Drummond’s Island

Last Updated on December 8, 2014 by Dennis

The name of Drummond’s Island is familiar as the place of annual resort of thousands of Indians, to receive presents from the British Government. The following description of this Island was verbally given to me, while at Mackinaw, by a very respectable inhabitant of that island.

Drummond’s Island lies on the Strait which connects Lake Huron with Lake Superior, thirty-six miles north-east, in a direct course, forty-five by water, from Mackinaw. It is forty-five miles in circumference, four or five miles from the Canada shore, on the north or British side of the channel of the strait, which forms a part of the boundary line between the United States and the Canadas. A British garrison of about one hundred and forty men in barracks, is established on the south side of the island, on a spacious harbor, one of the best on the Lakes, three miles in circumference, sheltered from every wind, entered by two narrow, deep channels, about sixty yards wide. The island is rough, made up chiefly of limestone, without any buildings or inhabitants, other than the barracks, and soldiers. Here are found many singular and curious petrifications, and stones, which would gratify the geologist and mineralogist. Originally the island was covered with birch, maple and beach, which is now principally gone. The soil, though stoney, yields, plentifully, potatoes, garden roots and vegetables, and food for many cattle.

In the month of June many thousands of the various tribes of Indians, within a circuit of five or six hundred miles around, south west, west and north west, resort to this island to receive presents from the British government, to an amount at least of £4000 sterling, in goods, beside a large sum in provisions. These presents are made, said my informant, “as a reward to the Indians for their services in the late war.” ” The Indians,” he added, ” were ill used by the British Government, and these presents are made to compensate and conciliate them—but all is thrown away upon them, and does them no good.”

This opinion, I believe to be correct. These presents serve to make the Indians, who receive them, idle and vain. A great deal of time, as well as property, is wasted, in going and returning from this place of resort. And during their visits at Mackinaw, as they go and come, their necessities are supplied from the provision stores of our government. We are thus made to suffer loss of property, as well as the effects of bad influence.

The following is from Mr. Doty’s letter to Governor Cass, and relates to the Indian trade on, and around Sandy Lake, two miles from the Mississippi.

” A skin is estimated at $2. A half point blanket is sold for four skins. One fathom of stroud, the same. A half pint of powder one skin. Thirty balls, same. Five branches, or two hundred and fifty grains of wampum, one skin. A north west cased gun, ten skins; one beaver trap four skins; a large scalping knife, half a skin; twist tobacco, two skins pr. fathom, three plugs for a skin, and four skins pr. cwt. Forty branches of white beads, one skin. A pair of leggins, with ribbons and beads to garnish them, two skins; one ” half axe” one skin, one hatchet, one skin.— These are the principal articles of trade. Divers other things are given as presents. If any Indian obtains a credit for his supplies for the season, he must be furnished with a flint, a needle, an awl, a gun worm, a little vermillion, rings, beads, and three or four inches of tobacco, besides various other articles, for which the trader charges nothing. In a credit of six hundred skins, if the trader gets three hundred in return for his goods, he considers himself recompensed. He frequently does not obtain even this proportion. The articles received from the Indians, are sugar, rice, and furs. A Mocock of sugar, weighing about forty pounds, is received for four skins; a sack of rice, two skins; a large prime beaver, two skins; a large prime otter, two skins; three martens, one skin; three minks, one; ten muskrats, one; a prime bear, two skins; two prime bucks, one skin; three raccoons, one; two lynxs, one; and two fishers, one.

An axe is so essential an article with an Indian, that he is generally punctual in paying for it; and on returning from his hunt, he lays out a certain number of skins in payment for his axe, and calls the trader to notice it.

The American South West Fur Company have the chief trade of this country; but they sustain a considerable injury from the small traders. They sent from Leech Lake last year (1819) thirty-eight packs—from Sandy Lake, twenty-five—and from Fond du Lac, nine. This year, (1820) from the first place, fifty-three, the second, thirty-five, and the third, fifteen. Last year, the whole return was not as much as usual, and this year rather more.”

