of Rock Island, Illinois. Farnham also founded Muscatine, Iowa a few years later, after leaving the Rock Island area.
In 1827 Farnham formed the American Fur Company’s Upper Missouri Outfit with Ramsey Crooks. He remained in charge of the Fort Edwards trading post, and in 1829, he founded another trading post several miles upriver at present-day Keokuk, Iowa.
Farnham was married to two a Native American woman named Agathe Wood from 1820-1826 and had one daughter. When he moved to St. Louis in 1826, he married his second wife, Susan Bosseron. He died of cholera in St. Louis on 23 October 1823.
Amos Farrar was born on 5 March 1796 in Concord, Massachusetts. Farrar was a partner of George Davenport and Russell Farnham as traders on the Mississippi River.
In 1821, Farrar succeeded Colonel George Davenport as the representative of the firm of Davenport, Farrar, & Farnham, agents for the American Fur Company at Portage on the Fever River, near present-day Galena, Illinois. He traded with the Sac and Fox Native Americans. He married a Fox woman and had three children with her, but they all passed away. In 1823, he acquired a trading house on the bank of the river, between Perry and Franklin Streets in Galena, Illinois. In 1825, Farrar received a permit from Charles Smith to occupy five acres of United States land for cultivation and built another cabin on that land.
In 1830, he married his second wife, Sophia Gear. Farrar died of consumption (tuberculosis) in Galena, Illinois on 26 July 1832.
Thomas Forsyth was born in 1771 in Detroit, Michigan. He began trading with Native Americans in his youth and spent several years living with the Ottawas on Saginaw Bay, Michigan. Later in his life, he formed a trade partnership with his half-brother, John Kinzie and his son, Robert Forsyth; the trio began a trading post in Chicago in 1802. In 1804, Forsyth married Keziah Malote, moved to Peoria, Illinois and established himself as a trader and Indian sub-agent in Peoria.
Opposed to the War of 1812, Forsyth persuaded the Potawatomi of the Illinois River to remain neutral, but Illinois Ranger Captain Thomas E. Craig captured Forsyth and took him prisoner in December 1812. After the War of 1812, Forsyth began trading again with Sauk and Fox Native Americans primarily at Fort Armstrong, near present-day Rock Island, Illinois. He continued to trade until his retirement to St. Louis, Missouri in 1830, where he lived until his death in 1833.
Antoine LeClaire was born in 1797 in St. Joseph, Michigan. He had a French-Canadian father and a Potawatomi mother. William Clark, co-leader of Lewis and Clark expedition, sponsored his education in English and many different Native American languages. He first received employment as an interpreter at Fort Armstrong, near present-day Rock Island, Illinois, in 1818 and married Margaret LePage in 1820.
LeClaire was also employed as an interpreter during the Black Hawk War and for many years after continued to help interpret for Native Americans in the area and for treaties. In the 1832 treaty at the end of the Black Hawk War, the Native Americans insisted that LeClaire be given two sections of land.
LeClaire continued to prosper as an interpreter and in trade. Later in his life, his land and trading enterprises were worth $500,000. Along with George Davenport and others, LeClaire helped purchase the land that would become the city of Davenport, Iowa in 1835. LeClaire lived in Davenport until his death in 1861.
Sources used for biographies:
“Lithographic Portraits.” A History of Ogle County, Illinois, containing A History of the County – Its Cities, Towns, Etc.. Chicago: H. F. Kett & Co., 1878. 255-261.
Thrapp, Dan L. “Davenport, George.” Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: A-F. Volume I. Glendale: First Bison Book printing, 1991. 376-377.
Thrapp, Dan L. “Farnham, Russell.” Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: A-F. Volume I. Glendale: First Bison Book printing, 1991. 483.
Thrapp, Dan L. “Forsyth, Thomas.” Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: A-F. Volume I. Glendale: First Bison Book printing, 1991. 510.
Thrapp, Dan L. “LeClaire, Antoine.” Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: G-O. Volume II. Glendale: First Bison Book printing, 1991. 376-377.
Van der Zee, Jacob. "Fur Trade Operations in the Eastern Iowa County from 1800 to 1833." Ed. Benjamin F. Shambaugh. The Iowa Journal of History and Politics XII (1914): 479-567 [bulk: “Licensed Traders and Their Posts in the Iow Country After 1824," 540-549].
Trade Ledgers, Indian Accounts, possibly from Antoine LeClaire, 1819-1820 [photocopied pages of original trade ledger]
Trade Ledgers, Settlers’ Accounts, Davenport and Farrar Trading Post, 1823-1824
Trade Ledgers, Indian Accounts, Russell Farnham Trading Post, ca. 1824 [photocopied pages of original trade ledger]
Trade Ledgers, Indian Accounts, possibly Antoine LeCLaire’s, 1826
Trade Ledgers, Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1827
Trade Ledgers, Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1829-1830
Trade Ledgers, Credit Book of Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1830
Trade Ledgers, George Davenport’s Daybook of Indians’ and Settlers’ Accounts, 1833
Trade Ledgers, Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1833-1834
Trade Ledgers, Indians’ and Settlers’ Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1835
List of Persons Liscensed [sic] to Trade with Indian Nations, 1822-1827
Russell Farnham letter to George Davenport, 1832
*Slides, Settlers’ Accounts, Davenport and Farrar Trading Post, 1823-1824, Cover-page 193
Slides, Settlers’ Accounts, Davenport and Farrar Trading Post, 1823-1824, pages 194-268, and Indian Accounts, possibly Antoine LeCLaire’, 1826, Cover-page 110
Slides, Indian Accounts, possibly Antoine LeCLaire’, 1826, pages 111-123, Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1827, cover-page82, and Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1829-1830, Cover-page 95
Slides, Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1829-1830, pages 96-158, and Credit Book of Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1830, Cover-page 112
Slides, George Davenport’s Daybook of Indians’ and Settlers’ Accounts, 1833, Cover-page 84, Indian Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1833-1834, Cover-page 66, and Indians’ and Settlers’ Accounts, George Davenport Trading Post, 1835, Cover-page 44
“The Indian Trade at Rock Island” by William D. Barge, copy of paper read at Rock Island County Historical Society meeting, 1920
“A Glimpse at Colonel George Davenport’s Trade with Sauk, Mesquakie, and Kickapoo” by Aaron
*Please note:each slide has three numbers on it to indicate which book it is from and which page number of the book it is. The following is a list of corresponding numbers with each book:
“1-3-page number” = 1823-1824 ledger
“2-4-page number” = 1826 ledger
“2-5-page number” = 1827 ledger
“2-6-page number” = 1829-1830 ledger
“2-7-page number” = 1830 ledger
“3-9-page number” = 1833 ledger
“3-10-page number” = 1833-1834 ledger
“3-11-page number” = 1835 ledger