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The Southern States of America
Chapter I - History of Missouri - The Provincial Period, 1682 - 1804


Early Explorations of Missouri.

THE name "Missouri," of doubtful origin and meaning, was applied first to an Indian tribe near the mouth of the river, then to the river, and finally to the territory and state. During the French and Spanish period the settlements within the present state boundaries were ordinarily spoken of as the Illinois country, or, with all the posts north of the Arkansas, as Upper Louisiana. "Missouri" was restricted to the settlements on that river. The scope of the present chapter, however, will be determined by the present meaning of the term.

If the more than doubtful visits of De Soto and Coronado be omitted, and the early explorations of the Mississippi be referred to Louisiana history, it may be said that the history of Missouri begins with the founding, about 1700, of Kaskaskia on the eastern bank of the Mississippi. This settlement of French Canadians developed from a mission and trading station into a prosperous agricultural district of several villages and perhaps 1,000 inhabitants, and was the headquarters for the earlier explorations and settlements in Missouri.

The incentives for the earlier explorations westward were twofold; the Indian trade on the Missouri River, and the lead mines on the Meramec and the St. Francois. For the most part these explorers were independent adventurers of the familiar French-Canadian type and left very fragmentary evidence of their activities. The only regular expeditions of importance were those of Du Tisne, who in 1718 ascended the Missouri beyond the mouth of the Osage, and later crossed southern Missouri to the great plains, and of Bourgmont, who two years later established Fort Orleans on the Missouri. This post, intended barrier to the Spanish, was located probably near the mouth of Grand River; it was abandoned in 1726. Meanwhile traders and miners from Kaskaskia were ascending the Missouri every year at least as early as 1705. Little is known of the individuals, but by 1720 the Missouri and its chief tributaries were known as far west as the present site of Kansas City.

French Occupation.

Opposite Kaskaskia, some sixty miles in length from the Meramec to the St. Francois and some thirty miles in width, was the "Mineral Region." These rich surface deposits of lead were made known to the earlier explorers by the Indians, visited by the Kaskaskia miners, and probably by the agents of Cruzat. The first systematic attempt to work the mines was made by the celebrated Company of the Indies of John Law, which sent out, in 1723, Philip Francois Renault as director-general of mining operations. The text of the grants to him of two tracts, on the Meramec and the St. Francois, show that the region was already well known, that at least one mine, Mine La Motte on the St. Francis, had been given a distinctive name, and that there were already miners or squatters on the ground.

Renault brought with him a shipload of negroes from San Domingo, thus introducing negro slavery into the Illinois country. From his headquarters in the Illinois side he continued to work his mines until 1742. The lead when smelted was carried on pack horses to the Mississippi and ferried over to the military post of Fort Chatres, and the miners in return drew their supplies from the east bank. Very naturally a number of farmers and boatmen established themselves on the western bank, so, at this crossing, a little below Fort Chatres, was established the first permanent settlement in Missouri, the village of St. Genevieve. The exact date is impossible to ascertain; it can hardly have been earlier than 1730 nor later than 1752. During the French period St. Genevieve was regarded part of the Kaskaskia settlements, but the records before 1766 are very scanty. [For the early mines, see Schoolcraft: Lead Mines of Missouri; for the date of St. Genevieve, Houck: Missouri, I., 337-339.]

St. Louis, the second settlement, was the result of a conscious effort to establish a trading post, and unlike the other settlements, originated from New Orleans. In 1762 the firm of Maxent, Laclede and Company of New Orleans, received a license for the Indian trade on the Missouri River, and the following year the junior partner came up the Mississippi to establish a post. This Pierre Laclede Liguest, or Laclede as he was usually known, was a native of Bearn who had come to New Orleans in 1755. He stopped first at St. Genevieve, but as he found no place to store his goods, crossed over to Fort Chatres where he spent the winter. On a preliminary exploration in December he selected the present site of St. Louis for his headquarters, and as soon as the ice was out of the river in 1764 crossed over, built his storehouse and residence and transferred his goods.

Spanish Occupation.