From Mackinaw I addressed a letter, containing certain queries, to Maj. Marston, at Fort Armstrong; from his answers to which, I give in this place, the following extracts:

“I will now proceed, agreeably to your request, to give you my ideas relative to the Indian trade, &c. &c.

In the first place, I have to observe, that the Factory system for supplying the Indians with such articles as they may need, does not appear to me to be productive of any great advantage, either to the Indians themselves, or to the Government. But very few, if any, of the Indians have sufficient forecast to save enough of the proceeds of their last hunt, to equip themselves for the next; the consequence is, that when the hunting season approaches, they must be dependent on some one for a credit. An Indian family generally consists of from five to ten persons, his wife, children, children in law, and grand children; all of whom look to its head for their supplies; and the proceeds of the hunt go into one common stock, which is disposed of by him for the benefit of the whole.

When cold weather approaches, they are generally destitute of many articles necessary for their convenience and comfort, besides guns, traps, and ammunition; some kettles, blankets, strouding, &c. which are always wanting; for these articles they have no one to look to but the private trader, as it is well known that the United States Factors give no credit; but if they did, the number of these establishments is too limited to accommodate but very few of the Indians, as but few of them will travel far to get their supplies, if it can be avoided: and farther, the Indians, who are good judges of the quality of the articles they want, are of the opinion, that the Factor’s goods are not so cheap, taking into consideration their quality, as those of their private traders. In this I feel pretty well convinced, from my own observation, and the acknowledgment of one of the most respectable Factors of our Government, Judge Johnson, of Prairie du Chien, that they are correct. This gentleman informed me, but a few months ago, that the goods received for his establishment were charged at least 25 per cent, higher, than their current prices; and that he had received many articles of an inferior and unsuitable quality for Indian trade.*

* A similar complaint was made by the Six Nations at Buffalo the last August, when I was present. A member of Congress, I was told, had been invited

The annuities paid by Government to the Sauk and Fox nations, appear to be a cause of dissatisfaction among them, in consequence of their not being able to divide and subdivide the articles received, so as to give every one a part. I believe that powder, flints, and tobacco would be much more acceptable to them, than the blankets, strouding, &c. which they have been in the habit of receiving.

If you speak to an Indian upon the subject of their Great Father, the President, supplying them with goods from his factories, he will say at once, ” You are a pash-i-pash-i-to, (a fool) our Great Father is certainly no trader; he has sent these goods to be given to us, as presents; but his Agents are endeavoring to cheat us, by selling them for our peltries.”

The amount of goods actually disposed of to Indians, by the United States’ Factors at Green Bay, Chicago, Prairie du Chien, and Fort Edwards, if I am rightly informed, is very inconsiderable. The practice of selling goods to the whites, and of furnishing outfits to Indian Traders, are the principal causes of their sales being so great as they actually are.

In my opinion the best plan of supplying the natives, is by private American traders of good character, if they could be placed under proper restrictions.

In the first place, it is for their interest to please the Indians, and prevent their having whiskey, particularly when they are on their hunting grounds, and to give them good advice.

Secondly. They always give them a credit sufficient to enable them to commence hunting.

Thirdly. They winter near their hunting grounds, and agreeably to the suggestions of a late Secretary of War, take to themselves ” help mates” from the daughters of the forest, and thereby do much towards civilizing them.

to inspect the goods and to witness the fact of their inferiority. It was asserted to me, that much better goods, and at a less price than those which were distributed at this time fan annuity payment) by the Indian Agent, could have been purchased at New-York. Had the amount due these Indians been judiciously expended in that city, the Indians, it was said, might have been benefitted by it, in the quality of their goods, several hundred dollars. It was added, that the Indians are good judges of the quality of goods, and know when they were well or ill treated. But they had, in this case, no means of redress.

