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John Askin (Erskine)

John Askin, the son of James Askin & Alice Rae was born in Northern Ireland. John came to New York in 1758 and became a sutler of the British Army stationed at Albany. About 1765 he moved to Michilimackinac and established a store, providing goods to the community & the British Army who were stationed there. Soon after arriving at Michilimackinac, Askin established a post at Grand Portage and was instrumental in the depot becoming a trading center.

At Michilimackinac he created ties to Arent DePeyster (British commander), Commodore Alexander Grant, Isaac Todd, James McGill & Alexander Henry which allowed him to expand his fur trading ventures. In 1773 he married Marie Archange Barthe at Detroit and aligned himself with not only his father-in-law (Charles Andrew Barthe) but also became brother-in-law to Commodore Alexander Grant (Commander of the Provincial Marine on the Great Lakes).

In 1778 Askin owned two vessels which sailed between Grand Portage and Sault Ste. Marie named the “Mackinac” & the “De Peyster”. He was importing supplies & provisions for the firm of Todd & McGill who in turn supplied Askin with trading goods. About 1780 he moved his business to Detroit. The new firm established Hamilton & Cartwright to manage affairs at Fort Niagara, Todd & McGill managed matters in Montreal and Askin coordinated operations from Detroit. During this period the firm supplied goods for the British military, the British Indian Department and the fur trade in the west. This arrangement lasted until 1784, when the fur trade began suffering losses due to scarcity of furs and increased competition. In 1784 this partnership dissolved and John formed a partnership with Detroit merchant William Robertson which lasted until 1789.

By 1785 Todd & McGill and Askin were involved in the “General Company of Lake Superior and the South” and Askin was also in partnership with the “Miami Company” at Detroit but low profits in the fur trade continued. In the 1790’s (until Detroit was turned over to the American military in 1796) John was involved in the Miami Company, land speculation, Great Lakes shipping, supplying provisions (to the North West Co. & the British garrison at Detroit) & public office. When Detroit became an American community Askin relocated east across the river preferring to remain a British subject.

Submitted by David Ricketts