Meanwhile the news of the Treaty of Paris and the cession of the east bank of the Mississippi to Great Britain was arousing much dissatisfaction among the French at Kaskaskia. Either regarding the cession of the west bank to Spain as temporary, or preferring Spanish rule to the British, some forty families moved to St. Louis the first year. In 1765 and 1766 the movement became nearly a migration. One village, St. Phillip, was deserted by all except the commander of the militia. The French Commander at Fort Chatres, St. Ange, removed the garrison to St. Louis when the English took possession in 1765. No doubt many of the French went to St. Genevieve. In 1770 an official report gives the total population of Spanish Illinois as 891, equally divided between the two villages.

As Laclede held no commission and had no authority to grant land, he found this unexpected influx of settlers rather embarrassing. By common consent he exercised a general control and made verbal assignments of lots until St. Ange assumed jurisdiction, confirmed land titles, tried cases and established regulations. In 1767 the unfortunate d'Ulloa sent Captain Rui from New Orleans with a small force to establish a fort at the mouth of the Missouri, and in 1770 Captain Pedro Piernas took formal possession in the name of Spain. Piernas confirmed the grants and decisions of St. Ange, and the life of the people went on much as before. The discovery of new lead deposits at Mine a Breton in 1773 was a stimulus to mining and indirectly to St. Genevieve. At St. Louis Laclede was the leading merchant until his death in 1778. Population apparently increased slowly. In 1775 Piernas was succeeded by Francesco Cruzat, who in turn in 1778 gave away to de Leyba. Until the expedition of George Rogers Clark the history of Spanish Illinois was uneventful. [The most important source for the founding of St. Louis is Chouteau's Journal, in the Mercantile Library of St. Louis.]

American Immigrants.

The coming of the Americans was welcome to the Spanish, and Clark, who visited de Leyba soon after the capture of Kaskaskia, no doubt received some supplies from the Missouri settlements. But the contest for the Northwest involved the Spanish in two incidents, the details of which are still obscure. The English planned for 1780 a combined north and south attack, from Michilimacinac and the Gulf, on both the American and Spanish possessions in the Mississippi Valley. The energy of Galvez at New Orleans, who captured the British ports in Florida in 1779, ended the danger from the south, but in the spring of 1780 an expedition of Indians and English from Michilimackinac threatened Cahokia and Kaskaskia. After a repulse there, a large number of Indians crossed the river, plundered the outlying farms about St. Louis, killed or captured some settlers and, it would seem, made a half-hearted attack on the town. It is clear that the whole incident has been much exaggerated by local tradition, and it may be that no assault was attempted. It is clear that Clark did not cross the river to assist the Spaniards. [Billon, Annals St. Louis, I., 191-202; Scharf, St. Louis, ch. IX.]

During the summer the Spanish cooperated with the Americans in a punitive expedition to the Illinois River, and some Spanish subjects probably accompanied de la Balme and the French on the ill-fated raid against Detroit. In revenge for their losses on this expedition the Cahokians captured and plundered St. Joseph in 1781. The Spanish sent thirty militia men to aid the Cahokians, and according to the official Spanish account, the expedition marched under the Spanish flag and took possession of St. Joseph in the name of Spain. The statement on the face of it is improbable, and the desire of the Spanish government to advance some claim to the Northwest for capital in the negotiations of peace is obvious. The official account, however, is explicit. The lieutenant-governor continued to cooperate with the Illinois French to the close of the war. [The best discussion of the St. Joseph expedition is by C. W. Alvord, in the Missouri Historical Review (Vol. II., No. 3).]

These French found the American regime very unsatisfactory. The continental currency they received for their supplies was of little value; the frontiersmen were turbulent and overbearing; the government set up by Virginia was hopelessly inefficient. The result was a new period of migration to the western bank, deliberately encouraged by the Spanish. As early as 1779 the wealthier merchants such as Cerré and Gratiot removed to St. Louis, followed in the next ten years by an increasing number of the common people. The French population of Kaskaskia decreased 75 per cent, between 1783 and 1790, while the population of St. Louis and St. Genevieve increased from 1,481 in 1785 to 2,093 in 1788. Many of the newcomers settled in the present St. Louis county some distance from the town and founded a considerable village at St. Ferdinand de Florissant some twelve miles northwest of St. Louis. St. Charles, the first permanent settlement on the northern bank of the Missouri, and settled in the eighties, began headquarters for the Canadian traders and trappers on the Missouri. [For the relations of the French and Americans in Illinois, see Illinois Historical Collections, II., Introduction by C. W. Alvord.]

