Missouri Statehood and the Chesterfield Connection:
Part 1, Early Residents to Lewis and Clark
By Ann Chrissos
People have called Missouri home for nearly 12,000 years. The first residents of the area were hunters and gatherers. They followed the mastodon herds and occupied caves along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. By 2000 B.C. people settled in villages near creeks or rivers which provided water, food, flint and a means of transportation. As the Cahokian Empire grew between 900 and 1200 A.D., St. Louis and Chesterfield became important suburbs. They had mounds, temples, villages, cultivated fields and natural resources like wood and flint. For unknown reasons the empire disappeared around 1350 A.D. leaving no evidence of human occupation in Missouri for the next 50 years. By the early 1400s new tribes settled in Missouri, followed by Europeans, then Americans. As the American population grew, the demand for statehood followed.
The Missouri tribe was one of the new groups to call the area home. Their name meant “people having dugout canoes.” They came from the Great Lakes and settled at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers where they cultivated beans, corn, squash and pumpkins. The women did the farming while the men served as hunters and warriors. Their name became associated with the territory. The Osage, meaning “children of the middle waters,” lived along the Osage River. Their culture was similar to the Missouri tribe; however, they were considerably more warlike. After they acquired guns from the French, they became a real menace to their neighbors, the Oto, Iowa, Quapaw and Kansas tribes.
The French encountered these occupants of Missouri for the first time in 1673 when the exploration party of Louis Joliet and Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River. They entered the river near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, then traveled south to the Arkansas River which was named by Marquette. In 1682, another French expedition led by Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explored the Mississippi River from the mouth of the Illinois River to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed all the land on the west side for France. He named it Louisiana for King Louis XIV. French fur traders came from Canada to the Missouri territory looking for beavers. Others crossed the river from Cahokia and Kaskaskia hoping to find precious metals and to establish trade with the Native Americans. By 1720, Philippe Francois Renault started a lead mine near the Meramec River which produced 1500 pounds of lead per day. Three years later, Etienne Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont became the first European to explore the Missouri River. He founded Fort Orleans on the Missouri River near the mouth of the Grand River and present-day Brunswick, which served as a trading post between the French and the Indians. The fort was occupied from 1723 to 1726. Bourgmont wrote that Missouri was “the finest country and the most beautiful land in the world: the prairies are like the seas and filled with wild animals; especially oxen, cattle, hind and stag, in such quantities as to surpass the imagination.” After these initial explorations, the French, then the Spanish, began building towns along the rivers. *
Ste. Genevieve became the first permanent French settlement in Missouri sometime between 1735 and 1750. Its location was chosen for its proximity to a salt spring and a lead supply. The settlers came from Canada and worked as fur traders, miners of salt and lead, farmers and hunters. St. Louis was the second town built by the French. In 1764, the site was chosen by Auguste Chouteau and his 14-year-old step-son Pierre de Laclede for its good docking area and its closeness to the Missouri River. Building began the next year and Laclede named the new town for King (Saint) Louis IX of France. The early settlers grew cash crops which included maize, wheat, tobacco, hemp, rye, oats and cotton. Florissant was also founded around 1765. The fourth town, St. Charles, was established by Louis Blanchette in 1769, as a trading post. Other early towns included Potosi, founded in 1773, followed by New Madrid in 1789 and Cape Girardeau in 1793. St. Andrew (Chesterfield) was the first village along the Missouri River and the first to be settled by Americans. It was founded by James MacKay in 1798. MacKay was born and educated in Scotland but emigrated to Canada in 1776 where he worked as a trader. He moved to Cahokia in 1791 and then to St. Louis two years later. He was a cartographer, a trader and was fluent in English, French and Spanish. For these reasons, he and John Evans were engaged by the Spanish governor of Louisiana in 1795 to explore and map the Missouri River. They returned in 1797 and MacKay was rewarded with 3,533 arpents of land (1 arpent = 0.84 acre) between Wild Horse Creek Road and the Missouri River. He served as Commandant of St. Andrew and married Isabella Long, daughter of John Long who settled on a Spanish land grant near MacKay’s village.
Spain had acquired Louisiana from the French in 1762. In 1800, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs claimed the territory cost more than it was worth, so Spain returned it to France. The French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, needed money to fight a war with Great Britain and he feared the British would succeed in capturing the territory, so he sold it to the United States in 1803. President Thomas Jefferson paid France $15 million for 827,987 square miles. This was less than three cents per acre. The territory was transferred on December 20, 1803. Jefferson organized an expedition to explore his new acquisition and he invited Joseph Conway to lead it. Conway, a Chesterfield resident and a former captain in the American Revolution and the Indian Wars, declined because his family needed him. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis were then engaged to lead the expedition in 1804. The population of Missouri quickly grew during the territorial years and the residents began talking about statehood.
For more information about Chesterfield and statehood see the display at the Chesterfield City Hall, http://www.chesterfield.mo.us/historical-commision.html or CHLPC publications available for purchase at Chesterfield City Hall or at the Chesterfield Heritage Museum at Chesterfield Mall.
*When the Seven Year’s War broke out in Europe in 1756, Spain allied with France against Great Britain. The British spent the next five years preying on Spanish treasure ships carrying silver from Peru. They would seize the treasure and sink the ships and crews. By 1761, Spain was nearly bankrupt. She pulled out of the war and declared neutrality. France, fearing that she would lose the war, ceded the Louisiana Territory to Spain to prevent Great Britain from getting it. At the Treaty of Pairs in 1763, Great Britain, the victor, allowed Spain to keep the land west of the Mississippi River as a reward for her neutrality. However, Spain had to cede Florida to the British. Spaniards refused to settle in the wilds of Missouri, so the only Missouri town founded by the Spanish was New Madrid.
Cavelier de La Salle.jpg
Portrait of Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle holding a manuscript document claiming Louisiana Territory for France.
Aron, Stephen. American Confluence: The Missouri Frontier from Borderland to Border State, 2006.
Fausz, J. Frederick. Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West, 2011.
McLachlan, Sean. Missouri An Illustrated History, 2008.
Timeline of Missouri History. https://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/history/timeline/timeline2
VonGruben, Jill F. Celebrate the History of Wildwood, Missouri, 2019.