William Alexander Aitkin was born in Scotland in 1785. He moved to Canada with his family when he was little. In 1802, Aitkin got his first job in the fur trade as a clerk. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1820.

In Aitkin's early years, he worked for a trader named Charles Ermatinger. Ermatinger had a daughter named Madeleine. She was half-Ojibwe. Aitkin married Madeleine in 1818. This made him the husband of Chief Broken Tooth's granddaughter and the son-in-law of an influential trader. He developed a close relationship with the Ojibwe and the Ojibwe called him Sha-gah-naush-eence, which means "Little Englishmen".

In 1824, Aitkin became a partner in the American Fur Company. He controlled several posts and opened a fishery at Grand Portage. Aitkin was fired by American Fur Company's new owner, Ramsey Crooks in 1838. Aitkin had worked for American Fur Company 14 years. The American Fur Company went out of business four years later.

In 1840 Aitkin returned to this region because he had made arrangements in St. Louis to supply his independent trade operation. He built the Mud River Post on the Mississippi and Mud Rivers.

In 1841 Aitkin was accused of trading liquor and was forced further down the river.

William Aitkin died in 1851. He was 66 years old.

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