New Madrid and Other Settlements.

The most interesting of the new settlements, however, was that at New Madrid. The great bend of the Mississippi, "l'anse a la graise," had long been a favorite rendezvous for hunters and Indian traders, and a permanent trading post was established there as early as 1787. In 1788 George Morgan fixed on this district as the most promising for his attempt to recoup his fortune. Morgan, a native of New Jersey and a graduate of Princeton, had been trading with the Indians and speculating in western lands for twenty years, but the refusal of Congress to confirm to him a land grant from the Indians left him bankrupt. Two influences at work in the western country gave his project of an American colony in Missouri much promise of success. The ordinance of 1787 had aroused the apprehension of the settlers north of the Ohio that the slaves they already possessed would be set free. The interference of the Spanish with the Mississippi River traffic seemed to offer peculiar advantages to Americans settled on Spanish soil. Morgan accordingly secured from the Spanish minister Gardoqui, subject to the approval of the Spanish King, a concession of some twelve million acres of land with a frontage of three hundred miles on the Mississippi north of the mouth of the St. Francois.

Morgan allied himself with some of the leading men of western Pennsylvania and in 1788 led a preliminary expedition down the Ohio, and fixed on New Madrid as the most advantageous site for his town. Then he laid out a "city" four miles by two, with streets 100 feet wide, reservations for a park and public buildings, and divided into half acre lots. But the attractive plan was never realized. When Morgan reached New Orleans in May, 1789, Governor Miro refused to confirm his grant. At this time Miro and Wilkinson were deep in their intrigue to detach the western country from the Atlantic seaboard and opposed any measures which would quiet the unrest in the Ohio Valley. Such a colony as Morgan planned was calculated to draw off the radical and the discontented from Kentucky and ruin the plans for disunion. Wilkinson himself warned Miro against the New Madrid experiment.

Miro however despatched a garrison to New Madrid, built a fort and established a civil government which was independent of St. Louis until 1799. The settlement grew slowly, was composed chiefly of French traders and trappers, and did not turn to agriculture and become entirely self-supporting until 1796. The emigration from the American side at first was made up largely of Creoles from Vin-cennes and Kaskaskia. The chief importance of the Morgan experiment lies in the widespread interest in Missouri it inspired among the Americans.

Meanwhile there is little of note in the general history of the Spanish Illinois country. De Leyba, who died in 1780, was the only unpopular lieutenant governor of the Spanish period, and left behind him a tradition of corruption and cowardice unsupported by the official records. It may be that his unpopularity was due to an attempt to stop the extensive illegal traffic with the Americans. Piernas returned for a second term from 1780 to 1787 and Manuel Perez was lieutenant-governor 1787 to 1792. The uneventful history of the time is well reflected by the popular system of chronology, by which each year was named from the most important event. Thus 1784 was "l'année des grandes eaux" because of the flood which compelled the people of St. Genevieve to move back from the original site of the town. The term of Zenon Trudeau (1792-1799) was a period of anxiety, first because of the intrigues of Genet with George Rogers Clark and the Kentuckians in 1792, and later, when Spain was allied with Prance, because of fear of a British attack from Canada. In 1796 the fortifications at St. Louis were repaired and extended and the garrison considerably strengthened. But the apprehension proved without foundation and the prosperity of the settlements continued.

During the administration of Trudeau two new posts were established, completing the list of important settlements during the Spanish regime. New Bourbon was established in 1793 some two miles and a half from St. Genevieve, to attract the French royalist refugees from Gallipolis, and to provide a suitable command for Pierre De Hault De Lassus de Luziere, who was the leader in the proposed movement. De Luziere was not successful in bringing about the transfer but came himself and throughout the Spanish period acted as civil and military commandant over the village and a considerable part of the lead district. The commandant at St. Genevieve retained a general control over New Bourbon. The village has long since disappeared. Cape Girardeau had a more prosperous career. Its establishment as a separate district was due to the influence and energy Pierre Lorimier and to the fear of the results of Genet's intrigues in Kentucky. Lorimier, born in Montreal, for many years a fur trader and Indian agent in the Ohio Valley, exercised great influence over the Shawnees and married a half-blood of that tribe. After his persistent hostility to the Americans compelled him to move to St. Genevieve (in 1787), he came to the front because of the importance of keeping on good terms with the Shawnees and Delawares. In 1793 he was permitted to establish himself and the Shawnees and Delawares whom he controlled on the west bank, and given general control over the Indians as far south as the Arkansas. Three years later he was given a large grant of land at Cape Girardeau, where he had already established his headquarters. Lo-rimier actively encouraged the immigration of Americans and made his district a purely American community. No town was laid out at Cape Girardeau during the Spanish period.

