The Founding of St. Louis
Growing up I was accustomed to hearing how my St. Louis French lineage had strong historical ties that ran deep into the city’s core. After digging into our family’s past, I discovered our founding prominent immigrant ancestor, Jean Baptiste De’Gamache. His buddies called him Bapbett.
If that was ok for his buddies then its ok for his 6th great granddaughter to call him that too, right?
Bapbett left Québec in the mid 1750s, and migrated to Kaskaskia, Illinois where records show he was a farmer, a fur trader, and a bachelor. This French rooted town worked closely with the native tribes with trade and travel.
When you research do you ever get fractured hypothetical images of your ancestors living and working?
I definitely do so here I am letting my freak flag fly! My imagination is now wild with images of Bapbett building a life in this very prosperous community in all the ways one could. Can you imagine having a life in one country, leaving it for another, and doing it all over again?
All that dreaming granted our pioneer ancestors a fortitude I personally admire.
Ok. Ok. Back to my research. Having lived near St. Louis my whole life I knew it was founded on Valentines Day. This always struck me as odd. St. Louis in February is cold, icy and snow-laden, making travel upriver to establish a new town sound like a big ‘ol pile of bad timing.
In Kaskaskia, Bapbett worked and lived alongside two men named Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau. They were later credited for founding St. Louis.
It took some time to find out why that peculiar February founding happened. In 1763, this French community was forfeited to the British during the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years War). This uprooted this flourishing French town. If any Frenchmen decided to stay, they would have to adapt to British rules and regulations.
Most of this spirited society decided to begin again in a place where they were free to live on their own terms.
Bapbett, Chouteau, Laclede and 27 other men left Kaskaskia in early February of 1764. They traveled 60 miles upstream on the Mississippi River. In an icy cold February! Flying my freak flag here again and imagining just how awful this probably was. No hype, no glamor, all the smells. Think about it.
They landed on the banks of what would be St. Louis on February 14th of that year.
The best literature I have found to date explaining the founding of St. Louis is below:
‘It was on the evening of February 14, 1764, that a little band of French pioneers first landed on the west bank of the Mississippi River at what is now the foot of Walnut Street in St. Louis. For many days, patiently fighting the current, they had pulled and dragged their heavy craft up the great river from sixty miles below. Wearied by their labors, they slept that night on their boat. Like the landing of the pilgrim fathers, the coming of the “First Thirty’, as they became known in the colonial days, proved a milestone, which marks the beginning of an empire.
For when, on the following morning, Auguste Chouteau lead his men across the sandy beach and up the plateau overlooking the river, pointing out to them they’re a line of blaze trees, the ringing blows of axes soon sounded through the woods, and the beginning of St. Louis began. Then and there was born the spirit of a community. Those were indeed pioneer days, days when the European powers, England, France and Spain, contended for continent.
At that time neither cities nor towns existed in all the silent wilderness of the Mississippi Valley. Here and there, hundreds of miles apart, roughly stockade it in scantly garrison forts. Frontier lines there were none. Life in the New World was the continual struggle for existence. Within three years its colonists, by sheer force and spirit, had established valuable fur training monopolies with the twenty-eight principal Indian nations, including not only those west of the Mississippi, but, also east of the river and even as far north as the Great Lakes.
That trade was the commercial corner stone, the basis of the starting point of the expeditions in all directions. Some of these were military, establishing forts; some scientific, to explore and to exploit, more were to establish communities, to open commercial avenues. The Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, opening the Northwest, was one of these. So, too, the Frenchman of St. Louis paved the way for the American occupation of Louisiana. A hundred Western Cities and towns owe their beginning to St. Louis.’St. Louis as it is Today,” published by the Visit St. Louis Committee and the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce on January 1, 1946
My heart pumps when I read that article. It designed such beautiful mental images, in full Technicolor, to celebrate these founding ancestors.
How proud I was of my Bapbett and the other ‘First Thirty’ as they had become known.
His pioneer spirit and unwavering foundation of staying true to himself was inspiring. He believed in that coming American Spirit of pursuing happiness. This meant leaving behind an entire life over and over to live how he wanted.
His legacy lives on even today but it was his burial that really brought dramatic flare.
Do you have any founding family members of a town in your family? Were there any lore or tales told to you down the years? Please tell me all about it!
Check out what adventure Bapbett sent me on next!