American Indian Factory Records
An official early policy of the federal government was to trade with the Native Americans. A system of factories (government-owned trading posts) was established and maintained, with the hope that such a system would create harmony with the tribes and make them more dependent upon government supplied goods, and thereby more subject to its control.
Some twenty factories existed from 1795 to 1822 in the South and the newly opened Old Northwest Territory. The government trader, or factor, was to provide quality goods at a fair price, usually only slightly above cost, to the Indians. Goods included tools, clothing, tobacco, utensils, and sometimes weapons and ammunition. These were traded for animal skins and fur.
The factory system was abolished by the federal government in 1822, following the War of 1812 and the financial Panic of 1819.
Almost all of the records of these trading posts that still exist are a part of Record Group 75 (Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in the National Archives and Records Administration System. Some of those included in this collection are the letters sent and received, daybooks, journals, ledgers, miscellaneous accounts, and other records of the following:
Factories or Trading Posts
Arkansas Factory, 1805-10
Belle Fontaine Factory, 1805-9
Cherokee Factory (Tellico and Hiwassee), 1796-1810
Chicago Factory, 1805-22
Chickasaw Bluffs Factory, 1806-18
Choctaw Factory, 1803-25
Creek Factory, 1795- 1821
Detroit Factory, 1802-4
Fort Edwards Factory, 1818-23
Fort Madison Factory, 1808-15
Fort Wayne Factory, 1803-12
Green Bay Factory, 1815-23
Mackinac (Michilimackinac) Factory, 1808- 12
Natchitoches-Sulphur Fork Factory, 1806-23
Osage Factory, 1808-23
Prairie du Chien Factory, 1815-22
Sandusky Factory, 1806-12
Spadre Bluffs (Illinois Bayou) Factory, 1818-24.
The factors at each trading house was supposed to keep rather extensive financial records for the time, including day books, ledgers, journals, letter books, cashbooks, and invoice books. Not all were diligent in keeping such records and few recording the names of individual Indians in the records they did keep. Most of the records of the factories were general or reports of their activity.
While these records likely will not provide detailed information about individual Indians, they do contain history of the traders, the trading posts, and the tribes with which they dealt.
Hill, Edward E. Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. Washington, D.C., National Archives, 1984.