Influx of Americans.

Toward the end of Trudeau's term there began the great influx of Americans. Mention of individual Americans may be found from an early date; after about 1785 a considerable number came over from the Kaskaskia settlement; Morgan's plans attracted some from the Ohio. Yet the total number before about 1797 was relatively small. This date is fixed by the enormous increase of American names in the land grants, the records of many American settlements established, and the fact that while the total population (excepting New Madrid) increased only from 2,927 to 3,083 from 1795 to 1796, the total (including New Madrid) grew from 3,582 in 1796 to 6,028 in 1799, and to nearly double that number in 1804. The last years of the century were a time of very rapid growth in Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Northwest. But the better lands in Kentucky and Tennessee were already taken up and land titles were in a chaotic condition. North of the Ohio slavery was prohibited. While the navigation of the Mississippi had been secured by the treaty of 1795, considerable uncertainty was felt in the West as to the permanency of the concession. Kentucky and Tennessee were becoming too civilized for the typical frontiersman. The Spanish across the Mississippi offered liberal grants of land to all Catholics who would take the oath of allegiance, on condition of settlement and cultivation. In practice the religious qualifications was ignored if the settler did not force his Protestantism on the official.

All types of the pioneers were represented. Daniel Boone in his old age found too little "elbow room" in Kentucky and about 1799 followed his son to the frontier on the lower Missouri. In 1797 Moses Austin, a restless Connecticut merchant and speculator, then resident at Richmond, Va., received a grant a league square near Mine a Breton in the St. Genevieve district, introduced improved methods of mining, employed fifty men, and made a comfortable fortune. Other merchants were attracted to the French villages by the fur trade. But the great mass of the Americans were of the second line of advance into the wilderness: small farmers, turning their stock into the "range," and fond of hunting. They had the frontiersman's dislike of towns or compact settlements, and for the most part cleared isolated farms with plenty of the wild forest about them. The St. Charles district, especially along the lower Missouri for some fifty miles above the village of St. Charles, was settled in this fashion before 1804, with a few farms along the Mississippi above the Missouri. Others found the fertile lands back of New Madrid, as far west at least as the St. Francois, attractive; and many selected the unoccupied tracts along the Mississippi between the French villages. The greatest number, however, located in the rich red limestone valleys of the mineral region as farmers. The Meramec and the upper St. Francois were well settled in 1804.

The concluding years of the Spanish regime were uneventful. Charles or Carlos de Lassus, son of the founder of New Bourbon, in 1799 was transferred from New Madrid to St. Louis and united the two jurisdictions. The chief event of his time was the militia expedition to Cape Girardeau, evidently to test the organization, as the danger from the Indians disappeared before the expedition started. The valuable and entertaining correspondence with the local commandants is its chief historical importance. The news of the retrocession to France is said to have led to great laxity in land grants, but otherwise affected the Illinois country not at all.

The formal transfer of the Missouri settlements to the United States did not take place until 1804. To avoid expense, Laussat, the French representative at New Orleans, appointed Capt. Amos Stoddard of the United States Artillery, to receive possession in the name of France. After a formal and official interchange of letters and instructions, on March 9, 1804, Stoddard crossed from Cahokia to St. Louis, and with military ceremonies, proclamations and speech took formal possession in the name of France. The next day he assumed command as the representative of the United States. So ended the Provincial period in Missouri history. [For the documents of the transfer, see Billon, Annals of St. Louis; Houck, Missouri.]

Social and Economic Conditions.

