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A Brief History of Early St. Louis  its founders and some of its early residents by P. Davidson-Peters

Known as the Gateway City and named in honor of King Louis IX of France, St. Louis was first established as a fur trading post by Pierre Laclède who was a prominent member of the New Orleans mercantile business.  He was also partner in the fur trading company Maxent, Laclède & Company who had been given the exclusive rights to the Indian trade in the Missouri River Valley in about 1762 or 1763.

Laclède, along with his young assistant Auguste Chouteau (son of Marie T. Bourgeois and René Chouteau), led a party up the Mississippi River in search of a place to establish a fur trading post.  They located a site eighteen miles south of the Mississippi and Missouri confluence, marked their spot and Laclède sent Auguste back to the location to begin building the trading village. When Laclède returned to the small village, he brought with him Marie Thérèse Bourgeois Chouteau and her three other children besides Auguste - son Jean Pierre and daughters Pelagie and Marie Louise Chouteau.

Records indicate that Marie’s husband René had abandoned her and their son Auguste in New Orleans and had returned to France in July of 1767. A baker and inn-keeper ten years her senior, their marriage had been an arranged one and some speculated that René had been cruel to her and that she had found the company of Pierre Laclède engaging. Though the two were never married, they lived together in St. Louis with Marie’s children, the latter four including Victorie who was born in March 1764, are accepted as being the children of Pierre’s since René Chouteau did not return from France until 1774.

When René Chouteau returned to New Orleans, he found the whereabouts of his wife Marie and set about to bring her back to New Orleans, but died three years later on the 21st of April 1776 with her never having left St. Louis or Pierre. - Although it was well-known that Marie and Pierre lived in the same house, she remained a respected resident of the community and was held in good esteem, some defending her reputation and stating her relationship with Pierre was platonic one.   After her husband's death, she did not marry Pierre, and was always referred to as "Veuve" or Widow Chouteau.

Pierre Laclède's death followed not long after on the 27th of May in 1778.  Most of his assets and holdings reverted to his partner Antoine Maxent, but ten years earlier Laclède had deeded Marie a newly built limestone home and had specified that upon her death, the house and common fields were to be given to her children. - When Maxent offered Pierre's land for sale which was adjacent to her own and included a house, orchard, barn, and slave cabins, she readily purchased it and seems to have had a good income from it as she was never dependent upon her children in her later years.  She died on August 14th in 1814, and left the land and property to her children as Laclède had instructed her to do and gave freedom to Therese who was her Indian slave woman who had managed her daily affairs.

At the time of Marie’s death, there were other prominent men in St. Louis including Edward Hempstead, who was the law partner of Thomas Hart Benton, as well as the Virginia Clarks and their connections.  One of these was Meriwether Lewis who had served in the army and had become the private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson and was appointed by him in 1803 to lead an expedition of the newly acquired Louisiana purchase. Lewis had chosen as his joint commander, William Clark, and together in May of 1804 led an expedition from St. Louis heading north along the Missouri River across the Rockies until they reached the Pacific in November of 1805.

When they returned from their expedition to St. Louis on the afternoon of September 23rd of 1806, Lewis and Clark were invited by, and accepted the invitation of Pierre Chouteau the fur trader, and Auguste Chouteau to dine with them.  While in St. Louis, Lewis and Clark also sunned and stored their animal skins at Pierre Chouteaus’s warehouse.

In 1807 President Thomas Jefferson named Meriwether Lewis as the Governor of the Louisiana Territory, and William Clark as the Brigadier General of the Territorial Militia.  He also named Clark as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and thus he soon met with the Osage Indians and a band of Sioux to hear their complaints. Clark then hired local traders as sub-agents and attempted to keep peace between the Indians and the settlers.  After only a few months in St. Louis, Clark returned to Virginia where he married Julia Hancock whom he had been courting prior to the expedition.  He was still living in Virginia in 1808 when Meriwether Lewis returned to St. Louis to take up his quarters as Governor.

At the time of their return to St. Louis, the town was bustling with political crosscurrents. The French, who were well established in the area, were squabbling with the newcomers over land titles and mining claims, and hunters and squatters were paying little regard to the Indian Treaty and were moving onto their lands.

Most of the traders opposed the federal regulation placed on trade with the Indians, but Lewis felt it was essential in maintaining peace with the Indians and settlers.  These views made many enemies of him and his troubles were further compounded by a land deal in which there was a dispute.  Deciding to go to Washington D.C. and personally straighten it out, he headed east but died tragically and mysteriously on the night of October 10th 1809 at Grinder’s Stand on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee.

