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History of St. Louis Part 1

Are you looking to sell your house in St. Louis? If so, you will have a better chance of attracting good potential buyers if they are more educated on the history of this unique city. The unique history of St. Louis begins with this area being settled by the Native American mound-building people. They were a part of the Mississippian tribal group and dwelled there from 800 A.D. to 1400 A.D. and further. They also were accompanied by other tribal groups that would migrate off and on. French explorers starting arriving in the early beginning in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Spain took over from France after the French and Indian War in 1763 and a trading company was established in 1764. Pierre Laclede and Auguste Choteau were the first individuals to start the settlement of St. Louis in 1764. During this time, many French settlers were leaving nearby Illinois because they bristled against the British control of the eastern Mississippi area. The city’s population continued to grow because it was a popular Mississippi River trading post; it also played a minor role in the American Revolutionary War and became a United States territory after the Louisiana territory was purchased in 1803.

There is no question that St. Louis has a convenient and central location. It is situated near the Ohio River on the eastern front, the Mississippi River on the southern and northern plains, and other areas. This made this town a great area for traders and increased their economy significantly, leading to a lot of busy interregional trade. The 1840s were a busy time for St. Louis as it became a destination for immigration by many Irish and German individuals. Unfortunately, individuals that had already been born in the Americas reacted with some trepidation to the newcomers and nativist sentiments were adopted. This also coincided with the fact that Missouri was a slave state, but St. Louis centrally located in such a manner that many slaves would file freedom suits. Slaves would often gain freedom from these suits in these antebellum decades. However, the 1850s rolled around and the interpretations had changed. Dred Scott became the symbol of this new mindset, and this new court did not rule in his favor. This same court case ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, which increased tensions and eventually led to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Upon the conclusion of World War II, many federal highway subsidies were established, and these encouraged residents to migrate outward in an effort to gain newer housing options. St. Louis suffered a reduced middle-class population as a result of this suburban trend. Thus, the city decided to create some new attractions. They started this trend with the Gateway Arch, which eventually became a symbol of the civil rights movement as the first lawsuits under the 1964 Civil Rights Act were against the unions of St. Louis. Even though the city made an effort to reduce substandard housing by developing new projects such as Pruitt-Igoe, these were widely considered to be unsuccessful. Construction, gentrification, city beautification and crime reduction continue to improve in the city, but St. Louis does struggle somewhat with their crime perception. The city saw some population growth during the mid-2000s but there was a decline in population by the 2010 U.S. Census.

St. Louis is home to the middle Mississippi Valley, which was constructed in the 10th century by the Mississippian people. They built a couple of dozen platforms and mounds on what would become modern-day St. Louis. The focal point of their infrastructure was the colossal Cahokia Mounds complex, which rested on the eastern part of the Mississippi River. The Mississippian culture came to a mysterious end in the 14th century, and their artifacts remained undisturbed for a number of years. They were eventually replaced by Siouan-speaking native groups such as the Osage and the Missouria, who originally came from the eastern Ohio Valley to this Mississippi Valley area.

Extensive exploration in the Missouri and Mississippi river region would begin in the late 1600s by European explorers. The most notable of these would have to be the group made up of Explorer Louis Joliet and Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette, who traveled in a southern direction on the Mississippi River on June 1673. They passed where St. Louis would become popular a few centuries later and they ultimately turned back after they came to the mouth of the Arkansas River. In 1682, French explorer La Salle passed by the area as well. His expedition came from the Illinois River and traveled through the Mississippi River, concluding in the Gulf of Mexico. LaSalle would ultimately claim the entire area for France, and proceeded the name the Mississippi River basin “La Louisiane” after Louis XIV. He also named the region between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as the Illinois Country. The French built several settlements between Cahokia and Kaskaskia in Illinois. Additionally, the French trading companies constructed towns throughout the landscape from the decades of the 1720s and 1730s. This included unique locations such as Fort de Chartres and St. Genevieve, Missouri. Incidentally, St. Genevieve is now known by the historians of today as the very first European town in the state of Missouri that was also west of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, from 1756 to 1760 there wasn’t much settlement building occurring because the French and Indian War (the Seven Years War in North America) kept everyone too busy. Moreover, the economy was fairly weak because of the fighting and would remain that way until Britain won this war in 1763.

Of course, everybody was probably breathing a collective sigh of relief after the war concluded in 1763, but new changes were afoot as well. The first major change would come with the arrival of a new French official in New Orleans. Jean-Jacques Blais d’Abbadie became the new governor of Louisiana in June of that year, and with the new leader of Louisiana came several moves to grant some trade monopolies to get the economy of the middle Mississippi Valley going. Many individuals took advantage of this monopoly, including Pierre Laclede and his stepson Auguste Chouteau. In August 1763 they worked together to build a fur trading post right where Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers joined. A couple of months later, St. Louis was established on February 15, 1764, by these same two gentlemen. Chouteau and a group of 30 individuals were the first settlers, and Laclede drew up the first city planning structures, including a market and commons area and an area for street design to take place.

From 1764 onward, French settlers came pouring into the St. Louis area because they were afraid that the British were going to control their original settlements too much due to the Treaty of Paris. Not soon after, a local French lieutenant came to the area in 1765 and he began to award land grants. The peace negotiations not only allowed Spain to gain control of Louisiana in 1762 due to a secret agreement called The Treaty of Fontainebleau but eventually, there was a Spanish influx into St. Louis for the greater part of that decade. The Spanish honored all of the French land grants, and they also provided security for the area.

St. Louis’s first Catholic church, constructed in 1770

The profession of most of the incoming settlers was farming. They came by the tens of hundreds, and by the 1790s there was a surrounding area of almost 6,000 acres around St. Louis that was continually under cultivation. Of course, many of the permanent residents had no interest in farming simply because they realized that fur trading was much more lucrative. By and large, most of the residents and settlers of this area were Roman Catholic, even though they weren’t necessarily noted for being particularly devout. It wasn’t until the mid-1770s that the first Catholic church was constructed, and the first resident priest representing St. Louis was acquired in 1776. After the first priest arrived, Catholicism became much more common within the area.

Interestingly enough, some of these French settlers were somewhat wealthy. They generally would bring black and Native American slaves with them to St. Louis. The majority of these slaves were being used as domestic help, although also worked in the agricultural fields as well. Even though the Spanish had prohibited Native American slavery in Louisiana in 1769, the French Creoles still continued the practice in St. Louis. Since the Spanish were now running things in St. Louis, they allowed a compromise: they decreed that the Native American slave trade should come to a stop, but current slaves could be retained by their owners, and this also included the children of any slaves as well. In 1772, a census was taken in the village of St. Louis. At that time, the population of the town was 637; the white population numbered 444, and the black population was listed at 193. However, this didn’t include any Indian slaves since they were technically illegal. St. Louis grew fairly slowly during the 1770s and 1780s and the Spanish leadership came and went at regular intervals.