Among all of the Great Merchants, Astor isn't the most memorable: he is not so weak that you can immediately disregard him, nor is he so impressive that you need to go out of your way to get him. In the vanilla version of the game, he unfortunately arrives at around the same time as Adam Smith, the king of all Great People, so there's no reason to recruit Astor if Smith is still in the pool. From Rise and Fall onward, both Astor and Smith are quite a lot stronger than John Spilsbury, the third Industrial Great Merchant, which puts them on similar ground. Between Smith and Astor, one gives you a Governor title and one gives you 2 Envoys, so your choice will depend on your current game and preference.
In the Monopolies and Corporations game mode, Astor becomes more useful, as he can build a Corporation not long after he is unlocked. If he's the last Industrial Great Merchant left in the pool, consider saving your points, since three Modern Great Merchants - Stamford Raffles, John Rockefeller, and Sarah Breedlove - are a whole lot more powerful.
The first multi-millionaire of the United States (certainly not the last) and the first to create a corporate trust, John Jacob Astor was a self-made tycoon who built his fortune on the fur industry. Born near Heidelberg in July 1763 AD, he was the son of a poor but happy butcher, and learned to be frugal from his mother. With a basic education and not much else, John decided to go to America.
Astor made his way from Baltimore to New York, where he opened a fur shop in 1786. Between 1790 and 1808 his agents collected furs from trappers operating as far west as Michigan. The Jay Treaty in 1794 forced the British out of the region, and in short order Astor had expanded his operations throughout the Great Lakes territories. Following the Louisiana Purchase, Astor turned his attention to dominating the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest; he obtained an exclusive charter to form the American Fur Company. After another war with England, Astor convinced Congress to pass laws that banned foreigners from engaging in the fur trade within American borders. By 1830, he had eliminated all the independent fur traders and had a virtual monopoly on the fur trade from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. But then John lost interest, and retired from his company in 1834.
Instead, he dabbled in real estate, notably in booming New York City. He bought and sold properties, sometimes multiple times … increasing the rent with each transaction. Offices, businesses, grand homes, and slums, Astor profited from the rocketing value of land on the confined island of Manhattan. During the last decade of his life, it is estimated that he made in excess of 1.25 million dollars annually in rents alone. At the time of his death in March 1848, he was the largest landlord in the city.