The same year Meriwether Lewis died, William Clark became a partner in the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company which had been founded by Manuel Lisa.  Other partners at this time included Pierre Chouteau Sr., Auguste Chouteau, Jr. and Sylvestre Labbadie among others. However, the death of Manuel Lisa and the competition from John Jacob Astor’s fur company was eventually the demise of this company which went bankrupt and dissolved in 1812 by which time Joshua Pilcher had also joined the company.

In the following year Clark was commissioned governor of the Missouri Territory by President James Madison and during this time, continued to keep peace among the Indians. He also took initiatives that made him unpopular with St. Louisans who felt he was limiting their economic future while enabling the few old, wealthy trading families.

Clark was then named Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1821 by President James Monroe (a position Joshua Pilcher would also fill) and was made Surveyor General of Illinois. For the remainder of Clark’s life, he remained sympathetic to the Indians, and feeling they had been broken and subdued, asked the federal government to provide them with their own domain, to educate, and give them annual payments so that they might become productive American agriculturists.

Clark died at the home of his son Meriwether Lewis Clark, on September 1st 1838, preceded by three of his eight children and by his first wife Julia who died in 1820 after a two-year illness. As his hearse carried him to his place of rest at the family plot on the farm of John O'Fallon, there followed a large crowd to mourn him.  Some of these included his Masonic brothers who helped him found the St. Louis lodge, and members of the Christ Episcopal Church which he had helped to organize in 1819.

By 1820 and into the 1830’s, the city of St. Louis became a thriving market place of trade. Steamboats, which dominated its riverways, came to its wharves to discharge their cargo while the smaller boats which were able to navigate the shallow reaches of the upper rivers, came downstream to transport their loads of grain and lumber, fur, and salt pork.  And when travelers began rushing to California in 1849, St. Louis was a major trading center.  In the years following, it became a leading manufacturer of paint, stoves, nails, ironware and heavy steamboat machinery on account of its close proximity to the lead and iron ore mines in Illinois.

Despite the War of Rebellion, the city of St. Louis nearly doubled in size during the 1860’s. Among those newcomers were Thomas Anderson Moore who came in 1860 with his mother Rebecca (Cook) and brother Joseph Moore.  His bride-to-be, Clarissa Pilcher, came from Illinois with her widowed mother Louisa (Ballard) and family sometime after the death of her father Ezekiel in 1858 and before 1860 when she was enumerated in the federal census with her family.

The relationships of the Moore and Pilcher’s to the early settlers of St. Louis clearly goes back to Clarissa's Virginian roots.  She is a descendant of Captain Christopher Clark and also of Mourning Lewis.  The fur trader and Indian Agent, Joshua Pilcher, was her grand uncle, and in 1915 at the time of her husband Thomas A. Moore's death, there was in his possession a diary belonging to Augustin Kennerly.

Augustin was the son of James Kennerly and had been a sub-agent for the Senecas in 1832 when William Clark was Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis.  He was buried at Jefferson Barracks, and somehow, unbeknown to anyone, his journal which he kept while a sub-agent came into the possession of Clarissa Pilcher-Moore's husband Thomas.  Upon the death of Thomas Moore, the journal was donated to the Missouri Historical Society by his daughter, Mabel (Mrs. S.E. Jones), and it was ironically studied by John Francis McDermott (1902-1981), a St. Louis historian and descendant of Pierre Chouteau and Silvestre Labbadie - undoubtedly leading a trail right back to the Virginia ancestors who came to St. Louis and associated themselves with the Pilchers.

Most of Thomas and Clarissa's descendants have all but left the grand city of St. Louis.  Like their ancestors before them they have moved farther west, but have brought with them the history of their ancestors who played an important role in opening up the very lands they have now settled west of the wide Missouri - and farther still from the Culpeper farm in Virginia.



  • Missouri Historical Society
    The Pierre Chouteau Collection - MHS John F. Darby Paper Fur Trade Papers.
    Joshua Pilcher The Dougherty Papers The Hamilton R. Gamble Papers The Chouteau-Papin Collection The P. Chouteau Maffitt Collection.

  • National Archives
    Letter of Joshua Pilcher to William Clark dated 19 Nov 1831 regarding list of persons killed while engaged in the fur trade.
    Letter of Joshua Pilcher to William Clark dated 18 July 1838 regarding Horned Dog and murder of Provencalle.

  • Periodical Sources
    Gateway Heritage Quarterly Journal of the Missouri Historical Society.
    After the Journey was Over: The St. Louis Years of Lewis and Clark by Glen E. Holt - Vol. 2, No. 2 - Fall Issue 1981.
    Veuve Chouteau, a 250th Anniversary by Katherine T. Corbett - Vol. 3, No. 4 - Spring Issue 1983.
    The Laclède-Chouteau Puzzle: John Francis McDermott Supplies Some Missing Pieces by William E. Foley - Vol. 4, No. 2 - Fall Issue 1983.



Updated 01 Jul 2015
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