Fourthly. They always have comfortable quarters for the Indians, when they visit them, and by the frequent intercourse, which subsists between them, become acquainted with us, and imperceptibly imbibe many of our ideas, manners, and customs.

Fifthly. From interested motives, if from no other, Traders will always advise the Indians to keep at peace among themselves, and with the whites.

There are some changes which I think might be made to advantage, in the regulations for Indian Traders. In the first place, with a view to do away the impression, which almost universally prevails in the minds of the Indians in this part of the country, that the Traders, Clerks, Interpreters, Boatmen, and Laborers, and also their goods, are almost all British. This, unfortunately, is nearly the truth; for there is scarcely a single boatman or laborer employed by the Traders, who is not a British subject.— Their goods, it is well known, are almost altogether of British manufacture. I would recommend that no clerk, interpreter, boatman or laborer be employed by them, who is not a citizen of the United States; and further, that every Trader be obliged to display the American flag on his boat, when passing on the water, and at his tent or hut, when encamped.

The best and most successful means which could be employed by Government to civilize the Indians, or rentier them less savage, than they now are, in my opinion, would be, for the Agent of each nation to reside at, or near, one of their principal villages, there t& have a comfortable habitation, and a Council room sufficiently large to accommodate all who might wish to attend his councils: To employ a blacksmith and a carpenter, and, of course, have shops and suitable tools for them. Every nation requires a great deal of blacksmith work; there would probably be less for a carpenter to do, but he might be advantageously employed in making agricultural instruments, &c. &,c. Let him cultivate, in the vicinity of the village, with the consent of the nation, a small farm, and keep a small stock of horses, oxen, and cows. It should be understood among the Indians, that the farming establishment is solely for the benefit of the Agent. Should it be known among them, that the object was to learn them to cultivate the soil, as the whites do, they would most certainly object to it; but if this is not known, they will soon see the advantages of employing the plough, harrow, &c. &c. and be induced to imitate our examples, and thus get on the road which leads to civilization, before they are aware of it.

If an Agent of Government should go among them, as has sometimes been the case, and inform them, that he has been sent by their Great Father, the President, to learn them how to cultivate the soil, spin, weave cloth, and live like white people, they would be sure to set their faces against him, and his advice, and say that he is a fool; that Indians are not like white people; the Great Spirit has not made them of the same color, neither has he made them for the same occupations.

The next step towards their civilization would probably be, that some of their old people would remain at their respective villages, if they could be assured of being secure from their enemies, while the others are on their hunting grounds; thus they would go on from step to step, until they would become civilized, and prepared to receive and enjoy the blessings of Christianity.

I consider it important that Government should exchange, as soon as practicable, all British flags and medals, which the Indians may have in their possession, for American ones. The Sauk, or Sac, and Fox Indians, have no American flags at present, and but few American medals. If you speak to them of the impropriety of their displaying British flags, and wearing British medals, they will reply, ” we have no others; give us American flags and medals, and you will then see them only.” The flags given to them ought to be made of silk, their British flag being made of that material; besides, they are more durable, as well as more portable, than the worsted ones. One for each nation should be of a large size, for them to display at their villages on public occasions.— They have, at present, British flags considerably larger than the American army standards. The practice of painting these flags causes them to break, and soon wear out. They should be made in the same manner that navy flags are.” Fort Armstrong, Nov. 1820. Rev. Dr. Morse.

To the foregoing I could add the opinions and observations of many gentlemen of intelligence, with whom I have conversed on the subject. These opinions and observations were various, and of like tenor with those contained in the preceding documents, differing on some important (minis—but all concurring in the imperious necessity of radical changes in the present system of Indian Trade. A repetition of these opinions and observations, would throw no dew light on the subject.


Morse, Rev. Jedidiah. A Report to the Secretary of War of the United States on Indian Affairs, Printed by S. Converse, 1822.

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