Apart from the governmental control, exercised largely by Frenchmen, there was little Spanish influence in the Illinois settlements. French remained the language of the people and was tolerated in the courts; French law, the "Coutume de Paris" seems to have persisted in practice; the whole tone of society was essential French, or rather French-Canadian. True to their social instincts the people lived in compact groups. In the villages the lots were large enough for barns, gardens and orchards so that in summer the buildings were almost hidden by the trees. Outside the village was the common field with its fence maintained at public expense. The common was divided into long narrow strips apportioned among the inhabitants and was used for grazing after the crops were gathered. Methods of cultivation were extremely crude; the plough and harrow were wooden, and iron tools few and expensive.

The houses, at first of logs set upright in the ground, and later of frame or stone, were a story and a half in height with a broad roof sloping down over the inevitable gallery. The furniture, except in the richer families, was homemade, and the cook-utensils were few and highly prized. The French women had a high reputation for cleanliness and good cookery. The ordinary costume of the men was a shirt and overalls of cloth or deer skin, moccasins, a blue kerchief for the head, and the blanket coat or capote. The hair was worn in a queue. The women were simply dressed, with some trace of New Orleans fashions for gala occasions. But by 1804 the older fashions were fast yielding to American influences. The favorite amusements of the people were billiards, cards and dancing. Intemperance was rare except among the trappers and boatmen. Class and caste distinctions were almost unknown and a social democracy prevailed. All observers agree on the placid and rather unambitious content of the French. On their isolated farms the Americans led the frontier life common to the Yadkin, the Kentucky, and the Missouri.

Agriculture was necessarily the chief occupation. Spanish Illinois sent down the river in the capacious keel boats considerable quantities of wheat, corn, pork and beef, and some tobacco. Lead from the beginning was an important product and furs were the most valuable export. The traders pushed up the Missouri into what is now Nebraska and established numerous trading posts. In spite of frequent losses and Indian hostility the trade was very profitable. Montreal was the chief market. Barter was the ordinary form of trade within the settlements, and paltries and tobacco a common medium of exchange. Illinois was a thriving district at the time of the Purchase. [The best descriptions of early Missouri society are in Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, and Stoddard, Sketches of Louisiana. There is abundant material in Billon, Annals of St. Louis. For discussions see Scharf, History of St. Louis and Houck, Missouri.]

In conclusion, the description of the Illinois settlements in 1804 by Major Stoddard is of value. The settlement of Little Prairie (the modern Caruthers-ville) contained 150 souls. The population of the district of New Madrid, estimated in 1804 at 1,350, including 150 slaves, was about two-thirds American and increasing slowly. The country was more thickly settled to the northward. Cape Girardeau had increased very rapidly since 1799, and in 1804 contained about 1,470 whites and a few slaves; all but three or four were Americans. The town of St. Genevieve contained some 180 houses, and New Bourbon thirty-five; the district of St. Genevieve had an estimated population of 2,350 whites and 520 slaves. The town of St. Louis contained 180 homes, Caron-delet, five miles below St. Louis, forty or fifty, St. Ferdinand about sixty; the entire district of St. Louis had a population estimated at 2,380 whites and 500 blacks. St. Charles, the town, contained 100 houses; St. Charles, the district, about 1,400 whites and 150 blacks, and was increasing very rapidly. The total estimated population was 10,420, of whom 1,320 were slaves. At least three-fifths of the people were Americans.-} [Stoddard, Sketches of Louisiana, 209-225. Compare with these estimates the Spanish Census of 1799, which gave a total of 6,028.]

Bibliography.—The most valuable printed collection of documents for the Provincial period of Missouri history is Billon, Annals of St. Louis under the French and Spanish Dominations. Mr. Houck, in his History of Missouri (to 1820, 3 vols.), prints a number of letters and commissions, and has announced the publications of his very valuable collection of papers of the Spanish officials and transcripts from the Archives of Seville. The records of land grants are the best material for the study of the details of settlement. The local records of New Madrid, Cape Girardeau and St. Genevieve are deposited with the Missouri Historical Society of St. Louis; those of St. Louis are in the city archives. At Jefferson City there is a mass of valuable information, described in a report by the present writer to appear in the Report of the American Historical Association for 1907.

The only general histories of real value for this earlier period are Scharf's History of St. Louis (2 vols.), a cooperative work of very unequal merit, and Houck's History of Missouri. The latter, in spite of some lack of critical sense, is absolutely indispensable, and to it I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness.

Jonas Viles,
Professor of American History, University of Missouri.


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