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Henry Sibley, Autobiography

Unfinished autobiography of Minnesota's first governor, Henry Sibley


In 1858, Henry Sibley was elected the first governor of Minnesota and went on to become one of the most prominent figures in the early history of the state. This database is his unfinished autobiography. In it he recounts his experiences in the fur trade business, leading the state militia against the Sioux in 1862-63, and growing up in Detroit. Researchers will find commentary on the settlements at Mackinac, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago, including a cholera epidemic that broke out in eastern Michigan. For researchers of the fur trade and early settlements in Wisconsin and Minnesota, this can be an interesting and illuminating narrative.

Extended Description

This account focuses on the fur trade experiences of Henry Hastings Sibley (1811-1891), better known as commander of the military forces suppressing the Sioux [Dakota] uprisings of 1862 and 1863, and, in 1858, Minnesota's first governor. Sibley was born in Detroit to a prominent family of New England ancestry but spurned a settled life in that community for a more adventurous career, including a stint as a clerk for John Jacob Astor, and later as the American Fur Company's agent in trading with the Sioux [Dakota]. He began this reminiscence in 1883, at the age of 73, and seems to have added to it as late as 1886. The events he writes about, however, do not extend beyond 1835. Sibley shares his insights about voyageurs, native Americans, and life in military forts and trading settlements, although little of this material relates specifically to Minnesota. There is some commentary on settlements at Mackinac, Milwaukee, St. Peter's (Mendota), and Chicago, as well as the city of Detroit, where cholera reached epidemic proportions in the first half of the nineteenth century. The book also contains eleven letters from Sibley to Ramsay Crooks, agent and eventual president of the American Fur Company.

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