Nelson Next Socrates Nelson--Fur Trader  


1845 Account Book

  In the summer of 1839, at the age of 25, Socrates Nelson headed west to seek his fortune as a fur trader. As best we can tell, he traded along the Illinois River between Hennepin, in Putnam County, Illinois, and St. Louis on the Mississippi River until 1843/44 when he moved north up the Mississippi. A.B. Easton (History of the St. Croix Valley), W.H.C. Folsom (Fifty Years in the Northwest) and Edward Neill (History of Washington County and the St. Croix Valley) credit Socrates Nelson with establishing a trading post at the mouth of the Chippewa River which became known as Nelson's Landing, near the present town of Nelson, Wisconsin. His partner at Nelson's Landing, and later in Stillwater, was Levi Churchill.

Nelson and Churchill then moved further up the Missisippi and it's tributary the St. Croix River to Stillwater, Minnesota. Folsom writes, "Socrates Nelson came about this time [spring of 1844] and built the first store in Stillwater. His family joined him soon afterward." Apparently, Socrates went back to Hennepin, Illinois, in the fall of 1844 and married Betsy D. Bartlett on October 23, 1844, returning with her to Stillwater where he had established his general store.

Folsom writes of his arrival in Stillwater aboard the steamer Highland Mary in September, 1844: "We landed just in front of the store of Nelson & Co...South of Nelson's alley, one-half mile down the lake, three-fourths of a mile west, was S. Nelson's claim. When the government survey was made, these claims and lines were amicably adjusted and confirmed." Easton writes: "A large portion of the city of Stillwater is built on land purchased of the government by Mr. Nelson in 1845."

I have inherited a small account book from Socrates Nelson's general store and fur trading business which provides an interesting view into his business activities in 1845. For example, he paid $4.00 for an otter or Fisher skin, but only 50 cents for a mink skin. At his general store a can of sardines cost $1.25, a half-bushel of potatoes was 25 cents, a yard of calico sold for 10 to 20 cents, 37 cents for a belt, and $1.00 would get you a pair of pants.

Socrates Nelson's 1845 Account Book