The Sutler

The Sutler

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Principally, every frontier fort and Indian Agency had a sutler in close proximity. The Sutler was a government licensed private merchant who sold provisions and commercial goods such as tobacco, coffee, blankets and tools at the fort or agency. In many cases, these Sutlers would move with the soldiers from one location to the next. The Sutler also could sell his merchandise to soldiers, civilians and Indians. With Army rations so minimal, the soldiers relied on the Sutler for the comfort items needed to survive their grueling posts.

Under the British system in North America, the Sutler was a government paid employee like the Indian Agent himself. They weren’t allowed to make a profit. In fact, a Sutler was required to sell his merchandise to the Indians at 68% of the cost. He was reimbursed the difference by the British Government. The British ideology was to buy the Indians’ friendship with “good deeds and good deals.”

The British Factory System was adopted by the U.S. Congress after the Revolutionary War but abandoned in 1822 under pressure from the States to privatize the practice. Bargain prices now were replaced with steep prices. Privatization resulted in Sutlers holding a monopoly for goods in rural areas. This often led to tension.

Fort King’s Sutler store was run by Sutler Erastus Rogers. On December 25, 1835, he began moving his merchandise inside Fort King due to rising hostilities with the Seminole. He was worried that the Seminole might seek revenge for the higher prices and interest payments he was charging them and destroy his materials. On December 28, 1835, this fear would become a reality when Osceola and other Seminoles attacked Fort King, killing Erastus Rogers along with the Indian Removal Agent and others.