Page images

that place, Cahokia, and Ste. Genevieve, he commenced, on the 15th of February, 1764, the work of cutting down trees and laying out a town, which he called St. Louis, after the reigning king of France. In consequence of some subsequent distress, on account of a scarcity of provisions, it received the popular name of Pain Court, by which it was called for many years. M. Auguste Chouteau, then about fourteen years of age, who has since been one of the most opulent and enterprising of the citizens of that place, and is but recently deceased, was of the party which laid the foundation of this flourishing city.

In the selection of this site, a degree of sagacity was shown, which has seldom marked such transactions. The spot is elevated above the inundations of the river, from whose margin the ground rises gradually, and is based on a thick stratum of rock, which affords the most admirable materials for building. Above and below, along the river, was an abundance of timber, and to the west an unlimited expanse of fertile prairies; while on the east were the rich plains of Illinois. A short distance below were the lead mines, which have, for half a century past, afforded a valuable article of trade; a few miles above the town, the Missouri and Illinois rivers united their waters with those of the Mississippi, extending the channels of intercourse throughout a vast interior region; and this obscure spot in the heart of a great continent, and far distant from the ocean, was visited by the birch canoes from Quebec, as well as by the barges from New Orleans.

In July, 1765, Fort de Chartres was evacuated by the French, and M. de St. Ange de belle rive, the commander, proceeded to St. Louis with the troops, and assumed the reins of government. From this time St. Louis was considered as the capital of Upper Louisiana. Having organized a government, one of his first acts was to parcel the land to the settlers, to whom M. Laclede had given possession, but not titles.

He accordingly made the Livre Terrien, or landbook, in which grants of land were not recorded only, but originally written, and a copy of the entry made in this book constituted the evidence of title in the hands of the grantee. These concessions were not considered as inchoate grants, which were to be ratified by a higher authority, but as perfect titles, independent of any condition, except those of the land being subject to taxation, and being improved by the grantee, within a limited time. The mode of obtain

. ing grants was by petition or requete, addressed to the commandant; and the concession generally ran, after reciting the application, thus: “On the day and year aforesaid, at the request of — we have grant

ed, and do grant to him, his heirs, and assigns, the lot (or piece of land, describing its contents, boundaries, and locality), which he prays for, with the condition that he shall establish it within a year and a day, and that it shall be subject to the public charges. St. ANGE.”

Nearly the same form of concession was used under the Spanish authority. There was usually, however, a stipulation contained in them, that in case the conditions of improvement and cultivation should not be complied with, the lands should revert to the


[ocr errors]

king, and some instances are found in the Livre Terrien, where that resumption has taken place. At first these grants were proportioned to the means of the applicant, but at a later period they were made to all who chose to apply for them, to any extent, unconditionally, and without reference to the ability of the applicant. The policy of the government, in making the grants, was to settle the country; but the remoteness of this province, and the extent of the authority necessarily placed in the hands of the lieutenant governors, enabled them to abuse this power, and it is said to have degenerated into a system of favoritism. Up to a certain period, the means of the cultivator were taken as the criterion by which the magnitude of the grant was regulated, and as there was no public surveyor, the difficulty of locating large tracts, and settling the boundaries, may have deterred many from attempting such speculations. But these obstacles, if they were such, were removed by the appointment of a surveyor general, in 1795, and the number of concessions increased with incredible rapidity, especially in the period immediately preceding the occupation of the country by the American government. Previous to the appointment of M. Soulard, as surveyor general, in 1795, the whole number of arpens of land conceded to individuals did not exceed 50,000; but the number granted after that appointment, amounted to 2,150,969.

The government of the United States recognizes the validity of all titles to real estate acquired under the French or Spanish governments; but the great


number of these grants, and the negligence with which they were made, has caused great perplexity to congress, and to the courts of law.

Under the administration of M. St. Ange, St. Louis assumed the appearance of a town, and the foundations of social order were laid. The soldiers became amalgamated with the inhabitants; comfortable dwellings were erected; and the common fields, as they are now called, were opened and improved. All accounts which have reached us, agree in describing the government as mild and patriarchal; the whole community seem to have lived together as a single family, under the guidance of a common father, enjoying a common patrimony.

A curious remark has occurred to us, upon a comparison of the first settlements of the English and the French. Though the latter nation has always been inferior to the former in the mechanical arts, especially in those of the useful kind; and though the English invariably deny to the French any adequate perception of the enjoyments embraced by themselves under the word comfort, both these propositions would seem to be reversed by the evidence to which we allude. The first habitations of the English were log cabins, the most unsightly and comfortless, and their descendants, to this day, commence all their villages with the same rude dwellings, or with frail erections of framed timber, while the garden and the orchard have been tardily introduced. The old French villages, on the contrary, consisted of substantial houses of stone, or of heavy timber, plastered with excellent mortar, encompassed by piazzas, and surrounded by

gardens stocked with fruit, and enclosed with walls, or strong stockades. The first habitations of the English have mouldered away, and comparatively few relics remain to attest their character, while many houses in the French villages, have been left by the hand of time in their primitive integrity, durable monuments of the taste and comfort of the original proprietors. The excellence of their masonry has been often remarked; the walls of Fort Chartres, though long since abandoned, and left exposed to the elements, are so indestructible, that the inhabitants of the neighborhood, in attempting to remove the materials, have found it difficult to take them apart.

In 1768, after St. Ange had governed at St. Louis three years, Mr. Rious arrived with Spanish troops, and took possession of Upper Louisiana, in the name of his Catholic majesty; but did not exercise any jurisdiction, as it appears from the records in the Livre Terrien, that St. Ange continued to perform official acts until 1770. It is inferred, that the reluctance of the inhabitants to submit to the change of rulers, was so great, that it was judged prudent to defer the assertion of the new authority, until the dissatisfaction caused by the transfer of the country had worn away, and the people become reconciled to their new master. The wisdom of this policy became apparent, in the firm attachment which was displayed towards the Spanish government, so that when the province was retroceded to France, in 1800, the people again expressed their dissatisfaction at the change; and they were not less displeased at the subsequent transfer to the United States.


« PreviousContinue »